Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Pinborough’

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years, and I don’t know whether I’ll restart it this year. (Probably not.)

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.


A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Here are two stories written for friends from the second Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

Two very different stories await you; two very different stories for two very different writers. One of the stories below is quite absurd, one quite sad. I leave it to you to decide which is which. My thanks once again to Sarah and Simon for the challenges and the fun I had writing the tales.


The past few years have been fun for the many fans of Sarah Pinborough’s writing, including me. Glorious prose that grabs you and doesn’t let go until you’ve found out… what happens next. And her tales stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them, percolating in your mind until they pop up, delightfully unexpectedly.

I like her (and her writing) a lot.

It is not well known that Sarah once solved 16 Soduko puzzles simultaneously while blindfolded.

Title: It Lived Under Monday
Word: butterfly
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Length: 200 words exactly

It lived under Monday, whatever It was;
It’d been there a very long time.
Eating away at the start of the week,
Dissolving the minutes with lime.

It arrived on Sunday, but quickly decided
The first day It didn’t like much,
And with butterfly whim, It fast looked around
For sustenance, comfort and such.

Saturday was not to Its taste,
Nor Friday; not at all to Its liking;
And Thursday was ‘manufactured’, It felt
Full of metal and plastic and piping.

It then spent a fortnight in Wednesday;
It thought that It might have found home.
But boredom with the middle day of the week
Occasioned It once more to roam.

Tuesday It liked, It actually liked.
It burrowed and set up Its den.
Then sighed at the inelegance of the name of the day
And eventually moved once again.

So It lived under Monday for many a year.
Millennia had gone past by now.
Since It created Its residence under the Day
And fed on each minute and hour.

There It stays all year, except for one day.
It journeys not far, never fear.
Just to whatever day Christmas is on.
Don’t you think it goes faster each year?

© Lee Barnett, 2013


Si Spurrier is a writer of extraordinary talent with a viciously funny talent for plotting stories and then executing those plots. I use ‘executing’ advisedly, as his writing identifies any sacred cows you might have, then takes them out back and uses a bolt gun on them. And smiles while doing so.

I’ve known the man for more than a decade and I never cease to be grateful for it.

It’s a little known fact, by the way, that Si is short for Sin Wave.

Title: Every Word Is Wrong
Word: except
Challenger: Si Spurrier
Length: 200 words exactly

Once a year, Santa rises from a months’ long sleep, and walks to an desk that was ancient when he first commenced his duties. He sits at the desk, then dips a plain quill pen formed from the feather of a long extinct species of hen into a bottle of pure raven ink.

And then Santa writes a letter. And into that letter, the legendary jolly good-natured fellow pours out venom and bile, anger and bitterness, begging to be released from his responsibilities, analysing in forensic detail why he should not be obliged to continue his rounds across the planet known as Earth.

When he has finished, he places the letter face down and leaves the room, returning immediately. And always, always, there remains only a white card, upon which is the single word CONTINUE.

Santa Clause never swears. Never. Ever. Except when he reads the card.

Then Santa launches his sleigh over a world covered in white, a uniformity blanketing continents, what were once countries, and the blistered remains of cities.

Santa spends the day in his craft, his tears freezing against his thick beard, listening to the sound of radiation laden winds, desperate once again for sleep.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


Some more Christmas fast fictions next week.

Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

2013 has been a wonderful year for the many fans of Sarah Pinborough’s writing, including me. Glorious prose that grabs you and doesn’t let you go until you’ve found out what happens next. And her stories stay with you long after you’ve finished reading, percolating in your mind until they pop up, delightfully unexpectedly. I like her (and her writing) a lot.

It is not well known that Sarah once solved 16 Soduko puzzles simultaneously while blindfolded.

Title: It Lived Under Monday
Word: butterfly
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Length: 200 words exactly

It lived under Monday, whatever It was;
It’d been there a very long time.
Eating away at the start of the week,
Dissolving the minutes with lime.

It arrived on Sunday, but quickly decided
The first day It didn’t like much,
And with butterfly whim, it fast looked around
For sustenance, comfort and such.

Saturday was not to Its taste,
Nor Friday; not at all to Its liking;
And Thursday was ‘manufactured’, It felt
Full of metal and plastic and piping.

It then spent a fortnight in Wednesday;
It thought that It might have found home.
But boredom with the middle day of the week
Occasioned It once more to roam.

Tuesday It liked, It actually liked.
It burrowed and set up Its den.
Then sighed at the inelegance of the name of the day
And eventually moved once again.

So It lived under Monday for many a year.
Millennia had gone past by now.
Since It created Its residence under the Day
And fed on each minute and hour.

There It stays all year, except for one day.
It journeys not far, never fear.
Just to whatever day Christmas is on.
Don’t you think it goes faster each year?

© Lee Barnett, 2013

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The Misanthropic Principle – challenger: Jamais Cascio
Day 02: Robot Ghosts of Apocalypse – challenger: Cherie Priest
Day 03: Every Word Is Wrong – challenger: Si Spurrier
Day 04: The Train Didn’t Come – Challenger: Emma Vieceli
Day 05: Living Happily Ever After – Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 06: Embargoed Until Midnight – Challenger: Corrie Corfield
Day 07: He’s Making A List – Challenger: Mitch Benn
Day 08: Fingers On The Windowpane – Challenger: Leah Moore
Day 09: Santa Abduction Narratives Recalled – Challenger: Paul Cornell
Day 10: Copula Numb – Challenger: Kelly Sue De Connick
Day 12: Batman Sure Likes Tea – Challenger: Tiernan Douieb

Edit to add: An ebook of all twelve stories is available for $0.99. Click here for details.


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

To read the prologue, what when where, setting up why this took place, etc., click here.
To read about stories 01 to 04, click here.
To read about stories 05 to 08, click here.

So it’s nine o’clock in the evening, both Mitch and I are approaching the end of what would in normal circumstances be ‘an eight hour day’, and of course, we’re over – just over – a third of the way through this madness that are our individual twenty-four hour projects. Mitch has – from what I can gather from hearing him murmur away and playing his guitar – progressed well into the actual production and recording of the music; the vocals would come later. Oh boy, would they come later.

I don’t know about him, but I’ve probably already had too many coffees, but that’s not about to stop me having more, as future stories will probably reveal. I’d have been genuinely unsurprised if one of the stories, upon review, had simply read

coffeecoffeecoffeebringmecoffeecoffeecoffeecoffee
coffeecoffeecoffeeIwantmorecofeecoffeecoffeecoffee
coffeecoffeeIneedcoffeenowIwantcoffeeNoIhaven’thad
toomuchcoffeewhydoyouask?

Apparently not, though.

But yeah, eight stories down, sixteen to go. And for the first time, I’m beginning to wonder how the stories are going over; whether people reading them are enjoying them, whether the people I’m writing them for are enjoying them… I don’t know, I won’t know for hours yet.

But I’m taking a look at Twitter every so often, and the support that Mitch and I are receiving… to describe it as touching would be to understate it. And that’s not even mentioning those who’ve turned up to give us moral suppport… more about which later.

But time is passing, both now and then, so on with the stories.

Story 09
Title: Barry’s Massive Red Shoe
word: stammer
Challenger: Marcus Brigstocke

I’m not absolutely sure how long I’ve been a fan of Marcus Brigstocke. I’m pretty sure I discovered him when I started listening to The Now Show, and knowing that series as well as I do, that must have been about ten years ago. But from the moment I heard his gloriously original style and delivery – well I’d not heard anything quite like it before – I was hooked. I’m not usually a fan of ‘ranty’ comedians, and I guess the reason I like his work so much is because ranting is the very least of what he does. Ranting implies noise for the sake of it, and Marcus never does that – he makes very clever, very funny points with the accuracy of an SAS sniper. And he loves words. It’s a common theme, I’ve found, of people whose work I admire in both literary circles and comedy – the more you love words and language, the more likely it is that I’m going to enjoy your work.

I mentioned the other day, when writing about Emma Kennedy’s challenge, that one of the things that I hope mark out my particular style (if I have one) is that I rarely take a noun as offered and use it in perhaps the way that the challenger might have anticipated.

A massive red shoe? Well, fair enough, not sure I can do much with “massive”; only really one meaning for that. “Red”? Plenty of different uses, but “shoe”? I was pretty sure there’d be a dictionary definition for that word of which I was previously ignorant. And if I was unaware of it, then it’s a pretty good bet that others – perhaps the challenger – would be equally in the dark about it.

And so it proved, There were at least a dozen different definitions of “shoe”, several of which lent themselves to potential stories. But one of them leapt out at me; who knew that a shoe was the thing that held a girder in place on a bridge? I certainly didn’t. Now why would someone have a shoe they or anyone else would consider theirs? It’d be huge – obviously, pretty much by definition. Red? Not a problem.

So who’s Barry? And why would he – or did he – stammer?

I had a sudden mental image of a child, walking over a bridge, touching the ‘shoe’, proclaiming it his, and then the same child, many years later, walking over the same bridge.

You can read why here. (Story posted at 21:49 pm)

Yesterday evening, as in Thursday night, I want along to see a recording of the aforementioned Now Show, and was delighted to be able to meet and chat to Marcus Brigstocke, who was appearing on the show again after some time. It’s always a pleasure to discover that people whose work you admire and enjoy are as nice as you hoped they’d be. It was lovely chatting to him over a drink and to talk to him about the story I wrote for him. Thanks, Marcus – genuinely appreciated.

Story 10
Title: Box of Old SIMcards
word: longing
Challenger: Laurie Penny

I’ve told before on this blog how I met Laurie Penny some years back, at a drinkup arranged by a mutual friend, one Mr W Ellis of the principality of Southend. Although I’ve not always agreed with her writings, in both ‘print’ and person, she never fails to make me think, which is, after all, one of the points of writing for wider dissemination.

I was so very pleased she agreed to be part of this challenge, and hers was one of the few challenges that the moment I saw the title and word, I knew precisely the story I was going to write. If someone else had challenged me with this title, I doubt the story I wrote would have been the same – it just seemed so perfect for Laurie.

So of course, this turned out to be one of the toughest stories to get just right.

I must have completely changed one of the middle paragraphs a dozen times or more; trying to get the mixture of suspense, pathos and just plain weirdness just at the correct level.

I think I managed it at the end, but it’s always just so tempting to tweak it one more time…

But it all starts with questions: why would there be a box full of them? Why would anyone keep them? What would be on them, and who would want to go through them? Well, maybe no-one would want to – so why would someone be forced to, and by whom?

You can find out the answers here. (Story posted at 22:56 pm)

And suddenly it’s eleven o’clock, and we’re heading for midnight. And beyond midnight, there’s half-past midnight, and we’ll be half way through and… shut up Budgie – stop panicking.. write, dammit, write…

Story 11
Title: From Beyond The Indigo
word: breathless
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough

I’ve only met Sarah Pinborough the one time, but have talked to her on Twitter occasionally, read her writings, watched a screenplay she wrote, and on every occasion thought “this is a very, very smart person.” I’ve no idea why the following story was written in the format in which it’s presented. It didn’t start out that way, you know. It started in the third person. But the story just didn’t work like that. Haven’t got a clue why not, but it happens sometimes.

Now, usually, if an idea doesn’t work, it’s the idea that gets junked. But I really liked the take on the title I’d come up with, so I tried it in various formats: first person (better but not quite), rhyming (no, no, no – definitely didn’t work), I even played for ten minutes with… no, best not admit that.

Genuinely don’t have a clue what made me try writing it as an organisation’s internal memorandum, but the moment I did, it fell into place. “It”, of course, being a very silly tale, about a warning not to think you know more than you do.

You can read the story here. (Story posted at 23:54 pm)

And just like that, we were at midnight. I rewarded myself with a stretch of my legs; Phil had gone off to the station some time earlier; he’d be back tomorrow, and Gavin Taylor had turned up to give us some support over the night, as had some folks I only know from their Twitter handles, sorry… On the whole i was happy – things were going well-ish. I was still behind, but maintaining the level of ‘behind-ness’. If I could write the next one in 45 minutes, I’d have caught up a bit…

Story 12
Title: Charity Broke My Heart
word: possum
Challenger: Richard Curtis

You know what happened last time I thought that – I can catch up on the next story? Yeah…

Richard Curtis created Comic Relief. Just think on that for a moment – he bloody created Comic Relief. And when I cheekily asked them if Richard would care to make a challenge for this event, I genuinely expected a “sorry, but he’s absolutely snowed under, and couldn’t possibly pick one red nose day event over another to lend his support to.”

Instead the man not only gave me a cracking challenge, but was my first sponsor, chucking in £240 of his own cash. The man deserves a round of applause just for that. That, and my sincere thanks.

OK, as a friend of mine is wont to say, enough schmalz.

“A cracking challenge”? That’s one way of putting it. Another is that it took me five separate attempts to write a story for this challenge. Each previous story got about 150 words through the tale and then… and then… just petered out. There was nothing there… there.

By the time of effort number six, I was pacing around the room, muttering story ideas, and almost dictating them aloud just to see if the idea had anything. Ideas were flying in and out of what by that time I laughingly called my mind. (Strangely enough, one of the discarded tales came to light later on that day for another challenge.)

And then, literally, just like that, after an hour of wanting to tear my hair out… I had it. Just had it – the right story drove up, reverse parked, flashed its lights and said “OK, I’m here, what are you waiting for?”

I remember sitting down and typing solidly for about ten minutes. And then editing for another five. And that was it. It worked.

At least I hope it did. (Story posted at 01:22 am)

Yeah, you can do the maths; that story took me almost an hour and a half to write… I should have been about to post story 13, and I’d just finished story 12. I’d now written twelve stories in thirteen hours. And I had to write the next twelve stories in eleven hours. I was not pleased. At all. I was now almost an hour behind, furious at myself again, and wanting to write angrily. Fortunately, the next story gave me more than ample opportunity to do so.

But you’re going to have to wait a few days for that. It’s Good Friday, and I’m going to take off Easter from blogging about the stories. See you on Tuesday…

To read about stories 13 to 16, click here.

Title: From Beyond The Indigo
Word: breathless
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Length: 200 words exactly

MEMORANDUM
To: Secretary General, United Nations
From: Team Commander, First Contact Team 7
Date: 12th March, 20__
Subject: Resignation from post

As previously discussed, I would be grateful if you would accept this memorandum as my formal notice of resignation from the position of Team Leader, First Contact Team 7.

You will recall the circumstances of our recent first contact with the race of aliens popularly known as “The Purples”, and the events following that contact. I believe, with some justification, that to describe the events and the conesquences resulting from them as fiascos would be to understate the matter.

It is important to emphasise that my resignation should not be taken in any way as an admission of blame. As you well know, I hold you and your diplomatic team to be solely responsible for any issues; their suggestion that we introduce the concepts of metaphor and figurative description was not only ludicrous but positively dangerous when engaging with a species that communicates only literally.

Sincerely

Cmdr John Jacobs.

PS When The Earth recovers from its oxygen being destroyed, perhaps you would reconsider how wise or otherwise it was to tell the purples they made us breathless with anticipation…

© Lee Barnett, 2013


This is the eleventh story in The Twenty-Four Hour Fast Fiction Challenge. There will be thirteen others… Sponsor me to complete them!