Week 2 of the Start Writing Fiction course is now done (yes, I’m running a day-or-so behind), so here are my latest creations for the various exercises:

Best and worst writing space


Blessed Ludditian silence. Regardless of the validity of the term ‘Ludditian’, there’s no denying the creative power unleashed by simply disconnecting. Research is one thing but writing is another: it requires disabling the network adapter, hitting F11 to full screen the app and powering through, in the zone, no peripheral distractions. All other distractions can be surmounted save the internet: source of so many ideas yet saboteur of productivity.


The thing about distractions is that–funny cat! But when you come back to what you were doing, you find that you can’t quite remember what–new movie trailer! Anyway, as I was saying, what you need–wonder if that SSD is below £90 yet? Often I find myself losing my thread, fumbling about before–is that book out yet? Which reminds me that the new issue of Ten Grand must have been released. Maybe I should go and get another cup of tea. And a biscuit.

Expanded character study

This is an expanded version of the character study from week 1:

Three times she appeared, riding into view with a billow of her harlequin coat and a burst of glorious patchwork clothing shining in the sun, each conflicting colour wrestling for attention. There was nothing attention-seeking in her behaviour, as she cycled past the library steps, ignoring the crowds and the lure of books, pedalling furiously from one side of the forecourt to the other, clearly on a mission of utmost importance, and disappearing around a corner.

Later that day she pushed her unpainted metal bicycle up the hill between the church and the fish and chip shop, wheels creaking and mudguards wobbling excitedly with each cobblestone, lunching office workers looking up at the noise and gazing curiously at her fruitbowl attire. Garish, saturated reds and oranges and yellow and blues and purples, mauve trousers, a felt, wide-brimmed hat of equally audacious colouring and bold, shining green buckle shoes. That time, as before, I did not see her face, only the curls of hair poking out from beneath the hat.

I waited at temporary traffic lights that evening, sky dipping and all of us ants anxious for home. Again she rode past, spokes squeaking and coat flapping vigorously as she willed the bike along, leaning forwards into the handlebars,  ignoring the lights and the cones and the trenches dug through the tarmac. As I sat with idle engine and watched the rainbow lady pass, it was then that she turned her head, revealing a face younger than anticipated, slender and smooth and fresh with glinting, daring eyes looking upon me in all my drabness. I wondered what she would be when her colour faded.

Familiar words in unfamiliar places

The purpose here was to use ordinary words to describe something in an unusual manner:

The market had a unique smell. A special blend of cosy, dusty, caffeinated warmth with the wet, slippery oil of chip fat and meat byproduct.

Blank page inspiration

A technique for getting started was introduced, whereby you write “Emma said…” and then carry on from there. The exercise seemed a little superfluous for me, but it did prompt me to come up with an interesting paragraph:

Emma said that the bruising would go down after a week but it had already been three days and her face was still a sweltering mess of reds and purples, occasional arcs of dull blue highlighting the swelling like whitecaps on breaking waves. “It was my fault, really,” she kept saying, over and over, mostly to herself as if even she didn’t really believe it.

Ideas for a story

The final exercise for week 2 was great fun: we had to turn the radio on and then write a 500 word story based on the first thing we heard. Here’s what I ended up with:

A quarter of a century in front of the cameras. Time compresses, each decade feeling shorter than the last. Your first 25 years stretch out forever, childhood and endless teenage summers, exam after exam, university for three years – three! What value can three years really bring? Then everything begins accelerating, until you hit your forties and realise that the previous decade seemed barely as long as those three precious years of study.

I’m 50. My last ten years roared by at such a pace I barely feel that I was part of them. I have few distinct memories, more occasional anecdotes which feel as if they were told to by second hand. Some people live only to 70, assuming no accident or illness. 70, then they just stop with a sudden stroke or heart attack. The most definitive full stop of them all.

“A quarter of a century in front of the cameras!” the interviewer says again, as if to rub it in. 25 years of vast success, 25 years struggling to get there. And perhaps another 25-or-so years still to go before my brain hemorrhages and leaves me behind as a lump of flabby meat.

“Comedy is a lens through which to see life,” I find myself saying, hating myself for it, not believing it. My mouth operates on autopilot.


The stage lights blind me from seeing the audience. They’re out there: I can hear them, laughing and clapping and gasping. Getting their money’s worth. I stand on the empty stage – always an empty stage, no props – and talk into the sucking void before me, while curtains hang in my peripheral vision, waiting to close and conceal me from view, hiding me away until my next performance.

Humour is such a subjective thing. I’ve never found any of my jokes funny. They’re not even jokes: I’m not one of those comedians who makes a living from awful puns and setups.

The audience keeps laughing. Somebody whoops. I can’t remember what it was I said.


The contestants stand hopelessly in front of the judges awaiting their verdicts and I want to kill myself. The music blares, lights flash and whirl, my co-presenter makes some kind of inane attempt at banter, playing off my dourness.

Dour, they call me.

They’re all crying now, the winners and the losers. The winners try to conceal their glee and fail. I say some words, knowing the mic will pick it up, transmit it to the edit room and send it out on a 30 second delay to millions of TV sets around the country. I turn to camera and raise my right eyebrow, just as everybody expects.

The audience erupts.

Later, they tell me we broke a ratings record.


How many comedians can you remember from more than 50 years ago? How about a century? 200 years? Comedians don’t last. Humour doesn’t last. Not like dictators last. Serial killers: nobody forgets a good bit of killing. Scientists do pretty well. Discover the Earth goes round the sun and nobody’s going to fucking forget you.

I make people laugh. Their insides hurt and strain for an evening, then they go home and sleep and tell their colleagues the next day about how funny it was and then he said this but really you had to be there and it’s all in the way he does it, it was funny at the time, honest.

Filling in the gaps. That’s what I do. The gaps between the moments when people do important work. Nobody talks about Einstein’s inspiration in a New York comedy club or how Stalin liked knock-knock jokes.


I stand naked in my bedroom at night, a flashlight balanced on the dresser and pointed at my face. I can’t see anything save the light, everything else is crushed down to blackness. I could play a recording of audience cheering and, really, what would be the difference?



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