We think today is a bit like Boxing Day. Not because there was no work (there was work). A bit because there were fuzzy heads (which aren’t in the slightest compatible with work). But mostly because yesterday WAS LIKE MOTHERHUGGING CHRISTMAS DAY, dudes. A special super YA extravaganza of a Speakeasy. And it was glorious.
Tom Easton kicked things off for us with a prime rib-tickling extract from his latest novel, BOYS DON’T KNIT (buy it here. You must). Then Sophie Lovett took the stage to read a properly edge-of-our-seats section from her debut, LILI BADGER. And Tom Pollock took us into the break with an action-packed, sound-effects-provided reading from THE CITY’S SON, the first book in his SKYSCRAPER THRONE trilogy, which you can buy right here. Buy the second book too. And wait impatiently for the final chapter. We insist.
Before we turned up the music and topped up our glasses and did our mingling and fancy small-talking, there was the all important story challenge to set. We asked the audience to come up with a theme. They came up with many: Scientology. Baby otters wearing hats. Penguins wearing coats. A dustbin knocked over in the back streets of Whitechapel.
All fine, fine suggestions. But we had to choose JUST ONE. We asked the bar staff to pick, and they gave us:
A DUSTBIN KNOCKED OVER IN THE BACK STREETS OF WHITECHAPEL
Off we went in our teams. Drinking happened. Writing happened. The interval over-ran just a teensy bit.
Music turned back down, listening faces on, and Tanya Byrne took the stage first, with a deliciously atmospheric chapter of HEART-SHAPED BRUISE (Buy it! Here!). Then Non Pratt treated us to two beautiful parallel sections from her debut novel, TROUBLE (get it here, yo). And finally, James Dawson hopped upon our bar, and scared the living shit out of us all with the FIRST EVER (that’s what he told us and we’re sticking to it) reading from SAY HER NAME (pick it up here right now or at least just as soon as it’s published, the very instant).
Except that wasn’t ‘finally’. Because there was JUST THE TINY MATTER of a challenge to settle, Challenge Fans. Here, for your enjoyment, judgement and bewilderment, are our teams’ efforts.
(Dawson, Byrne, Pratt)
(TO BE READ IN AN APPALLING ATTEMPT AT A COCKNEY ACCENT)
All I knew was to turn left at the knocked-over dustbin on the corner of a backstreet in Whitechapel. The first thing I see is a peeling poster for Pears’ soap. I smelt it before I saw it; sawdust, sweat and piss. Deep into the shadows I was before I came upon the first cage.
I couldn’t Adam and Eve it – a monkey! Wicked little thing, teeth as sharp as Sweeney’s blade, smoking a cigarette he was! Didn’t even look at me as I continued through this alleyway circus.
Second cage, little more than a hat box housed a taxidermist’s otter, wearing a monocle and top hat – posh as you like.
But I was there for what was swaddled in my arms. The rotten fruit of my own cursed womb. Your man the ringmaster; he took but a one second glance and snatched my baby from his treacherous mother’s hands.
(Pollock, Easton, Lovett)
‘You awful lizard!’
‘Stand up and fight me!’
‘I am standing!’ said famous Scientologist and tiny person, Tom Cruise, his eyeline barely breaking the lid of the dustbin.
‘Get out of that bin, Tom Cruise,’ said the Thetan. ‘And face… your… free personality test.’
‘This isn’t about the bin,’ said Tom Cruise. ‘This is much more about Scientology, I’d say.’
‘No, Tom Cruise,’ said the Thetan. ‘Tiny, famous actor you may be, but wrong you also are, too. This is about the bin.’
Tom Cruise’s pride scuttled around the grimy Whitechapel bin bottom like a big rat.
‘This has always been about the bin! Get out of the bin, Tom Cruise!’ said the Thetan.
‘Um…’ hesitated Tiny Tom Cruise. ‘Little help?’
‘Little you may be,’ said the Thetan, ‘but help… you are not.’
And with that, and with a clang, the Thetan knocked over the bin in the backstreets of Whitechapel, spilling Tiny Tom Cruise to the pavement, his pride slopping down through his hair like a bin juice shower.
‘Thanks,’ said Tiny Tom Cruise, rolling away down Whitechapel Road in slow motion, a technique he had picked up filming Mission Impossible or Mission Impossible Two. Pigeons took flight like low budget doves.
‘I fucking hate London,’ said Tiny Tom Cruise.
As will be clear to the reader, one team chose to give a witty little nod to one of the other suggested themes WHILE STAYING ON BRIEF, while the other team showed a flagrant disregard for the agreed theme and did WHAT THEY DAMN WELL WANTED, but hey, you know what, a life of crime clearly pays because we asked the audience to vote and they crowned Team Ellard the victors. To be fair, Team Cloke could not deny that it was an excellent story that did, inarguably, feature a bin knocked over in the backstreets of Whitechapel.
So, that brings the series score to a draw: 4 all. It’s all to play for. But what will happen next? Will Ian He-Does-What-He-Wants Ellard pull ahead? COME ALONG ON APRIL 8TH and find out, guys…