Wow. That was quite a lot of fun, my friends. Quite a lot indeed. Yep, Speakeasy came to Drink, Shop & Do again, and like a tornado of literary shenanigans, we left no heart or mind untouched. Well, like, in that room. Not in the world. NOT YET.
We were very very very sadly down an Ian, which is never a state one should find themselves in. Fortunately, Nicci’s very kind friend Gemma became an Ian for the night, and took the reins of Team Ellard for the all-important story challenge. BUT WAIT. It’s not time for that bit yet.
Essie Fox kicked us off with a beautiful and most exciting extract from her new and third novel, THE GODDESS AND THE THIEF (Get it here. Click it.). Then Naomi Wood took us on holiday with Hemingway, his wife, and his mistress. You can go too, and meet his other three wives as well, by buying MRS HEMINGWAY (here, do it here).
Before we plunged into the interval and our happy vat of cocktails, we had a challenge to set. As always, we asked the audience for a theme. As always, they were full to the brim with excellent ones. Polar Bears and Unicorns. Silver Linings. Twins. Hemingway. It went on. We picked the top three in a totally undemocratic fashion (the ones Nicci liked best/remembered in all the excitement) and the audience voted.
Our theme was selected: An Inexplicable Coincidence on Chiswick High Road.
Interval over, cocktails consumed, Jason Hewitt treated us to an extract from his debut novel, THE DYNAMITE ROOM. It’s Desmond Elliott longlisted, and also he does the actual best little-bit-German accent so please do buy it here (Click itttttt). And, finishing us off delightfully, Claire McGowan read the prologue from her new book, THE DEAD GROUND, ending neatly just before it got to ‘the really harrowing bit’. If, like us, you want to find out exactly WHAT IS IN THE KITCHEN THAT IS SO HARROWING immediately now please, you should buy it here (Clickedy click).
And then there was just time for the bit you’ve been waiting for, Challenge Fans: THE STORIES. You’ll remember – having, presumably, memories longer than a paragraph ago – that the theme was ‘An Inexplicable Coincidence on Chiswick High Road’. Team Gemma-slash-Ian (Murray, Wood, Fox) were up first:
Bertie hadn’t expected to run out of fresh coffee beans that day. His head throbbed from last night’s excesses and all he wanted was a thick, black espresso to make him feel human again, and less like a shuffling ape. He took his Starbucks mug with him ready for whoever could drip coffee into it.
Chiswick High Road was clogged with traffic and leaves and chi-chi people pushing prams and coffee shops with no coffee in them. The traffic was heading to Turnham Green where Zippo’s Circus was performing. He headed toward the Big Cats section, head swollen without caffeine. Where was all the coffee? Coffee, coffee everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
He sat down – collapsed down – on a bench in front of an animal cage, not sure if the growling thrum he heard was his belly or some exotic creature. With his head in his hands, he groaned and slumped forward, dropping his Starbucks mug onto the grass below – only to be woken from his reverie by a ginormous wet fart, and a sudden explosion of little brown pellets landing – splat! – into his empty mug.
And there – although Bertie hadn’t realised this inexplicable coincidence – was a clusterfuck of coffee beans, shat out by a rare Asian Civet Cat – the most expensive, exclusive coffee to be found in the western world – and here it was, freely gifted, by Zippo’s Circus on Chiswick High Road.
A coincidence indeed. And then onto Team Cloke’s (Cloke, Hewitt, McGowan) effort:
‘You look like shit. You’ve dyed your hair again.’
‘Well, that’s not very nice.’
‘In the picture. Not now.’
‘There.’ He points.
I look at the window of the art gallery, at a photograph. And there I am. I can’t believe it. I’m in the photograph, in next to nothing. My hair is long and bleached, and my God am I glad it’s long because it’s the only thing covering me.
But that’s not the weirdest thing.
‘When did you pose for that?’ my boyfriend asks.
Ten minutes later, I call my mother.
‘I’ve just seen a picture – it looks exactly like me. But I don’t remember it,’ I say.
‘Where did you see it?’
‘On Chiswick High Road. Why does it matter where?!’
My mother pauses.
‘I always wondered where she ended up.’
‘Who the fuck is Mary?’
‘She’s your twin.’
Two valiant efforts, two (actually, a pedant might note, explicable) Chiswick-based coincidences. The audience voted. It was a small – some might say tiny – margin, but Gemma’s dulcet Geordie tones and the caffeinated stink of big cat shit clinched it. Team Ellard seized the victory, meaning that, even in Ian’s absence, the score goes to 5-4 to him.
Until next time, dearhearts. And that next time will be May 13th, when, like a literary Aladdin and Jasmine, we are bringing you whole new worlds: it’s our Fantasy special, and it’s going to be HUGE. Full details coming at you very, very soon.