Thriller. Thriller niiiiiiiiiight. What a bloody brilliant load of fun that was, too. Yep, Tuesday saw us take over Drink, Shop & Do again, with our chilling, thrilling, spine-tingling special. Cocktails, sweets, readings, and not a single last-minute mic mishap in sight. Success!
Up first was Luana Lewis, who read from her debut novel, DON’T STAND SO CLOSE (Get it here, clickety click). And then Rosie Claverton took our thrills techno, with the second of her Amy Lane novels, CODE RUNNER, the sequel to BINARY WITNESS (you can buy both here, right here).
It was then time for a short interval, but before that, there was the ALL-IMPORTANT, LIFE-CHANGING matter of the Story Challenge to sort out. We asked the audience to suggest a theme. We asked Twitter that very same thing. The suggestions came flooding back. Nigel Farage in the 25th century. A heavy metal band that saves the world from an evil bad guy using the power of rockin’ music. Ebola. Schizophrenia. Essentially, a lot of our audience were hanging out in dark places that night.
With Ian at the helm, our theme somehow became: A schizophrenic patient having an operation for which his anaesthetic has not worked, though he is paralysed.
Follow that? No? Me neither! But off we went to the bar, and to our teams, and writing happened. More on that later.
After the interval, Fleur Smithwick treated us to a sneak preview of her debut novel, HOW TO MAKE A FRIEND, which is published in January (pre-order it here, pals). And then lovely Louise Millar closed the show with an extract from her third novel, THE HIDDEN GIRL (buy it, and her others, right… here).
Before we went home, and just before the Booker Prize announcement, it was time for a far more important verdict to be delivered: the Story Challenge. We read out our teams’ efforts and the audience voted for their winner. Here, see who you would’ve chosen:
TEAM ELLARD (Lewis, Claverton, Ellard)
I see the knife. It says this:
‘I am coming for you.’
I try to tell it this:
‘Don’t start yet. I am awake.’
The knife does not listen; it does not have a face to talk to; but it is laughing. He is laughing. I say this to the knife:
‘You know you’re not the first. This is not the first time I’ve been dissected.’
I laugh. I laugh at the knife. But I cannot hear my laugh, I cannot feel it rise. My chest is empty. But the knife says this:
‘I am coming for you.’
‘Me too, I am coming for him.’
‘Yes,’ says the sharpest knife. ‘You’re coming for him.’
I cannot move to stop them, but I can feel them. I can feel my liver, my heart, my stomach, rise up to greet the blades. They have been called.
The sharpest knife cuts first. My flesh parts willingly, falls away from that nice edge. And the work begins.
Delicious pain. Searing. Minutes, minutes, until my thin-sliced heart, my stomach is served.
I eat every morsel down.
I pay our bill.
‘Your coat, Nigel,’ says my wife. ‘Don’t forget it.’
She turns to the man in white. ‘My compliments,’ she says.
TEAM CLOKE (Smithwick, Millar, Cloke)
I am the patient. I shouldn’t be here. I’m lying on a table, eyes partially closed. I can see them. There’s three. The man who thinks he’s in charge, with the green mask over his face, and his henchmen. I can hear my breath going in and out on the ventilator, and I can hear their voices like they’re water.
I mustn’t speak because they’ve given me drugs. I know they’re operating on my brain. I can feel the knife soaring. They’re going to take my secrets…
I am the surgeon. Scalpel, please. Look closer, this is the crucial moment. What we have here is a run-of-the-mill liver transplant. And why might we need a liver transplant? Drink too much? Excess sugar? Quick – sponge!
Oh God. They’ve found it. They’ve found the place I keep my secrets. I can’t let them take them. I can’t.
Pass me the tweezers. Very, very careful. Very sensitive tissue here. SUCTION PLEASE. Can you move that light here?
What is this?
It is, isn’t it?
It’s a fucking microchip.
They’ve found it. It’s all going to come out. The secrets.
What are you doing?
Put that down!
Nurse? Nurse, stop!
They’re already here. They’ve got my secrets.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that both teams took what was already a pretty original theme and original-ed the shit out of it. Twists ALL OVER THE PLACE. Anyone would be hard-pressed to pick a winner. Well, anyone but the overwhelming majority of the audience, who voted without hesitation for Team Ellard.
So, that brings the series score to 8-7 to Team Cloke. There’s an Ian on my heels and that is a deeply uncomfortable position to be in.
Join us for our final show of the year on November 11th, when we have got a bumper bunch of absolutely wonderful authors to play with, whose names shall be revealed very soon indeed. Hooray!