Episode 19: What Went Down

So, that was fun. It was bloody wonderful to be back, you know. We missed you guys.

Cocktails were drunk, raps were rapped, songs were sung, and people shouted MEATSPACE a whole bunch.

In the midst of all that were some absolutely stellar readings: Nikesh Shukla with the aforementioned and brilliant MEATSPACE (buy it, seriously, just clickety click), Lucy Ribchester with her truly wonderful debut, THE HOURGLASS FACTORY (treat yourself, we insist) and Chris Killen with the utterly charming IN REAL LIFE (click it, for reals).

And then in between all that, there was a little thing called the Story Challenge. We asked the audience for a theme. They suggested several. Meatspace featured, as did meat in space (thing is, folks, that’s been done). And then there was ‘Mario Balotelli has tea with the Queen‘.

Oh hello. That sounds like a go-er.

So in the interval, we toddled off in our teams and wrote something about just that.

And here those somethings are. (Hold on tight. Things are about to get weird.)

Team Ellard (Ellard, Ribchester, Shukla)

‘So you’re not the real Mario Balotelli?’ said the Meat Queen, in her squelchy wellies. She stepped through a puddle of meaty blood toward Mario Balotelli.

‘And this isn’t really tea,’ said a Mario Balotelli.

‘This is my finest tripe, young serf!’ bellowed the Meat Queen, in a Scottish accent.

‘I thought there’d be tea,’ said a Mario Balotelli, losing his patience.

‘Well, I thought you’d be Mario Balotelli.’

‘Who is Mario Balotelli?’ said a Mario Balotelli.

‘Well, he’s a -‘

‘No! I am Mario Balotelli, and I have come here through the meat locker, here into Meatspace, to vanquish you, Meat Queen!’

‘You dare to challenge my meat crown!’ She clutched her meat crown, which was made of intercostal sinew, binding together like a dozen ribs.’

‘I brought you a present,’ said this Mario Balotelli.

He, that Mario Balotelli, thrust before him a big, veiny, repulsively luxurious beef tomato. Ashamed, the Meat Queen abdicated.

*

Team Cloke (Cloke, Killen)

Who is Mario Bartelleli? thought the Queen. What is he all about? What do I need to ask him? And why is he having tea with me?

Lol crazy easy. Is it for real??? sad face sad face sad face lol. This was all Twitter had to offer. On Wikipedia, she accidentally clicked on the song ‘Mario Balotelli’ by Ruff Squad.

Okay, thought the Queen, he sounds interesting, obviously into the arts. Perhaps a poet.

The door to the royal chamber opened. ‘Ma’am,’ said her advisor. ‘Mario Baro-erm-telelli is here.’

Outside the royal chamber, Mario Balotelli wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. ‘Queen are a British rock band formed in London in 1970,’ he read again, and then he closed Wikipedia and slid his phone into his pocket.

They sound interesting, he thought.

*

To be honest, we were so unsettled by the Meat Queen and her sinewy headwear that we almost missed the vote. But there was a vote, and for once it actually was a close one. So close, in fact, that we decided to call it a draw. What a lovely, friendly way to kick off our 2015 season.

It won’t last.

So join us next time! That next time is Tuesday 10th March, and we have very exciting line-up news coming your way on the morrow.

Episode 19: 10/02/15

We’re baaaaaaack…

Yes, after a short winter hiatus, Speakeasy returns. Three glorious authors, three extra-special readings. And – of course – the return of the Story Challenge: off-the-cuff fiction created on the spot on a theme chosen by you.

And those glorious authors? Well:

NIKESH SHUKLA is a writer of fiction and television. His new book, MEATSPACE, is out now and according to the Guardian, ‘Like Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, this novel captures a cultural moment.’ He is also the author of COCONUT UNLIMITED, which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2010 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2011, and lots of other pretty excellent stuff.

LUCY RIBCHESTER’s highly-anticipated debut novel, THE HOURGLASS FACTORY, was published last month, and described by We Love This Book as ‘fascinating historical mystery from a talented new author’. She won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2013, and is now a freelance dance journalist and adult education tutor as well as a writer of fiction.

CHRIS KILLEN is the author of the critically-acclaimed THE BIRD ROOM, and now IN REAL LIFE, which the Guardian claims ‘has, in bucketfuls, heart.’ The Independent, by the way, called THE BIRD ROOM ‘an adroit, snappy debut, a dark and beguiling meditation on the weight of being… a novel so fresh it practically pings with energy.’ He lives and writes in Manchester.

They’ll be there – so we’d love it if you were too. Drink, Shop & Do, Tuesday 10th Feb, free from 7pm. Get the best views and the comfiest seats by booking a table: mail@drinkshopdo.com.

Episode 18: 11/11/14

So the end of the year approaches – for us, anyway. November is our last Speakeasy of 2014, and so to see us out in style, we’ve lined up an absolute cracker of a show for you.

As always, there’ll be cocktails, cake, the return of the Story Challenge, and also readings from THESE WONDERFUL AUTHORS:

ANTONIA HONEYWELL’s debut novel THE SHIP has been described as ‘a rites-of-passage novel, a love story, and a high-concept thriller’, and will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in February next year. She’s been writing all her life, and has worked at the Natural History Museum and, for ten years, as a teacher.

LINDA MANNHEIM is the author of, among others, ABOVE SUGAR HILL (Influx Press), of which Eimear McBride has said: “Mannheim’s restive tales of her desiccated stretch of New York provoke and abide like a slap.” Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, New York Stories and Nimrod International Journal.

MARC BURROWS is a senior community moderator for the Guardian’s ‘Comment Is Free.’ He removes comments when the CIF hits the fan. His collection of the best and most baffling, I THINK I CAN SEE WHERE YOU’RE GOING WRONG, is published by Faber this month. He is also a stand-up comedian and bass player in the anachronistic punk band The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing.

STEPHEN DEAS was born in Southeast England and mostly brought up in a town full of retired colonels. He took to making up imaginary friends to supplement his real ones, and unlike most people never quite stopped. He currently lives in Essex and writes fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction novels. THE ROYALIST is either his thirteenth or fourteenth novel, depending on how you look at things, and his first venture into purely historical fiction.

TOM SAVAGE recently quit a successful teaching career to spend a year writing. In that time he has produced a screenplay, a novel, and several short stories. He published his debut novel, TRACKS IN THE SMOKE, this week.

See what we mean? It’s a cracker. A corker. BIG.

We’ll see you there, right? Drink, Shop, Do, November 11th, free from 7pm. Book a table by emailing mail@drinkshopdo.com.

Episode 17: The Thrilling One

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.’

And then:
‘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!

Goodness.

How interesting…

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.

Whatevs.

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!

Episode 17: 14/10/14

Close your eyes, and hope that this is just imagination… cos this is thriller, thriller night.

Yes, Speakeasy is back with an edge-of-your-seat thriller special. Chilled and chilling cocktails, a playlist with more twists than a rollercoaster ride with Gillian Flynn, and nerve-racking readings from these four mega-talents:

LOUISE MILLAR is the author of psychological thrillers The Hidden Girl, Accidents Happen and The Playdate. We can expect ‘Creeping paranoia, nail-biting tension and fiendishly clever plotting’ from her, according to Lucy Diamond (writing about Accidents Happen, which Marie Claire also called ‘nerve-shredding’). Louise lives in London with her husband and children and is currently writing her fourth novel.

LUANA LEWIS is a clinical psychologist and the author of two non-fiction books. As well as writing for several newspapers, magazines and journals, she has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Don’t Stand So Close is her début novel, a gripping psychological thriller about a reclusive psychologist who is forced to confront trauma from her past and secrets in her marriage.

FLEUR SMITHWICK studied French Literature at Southampton University and worked in various jobs, including twelve years as a school secretary, before becoming a full-time writer. She has won several short story prizes, and her first novel, HOW TO MAKE A FRIEND, will be published by Transworld in January (lucky us – sneak preview!). She lives in London with her husband and two children.

ROSIE CLAVERTON grew up in Devon, daughter to a Sri Lankan father and a Norfolk mother, before moving to Cardiff to study Medicine. As well as writing short films, she is the author of Binary Witness, and now Code Runner, the first two books in the Amy Lane Mysteries. She also blogs about psychiatry and psychology for writers in her Freudian Script series, advocating for accurate and sensitive portrayals of people with mental health problems in fiction.

As well as all that, you get the opportunity to get those four aforementioned authors to write something off-the-cuff and entirely customised by YOU.

Plenty to be thrilled about, we think you’ll agree.

Tuesday, 14th October. Drink Shop Do, free from 7pm. Book your little bottom a seat by emailing mail@drinkshopdo.com.

Episode 16: What happened

Yep, this week saw September’s Speakeasy hit Drink Shop Do, and with it, an absolutely vintage crop of wonderful authors.

Up first was Janina Matthewson, with an utterly charming reading from her debut novel, OF THINGS GONE ASTRAY (give yourself the gift of buying it here). Following her was Maia Walczak, with a beautiful extract from her first novel, THE COLOUR BLACK (buy it here, right here).

Before we went to the interval, there was the not-at-all small matter of the Short Story Challenge to decide. For the first time ever, we also offered the power to Twitter, with anyone wishing to suggest a theme just having to do so via the hashtag #speakeasy. Difficult as it was to turn down ‘Frogs who love mushrooms’ and ‘Something to do with moths’, our winner, by quite a margin (the Quercus table in particular made their feelings known) was ‘Alarming conversations overheard on public transport’.

After a short interval of refuelling and creating, Amy Key kicked off the second half with some truly joyous poems from her collection, LUXE (which you absolutely must buy right here). Rounding off the show was – and let’s take a moment to say this again, New York Times bestselling – Hester Browne, who treated us to a hilarious reading from her latest novel, THE HONEYMOON HOTEL (buy it here, smart people).

Then all that was left to do was to reveal the masterpieces our teams had produced on the subject of ‘Alarming conversations overheard on public transport’. And here they are:

Team Ellard (Walczak, Matthewson, Ellard)

‘Damn these creatures!’ said the driver to his boy. ‘An hour behind already, and we’ve yet to meet the London Road. When we arrive, Terrence is for the glue man.’

‘Oh,’ said Terrence, a horse, to Bertram, also a horse.

Terrence had been pulling the Bath-to-London stagecoach for near seven years, without so much as a whinny of complaint. Bertram turned his head, hoping Terrance wouldn’t notice.

‘Psst! Did you hear that?’ he said to Penelope and Calliope, two more horses. ‘Driver says Terrence is for the glue man.’

‘Let’s kill him,’ said Penelope, who, you’ll remember, was a horse.’

‘Terrence?’ said Calliope, the stupidest of the four horses.

‘No, you stupid nag,’ said Penelope. ‘The driver.’

‘We can’t kill the driver,’ said Bertram. ‘He’s the boss.’

‘But did you ever stop wonder why he’s the boss?’ said Penelope, who was fairly subversive for a horse. ‘We never agreed to this.’

By chance, at that moment, the London Road passed by a field of wild horses. Bertram looked longingly upon their frolicking. Penelope was wanging on about insurrection and the rights of the working horse, but Bertram was not listening. He could think only of the warming sun and the delicious, nourishing, soft, wet grass.

‘Fuck that,’ he said. ‘Let’s kill the boy.’

***

It would be seven hours before a passing highwayman discovered the wreckage of that stagecoach – the caved-in head of the little boy, the nibbled hair. He stole what he could – he was not a horse, remember, he was a highwayman – and in his delight, he failed to notice that four of the frolicking horses had blood-stained leather bridles still trailing behind them.

Team Cloke (Browne, Key, Cloke)

‘Hi babe! How are you?… Okay, okay, right, listen, listen – the best thing to do is to find somewhere to lie down… Just chill, babe, chill. Is Dave there?… Great, great. Can you ask him to get some tea towels, some newspaper, that kind of thing. Hot water probably good too…

Has he done that? Great, okay… It’s alright, it’s easy. I know this isn’t how we planned it, but I’m gonna talk you through it, it’s going to be okay… Right, is Dave there again? Tell him to get the… no, no, you’re going to need a knife… Yeah, the sharpest one. No, not that one – yeah. Okay, at this point, he might want to have a shot… Because you only want to do one cut – we wanna get this right, we don’t want any butchery.

Okay, keep breathing. Keep breathing. Plunge – and I mean plunge – the knife in the hot water… Right, give Dave another shot – tell him he doesn’t need to look if he doesn’t want to – ready? Are you sure you’re ready?… Breathe… AND CUT… … … Is the ice cream still frozen?… Yes? YES! You’ve made a baked Alaska, babe.’

Two fine efforts, I think you’ll agree. We put it to the audience, and the audience voted. It was a close call, but despite Team Ellard’s wonderfully inventive interpretation, Team Cloke just nudged it. Which takes the score to 8-6. It is, as always, all to play for in October.

And October, Challenge Fans, is an extremely exciting thriller special, hitting DSD on Tuesday 14th. More info to come… you just wait there, on the edge of your seat.

EPISODE 16: 09/09/14

September is coming, and with it, Episode 16 of Speakeasy. And it is a beauty. These are the things you need to know:

Tuesday 9th, Drink, Shop & Do.

Readings, cocktails, and the return of the Short Story Challenge, where our authors work together to craft brand-new, off-the-cuff fiction on a theme chosen by YOU.

And, most importantly, these four ridiculously wonderful authors:

HESTER BROWNE writes old-fashioned (AND NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING!!) romantic novels about falling in love, standing on your own two feet, and learning how to make the perfect gin and tonic (or Shirley Temple). They include THE LITTLE LADY AGENCY IN THE BIG APPLE, THE FINISHING TOUCHES, SWEPT OFF HER FEET, and now HONEYMOON HOTEL. She was born in England’s Lake District, read English at Trinity College, Cambridge, and worked as a fiction editor before leaving publishing to write full time.

AMY KEY is a poet and editor, whose debut collection, LUXE, was published by Salt last year. She grew up in Kent and South Tyneside before moving to London in 2001. She co-edits the online journal Poems in Which and is currently editing a new anthology of poems on friendship among women, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, due to be published by The Emma Press later this year.

JANINA MATTHEWSON is a writer and trained actress from Christchurch, New Zealand, who now lives in London. OF THINGS GONE ASTRAY is her first full-length novel, and was published by The Friday Project this month. She says she makes the best chocolate cake in the world, a claim which we would be extremely happy to help verify.

MAIA WALCZAK’s debut novel THE COLOUR BLACK has just been published by Jacaranda Books. She is also a self-taught artist and author-illustrator of children’s picture books. She was born in London, spent her childhood summers in the forests of Poland, and has lived in the UK, Australia and Chile. She is also part of The Happy Gallery, an art collective who organise bi-annual pop up exhibitions, where 50% of the profits go to charity.

Free, from 7pm. The first reading’s at 8, so don’t be late. You can book a table (and snap up the very best ones first) by emailing mail@drinkshopdo.com.

Episode 15: What Happened

Well that was a bit brilliant. Tuesday saw August’s edition of Speakeasy hit Drink, Shop & Do, and goodness, goodness – what a one it was. Yet another fully-booked out night, yet more cocktails, yet more 1920s jazz and late 90s hiphop. Good times. Good times all round.

Up first, lovely Sarah Perry bewitched us with an extract from the unnervingly excellent AFTER ME COMES THE FLOOD (you must absolutely buy it here). She was swiftly followed by the brilliant Hannah Vincent, who read to us from her fab debut, ALARM GIRL (buy it here, right here).

We took a short break, during which we got to work on the all-important Short Story Challenge – more on that later – and then enthralling Emmi Itaranta brought us into the second half with a beautifully parched extract from MEMORY OF WATER (here, please, here). Finally, continuing the theme, Speakeasy favourite Kerry Hudson rounded off the show with a totally enchanting reading from her heart-swelling second novel, THIRST (which you should immediately purchase right here).

All that was left was for Nicci and Ian to present the results of their teams’ efforts for the Short Story Challenge. The theme for this month – thank you to the lovely lady sitting at the bar – was ‘Love Affair Mid-Air’, and what a great theme that was. And here, reprinted below for your reading pleasure, are the exact things that our teams did with it.

Team Cloke (Perry, Vincent, Cloke)

The hot wax drips down his neck as he falls, stars and feathers rushing up toward him. It is the first time in his life that Icarus sees stars and sunshine all at once. Stars and sunshine and pain and pleasure and fear and joy. If this isn’t euphoria, what is? He sees the land hurtling closer, and fancies it is the coast that he knows so well. Because if he is to fall, where else but there? He is down there. He is waiting. He is his life’s love. The person who has made Icarus fly.

And the very thought of him buoys Icarus, it pushes at his skin. He can feel it strengthening and flexing him, even the stubs of the wings that now are part of him. And the wings are growing, they are thickening, they are stiffening.

And he is flying.

Halfway between love and light.

Again.

Team Ellard (Itaranta, Hudson, Ellard)

It was a hot Tuesday in August and the city was full of love. At the London Wetlands Centre, dragonflies were docking deliciously. In Peckham Rye, a pair of pigeons were procreating passionately. In steamy Streatham, seagulls were sexing. Seriously.

In frightful Fulham, fruitbats fucked. Obviously.

On top of Charing Cross Hospital, there was a peregrine falcon, smoking a cigarette, while Aino-Elina Virtanen, who was Finnish, slept. Michael Gove, who had an unlikely name for a falcon, was thinking ‘I wonder if sex exists with love? I wonder if the two can ever come together?’

He smirked a mirthless, childish smirk. On a falcon, with its solid lips, that looks particularly desperate.

Aino Elina Vertanen, the Finnish falcon, stirred. She was dreaming.

Of material success.

Two houses, both alike (debatably) in dignity. So we put it to the audience, who voted by the use of their fair hands. It was close (it was – shhh Ian’s team), but in the end, Team Ellard and Michael Gove the peregrine falcon prevailed, making the score 7-6 to Team Cloke. Team Ellard are closing the gap, meaning in September it’s all to play for.

And that’ll be September 9th, by the way, Challenge Fans, when we’ve got another stupendously wonderful line-up just for you. Full line-up to be revealed this week; keep those peepers peeled.

Episode 15 is announced

August is almost upon us, and with it comes a brand new Speakeasy. One of our absolute favourites is returning, along with three unbelievably brilliant debut authors, and we. Cannot. Wait.

As always, there’ll be cocktails, there’ll be cake and there will be the infamous Short Story Challenge, where our authors will write in teams on a theme decided by YOU. And, most importantly, there’ll be readings from these smashers:

KERRY HUDSON is the author of TONY HOGAN BOUGHT ME AN ICE-CREAM FLOAT BEFORE HE STOLE MY MA and THIRST, and the founder of the amazing WoMentoring scheme. She’s been nominated for all manner of awards, won the Scottish First Book Award for TONY HOGAN, and has also written for Grazia, Guardian Review and YOU Magazine.

SARAH PERRY’s debut novel, AFTER ME COMES THE FLOOD, was published in June, and was rather excellently described as ‘a country-house suspense as if reimagined by Chekhov, with a nod to Kafka’ by the Telegraph. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, and has lived in Cambridge, Manila, London & Norwich.

EMMI ITARANTA is the author of MEMORY OF WATER, a novel she wrote simultaneously in both Finnish and English. It won the Fantasy and Sci-fi Literary Contest organised by the Finnish publishing house Teos. It was published to enthusiastic reviews in Finland in 2012, and the translation rights have since been sold in fourteen territories.

HANNAH VINCENT began her writing life as a playwright. Her plays include The Burrow, Throwing Stones (Royal Court Theatre) and Hang (National Theatre Studio). She worked as a BBC television script editor from 1996 – 2001 and now teaches Creative Writing for the Open University. Her debut novel, ALARM GIRL, is published this month.

They’ll be there, and we’d love to see you too: 12th August, Drink Shop Do, free from 7pm (the first reading’s at 8). If you like the best seats (and who doesn’t), you can reserve a table by emailing mail@drinkshopdo.com.

Episode 14: What Happened

Let this round-up state first that it was in no way delayed by Episode 14 occuring on anyone’s birthday, or any such birthday person drunkenly misplacing their notes. No. That did not happen.

ANYWAY: what an absolute, all-round, genuine corker of a night July’s Speakeasy was. Three truly wondrous authors gifted us with readings: Elizabeth Aaron with LOW EXPECTATIONS (buy it here, do it now). Emma Healey with ELIZABETH IS MISSING (get it by clicking right here, right here). Jessie Burton with THE MINIATURIST (get it here, you must you must).

And as if that wasn’t enough fun for one night, there was of course the all-important Short Story Challenge. We asked our audience for a theme. They suggested: ‘Dangerous Haribo’. ‘Naked Birthday’. ‘Sandpit Dreams.’ We asked the extremely brilliant bartenders of Drink Shop Do which they liked best, and they chose ‘Sandpit Dreams’.

We divided our authors into teams according to the halves of the show – so in Team Ellard were Elizabeth Aaron and Emma Healey. But as lovely Jessie Burton was on her own in the second half, her editor, the wonderful Francesca Main, agreed to join Team Cloke and even things up. No, it is not cheating to have an author and their editor on the same team. IT IS NOT.

There was a twenty minute interval in which our teams had to create their Sandpit Dreams masterpiece. And at the end of the show, we read our efforts out, and asked the audience to vote on a winner. Here are those efforts. Prepare yourselves.

Team 1 (Burton, Main, Cloke)

He can see for miles, and all he can see are dunes. His mouth is dry and he can feel grit in his molars. He knows he has to keep walking, because to stop would be to die. The sand is so hot you could fry an egg on it. All he can think of is a bottle of cola, refreshing on his tongue.

He can see it on the horizon – a long, green mass, the sun sinking behind it. If he can make it there, he’s sure he’ll be safe.

He keeps trudging; to his left, crumbling ruins – a broken turret, half a wall, no doors. His sight is going; when he closes his eyes against the sun, all he can see is red: cherries and hearts. Still he pushes on.

But as he approaches the green mass, it seems to solidify – not into leaves, but into bars, into the tines of a fork. And the fork lifts up and out of the sand and away from him, and then there is water. There is a deluge of it, from head to toe, and he thinks that it must be a dream.

‘Yes, that’s it, wash all the sand off – there’s a good boy.’
Chuck looks at the little jelly man in the middle of his fat starfish hand, and then he looks up at his mother and shovels the sweet, grit and all, into the gaping cave of his mouth.
‘Okay,’ his mother says. ‘Time to go home. Out of the sandpit now.’


Team 2 (Aaron, Healey, Ellard)

‘Stop!’ said Tom.

‘It’s not voice activated,’ said Fernando. ‘Unfortunately.’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake,’ said Tom, who was a construction worker.

‘It’s warmer in here,’ said Fernando, also a builder, or “construction worker”.

‘I feel sick,’ said Tom.

The cement mixer continued ineluctably to turn; two hours now. And all the Haribo was gone. Their naked birthday buttocks pressed against the cold cement surface, mashing their delicate parts together uncomfortably. Despite the obvious romance of the mise-en-scene, their sugar crashes came on unabated, ruining the sexual tension irretrievably.

‘Imagine,’ said Tom, ‘how much comfortabler we’d be, in that sandpit.’

‘You’re off your tits,’ said Fernando, ‘on Tangfastics! There is no sandpit!’

‘What’s that, then,’ said Tom, gesturing with his spiralling nose.

‘My nude friend,’ said Fernando, on his birthday. ‘That’s just a sandpit dream.’

And so they spun, forever, together.

Despite creating what is perhaps the most random, disturbing piece of fiction the Short Story Challenge has ever seen (and that’s saying something), when it came to the vote, Team Ellard lost out to the futile plight of Team Cloke’s Haribo soldier, taking the series score to 7-5 to Team Cloke. Let the record show that this victory was in no way related to emotional blackmail or to it being anyone’s birthday.

Join us again, Challenge Fans, on 12th August. Drink Shop Do, free, from 7pm.