Cast children’s stories exclusively with orphans

Standing outside the rhinoceros enclosure, Billy tried to hide his distress from his friends. It was in just such an enclosure that his parents had died when he was only four years old. He could still see the rhino’s breath hanging in the cold air as they clung to one another in fear. Of course, they had actually died from the effects of the virulent plague they carried whilst the rhino was distracted by the arrival of a pair of unfortunate parachutists – his best friend Suzie’s parents, as it turned out. They had been gored to death by the rhino whilst, in the sky far above, the plane they had jumped from exploded in mid-air, killing the pilot and co-pilot, who were his friend Nate’s mum and dad respectively.
‘You okay, Bill?’ asked Suzie, laying a hand gently on his shoulder.
‘Yeah,’ said Billy. ‘Just... you know.’
‘Yeah,’ said Nate, looking wistfully at the clouds above them. Just then, Naomi came back from the toilet, grinning broadly.
‘My parents should be here to pick us up soon,’ she said cheerily. ‘I love coming to the zoo.’
‘Shut up, Naomi,’ said Billy.

Make your villain genuinely evil

With thanks to my talented wife, who not only had this idea first, but executed it better.

Lord Plunderfall threw his head back and laughed.
‘Bwa ha ha ha! Your attempts to escape only serve to amuse me.’ He waved a hand towards the children and armed guards emerged from the shadows.
‘Why are you doing this?’ said Freddie.
‘Why?’ said Lord Plunderfall. ‘You ask me why? Well, the answer is quite simple. I seek to destroy the entire world because I am pure evil and wish nothing more than the death of all humanity. Bwa ha h...’
‘Really?’ interrupted Bertha. ‘That’s it? Because that seems a bit improbable.’
‘Improbable?’ thundered the dark figure uncertainly.
‘Yes,’ said Freddie. ‘It’s not all that convincing as a motive. I mean, if you destroy the entire world, where will you live?’
‘I...’ Plunderfall hesitated. ‘Never you mind. I am a force of pure malignancy and I shall tear apart the very...’
‘And if you kill everyone in the world,’ said Bertha, ‘where will you get your food from? Are you going to run your own farm? Is having a smallhold part of your masterplan?’
‘I don’t...’ He seemed to be sweating under his metal mask. ‘That is...’ Freddie shrugged.
‘It just doesn’t seem like you’ve thought it through, you know?’
‘Exactly,’ said Bertha. ‘And I’m sure there’s a more practical material you could have made that mask out of. I imagine the metal edges really chafe.’

Refuse to resolve mysteries

As the train shuddered to a halt, I lifted myself from the seat and once again examined my ticket. The printed destination remained smudged beyond legibility.
‘We haven’t gone where we were going, you know,’ said a voice from behind me. I whirled around. No one. As I backed carefully out of the carriage, I felt my shoes pinching at my feet. I looked down.
‘These aren’t my shoes,’ I muttered. As I had slept, someone must have changed them. But who, and to what purpose? Across the toe of each shoe was an inscription in a language I could not read – the same language, I quickly realised, that the menu in the disappearing restaurant had been written in. If only I had known the proprietor’s name. As I approached the train’s door, I caught a shadow of my own reflection in the darkened window. I had an inexplicable bruise above my left eye in the exact shape of the Rorschach blot which had set me off on this journey to begin with. I looked closer. It was hard to tell, but it looked like my eyes were blue instead of brown. Also, upon closer inspection, I was now a woman. I blinked. It took only a fraction of a second, but in the space of that blink, I suddenly understood the nature of memory and realised that I would never die.
I wish I could explain to you, dear reader, where I had found myself and what happened next, but for reasons I am unable to divulge, I must say no more. Farewell, my friends, farewell.

Write yourself out of a corner

(With thanks to my ever-inventive commenters)
The sirens had started blaring as soon as the Chieftain had left the cell. A few moments after that, tendrils of thick, green gas had begun to snake under the door. However, Dash was aware of none of this. As soon as the door had closed behind his captor, he had begun the mental and physical process needed to put himself into the Trance of All-Being, an ancient secret taught to him by his mysterious Space-Zen master on the hidden ice planet of Bhulfhughugt. This trance would free him from the necessity of breathing, instead allowing him to re-metabolise the oxygen within his body for up to an hour.
Next, he formed a vivid mental image of his fifth birthday, a process which generated the unique combination of brainwaves required to activate the bio-integrated quantum communications implant that nestled deep in his hypothalamus. The nanotech circuitry instantaneously sent a burst of coded data tunnelling through non-space to the paired receiving unit, fifty parsecs away. Now he had broadcast his position, help was on its way.
That just left the diamond compound walls and deadly forcefields beyond. Taking a moment to channel the never-adequately-explained power of his Space-Zen abilities, Dash sensed a complex, syncopated rhythm in the electromagnetic fields that permeated the cell. He placed one hand against the wall and breathed for a moment. Then, guided by the fluctuations of unseen forces, he rapped a seemingly random pattern with his fingertips. For a split second, the crystalline structures within the wall aligned perfectly with the pulsing of the forcefield, reflecting and focusing its power in such a way as to not only overload the field generators, but vaporise the wall itself. With a shower of sparks and a crackle of exploding neutrons, the cell was gone.
Dash sprinted down the corridor, deadly neurotoxin gas swirling around him. The door to the ship’s bridge opened as he approached. He combat-rolled through it. At the exact moment that he tumbled into the command centre, thirty heavily-armed Mhal-Evol’Unt warriors turning to face him, an explosion rocked the warship. Through the plumes of smoke and a newly-torn gash in the ship’s hull, Dash saw the familiar figure of Fumblebot, his adorable robot sidekick.
‘Well, gentlemen, this is my ride,’ he said, waving one hand at his alien captors as he hurled himself through the haze of molten metal and into the waiting starfighter. With a whistle of friendly greeting, Fumblebot fired up the engines and they were away.

Write yourself into a corner

The Mhal-Evol’Unt Chieftan flexed its serrated mandibles and activated the translation panel before speaking.
‘Allow me describe now,’ the digitised voice rasped. ‘You trapped are completely.’ It stalked across the cell, its claws scratching against the metal floor like nails on a blackboard. Captain Dash Gallant, renowned hero of the Battle of Tor’Sang, smiled grimly.
‘Is that so?’ he said.
‘Fully correct,’ the translator said. ‘Walls containing you diamond compound are. Also forcefields beyond, instant death causing. Communications impossible. Negotiation impossible. Weapons, ship, equipment destroyed. No knowledge of your presence here has Earth Fleet. Moments away, entire ship with neuropoison gas fills, to which us immune, you vulnerable. Death certainty. To Gallant, Tor’Sang butcher criminal, farewell.’
‘For a cannibal lizard-insect space mutant, you say a hell of a goodbye,’ muttered Dash. The translator made a barking sound that might have been a laugh before the Chieftan turned and left the cell.
Dash examined his surroundings. The thing was right – escape would be impossible. Even if, by some miracle, he managed to get out of the cell, there would be nowhere to go that wouldn’t soon be flooded with deadly nerve gas. Beyond the warship, which had no escape pods, there was only the emptiness of fifty parsecs of space in every direction. His luck had finally run out, he realised. This was the end.

Rely on unsolicited submissions

(This comic version of a previous post was provided by Pippin Barr and I thought it was too good not to share.)

Be topical

Pete arrived home to find his wife watching the television.
‘Any news yet?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘The negotiations have finished and there’s a coalition government.’
‘So, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats finally did a deal, did they?’ He sat down on the sofa beside her. ‘That’s predictable news.’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’m just pleased it’s all over and there’s no risk of Gordon Brown being Prime Minister.’
’Yes,’ he said, switching off the TV. ‘I’m glad that someone’s in charge, even if it is David Cameron and, to a lesser extent, Nick Clegg. What this country needs right now is consensus leadership. Now, what about the World Cup draw? Who do you think are the favourites to win?’
‘Probably Brazil.’
‘Did you say Brazil?’
‘No, just Brazil.’

Shamelessly plug your work

Dear readers,

I co-write a short film which is in the running for a National Film Board of Canada & Cannes Short Film Corner award. You can watch it here. I tell you this not only because I think you might enjoy seeing me try to write something that isn’t deliberately bad, but because I want you to vote for it by clicking ‘Like’ and I have absolutely no shame.

All the best,

NON-CONTIGUOUS HOMAGE FORTNIGHT #10: Try too hard to be The Bible

14. And so it was that the family of Pethuel came to a place which was not valley; nor was it mountain, nor forest, nor field. 15. In this place was a gathering. 16. The gathering was of many peoples, congregated there for purposes unknown, and so they did wait. 17. At this time, Pethuel joined with those who waited; a host which numbered seven times seven times seven and then three more who had just turned up, throwing the numbers off. 18. One of those who waited was Paul, who was the son of Daniel, who was the son of Peter, who was the son of David, who was the son of Enoch, whose father’s true name was forgotten, though his friends called him ‘Skipper.’ 19. They waited for ten days and seven nights, due to Paul losing count a couple of times. 20. After this time, Pethuel turned to the crowd and addressed them. “What exactly are we waiting for?” spake he. 21. And no man among them could say. 22. Seeing this, the family of Pethuel continued on their journey, saying to one another: “Well, that was a complete waste of time.”

NON-CONTIGUOUS HOMAGE FORTNIGHT #9: Try too hard to be P.G. Wodehouse

‘What what!’ bellowed Uncle Archibald Reginald Featherstone the Third, fifteenth Duke of Normington and Honourary Chair of the Haveringminster Cricket Association good-naturedly.
‘Archie!’ responded Peregrine St. John Psmythe, gallumphing guilelessly across the carefully threadbare carpet of the hallway of the Ingot Club for Gentlemen of Novel Opinions like a particularly rangy antelope in a brown tweed suit. ‘What what indeed, old fruit! How the devil?’ He pumped Archie’s hand with the vigour of a professional pump operator who, reinvigorated by a bracing round of redundancies amongst his colleagues and union-mates, has resolved to put his all into the execution of his pump-operating duties in the hope of staving off early retirement and, with it, the threat of more time to spend with his forthright and ebullient wife.
‘Perry, Perry, Perry,’ thundered Archie warmly, which was technically correct, although perhaps a touch too emphatic for the club’s older members, several of whom shifted restively beneath their newspaper pages like volcanos who are trying to sleep under the business section and keep being disturbed.
‘Archie!’ reiterated Peregrine, noticeably failing to move the conversation on.
‘Perry,’ repeated Archie, somewhat grudgingly this time.
‘Archie,’ said Peregrine. ‘How the devil? How the deuce are you? Archie, Archie, Archie. My old fruit. Uncle Archie.’ The silence which followed this stretched out like an elongated object of some kind described in unnecessary detail for comic effect.

NON-CONTIGUOUS HOMAGE FORTNIGHT #8: Try too hard to be H.P. Lovecraft

I fought my way up the sandy slope, trying desperately to keep my companion in view. Above the dune’s crest, I perceived a dull glow of light the colour of  which was a strange and unsettling shade of violet. Some force, unknown and ancient, called to me; I felt a rising of dull panic in my stomach. My companion, without so much as a momentary hesitation, crested the dune and disappeared from view; I knew at that moment that I would not see him again. Drawn further up the slope by impulses not quite my own, I scrambled breathlessly up the shifting sands before reaching a point where I could see, inch by painful inch, over the dune’s peak and onto the plateau below.
What I saw there, dear reader, submits itself not to description – not in any language known to man. From the centre of the thing, gelatinous tentacles splayed out in an untraceable knot of translucent flesh; they were coated in sand, as if the creature had been thrashing the very ground beneath it with furious wrath. In the centre of the writhing mass – God preserve me! – was a loathsome and glistening mound, composed of a material I knew not. It seemed at once living and not living – I fancied it was pulsing gently, but my own palpitations may have overwhelmed my perception. Step by horrified step, I retreated back down the dune, my mind fighting the sensation of numbing horror that now beset me. What manner of thing was that – from whence had it sprung and with what intention? As these and more questions clamoured in my mind, I became aware that I would carry the horror of what I had seen with me from that day forth.
It was the best trip to the beach ever and that’s what I did on my holidays.

NON-CONTIGUOUS HOMAGE FORTNIGHT #7: Try too hard to be Raymond Carver

The taxi arrives around midnight, then just sits outside with the engine running. I go downstairs and stand in the hallway, not wanting to turn on the light. I can feel the air moving around the house. A few doors are open, a few are closed.
Even though I can see it coming, the driver walking down the path and raising his hand, the knock on the door still manages to give me a kind of jolt. I don’t move. Maybe if I don’t move, he won’t see me. He waits a moment, the engine still running behind him. I haven’t even packed a bag. He knocks again, louder this time. I step up to the door and pull it open.
‘Taxi,’ he says. He’s a big guy, but not that big.
‘Nope,’ I say. We stand there for a few seconds. I look at him. He looks at me.
I’ve really got to stop prank-calling taxi companies.

NON-CONTIGUOUS HOMAGE FORTNIGHT #6: Try too hard to be Charles Dickens

Rotund and generous by nature, Mr. Pimplepop was a gentleman often to be found distributing hand-crafted wooden toys to poor children. In fact, he was engaged in just such an activity upon the occasion of his first encounter with the infamous Lord Snittington-Sneer.
‘My goodness, my lad,’ burbled Mr. Pimplepop, ruffling the angelic blonde hair of a young naïf. ‘How in the heavens can you be expected to carry on your daily business without the benefit of a wooden locomotive to play with?’
‘I’m awful sorry, sir,’ replied the radiant stripling. ‘I ‘ad no idea such a thing was needed.’
‘Oh ho ho,’ rumbled Mr. Pimplepop with delight. ‘No idea, you say!’ Before the sentiment could be expanded upon, however, a dark shadow stole across the heart-warming tableau and the spindly figure of Lord Snittington-Sneer lurched into sight. His face was sour and miserly, while his heart was as shrivelled and empty as his bank account was immodestly full. He struck terror into the souls of all who encountered him and it was said that he thrived especially on the fear of the impressionable young. Also, he was probably Jewish.

Include detailed stage directions


KALI: Hello?


KALI: I guess I ran out of this and everyone left. (LAUGHS)


KALI: Right.


Write to prove a point

As the sirens receded into the distance, Geoff smiled to himself in the darkness. He could still taste the metallic flavour of blood at the back of his mouth and his hands were slick with gore. Above all this, though, was the heady exhilaration of revenge. As he had watched their eyes, full of pain and too-late remorse, he had felt the burden of years falling from him. Years of rejection; years of shattered dreams; years of well-used semicolons. At last, the depth of his artistry would be understood. At last, the world would know his name. Maybe there was even “room in the market” for a confessional autobiography. “Room in the market,” they had said. Perhaps now their graves would read “there simply isn’t room in the market.” Geoff laughed. He had a feeling that the Numington-Putsch Literary Agency had drafted their last ever letter of rejection.

Suddenly change characters’ motivations

Olaf Manful smiled as he stashed the hard drive in his bag. He turned to his diminutive companion.
‘This should have all the information we need,’ he said. ‘With this, we can bring down the entire multinational criminal operation and prevent those nukes from being fired.’
‘Great, great,’ said Gilgo Shortington. ’So let’s get out of here before the guards find us.’ He moved for the door, but Olaf put a hand on his shoulder.
‘Not so fast, little buddy,’ he said. ‘I want to know what else they’ve got hidden here.’
‘Why?’ Gilgo said, throwing his hands in the air. ‘We’ve got the computer drive thing, so let’s just go.’
‘No,’ said Olaf. ‘We’re just getting started.’ Gilgo stared at him for a moment as the alarms blared around them.
‘Just getting started? What do you mean just... This is what we came for. This is the whole point. If we hang around, we’ll probably get caught and have to do a daring escape. We’ll almost definitely get into some sort of spectacular shootout. We should just go. There’s literally nothing to be gained from staying.’
‘Ha!’ Olaf laughed. ‘You’ve got a lot to learn about undercover work, little buddy.’