14 September 2013

9:00 AM

14 September 2013

9:00 AM

In Competition 2814 you were invited to describe how a great writer stumbled upon an idea that he or she later put to good use.

Thanks to Messrs Allgar and Moore, Brians both, for suggesting that I challenge competitors to imagine the unlikely circumstances in which the seeds of great literary works were sown.

I enjoyed Chris O’Carroll’s tale of the genesis of that famous stage direction ‘Exit pursued by a bear’ and John O’Byrne’s account of Samuel Beckett waiting with his mother for a bus that never comes. Stephen Walsh finds the origins of Hemingway’s spare, muscular prose in the classroom.

The winners take £25 each. Lydia Shaxberd earns £30.

Exhausted from his play, young Beckett slumped under the solitary tree. The new French master approached.

‘I believe I must congratulate you on your last — ow you say? — oeuvre?’

‘Over, Sir.’

‘I do not understand zis game. You will, perhaps, to expliquer?’

‘An hour later, the French master was even more puzzled. ‘So eet lasts for a long time and very leetle happens. And at ze end, maybe no one wins. Absurd!’

The team captain exchanged caps with the next batsman who replaced him on the pitch. Beckett paused to applaud.

‘That’s only the first part, Sir. After that, both teams start again. On the next day.’

‘You mean, you play a game and nothing happens twice? In France we would not stand for that — jamais.’

Beckett looked up at the tree. ‘I think it will have leaves tomorrow,’ he said.

Lydia Shaxberd


Harold Pinter has a friend called Simon with a torch. He gets himself a torch as well, out of envy. They climb into the school playground at night and play sinister games in the dark, like jumping at shadows. ‘Wait a tick,’ says Simon, ‘let’s use the torches to send messages to each other.’ ‘How do you do that?’ asks Harold, annoyed that his chum knows something he doesn’t.’ ‘Doncha know Morse code?’ says Simon. ‘Morse?’ says Pinter. ‘I knew a man call Gorse.’ ‘No, Morse,’ says Simon, ‘he invented a sort of radio alphabet, although you can use lights, too. Between ships, say.’ Harold looks puzzled. ‘Look, take the first letters of our name. You’re H and I’m S, right?’ ‘Right,’ says Harold. ‘Well,’ says Simon, ‘you’re dot-dot-dot-dot, and I’m dot-dot-dot.’ ‘Hang on,’ says Harold, ‘I’ve just had a brilliant idea.’ At that point, they’re caught by the caretaker.

Bill Greenwell


It was bloody hot that summer in Ur and I was thinking we could do with some waters around us, then I started idly making these little mud figures, a fish, a bird, a snake, a bloke with a big thingy. I dozed off over the woman figure, but the wife dug me in the ribs and moaned that next door’s boy and girl were nicking our fruit again, our oldest lad was half-killing his brother, the third one was complaining that someone had knocked over his ziggurat,  and the youngest was rounding up the farm animals. But I’m creative, me, so I thought, hey, there’s stuff for a book here, and I’ve even got an idea for the title! I’ll get some clay tablets and hit the cuneiform! Only took me a week, but I was knackered by Saturday night and had a lie-in on the Sunday.

Brian Murdoch


I am invited to a festive sousing;

There’ll be such lusty wenches, such carousing,

’Twere shame to miss the revels at this season,

Yet, should I go, I’d drink beyond all reason;

But go I not, ’tis likely to despite me,

For Beth, the landlord’s daughter, did invite me,

And, by my troth, she hath a wanton eye.

Perchance we’ll find a chamber, by and by,

Where in her dainty pot I’ll dip my quill,

And bend the little trollop to my Will.


Forswear the ale, or tup my saucy doe:

The question is, to go or not to go?…

That line, methinks, would well repay the cost

Of noting it on paper ere ’tis lost

(’Tis but a trifle, yet may make a rhyme)

In the dark backward and abysm of time.

Brian Allgar


‘Ernestine!’ The boy had gotten used to his mother’s call as she woke from her siesta, an affectation no less hurtful than her clothing him like a girl in the smock-frock and pinafore that sloped down him like the snows of Kilimanjaro or the novels she read aloud at her salon which had gotten away from the vinous, huckleberry sour-sweetness of their native tongue; his tongue that when he had freed himself in a boy’s tuerce de muerto or ritual killing from maternal love (like the severing of subordinate clauses) would become sinewy like the minotaur he imagined some drying brown curtains to be hanging from the washing line which with an inspired estoque simulado he skewered with his toy sword as the post-meridian sun etched his shadow like a bloodstain in the parched earth. He would learn that all-American bitch, or there’d be death in the afternoon!

P.C. Parrish


Every summer of his boyhood Oscar Wilde was taken to visit his Aunt Euphemia in her rambling old house in County Wicklow. He could never remember whether she was a Fingal or an O’Flahertie, for she disavowed her married name. One day, exploring the many outhouses, Oscar came upon a discarded painting of a handsome gentleman, propped facing the wall in a dark corner. ‘That will be Uncle Fergus,’ said his father. ‘Don’t mention him to Aunt Euphemia. We never speak of him.’ This was exciting; every family needs an unmentionable uncle. Each summer Oscar sought out the painting; each summer it showed more signs of exposure to damp and dirt. Cracks spread across the face, and black mould imposed a savage leer on the mouth. Eventually the frame rotted, leaving a curl of canvas on the floor. Oscar never returned, but the experience would later bear a strange fruit.

Noel Petty

No. 2817 proverbial wisdom?

You are invited to provide a poem, in the manner of Harry Graham’s Perverted Proverbs, questioning the wisdom of a popular proverb (maximum 16 lines). Please email entries, wherever possible, to by midday on 25 September.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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