Bestselling novelist Jeffrey Archer came into our offices in November to speak to students on Curtis Brown Creative‘s novel-writing course and share his tips on storytelling. Unlike other guest speakers, though, Jeffrey set some homework. Stressing the importance of economy to good writing, he asked the group to produce a story – one with a beginning, middle and end – of exactly 100 words (including title). It could be about anything; the only criterion was it should be a proper story – not just a description or character sketch. Well, Lord Archer has now selected his favourites. Here they are in reverse order:
The couple were clearly in love. They walked into the hotel lobby, laughing over a shared joke, the woman’s gloved hands resting in the nook of the man’s arm. They were both unfamiliar with the city, the language; it had been a spontaneous trip. After four years of being together, it was uncharacteristic for either one of them to depart from their carefully planned routine.
They stepped into the elevator. On the seventh floor, the man’s mobile phone rang.
‘Who is it?’ the woman asked.
The man sighed, and the woman recognised his expression.
‘My wife,’ he said.
‘Talk to me.’
But her hand wilts in mine and I am alone. I hear fading harried voices. Then silence.
I remember the screams. The wild looks. My ‘I will always love you’ drowning in sirens and more horror shots. She kisses me. I put my hand against our future. ‘Your mother is beautiful,’ I say and feel a kick. My heart breaks.
Our love-spun web is intact in spite of my distance. It is what holds me in the ever-after, waiting for the day when she will appear and with her miracles bring us back to life.
The Zoo of Extinct Animals
‘Eight hours straight. Best sleep I’ve ever had,’ said Phil.
‘The dodo didn’t squawk its head off?’ said Mike.
Phil shrugged, as they shuffled past the quagga cage. Nearby, the sabre-toothed tiger roared. Mike threw it its meat.
When they reached the aviary they both fell silent.
‘You forgot to feed him, didn’t you?’
‘Extinct again,’ said Phil, in a suspiciously cheerful tone. ‘Ever think some creatures are just meant to die out?’
‘Shut up, Phil,’ said Mike, stuffing the dead dodo into a bag.
Meanwhile, back in the lab, ‘new’ old life was forming.
And the winner:
My 18th birthday. New dress and heels. No coat. Dad frowns. Mum frets.
‘I’ll be fine. We’re getting a taxi.’ Since Beth, they worry.
On the dance floor I smile and swirl because I know He is watching.
Later my friends yawn and rub sore feet. But He is still here.
‘Go without me.’
The club is empty now and the bouncers are guiding my limp body to the door.
In the deserted street, silent white flakes float like feathers. No coat. I fall hard but the soft snow cocoons me. And soon I won’t feel cold anymore.
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