I recently met novelist Jeffrey Archer, author of Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less; First Among Equals, Kane and Abel; The Clifton Chronicles, and many other international bestsellers.
Since I am now writing fiction, after years as a non-fiction author, I wanted to learn what I could from his experience and to ask him to read the manuscript of my forthcoming epic adventure novel War God which tells the story of the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Jeffrey said he would read War God but only if I accepted a challenge – which was to write two original very short stories within a limited time frame. One story should be 100 words long and the other should be no longer than a “Tweet”, i.e. 140 characters and spaces.
Here are the two stories I sent him.
100 Word Story
“THE VICTIM” by Graham Hancock
Marilyn saw the thickset man in the lamplight two hundred yards behind her. Her route led down a darkened alley. She quickened her pace, heart thudding as she recalled the headlines screaming from the newsstands in the station: “SERIAL KILLER TAKES FOURTH VICTIM IN FRENZIED KNIFE ATTACK.” The man followed and was on her in a rush of footsteps, forcing his mouth down on hers, but she had her knife ready, sharp as a razor, and gutted him with a swift upward lunge. Ten more thrusts and he was dead. She smiled. Tomorrow the headlines would report her fifth victim.
Story with 140 characters and spaces
“KARMA” by Graham Hancock
“The crash changed me,” he tried to tell her. “Forgive me for beating you.”
“Uggh,” she shrieked, “a cockroach!” And SPLAT he was dead again.
Jeffrey responded to my 100 word story as follows:
“It’s very good – great twist.”
But to my 140-character story his response was this:
“Rubbish. Try harder.”
I then sent two more 140-character stories as follows:
Story 1: Bouncing back
“It’s a lousy idea.”
“So you won’t invest?”
“I’d sooner invest in apples.”
Outside Steve turned to Steve: “Cool name for a business,” he said.
(After being snubbed by Hewlett-Packard, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniac started their own business, Apple, which grew to become the world’s most successful company).
Story 2: The weaker sex
“Women are fair but weak, Miss Goulden,”
“Fair yes; weak no.”
“Equality is a foolish dream.”
“But one worth fighting for,” said Emmeline.
(Emmeline Panhurst, born Emmeline Goulden was radicalized at the age of 14 when she became “a conscious and confirmed suffragist”).
Jeffrey’s response: “Good — much better!”
Finally I sent this:
Story of less than 140 characters and spaces
“The cuckold”, by Graham Hancock
“I’m pregnant. I’m keeping our child.”
“What will you tell your fiancée?”
“I’ve thought of a good story,” said Mary.
(I realise the last one might be offensive to some and obscure to readers who don’t know the Bible.)
Jeffrey suggested an alternative last line: “Got any ideas? You’re the storyteller.”
This has been an interesting learning experience for me as a writer who is relatively new fiction and I’m grateful to Jeffrey for giving me this opportunity to learn from him. I will be sending him the page-proofs of my novel War God when the publishers make them available later this year.