The first thing in the morning text message was a punch in the guts.

“Sorry, Colin. I love you, but we’re on different journeys. Let’s stay friends.”

I blinked twice to clear my eyes and was about to respond, “Are you serious?” but threw the phone against the bedroom wall instead.

This is the opening paragraph from The Light Above on the Tall And True writers’ website.

Please note: the sentence following this starts with a four-letter swear word (spelled out letter-by-letter), and there are spoilers in Story Insight below.

Story Insight

I wrote Different Journeys (originally titled, Different Wavelengths) in January 2024 for the Not Quite Write Prize, run by the Not Quite Write podcast. The brief for the competition was:

  • Your story must feature the word PUNCH. The word must be used in full with no spaces or interrupting punctuation. However, it may be included within a longer word provided the original spelling is retained, e.g. punching or punchline.
  • Your story must feature the action of “spilling something”. You don’t need to use this exact wording, and you can feature the action prominently or simply as an aside. The action may occur before the beginning of your story or after it ends, as long as it’s referenced somewhere within your story.
  • Your story must break the rule “avoid clichés”. You can interpret this anti-prompt in whatever creative way you see fit, but your goal should remain to tell the best story possible.

Writers had 60 hours from midday Friday to midnight Sunday to write and submit their 500-word flash fiction stories.

Share Your Writing on

Thanks Furious Fiction

Thanks to the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Furious Fiction challenges, I’m used to writing short stories to tight deadlines, so I had faith in my creativity and process. But as I admitted in the insight for the first story I wrote for the Not Quite Write Prize in July 2023, In Her Head, I struggle with anti-prompts!

I settled on two clichés:

  1. A punch in the guts.
  2. Life is full of compromises.

Interestingly, as podcast hosts and competition judges Ed and Amanda revealed, there were many “punches in the guts” in the stories submitted. And even the winning entry, It Never Rains But It Pours by Athena Law (on Twitter/X), which “famously” featured the one-word opening sentence, “Moist.”, included the line:

The old ceiling fan punches through the humidity, causing darling goosebumps across your golden, youthful skin.

My story wasn’t short or longlisted for the Not Quite Write Prize, but it didn’t feel like a punch in the guts because I enjoyed writing Different Journeys (read on Tall And True) and proving, once again, that my process works!

© 2024 Robert Fairhead

Thanks to Bjørnar Kibsgaard for sharing the smashed phone image on Pixabay.

This post was proofread by Grammarly


Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.


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