After two seasons of Tall And True Short Reads, I realised I was producing a storytelling podcast, whether the episodes were short stories and blog posts, fiction and nonfiction, or tall and true tales. So, in Season Three, I included further examples of my writing on dogs, travel, memoir pieces and other topics.
In Podcast Milestones (July 2023), I admitted I’d forgotten to celebrate the podcast’s milestone 75th episode … and its 50th and 25th! I corrected this in the blog post and promised to post future episodes and milestones.
But I also wanted to share my “back catalogue” from Seasons One, Two and Three. This post covers the last of the back catalogues, Episodes 59 to 78 from Season Three, following Episodes 1 to 32 (August 2023) and Episodes 33 to 58 (September 2023), with release dates and opening lines, links to episodes on Tall And True Short Reads, and an extract from my writer’s insight for each story.
Season Three – Episodes 59 to 70
Once Upon A Time (Episode 59, 16 September 2022)
This story begins at the end. But my time spent observing your planet has taught me humans like to process events and information in an orderly, if not entirely predictable, sequence. So forget the first sentence, and I’ll serve you a linear tale. Just don’t skip to the end and spoil it.
I wrote Once Upon A Time in June 2022 for Furious Fiction. Part of the brief was the 500-word short story had to begin with a sentence containing exactly SIX words. Fittingly, the six-word sentence, “This story begins at the end”, popped into my head first. And it also signposted the ending, so I knew my writing destination.
Kurd Friends in the Mountains (Episode 60, 4 October 2022)
My wife and I visited Turkey in 1988. We had endured our first English winter and spent two weeks hugging the coastal sites and sunny beaches. We returned in 1990, venturing far from the coast to the mountains of eastern Turkey, where Kurds befriended us, and we learned a little of Kurdish culture.
I have an Iraqi Kurd friend who was a refugee in Iran for several years before resettling in Australia. One night, we were talking about his experience, and I mentioned that I had visited the Kurdish areas of Turkey and had a tape of Kurdish music. I also told him about the photo I had taken of the young girl in a village. My friend has a young Australian-born daughter, and I realised she would be a similar age to the girl in the photo. The thought of how different those two girls’ lives could have been, one raised in Australia, the other in the Kurdish mountains inspired me to write this travel memoir.
Council Clean-ups and Recycling (Episode 61, 16 October 2022)
One fine October Sunday in 2020, I returned home from the morning dog walk to be greeted with the news our annual council clean-up was happening on Monday. After previous clean-ups, I thought we had nothing left to throw out. And I looked forward to a long, productive day of writing … until I checked the attic and shed!
Although the mature, middle-aged me is less of a “magpie” than my son, picking through clean-ups nowadays, I still feel the thrill of discovery when I come across a box of books and have added to my bedside “to be read” pile several times since I wrote this post in 2020.
Timeline Memories (Episode 62, 8 November 2022)
I dread mornings like these when Facebook floods my timeline memories with posts and photos of Jas and the kids. On social media, we’re still a happy family. Whereas in the real world, I live alone and only see the kids on weekends. But that’s not Facebook’s fault. It’s just an algorithm.
This short story draws on parts of my life — I post to Facebook, my son’s grown up, and I have a rescue dog — and pure imagination — I’ve never been to a toga party. I suspect older parents (like me) will recognise the melancholy felt by my main character scrolling through his family posts. And dog lovers (also like me) know the comfort of having a dog on a mat beside your chair.
Are We There Yet? (Episode 63, 22 November 2022)
“Are we there yet?” Milly whines from the back seat. “I’m bored,” adds Tyler. “Oh, for goodness sake!” I snap, eyeballing the pair in the rear vision mirror. “It’s only been two hours.” Kids nowadays! The drive has been smooth and fast compared to the narrow, windy roads of my childhood family holidays.
I wrote “Are We There Yet?” in September 2022 for a Flash Fiction Competition hosted by the South Coast Writers Centre and Berry Writers Festival. The brief was that the short piece of fiction must be under 500 words (my story is 498 words). And writers should include the theme or word “berry” but “interpret the theme in a broad and creative way”. My interpretation, however, was literal, about the town of Berry, on the NSW south coast, two hours south of Sydney, a regular stopover on many family holidays when my son was young.
Memories and Imagination (Episode 64, 12 December 2022)
The writer John Banville observed, “Memory is imagination, and imagination is memory. I don’t think we remember the past, we imagine it.” I have vivid memories of my early childhood (I believe they’re memories, not imagination), which is why the #5YearOldSelfie hashtag challenge on social media caught my eye.
As I admitted in the piece, I invoked a writer’s licence for the challenge. For a start, I didn’t “tag three friends to help spread the love” on social media. And in the photo posted, I was closer to four than five. But unlike my son and his generation, born and raised in the digital age, I don’t have hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of photos of the younger me.
Kris Kringle – Xmas 2022 (Episode 65, 22 December 2022)
I’m taking a short break from writing and podcasting over the Xmas/New Year holiday period. But as a special treat for podcast listeners, I’ve put together a Kris Kringle collection featuring three “festive” episodes from the Tall And True Short Reads archive: The Gift, The Special Tree and The Spirit of Xmas.
The Gift was my short story for the Australian Writers’ Centre’s December 2020 Furious Fiction writing competition. The Special Tree was my December 2021 entry for Furious Fiction. And The Spirit of Xmas is a blog post I shared after spending Xmas 2019 with my West Australian family in Margaret River, south of Perth.
The New Fifty (Episode 66, 16 January 2023)
Eighty is the new fifty, or so I’m told. But my back wasn’t this dodgy when I was fifty, and my knees lasted longer than a circuit of the park with the dog before seizing up. And I wasn’t caught short so often that I needed to memorise the location of the nearest public toilet for emergency pit stops!
After submitting this short story to Furious Fiction in September 2022, I had a crisis of confidence in it. In the original version, the protagonist was fifty, not eighty, and the first sentence was: Fifty is the new thirty, or so they tell me. I’m sixty, and it occurred to me that the thoughts I attributed to my protagonist were of an older man. So I flipped the opening line and perspective of the story to: Eighty is the new fifty, or so I’m told.
Alice Nannup and my Nan (Episode 67, 30 January 2023)
Henry Rollins said, “A great way to learn about your country is to leave it.” And I learned a lot about Australia while living overseas from 1987 to 1996. Books like Alice Nannup’s When The Pelican Laughed (published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press in 1992) helped my education. And from her memoir, I learned about the Stolen Generation and a connection with my Nan.
I returned to Australia in February 1996 after living and travelling overseas for nine years. While away, I’d followed Henry Rollins’ advice and learned a lot about my country and our real Indigenous history through reading and reflection. Alice Nannup’s When The Pelican Laughed and conversations with my Nan helped me with this journey.
The Magical Lamp (Episode 68, 13 February 2023)
Handcuffed in the police car, I wished the lamp hadn’t been magical. “That, sir, is a genuine antique,” the stallholder had asserted when I’d stopped and inspected it at the secondhand market. The oil lamp looked like a prop from Disney’s Aladdin. But though tarnished, I thought the embossed metal would polish up nice and shiny and earn me a tidy profit.
I like to quarantine Furious Fiction weekends for devising, writing and editing my short stories. However, on this challenge’s weekend, I had a lunch date with a friend on Saturday and an all-day family event on Sunday. And the Socceroos played Argentina in a do-or-die World Cup game at 5 AM on Sunday. Consequently, I wrote my entry more furiously than usual, with even less time for reflection and proofreading. And the story I shared on Tall And True is a reworked version of the original.
Two Visits to the Berlin Wall – Part One (Episode 69, 3 March 2023)
In 2019, approaching the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I found a timely book in a secondhand bookshop: The Berlin Wall, 13 August 1961 – 9 November 1989 by Frederick Taylor. The book inspired me to write about my two contrasting visits to Berlin as a backpacker in 1987 and 1995.
I shared the Two Visits to the Berlin Wall travel memoir on Tall And True in September 2021. Part One of this two-part podcast episode explains the inspiration for writing the piece, a secondhand copy of the 2006 book, The Berlin Wall by Frederick Taylor, and the 2021 book, Tunnel 29, which I listened to as an audiobook narrated by the author Helena Merriman. Part One also includes the travel journal entries from my first visit to Berlin in 1987, when the Wall divided the city and West and East Germany.
Two Visits to the Berlin Wall – Part Two (Episode 70, 16 March 2023)
After living and working in England from 1987, my wife and I returned to Australia in 1995, overland. Michael Palin’s 1991 BBC series, Pole to Pole, inspired our journey and route, travelling from north to south for eight months. And along the way, we revisited Berlin, as I recorded in my travel journal.
Part Two of this two-part podcast contains the journal entry from my second fleeting visit to reunified Berlin and Germany in 1995. And my observations on my two trips after almost three decades, paraphrasing a question I’d asked myself about my 1990s travels to Dahab, Egypt, is it wrong to want places (and tourist sites) to stay the same? In the case of the divided Germany and Berlin and the Berlin Wall of 1987, yes.
Season Three – Episodes 71 to 78
Decisions (Episode 71, 5 April 2023)
Jennifer swivelled her chair away from the laptop and stared at the lights receding into the distance beyond the high-rise office window. Her eyes had welled up reading Stephen’s unexpected emailed demand, and she reached for a tissue to dab at the tears. “Twenty years,” Jennifer exhaled softly, wiping her eyes.
The brief for March 2023’s Furious Fiction was the story had to include a CHAIR of some sort, the words ALBUM, BRIGHT and CLICK, and a character who makes a CHOICE between two things. I toyed with making my protagonist, Jennifer, the CHAIR of a corporation or department or CHAIRing a meeting but settled on her swivelling on an office CHAIR to stare at the city lights. I knew the story would feature a family photo ALBUM, but instead of opting for BRIGHT lights outside the office window, I had Jennifer reflecting on marrying Stephen when they were BRIGHT young things. As for the CLICK, I saved that until the end, when Jennifer resolves that after twenty years of marriage and Stephen’s unilateral decision-making and demands, she has a CHOICE, even if it’s between a rock and a hard place.
My Good Dog and Muse (Episode 72, 19 April 2023)
I met Harry when he was six months old. He was the last of his litter, hiding under a kitchen table. And when the breeder dragged him out, Harry flopped his head on my leg and looked up at me with worried, brown eyes. At that moment, a bond formed between us, which lasted for just over twelve years.
I shared My Good Dog and Muse on Tall and True in September 2018, approaching the seventh anniversary of dear old Harry’s passing. By then, I had also shared the other articles he inspired me to write about dogs, along with photos of Harry. In 2022, I contributed a piece to The Dog Collective, a collection of short stories and photographs by dog owners featuring our “loveable pups”. My story was titled, My Three Labradors and drew on several articles I’d written about my dogs, including My Good Dog and Muse, Harry. In an email to the publisher, I confessed that even eleven years after his death, I shed tears when writing about my last moments with Harry.
Family Reflections (Episode 73, 9 May 2023)
Mum’s up first, though she doesn’t like looking at her reflection nowadays. She splashes her face and turns away from me with a towel. Over her shoulder, I watch Mum gaze out the bathroom window. And when she turns back, Mum’s wearing her pained expression again, like she’s failed to solve the riddle of life.
I wrote Family Reflections for the April 2023 Furious Fiction writing challenge. April marked the third anniversary of my first Furious Fiction, A Song on the Radio (Episode 4 of Tall And True Short Reads), written on the first weekend of the COVID lockdown in Australia in April 2020. Family Reflections was my twenty-seventh short story submitted to the challenge. And [drum roll, please], after three years, it was the first of my short stories showcased on the Australian Writers’ Centre’s website — the perfect anniversary gift!
Writing True Sentences (Episode 74, 7 June 2023)
The brief for October 2021’s Furious Fiction was to set the short story in a COURT, include a character who measures something, and the words BALLOON, ROCK and UMBRELLA. So recalling Ernest Hemingway’s advice to write one true sentence, I wrote, “The policewoman at the front of the Court is trying to catch my eye.”
I shared the Writing True Sentences blog post on Tall and True in October 2021, a week after submitting my entry for that month’s Furious Fiction challenge, titled Judgement. In the Writer’s Insight for the story, I admitted a policewoman once tried to catch my eye in Court and mouthed, “Guilty or not guilty”, and how I’d used this as my true first sentence.
Past Demons (Episode 75, 25 June 2023)
Dylan woke with jackhammers pounding in his head and a tongue so furry it felt like it needed waxing. “Last time,” he croaked, rolling onto his back and resolving to quit drinking again or, at least, to stop bingeing. He stared up at the low ceiling of his studio apartment and replayed the office drinks.
The brief for May 2023’s Furious Fiction included the story must contain at least THREE CREATIVE SIMILIES. The simile from my opening sentence, “a tongue so furry it felt like it needed waxing”, occurred to me first. And this set me on the path of writing a story about a man hoping for a fresh start, chased by his past alcoholic demons.
My Most Memorable Wimbledon (Episode 76, 14 July 2023)
I was weaned on Wimbledon in Australia. Year after year, I’d stayed up half the night to watch the finals on TV. And here I was in the northern hemisphere, able to witness the match in broad daylight for the first time, with an Aussie in the final, for goodness sake, and Mrs B wasn’t interested in tennis!
I shared My Most Memorable Wimbledon on Tall and True in September 2018, drawing on my memories and travel journal entries from my trip to Nijemirdum, in the northern Netherlands state of Friesland, with my girlfriend in 1987. I had got on well with my former housemate Jan’s mum when I met her in Sydney and was pleased that she’d liked me, too, as Jan assured me when giving his parents’ address. But the look of bewilderment on Mrs B’s face at her front door was likely only matched by my (poorly masked) disappointment that I wouldn’t be watching Pat Cash play in the Wimbledon final.
My Dreams (Episode 77, 8 August 2023)
I’m in the middle of a dream, though it might be nearer the beginning or end. Who can tell with dreams? I’m on a rocket, and the final countdown’s begun. “10, 9, 8 …” Then I look down at myself strapped in the seat and see I’m wearing pyjamas. “It’s only a dream,” I reassure myself.
As part of the brief for June 2023’s Furious Fiction, the 500-word short story had to begin in the MIDDLE of something. I set mine in the middle of a dream. And although I’ve never dreamed of a rocket launch, I drew on some of my dreams for the story. For instance, at school in my pyjamas, on a bus in the buff, soaring like an eagle, playing guitar like a legend, forgetting my lines on-stage, and perhaps, once or twice, dreaming of an old girlfriend.
Taking A Bow (Episode 78, 31 August 2023)
I fell in love with live theatre when I saw my first London West End play as a newly-arrived backpacker in 1987. Over the next eight years, living in Brighton and Windsor, I attended countless professional and amateur productions. But I didn’t think in 1987 that one day I’d be up on stage, too, taking a bow.
Sorting through some papers, I found a bundle of old scripts and theatre programs from England. Among them was the program from my 1991 debut performance, La Môme Piaf. And inside this, I found a fax, still legible after all these years, with handwritten well-wishes from my family in Australia. While I didn’t include the fax in the blog post, along with the scripts, programs and cast photos, it inspired me to dig out my diary entries and draw on my memories to write Taking A Bow in November 2022.
In the trailer for Season Four of Tall And True Short Reads, I announced it would start with a multi-part episode, a longer short story I wrote for The Big Issue Fiction Edition in June 2023, Some Things Change (shared on Tall And True).
The story consists of three vignettes (one per episode), set in different locations and times but with a common thread: two protagonists, a pair of cousins from Perth, Western Australia, exploring Australia’s troubled history and relationship with Indigenous peoples.
Like much of my writing, Some Things Change draws on elements of autofiction. And this story was inspired by my long journey of learning and understanding the true history of Australia and my involvement in the Yes campaign for the Voice to Parliament Referendum.
I look forward to sharing a blog post on the three vignettes, Episodes 79 to 81, and my experience and reflections on what I hope will be a successful campaign.
In the meantime, you can listen to the podcast episodes from Seasons One to Three on the Tall And True Short Reads website. Or follow, listen to, and rate and review the podcast on all popular podcasting apps, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube.
And once again, as I say at the end of each episode, please tell your family and friends about Tall And True Short Reads and the Tall And True writers’ website.
© 2023 Robert Fairhead
N.B. Here’s a link to my blog post introducing Season Three of Tall And True Short Reads in September 2022.
Note: This post originally appeared on Tall And True.
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.