I launched the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast in September 2020. Twelve months and 32 short story episodes later, I announced Season Two of the podcast. And how in addition to short stories, the new season would feature my blog posts and other writing from the Tall And True writers’ website.
In the Podcast Milestones blog post (July 2023), I revealed I’d forgotten to celebrate the podcast’s Season Three milestone 75th episode and its 50th and 25th episodes! I corrected this oversight and promised to post future episodes and milestones.
The next step was to post the podcast’s “back catalogue”, starting with Episodes 1 to 32 from Season One. And now Episodes 33 to 58 from Season Two with release dates and opening lines, links to the episode on Tall And True Short Reads, and an extract from my writer’s insight for each story.
Season Two – Episodes 33 to 40
The Last Book That Made You Cry (Episode 33, 13 September 2021)
Penguin Books Australia posted a question on Facebook in August 2017: What is the last book that made you cry? The books could evoke tears of joy or sadness, and I immediately thought of three books, all tearjerkers.
Fittingly for this first episode of Season Two, The Last Book That Made You Cry was the first blog post I shared on Tall And True writers’ website in August 2017. And the three books that sprung to mind were Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, Marley & Me by John Grogan, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Days of Gentle Rejections (Episode 34, 22 September 2021)
In these days of instant gratification, it’s hard to believe once upon a time, wanna-be writers would type and print their manuscripts, post them to publishers with a reply-paid, self-addressed envelope. And then wait and wait and wait, for an offer to publish or, more likely, a feared rejection letter.
I wrote this blog post in September 2017. At the time, I was going through some of my old short stories from my “purple patch” years in England, looking for writing to share on the newly launched Tall And True. Filed with the yellowed hard copy printouts of my short stories were the rejection letters I had received for them. A mix of personalised and proforma responses, most were printed, but some, such as judge’s critiques, were handwritten. And all were gentle and often constructive in their rejections.
Lagermind (Episode 35, 5 October 2021)
“Ladies and gentlemen, though I use that term loosely,” the pub laughed, and the MC smiled. Laughter signalled the crowd was well lubricated. The publican would be happy. “It’s the final of tonight’s Lagermind,” the MC continued. “Calling Thommo and Moley back to the stage. Or should I say, stagger back?”
I wrote Lagermind for the July 2021 Furious Fiction. Part of the brief was that each story had to take place at some kind of contest. I decided on a boozy version of Mastermind because I love watching the nonalcoholic one on TV.
Signed Stark by Ben Elton (Episode 36, 18 October 2021)
In October 2017, I attended a premiere screening of Three Summers. After the film, there was a Q&A session with the writer/director, Ben Elton. As I commented in a film review on the Tall And True writers’ website, I have admired Ben’s work since watching him do stand-up comedy on TV in England in 1987.
My brother was the First Assistant Director on Three Summers and attended the premiere with me. And after the film and Q&A, he introduced me to Ben. It was a surreal moment. Had anyone told me watching Ben on TV in 1987 that one day I’d meet him, I’d have thought they were mad. And yet, there I was, shaking his hand. I mentioned how his eco-novels had encouraged me to act and argue for the environment and how I’d often quoted from them, especially the closing lines from Stark. And this resulted in the “pinch-myself honour” of reading to Ben his searing closing sentences indictment of humanity.
Welcome to the Lucky Country (Episode 37, 29 October 2021)
The group trekked for several weeks over rough terrain to reach the border town. On the way, they pooled their meagre resources and precious reserves of e-credits and cash to buy food and water. And begged when these ran low.
I wrote an earlier and shorter 500-word version of this short story for Furious Fiction in April 2021. I didn’t win or make the short or long lists for April, but I shared The Lucky Country on Tall And True. And then, later in May, I saw an ad on social media calling for submissions for The Big Issue Fiction Edition 2021. Before the dust had had a chance to settle on the story, I was reworking and retitling it.
My Favourite Libraries (Episode 38, 12 November 2021)
A friend shared a Facebook post from November 2017, inviting the reader to “Step Inside the World’s Coolest Library”. The futuristically designed library in Tianjin, China (aptly nicknamed “The Eye”) is lined from floor to cathedral high ceilings with bookshelves, which follow the building’s curved contours.
The Tianjin Library had me reflecting on my experience of libraries. From my childhood in Perth to my mid-twenties and thirties in England and as a middle-aged dad in Sydney. And this led me to nominate three favourites in the blog post: the “Baysey” Library (in Perth), the Brighton Library (in England) and the Waverley Library (in Sydney).
Reminiscing with Alice (Episode 39, 24 November 2021)
The golden glow of Norman’s youth was a distant memory. The passing years had added aches and pains and padding, and his soft and doughy love handles had long since served no purpose with Alice. But when he looked in the mirror, Norman recognised the man he had once been. Just wiser and more wizened.
Feedback on social media over the June 2021 Furious Fiction weekend was that the month’s brief for the 500-word short story was challenging. It had to include (word for word) the following SEVEN descriptions at any point in the story body: THICK AS HONEY, SILENT AND STILL, GOLDEN GLOW, HEART-SHAPED, DELICATE PERFUME, SOFT AND DOUGHY, and RAZOR-SHARP.
My One Night Stand (Episode 40, 6 December 2021)
In my writer’s bio on Tall And True, I admit I’ve enjoyed a one night stand. It was November 2003, but I remember the night like it was yesterday. I had worked up to it for two weeks. However, though I’d practised my lines, I suffered first-time jitters as I took the stage to perform my stand-up comedy routine.
My One Night Stand is a blog post I wrote in November 2021 about a comedy writing course and my one night stand as a stand-up comic in November 2003. I thought I might have to “pad out” the post with lines from my Two Presidents sketch when I started it. But the extracts from my 2003 diary and my memories proved sufficient to tell the story of the course and my “one night stand”.
Season Two – Episodes 41 to 50
Cancelled (Episode 41, 19 December 2021)
The shitstorm hit the Twitter fan overnight. Deeman had thought his followers would laugh at his sarcastic tweet. He’d watched a news clip about refugees from a COVID ravaged continent. And before setting aside his phone for the night, he’d retweeted it with a tongue-out emoji, “Let them eat COVID. In their own country. LOL!”
Part of the brief for Furious Fiction in May 2021 was the story had to be set during a STORM. Instead of a stormy night or a stormy relationship, I set the short story in a shitstorm on Twitter. The news in April and May was full of the growing tragedy of the COVID Delta outbreak in India. And Australians were divided over our government’s decision to ban Indian-Australians from returning home, under the threat of heavy fines and imprisonment. The debate over the Indian travel ban was fiercest on social media. And judging by the posts and tweets, empathy was in shorter supply than toilet paper had been during the start of the COVID pandemic and lockdowns.
The Spirit of Xmas (Episode 42, 28 December 2021)
When I was a boy, I thought the spirit of Xmas was receiving: from my overflowing Santa Sack and gifts under the Xmas tree. Then I grew up, and for me, especially after I became a dad, it’s giving. I like choosing gifts for family and friends, which is why I say bah humbug to the modern Kris Kringle.
The Spirit of Xmas is a blog post I wrote in December 2019, after spending Xmas with my West Australian family in Margaret River, three hours south of Perth. Unfortunately, with two years of COVID and state border closures, when I recorded this episode in December 2021, I hadn’t been back to Western Australia to see family and friends since 2019.
A Free Spirit (Episode 43, 12 January 2022)
Nadine lies on her mattress on the floor of the attic. She stares up at the naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling and the moth circling it. Wind gusts through cracks under the doors and windows, whistling down hallways and upstairs, carrying with it the storm-muffled moans of Paul and the new housemate.
I wrote A Free Spirit for Furious Fiction in September 2021. My 500-word story had to include either an ATTIC or a BASEMENT, some kind of INSECT, and the words EARTH, WIND, FIRE and WATER. I immediately thought of the 1970s band “Earth, Wind & Fire” and reacquainted myself with their music. I imagined chilling out in a basement, playing their LPs and drinking glasses of vodka and tonic water, while cockroaches scurry about the floor. Tada, I’d ticked off all the criteria. But I didn’t have a story!
Classroom Conservation (Episode 14, 15 February 2021)
My class had a lesson on “conservation” at school today. Miss said it’s where people reuse old things or use new things more thoughtfully. Or do stuff differently to stop using up the Earth’s resources. She said conservation is important because our planet is sick, and we need to help make it healthy again.
Classroom Conservation was written for a BBC Radio 4 environmental program in 1992, Costing the Earth, which is still in production. I enjoyed writing the story and exploring a schoolchild’s perspective on conservation. But it’s a shame that almost 30 years on, many do not heed the teacher’s message.
Writing Can Be Lonely (Episode 44, 26 January 2022)
Writing can be lonely, especially if you’re living on your own in a cramped flat, in another country, far away from family and friends. So when I lived in Brighton in the early-1990s, I volunteered to work one afternoon a week at an Oxfam op shop. I needed to get out and meet and mingle with people.
I recorded my conversation with Grandma Zeet on a single sheet of A4 paper after my afternoon shift at the Brighton Oxfam shop in 1992. When I unearthed the notes in 2018, filed away with other ideas and scraps of writing from that period, I thought of crafting our op shop exchange into a short story. But as I typed up the words, I realised the piece on shared loneliness shaped nicely as a blog post. And so I wrote and published Writing Can Be Lonely on Tall And True in April 2018. The funny thing is, back in 1992, I hadn’t heard of the internet or websites, let alone blog posts!
The Winner’s Toast (Episode 45, 4 February 2021)
“And the winner is–” Zoom freezes on my laptop. But I don’t care. From the gallery director’s opening comments in her awards speech, praising this year’s portraits, it’s clear my landscape has not caught the judges’ eyes. Again! However, I’ve learned to channel disappointment into creative energy.
The brief for August 2021’s Furious Fiction included the first sentence must contain only four words. The abrupt ending of the first sentence suggested a Zoom meeting. And it offered a device to write the backstory for the artist and awards ceremony. It was also an opportunity to make a statement about the environment. A message the artist shares in his landscapes.
The People Were Happy (Episode 46, 18 February 2022)
A long time ago, poverty, floods, droughts, famines and war blighted a pale-blue planet. But the people endured the hardships and were happy. They believed life in the Here and Now and Ever After was predetermined and fixed like the stars in the sky. And the people found solace and solidarity in their faith.
In December 2021, the Australian Writers’ Centre announced that Furious Fiction was shifting from a monthly to a quarterly short story writing competition in 2022. I missed the writing routine and adrenaline rush of the monthly challenges. So I decided to attempt an informal and unofficial version and drew a brief at random from the Writers’ Centre’s archive.
Memories of Tuesdays with Morrie (Episode 47, 4 March 2022)
I post a #bookcovers and #firstsentences homage series on Instagram as @tallandtruebooks (formerly, @tallandtrueweb) featuring fiction and nonfiction from my bookcase. Sharing the posts has brought back fond memories of dusty books I haven’t read in years. And I recently shared a favourite tear-jerker, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.
What struck me about Tuesdays with Morrie and inspired me to write this blog post in August 2018 was how re-reading its final chapters set the tears flowing again. It was like I was back in the park reading the book with my son in his pram. And yet, fourteen years had passed since I’d read Tuesdays with Morrie. And my then-toddler son had grown into a strapping sixteen-year-old.
Judgement (Episode 48, 14 March 2022)
The policewoman at the front of the Court is trying to catch my eye. I have a thing for women in uniform. It’s what attracted me to my wife. That night we met at the pub across the road from the hospital where she worked as a nurse. I couldn’t stop fantasising about the front zip on her uniform.
After writing and submitting Judgement to Furious Fiction in October 2021 (my seventeenth straight entry), I shared a blog post on Tall And True about the experience, Writing True Sentences. I revealed recalling Ernest Hemingway‘s advice to writers to write one true sentence. And how I started my story with, “The policewoman at the front of the Court is trying to catch my eye.”
A Night Out (Episode 49, 26 March 2022)
Their eyes locked across a crowded room at the cocktail bar. He looked well-heeled and handsome, and his brazen gaze told her he knew it. But she was his equal with pert features and confidence. They raised their glasses to each other and soon found themselves shoulder to shoulder at the bar.
This story’s point of view (POV) shifted between the first and final drafts. In the first draft, the POV was third-person omniscient. As in the final draft, I didn’t dwell on the characters’ internal thoughts, but I portrayed them equally in narrative and dialogue. While editing the story, I realised I needed to emphasise my female protagonist’s actions and words. And so, the POV became third-person limited.
Milestone Reflections (Episode 50, 11 April 2022)
My parents separated in 1967 when I was five, and my younger brother and I went to live with our grandparents. Nan looked old to my young eyes, and leathery Pop ancient. But born in 1907, Nan was only sixty when we moved in, a cause for reflection when I reached my milestone sixty in March 2022.
I celebrated my sixtieth birthday in March 2022. Milestone birthdays, like sixty, are times for reflection. And as my big day approached, I recalled a treasured photo of my Nan with her grandmotherly arms wrapped around my younger brother and me. When I dug out the photo and looked at my boyhood brother and me, I realised it was from shortly after we’d moved in with our grandparents in 1967, following our parents’ separation. And that meant Nan was sixty in the photo. Grandparents (and parents) always seem old to children. But looking at the photo of Nan with my middle-aged eyes and then at myself in the mirror, I see things differently. And writing Milestone Reflections was my attempt to put things in perspective.
Season Two – Episodes 51 to 58
Departure (Episode 51, 24 April 2022)
Airports are the same the world over. Full of frenetic activity, people coming and going, joyful reunions and teary-eyed farewells. Though not in the middle of the night. And apart from the passengers sprawled across and under the international airport’s departure terminal chairs, it was empty and silent.
Part of my Furious Fiction writing routine is formulating plots and characters while walking my dog. And this worked well for me on our Friday evening and Saturday morning walks. By the time I sat down to write the first draft, I had Declan and the German couple in the airport terminal (to satisfy the brief) with their fellow delayed passengers. And anyone who’s spent an unscheduled late night in an airport departure terminal will recognise the phrase from the brief, “it was empty” (again, satisfying the brief).
The Special Tree (Episode 52, 8 May 2022)
The tree stood in front of a vacant block at the end of the street. It had thick, leafy branches and was easy to climb. It was Matty’s special place. And then, one day, he saw a sign on the tree. Matty couldn’t read the big words and went to find his sister. Jess was a school captain, so she’d know what the sign said.
I drew on my experience as a boy for my protagonist and plot. A tract of undeveloped land surrounded my boyhood home. We called it the “bush”, and within it stood tall trees that I loved climbing. But one day, bulldozers rolled in and cleared the trees, and builders followed. The bush that had seemed so vast to me as a boy became a row of boxy suburban houses. For my story, I condensed my boyhood bush into a vacant block with a special climbing tree out the front. My young protagonist, Matty, finds a sign on the tree and asks his big sister to help him read it.
Six Weeks in Teal (Episode 27, 23 June 2021)
In 2018, I shared a blog post about My Week in Politics, handing out how-to-vote cards for Dr Kerryn Phelps, an independent candidate for Wentworth. Kerryn won that by-election but lost the seat in the 2019 Federal election. Three years later, I spent six weeks in teal helping another independent, Allegra Spender.
I wrote Six Weeks in Teal during the week following the 2022 Australian Federal Election. The “independent teal” I’d supported, Allegra Spender, had won my local Sydney seat of Wentworth. Across the country, there’d been a teal, Green and Labor backlash against the incumbent conservatives. There was a change of government in Australia, and I had been part of it, wearing my teal t-shirt for six weeks.
The goal of this blog post was to explain what had spurred me to play an active part in politics, first in 2018 and 2019 for the independent candidate Dr Kerryn Phelps and again in 2022 for Allegra. And give a flavour of what it felt like to be part of Allegra’s teal team.
Stuck in Time (Episode 54, 22 June 2022)
It’s 1997. I’m fifteen, and Dad’s delivering another lecture on my poor prospects: “If you carry on like this, son, you’ll end up in prison.” I won’t admit it, but he may have a point. Because today on the drive home after catching me shoplifting again, the local cop issued a “last warning”.
Having “brainstormed” ideas for the March 2022 Furious Fiction, I set my first draft at the “Redundant Dads Club”. I felt the characters at this monthly meeting offered me opportunities for the brief, with a crime and doors opening (and closing) on relationships and places for the required words.
But I stalled after about 200 words, abandoned the draft, the first time I’ve done so in two years of Furious Fictions, and returned to my ideas list. And among my jottings, I spotted an alternative opening line: “My father is giving me another of his talks.” I’ve blogged on Tall And True about following Ernest Hemingway’s advice to write one true sentence. And so I changed the opening line into something my father once said to the teenage me: “If you carry on like this, son, you’ll end up in prison.”
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton – Omen or Inspiration (Episode 55, 10 July 2022)
In May 1992, the Sydney literary news was full of Tim Winton’s success and his novel, Cloudstreet. And I thought it an omen. Winton was thirty-one, and I was thirty. He’d grown up in W.A., and so had I. He’d just won his second Miles Franklin Award. And I was having a second crack at being a writer!
I received Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut for my fifty-sixth birthday in 2018. Given my long affection for Winton’s works, dating back to Cloudstreet in 1992, was the book another omen or more inspiration? Perhaps both because it inspired me to write this blog post in March 2018.
The Lost Hour (Episode 56, 26 July 2022)
You know what it’s like when you lose something. It’s always in the last place you look. So I write down all the possible places the lost thing could be and work through the list in reverse order. But how do you find a lost hour? It’s not like it can slip down the back of a sofa like coins or keys!
After drawing the brief for this unofficial Furious Fiction, I went for a long walk with my dog and thought about different interpretations for “the lost hour”. And before we got home, I had my story’s draft opening lines: “You know what it’s like when you lose something. It’s always in the last place you look. But how do you find a lost hour?” Along with the absurdist observation: “It’s not like it can slip down the back of a sofa.”
Other parts of the story came together when I started writing. For example, if we “lost” an hour overnight, it would be lighter in the morning than expected, and only atomic clocks could confirm the discrepancy. World leaders would make speeches, and conspiracy theories would run rampant. And NASA would be involved, of course.
Thanks Ian St James Awards (Episode 57, 8 August 2022)
In their heyday, the Ian St James Awards offered the biggest fiction prize in the UK and Ireland. Launched by the thriller writer Ian St James in 1989 to encourage new writers, the awards were open to 5,000-10,000 word short stories by unpublished writers.
I wrote this blog post in 2018 after uncovering the original copies of my short stories and judges’ critiques during an attic tidy-up. Although I enjoyed rereading all four Ian St James entries, 1994’s Both Sides of the Story was the one that had best stood the test of time. But it needed a good edit, and in 2019, I started reworking the story to share on Tall And True and published it as a collection of short stories in 2020, eventually narrating these for Tall And True Short Reads.
None of this would have been possible without the inspiration of the Ian St James Awards and the constructive encouragement of the judges’ critiques. And although the Awards no longer exist, this blog post was my opportunity to say a belated, “Thanks, Ian St James Awards”.
My Marxist Philosophy Class (Episode 58, 28 August 2022)
In February 1998, I started an eight-week evening college course, Introduction to Philosophy. I was in my mid-thirties, and while I was aware of philosophers, I hadn’t read their works and knew nothing about critical thinking. Our text was Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. And our tutor was a Marxist.
I shared the blog post, My Marxist Philosophy Class, on Tall And True after finding the fax communication between the course tutor and myself in a box of papers in September 2019. I enjoyed drawing on extracts from our faxes and my 1998 diary entries to craft the post. And I loved reacquainting myself with the story of Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder.
What struck me most when writing the blog post was that although it was over twenty years since my Marxist philosophy class, the memories and emotions of that night were still vivid. And I guess this partly explains the passions of the class member who complained about the course and the tutor who defended it. And why Marx and Marxism still provoke passionate debate!
Season Three and Beyond
In the trailer for Season Three of Tall And True Short Reads, I announced my plan to expand further the examples of my storytelling from Tall And True — on dogs, travel, memoir and other topics — and to include more multi-part episodes. And fittingly, the first episode of Season Three, released in September 2022, started with a “story that begins at the end”, Once Upon A Time (shared on Tall And True).
So keep an eye out for the next blog post, Tall And True Short Reads – Episodes 59 to 78, with more opening lines, links, and writer’s insight from my short stories and a variety of other writing.
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 Two of Tall And True Short Reads in September 2021.
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.