In April 2020, I wrote my first short story for the Australian Writers’ Centre’s monthly Furious Fiction competition. This April, I submitted my thirteenth straight entry. The anniversary means I’ve also shared twelve Furious Fictions on the Tall And True writers’ website and all bar one on the Tall And True Short Reads podcast.
I blogged about my first Furious Fiction in May 2020. Writers have 55 hours to write a 500-word short story based on a monthly brief. The first prize is A$500, with the winner and shortlisted stories published on the Writer’s Centre website, along with the names of the long-listed entries.
I’ve still not basked in the winner’s spotlight. But I have enjoyed the monthly writing challenges — I’m addicted to Furious Fiction! And even if the judges don’t *like* them, I like sharing my short stories on Tall And True and narrating them for the Tall And True Short Reads audio-fiction podcast (stream from Acast).
For your reading enjoyment, here are the opening paragraphs with links to the stories on Tall And True and the monthly briefs for my twelve Furious Fictions from April 2020 to March 2021:
A Song on the Radio (April 2020)
Elliot parked at the side of the road close to the beach. He grabbed a brown-bagged bottle of tequila and the lemon and salt shaker he’d pinched from the restaurant where he worked as a kitchen hand. Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree was playing on the radio, and Elliot turned it up loud to hear it over the breaking waves.
The brief for April:
- The story had to begin on THE SIDE OF A ROAD
- It had to include a SPLASH
- And the words APRON, PIGMENT, RIBBON, ICON, and LEMON (the first letters of which spell, April).
Five Meet On Zoom (May 2020)
“Right-o, can everyone hear and see me?” asked Julian, who, as leader of the Five, had scheduled the Zoom meeting. “Yes,” his brother Dick beamed back, “splendid stuff!” Cousin George responded with a curt nod of her short-cropped head. “Woof!” “Timmy likes it, too,” chipped in Julian’s sister Anne.
The brief for May:
- The first word of the story had to be FIVE
- It had to include something BEING REPLACED
- And the phrase A SILVER LINING.
A Jittery Journey (June 2020)
JITTERY. 16-down, “Nervous or unable to relax (7)”. That’s the word. Loud voices in the street drown out the TV. I put down my crossword, walk to the front window and part the curtains. They’re at it again, the neighbours across the way. I can see them pointing and shouting at each other under the pale street lights.
The brief for June:
- The FIRST and LAST WORDS of the story had to begin with a “J”
- It had to include a GAME BEING PLAYED
- And the phrase MISSED THE BOAT.
Too Late, Lenny (July 2020)
Between you and me, Lenny, there are more mourners at your funeral with the COVID restrictions than would have been graveside had you died before the pandemic. Streaming it over Zoom helps boost your numbers. Mind you, most of the faces on my computer screen are strangers or I haven’t seen for ages.
The brief for July:
- The story had to take place at either a WEDDING or a FUNERAL
- Something had to be CUT
- And it had to include the words OVER, BETWEEN, and UNDER.
Splendid Views (August 2020)
The trip app listed the hotel as an “Exotic Getaway” with “Splendid Views”. After the year-long anxiety of COVID-19 and lockdowns, it looked perfect. I tapped BOOK on my phone, entered my credit card details, and texted Sally: “Pack the bags. We’re off to the mountains for the weekend.”
The brief for August:
- The story had to contain HUMOUR
- Include the words DIZZY, EXOTIC, LUMPY, TINY and TWISTED
- And a SANDWICH.
The Cruise Ship (September 2020)
Should have done this years ago. But don’t tell Pearl I said that because she’s been on at me for ages to do a cruise. I kept telling her I didn’t want to be stuck on a floating hotel with a bunch of strangers. I’d rather spend our holidays towing a caravan around Australia, where I know the score.
The brief for September:
- The story had to be inspired by the photo of a SHIP DECK
- Begin with the letters SHO
- And include the words SCORE, SLICE, SPRINKLE, STAMP and SWITCH.
The Dark Web (October 2020)
Kevin caught the news in a chat room on the Dark Web. NASA had detected an unidentified object on a collision course with Earth. He wasn’t surprised NASA had kept the news secret from the public. It was further proof of a plan by scientists and elites, backed by billionaires, to create a new world order.
The brief for October:
- The story had to include someone/something being CAUGHT
- It had to include the words OBJECT, WOUND, BAND, ELABORATE
- The final two words had to be THE MOON.
The Al-Rabie Hotel (November 2020)
The photograph is gloomy, and the colours are fading. But it was twenty-five years ago. I’m sitting in the high-ceilinged inner courtyard of the Al-Rabie Hotel in Old Damascus, catching up my travel journal. My wife calls out from the first floor. I stop writing, look up and wave for the camera.
The brief for November:
- The story had to take place at a HOTEL
- Include a PHOTOGRAPH
- And the words COLLAR, GLOOMY, POLICE, RHYTHM, and SAPPHIRE.
The Gift (December 2020)
“Happy anniversary, Darl.” My blank look doesn’t wipe the smile from his face. “It’s our double anniversary, remember?” he prompts, presenting me with a single red rose. “Nine months since the party and six months since you moved in.” My nan taught me to tell the truth. “Of course I remember,” I lie.
The brief for December:
- The story had to include a GIFT of some kind
- Have a first sentence containing only THREE words
- And use the words PALM, MATCH and ROSE.
The Choice (January 2021)
We hit the road at sunrise. Anna complained about packing the bikes in the pre-dawn dark. But we had to make up for the kilometres we’d lost yesterday to punctures and her mishap. Our reward was a crimson landscape when the sun crested the horizon. I rode ahead, and Anna fell behind, as usual.
The brief for January:
- The story had to BEGIN AT SUNRISE
- Use the words SIGNATURE, PATIENT, and BICYCLE
- And include a character who has to make a CHOICE.
The Performance (February 2021)
Three minutes into the performance, and I stifled a yawn. Crammed in the front row with a clutch of fellow bored hacks, I hoped no one had noticed. However, the acclaimed actor and playwright and recently appointed head of NATS, Barry Lazarus, turned and fixed a beady eye on me from centre stage.
The brief for February:
- The story had to take place in a SCHOOL
- Begin with the word THREE
- And include the adjectives MAGNETIC, UNCOUTH, SUSPICIOUS, and FLOWERY.
Memories and Marshmallows (March 2021)
The sky-blue swell pounded the breakwater at Borthel on Sea in a steady rhythm. John gazed out at the mountains across the broad bay and drew a deep calming breath. The anxiety that had built up and wracked him in recent months and on his spontaneous long drive from the city eased its intensity.
The brief for March:
- The story must include the setting of a photo of a COAST with a RED TELEPHONE BOX
- Include the (mar-)words MARKET, MARBLE, MARVELLOUS, MARSHMALLOW
- And the final sentence must contain DIALOGUE.
Thanks, Furious Fiction
As I wrote in another blog post in December 2020, Thanks, Furious Fiction. You helped me stay sane during 2020 and inspired me to share my twelve Furious Fictions on Tall And True and launch a short story podcast. And I’ve got my fingers crossed for my April 2021 entry.
What was the brief for April’s Furious Fiction?
- The story must begin in a QUEUE
- Include the words CROSS, DROP and LUCKY
- And include a MAP.
I submitted a dystopian tale titled, The Lucky Country, which I’ve shared on Tall And True.
© 2021 Robert Fairhead
N.B. Due to COVID isolation and lockdowns, 2020 proved to be a good year for me writing-wise. You might like to read about another purple patch I had in my early thirties back in the 1990s in this blog post, Repurposed Writing.
Note: This post originally appeared on the Tall And True writers’ website blog.
Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of a middle-aged dad and dog owner. Robert Fairhead is writer and editor at Tall And True, an online showcase and forum for writers, readers and publishers. His book reviews and other writing have appeared in various print and online media. And he has published two collections of short stories, Both Sides of the Story (2020) and Twelve Furious Months (2021).