Third Times the Charm (Or How I Cheated And Learnt About Myself)


This year will be the third time I attempt to do NaNoWriMo, and as it draws closer and closer, I’m starting to feel that I should really get some ideas in place before I start. What’s going to happen? Who, at the very least, is my protagonist? …. No idea.

The first time I had a go at this crazy old scheme, where you have to write 50,000 words in the month of November, it was 2005. I was living in a big old student house in the middle of the icy, dangerous outskirts of Durham, with barking Alsatians, a barbed wire fence opposite my bedroom window* and 12-year-olds smoking out of the front door**. I was cheating. By which I mean I was still out to write 50,000 words, but it wasn’t new fiction. It was a novel I was trying to write (and one I still haven’t finished). I’d got about 20,000 words written up. I was using NaNoWriMo to get me further on the same old story. Gasp, that’s breaking the rules, you say. Well, it didn’t work anyway. I ran into a writer’s block, and as the story was precious to me, I couldn’t just bulldoze through it with some new idea / character / plot change like you can in a “proper” NaNoWriMo. So, I think I got about 22,000 new words down and stopped.

I tried again last year. Only this time, I cheated big style. See, I wasn’t really into the idea of writing a whole novel. I wanted to write a long short story or two, so I was using the word count as an impetus to get me tapping away on the keyboard. I actually got a complete short story down, one passage of which you can see here. (I should actually go back to that story and re-write it. It’s been a year now, I’m sure I’ve got fresh ideas for it. Also, there was always a scene missing.) I also decided that any poetry I wrote would be worth a triple word score, like Scrabble. And STILL, with all that cheating, I made it to 35,000 and no further.

Despite this blatant bending of the rules, I don’t regret either decision. Both ways, joining the NaNoWriMo scheme made me write more. When I saw other people from my local area bumping up our collective word score, it gave me a sense of nationalism (Woo! Come on Spain, we can beat Italy!). When I had friends doing it, too, it gave me someone to compete against. But most of all, it got me in front of a computer doing something I love – being creative. And I can look back on the things I wrote in those times and look at them with pride. A lot of it is pretty good, and I like feeling good about achieving something physical.

This year, though, I’m doing it properly. It’s going to be a new story idea, something I come up with hopefully in this week before November 1st. I´m going to try and write 2,000 words a day, because I know there’ll be missed days along there somewhere.

And I’ve got people to compete against and encourage. Some Barcelona teachers, past and present. My boss-and-friend-and-mother-of-my-future-godson, Claire. And quite possibly my twin brother, too. And as we almost never compete, it’ll be quite nice to get some rivalry going.


Especially as I’m going to win.

* I lived opposite a huge Tescos. the fence around the space where the lorries dropped the goods every morning.

** It was the only place they could hide from security cameras. Also, they climbed up our walls and peered in at the windows.

TOAST Part 2 of 3

Wasn’t sure if I should post the second part in a Mid-Week post or not. See, with NaNoWriMo just round the corner, I should conserve what written material I have, as I’ll be busy writing crap all through November, and that might limit my posts.

But then I thought – what the hey? It’s nice to stick all three parts back to back, and it might make me write more new stuff to get this up.

For those of you who missed it, go back to Part 1 before reading this.

TOAST (continued)

They walk offstage hurriedly together. Throughout this scene she is eating breakfast half-dressed, and the audience can hear Tom and Mike off stage frantically whispering.
MIKE: She must have come back with you. I wouldn’t forget a woman like that. I don’t think.
TOM: Come on, we were both pretty hammered.
MIKE: Yes but – what’s her name? Where’s she from.
TOM: I’ve never seen her before. Not in a pub, or a club, or on the street. I think I’d remember a figure like that.
MIKE: Let’s have another look, now I’ve woken up.
TOM: No! She could see us!
MIKE: We’ll be quiet. Let’s see if we recognise her.
Silence. Slowly, the pair poke their head out past the curtain, watching her intently. They look at each other, and shake their heads. They look again. Following conversation is all in whispers.
TOM: Well… come to think of it, she does remind me of someone…
MIKE: Well?
TOM: I don’t know why though…
MIKE: Come on! Who?
TOM: I don’t want to say – (looks at Mike’s angry face) Oh, all right. My mother.
She stops chewing, and turns around fairly slowly. They quickly pull back. She looks back to her breakfast. Faces re-emerge.
MIKE: No, I don’t see the resemblence.
TOM: Well, you have to trim a few years. In the older photos, she used to –
MIKE: Oh I see, and I suppose the –
TOM: Exactly. Just a few details.
MIKE (chuckling): And she’s got your –
TOM: Let’s not go into that.
Heads go out of view. Voices from off stage.
TOM: (shakes his head) Look. We’re going to have to go back in there.
MIKE: Why?
TOM: Well, we just have to! She could be there all day! She might want a ride home!
MIKE: I suppose we could try and get her to tell us, without asking.
TOM: Yeah. So what are we going to say?
GIRL: What are you two doing back there?
TOM (out loud): We’re just coming!
MIKE: Wait!
TOM: What?
MIKE: We can’t go out together!
TOM: Why not?
MIKE: It’ll make us look gay, or something. Attached at the hip.
TOM: Okay, then. You go in first.
MIKE: If I look like I’m getting stuck in the conversation, come in, and change the subject.
TOM: Okay.
MIKE: Okay.
He pushes Mike on. She turns around. He goes to get his coffee.
GIRL: Cold enough for you?
MIKE: Hmm?
GIRL: The coffee. Is it cold enough?
MIKE: What? Oh yes, the coffee. Yes. It’s just the way I like it.
She looks at her cereal as he drinks a sip. He grimaces in disgust, but manages to swallow it.
MIKE: So, I, urm… I can’t remember how we got back last night. Did we take a taxi?
Tom is poking his head out.
GIRL: You can’t remember? I drove us back.
TOM: (whisper): She was sober, and she came back with us! Or even – with me!
MIKE: Did you? I don’t remember… er… much… I mean… well, the early evening was clear – I mean, crystal, ha ha, every little detail, you know? Except, you know, by the end…
GIRL (almost to herself): Oh. That is a shame.
MIKE: Sorry?
GIRL (smiling curiously to herself): Oh nothing. (leaning forward) So, what was the last thing you remember?
Mike looks urgently at Tom. Tom comes in.
TOM: Oh. Hi. Is there any jam left, or did we finish it last night – er, I mean, yesterday morning?
MIKE (relieved): I can’t remember. Check in the cupboard.
TOM: Yeah. Okay.
Tom walks to the cupboard. Silence, which Tom feels he has to fill.
TOM: Urm… yeah, I can see the honey, and the Branston pickle… and…. Yeah, there’s some jam at the back.
MIKE: What flavour?
TOM: Er… apricot.
MIKE: Have we got any strawberry jam?
GIRL: I’ve got the marmalade out.
MIKE: Good. Don’t worry, Tom, I’ll have the marmalade.
TOM: Okay.
Tom brings out the apricot jam, and puts it on the table too.
TOM: I’ll make us some toast.
MIKE: No! Let me! You sit down, have a bowl of cereal. I’ll get the toast.
TOM: No, I’m fine.
MIKE: But you always burn it! (to the girl) He always burns it.
GIRL (grinning): I know.
TOM: Yes, but – you know?
GIRL (as if it was obvious): Of course I do.
MIKE: Of course she does.
TOM: Tell you what, we’ll both do our pieces together.
They walk to the toaster, and get out some bread.
TOM (frantic whisper): How does she know that?
MIKE: That settles it. She must have come back with you.
TOM: Yes, but if I’ve never seen her before, how does she know I burn the toast?
MIKE: You must have had some last night.
Together, they lean over the toaster, looking into it.
GIRL: What are you doing?
They jump.
MIKE: Er, I think that the far sides hotter.
TOM: One side’s always hotter.
GIRL: You both make a bit of a fuss over breakfast, don’t you?
MIKE: Yes, well –
TOM: Most important meal of the day.
TOM: So…. Have you got any clean clothes? For today, I mean.
GIRL: No, but the ones in my room will be fine.
MIKE (whispering): Wait! Which room did she sleep in?
TOM: One of us should go and check. You went first last time, so it’s my turn.
MIKE: Right.
TOM: I’m just going upstairs, to get dressed, while I wait for the toast.
Mike sees him leaving, and realises he’s been tricked.
MIKE: W-! oh, never mind.
Tom exits.


I hope this is building the tension. Don’t brace yourself too much, it’s not the most astounding ending.

TOAST Part 1 of 3


The beach isn't quite this empty yet
The beach isn't quite this empty yet

Well, it’s been a busy two weeks, but it looks like my life is set to take on a semblance of order once again. I’m back in Barcelona, I’m back to teaching, and I’m reminded that I love it.

Still, I won’t waffle on about the events of the past two weeks, except to say that if you’re a teacher in Barcelona and your company needs an excellent, enthusiastic teacher for morning or afternoon classes, then I’m your man.

I was routing around through my old things, and I found “Toast”. Once upon a time, I used to be a bit of an amateur actor… with the emphasis on Hamateur. I also used to try and write plays. SO I’ve made a new category for my posts. I’ve called it “Stage“. Here, I’ll post anything theatrical I come up with, which will include any comedy I work on for my stand-up comedy routine.

I thought, to buy myself some more writing time, I’d post this little skit in pieces, one after the other. So, the tantalisingly short (and probably least funny) first part of Toast.


A kitchen with doors upstairs (Stage Left) and outside (Stage Right). There is a square table centre stage with 2 or 3 chairs around it, and a rectangular block/set of drawers front stage, slightly stage right, facing away from the audience, with a toaster and coffee machine, and 2 mugs on it There is another mug in the drawers below.. The block comes up to about chest height. Stage right, there is a set of high cupboards, containing cereals, bread, bowls, spoons, etc. breakfast things. A man staggers in, groaning, suffering from a headache. He walks slowly to the kettle, and starts to boil himself some water for a cup of coffee. Another man pokes his head round the side of the door slowly. Both men have messy hair and clothes, and sunken eyes, and at first, talking takes great concentration.

TOM: Make it two.
TOM: Two mugs.
He starts pouring.
TOM: No. Two mugs.
MIKE: I’ve got two mugs out.
TOM: Yeah, but I want two mugs, and you want one.
He staggers in.
TOM: After a night like that, I badly need some.
They stand in silence, one measuring out a large amount of coffee, the other staring at the kettle.
MIKE: What… what happened?
TOM: I can’t remember… there was a white toilet I seem to remember being sick in… or around…
MIKE: No, I mean, why were we drinking?
TOM (smiling): Wait, I’ve got a good line for this.
MIKE: What?
TOM: You know, you say that, and then I say something really witty back.
Short pause.
MIKE: Why were we drinking?
TOM: Because – No, I’ve forgotten it.
MIKE: Oh, what an anticlimax.
TOM: I thought you were in the shower, anyway.
MIKE: I thought you were.
TOM: I heard the water running.
MIKE: Oh, did we leave it running last night.
TOM: I… don’t think I had a shower.
MIKE: Me neither.
TOM (slowly, making sure he gets it right): To forget that we’ve got a drinking problem!
MIKE: What?
TOM: That’s the witty line!
MIKE: But I don’t have a drinking problem.
TOM: No, neither do I. Drinkings not the problem. It’s when to stop that I fall down. Or I fall down when I stop. One or the other.
MIKE: Tom! You’re jokes are bad enough when you’re sober! Don’t try my patience.
TOM: Sorry.
MIKE: So, who’s in the shower?
They listen. Silence.
TOM: No one.
MIKE: Good. That’s settled then.
TOM: But I heard it running a minute ago.
MIKE: I think I did too.
TOM: Maybe it was something else.
MIKE: Is it raining.
TOM: No.
MIKE: Not that then.
TOM: No.
A beautiful girl, wrapped revealingly in a tight dressing gown, walks in. Her hair is wet.
GIRL: I feel much better now. Nothing like a shower to clear your head in the morning.
Tom and Mike stand in silence looking at her.
GIRL: What’s wrong with you two? Oh. I see you’re making me a cup of coffee (seeing the three cups), but no thanks, I’ll be fine. I’ll be back in a minute, I’m just going to dry my hair.
MIKE (recovering): Err… don’t worry, I’ll drink it.
She has left. They have both woken up now, and start to get breakfast things out of various cupboards.
TOM: Drink what?
MIKE: The coffee.
TOM: But you were going to anyway.
MIKE: Yes but – who is she? Where did you find her, and why didn’t you tell me?
TOM: I was about to ask you that too.
MIKE: You mean you didn’t bring her back?
TOM: Then you must have. She can’t have just broken in.
MIKE: A night of pleasure, and I’ve completely forgotten it! I don’t think so.
TOM: You probably fell asleep!
MIKE: YOU did! I’ve never seen her before!
GIRL (re-entering): Seen who before?
MIKE: Erm, that old lady outside.
TOM: Mike’s a bit paranoid about, er, people breaking in, and things.
MIKE: Yeah.
GIRL: Oh. For a minute I’d thought you’d forgotten who I am. (jokily) You were very drunk at the time.
TOGETHER (insistent): No! I , er we, er I haven’t forgotten! No!
GIRL: Good. You’re obviously better at holding your drink than I thought.
Silence, as she combs back her hair, and gets some cereal.
MIKE: Er… yeah… I’ve just got to go and get dressed.
TOM: Me too.
GIRL: But you haven’t finished your coffee!
TOM: It can wait.
MIKE: I prefer it cold.
They walk offstage hurriedly together.

More on this story later!
More on this story later!