This week’s challenge was one of the more abstract briefs I have had so far this year. It really meant that I could go anywhere with. It had the potential to go off in to the fantastical or to be entirely grounded in the real world, and I went more towards the latter in this instance.
As soon as I read it I had an idea of where I wanted to go with it, so the challenge was not coming up with a plot (ironically) but rather was in how to convey the message that I wanted to get across, which is that if you are looking really hard for something you can quite often miss the interesting things that are going on around you. I will leave it up to you to decide if I have managed to do this!
Anyway, the brief came from Steve Newman (twitter user @bigfoottreasure) and went a little something like this: ‘Author can’t think of a plot, goes in search of one.’
You don’t have to search very far to find the result, as it is below.
2014 – A Year in Stories
Around the World In 80 Pages
It had happened the same way every night for a week. Fred sat down in front of his computer and stared at the blank document open on the screen in front of him.
His face lit by the glow of the monitor, he insisted that this night, this was the one where he finally got started on the greatest novel ever written.
But every night it was the same old story, or rather lack of story. After an hour of staring blankly at the screen he would close the word processor and insist that tomorrow would be the night.
This night was no different. He sat, staring at the white screen. The cursor blinked at him accusingly. ‘What are you waiting for?’ it cried. ‘Don’t you have the moxy to write a novel?’ He was starting to think that maybe he didn’t.
By this stage he was begging for a distraction. Any excuse to take his mind away from writing and on to other things. A notification popped up in the corner. An email! Perfect. Fred clicked through to his mailbox.
It was only spam. He cursed. TravelWise with another one of their promotional emails offering cheap holidays to places he wouldn’t visit if someone threatened to shove a pair of angry ferrets up his trousers.
He switched the window back to the word processor and leant his chin on his hands. If only he could think of a plot. He knew he had a novel in him. I mean, everyone does, right? It’s just that his was apparently better guarded than Fort Knox and more secret than the location of the holy grail.
He racked his brain for inspiration, but his mind began to wander. Perhaps he needed a holiday after all, just to get his creative juices flowing. He clicked back on to his email to see what dreary destinations were on offer today.
Scrolling through the email he found himself thoroughly underwhelmed by the idea of a weekend in a cottage in the Brecon Beacons; completely unenthused by a wildlife tour of Sussex and downright disgusted at the thought of a Club 18-30 booze up for a week in Marbella. But at the bottom of the email he saw something that caught his eye.
A year long round the world tour.
As he scanned the list of stops he became excited. Rome, Athens, Budapest, Prague. And those were just some of the ones in Europe.
He baulked slightly at the price: £10000. But it was all inclusive and he HAD just inherited some money. The mouse barely hovered over the ‘Buy’ button before he clicked. Within minutes he had set up a payment installment plan. Within the hour he had quit his dead end job.
If spending a year travelling around the world didn’t inspire him to write the greates novel in the history of the world, frankly he didn’t know what would.
Two weeks later Fred was all packed d ready to go. He sat in the departure lounge at Heathrow airport and flicked through a complimentary magazine as he waited for his flight to New York, where his adventure would truly begin, to board.
The adrenaline was flowing through his veins. He had barely so much as left Berkshire before, let alone Europe, and here he was preparing to jet out to the Big Apple and the USA. A tingle of excitement ran down his back.
“Would all passengers for Zoom Air flight ZM9934 please head to Gate 42 as the plane is now ready for boarding, thank you,” a nearby tannoy announced.
It was time.
Fred spent the next two months in North America. He climbed the Empire State Building, swam with dolphins in Florida, hiked the Grand Canyon and camped in the wilds of Yellowstone Park. He watched ice hockey in Vancouver, went on a Moose safari in Nova Scotia, and attended Cinco de Mayo in Tijuana.
Yet, despite all of that he struggled to find a plot for his novel. Every situation he found himself in, he felt as though he had been here before. Or, rather, someone else had been there on his behalf, and written about it in some way.
North America felt so cliché to Fred. Even Mexico and Canada felt like they had been done to death already, either in literature, film or television. There was nothing new to write about. No new story to tell. And so he moved on.
After he left North America on his world tour, Fred was next deposited in Japan. Here, he felt sure that a plot would present itself. After all, Japanese culture was so utterly different to that in the West that something would surely start his creative juices flowing.
But, he was disappointed to find that actually he didn’t feel all that inspired. He sat on a bench in Dinseyland Tokyo, looking out over the bay, where he could see Mount Fuji in the distance and sighed.
He readjusted his Mickey ears and took a bite from his toffee apple. The problem with Japanese culture was that it was TOO different. Sure, he felt that his creativity had been stifled by the homogeneity of British culture, but Japan was a swing too far in the other direction.
Everywhere he turned there were people doing interesting and unusual things. People partaking of foods and drinks that he had never tasted, games and sports he had never imagined, and as for the theatre and television, well it was beyond even what knowledge he had gleaned from all those late nights watching Takeshi’s Castle.
It was too much. Someone like Fred could not relate to the common Japanese man, and therefore he did not feel as though he could tell his story. He had failed to find what he was looking for under the pagodas, so one again he moved on.
His next stop was the Asian mainland. He spent some time trekking the Great Wall, and yet more time still on the backpacker trail around Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
In a hostel in Bangkok he found love, or at least what passed for it on the road. He spent two weeks exploring the Thai countryside with a Canadian girl, as their passion burned brightly before dying out as, eventually, they both had to go their separate ways.
As he flew on to Mumbai, his next destination, he wondered if he would ever see her again. He realised as the plane made its ascent out of Thailand that in the fortnight they had spent together he had completely failed to divert any of his thoughts to coming up with a plot.
He scanned back through his memories of the previous fourteen days and they were all taken up by her. He could not remember a single other thing from his time in South East Asia, all he could think about was the girl he spent the time with.
He sat back in his seat and smiled contentedly, but a small part of him remained sad that he had still not yet managed to find the plot that he was so desperately looking for.
He mused further on his failure thus far to think of a plot as he wandered the streets of Mumbai, and it nearly cost him dearly. As he wandered around oblivious to the world around him, a young pickpocket snatched his messenger bag from his shoulder.
Spotting the miscreant, Fred gave chase immediately. He was glad of the parkour lessons he had taken at university, as the small child was nimble and quick, and clearly knew the area of the city well.
They leapt over boxes and street stalls and weaved in between people as the chase went on. Eventually his superior speed paid off and he caught the child, snatching his satchel back in annoyance. He looked through to see if anything was missing and cursed when he found that his notebook, on which he had written all of his germs of ideas for stories, had fallen out during the chase. That would set him back another couple of weeks.
Incidents like this peppered the rest of his year of travel, and eventually he returned to his parents home in Berkshire empty handed and despondent.
None of his friends could understand why he was so sad. He had, after all, just spent a year travelling to some of the world’s most exotic locations and seeing some wonderful and fantastic things.
After a few weeks of doing the rounds of visits to friends and family that he had not seen in over 12 months he settled back down in to what he supposed he could call a normal routine.
His uncle found him a job in the local supermarket while he looked for something more long term, but every night it was the same as before he left. He would sit in front of the computer for an hour or more at a time and stare at a blank screen. All that time and all that money wasted, and he hadn’t come back with a single idea for a story.
After the third night in a row of sitting and staring at the blinking cursor he gave up. Perhaps what they all said was a lie. Maybe everyone didn’t have a novel in them. He sighed deeply and wondered what he could do next.
“Oh well,” he said to himself. “I suppose I could write up my travel journals. Though I can’t think why anyone would want to read any of that…”
Taking a sip from his mug of coffee Fred stretched his fingers out and began to type. Several hours later he was startled to hear birds singing outside his window. He opened the curtains and daylight streamed inside, forcing him to blink in order to adjust. It had felt like he had been writing for no time at all, but he had been up all night.
He looked at the document and saw that he had written ten thousand words. Perhaps he had inadvertently found his muse after all.
Next week I have to tackle some sci-fi. Considering I read a lot of the genre I’ve never really tried to write any, so it might be interesting!