The latest challenge was to take the last line of a well-known novel and make it the first line of a short story written in the style of the author in question.
The pitfalls are many as an author approaches the finishing line. In Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster wrote that because of the need to round things off, ‘nearly all novels are feeble at the end’. He has a point, but some get it just right. Here’s what Robert McCrum has to say about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s anything-but-feeble conclusion to The Great Gatsby (‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’) ‘Somehow, it sums up the novel completely, in tone as much as meaning, while giving the reader a way out into the drabber, duller world of everyday reality.’
The judging process was especially painful and protracted this time around, and the roll of honour is long. Step forward and take a bow, Jerry Ring, Joan Milburn, Nathan Weston, Richard Lynn, Nick MacKinnon, C.J. Gleed, Iain Crawford, John O’Byrne, Paul Carpenter and Mike Morrison.
Those that made the final cut are printed below and earn £25 each.
Brian Murdoch/Finnegans Wake
A way a lone a last a loved a long the bookmaster Jimjoist rolled a virgil sheet from the toplady of a freshly complete queer of peeper into his tripewriter thinking. Aha, my last leaves were sex hundred and twenty-to-eight of the lost left texticle of Finnegan and his atrophied un-apostrophied Wake, selling to the plebiscite not a pennyeach no no but many squid a croppy and hardbound into the burgeon. Come, forethought he, my beloved rubbisher Fable and Feeble and hear you have another only virginally less waiting tomb to piddle. The auld bookrighter shall rejoyce in the republican royalties or horrorarium for a verily expansive shorn-storey instead. By the Drumgoolies he’ll regain the crappywrite and take much prayment for a century-and-a-half of sameoldballs. Misterjuice of Dobberlin demands a fat czechmate from his publicker Faker and Faker and they said yes yes yes
Frank Upton/The Woodlanders
‘For you was a good man, and did good things!’
‘That were before the cattle murrain.’
‘’Twas before Ned Dangerfield learned you gambling.’
‘Or the Great Tempest swept away our haycocks.’
‘Before that drunken postman delivered Seth’s letter of reprieve to the wrong gaol!’
Jed Caundle was in a distinct degree philosophical, according to the principles of certain Eastern sages, who hold that desire is the root of all suffering; for, it seemed to him, everything he wished for, failed in bitterness. With the purple light of an angry dawn in his eyes, he could see no farther through the low window than his late sister’s small flower garden, spangled into ethereal beauty by an early, killing frost.
But the Great Author had not yet finished his sport with the Caundles. Even now, a tawny fox was violating their hen-coop, the poisoned meat having been consumed by their mastiff, Grip.
D.A. Prince/The Old Man and the Sea
The old man was dreaming about the lions. He did this after lunch when she cooked chorizos. She knew about the lions because when he awoke he would tell her. How he had strangled one or more, depending on the vinos, with his bare hands. Muchos cojones, he would say and growl. She would growl back. Then he would sleep again.
That’s how it is now, with old men.
When the young man arrived she knew why. Your sister sent me, he said. She knows.
She knew. Chorizo? she asked. This was the first way to a man. First food, and then what was after. He shook his head. I am from the sea, he said. Where there are plenty more fish. Have you heard of the whale? The whale does not need the chorizo. The whale knows. And when he sang it was the sound of the wide awake, and hungry.
David Silverman/The Da Vinci Code
For a moment, he thought he heard a woman’s voice — the wisdom of the ages — whispering up from the chasms of the earth to the splendour of St Peter’s. Langdon froze. ‘The wisdom of the ages’ — surely a coded message! Suddenly, in a sudden flash of realisation, he realised it. A totally contrived anagram! ‘An anagram!’ he realised. The Wisdom of the Ages = ‘Who misfeeds the goat?!’ Of course! Now he simply needed to find the unfortunate ungulate, and guilty goatherd… before it was too late! Heidi? Esmeralda? The Lonely… Suddenly, he had it — Paddy McGinty — whose goat swallowed dynamite! A deadly coded warning in deadly earnest! And Valentine Doonican = Neel doon in Vatican! In no time he found, behind the hassocks and dyslexic Scottish translations of tourist leaflets, the sticks of dynamite. The Vatican saved… but why had the clues been so obvious?
Adrian Fry/The Road
In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery. They dwelt in the unchronicled quiet preceding the commencement of a story, yet knowing the story was coming sure as a mustang anticipates the approaching storm, though the sky glares unvarying cobalt. They barely spoke, so common to them their experiences of their dwelling-place. They tended stock, fished, cooked. When the story commenced, such exertions, absorptions and rhythms as they cherished would perish. A railroad would come, possibly. Liquor, probably. Guns, certainly. They would fight, telling themselves it was for the preservation of a Paradise changeless hitherto, yet knowing the act of fighting to be a refutation of its sublimity. Loss was inevitable, such few as survived doing so in flyblown towns, dim saloons or rattling boxcars. These few would dream; ever less, ever more vividly, inflecting lives I must, perforce, recount.
Brian Allgar/Animal Farm
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
‘We have changed something we thought was bad for something far worse,’ observed Clover, shaking her head gloomily.
‘How did this happen?’ asked one of the bewildered sheep.
‘It’s quite simple. We believed their lies, and voted for them to run the farm. Now we see that it was all an act, and that the pigs will exploit us and deprive us of everything we once had so that they can become even richer than the men.’
The leader of the pig-men had overheard this remark through the open window, and waddled out into the yard. ‘Fake news! Fake news!’ he screamed. ‘Believe me, I am the greatest leader this farm has ever had!’ Then he burst into tears of vexation.
Your next challenge is to submit a disgustingly flattering poem in heroic couplets in praise of a contemporary person of power. Please email entries of up to 16 lines to email@example.com by midday on 9 August.