How do you know your writing is improving? When you start to win more prizes!
Last year, I got 1st prize in one of my writing group’s competitions. It was a non-fiction writing competition judged by an individual and mine was 1 of 5 entries. Last week, I won 3rd prize in a fiction writing competition with this piece judged by popular vote. That time, it was 1 of 16 entries! Things are looking up!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story. The theme of the competition was to write a piece about a writing group; an amusing conceit, but one that really got people thinking. I ended up submitting this piece, which tells the story of an unfortunate turn of events for an unlikely star, and proves the old adage that there’s 2 sides to every story…
Late July was when the Toonberg Writers’ Circle (or TWC) broke up for the summer, when they traditionally held a huge party. Beefy Bull, Honky Goose, Yellowstone Stan and all the TWC’s wild and wacky members looked forward to this time. Better still, this year the circle’s dapper chairman, Quinn Pushapen, sent round the following mysterious memo at the penultimate meeting…
Next week’s bash is to be held at a secret venue. A greyhound bus shall pick you all up from outside the municipal hall’s main entrance at 8pm. Vittles will be provided there, so don’t bring food or drink. Make sure you’re punctual and I’ll meet you at the venue.
Yours truly, etc., Q.P.
Intrigued, the partygoers gathered outside Toonberg Municipal Hall (their usual meeting place) at 8pm on the appointed night. Right on time, there was a great rush of air and a colossal silver-grey creature screeched to a halt in front of them.
“Ruff ruff!” a cheerful voice sang. “I’m Speedy and I’ll be driving you this evening. Just jump inside!”
Speedy would be an unbelievable sight anywhere except Toonberg. He was a twelve metre long, four metre high greyhound, with the windows and roof of a single-decker bus jutting out of his slender back. The toons weren’t taken about, however, so they piled in when a door swung open along Speedy’s side.
“And away we go!” grinned Speedy.
Speedy rocketed through Toonberg’s streets, flattening the passengers into their seats. Trees twisted over to 60 degree angles and newspaper stands turned into papery tornadoes as he thundered by. Finally, he leapt over the gilded gate of an ornate white mansion and jerked to a halt before the front door.
The TWC members dismounted, head spinning like pinballs, to find Quinn Pushapen standing before them. He was a dapper caricature of old-time gentry, with a creaseless lilac suit, a white lacy cravat, a monocle in his right eye, well-coiffed ginger hair and a thick, curling moustache.
“What ho, chaps!” he chuckled. “Sorry about the ride; Speedy’s a tad too enthusiastic at his job. Well, time to explain. You’re not just here to celebrate the end of another spiffing year. You all know me, for you’ve been rocked over the years by my seminal readings of rollicking literary gems.”
“Oh yes, Quinnie,” squealed Racey Horse, the ravishing romance novelist. “Remember when you read the ending of Orphan Jimmy? I was in floods of tears.”
“Yes, washing our smaller members out of the building, my dear,” Quinn said ruefully. “But now, friends, it’s time for a shocking confession. Those stories… were not my work.”
The toons gasped and started muttering in horror. Surely Quinn wasn’t saying what they thought he was…
“No, no, chaps, relax,” Quinn laughed. “I’m not a bally plagiarist. What I am is the acceptable face of a talented fellow whose work couldn’t be credibly attributed to the man himself. Follow me inside and I’ll explain why.”
More intrigued than ever, the toons began following Quinn; through the mansion’s sturdy front doors, along a splendid hallway, up a broad staircase, then to the last door along the landing, which he knocked on.
“Come in, y’all,” a voice called weakly from inside.
Behind the door lay an impressive bedroom. A brass-framed bed with creamy white sheets stood by the far wall. On the bed, propped up on a pile of pillows, lay an ancient, shrivelled toon man with dark brown skin, lips as thick as bananas, vivid white eyes and a bald, domed head. He smiled as he saw them.
“Hey, Quinn. What’s up, everyone?”
Beefy Bull spoke first. “Duh, I gotta say… yah look familiar, old timer.”
“That ain’t surprisin’, boss,” the old toon grinned. “Quinn, gimme mah banjo, will yuh? It’s in the usual place.”
Quinn rummaged under the bed and pulled out a worn old banjo with a ragged hole in its head. He placed the instrument in his benefactor’s frail hands.
The jaws of several older TWC members literally hit the floor as recognition struck them like a sledgehammer.
“Tarnation!” bellowed Yellowstone Stan. “You’re Pickin’ Nicky!”
“Yes I am,” came the reply. “Now I bet some a’ y’all ain’t never seen me before, but I used to be everywhere one time, playin’ the blues on this here banjo and dancin’; TV, radio, flicker shows. I packed out theatres, wrote screenplays, got film deals, book deals, everythin’… happy days.”
“Sadly, everything changed when the Anti-Stereotype Reforms began 50 years ago,” Quinn sighed. “Nobody wanted to publicise a toon with a look – or a name – like Nicky’s anymore. Fortunately, he wrote his own material so he kept the money from his bally royalties. Even so, he daren’t even leave the house now, for fear of being heckled. All he can do is dictate his work to me and have me as his mouthpiece.”
“An’ I was one a’ the luckier toons,” Nicky said bitterly. “After the Reforms Prissy Goodwife drank herself to erasure, Yiddy Yentel ended up homeless, Big Chief Bubblegum got sent to the nuthouse…”
“Yeah, I heard about one of them,” interrupted Honky Goose. “Mincey Flowers he threw himself into a barrel of turpentine ‘cos he was no longer big.”
“Mincey was always big!” Nicky snapped. “It’s the cartoons that got small!”
He doubled over in a fit of coughing, which faded into an uncomfortable silence.
Quinn was the first to speak.
“Now chaps, downstairs Nicky’s family is serving food and drinks. But before we go down there’s one more thing. Next year, I’ll need volunteers for a new writing project; a book which will tell the world the full story of Nicky, and all the toons who lost out to the Anti-Stereotype Reforms. I believe it’s a tale that must be told. I hope you coves do too.”
The TWC members looked at Quinn, then Nicky, and then at each other. An unspoken agreement passed between them as they silently turn and headed back downstairs.