The Cycle Courier Challenge
The Cycle Courier Challenge is an experiment in creativity that I've been messing with for some time for inclusion in a new book, Storycraft. There's a pretty decent KS4 lesson in this blogpost. Feel free to give it a go and collect a whole-class worth of answers. Get them to me and I'll include them in the book if there's space.
To play, you'll need...
Get settled. Ready? Good.
In this activity, your job is to list ideas in response to a scenario that’s given below. I'm going to ask you for ten of them. Before you read the scenario, though, here’s what we’re interested in – seeing when your best and most original ideas emerge. Is your first idea your favourite? Second or third? Is your tenth idea your most original? Or are all of them, in your opinion, terrible?
So as you list your ideas you must do it chronologically, in the order you get them. Be completely uncritical. If a bad idea springs to mind, record it. If all ten are bad in your opinion, that’s fine.
Now for the scenario. Think of the cycle couriers you see in all towns and cities. They usually zoom around on their bikes weaving in and out of traffic. Their bikes have large square delivery boxes on them, usually because they’re ferrying takeaway food like pizza.
Now consider this. What if every cycle courier in your nearest town or city looked as if they were delivering fast food, but really it was a disguise…and they were delivering something else entirely?
What could the something else be?
OK – you’re off. Make a chronological list of possibilities:
Now that you’ve made your list you might want to consider the following:
3. Party cakes
4. Smuggled pets
6. Chopped-off Heads
7. Stakes for killing vampires
8. Doorways to other worlds
10. A very slow prison break – one limb at a time.
I reckon some of these a pretty good, but most are terrible. If you've got a list of responses in front of you, perhaps from classmates, look for patterns in the responses. You might want to consider choosing one of the following investigations:
That's it. Enjoy!
In 1999, sports journalist Jonathan Rendall wrote Twelve Grand. It was published by Yellow Jersey Press which I think was Harper Collins’ sports imprint. It was about gambling. Yellow Jersey gave him a twelve-grand advance on the condition he gambled it all. They envisaged a straightforward account of wins and losses and some funny stories, perhaps with a tally of progress at the end of each chapter.
Rendall didn’t want to play ball. Instead he reckoned the story needed to be one of disaster. He descended into alcoholism, quickly lost everything and had a breakdown. His prose collapses as the book goes on – by the end he’s unable to put full sentences together. It’s brave and brilliant on the one hand, bonkers nonsense on the other. I was twenty-seven and loved it.
After Twelve Grand I read everything Rendall wrote, partly because he looked frickin' terrific, partly because I was worried about him. He seemed so unhinged, utterly addicted to self-destruction. My memories are hazy but I recall loving a weekly piece about games and gambling for one paper – the Indie maybe – and a column about drinking for The Observer Food Magazine. He never seemed to hold down gigs for long. I guess editors couldn’t stand his disregard for deadlines.
His last book, Garden Hopping, was another examination of complete self-destruction. I’m pretty sure that this time he’s split with his wife, left his kids and is homeless by the end. It was as if every project required a slow-motion explosion of chaos and devastation.
No-one knows exactly when he died. His body was discovered late January of 2013 in his Ipswich flat. He’d been there for some time – apparently he rarely ate when consumed by a project and often passed out from hunger exhaustion or drink. He was writing an epic biography of Mike Tyson called Scream. This time it killed him.
Tom Rendall’s name in Payback is a hat-tip to Jonathan Rendall. Every now again I remember him and re-read his last interviews, reviews of his books and the couple of obituaries that still exist online.
Today is one of those times.
Warning: This Escalates Quickly
I was chatting to an acquaintance about his NYE plans. Turns out he does the same thing every year; goes to an old school friend’s house. There’s dinner and drinks and then, as the night wears on, the vinyl comes out and everyone contributes to a remember-this reminiscence session. The Pixies, The Clash, The Smiths, Joy Division…
I thought a lot about this after he’d gone. Would I enjoy the same sort of night? The answer came quickly. In a word, no. In three words? No, no no. There’s a reason I’ve never attended any sort of reunion ever… I just can’t get with nostalgia. I haven’t got time. Maybe if people would stop making new stuff for like a month or something?
Here’s a for instance. Two days ago I heard a remix of Enter Shikari’s 2017 track Rabble Rouser – it popped into my Spotify Release Radar – and it changed my life. I don’t consider this too much of an overstatement. I was absolutely bewitched. “I torture rock stars with pliers,” it begins. “They’re so stock it wouldn’t be a shock if I opened ‘em up to see wires.” Underneath, a relentless-uptempo-138-bpm drum-assault with layered vocal hisses and shouts plus bonus bleeps and pops. Yum.
Anyway, now I have to explore their album and Spotify’s algorithm will lead me down a rabbit-hole of similar bands. I’ll be in there for weeks. And I get at least two or three this-song-changes-everything moments a year. It's exhausting.
My capacity to be amazed is apparently limitless. This either makes me (i) a guileless knuckle-dragger so easy to impress the city-folk laugh at my wide-eyed idiocy or (ii) lucky. I wonder which it is.
Perhaps a quick listen to Rabble Rouser will make up your mind…
Peril and Politics
Payback has been shortlisted for the Leeds Book Award - one of my fave regional awards and one with a fabulous website. I'm delighted! Also the good people of Trinity Academy asked for an interview. I did my best to be entertaining and interesting... but look at the quality of the finished result! The Teen Titles crew have done a top job on this. Stunning stuff, and three great reviews too. My thanks to Amelia, Rebecca and Sebastian for your thoughts on Payback and some really great interview questions.
All of which is making me feel kinda guilty about using the word wazz in my last post. I mean c'mon folks. We're better than that right?
Got my True-Crime Freak-on for 2019
The trains from Cardiff to Manchester are crude utilitarian cattle-boxes. There’s two toilets, both generously awash with commuter-wazz. There are still those little cards atop each seat to indicate reservation – the kind last seen inside seventies library books. There are no charge-points, so my carriage is full of dudes in latte-coloured chinos swearing as their laptop batteries expire. We’re moving so slowly that when we briefly travel alongside a motorway, heavy goods vehicles overtake us.
I reckon the UK’s much-discussed productivity conundrum is largely down to the fact that for a quarter of a working day the entire country is trapped in airless work-free zones, phone-calls abandoned, emails and uploads deffed off. I’m writing this with a slim fraction of laptop energy left and listening to music on a phone in low power mode. Plus it’s night so the carriage windows are cruelly illuminated matt-sheen obsidian mirrors. I’m forced to regularly consider my reflection; unpleasant since I look like a homeless alcoholic.
Anyway, happy new year!
As I type the train is pulling into a town that looks like a Brexit-nest of Range Rovers and racists. The chaps in chinos and preparing to alight; no doubt fleeing for the warmth and liberally-available electricity of their suburban homes.
Three hours without a plug. It’s enough to drive a guy to drink.