Friday, September 20, 2013

Story competitions, live TV, and other such nonsense...

Way back, deep in the mists of time, there was a TV show called Richard and Judy that ran on Channel 4 in the UK and - in 2003 - they decided to run a competition to publish a book of 25 children's stories. Now, at the time, I was busy in the world of freelance game design but the idea of having a go at writing a children's story was quite appealing as it wasn't a genre I'd tried to work in before, and so I sat down at the PC and tried to think of something...

After mulling for a few hours, I hit upon an idea that I thought would be quite fun and - after a few hours more - I'd written it. I called it Un-bearable Behaviour and sent it off to the show, and then gave no more thought to it at all. You see, while it was ostensibly a children's story, I figured it would probably be a little too satirical to be a genuine contender. Which only goes to show how much I know about these things as, a month or two later, I found out from a variety of people who were watching the show that - when they'd read out the names of the 25 winners - my name had been among them. At first I thought people must have been mistaken but, a few days later, a letter arrived confirming the fact and invited me down to the TV studios.

My first experience of appearing on live TV was - it must be said - somewhat disappointing. Firstly, I picked the world's worst shirt to wear - something with stripes that seemed a good idea until they did a screen test with me and the cameraman started wincing at how bad it looked - and then (because of my wince-inducing shirt) I got shoved as far to the back of the winner's group as they could manage. You might have been able to see my hair, briefly (although I had it cut short back then so it wasn't particularly noticeable) if you'd been looking in the right place at the right time. And that was that. My fifteen seconds of fame was up and they were already moving onto the next item.

The aftershow was more fun, I spent it talking to a couple of authors (such as Anthony Horowitz) who had been judging the contest and found that the general consensus, when it came to my story, was that it wasn't really a children's story at all, but it was far too good not to be included. So I was quite pleased with that.

Now, should you want to see it in print, you can still buy the book - it's called Richard and Judy's Winning Stories and it's available on Amazon for 1p now - but, since I ran across it only recently while looking through old files and still quite enjoyed reading it, and since it's 10 years since the book came out, and since I don't think anyone will care, I'm going to publish it here so you read my first foray into children's fiction...


Now once upon a time, in a house in a forest, there lived three bears.

            Wait, I hear you cry, not this old turnip! I’ve heard this story a million times before, why should I be bothered to sit down and read it again?

Well, you may think that you’ve heard this story before but I can assure you that you’ve never heard the full story. Today, we are going to be looking for the truth behind Goldilocks and the three bears – and nothing but the truth.

So, let me begin again. Once upon a time, in a house in a forest there lived three bears. There was a Daddy bear, a Mummy bear and a Baby bear. Now, at this point, I really should point out that bears are not entirely suited to living in houses. Indeed, most bears have accepted this to be a fact; which is why you will find the majority of bears living in caves or other such places. Most reasonable bears would accept that they are not fully equipped to deal with a house and the appliances within.

But not these bears. You see, these bears had the impression that it was natural for bears to live in a house. A life of foraging for food and snaring wild salmon from streams was not for them; instead they preferred to sit around a table and eat porridge. And not even porridge with honey – which would at least border on understandable for a bear.

Our story begins one morning when Mummy bear, having done her best to cope with the disadvantage of furry paws, cooked a saucepan full of boiling hot porridge. We have no true record of the conversation that went on inside the house that day but we can hazard a guess that it went something like this. The bears, sat waiting for their porridge, realised that their breakfast was likely to be too hot to consume. It is well known that bears have an aversion to scalding their tongues and so, one of the bears – we believe it to be Daddy bear – suggested that all three of the bears should go out for a walk.

“If we go for a walk, the porridge will have cooled down by the time we return.”

The bears accepted that the porridge was too hot - this is important and we shall return to it later. They dressed themselves in coats, hats, boots and mittens (again, an act that is quite un-bear like) and set out for a walk in the woods. They shut the door behind them but did not lock it.

Now, no more than two minutes after the bears had departed their house, a little girl called Goldilocks came skipping down the forest path. Goldilocks was a good girl – with excellent character references – who came from a good family and had never been in trouble with the law previously.

She noticed the bear’s house and she noticed that the door was open. Not just unlocked but open – gaping ajar so that Goldilocks was able to see all the way into the bear’s dining room. At this point, Goldilocks’ neighbourly instincts set in. Seeing an open door, she couldn’t help but investigate. Why, perhaps a little old lady was trapped inside a wardrobe with a wolf in her bed – Goldilocks had heard about these sorts of things on the news and so, showed immense bravery by stepping hesitantly past the heavy wooden door and over the threshold. Bravery which, I believe should be commended.

Well, having stepped inside the bear’s house, Goldilocks called out.

“Hello? Is there anybody there?”

The house was silent.

Creeping further inside, Goldilocks noticed the dining room table for the first time and the three bowls of porridge lined up across the tabletop. She’d walked a long way through the forest and, being a little girl, was extremely hungry. We must, therefore, excuse her behaviour in trying the food laid out before her.

Picking up a spoon from the side, she took a large scoop from the biggest bowl at the head of the table (this was the bowl belonging to Daddy bear but, at this point, Goldilocks was not to know this). She took a mouthful of porridge and discovered, to her horror, that it was burning hot. Instinctively, Goldilocks spat the porridge out but, already the damage had been done and she had suffered a number of painful blisters to her delicate mouth.

Let me remind you again. The bears knew that the porridge was too hot which was why they went for a walk in the forest. They knew it could scald but, nevertheless, they left the door open and placed no warning about the likely heat of the porridge – clearly an act of criminal negligence on their part.

Now, at this point, Goldilocks was dazed and confused. Who can say what mental state she would have been in when in such excruciating pain? All we know is that, in this disturbed state of mind, Goldilocks tried the porridge of Mummy bear and ate the entire bowl of porridge that had been set aside for Baby bear. Perhaps this was a desperate attempt to ease the agony of her inflamed mouth. We may never know but it has resulted in Goldilocks developing a profound phobia about porridge.

Nevertheless, after this distressing incident, Goldilocks felt the need to sit down and so entered the sitting room.

First of all she tried Daddy bear’s chair, but she found that the cushion was much too hard and uncomfortable. Next she tried Mummy bear’s chair but found that was the exact opposite – a squidgy, voluminous cushion that sucked her down like quick sand. Finally, her eyes settled on Baby bear’s chair.

Now, some back history on Baby bear’s chair. It had been constructed by Daddy bear and, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, a bear is hindered by his claws when trying to use a hammer and nails. I’m sure he did his best but, quite frankly, his best just wasn’t good enough.

So Goldilocks, spying this chair that appeared to be just the right size and looked extremely comfortable, sat down. There was a moment where everything seemed alright and then suddenly, without warning, the wooden chair splintered and fell to pieces, sending Goldilocks sprawling to the hard stone floor where she landed most awkwardly. Independent medical experts have said she was extremely lucky not to incur a permanent injury to the spinal column and Goldilocks herself has privately voiced fears that she may never again be able to play netball because of the muscle damage.

And so, a girl’s life is damaged by a poorly constructed chair – a chair that any reasonable bear would not even have considered trying to construct.

However Goldilocks, being a plucky sort of girl, recovered as best she could but – possibly due to some form of concussion sustained in the fall – felt the urgent desire to sleep and so began exploring the upstairs of the house.

She found a room containing three beds and from the clothing and items beside each bed, determined that the first belonged to Daddy bear, the second to Mummy bear and the third to Baby bear.

Of course, being tired, she immediately tried the first bed she came to but found that the mattress on Daddy bear’s bed was far too hard, its springs digging painfully into her already bruised back. In her confused state, she regrets that she did get into the bed still wearing her muddy shoes, but this is not something which she should be judged upon.

Next she tried Mummy bear’s bed but, here, she found that the mattress was much too soft for a little girl and so turned finally to Baby bear’s bed.

The smallest of the three beds, Baby bear’s bed was the perfect size for Goldilocks and, as soon as she slipped between the sheets, she realised that it was also perfectly comfortable. Before her head had even touched the pillow, Goldilocks had fallen into a deep and peaceful sleep.

It was at this moment that the bears chose to return from their walk in the woods. They ambled their way into the dining room and quickly spotted the half-eaten porridge. Each bear noticed that some of their porridge was missing; with Baby bear pointing out that his had been eaten all up.

Next, the bears moved to the sitting room where they realised that someone had been sitting in their chairs. Noticing the broken wood on the floor, the bears realised that Baby bear’s chair had been broken but, rather than being concerned as to the health of the person who had suffered at the hands of his poor carpentry, Daddy bear at this point grew angry.

We believe the bears stormed upstairs to the bedroom, examining the three beds in turn. Daddy bear noted the disturbed sheets on his bed, Mummy bear noticed the muddy footprints in her bed but Baby bear noticed that someone was still asleep in his bed. The three bears moved across the room to have a look.

Goldilocks awoke to the sound of growling and found she was looking up at three wild-looking bears. Their teeth were bared, their eyes glinted evilly and their claws looked sharp enough to rip a little girl into a hundred pieces. It was a purely natural reaction that she should scream loudly and dive through the nearest window. I think any one of us would have done the same thing if confronted with that appalling sight.

Goldilocks was quite fortunate to land amongst a bed of shrubs for they broke her fall and meant she only sustained minor ankle injuries (which, nonetheless, have since held back her physical development) rather than more serious – potentially fatal ones. In this pitiful state, poor Goldilocks managed to limp home through the forest.

Now, the three bears have since argued that Goldilocks committed an offence of breaking and entering by going into their house, that she stole their porridge and that she caused criminal damage by breaking their chairs and damaging their bed linen. In short, they have tried to make this whole incident look like Goldilocks’ fault, which is complete nonsense.

Goldilocks was the victim in all of this. She entered a house through an already open door in an attempt to be a good citizen. Through criminal negligence, she was scalded by boiling porridge and has since suffered a phobia about porridge. Through negligent craftsmanship, she suffered a grievous back injury when their chair she sat on fell apart. And then, as a final straw, she was confronted by three fierce and vicious bears and had to flee for her life through a first floor window.

Since all of this, Goldilocks has suffered a deep fear of bears – indeed she cannot even stand the sight of even the smallest of teddy bears for fear that it might attack her. A young life has been permanently damaged by a series of wilful and negligent acts by a family of bears who have refused to accept the limitations of their species.

That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And it was on that evidence that I managed to secure Goldilocks an out-of-court settlement for £60,000 against the three bears. Hopefully, that money will help her rebuild her shattered life.

Now, must dash, I’ve got a Big Bad Wolf sitting in my office with an excellent case of post-traumatic stress against three little pigs…

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