Season XII

Season XII

Challenge 10 – Humour

It is apparently an Alpha tradition that the final challenge is light-hearted, so this challenge is looking for humour – not an easy aspect to pin-down, I know.  Expanding on an earlier challenge that produced some remarkable results, this one again uses opening lines, but you can pick your own from either a novel or a song.  For example:

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged,’ (Pride and Prejudice) that toast will always fall butter-side down.

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ (A Tale f Two Cities) for it was Brexit polling day.

‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice’ (The Great Gatsby), never say no to a cup of tea.  

The opening of a song might be:

‘Dear Diary’. (Dear Diary)

‘I was dreaming when I wrote this’ (1999)

‘There must be some kind of way out of here’ (All Along the Watchtower)

I want to stress that the opening is merely a springboard for a humourous follow-up which need bear no relation to the actual novel or song chosen. The humour can be in any genre, from descriptive slapstick, through overt or understated irony, to vicious sarcasm and it can be written in absolutely any genre – including for example a comic sketch script.

Word count is the usual 300 words plus any title and confirmation of the opening line’s source.  All entries need to be with me by midnight on the 19th April.

1st place CCG – 10 points, 2nd place Suzanne – 8 points, 3rd place Lesley – 7 points


Callenge 9 – Phobia

A very straightforward challenge this time:- 

Phobia: Suffix forming abstract noun.  (Latin from Greek, (phobos, fear)

Eg, Xenophobia,qv.

You suffer from a phobia; you have an instinctive, irrational fear of something (spiders, the dark, closed doors, foreigners, public toilets…)  In no more than 300 words describe what your phobia is, how your phobia affects you, and how you deal with it.

You are not required actually to suffer, or have suffered, from the phobia about which you write.

Answers to me, please, within the usual framework which means by the end of Tuesday, 29th March.

Good luck, I look forward to receiving your entries by or before that date.

1st place Stephen 13 points, Joint 2nd place Morgen and Olaf 10 points each, 3rd place Sarah 9 points

The Alpha Leaderboard after Challenge 9:

Morgen:                     23 points
Lesley:                        16**
Chris:                          15*
Rosemary:                  14**
Sarah:                         14
Christine:                    14

horizontal-36856_6402Challenge 8 – The Poetry Challenge

We always have one poetry challenge per season. This time I’d like you to tell us the story of a person who for some reason deserves to be immortalised in poetry. It’s up to you to make your chosen character memorable in verse, although you’re under no constraint as to the poetic form to be used. Free verse, iambic pentameters, heroic couplets, sonnets or a pattern of your own invention… it’s up to you. Your aim is to impress us with your character in a poetic style that suits the subject.

Your character can be funny, wicked or outstanding in any way you prefer. I’ve selected some examples to illustrate the wide range of possibilities. I may have missed out your favourite character, but you might enjoy checking out the ones below which should be available in a single click. If that doesn’t work they’re easy enough to find.

Poetry can say a great deal in only a few words. Your poem can have a maximum of 200 words, excluding the title, if used.

Send your entry to me by Tuesday the 8th of March at midnight BST at the very latest.


Boys: ‘You are Old, Father William’ by Lewis Carroll.

Peter Grimes by George Crabbe

The Unknown Citizen by W H Auden

Girls: Mathilda by Hilaire Belloc

Lucy by Wordsworth

Molly Malone by ‘Unknown’.

1st place Lesley 15 points, 2nd Rosemary 12 points, 3rd Chris 11 points and 4th Morgen 10 points.

The Alpha Leaderboard after Challenge 8:
Morgen:                       20*
Lesley:                        15**
Chris:                          14*`
Rosemary:                   13**
Christine:                     13
CCG:                           12*
Sarah:                          12


Challenge 7

Do we ever wonder “What if Glenn Miller/Buddy Holly/Jimi Hendrix/etc hadn’t died young? What would they have gone on to achieve; how would music look”? No, DON’T resurrect them – that’s not the brief…

It’s 2016. You’re a music journalist. Your editor has asked you to review the career of a 20th Century artist (singer, group, bandleader) who died young before lasting success and fame came knocking. In the case of a group, one or more significant members died and they therefore broke up.

So this challenge is to produce a piece of journalism. 

BUT… there’s a twist: in this particular (imagined) 2016, the artist you choose died young, but in our mutual (real) 2016, they didn’t. Review their brief career and fame. You could also muse in passing “What if…?” (optional). 

300 words maximum, to include a title : the name of the artist and the year of their fictional early death. For example: Elvis Presley, died 1956 immediately after recording Heartbreak Hotel.

1st place Lesley 14 points, 2nd place Sarah and Morgen with 10 points each

The Alpha Leaderboard after Challenge 7:

Morgen:                     19
Chris:                          12*
Christine:                    12
Lesley:                        11**
CCG:                           11*
Sarah:                         11
Rosemary:                  10**


Challenge 6

You work for an advertising agency  and need a storyboard of a television commercial. In under 300 words write the outline description of the storyboard for a 30 second television commercial to market a new product – including the catch line or jingle that will be the main snippet all the viewers will remember. Your storyboard will be sent to script writers once it has been accepted.

This is not a script, but the story outline that describes the action that will take place to show the product on screen. The only lines that the viewer will hear that you will include will be the ‘jingle’ at the end of the commercial that the viewer will remember and which will make sure they choose your product in store. For your title please use only the name of the product and the type, for example Codswallop – Washing Powder or Plonk – Alcopop Drink etc.

Do not include the storyboard images. This is not a graphic challenge but a descriptive one. You may have as many or as few boards as are warranted by the outline, but I suggest around 6 should be enough. You might set it out something like:

1/ Man holds full pint glass to lips and swigs from amber nectar


1st with 12 points – Morgen, 2nd with 7 points – Sarah and Zena, 3rd with 6 points – Lesley, Stephen, Chris, Rosemary & Paul

The Alpha Leaderboard after Challenge 6:

Morgen:                      16 points
Chris:                         11*
Christine:                    11
CCG:                          10*
Sally:                          10*
Zena:                          10


Challenge 5

One of the most (in)famous opening lines of a work of fiction is Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s

being the start of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. Despite now being derided, the novel was very successful in its day. The opening lines were recently the subject of James McCreet’s gentle critique “Under the Microscope” in Writing Magazine. This is attached if anyone doesn’t have a copy and would like to read it – optional work!

Your Alpha task for Challenge 5 is to take these opening words and produce a piece of quality fiction for today’s readership. Continue the story as you wish, but include at least 1 example of onomatopoeia:

As well as allocating marks for entries, please choose your favourite onomatopoeic expression from all pieces of writing. Note, however, that this is completely separate from the judging process and just for interest. One excellent example of onomatopoeia will not the winner make!

The total number of words must not exceed 300 and entries to me please by midnight GMT on Tuesday 5th January.

1st with 15 points Sally and Suzanne, 2nd with 12 points Christine, 3rd with 10 points Lesley

The Alpha Leaderboard after Challenge 5:

Morgen:                      12 points
Sally:                          10*
Chris:                          10
Christine:                    10
CCG:                          9*
Suzanne:                    8
Zena:                          8


Challenge 4

This challenge is all about lists.

50 ways to leave your lover… 88 lines about 44 women… The Pillow Book… The list is a celebrated literary device.

You can make lists to develop a plot, reveal the character of your protagonist or reflect his/her state of mind. The best lists read like poems: take a look at these for some wonderful examples from (admittedly mostly American) fiction:

Your challenge this Alpha Day is to write a list. Any list: it can be a shopping list, to do list, a list of mistakes, lost friends, steps towards success, thoughts and musings, or things that make you laugh (or cry).

Your list can be written by you, or a protagonist (or anyone/anything else who might feature in a book or a piece of writing). If you’d like to ‘set the scene’ before and/or after, that’s fine; or you can just write the list. The most important thing is that the sum should be more than the parts. And it should all be wrapped up within 300 words.

Entries to me please by midnight on Tuesday 8 December.

1st with 16 points Zena, 2nd with 11 points Morgen, 3rd with 9 points Stephen

The Alpha Leaderboard after Challenge 4 and the Christmas Quiz:

Morgen:                      11 points
Chris:                            9
Zena:                            8
CCG:                            8
Christine:                      7
Sally:                            6*
Olaf:                             6*
Rosemary:                    6


Challenge 3

Good Evening.
My name is Baroomph Maardi from the planet…well, that’s not important.
We are a peace-loving people but we do like to have fun. Our national sport involves destroying planets. For no particular reason – we’re not building a Super Highway. That’s been done.
We’ve tried fire, flood and famine but my absolute favourite is Almighty Explosion. Think Super Nova …it’s a beautiful thing.
Earth’s number is up, so to speak. It’s nothing personal.
To make it more interesting, you have been chosen to save the world. Literally.
We know that you reckon yourself to be some sort of writer. So come on. Let’s see what you’ve got. Dazzle me.
But none of your flights of fictional fantasy – this is for real. Non fiction, if you will.
You’ve got nineteen days to persuade me NOT to press this Big Red Button. Tell me why Earth should be excused. Write your Plea in no more than three hundred words and get it to me by midnight GMT on Tuesday November 17th.
No pressure, but my trigger finger is itching something cruel.

1st with 12 points Olaf, 2nd with 11 points each Sally, Morgen and Chris

The Alpha Leaderboard after Challenge 3:

Morgen:                      8 points
Chris:                         8
CCG:                          7
Christine:                    6
Sally:                          5*
Olaf:                           5


Challenge 2


It is very easy to be sloppy over the use of words.  “You” is usually thought of as second person singular or plural used to address the person(s) in front of you. Sometimes, however, “you” is used to mean everyone in general. For instance, on showing holiday snaps of a temple to a friend it is easy to say, “You must take your shoes off before entering the temple,” even though you know the person will never be visiting. The more unambiguous form is “One must take one’s shoes off before entering the temple”. It’s rather ugly, but it could avoid embarrassment at times.


Simon and Lucy have been to a course of three extra-mural lectures at the local university, given by the professor of philosophy. Simon has taken a bit of a shine to Lucy, who doesn’t object. After the third lecture, they have a cup of tea/coffee together.

The conversation

Simon likes to show he understands and extols the virtues of the lectures. “I thought his explanation of nihilism was really good, and his examples of existentialism were very well chosen. Didn’t you?”

Lucy (who is a bit overweight) mumbles agreement, while reflecting that she’d slept badly last night and had had a bad day at the office, and had a bad headache coming on.

Simon rambles on. “Tonight’s talk about our failure to understand infinity both in distance and time is difficult to appreciate.”

Lucy looks at her cup and grunts thinking longingly of getting back to her finite flat and lying down. She struggles to pay attention.

Simon continues, “and I thought the comments at the end of the lectures were illuminating. Your questions were really probing.”

Lucy gazed at him with a blank face.

“That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Discussions on a higher plane.”

Lucy fought her headache, biting back any response.

“It’s a meeting of the intellects. You don’t have to worry about your body.”

Lucy’s resolve to say nothing snapped, and she looked daggers at Simon.

“What exactly is wrong with my body?”

Simon is taken aback and clumsily tries to put things right. “Oh, no, no, I didn’t mean that. That was a general comment. After all, we hardly know each other, and I’ve been so engrossed that I haven’t yet thought about

 The Challenge

This challenge asks you to write the next bit of conversation (after ‘thought about’) between Simon and Lucy. Simon may continue speaking, or Lucy may interrupt. The conversation must continue for about another 200 words, while you can use the remainder – up to 300 in total – for closing the confrontation in whatever way you like.

The conversation is dialogue plus relevant comments – as in my conversation above.


This is an exercise in creative dialogue, and clearly there are several topics which can be used (or new ones introduced), and there is scope for a number of endings for any conversation, but everyone is starting from the same well-defined point. I’d like your entries with me by October 27th, please.

1st with 18 points – Morgen, 2nd with 14 points Christine, 3rd with 13 points Chris

The Leaderboard after Challenge 2:

CCG:               5 point

Chris:              5 points

Morgen:          5 points

Christine:        4 points

Rose:               3* points

Sarah:              3 points

Sally:              2* points


alphaXIIch1photoChallenge 1:  Picture Challenge

They say  “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

This picture, however, is only worth 300 words and that includes the title (if used).

Use your imagination to write a piece of prose fiction inspired by the picture.

1st with 15 points – CCG, 2nd with 11 points Chris, 3rd with 9 points Rose

The Leaderboard after Challenge 1:

CCG:               4 points

Chris:              3 points

Rose:               2* points

Sarah:              2 points