Cryptic creativity

I’ve come up with a new little writing exercise that should help me keep my muse content in between all of the newspaper stories I write. It occurred to me a few weeks back during one of my most mundane tasks. Choosing the winners of the cryptic crossword competition and checking their solutions.

When you’re faced with reading the same set of words over and over you start to pick up a pattern, suddenly they begin to connect, interact with one another. It started off as a mild amusement, something to keep myself occupied during the mind numbing half hour or so or making sure each entrant has used and S instead of a Z and trying to decipher the various, squiggles, smudges and blobs that end up on my desk each week.

Here’s the challenge: Write a piece of flash fiction (not just rambling stream of consciousness stuff) in which each answer appears in order in its own sentence. I’ve allowed myself one cheat sentence per piece which doesn’t include a specific answer word (but only if I absolutely need it to link to the next word), and occasionally if it works out I’ll include more than one of the words in a sentence.

But strictly no skipping words or shuffling them.

It’s best to use the cryptic answers because they’re generally far more interesting than the easy ones.  It’s fun, quick and it keeps the muse entertained for a while. Feel free to play along and link to your blog in the comments.


Here’s my first attempt:


Fall Behind


The most important thing to remember, Steve reminded himself, is to never fall behind. He knew that was the only way you could ensure you’d stay sane in this business.

The descent into madness, he’d been told, took a mere couple of minutes. And before you knew it the trivial was suddenly the most complex problem you’d ever encountered. One moment you’d be climbing a staircase and the next you’d be doing aerobics with Plato.

The old man (Mc Gregor, not Plato) had ensured him this would be an easy first job. All he had to do was locate the Lady’s maid, before she departed for Aspen. Erica, that was her name. She usually took a rest at this time of year and latched on to some mediocre band who acted as openers for slightly less mediocre bands entertaining those with broken limbs at the ski resort.

She wasn’t here, that much was evident. All that remained was the remnants of one too many tots of sherry. He glossed over the mess, that wasn’t what interested him. What had caught his attention were the fumes. As a young man he’d lent a hand at a factory specializing in chemicals and his nose twitched in recognition. Following the scent he inched through the apartment finding himself peering at a set of bathroom scales, in the sink.

They appeared to be drenched in some sort of sticky substance, and somewhere in the back of his consciousness a voice whispered the word “hostage”. He dismissed it, probably just the beginning signs of creeping madness, he was falling behind.

Beside the sink lay a pile of crushed nutmegs. The voice whispered again, this time a little more urgently: “alibi”.

“Oh alright then,” Steve said. “Enlighten me.” He turned slowly to face the Bird of Paradise that was perched atop the toaster. It pulled out a clipboard and cleared its throat.

“I represent the grand artisan Plato, current chief of philosophizers of the Diocese of Kent, and I come bearing a message.”

Steve made a dash for the doorway, desperate to escape the madness, to catch up with his quarry, to come to his senses – but he found he was inept.

And not for the first time in his life he wished he toted a collapsible bird cage.






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