End of Story
In April 2004, the BBC launched a nationwide competition entitled End Of Story. The competition invited members of the public to read eight unfinished stories, each by a different author, and then write the concluding half of one of the stories. Shaun Hutson was one of the authors and his story was 'The Tunnel'.
You can download Shaun's complete story here.
From the thousands of entries six finalists were chosen. I contacted each finalist and asked if they would like to tell Shaun's fans about their End of Story experiences. Five of them were kind enough to reply to me and you can read what they have to say below, and also download their endings.
I was one of the short listed six in the End of Story event. I didn't get selected for the final part but the process was enjoyable for the time that I was involved - especially the actual writing. I was elated when I found out I had been placed in the final six for 'The Tunnel'. This is the first time I've had any impartial, positive feedback on anything I've scribbled so far.
I was flown down to London by the BBC to take part in filming for the TV programme. The entire experience was very enjoyable. I felt like a VIP. Yep everything was looking good until the six of us were plonked down in the studio to watch a recording of the judges comments. I think everyone involved in the event were dismayed at the scathing remarks of the expert panel. One of the guys compared it to 'Pop Idol'. The four judges (The quad demons of misery) kicked off with a few snooty comments about Shaun Hutson's writing in general then sniped about how little scope the contenders had for finishing the constricted story. Giles Coren led the chorus of moans about how little room for manoeuvre Shaun had left the misguided writers and that his material (and ours) was clichéd, corny and predictable (apart from that is wasn't too bad).
Giles Coren actually made an appearance in the studio. He jumped out from behind a curtain like a third rate conjurer and apologized for the absence of his fellow judges. He whizzed through announcing the final three 'contestants' then seemed to disappear into the curtains again before anyone had the chance to shake him by the hand (or throat). Giles all of a sudden didn't have much to say for himself.
We went into the studio as six winners and I for one came out feeling like I'd been put right by a panel of psychopathic literary pedants. Maybe if you get the chance Shaun you could ask them who the hell they think they are for taking such a superior attitude to sincerely presented horror material. Kwame Kwei-Armah proclaimed that one of the finalists' story ending was 'very badly written'. This was in spite of this young guy's story end being selected from thousands of other entries. This writer was about the same age as my son and I felt really sorry and angry for him. Muriel Gray and Carole Blake also launched into a comprehensive attack on horror writing in general before attacking the captive writers in turn. They were even grudging in their praise for the three people who went through to the final.
I guess that kind of clever stuff really encourages inexperienced, unpublished writers to keep faith in themselves. I know that there will be some readers who will rub their chins and reckon that I'm protesting too much I hope I don't come over as a loud-mouthed bad loser. Sure - I don't like losing, who the hell does? But I guess that alone doesn't make me a sour grape merchant.
Hey! - Let's be positive - in spite of the grim faced, bastards stuff It's only a bit of fun! Hope you got a chance to have a quick look at my story and judge for yourself that it wasn't too bad.
Meanwhile I've got four little voodoo dolls that I made earlier and its time to stick a few more pins into them...
I heard about the 'End Of Story' competition on television, my flatmate kept saying I should enter but I was cautious because I don't really like mainstream writing especially anything for the BBC. I read the website and immediately when I saw Shaun Hutson's name mentioned I became eager. I usually write on highly intense subject matter, political and ethical so it was a nice change to let my hair down and write some horror again. I have read about five of Shaun's books before hand and have always held him in high regard for what he has achieved and written. 'The Tunnel' seemed highly accessible and to be honest I wouldn't have considered any other story. I thought I had a good chance of progressing in the competition. Absolutely no one believes they will go any distance in a competition so when I found out I was in the last 50, I was mildly amused. I thought that would be it. Two days later I was phoned with the news I had made the last six and I was delighted. I really thought my story was strong and had a real opportunity of winning. To be completely honest, I wrote the story in an hour and a half and entered it the day after, proof reading just once. This was for no other reason than I had university deadlines closing fast.
I went to London the following week to meet the other five finalists and film the decision as to whether I had made it to the final three. It was immensly boring waiting for seven hours in 30 degrees for an hours filming but was made considerably better by sharing the day with the other five finalists. They are a good bunch as you will see when the program is aired on the 31st of October. Long story short, after a humiliating and demoralising judgement from the idiot judges, I was told I was out. I was taken aback to say the least, but that's life so now I'm back to the drawing board, sending agents letters and chapters.
My name is Simon Stirrup. I like ultimate frisbee and beagles. This is my story.
I originally entered the BBC competition 'End of Story' because it got me out of shampooing a dog. I hate dirty dogs, but I also hate cleaning them. It's a ridiculous situation. The idea was to finish the beginning and middle parts of a short story written by a real author using words and some punctuation. 'How hard can it be?' I asked no one, and proceeded to flick through the synopsisisis of the 8 authors that were on offer. There was a story about some lovely shoes, and some incredible murder, and someone who was in love with a tree. I had just about given up when I skimmed the summary for Shaun Hutson. An assassin, a train, and something horrible in a toilet. 'Ha ha, toilet...' I chuckled, and decided on that one.
It was OK to write, but then squeezing it into a tiny word limit was tough, and I went through some considerable agonies with it, helped by my supportive but brutally frank wife. 'That bit's rubbish' she would say, and out it would go. With a couple of days to go before the deadline I sent it off 'recorded' and forgot about it for what seemed like at least 18 months.
Then I was called at work by a mysterious number. I prepared my 'I don't approve of your sales methods' patter but it wasn't needed - I had made the long list for the competition I was told, and had to confirm my identity and the fact that I wasn't in prison. It was at this point that I was told I was going to get a free mug. I raced around the room punching the air and shouting wildly - I love mugs! The next week I was told that I had made the shortlist and was going to be in the programme with 5 others. The next thing I knew I was running around a park trying to catch a frisbee and playing Virtua Tennis for the camera - that'll teach me for not having any visually-exciting hobbies.
A certain amount of time passed and I found myself being judged in a room filled with black drapes and blinding lights (after I had been suitably powdered). The judges realised that they were going to be a bit nasty and so appeared to us via a TV screen and video system that delivered their words for them so that they didn't actually have to be there. They had employed a novel system in which the amount of criticism delivered to a contestant was directly proportional to the distance they had travelled to get to the studio - this was considered by us to be a little harsh. We were then told who had made it through to the next round. It was a bit like Pop Idol, only less irritating.
So over the course of another couple of days of filming I met some real industry book people, looked at Jools Holland's face in the Groucho Club, was harassed by prostitutes and children on the streets of Soho, got a really bad headache in a dungeon and was force-fed double whiskeys by the man himself, Shaun Hutson. It was corking, and I got a huge bunch of flowers at the end so I could look tough on the train. Now I am writing a novel. It hurts.
Being an 'End Of Story' finalist was one of the best experiences of my life. The others were giving birth to my children and passing my driving test.
I have been writing since I was a child but only began submitting my work in the last 10 years. I have had 2 stories published and have been shortlisted for competitions but first prize has so far eluded me!
I chose Shaun's story because it was such a challenge to think of something so frightening in an empty cubicle. I also tried to tie up all the 'loose ends' to give a satisfying ending. One of the judges picked up on that there was so much in my story it became confusing and I accept that. Some of the other entrants focused on one particular aspect of the story and their endings were sharper for it.
Meeting Shaun was great. He's a real 'geezer'.
I entered the story because I wanted to start writing. The ending to Shaun's story was the first fiction I have written as an adult. To get so far in a national competition has given me a huge lift, and I am already well into my first novel. To get any further was an academic exercise; it would have been great to meet Shaun, as he looked like he'd be a good laugh, but I wasn't bothered about going through the stress of being in the last three.
It seemed as though the judges made quite a drama out of me either getting through or not (it came to a show of hands). They said some very positive things about my writing. Without trying to sound too ungrateful, I didn't actually care too much for my ending, which I thought was a bit cheesy and nothing at all like the sort of thing I would normally write. But the style in which I wrote it, that was the important thing for me. Of course the judges got confused and annoyed because of the name of a character that I had put in the story. Hopefully in the programme it'll be explained. I wondered afterwards if I was too oblique with it all, but it was a conscious decision to be oblique which I stick by. Without that aspect to my ending I might not have made it through at all.
The experience of being filmed was quite fun, if a little nerve-wracking. It was essentially reality tv with authors, with the corresponding subtext of manipulation you would expect from the programme makers. It's not that they weren't nice people (they were) but they had a job to do and a certain dramatic tension to create. In the name of this, I think the judges were quite harsh on some of the others in the shortlist. They spent a lot of time moaning about horror in general, apart from Muriel Gray, who spent a lot of time moaning about Shaun Hutson. I think it was fair to say they were condescending. When Giles Coren emerged from the curtain, he cut an oddly sweaty, subdued figure. I wonder how he will appear on the screen.
I wish the other finalists the best of luck in the future. I enjoyed meeting them and I enjoyed reading their stories. For the winner, I hope they got a decent prize, apart from the chance to meet Shaun, of course. The other prize was for their story to appear in the published book of winning endings. What they neglected to mention is it would be a limited edition print run which, once sold out, would only be available in libraries. If you compare that to other reality tv prizes, it seems cheap.
So, overall, a positive experience for me. Seeing as I didn't get to meet Shaun, and this will be on his website, I'd like to take my chance to say cheers to him for getting involved in the first place, and writing a start that didn't involve falling in love with a tree or buying shoes.
At the beginning of 2004, I made a New Year's resolution. Not exactly a shock revelation, I'm sure you'll agree - after all, lots of people make New Year's resolutions. However, unlike most people's resolutions, I stuck with mine - and it bloody happened. This is my story...
Christmas 2003 was crap. Warm, wet weather, the worst seasonal telly I've ever had the misfortune to have to watch because there's nothing else to do... etc. How do I know this? Because in October I bought a fancy notebook-cum-diary to try and kick-start my literary career. This is how I know I made a New Year's resolution, cos I wrote it down. And the resolution was to "get some of this shit published".
So, the year started and I continued doing what I had been doing - noting down ideas for stories and TV scripts, making diary entries, but not exactly knocking at the doors of top literary agents. The problem, you see, is that in my spare time I run a very successful web site (much like young Graeme here), and for the past four years, every time I sat down in front of my computer, I worked on that instead of doing anything that might make me some money. Web sites are notoriously difficult to market as a money-making concern (as I'm sure Graeme can testify to). Mine gets more than a million hits a month, is the top-ranked one in its field, but actually costs me money - £100 a year for the address and web space, and god knows how much more in telephone bills, DVDs, video cassettes and valuable time.
Anyway, in the end it was the web site that actually led to me entering the BBC's End Of Story competition, which, after all, is the reason why I'm writing this. So it can't be all bad - and let's face it, how many other people have their own top-notch site? Not many. Have you got one? Exactly.
Yes, every time I sat down in front of the computer I started writing reviews of crappy films, and when I wasn't writing reviews of crappy films, I was watching crappy films. That's what the sites about - old British horror films. I'm sure you know the stuff - Hammer, Amicus, Horror Hospital, Tower Of Evil, all that shit.
Then, one day someone posted something on the site's message board about a new BBC Talent competition called End Of Story. All you had to do was write 1,200 words to finish off a short story, begun by a famous author. I thought "I could do that!" and I did. I visited the BBC site and downloaded three of the story beginnings (Ian Rankin, Fay Weldon and Shaun Hutson) and decided I was either going to do the Rankin one or the Hutson one. I actually wanted to do the Rankin one - because of my horror background, I thought I'd be typecasting myself terribly by finishing off something begun by Mr Hutson. But the ideas didn't come for either of them. I slept on it, and the idea for how Hutson's story could be finished came to me in a dream (you couldn't really call it a nightmare - it wasn't some kind of Mary Shelley moment. I just woke up the next day and had the whole idea plotted in my head). That evening I sat down in front of the computer and typed out the whole thing. The only thing Frank Tate would see if he opened the door to an empty toilet on a train would be the mirror. Therefore, it had to be what was in the mirror that terrified him. I only had a limited number of words, so I didn't feel I could go mad with lots of plot. I decided that all I could do was scare the shit out of the reader, so I just made the end of the story a chase, keeping it dialogue-free to match the beginning half. Unfortunately, it came in at about 2,000 words, so I needed to cut it down by nearly a half(!) What was even worse was that on re-reading Hutson's first half, I realised that:
1. I'd got the character's name wrong (I think I called him "Terry" for some reason)
2. I'd missed out half the plot cues that Hutson had put in - the phone ringing, the automatic door, the Latin phrase etc.
In fact, on reading that I'm wondering what I had put in to fill 2,000 words! So I performed a mad hatchet job on my bit of the story, wiping out a few bits of physical comedy and tightening up the whole thing. Basically improving it loads.
My wife read it, and it gave her nightmares. And she's not a woman who scares easily. Despite being married to yours truly. I thought I'd really got something, so I stuck it in an envelope and sent it off, then promptly forgot all about it.
Then at the end of July I was sitting at my desk at work when the phone rang. It was some bloke called Angus from the BBC, telling me that my story had been long-listed for the competition. I was on the phone to him for a good 20 minutes, he was asking me all kinds of stuff about my work, my life etc. So much so that Alan who sits opposite me thought I'd applied for another job! Just before I put the phone down, Angus told me that I had to keep it a secret, which was bloody annoying. Then two days later I got another call from Angus, telling me that my story had made it to the last six, and that I could tell people now (which was a relief, I think I'd already told everyone anyway). It was unbelievable. Yet at the same time it was very believable - I had (and still have) quite a lot of faith in my story. It does what horror stories are supposed to do - it scares people.
So, Angus and his assistant Katie turned up at my house in leafy Cheshire the next week to film me and the missus going about our daily lives - a little tip for everyone here, you don't realise how fucking boring your life is until someone from the BBC asks what you do. So I was filmed working at my computer, going for a walk... I mean, what do other people do? Go to the cinema? Go to the pub? If you reckon you do much more than that, you're a bloody liar. Then I took them to my work, where two of my "friends" did a classic bit of character assassination on me - "Chris, ah yes, he's very quiet" (what?) "He's always first out for lunch, but last to the bar" (you cheeky twat!) etc.
Just before I went down to London, the Beeb sent me the other five entries and said they'd like me to read them and give my views. It was strange, seeing how other people had finished the same story. If I'm honest, I still thought mine was best (after all, who wouldn't?) but one really stood out - Simon's tale, which featured a visceral train crash which I seriously thought would tip the result in his favour. After all, it was Shaun Hutson who was going to give the final word - Shaun Hutson, the bloke who wrote Slugs and Erebus, the man whose books see people's kidneys being blasted through their spinal columns and noses imploding as bullets tear through their faces. There wasn't any blood at all in mine - the action stops before Frank's retribution starts. I like to leave stuff like that to the imagination.
That's not to say that I don't like Shaun's work, by the way. The BBC asked if I'd ever read anything by him, and I replied that during my schooldays, we all used to read books by Hutson, Herbert and N Smith, dog-eared copies which used to fall open at the "best bits". The BBC then translated this as "Chris grew up reading Hutson's work", which isn't strictly true. But I do enjoy a good bit of nasty horror - after all, sometimes, that's all you want to read. Renegades is a corking book - a brilliant exercise in page-turning excess. Anyone (for example Muriel Gray) who thinks that works like that aren't proper literature is a pretentious wanker, in my view. A book is a book is a book - and if people read and enjoy it, then it's literature. More about Ms Gray later.
So, as a member of the "last six" I went down to London to sit in front of a blue screen and pretend to be watching the judges for the cameras, before actually watching the judges. And boy, were they tough. To everyone except me. Because I got such an easy ride, I ended up taking everyone else's side in the brief chat between the judging and the result - Muriel Gray in particular got on my tits (not literally, that would be hideous), because I know what kind of books she has written, and yet she seems to consider herself to be above horror as a genre. All four of them were incredibly stuffy about having to deal with something part-written by Hutson, which is ridiculous. Stephen King is the biggest-selling writer in the world. Until recently, James Herbert was the UK's best-selling author. People love horror. Charles Dickens wrote horror. So did HG Wells, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Somerset Maugham, and my personal favourite, MR James. Did these people not write literature? Bloody hell, I may have been put through to the last three as a "shoe-in" (the words of sweaty dwarf Giles Coren), but I was furious when the filming was over (well, as furious as I ever get). I was actually wondering whether I wanted to carry on being a part of something being judged by such a small-minded bunch of no-marks - I mean, someone out of Casualty, a restaurant critic and a has-been music journalist? Judging my work? Do me a favour. The woman with the pink hair? Well, she's a literary agent or something, so fair enough...
So, I came back to Cheshire and got ready for the following week, when I was told I had to travel back down to London and meet with Shaun's agent, Shaun's editor, and finally, Shaun himself - who would be picking the winner. I was looking forward to meeting the scary women, but the idea of meeting Shaun terrified me. Not because I thought he would rip my throat out with his teeth (probably tasting my coppery blood in the process) - after all, he's just an author, not the prince of darkness. No, I was scared of Shaun because I thought we'd have very little in common, that he'd think I was a big posh sod with plums in my mouth, that he'd want to talk about football (something I know very little about, despite reporting on Crewe Alex for a local newspaper for over a year), that he'd hate my story because it didn't have any gore in it... Oh, hundreds of reasons. As it turned out, I didn't need to worry. And neither the agent or the editor were scary. Well, not very scary, anyway.
I travelled down on the morning of the first day, and arrived in Soho with 10 minutes to spare (it hadn't occurred to me that my train might be late - luckily it wasn't). I met up with my fellow finalists Gillian and Simon in the Groucho Club (not as impressive as it sounds - it's just a pub), and we had a nice lunch with all the Scottish film crew. Then we all had a short interview with Shaun's agent and his editor, who were both lovely, and once again seemed to really like my story (I'm writing this before the TV show is aired - what's the betting they hated it and were just being polite?).
I tried my luck with Shaun's agent at the end of the interview, asking her if I could show her some of my work. However, we then had a three-prospective-authors on two-top-publishing-bods interview where both of the ladies concerned said that they didn't like to receive either short stories or unfinished manuscripts (the two things I was about to foist on the agent), so I hastily withdrew my offer.
So that was the first day. We went out in Soho for a few sherbets during the evening, and then next morning we got ready to meet with Shaun. In a dingy old dungeon museum, somewhere on the South Bank - all black-painted walls, dry ice and deformed shop window dummies. The filming took bloody hours - we were left hanging around for most of the day with absolutely nothing to do. Eventually we were herded into a room to wait for our audience with the Evil One. Or as you might know her, Claudia "facking fack" Winkelman. Then Claudia did her kooky bird routine for the cameras and dragged us off, one by one, to meet Mr Hutson.
I think Gillian was first, she came out looking slightly flustered. Simon came out looking non-committal (then again, he wasn't giving anything away during the whole two days). Then it was my time. I'm used to being last, I've been a W all my life (that's W for Wood, not what you were thinking). I entered a dark room through loads of dry ice, and there was Shaun, looking for all the world like some kind of demented demon king on his enormous carved throne. I sat down, and we started talking. About End Of Story, about my tale, about horror films... all kinds of stuff. We seemed to hit it off quite well. I'm writing this just days before the show is finally aired, so my always-crap memory may be playing tricks on me, but I think Shaun quite liked me. Time (and BBC3) will tell, I suppose.
So that was that. I have a vague memory of gushing to Claudia about what a great bloke I thought Shaun was, then we were herded out into the sunny London air. I gave up smoking four years ago, so I was at a bit of a loss at what to do while I waited. There was the added problem that Claudia was obviously supposed to take Shaun off to a quiet place to discuss what his decision was going to be, and everywhere they went, there I was, hanging around like a berk. Shaun told me to "fuck off" three times. Finally, the time came. We went into another room, where the result was read out. You know the rest. It came as quite a shock to me, because I was convinced Simon would win (even though I loved, and still love, my ending). Shaun's obviously got even better taste than I gave him credit for!
That's it. What else do you want to know? Well, for those who've never met Shaun, he's a tiny wee bloke, like a little foul-mouthed Leprechaun in skin-tight jeans and cowboy boots. He's also lovely, and I bet he hates people saying that. Okay, I retract it. He's a foul fiend with a murderous glint in his eye and a terrifying aura of horror. For those of you who've never met Graeme (we were treated to a Shaun Hutson tour of London on the first day in Soho, when Graeme introduced himself), he looks like Toadfish out of Neighbours. There, I've said it. Cut that bit out at your peril, Graeme!
Since winning the competition I'm determined to become an author. I'm just putting the finishing touches to a novel I started back in 1998. It's about an undead serial killer and I've become more and more proud of it in the past few weeks. In fact, it seems to have taken on a life of its own... Scary, eh? I'll be launching my assault on the publishing world in the coming weeks. If that doesn't sell, I've got loads of other ideas for books, all horror/thriller/black comedies. Who knows what the future holds?
Anyway, I'll shut up now.
Andy Edwards' Mini Hutson Tour of London
Andy Edwards is both Shaun's royalties manager and personal friend. He had the idea to take the three finalists around London's West End and visit some of the locations featured in some of Shaun's books. A tiny snippet of the walk was used on the End Of Story programme, but photos of the entire walk and also Andy's script can be seen here.
Photos From The Two Days
Shaun's agent Brie took photos during the whole event and you can see them by clicking here.
Below is a collection of endings that some of Shaun's fans have sent in. All are in Acrobat pdf format which you can download a reader for here.
Jimmy Breadner • Tony Campbell • Rob Cargill • William Couper • Greg Cunningham • Steven Deighan • Mark Edwards • Warwick Fraser-Coombes • Joleen Grice • Michael Harrington • Darrell Joyce • Richard Kane • Colin McCauley • Jane McGlashan • Lisa McQuillan • John Morrison • Stuart Munro • Claire Nixon • Shane O'Neill • Michael O'Shea • Graeme Sayer • Dean Smith • Richard Smith • Keith Snell • Sheila Stapleton • Nigel Stewart • Shaun Thornley • Nathan Vaughan • Mark Waddington