I decided to write a twitter novel, once.
NOT a novel 140 characters long, of course, that would be insultingly easy (but no doubt if I was commissioned to write a 140-character long novel I’d still sit there doing nothing about it, twiddling my wotsits, leaving it right to the last minute, and then dashing out thirty words in an hysterical caffeine-addled blur).
No, this would be a full novel, tweeted out one line at a time. I announced this to my partner.
‘I’ve decided to write a twitter novel,’ I announced, thusly.
‘Oh,’ she announces back. ‘You’ll be wanting to write it in real time then?’
‘Oh,’ I say, my voice quieter, and a bit scared.
‘That’s a thought…’
And so it began. A novel unfolding IN REAL TIME over a number of weeks. I was doing it ostensibly to promote my ‘Mervyn Stone Mysteries’ books, so I used Mervyn as the central character, and it became one of the most interesting, exhausting, rewarding and above all, organic writing experiences I’ve ever had.
I decided on a start day, got my publishers to promote it, tweeted a bit of pre-publicity myself, pre-wrote page one of the novel to help me (which I promptly scrapped by the second tweet) and on the morning of that day I had my amateur sleuth wake up beside a dead body.
I have to say, at this point, before anybody else points this out; yes I know tweeting when you wake up beside a dead body is a somewhat unnatural thing to do given the situation, but no more nuts than tweeting at a live concert, or when you’re a juror in a trial, or having sex, which I gather is what the young people do these days. Just go with it folks, I hoped, and thankfully a lot of people did.
On day one there was something I hadn’t bargained for; people tweeting to Mervyn while he’s tweeting; this gave the process a mad, improvised quality, with ‘Mervyn’ addressing their concerns at the same time as pushing the narrative forward. (If you’re confused by the ‘It’s Andrew Smith’ reference, it’s because one of the tweet followers happens to be a policeman).
The story mutated as it went along; elements were dropped, others were thrown in as they occurred to me. I only realised several days in that I’d actually started the novel on april the first, so I incorporated that into the story. I called a character the wrong name on one tweet, and not being able to correct myself, I worked that into the story too. I got a bit bored a week or two in, and had a brainwave; so I got the murderer to start tweeting as well. I decided to allow my followers to guess the identity of the murderer, and select one of the correct guessers to be in the story during the final day of the novel.
Every time I tried to plan something, the twitter laughed and shook its mocking birdlike head. As my detective was involved with the world of cult TV (creator of an old Space TV show) , I planned for Mervyn to reveal the murderer from the stage of a Science-Fiction convention, and with ‘life’ imitating ‘art’, I would go to a Science Fiction convention myself, and tweet the identity of the murderer from the stage.
…Only I couldn’t get a signal for the bloody phone in the hotel, so I had to finish the climax of my novel sitting in a bus-stop down the road.
So anyway, I think it’s a shame to let something float away inside the twitterverse. Understandably, a few people fell by the wayside as their twitter feeds were filling up with Mervyn’s investigation, a few others missed key plot points as they weren’t near their phones or their computers, so this is for those people too, and also, rather selfishly, for me too, as it’s time to promote more Mervyn Mysteries (the audio is out this month).
I’m reprinting it in chunks here. Below is what happened on the first day. Many thanks to Mike Bell for transcribing the tweets, and collecting them. The story opened on the morning of april the first, 2011, and twenty four days and twenty thousand words later, it was done.
A few notes: I left some natural breaks during the day so that Mervyn’s twitter followers would wonder ‘what’s happening with Mervyn now’? That’s why those dotted lines are there.
THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE NERD.
Oh God. My head…
Where the hell am I?
Jesus Christ. Are you alright?
Oh shit. Guys, I’ve discovered a body.
Well ‘discovered’ is a pretty pro-active term. I’ve just opened my eyes and its there, lying on the floor.
He looks about a quarter of a tonne. Ton. What’s the right spelling? Oh my bloody head.
He’s covering most of the floor. I can’t miss him. What’s a good image for a huge fat dead guy? Stunned walrus? Sunbathing German?
Anyway, he’s definitely dead. He’s not breathing. I’m looking over him now. Oh right. I see what his problem is.
There’s a big bloody crater in his head. Where his forehead used to be. Someone’s going to get into trouble for that.
I’m going to clean up now. God my head…
I’ve just splashed some water on my face in the bathroom. That’s supposed to make things look better, right?
I’ve just realised I was holding something when I woke up on the floor.
I put it down on the table, just a reflex. I’m looking at it now.
It’s not pretty.
It’s a brick. A huge Perspex brick. Like they give out at the cheaper awards ceremonies. The ones where they don’t feed you.
The ones where they just supply booze and hope a fight breaks out later.
Inside the brick is a scrap of paper. A bit of old newspaper. A photo of a smiling girl. There’s writing on it.
It says LOT’S OF LOVE GERTIE! XXX
I’m feeling pretty queasy now. Not at the nasty punctuation, but at the fact that the Perspex brick has got blood on it.
This Perspex brick has been impolitely imbedded in the head of this fat guy…
Just like the apostrophe has been impolitely imbedded in the phrase LOT’S OF LOVE GERTIE! XXX
Okay, thanks guys, you’re right. I’d better look around. Find out where the hell I am. I just need to sit down and rest.
I’m shaking here.
I just fell asleep on the sofa! Here I am with three acres of dead body and I fell asleep!
Oh my GOD!
The Perspex brick…
It’s back in my hand!
Someone put the brick back in my hand while I was asleep!
The murderer must have still been in the house when I woke up!
He might still be here!
You’re right everyone. I have to get out of here. I’ll try all the doors and windows.
@mikegbell: @mervynstone take the brick with you. It has your fingerprints on and this Gertie could be important
@mervynstone: @mikegbell Easier said than done, Mike. The door’s locked. And the windows. I’ll try upstairs.
@Andrew_Smith_DW: @mervynstone. Calm down. You’ve nothing to worry about. You don’t have to say anything but it may harm your defence if…
@mervynstone: @Andrew_Smith_DW Easy for you to say. You haven’t got a dead man downstairs looking like he’s trying to impersonate the island of Jersey.
Everything locked upstairs too. I could try smashing a window…
There’s nothing I can use. There’s a Klingon head on the wall, a big wooden sword with ‘Prop: Xena Warrior Princess’ under it…
I’m realising who the dead man is. Funny I didn’t recognise him before.
But I know so many big fat guys in this business; they all melt into one big fat guy after a while.
It’s Alistair Guffin, cult shop owner and ace collector of bits of sci-fi nonsense. That’s why I’m here. He had my boots! The bastard!
I can hear lights. And a siren. There’s tyres on gravel…Let me look out of the window…
Oh dear. Guess who’s here?
I think it’s Andrew Smith!
Or someone who looks a lot like him. He’s certainly brought a lot of policemen with him.
They’ve rung the bell. I think I’d better stop tweeting now.
Does anyone know the name of a good lawyer?
If they think locking me up in a tiny cell’s going to intimidate me, then more fool them.
I’ve had much smaller hotel rooms for science fiction conventions. And the police facilities are much nicer.
They’ve finally allowed me to make a phone call. I’ve asked if tweets count, and the policeman just gave me a look like he doesn’t like me very much.
I’ve been divested of the contents of my pocket, and been asked to pee into a bottle.
I made a joke about selling the urine on e-bay, as the fans might like to buy it. The policeman looked at me like he really didn’t like me very much.
I don’t think he’s heard of the TV show ‘’Vixens from the Void’
And even if he did, he looks like he wouldn’t be impressed if he knew I wrote most of it.
In contrast, the copper who took my possessions, Clive, is a cheery little man. It’s his job to bag up the evidence.
At the house, I watched him put the Perspex brick into a little bag, and then into a bigger bag, then into a little box and I don’t know if they had a bigger box to put the little box in..
…because then I was bundled into a police car and brought here, sirens wailing like Vanity Mycroft in a number two dressing room.
I’ve been asked questions for a few hours, and the conversation has been chugging around in circles for a while now.
They’ve pointed out that me not phoning the police and trying to leave the scene of the crime makes me look very suspicious.
I’ve pointed out that being found at the scene of the crime with a murder weapon in my hand makes me look suspicious anyway…
so the best thing I could have done is not make me not look suspicious at all, i.e. get the hell out of there.
They’ve asked me about the mess upstairs, the opened drawers and the clothes on the floor. They asked me if I did that. I said no.
The mess didn’t even register with me when I went upstairs – I always assume fan’s houses to be messy.
They tell me that there’s signs of a burglary, and there’s items missing. I’ve said I know nothing about that.
The policeman wants my phone back. I’ve had it long enough. Bugger. I should have called a lawyer.