Friday Fiction – Behind the Scenes

Some of you will know, I used to spend most of my time in scenes like the one from Kent’s picture this week. I was a theatre technician at the ADC in Cambridge, (one of) the best university theatre(s) in the UK. I had an amazing time, learned a lot and made friendships I know will last a lifetime – not to mention meeting my husband there. Now I’m behind the scenes in a different way, and I thought about writing a story based on one or other of those themes.

In the end, though, my submission to the Friday Fictioneers is something else entirely. After you’ve read it, you might want to click here to see the other half of the inspiration. I look forward to hearing what you think.


Behind The Scenes

“Tell the boys downstairs to pedal faster. We’re losing speed against this current.”

“They can’t give any more, Captain. We’re on double capacity and Pede just fainted from exertion.”

“Then get him up, or we’re going to start going backwards. And pull men in from higher up – we can manage this stretch without digestion.”

There was a flurry of activity in the lower part of the vessel. The Captain sighed as the bank once more flowed away behind them. A small girl came into view, pointing in their direction.

“Look at the swan, Daddy. She’s all graceful, like a ballerina.”


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

43 responses to “Friday Fiction – Behind the Scenes

  1. Wonderful. Literally a duck [swan] paddling madly underneath and serene on top. Loved the image this story conjured up.

  2. I got the general idea but wouldn’t have really understood all the nuances without going to the link, no doubt because I’ve never lived in the UK or ead the comic. It does conjure up an amusing scenario of all these little people working away inside the swan, though.


    • I appreciate your honesty, Janet. I have been known to share some pretty crazy theories about how things work. The numskulls idea (and this extension of it) is one of my favourites, though!

      • Jen, I love the numskulls idea, but I think a longer story would work better to develop them to the point that those of us unfamiliar with them as a comic would understand. I liked what you did with the story but I don’t think it reaches its full potential in these few words.

    • Hate to throw out a simple “ditto,” but ditto. I always enjoy your stories, Jen, and this is no exception… the way you string your words is always good reading. I was a little lost here, without the link… but I liked the imagery.

  3. Nice one Jen. I don’t remember the numskulls, not because I wasn’t there but probably because I was involved with Wendy and Jinx. 🙂 Original take on the prompt here, and quite graphic too.

    • I think the Numskulls made it into some other paper / mag I used to read – can’t remember where I first came across them, because I never really read Beano / Dandy.

  4. Helena Hann-Basquiat

    I think this is one of the strangest things I’ve ever read of yours. I’d never read the Numbskulls, but it reminded me a bit of a Christopher Moore book called Fluke, where whales are actually strange spaceships piloted by aliens. (He’s a weird one, that Chris).

    • haha, yes, I put the link up mainly to stop the conspiracy theorists killing all our swans! I think I’d like the book you mention, must look it up!

      • Helena Hann-Basquiat

        All of Christopher Moore’s books are fun and a nice light read — I’d try “Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” if I were you. It’s hilarious. If you do read, be sure to let me know what you think.

  5. I found this very engaging and especially loved the twist at the end. I also appreciate you including the information about Numskulls because I love the chance to learn! Great work!

  6. 🙂 i had so much fun reading this. loved picturing those busy little guys 🙂 very cute and clever 🙂

  7. This is really good, Jen! Unique to my American sensibilities. I learned about the Numskulls, too. Thanks for the link.

    Seems like theater people and television people are inhabiting the pages of this blogosphere. Let’s keep the lamp burning!

  8. Lovely take on this prompt. Numskulls! Love the idea of tiny people!

  9. Lovely tale Jen, very well written as always.

  10. Jen,
    I like the story, but I think others are correct about the nuances being lost in this short piece. Following your discussion about “not making excuses,” I think you may have landed on a story idea that really needs another 200 words to help flesh it out. Honestly, that’s okay. You regularly serve up beautifully crafted 100-word stories. This one just needs a little more space.

    I love the bits from below in this especially. I’d just like to see more between that point and the introduction of the daughter and the swan.

    All my best,
    Marie Gail

    • Thanks MG, I’m always pleased to get honest feedback – and it makes the good responses feel more genuine too.
      I certainly won’t make excuses – and I agree that this story could have been longer. Even without the numskulls background, though, I feel it works (not my favorite, but it works). I included the link mostly to avoid people thinking the crew were aliens or spies pretending to be swans – maybe I should have left it open to those interpretations. Anyway, hang on in there, hopefully I’ll have more time and more energy next week!

  11. Very cool story, what’s beneath the surface is always what you don’t expect.

  12. Humorous and well-done story. I had to learn about those little people from the link you provided also. It makes a really funny picture when you put it together. Very creative. 🙂

  13. Dear Jen,

    I have to be honest. I was kind of lost with this one. After two reads and going to the link, I kind of get it. No doubt my confusion comes from not being familiar with the comic strip. At any rate, it’s an imaginative piece. And I find no fault with your writing.



    • You do indeed have to be honest – it’s what I always ask for. It’s interesting how this story seems to have worked for some and not others – it works for me but I didn’t think it was my greatest work; having seen the reaction, I think that’s confirmed. Never mind, next week is another day – as it were.

  14. Very ingenious take on the prompt. Who would have thought of a swan’s inner workings that way? 🙂

  15. It took me a few reads of the story as well as the link and comments to fully get the plot—but once I did, I loved it! Interesting take on the prompt and I love how you used the Numskulls to portray the struggle of a swan that no one else could see. Wonderfully done!

  16. I get it now. Great story. I assume you were a technician making things happen on and around the stage – machinery, hoists etc. Must have been fun. We owe Cambridge a lot re theatre. A great heritage.

    • Thanks, Patrick – Aside from lighting, I was a bit of a jack of all trades – set building, painting, sound, lifting and lots of other things besides. Happy days.

  17. I too needed to click on the numbskulls to fully grasp it. Oddly, as I read my mind traveled to an image of little men, like rowers on a slave ship (or cilia propelling the course of digestion), upper/lower intestines. Definitely grasped the inner workings idea. At the end I got the inner workings of the swan but it also made me think of the swan paddle boats which broke my reverie. But honestly I like the how things work idea. Kind of like the rantings of an introverts mind.

  18. too deep for me. didn’t get it on first reading. i looked at the link, and, suddenly, it became clear.

  19. I will look at swans differently from now on! I love ‘we can manage this stretch without digestion’

  20. Dee

    Hi Jen
    I got the message and knew I knew about the little people, but couldn’t remember their name – Numskulls., thanks for the link.
    Well written are usual, enjoyed it.

  21. I love this story, Jennifer. The last line really got me… it was a mind exploder.

    I was a theater major in college. Was a lousy actor. But I did some radio, TV and produced a few plays later.

  22. camgal

    Loved this story, precious, sweet and as ted said of the last line- a mind exploder

  23. I’m reminded of a scene from “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask” by Woody Allen where all the behind the scene people were helping a man get it up.

  24. Ha, never heard about the Numskulls.. intriguing idea of little men inside the skulls of man and beasts…

  25. Good story! Don’t know about Numskulls, but I love the name! Fun to think about little people helping run stuff. Thanks 🙂 Nan

  26. It’s funny, I was talking in bed with my husband about the Numskulls only a week ago. It was a favourite of the cartoons in the comic. Without the link, the story is a complete mystery, surreal, disparate and a bit menacing. It could also be a poem. I like word meals and could go on a lovely journey with it.

  27. my first thought was that someone’s digestive system was fighting to not puke but also for it not to go the other way (the “backward”) either. and then the swan showed up, and i was both sure and happy to have been wrong with my first guess!

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