How Federico Finucci Narrowly Missed Out On The Scoop Of The Century – an excerpt

Di Silvio jumped to attention as the Prime Minister slapped his palms on the desk. Signore Bucci must have waltzed in a full thirty seconds ago, but, after coughing a couple of times and still failing to attract Di Silvio’s notice, he had obviously let impatience get the better of him. Di Silvio was shocked because it was common etiquette, in the Government offices, not to abuse the desk of a colleague, regardless of whether their standing was above or below your own. No one knew this more than the noble Prime Minister, but, judging by his flared nostrils and narrowed eyes, no one cared less about it right now, either. Signore Bucci, in the majority of even the Italian population by having the advantage of height over Di Silvio, at this point towered over the desk like a tidal wave. Di Silvio gulped and opened a mental umbrella. The Prime Minister’s navy suit stood out threateningly against the cloudless sky through the window behind him, and his expression almost matched the shade of his clothing. Di Silvio gulped again. This must be important.

He had been distracted by a dream he’d had last night. It was so vivid that it was difficult to get it out of his head. He had been hosting a Miss World competition; and, surrounded by beautiful young women in bikinis or less, he was poised – even after waking – on the brink of an almost unbearably exciting canyon, the cavernous sides of which were composed of supple young female thighs. But there was something else, and Di Silvio was not sure if he should be troubled by it. The girls certainly hadn’t seemed to mind. When he had by chance caught sight of himself in a mirror backstage, he noticed that he was not the handsomely aged, dark, southern Italian that he had always fancied himself to be when stuck in an exchange with a reflective surface, but instead, a priapic faun, wearing nothing but a green waistcoat and an enormous grin.

The dream was probably brought on, he thought, by the book he had been reading in bed the night before. It was a brand new publication, available in hardback only, and unprecedented in content. Salvatore Capraio’s revolutionary work, In Bed with Nature, examined the weird and wonderful sexual characteristics of the earth’s most interesting animals. The three entries in the collection that had cemented themselves in his mind (replete with full colour photographs) were that of the mountain goat, which was characterised by abnormally high levels of testosterone present at any time; that of a certain species of duck, which sported a blue beak and an enormous and disproportionate penis; and that of a monkey which, sent mad by captivity, repeatedly masturbated and ate what was produced.

The Miss World competitors had flirted outrageously with him all evening, and he was particularly impressed with Miss Java, who was six feet tall and had skin the colour of coffee liqueur. It had been quite obvious that she had no aversion to his hooves. Although he never actually saw her smile – his squat figure meant that he had only been able to interview her cleavage – he could feel a draught on the top of his head from her eyelash flutterings, and he was certain they were directed at him. She had also brushed her knees against his goaty member on more than one occasion, and Di Silvio was convinced it was no accident. He was thoroughly disappointed to learn that the host did not get to decide on the winner of the competition, and was consequently devastated when poor Miss Java was voted out in the first round.

He blinked up at Prime Minister Bucci, and was about to offer a sycophantic smile when his face was frozen by the icicles in his superior’s voice.

‘Signore Di Silvio,’ Bucci growled, ‘Have you read this morning’s news?’

This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, How Federico Finucci Narrowly Missed Out On The Scoop Of The Century, a probably unpublishable, definitely hilarious, and frustratingly true-to-life tale about the intersection of politics, money, football and journalism.


Life Without Sleep – an excerpt

It’s not entirely soul destroying, being kept awake at night.

Some nights, I actually get up, out of bed, and catch some Masterchef reruns, or silently, secretly watch a fox selecting his spread from Restaurant Renard – that is, the bin bags out in the street below. From time to time I even open Escoffier’s Guide culinaire and attempt to absorb some of the man’s genius. If I’m desperate to send my eyelids drooping towards blissful, elusive sleep, I’ll reach for the Delia – double-daring insomnia by introducing the additional factor of a language barrier to the old crone’s always-slightly-off-target methods – although once I misguidedly picked Carême off the shelf and was awake for days.

Some nights, if you can believe me, I’m pretty sure I do sleep. Those nights, dawn just appears, rather than gradually poking its nose over the horizon, and that’s when I reckon I’ve been to the land of Nod.

Most nights, though, I just wait. For what, well… that depends on what comes.


A few months ago, old Alphonse upstairs passed away. I was awake when he fell out of his bed above me for the final time. His muffled cry jolted me out of a plan I’d been hatching to set up a tiny restaurant in my dining room, the cottontail-end of which involved keeping rabbits on the roof of our apartment block so that I could serve a delicious beery-gamey stew in the autumn months: I’d call it ‘Hopsalot’ or something equally amusing. I held my breath; usually what followed the thump of his body hitting the threadbare rug at the side of his bed was a lot of scrabbling, humping and grunting as he pulled himself off the floor, but this time, there was just a kind of tapping, and then silence. I sighed, and reached for the phone.

I suppose it was five weeks later that a youngish man came and knocked on my door. I was halfway up the ladder Christelle had loaned me in return for the promise of some madeleines at the weekend, despite the fact that, along with driving and working as an air traffic controller, climbing ladders was precisely the kind of thing my doctor had advised me against. I was busy cleaning tomato sauce off the ceiling because Fabienne from across the hall had lost the lid to my blender when she borrowed it for guacamole last week (even though she ardently refuted this impropriety), and apparently trying to cover the opening with one’s palm was not an adequate alternative.

Come in!’ I called out, knowing the door was off the latch and my knees weren’t what they used to be. Wasn’t I expecting Léonard, for his afternoon Darjeeling? I glanced down at the space on my left wrist where my watch should have been before I realised I’d put it on my right that morning; it was only 11am.

I heard someone clear their throat as the door shifted open. I started to climb down, but with my back to the unknown the shiver of a slight panic rode up my spine, and the ladder seemed to warp and melt beneath me. I missed the last rung, swinging wildly for a second before being caught under the armpits by my mystery guest. I found my footing, pushed my glasses back onto my nose, and turned to see the man. I’ll never forget that moment. He had been sporting a vaguely amused, vaguely concerned expression, but as his regard fell on my gazpacho-spattered apron, his eyes seemed to light up. It was as if he was starving, and had just been promised a seven-course meal. I’m telling you, he stared at that tomato pulp like he wanted to make love to my apron, or at least suck it clean. I blinked at him.

Hi,’ he smiled, holding out his hand for shaking. ‘I’m Noah. I’ve just moved in upstairs, and I wanted to introduce myself.’

I smiled back, mainly because I couldn’t help it. If Alphonse – boiled-potato, bread-and-butter, milk-and-porridge old Alphonse – had to go, better that he be replaced by a foodie than anyone else. Noah meant we were approaching critical mass in the apartment block.

This is an excerpt from my short story, Life Without Sleep, a darkly comic account of the world through the eyes of an insomniac.


The Great White


Snow sifted down outside. It sifted past the third-floor window where a headphone-clad Emilie sat sketching, oblivious to the white flakes, and to the raised voices of her parents in the room next door. It sifted past the upturned, bearded faces of the old twins in the apartment below, who clung to each other, rapt. It sifted past José’s forgotten, frostbitten herbs resting on a windowsill that had not been lit from inside for weeks now. And it sifted down to the square of patio where Marc’s shadow fell, which, unmoving, belied the speed of his fingers spidering across the keyboard.

Muted sounds: the ding of a tram, a metal whisk in a glass bowl, a dog’s bark; all muted by the soft, perfect snow.

As if powered by the hood of silence, the slideshow in Marc’s mind had gathered speed until he had thrown his pencil aside and advanced to his computer, previously a fearful thing, a threatening thing, but this evening a channelling thing, a converter of these flying, fleeting images into words—into solid, sellable words.

For too many months the milky square of the computer screen had stared at him: empty months. Now, its white glow made him a silhouette, and he sat, unmoving apart from his fingers.

No movement above, either, but dust motes settling in the snow-light on José’s abandoned guitar. Further up, the twins turned their faces to each other, one mooning dreamily, the other a gawping mug. High upstairs, sobbing; but also the slick of a page turning, the scratch of a pen.

The falling snow seemed to change the building into a chimney, outside noises dampened and those inside amplified; and in amongst the funnelled, flicking pictures, Marc’s neighbours, too long ignored by him, began to solidify into crystal focus.

His hands worked furiously; a frenzied silkworm spinning lines, embroidering the zipping images into a digital tapestry—not to be unpicked this time but to be anchor knotted, preserved. A matrix unspooled before his eyes: black on white, a reflected negative of the fine-spun snowflakes drifting down beyond the glass.

Suddenly Marc stopped, the silence broken. He cocked his head. A sad, gentle melody had begun to tremble in the gaps between the floorboards, and José was lulling along to the tune in his wistful voice. The twins, hearing their musical friend back after all this time, forgot the snow for a second and why he’d been away and grinned at one another, each clutching the other by the elbows as happiness spilled out of them in noiseless laughter. Above them, Emilie raised one headphone to enjoy the silence of the flittering snow, but instead heard her father crying, and let it snap back into place.

Marc sat back, flexed his wrists, and in the middle of that great white canvas, that pristine, terrifying, optionless Big Empty, he could see a tiny germ greening its way through the crust.

This story was written as an inspiration piece for Mash Stories, a short story competition which gives writers 3 random key words or phrases, and a 500-word limit, to create their best pieces of flash fiction. The key words for this piece were: happiness – mug – converter.



Obsidian night, watchful you are –

My alert smile curved, only deserving

Your silent eye; bittersweeting, it

waits for my short circuit:

Here I fall, without relent.

You shroud me, disappear my resolve,

Shard my heart –

But only enough…

…I dream of mossed rest,

Leaves left to frond their own design

around mine.


Your flight coils me; unopened

and foetal, I rattle through the roulette of dawn

as he comes

to warp me away from you.


Powder and Perfume

A grainy Saturday morning, and yesterday’s newspaper flaps past the dented metal doors of The Cockpit. The hour is early – not too early for a green-jacketed dog-walker huddled in her collar, but not yet time for the suit in the alleyway to turn away from pissing against the wall of the club and head home.

An hour passes.

Traffic starts to sound in the nearby streets, an alarm clock of sorts. The main doors crack open. Girls emerge, tottering to their taxicabs, ushered home by minders who know nothing of chivalry. They exit one by one: sallow, young, worn, smiling. They go by names like Jazz, Honesty, Chardonnay, Hope, and they look tired.

Men follow, still rubbing their noses and sniffing. Ties loosened and eyes staring, they scramble: tuxedoed cockroaches. In a few hours a couple of them will spoon cereal into their toddlers’ mouths, present their wives with bouquets to mask their own stench.

And right about now, Gina should appear out front, her cat-eye sunglasses her only defiance against the daylight. Stepping out into fresher air, she’ll cock her head on one side and light her cigarette.

The boss is the last to leave. He closes up, chain and padlock, and lapel fur bristles against his five o’ clock shadow. He pats himself down, chest pockets full of wads thanks to the girls, and beeps his Mercedes open. He nods through the windscreen at Gina as she crosses the road in front of him, but she doesn’t nod back. Instead, she strides off, fourteen blocks to her bedsit, where she’ll shower until the water runs cold, then collapse on her saggy mattress. If she dreams, she’ll dream about her son. Usually she dreams of nothing at all.

By the time Gina wakes again, the sun will have cast its low arc across the sky. She’ll smoke at the window, right elbow resting on her left hand as she watches the street below. She’ll sniff disdain at the orange film in the half-a-can of baked beans, but will upend it anyway onto butterless toast and hope that a minute in the microwave will be enough. Then she’ll dress in the same black uniform as yesterday, paint on the same black eyeliner, and make her morning journey in reverse.

Back at The Cockpit, the girls are getting ready for the biggest night of the week. One straddles her friend at the makeup counter, deftly sticking false eyelashes. Another stands topless, hip jutting, brandishing her blow-dryer like it’s a gun, and maybe she wishes it was. Gina pokes her head into the dressing room and the girls turn and wave, coo greetings. Gina smiles grimly at the powder and the perfume in the air.

“Tonight’s the last time I do this,” she mutters at no one in particular, and ducks back out to serve punters at the bar.

“S’what she said last week,” grins the girl with the gun.

This story was written as an inspiration piece for Mash Stories, a short story competition which gives writers 3 random key words or phrases, and a 500-word limit, to create their best pieces of flash fiction. The key words for this piece were: honesty – blow-dryer – cockpit.