Writing Award Sub-Category
Award Category
Golden Writer
Logline or Premise
Cozy crime caper: An ageing rocker finds himself framed for a political assassination.
First 10 Pages

1. Mr Positivity

“Think positive,” yelled Micky Slapstone as the rain sluiced down over a huddle of roadies.

“Think positive,” he bellowed again.

BadAss hunched gloomily in the open door of their tour bus and watched the roadies trying to pull his backing band’s equipment out of a swamp in the back-stage car park of the Midlands Metal Hell Festival, Northampton, but the trailer wasn’t listening, stuck facing the wrong way, wheels deeper into the mud than wheels had a right to go.

It was mid-afternoon and Armageddon was coming on. Apocalyptic clouds emptied themselves over acres of misshapen tents. Nearby, in the glare of the main stage, two thousand sleep-deprived fans bounced to an obscure Canadian death metal band.

BadAss hated rain. The farmyard smell of mud reminded him of miserable afternoons spent on chilly soccer fields, trying to avoid the ball.

“Any calls?” he shouted to Micky, but he didn’t seem to hear.

“Pull north.” Micky waved an imperious hand and the roadies pulled north. “Push south.” They pushed south. Micky was in every way like a bullet. Short, snub-nosed and shaven-headed, BadAss’s guitar tech and self-appointed personal manager tried to shoot through obstacles like he’d been fired out of a gun. What he lacked in height he made up for in confidence. Unfortunately, the trailer wasn’t so easily persuaded.

BadAss was working hard on his own positive thinking, without any greater success. He was waiting for a phone call that never seemed to arrive and he couldn’t concentrate on anything else. He took out his mobile, but it showed no messages or missed calls. He put it back in his gilet pocket and immediately took it out again. What if it rang and the sound was lost in the wind and rain?

Then he spotted a small movement on the ground. A snail had stopped in the middle of the car park, trusting that its shell would protect it from all dangers. As BadAss watched, though, a van lumbered towards it, headlamps glinting off the puddles. He hesitated. He believed passionately in saving nature, however he had his limits—and there was no sign of the umbrella the festival had promised to bring. The snail, though, turned its head towards him, its tentacles wavering. If a mollusc could implore, it was imploring.

“Oh, shit!” BadAss said. He plunged into the storm as the truck splashed towards them, grabbed the snail between two fingers and returned to the tour bus, only seconds before the van barrelled past. He positioned the little animal carefully on the top step.

“OK, mate?” he said to the snail, which retreated into its shell. He took that as a thank-you.

Shaking the rainwater off his Lenin cap, he picked up his phone again. Today, he’d been told, the judge would give her verdict on BadAss’s four-year lawsuit against his record company and tour promoter Pissoff Entertainment for underpaying him £1.83 million. He should have been at the lawyers’ office, waiting, but he couldn’t stand the tension.

Instead, he re-read an email he’d received two days before. This puzzled him in itself, as he never gave out his address.

Dear Mr BadAss, it began.

I am the chief executive of Forrester Music which sells your records among others here in on Benkuda. My brother Freddie greatly admires your singing about rebels and streetfighters, which is similar to his job here.

We’re working with President Isobel Bachman, to produce a Peace and Democracy Concert, just like Bob Marley in Jamaica, and would like to propose you as the front man to this concert.

You will help us bring social harmony and food for the starving, as well as rock star friends, international charities and a stop to the president’s debt repayments, which President Bachman wants you to know are very close to her heart.

You would also be much better than Bono or Geldof, who didn’t have time to reply.

Yours in hope

Dania Forrester, Ms.

Invitations from promoters had dried up over the years and anyway he’d never received one like this. He’d googled Benkuda and found a largish, vaguely oval island in the east Caribbean, like someone had trampled on a potato and tossed it into the sea. The national emblem was a misshapen blue-green fruit that everyone apparently agreed was inedible and the national flag comprised the same lumpy fruit against a night-sky background. On Forrester Music’s website, he discovered an impressive list of top artistes, although strangely not the brother, Freddie. Maybe he recorded for a different label.

A peace concert was tempting—a fresh chance to broadcast the BadAss message against war, oppression and injustice. Plus, looking out at the unwavering rain, some better weather would be welcome.

But he didn’t have headspace to think about it now. He’d send this Forrester woman a polite refusal and a box of signed T-shirts. Hang on, he didn’t want to be mean. Make it two boxes. Micky could set it up.

Still his phone didn’t ring. Micky had said only fools went to law. But Cla-Rice, his muse and soulmate of five years, had told him to contact his inner anger.

Right now, his muse and soulmate was sitting at the back of the bus, bent over The Font, lead guitarist of Kremlin, who were headlining the festival at eleven. The Font had dropped in to ‘say hi’ and was now saying hi to Cla-Rice at length, legs hooked over the seats in front of him, picking his teeth with a plectrum. “Bitch” and “fucking-A” floated across. Their heads almost touched as did other body parts. Clearly what he had to say to her was important.

BadAss turned back to the outside, as a young festival volunteer ran up, shielding himself from the downpour by holding a festival programme over his head.

“BadAss,” the youngster said, breathlessly, “I’ve loved your work since I first heard Slut on the Slide It’s an honour to be working with you.”

“Not enough of an honour to bring a fucking umbrella.”

“Umbrellas are most definitely on the way.”

BadAss moved the snail to one side and told the volunteer to come under the shelter of the doorway but he seemed too in awe of him to accept. Instead, he reached inside his waterproof, and for a weird moment BadAss thought he was going to pull a gun. Instead, he produced his phone. “It would be cool,” he said.

BadAss posed for a selfie with him and gave a double devil’s horns for good measure.

“Wow!” said the volunteer. He was putting his phone away, when he added, “Shit, I almost forgot. You’re not on the main stage at ten any more. You’re on the Alan Carr Stage at six-thirty.”

He turned to go, but BadAss grabbed his arm. “What the fuck?”

The volunteer paled. “Not my call. It’s the festival director. What can I say? She used to do PR for S-Club Seven.”

BadAss found he could contact his inner anger after all. He tried to reach inside the man’s waterproof. “Give me her number."

The volunteer trembled in his grip. “I don’t have it.”

“The Alan Carr stage?” BadAss shouted.

“You should feel privileged. Alan’s a local-born celebrity.”

“Fuck off!”

The volunteer fucked off and BadAss sat again. He felt bad about shouting. It wasn’t the youngster’s fault. No doubt, the festival had found some new band that was going viral.

The snail brought out its head again and waggled its horns with curiosity. BadAss rolled himself a spliff and placed a spare flake next to the snail’s mouth. Even a mollusc had a right to experiment.

2. Stick it to the Man

Umbrellas arrived half an hour later and surrounded the bus like a cluster of damp tortoises. As a headliner, the Font made sure he disembarked first, while ensuring everyone knew he didn’t really care about such petty concerns. He’d opted to wear a white Elvis suit. Volunteers set about building a pathway across the mud with sawn-up plastic beer crates and BadAss was delighted to see him slip off one of the crates and get spattered with mud. Who said there was no such thing as karma? BadAss had opted for his signature blue leather jeans and purple T-shirt with studded leather gilet, which were far more weather-resilient.

He looked round for Cla-Rice, but she dodged past him after the Font, pointing to her watch and mouthing something inaudible but vaguely apologetic. He took a deep breath and started after them, inhaling a lungful of generator fuel and weed.

The same rain drenched a small crowd of fans, bunched on the other side of the backstage fence. They waved and shouted BadAss’s name. He recognised most of them—hardcore Assers, turning up in all weathers, just for him. Many he’d known for over 30 years. Seeing them always lifted his spirits, despite looking like they were being hosed down by a satanic water-cannon. He gave them his BadAss registered-trademark glare, shook his BadAss-registered-trademark pigtail, then made BadAss-registered-trademark gun-shapes with his fingers. They whooped with excitement and shot finger-bullets back. Nothing enthused his fans more than miming an exchange of fire.

It might have helped too if he’d grown up in New Jersey or Chicago, rather than a peaceful middle-class road in north London. But he didn’t generally tell people the truth about his upbringing.

BadAss paused. His volunteer looked at him anxiously. “I was told to get you to the interview tent in five minutes.”

“Are you putting me back on the main stage?”

“I don’t have the authority—“

“Then bugger off.” BadAss jumped from the beer-crate walkway and strode off across the mud towards his sodden fans, chased by the volunteer, who held his umbrella aloft like a desperate samurai. The Assers hollered and whistled, rainwater dripping from their leathers and tattoos.

“BadAss. Hey, man! Yo, big man! Shoot me dead, innit!”

BadAss was soaked. He began to regret his impulsiveness, but he’d committed now. He performed his number two snarl. Invigorated, the Assers waved wet CDs and posters. “My people!” he called. “My merchandise!”

Discs were pushed through the wire fence. BadAss took the nearest and began signing. “Keep up the fight,” he growled.

“Yo, BadAss! Tell it how it is.” A plump red-haired man thrust an early CD at him. “When’s the next one?”

BadAss scribbled his name. “The best things are worth waiting for.”

“But what about your song Get it now! Don’ delay the fray?”

“Well, sometimes the fray needs some finance.” The man looked confused and withdrew, clutching the disc to his chest.

One middle-aged woman asked BadAss to autograph a pair of sodden knickers. He squinted at the label. “Helping The Man, yeah?”

“Marks and Spencer?” She nodded uncertainly and for a moment he felt bad, as if he’d told her Santa Claus didn’t exist. But no, the truth was the truth.

“Smell the coffee, girl. All them companies are the Man, man. The Man runs the world. Do you want to fight?”

“I want to fight.”

“Change where you buy your knickers. The journey of a hundred miles starts with the first piece of underwear.”

“A thousand…”


She blinked, but stood her ground bravely. “I think the saying is ‘A journey of a thousand miles…’”

“Who’s counting? Stick it to the Man and all his supermarkets.”


He gave a double devil’s horns and strode away under the volunteer’s umbrella, as best anyone could stride in thick mud. His fans always gave him back his bounce. Micky joined him, wiping dirt from round his eyes so he appeared like a determined owl, and handed BadAss a thermos.

“I thought you might be ready for something.”

“Spot on,” said BadAss, twisting the top and taking a swig of Laphroaig. “But you look knackered, man.” He offered to pass the thermos back.

Micky shook his head. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,”

BadAss thought about this. “What about dementia? My dad had it for six years and it didn’t make him any stronger.”

“Did he die in the end?”

“Yeah, in the end.”

“Well, then, it killed him. Proves my point.”

BadAss pondered for another twenty-five yards. Sometimes he felt there was a flaw in Micky’s logic, but he could never quite pin it down.

Micky’s mobile rang. He mouthed “Lawyers!”

BadAss’s bounce disappeared. Why were they phoning Micky and not him. The news must be bad.

“Yeah,” said Micky to his phone, his expression annoyingly unreadable. “Yeah,” he said again. “Yeah.” And for variety, “Yep.”

He rang off.

“Well?” said BadAss.

Micky contemplated the mud in front of them for another ten paces as BadAss grew increasingly exasperated. Finally, Micky said, “You won.”

“We won!” BadAss punched the air and only narrowly missed braining the umbrella-volunteer. “Everything?”

“Outstanding royalties, overcharged fees, withheld tour receipts, fraudulent accounting, the lot.”

“Wow!” BadAss hugged him and then hugged the surprised volunteer. “Not that money is important. But… wow! When do I get the dosh?”


BadAss took another three steps before the answer percolated. “Say that again, man.”

“The subsidiary you had the contract with went into liquidation ten minutes before the hearing began. No assets. Even their electric SUVs are in their wives’ names. There’s not enough to pay your legal costs let alone the rest.”

“But, fuck, man, my costs are…” BadAss tried in vain to do the arithmetic. There were too many noughts.

“Get me the lawyers.”

Micky got back on his phone and BadAss snatched it from him. “What the fuck is this, Russell?” he shouted. “I win but I don’t get anything?”

His solicitor’s voice came through, with the calm sorrow of a well-paid undertaker. “Yes, it’s dreadful, isn’t it?”

“Dreadful?” BadAss’s own voice went up an octave. “What about my costs? I thought you asked for those.”

“We did, but if the well runs dry…”

“It didn’t run dry; they hid the water.”

“Life’s a bitch.” His lawyer gave a sad chuckle. “As you happen to say in your own songs, I should add. No matter, we’ll email you our final invoice. Payment in the usual thirty days.”

“I can’t afford another invoice.”

“Then we’ll need an inventory of what you own…house, car—”

“I’ve never had a car and the house was mortgaged to pay for recording my last album.”


“I can’t sell my guitars! How am I going to live? The fee for this festival will hardly cover—”

“I’d forgotten you were getting paid for the festival. We’ll make sure they send us that money direct.”

“Russell. I’m bankrupt.”

“No problem. We can handle bankruptcies too.”