For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn...

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn...

Sometimes I see a piece of writing that is so perfect that, first, I think "I wish I had written that". And, second, if I were being paid to edit it, I would metaphorically give a long, low whistle of admiration and refuse to change a single word of the copy. Today was one of those days...


he heading of this post is, as many will know, not mine to claim. It has been described as a six-word novel, an example of flash fiction and – almost certainly wrongly – attributed – to Ernest Hemingway.


The story goes thus. While having lunch with friends at – naturally – the Algonquin, Hemingway bet the assembly ten dollars that he could write a novel in six words. After everyone put in, Hemingway wrote the six words on a napkin, passed it around the table and collected the loot.

Lovely story.

But pretty much a crock.

It was told to a friend in a letter science-fiction writer Arthur C Clarke wrote in 1992, some 30 years after the great man of letters' death. 

(Hemingway's, not Clarke's; now that would have been some feat...)

Variations on the theme have been found that date back to 1910, when Hemingway was just ten.

I was reminded of it today when my friend and colleague journalist Jacqui Deevoy posted the following in a thread that made reference to the iconic image (left) used by 70s and 80s trendy music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test.

(This was prompted by a cartoon done in a similar style mourning the passing of Stephen Hawking, which I'll come to in a separate post.) 

What Jacqui wrote is Hemingwayesque in that it is lean and spare, with not one word included that isn't doing something important.

A whole era of pain and unrequited love in the tradition of The Summer of '42 is effortlessly whistled up in just a few pithy words.

And it's the best pay-off I've seen in a long time.

Well done, Wor Jacqui.

"I had a t-shirt with a sequinned starkicker on it in the 70s. A boy I loved gave it to me. Mainly because he didn't love me back and felt a bit bad. The t-shirt had been his and smelled of him. That made me happy and sad at the same time.

The boy's name was Ed. He's a fat Morris dancer now."

© Eugene Costello 2018