25 Stories

The premise of 25 Stories is simple enough; Alex Watts is bored at work and so comes up with short stories to keep himself entertained. 'Make of your brain a toy box,' he advises us, to be filled with stories and characters you can play with to keep boredom at bay. 

Watts may be charming and friendly, but some of his stories are anything but. Childhood favourites may be at risk.

Although he ‘plays with other people’s toys’, from James Bond to Sherlock Holmes, Watts comes up with stories and situations of his own that are anything but simple; they are original, witty and often surprisingly poignant. Watts imagines Shakespeare in the afterlife, the ghost of a sign painter, a juvenile power fantasy whose name is too rude (and ridiculous) to write here, and many more, all with great eloquence and wit. 

From the briefest few lines about a wasp to his wonderful trilogy of tales entitled Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Office, Watts has woven together his series of twenty-five stories into a clever and hilarious hour that is a must see for lovers of literature – indeed, for anyone who wants to see a gifted storyteller at work. I would advise against bringing your children; Watts may be charming and friendly, but some of his stories are anything but. Childhood favourites may be at risk.

As well as telling us his stories, Watts also gifts his audience with tips for surviving life in the office, from rousing battle speeches to passive aggressive e-mails, reveals the conspiracy behind a popular series of children’s books and even gives us plenty of sage wisdom from his time working in bookshops. These anecdotes and titbits are every bit as clever and brilliantly crafted as Watts’ stories themselves, with his discussion of the ridiculousness of some literary criticism being a great highlight. 

His hypothesis regarding the last two books left in the world – one for men full of action and grit, one for women with glitter on the front – comes a close, hilarious second, with Watts’ brilliant send up of common tropes in the genres of romantic comedies and adventure novels, and his insistence that we need to burn the world and start again due to institutionalised sexism.

Watts is not shy about making hard-hitting points in this arena, and this is shown most clearly in his comparison of himself – an ‘artsy fartsy flouncing woopsie’ of a man – and Ernest Hemingway, saying that one need not be as he is in order to be a great writer and performer. Watts encourages us all to believe in the power of storytelling, ‘artsy fartsy’ type or not; we live in a dark world and stories allow us to imagine a better world and, hopefully, live towards it. 

Words are powerful, and they can change the world. Watts paraphrases G. K. Chesterton in making this point – fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist, but that they can be defeated. Boredom can be defeated too, as Watts defiantly and brilliantly proves. Forget what’s in the sale at Waterstones; Watts’ stories are what you should be reading – or, rather, listening to – this festival season.

Reviews by Catriona Scott

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The Blurb

Alex Watts – ‘original, dark, and at times horrendously funny’ (Stage), worked in bookshops for years. This left him broken, embittered and incurably addicted to books, stories and words. Come to see him tell his own strange and dreadful stories, from the extremely short, to the really unbelievably brief. Where did Shakespeare go when he died? Why did that horse walk into pub? Where does punctuation come from, and is yours free range? Angry, inventive, and with at least one genuine attempt to bring about total world peace, 25 Stories was written just for you.