Sue Townsend and Austin Mitchell start novel on Net

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JOHN UPDIKE led the way with the first interactive novel published on the Internet last year and now the fishing port of Grimsby is set to follow in his footsteps.

The beginning of a novel will appear on the Net on Monday and will be written by relay over the next month. The opening paragraphs were written by the playwright Trevor Griffiths before being passed on to several celebrity authors, including Sue Townsend and the town's MP, Austin Mitchell.

Future Perfect, The Office Years, was launched by the Grimsby Evening Telegraph and will form part of the North East Lincolnshire annual literature festival. From Mon- day anyone who feels inspired can submit 150 words and the best entry will be added at midday each day until 14 March.

Mr Griffiths, who wrote the screenplay for the film Reds, was given carte blanche to begin the story however he wanted and the result is a science fiction tale set somewhere in the future. It begins: "From the bottom of the valley, you could see what the locals meant. God's Armchair, they called it. The 300ft limestone stand shimmered in the January heat. Just the place for a God to park his arse after a hard night's work."

The body of a young woman which had been frozen to the bottom of a river-bed is found after the thaw following the ice storms of '41 - the reader is not told which century. The only clue is that the body was wearing a pair of earrings depicting a photograph of twins.

Each author added the required 150 words to take the story on, apart from Austin Mitchell, who was so carried away by literary inspiration that he wrote 500 before reluctantly handing over to his wife, Linda McDougall.

She revealed that the photographs on the earrings show the twin daughters of King William of Europe, Princesses Diana and Elizabeth. However, further inquiries found that every female European citizen was given a pair of these earrings on William's accession.

Ms McDougall said she wanted to leave the plot wide open for the next person. "I thought that by making sure that every woman had the earrings the next person will be able to discard that if they don't like it or use it as a clue and develop that theme."

Mr Griffiths said he was so taken with the idea of writing an open- ended story on the Internet that he is considering setting up another one. "You do feel that the story is yours, but I am happy with the way the others have taken it," he said.

Budding authors can find details of how to enter at