Ballooning and blossoming

What became of an idea around storytelling.
A tale that is both digital and physical.
One Hundred Balloons, the second coming…


Back in 2012, I was pretty unhappy. I’d left a job in advertising I was becoming disillusioned with anyway, but a shift to something new hadn’t worked out and I felt stuck. I was on a freelance rollercoaster of pitching and more pitching. Life didn’t feel like it was worth getting close to and the weekends were spent sleeping and catching up on news from my wife and daughter.

So I did what I’ve always done when I feel like I’m stuck: I kicked off a project, threw out some words about it on Twitter and bought 100 red balloons from Amazon, along with a domain name and somewhere to host a website that, at the time, didn’t exist.

A month went by. Nothing happened. I’d shifted the idea around so many times I’d almost forgotten why I was doing it. As 2013 approached, I had things nailed. I set about writing 100 episodes of a connected story. And for three months it all worked well.

Then I hit a block. Some things I wanted to do didn’t happen; help promised didn’t materialise. Work got busier. It snowed and was bitterly cold for months on end. Then it rained.

In that time I wrote the entire story, all 100 episodes and set out each weekend to place balloons in specific places in London. I asked strangers to write notes connected to characters; I created numerous artefacts, fake emails, handwritten notes, Tumblrs, and Google Plus pages. Yet no one was really engaging. I felt like I’d failed. But I continued to put out 100 balloons around London, UK, each filled with those ‘artefacts’ that led people to the main story about a young man called Stephen Cauldwell, who was searching for the father who had abandoned him and his family some 21 years earlier.

I found the whole thing hard work, but I completed it. Overall, it’s not going to win any literary awards, but I finished it.

Fast forward to September 2014 and I was approached about the ‘balloon project’. Someone had stumbled upon it and liked it. Would I be interested in doing another stint? I said yes.

This time, though, I was going to make life a little easier on myself. I still wanted to do a physical interpretation of the digital story. I still wanted to use balloons. And so, I set about writing 100 short stories around the theme of strangers — some explicitly about meeting new people, some about the dark side of strangers, some linked in some way but opaque and uncomfortable. Some cheery, some not so.
I had a lot of fun writing them.


Then I printed them out, one-by-one, on the Little Printer (which at the time of writing is scheduled to be switched off at the end of June 2015). I then spent an afternoon proofing them, numbering them and rolling them up before storing them in a box.

All these mini-scrolls contains a story.
Each one will be tied with a red ribbon and placed inside a balloon.
Each of these balloons will be mailed out to someone, somewhere out there in the world.
They will be sent from a stranger and received by strangers.

What happens to them after that?
Well, that will have to wait.


The reason I’m waiting is because this project has every possibility of being sponsored, of having a bigger audience and perhaps even some budget to make it more than I could make it on my own.

All there is now a new website: One Hundred Balloons

The old website still exists. I’ve linked to it from the new one. There, you can read the original story of Stephen Cauldwell. Many of the images on the Google Map don’t work. I never got around to updating the map, although all the balloons got left in places around London. They drove the odd spike in the analytics.

And if the sponsorship doesn’t come through, I’ll be doing a cutdown version. They’ll still get sent out, all over the world. I’ll cover the cost of that. But the finale that could happen probably won’t happen, because it needs resource and funds and effort that I just can’t give it right now. I want to enjoy this second coming of 100 Balloons. I want others to enjoy it, too.

Keep an eye out for the ability to get your name on the list. There are 100 stories, one of which may end up in your hands.

To be continued…

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