Still Life Workshop Anthology

Living through the Covid-19 pandemic posed a particular problem for the writers of fiction, namely how to create work in a world which seemed to have risen ready made from the genre of dystopian fiction. Meeting in groups on Zoom broadened the scope of our workshops in so many ways but it also added an unreal element. For a time we were all characters in a fiction of someone else’s making. So how to react to such a life changing situation?

Some of the workshop writers avoided the subject like the plague while others grasped it by the throat. You’ll find it here in all its shades and variations. 26 writers, artists and photographers reacting in their own unique way to the threat of the unseen, the unknown. Available to buy on Amazon

“I was very familiar with Zoom but Roddy’s workshops really make the most of the format. Close reading other writer’s work onscreen is a relevation and I love watchinhg videos of poets and plays. But one of the best things about the workshop is Roddy’s  help with homework. Its like a magic wand has been waved over it.” Margaret Cooper  –  Zoom workshop writer.

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In this section we share a selection of our writers’ weekly homework pieces and timed exercises. Homework is normally 500 – 750 words maximum, the timed exercises are completed in the workshop within 20 minutes.

NOVEMBER

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to end their piece with this line:

The eyes and faces all turned themselves towards me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room.

This is the last line of Sylvia Plath’s only novel, ‘The Bell Jar’  – which I’ve attached. The Bell Jar was first published in January 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas and later released posthumously under her real name. The work, a thinly veiled autobiography, chronicles a young woman’s mental breakdown and eventual recovery, while also exploring societal expectations of women in the 1950s. The Bell Jar closes just as the young woman Esther enters her exit interview at the psychiatric institution where she has spent the past few months recovering. Since the novel stops there, we can’t know for sure what happened in the interview, whether the doctors decided that Esther was ready to go back to college, or whether they decided that she needed more therapy.

This is an Unresolved ending – In unresolved endings the main conflicts are left unanswered, The reader is left to ponder the outcome. Cliffhanger endings also fall into this category.

In some ways, the final line of a story is even more important than the first one. It’s the last impression you’re going to make in your reader’s mind, and the final takeaway of the whole story. Hone in on what kind of emotions you’d like your reader to feel as they close the book, and ask yourself what kind of image or concluding thought would best convey that. See attached notes on crafting an ending.

For the homework I asked everyone to use this line anywhere in their piece:

A story can only end one of two ways: truthfully or artfully.

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The Ending by Maureen Marsh

Listen to Maureen’s piece

My Meat May Be Useful by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

A Short Walk and a Long Drop by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Tumbling Towards Lucifer by Stuart Finegan

Read Stuart’s piece

A Story Can  Only End…by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Rainy Day in Oxford by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

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AKWAEKE EMEZI

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this incomplete line and to consider writing two or three shorter pieces:

If this story was a stack of photographs – the old kind, rounded at the corners

“If this story was a stack of photographs—the old kind, rounded at the corners and kept in albums under the glass and lace doilies of center tables in parlors across the country—it would start with Vivek’s father, Chika. The first print would be of him riding a bus to the village to visit his mother,” writes Akwaeke Emezi at the start of their second novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, out now from Riverhead Books. 

In Akwaeke Emezi’s 2020 poetic mystery, ‘The Death of Vivek Oji’ a community mourns a young person whose life contained multitudes. In a small Nigerian town, the body of a young man turns up on the doorstep of his family’s home. How did he die? Who was he while he was alive? How will he be remembered? Emezi has an incredible talent for moving fluidly through time, often using characters’ memories as triggers for cascading flashbacks, nesting dolls of memory, and in alternating chapters. We’re given pieces of the puzzle that was Vivek, but never too much at once … Vivek’s friends make him feel whole, but the novel’s greatest strength lies in creating a community of fully realized people, each touched in some profound way by Vivek’s existence.

For the homework I asked everyone to use this line from the novel anywhere in their piece:

Panic was a vulture inside my body, trying to get out, pecking and flapping wildly at me.

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Liberation Day by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Night Journey by Stuart Finegan

Read Stuart’s piece

I Didn’t Recognise Him by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

I was Good at Murder by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Panic by Rosalyn St Pierre

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Don’t Panic by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Storm in a Teacup by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

The Biege Planet on the Edge of the Galaxy by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Pictures – a timed exercise by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

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THE TRUTH

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with one word:

Running.

This is the opening word of American thriller writer Jeffery Deaver’s short story ‘The Debriefing’:

Running. 

The air broiling up from the desert was easily 120 degrees. His body screamed for water but water would have to wait. Running. 
As a gunshot cracked, fifty yards ahead of him, Tony Wright dropped. Ridiculous. If he heard the sound the bullet was well past him. It was true; you never heard the shot that killed you. That was the story. He had no objective proof. 

Even this extract is a mini-masterclass on how to create and build suspense, how to add detail and unexpected flavour while sustaining the momentum of action.

A former journalist, folksinger and attorney, Deaver’s novels have appeared on bestseller lists around the world. His 35 books are sold in 150 countries and have been translated into over twenty-five languages. He has sold 50 million books worldwide.

Deaver’s ideal short story…

‘The boy’s down the well. Cut to: Lassie running through the fields frantically. Cut back to: Timmy’s about to drown. But then a paw reaches over the edge. 
The kid grabs it and is pulled out of the freezing water. Cut to: Lassie, a mile away, still chasing the squirrel she’s been after for ten minutes. 
Back to: Timmy, outside the well, standing in front of the large wolf who just plucked him to safety and who’s eyeing his main course hungrily.’

For the homework I asked everyone to use this line from Deaver’s novel The Bone Collector anywhere in their piece:

But then someday the truth would come out. It always did.

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Twenty Years Is Not Enough by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Bria and Bob by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Loaded Mind by Stuart Finegan

Read Stuart’s piece

Art of Deception by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

I Should Say No by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Truth by Rosalyn St Pierre

Read Rosalyn’s piece

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THE GO-BETWEEN

For this week’s timed exercise I gave everyone this statement.

Somebody Wants Something.

This is how you get readers to care about a character. If we know what a character wants we get involved, we don’t have to like them, we don’t have to like what they want but just reading those three words, ‘Somebody Wants Something’ we automatically think ‘What’s Going To Happen?’

We discussed the Six Essential Questions For Writing:

  1. Who is it about?
  2. What do they want?
  3. Why can’t they get it?
  4. What can they do about it?
  5. Why doesn’t that work?
  6. How does it end?
We also discussed the difference between what a character wants and what they need.

Every character in every story wants and needs something. LP Hartley’s 1953 classic The Go-Between is driven by characters wants and needs. The Go-Between gives a critical view of society at the end of the Victorian era through the eyes of a naïve schoolboy outsider and of course it has a famous oft quoted opening line:

‘The past is another country, they do things differently there’.

For the homework I asked everyone to use the title:

The Go-Between

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The Go-Between by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The Go-Between by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

The Go-Between by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

If Only You Knew by Stuart Finegan

Read Stuart’s piece

The Moon Cast Smile by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

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OCTOBER

START WITH THE END

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

There are two bodies on the floor and one of them is mine.

In this exercise you opened your piece with the ending. Many novels, plays, TV programmes and films open this way. It immediately creates mystery and of course raises our suspicion that this may not be the actual ending, perhaps its just a version of it, or there is another more conclusive ending beyond it. Either way it turns the reader into a detective.

This is an interesting way to engage with a story, because you know the ending, but do you know how it came be? The story still has a chance to slowly reveal to you why this thing happened, or who’s responsible. The author can deliberately leave details out that the narrative fills in as you rewind the clock until it all makes sense.

I read the opening Donna Tartt’s first novel The Secret History published in 1992 which starts with the ending and the opening of The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien.

The Secret History is an inverted detective story narrated by one of the six students, Richard Papen, who reflects years later upon the situation that led to the murder of their friend Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran.  The novel explores the circumstances and lasting effects of Bunny’s death on the academically and socially isolated group of classics students of which he was a part.
For the homework I asked everyone to open their piece with the ending.

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Richard by Maureen Marsh

Listen to Maureen’s piece

If Only… by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Go Margie, Go by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

HMO by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Not What I Wanted At All by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

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THE ART OF LOSING

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to write about something that has been lost.

‘Loss’ has been a recurring theme in literature for centuries, from early poets and playwrights like Shakespeare who portrays loss in many of his tragedies including the loss of sanity in ‘King Lear’ and the loss of reputation in ‘Othello’, through to Keats’s ‘Odes’ and into the twentieth and twenty-first century. Loss is an important aspect of life and many modern writers poets find it to be an interesting theme to deal with in their work.

I read Elizabeth Bishop’s classic poem ‘One Art’ Read it here…

I also read John Murillo’s Variations on a Theme by Elizabeth Bishop, Read it here…

Elizabeth Bishop (1911 – 1979) was recognized with numerous awards during the course of her career, including the Pulitzer Prize. Not a particularly prolific writer, Bishop published only 101 poems during her lifetime. As a poet, Bishop took great care to rewrite and revise her work. She didn’t give the reader much of a glimpse into her own life, but instead, her poems contained intimate observations of the physical world. She often expressed themes of loss and the struggle to find one’s place in the world in a universal rather than personal way.

In his 2015 book, On Elizabeth Bishop, Irish author Colm Tóibín introduced her work: “Writing, for Elizabeth Bishop, was not self-expression, but there was a self somewhere, and it was insistent in its presence yet tactful and watchful. Bishops writing bore the marks, many of them deliberate, of much re-writing, of things that had been said, but had now been erased, or moved into the shadows.

For the homework I asked everyone to use the opening line of ‘One Art’ anywhere in their piece:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

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The Garden by Maureen Marsh

Listen to Maureen’s piece

The Art of Losing by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Gain & Loss by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The Heartening Cry of the Banshee by Stuart Finegan

Read Stuart’s piece

The Art of Losing by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Sister Defeated by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

The FTSE by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Where Has it all Gone? by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

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IAN MCEWAN

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to use this line anywhere in their piece:

This was insomniac memory, not a dream.

This is the opening line of Ian Mcewan’s new novel, ‘Lessons’.

In Ian McEwan’s expansive new novel, a man assesses his life’s trajectory from childhood to old age, focusing especially on what he considers his wrong turns and disappointments. Set against the backdrop of 70 years of major global events, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, Chernobyl, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Covid pandemic,  Lessons displays both breadth and depth. It ranks among McEwan’s best work, including Atonement.

Roland Blaine, the novel’s effete protagonist, feels he never lived up to his potential — careerwise or otherwise — beginning with his dismal academic performance. We eventually learn why. Intent on self-improvement, Roland strives to make up for his aborted formal education with an ambitious self-directed reading course, but he still rues his inability to cobble together more than a subsistence living with watered-down versions of his talents — playing piano in a cocktail lounge instead of a concert hall, teaching tennis instead of competing in it, writing greeting cards instead of great poems.

When Roland’s wife vanishes, leaving him alone with his tiny son, Roland is forced to confront the reality of his restless existence. As the radiation from Chernobyl spreads across Europe, he begins a search for answers that looks deep into his family history and will last for the rest of his life.

I asked everyone to use this title for the homework:

The Lesson

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The Lesson For Today by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The Lesson by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

The Lesson by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The Lesson by Stuart Finegan

Read Stuart’s piece

The Lesson by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

The Lesson by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

The Scab Never Properly Picked by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

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HILARY MANTEL

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

The story of my childhood is a complicated  sentence that I am always trying to finish.

This is a quote from Hilary Mantel’s 2003 memoir ‘Giving up the Ghost.

Celebrated for her Wolf Hall trilogy, Mantel had written nine previous novels, including A Place of Greater Safety (1992), about the French Revolution; Beyond Black (2005), a characteristically dark and idiosyncratic tale of a medium in Aldershot; a memoir, Giving up the Ghost (2003); and three collections of short stories. Although she received good reviews, her sales were modest and none of her novels had even been longlisted for the Booker.

“I felt very much like a niche product, very much a minority interest,” she said in an interview with the Guardian in 2020. But it was only with Cromwell and her decision “to march on to the middle ground of English history and plant a flag”, as she put it, that she found a huge readership. It was the novel she had been waiting all her career to write.

“If you get stuck,” she said, “get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ?music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”

I read an excerpt from her 2011 hospital diary ‘Ink in the Blood’ which I’ve attached. Ink in the Blood, Mantel’s short memoir of undergoing an operation this summer, began as a diary for the London Review of Books. It is a magnificent fusion of vivid linguistic precision and half-morbid, half-ironic fascination with decay and death. One night in her dreams, she notes, she met the devil: “He is 32, 34, that sort of age, presentable, with curly hair and he wears a lambswool V-neck with a T-shirt underneath. We exchange heated words and he raises a swarm of biting flies; I wake, clawing at my skin.”

For the homework I asked everyone to use another quote from Giving up the Ghost anywhere in their piece.

It was just that I was unsuited to being a child.

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SEPTEMBER

PERSONIFICATION

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

I started early, took my dog.

This is the opening line of a poem by Emily Dickinson in which she uses personification to great effect. In this poem she personifies the sea as a man. Emily Dickinson had never seen the sea. Personification functions as a means of creating imagery and connections between the animate and inanimate for readers. Therefore, personification allows writers to convey meaning in a creative and poetic way. These figures of speech enhance a reader’s understanding of concepts and comparisons, interpretations of symbols and themes, and enjoyment of language.
 

For the homework I asked everyone to use the same opening line and to use personification in their piece.

I started early, took the dog.

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SUBTEXT

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to use these lines of dialogue anywhere in their piece:

What’s wrong?

Nothing.

This was an exercise in subtext. Like a puzzle, subtext puts the reader’s brain to work, piecing together clues to arrive at the emotional truth of the scene.

It makes the story more engaging and more memorable for the reader because the truth of a scene lies not in the words, but in the crux between word and action.Using subtext is a great way to communicate underlying emotion that a character doesn’t directly voice. In real life and in fiction, communication often involves subtext, its the meaning beneath the dialogue; what the speaker really means, even though they’re not saying it directly. Subtext involves hidden feelings – anger, love, mistrust – all the emotions characters don’t dare admit aloud. It can add sizzle to drab dialogue and make the speakers sound like real people.

I read from Steinbeck’s 1961 novel The Winter of our Discontent. The novel is an acute study in alienation and miscommunication, and this exchange exemplifies the ways in which characters can fail to communicate, even when they’re speaking. The pair speaking here are trapped in a dysfunctional marriage which leaves Ethan feeling isolated, and part of the loneliness he feels comes from the accumulation of exchanges such as this one. Whenever he tries to communicate meaningfully with his wife, she shuts the conversation down with a complete non sequitur.

For the homework I asked everyone to use these lines of dialogue from the novel in their piece and to consider the subtext.

“You’re trying to tell me something.”

 “Sadly enough, I am. And it sounds in my ears like an apology. I hope it is not.”

 “I’m going to set out lunch.”

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Someone at the Door by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Dinner Guests by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

The Hidden Truth by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Roma Leaves Conyer by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

I Divorce Thee by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

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GUILT

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to use this line anywhere in their piece:

I have a little evil side. I just keep it well hidden.

This is a quote from Patricia Highsmith 1957 novel ‘Deep Water’. Vic and Melinda Van Allen are a couple in the small town of Little Wesley. Their loveless marriage is held together only by a precarious arrangement whereby, in order to avoid the messiness of divorce, Melinda is allowed to take any number of lovers as long as she does not desert her family. Highsmith insinuates us into the point of view of the killer and implicates us in his actions. We are right in there with long-suffering, cuckolded Vic. His move into violence is so seamless, so much of a piece with what has gone before, that when he holds his wife’s lover under the water and keeps him there, it seems the reasonable thing to do. Guilty Vic. Guilty us.

The key element in all fiction is conflict, and guilt is a battlefield. Inherent to its intractable nature is the struggle to hide, to overcome, to expiate.

I asked everyone to use this quote from Patricia Highsmith in their piece and to use the theme of guilt:

Honesty, for me, is usually the worst policy imaginable.

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THE OPENER

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

When Ella Brady was six she went to Quentins. It was the first time anyone had called her Madam.

This is the opening line of Maeve Binchy’s 2002 novel ‘Quentins’.  Quentins is regarded as a posh, pricy restaurant; the kind of place you go to celebrate and impress. There are many tales to tell, and Ella Brady has plans to do just that but when she begins to delve into the lives of those connected and something momentous happens to herself, she wonders about the wisdom of it all.

Whether you’re pitching to an agent, a publisher, or direct to the reader, your opening lines form the basis for how they’ll judge the rest of your story. You have about a sixty-second window of influence before that initial judgment solidifies. It follows that this is a good place to invest your time and effort.

I read from the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The Kite Runner, tells the extraordinary story of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy Afghan boy, named Amir, and Hassan, the son of his father’s servant — who he later finds out, after Hassan’s death, has always been his half-brother.

For the homework I asked everyone to open their piece with the first line of the novel:

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.

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Marriage & Elephants by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Remember a Time, Fail to Recall by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Leaving by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Finsbury Park by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Brothers by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Freya by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

At the Hairdressers by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

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THE NEIGHBOUR

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

Old Dudley folded into the chair he was gradually moulding to his own shape and looked out the window fifteen feet away into another window framed by blackened red brick.

This is the opening line of Flannery O’Connor’s classic story ‘The Geranium’.  In this story Dudley, an old, Southern man moves to New York City to live with his daughter and sits at the window looking into the apartment across the street where a potted geranium is set out on the ledge for sunlight every day. Although the story’s conflict involves the man’s racism and culture shock as a rural Southerner living in a big city, the story’s climax comes to a head when the geranium falls off the ledge and crashes six floors down into the alley.

Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925 O’Connor died at the age of thirty-nine at the height of her powers. O’Connor wrote two novels, and two short story collections. She was known for her dark, funny stories about misfits, outsiders and the types of offbeat characters she encountered while living in the American South. O’Connor herself could be considered a sort of outsider. Plagued by symptoms of lupus in the latter part of her life and mostly bound to the farm where she lived with her mother and many peacocks, she often wrote about themes of isolation and created characters driven by desires to connect with each other, society at large, or with God.

For the homework I asked everyone to write a story in which a character becomes obsessed with a neighbour’s life.

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AUGUST 2022

THE CONFESSION

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

The confessional booth felt like every other confessional booth I’d ever been in.

This is the opening line of ‘Forgive Me’ by Isaac Fitzgerald. The essay appears in his new collection Dirtbag, Massachusetts: A Confessional (Bloomsbury, 2022), in which he recounts the experience of confessing his sins to a priest when he was twelve at a church in Boston. In the passage, Fitzgerald both describes the physicality of the experience—the breath of the priest filling the confessional, hearing his disembodied voice—and maintains the intimacy of the first-person perspective, making the memory itself read like a confession.
We discussed the potential of using a confession as an inciting incident and we watched the trailer for the 1953 Hitchcock classic I Confess starring Montgomery Clift.  The film is based on a 1902 French play by Paul Anthelme titled Nos deux consciences (Our Two Consciences), which Hitchcock saw in the 1930s.

For the homework I asked everyone to use a confession as an inciting incident.

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CHARACTER BUILDING

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to write a piece featuring this character:

They have never travelled in a hot air balloon.  The only chocolate they will eat is imported from Mozambique.

They have a birthmark on their right shoulder that looks like a tattoo of a horse’s head.
They are not allergic to oysters.

They don’t like escalators and will never use one.  In certain company they will cover their mouth when they laugh.

They never drink coffee or tea, just purified hot water.  Like Victor Hugo they write standing up.

They wear sunglasses as often as possible including in shops and on trains and planes. They don’t have a mobile phone.

This was an exercise in character building. We tend to think of creating stories, when we should be creating characters first. When we compose music, the instruments are the pre-existing characters. When you are creating a character it’s the detail that matters. Plot, even in detective fiction, is a secondary matter. Strong characters are at the heart of all great literature and always will be. Not many readers could outline the plot of The Sign of the Four but no one has any difficulty bringing Holmes and Watson to mind. A writer who creates thrilling, troubling, seductive, insistent characters need not worry too much about any other aspect of writing. Fortunately, the raw material is close to hand. For every writer, it is their own enigmatic being that constitutes the focus of his research.

For the homework I asked everyone to create their own list of character details, 5 or 6 would do, and then write a piece featuring the character they created.

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Loner by Maureen Marsh

Read Maureen’s piece

Water’s Edge by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

The Unknown Pupil by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Character Study by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

A Different Margie by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

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AUGUST 2022

FUTURE TENSE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

You don’t know who I’m talking about but she will be blonde.

This was an exercise in writing in the Future Tense. You are often writing in the future tense when referring to an action or event at a time in the future. Thrillers and mysteries would be inert without the Future Tense. In everyday conversation you are planning meetings or events in the Future Tense – ‘I’ll see tomorrow at 11.30am’. It is a tense that comes naturally. Italo Calvino opens his classic work ‘If on a Night a Traveller’ – You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler’ in the Future Tense. The timed exercise line I gave you came from ‘Wait’ a short story by Orla Sherry which is set entirely in the Future Tense.

Technically there is no Future Tense in English because there are no verb modifications for simple future tenses and future progressive forms, but in the future when you’re writing your next piece I wouldn’t let that bother you.
For the homework I asked everyone to use this line from ‘Wait’ anywhere in their piece and to consider using the Future Tense where appropriate:

Express feelings you don’t yet feel, make promises you’re not sure you can keep.

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AUGUST 2022

THE DIARY

For this week’s timed exercise I showed this photo of a pencil being broken and asked everyone to write about it from the POV of the pencil.

This was an exercise in writing emotion.

Chekhov told a group of writing students that it was possible for a writer to create reader empathy for anything. The students laughed, however they gasped and were horrified when Chekhov picked up a new pencil and snapped it in half. “What a shame!” they shouted. “Exactly,” said Chekhov.

Developing that idea it is possible for a writer to imbue any character or object with emotion. One of the most powerful writing skills a writer can have is the ability to tease emotions out of the reader. Many readers turn to novels to be transported to a world of intense emotion, whether it’s the grief of a loved one’s passing or the euphoria of falling in love for the first time.
 

For the homework I asked everyone to use this quote from Chekhov in their piece and to try and convey your character’s emotion:

Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.

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Mel and Zip by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Midden by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Busker at the Bonnard by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

Unwanted Visitor by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Broken by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Time Out by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Splintered – a timed exercise by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

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JULY 2022

THE DIARY

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to use this opening line:

We settle down in our new home, and I resolve to keep a diary.

This was a Character Development exercise.

Writing a diary or a journal for a protagonist is an excellent way of getting to know them, even if you never use it in your story or novel it will plant seeds that will grow in an interesting ways.

This is the opening line of a celebrated fictional journal, The Diary of a Nobody George and Weedon Grossmith, with illustrations by the latter. It originated as an intermittent serial in Punch magazine in 1888–89 and first appeared in book form, with extended text and added illustrations, in 1892. The Diary records the daily events in the lives of a London clerk, Charles Pooter, his wife Carrie, his son William Lupin, and numerous friends and acquaintances over a period of 15 months. See attached.

“My dear wife Carrie and I have just been a week in our new house, “The Laurels,” Brickfield Terrace, Holloway—a nice six-roomed residence, not counting basement, with a front breakfast-parlour. We have a little front garden; and there is a flight of ten steps up to the front door, which, by-the-by, we keep locked with the chain up. Cummings, Gowing, and our other intimate friends always come to the little side entrance, which saves the servant the trouble of going up to the front door, thereby taking her from her work. We have a nice little back garden which runs down to the railway. We were rather afraid of the noise of the trains at first, but the landlord said we should not notice them after a bit, and took £2 off the rent. He was certainly right; and beyond the cracking of the garden wall at the bottom, we have suffered no inconvenience. 

For the homework I asked everyone to use the title The Diary of a Nobody.

………………………………………………………………………………………

The Diary of a Nobody by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Diary of a Nobody by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Sizzling by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

The Diary of a Nobody Really by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The Diary of a Nobody by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The Diary of a Nobody by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Yellow Diary – a timed exercise by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Eye of the Beholder – a timed exercise by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

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THE INCITING OBJECT

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to write about this image of torn yellow wallpaper.

This was an exercise in using an inciting object, which is a variation of an inciting incident – the spark that sets your story on fire.

The apple in the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, The Holy Grail, The Ring of the Nibelung and Tolkien, Proust’s madeleine and of course the yellow wallpaper in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic 1892 short story are all inciting objects.

I read and discussed Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wall Paper In one sense it’s a gothic horror story, but in another it is a fictionalised account of Gilman’s breakdown during postnatal depression. Confined by her doctor husband as a cure for her melancholy  the narrator descends into madness because of her wallpaper’s design and sickly colour. The story first appeared in the New England monthly magazine and slowly vanished because it was considered too disturbing for public taste. 

H. P. Lovecraft writes in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927) that “The Yellow Wall Paper’ rises to a classic level in subtly delineating the madness which crawls over a woman dwelling in the hideously papered room where a madwoman was once confined”.

Gilman probably knew that yellow and green wallpaper had been coloured for many years using highly toxic arsenic trichloride.

For the homework I asked everyone to use this line from The Yellow Wall Paper and to create their own inciting object:

There is something strange about the house – I can feel it.

………………………………………………………………………………………

In This House by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

House Agent by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Going For a Swim by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

One Final Nail In The Coffin by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

The House with the Beautiful Garden – a timed exercise by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

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AN INSPECTOR CALLS

For this week’s exercise I gave everyone this line and asked them to write 3 or 4 short responses.

What do you know about the girl in this photograph?

This was an exercise in character point of view, which can be different from narrative pov.

In her book The Writing of Fiction, Edith Wharton tells us, ‘It is clear that exactly the same thing never happens to any two people, and that each witness of a given incident will report it differently.’

JB Preistley brilliantly exploits this in his 1945 masterpiece, An Inspector Calls.

The play is a three-act drama which takes place on a single night in April 1912, focusing on the prosperous upper middle-class Birling family, who live in a comfortable home in the fictional town of Brumley, The family is visited by an Inspector Goole, who questions the family about the suicide of a young working-class woman in her mid-twenties.  He shows each member of the family a photograph of the girl, however they may all have been shown different girls.

The play was first performed in 1945 in two Russian theatres (Moscow’s Kamerny Theatre and Leningrad’s Comedy Theatre), as a suitable British venue could not be found. Priestley had written the play in a single week and all Britain’s theatres had already been booked for the season.

For the homework I asked everyone to use this line from the play anywhere in your piece:

I’ve got to cover this up as soon as I can.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

Eclipsed by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

I’ve Got To Cover This Up by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Oh Dear! by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Ursula Smallwell by MaryPat Campbell

Read Marypat’s piece

Guilt Will Find You In The End by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

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HISTORICAL SETTING

For this week’s timed exercise I played a film clip of New York from 1911 and asked everyone to write about it.

This was an exercise in using Historical Setting.

There are some moments in history that continue to pull people in. When you set out to chronicle the imagined inner lives of real people —or the imaginary people of real times and places—it’s an attempt to see through the veil of time. Historical fiction is a genre of writing that seeks to do this by creating imagined stories or characters within real historical contexts. Historical fiction writers are like writers of any other genre: Their craft its all a matter of hard work, a blend of both detective work and empathy. Reading work from the period you’d like to write in is an easy and effective way into a particular timeframe.

As an example I read from Edith Wharton’s 1905 novel, The House of Mirth which is set in New York High Society during the 1900’s.

For the homework I asked everyone to consider writing in a historical setting using this line from the novel anywhere in their piece:

I’ve been about too long—people are getting tired of me.

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Now You See Them, Now You Don’t by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

Maxima by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Bad Times by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The Captive by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

The Catalogue of Death by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

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JUNE 2022

THE INCITING INCIDENT

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

My name is Helen Stoner, and I am living with my stepfather.

This is a quote from the 1892 Sherlock Holmes short story ‘The Adventure of The Speckled Band’. The arrival of the frightened and haggard Miss Helen Stoner at Sherlock Holmes’s flat, telling the story of her sister’s mysterious death, and her own fear of being murdered, is the story’s inciting incident.

The inciting incident is an event that occurs, in relation to your protagonist, near to the beginning of your story, which sets that story moving in a different direction.

The word ‘inciting’ is well used because the event, which occurs incites your protagonist towards a new course of action. But note, it causes them to react. It does not necessarily cause them to act at this point, that may come later.

For their homework I asked everyone  to use one of the following Sherlock Holmes titles and create your own inciting incident.

The Cardboard Box    The Musgrave Ritual    The Reigate Puzzle    The Resident Patient     The Dancing Men      The Solitary Cyclist    The Three Students    The Red Circle

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FIRST PERSON PLURAL

For this week’s timed exercise I everyone you to open their piece with this line:

Several of us on the boat had secrets.

This was a quote from Julie Otsuka’s 2011 novel, The Buddha in the Attic which tells the story of Japanese mail-order brides coming to interbellum America.

It was an exercise in using the first person plural. In early Greek drama, the chorus stood together near the orchestra, and commented on the main action above. They delivered their lines in unison, sometimes in half-chorus, or sometimes in call-and-response. Since then, first-person plural narration has continued to open interesting possibilities for writers. Just to be clear We, us, our and ourselves are all plural first-person pronouns.

I read from The Buddha in the Attic and asked everyone to open your homework with this line from the novel and to consider using the first person plural.

Overnight, our neighbours began to look at us differently.

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SENTENCE VARIATION

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone you to use this section of text anywhere their piece:

After a hundred yards or so I came to a dilapidated hut which looked like the remains of an old ticket booth. The shutter was down. The roof had rotted. A rabbit, its scut bright white in the dimness of the bushes, scrabbled out of sight. I went on. The path broadened out and swung to the right. And there was the house.

This was a quote from The Small Hand by Susan Hill and an exercise in Sentence Variation. 

An important component of the writing process is the need to vary your syntax and written rhythms to keep your reader engaged. Such variation includes word choice, tone, vocabulary, and—perhaps more than anything else—sentence structure.Although readers may not consciously realize it, they look for sentence variety when they delve into a book, news story, or magazine article. One of the best writing tips a new writer can receive is to embrace varied sentence structure—no matter your writing style. 

I asked everyone to use sentence variation in their homework and to open it with this line from The Small Hand.

Was there ever a June as glorious as that one?

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SURPRISE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to write about this image:

This was an exercise in Surprise.

As a writer, you can manufacture suspense by using surprise correctly. The formula — although you shouldn’t use anything formulaically in writing — is this:  to create a surprise, we have to set up a mystery. A good setup promises the audience that the mystery will be solved. Setting up a mystery with a good promise will create suspense. Suspense turns pages.

To keep your readers on the edge of their seats, you need to integrate surprises that lead slowly, inexorably and with deadly calm, to suspense. In order to do so, you need to understand what makes a surprise effective.

For the homework I asked everyone to use this line from Sarah Water’s novel Fingersmith and to use the element of surprise in their piece:

Everybody in my world knew that regular work was only another name for being robbed and dying of boredom.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

Solar Winds by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Ten Years in Hell by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

June Jamboree by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

The Line by Fran Duffield

Read Frans piece

A Most Unusual Angel by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

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CHARACTER DESCRIPTION

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to write about identical twins.
This was an exercise in Character Description. If you think about your favourite character in fiction, you probably have an immediate image that pops into your head. Though this image only exists in your imagination, it owes a lot to the way this character is described by the author. Populating a work of fiction with carefully described characters imbues a story with life.

Ideally, your main characters will be distinct enough to be memorable, but for all those minor characters who are emerging in your novel, it’s good practice to provide hints that will help the reader distinguish who each character is, so they can remember their various story arcs. This doesn’t have to be exhaustive; lead the reader with just enough to get them started and they can fill in the rest.

We looked at several examples of Character Description from literature. Here Dickens describes the boastful, self-important Mr. Bounderby in Hard Times:

‘He was a rich man: banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not. A big, loud man, with a stare, and a metallic laugh. A man made out of coarse material,  which seemed to have been stretched to make so much of him… A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his,  his old ignorance and his old poverty. A man who was the Bully of humility.’ 

I asked our writers to use this line from Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel ‘Everything is Illuminated’ anywhere in their homework:

He did not look like anything special at all.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

Ice Cream Cake by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

A Man in Desperate Need of a Gunner by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Pressganged by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Nobody by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Let it Go by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Act Three Court 3 by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Evil – a timed exercise by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

…………………………………………………………….

MAY 2022

MOOD

For this week’s timed exercise I asked you to open your piece with this line:

It was a little before nine o’clock, the sun was setting into a bank of smoky violet cloud and I had lost my way.

This is the opening line of The Small Hand, a 2010 novel by Susan Hill, the author of The Woman in Black.

On returning from a visit to a client, antiquarian book dealer Adam Snow takes a wrong turn and comes across a derelict Edwardian House. Overcome by curiosity he approaches the entrance and feels a small cold hand creeping into his own ‘as if a child had taken hold of it’. Over the coming weeks he becomes subject to nightmares and panic attacks and further visits from the small hand. He vows to learn more about the house and its overgrown garden.

This was an exercise in creating mood or atmosphere. Mood in literature is another word for the atmosphere or ambience of a piece of writing, be it a short story, novel, poem, or essay. The mood is the feeling that the writer is trying to evoke in their readers—feelings like calm, anxiety, joy, or anger. Short stories or poems often have only one or two moods, since there’s not a lot of space for writers to juggle multiple different moods. Novels have the space to deal in multiple moods, but even with several distinct moods in a novel, there’s usually an overarching feel to the book that readers can identify and remember afterward.

For the homework I asked everyone to use this line from The Woman in Black anywhere in your piece:

For a long time, I did not move from the dark, wood-panelled hall.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

Brain Freeze by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Bad Barry by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

Patches of Damp by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Judgement by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s poem

Degrees of Silence by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Cave of Wood by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Temple Bank by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Act Two Court 3 by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

The Final Interview by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

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WHITE ROOM SYMBOLISM

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to feature this empty white room in their piece:
 

This was an exercise in White Room Syndrome. Have you ever read a story where it’s all action and dialogue but you can’t quite picture where it’s all taking place? This is what is called White Room Syndrome. It happens when the author fails to give the reader enough setting for the scene. As a rule of thumb you should try to provide at least two or three setting details to anchor the scene.
 
In the opening paragraph of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde creates a world using predominantly smell:  ‘The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.’

We discussed The Picture of Dorian Gray, published as a novel in 1891 Publication of the novel scandalized Victorian England, and The Picture of Dorian Gray was used as evidence against Wilde when he was tried and convicted in 1895 on charges related to homosexuality. The novel became a classic of English literature and was adapted into a number of films.

For the homework I asked everyone to use these lines from the novel anywhere in their piece and to avoid White Room Syndrome:

I love acting. It is so much more real than life.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

The Eddo by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Successful Failure by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

Daniel by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Hecuba by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s poem

An Actor’s Life by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Theatre by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Student Strike by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Act One Court 3 by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Everyday Life by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

House Warming Gift – a timed exercise by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

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SYMBOLISM

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to make this conch shell significant in their piece.
 
 
 
The conch shell is an important symbol in William Golding’s classic 1961 novel The Lord of the Flies. At the first meeting, Ralph creates rules that mimic the civilized world the boys recently left. 

The conch is used not only to call meetings but also to establish order when the boys talk. Thus, the conch symbolizes civilization, adult rules, and the democratic process. As Ralph is the first to utilize the conch as a social tool, it also becomes a symbol of Ralph’s legitimacy as a leader.

 
I discussed the importance of symbolism in literature. Symbolism can elevate writing to a sensory experience. Symbols can give words double meanings, both literal and figurative and writers can say more with less. Symbolism can also be a sort of secret language between the writer and the reader. 
 
For the homework I asked our writers to use this line from The Lord of the Flies:
 

I’m frightened. Of us.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

New Adages on Life and Death by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s poem

Main Gates by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Nothing Ventured by Janie Reynolds

Listen to Janie’s piece

Our Song by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Out of Winter by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

Nurture by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Living the Dream by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

I’m Frightened by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

I’m Frightened by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Hidden in Plain Sight by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

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CLICHES

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to choose one of the following clichés and write about it literally.

Light as a feather      Between a rock and a hard place   Can’t cut the mustard      Cat got your tongue    Cost an arm and a leg      All ears     High as a kite   Lose your head     Make your blood boil    Pay through the nose       Raining cats and dogs     Reinvent the wheel     Bite the Bullet  

A cliché is a word, phrase, or – particularly in writing – an idea that has been overused to the point that it has lost its original meaning and become tired and predictable.

Everyone knows that a phrase like ‘the writing on the wall’ or ‘go the extra mile’ is a cliché, but plots, characters, dialogue and setting can also be clichéd. And each use of cliché risks detracting from the effectiveness of your writing. 

We discussed Jeffery Archer’s novel titles, which are mostly cliches or aphorisms which act as a form of foreshadowing or foreboding.

I asked everyone to choose one of the following Archer novels and use it as the title of their homework piece:

Hidden In Plain Sight     Be Careful What You Wish For     Only Time Will Tell    Nothing Ventured    Heads You Win    Best Kept Secret      The Sins Of The Father    Turn A Blind Eye  Mightier Than The Sword

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Be Careful What You With For by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

One of Us (part three) by Elaine Weddle

Read Elaine’s piece

Reunion by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

In Plain Sight by Martin Bourne

Read Martins piece

Turn a Blind Eye by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Being in Love by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Jack Speak by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

…………………………………………………………….

APRIL 2022

THIS WEDDING

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

I have never like it: The Spring.

I also asked for the narrator to be an animal.

This was an exercise in Anthropomorphism – check out Disney for examples.

The line came from ‘Grace Among The Ferns’ a poem by Analicia Sotelo – Read it here

The poem is inspired by Sotelo’s dog Grace, who nuzzles her body through ferns on a sunny day, and how she seems to effortlessly enjoy the pleasures of springtime.

“I wrote this poem by following one sentence after another in a rare, uncomplicated moment of appreciation for the most beautiful things in life. It was inspired by my dog, Gracie, who I love dearly and who has a proclivity for slamming her tiny body into my thigh while I watch shows or read a book. I’m interested right now in writing poems that aren’t weighed down by my desire to make them more significant than they are, and by the time I’m done, as with this poem,  the significance often shows up—having arrived without me. I like them better that way, independent and undetermined. Gracie approved this message.”

“…following one sentence after another,” you might assume that is how everyone writes, you just place one word in front of another, but Sotelo’s approach is an extremely free and natural way to write, unhindered by those sudden walls of consideration that seem to spring up before us. Better to address those questions and debates through the revision process.

I read Sotelo’s poem ‘Do You Speak Virgin’ – Read it here

The speaker in the poem is in both a position of authority (her friends smile up, figuring her as above them) and exposure (she has been put on display, is being watched by her sickle-wielding audience). There is a clear deadliness at play – the cacti for instance, the marriage ritual has been reimagined. The poem is composed of declarative sentences; most are uncomplicated syntactically, but all are freighted with meaning.

I asked everyone to open their homework with the first line from the poem:

This wedding is some hell.

……………………………………………………………………

Weddings by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece read by Mia Sundby

One of Us (part two) by Elaine Weddle

Read Elaine’s piece

Wedding by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Third Time Lucky by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Wedding Hells by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

This Wedding is Some Hell by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

On Seven Sisters by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

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SECOND PERSON
For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with these lines:

Good morning. You have not slept well.

These are the opening lines of ‘Leopard’ a 2008 short story by the American writer Wells Tower.
This was an exercise in writing in second-person.  Second-person point of view is one of the least commonly used narrative perspectives in creative writing.However, many authors have crafted masterful works of art using this technique. If you are looking for a new way to connect your readers with your characters, you might like to consider using the second-person perspective.
I read the opening of Sarah Waters’ 1998 novel Tipping The Velvet, which is written in second-person.
For the homework I asked our writers to use this quote from the novel anywhere in their piece:

Being in love, you know… it’s not like having a canary, in a cage. When you lose one sweetheart, you can’t just go out and get another to replace her.

………………………………………………………………………..

Canary by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Sweetheart by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

My Partner Who Lives Abroad by Lesley Dawson

Read Janie’s piece

Conspiracy in the Streets, Intestines on the Sheets by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Full of Promise by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Fabrication by Lou Beckerman

Read Sho’s piece

Good Morning – a timed exercise by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

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PSYCHIC DISTANCE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to use as many of these lines in their piece as they liked:

1. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3. Henry hated snowstorms.
4. God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul.

This was an exercise in Psychic or Narrative Distance. In his work, The Art of Fiction, John Gardner (1983) describes “psychic distance” or ‘narrative distance’ as the “distance that the reader feels between himself and the events of the story” (p.111).  In terms of point of view, larger psychic distance can present broad contexts or greater arcs that do not need to be as detailed, while closer psychic distance is useful to bring the reader closer to scenes where specific details are important to engage with the story.

As an example of varying psychic distance I read the opening of Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 novel The Corrections. I asked everyone to use this quote from The Corrections anywhere in their homework and to consciously vary the psychic distance in their piece.

Life, in her experience, had a kind of velvet lustre. You looked at yourself from one perspective and all you saw was weirdness. Move your head a little bit, though, and everything looked reasonably normal.

……………………………………………………………………

No Escape by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Shot Silk by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The Reader by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

The Salute by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

One of Us by Elaine Weddle

Read Elaine’s piece

Psychic Distance by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Lucinda by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Tilting by Grant McFarlane

Read Grant’s piece

Bloody Suspicious by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

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VERBING

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to use this word in their piece…

Medusad

This is an example of Verbing. Have you ever friended someone on Facebook? Friend is a noun. Adding an -ed to the end to turn it into a verb is called verbing or verbification.

Used sparingly, verbing or verbification can hoist a narrative into a whole new sphere. Succinct and to the point it can add immediacy, speed action, and add a visual dimension to your writing, making it tighter, more interesting and arresting. Adverbs are unnecessary, writing is less wordy. We lose the pedestrian. Rather than describe how a policeman uses his badge to clear a route through a crowd, now we see him badge his way through. It’s concise, descriptive and visual.

We discussed the Medusa myth and how like verbing its about change. The story appears in Book 4 of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. I also read Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Medusa which puts a contemporary spin on the story Read it here

I asked you to use the opening line of Duffy’s poem anywhere in your homework and to create at least one example of verbing.

A suspicion, a doubt, a jealousy grew in my mind.

……………………………………………………………………

Night by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

Harvest by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Straitjacketed by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

The Two Vladimirs by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Kit Muster by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Suspicion, a Doubt, Jealousy by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Sunbeams on a Sunny Day by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

…………………………………………………………….

ANASTROPHES

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to use at least one of these lines in your piece:

Patience I lack.    A roast is what we will have for dinner.    In the night sky shimmered the moon.  She stared into the dog’s eyes deep and menacing.   On a black cloak sparkle the stars.   Bright he was not.

These lines are Anastrophes which means “turning around” in Ancient Greek.

English language syntax usually follows a subject-verb-object order, so anastrophe inverts that order for effect. Anastrophe is the deliberate changing of normal word order for emphasis or another rhetorical effect. (A rhetorical effect is any effect that elicits a response from the reader, e.g., causes the reader to pause for thought.) Anastrophe is often used in poetry and in speeches to create a dramatic and rhythmic effect. 

For the homework I asked everyone to use one of the lines above from the timed exercise.
……………………………………………………………………

The Silence of Ears by Janie Reynolds

Listen to Janie’s piece

Relict by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

The Moon by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Bright He Was Not by Paul Hunter

Listen to Paul’s piece

Midway by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

The Value of Friendship by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

I Lived Only For The Moment by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

…………………………………………………………….

FILTER WORDS

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to use the following lines anywhere in their piece:

Lily heard rain patter against the concrete and felt it bead up on her face. She realised the street was starting to flood.

This was an exercise in ‘Filter Words’. For example here’s the sentence again with the filter words in bold:

Lily heard rain patter against the concrete and felt it bead up on her face. She realised the street was starting to flood.

An effective revision without the filter words would be something like this:

Rain pattered against the concrete and beaded up on Lily’s face. The street was starting to flood.

Filter words are verbs that veil or increase the narrative distance, reminding us that what we’re reading is being told by someone rather than experienced, or shown, through the eyes of the character. Examples include: noticed, seemed, spotted, saw, realised, felt, thought, wondered, believed, knew, decided. 

As an example of crisp, clean, dynamic writing I read the opening of Hans Fallada’s 1925 short story ‘The Wedding Ring’.

This is Fallada’s first published piece and is a very early example of a story set in the present tense. Fallada died in 1947 but even in the 1930’s his novels like ‘Little Man What Now? were being made into popular films. Alone in Berlin and Wolf Among Wolves are his best known works.

I asked our writers to use this line from Fallada’s novel The Drinker anywhere in your homework and to keep a sharp eye out for those filter words.

I had already forgotten all that had happened and all that lay ahead, I lived only for the moment.

……………………………………………………………………

Count The Breath by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s poem

What’s It All About by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Appeasement by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Cleopatra by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Heard by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

Arrival at Bedlam by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Devil’s Elbow by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

I Lived Only For The Moment by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Live Laugh Love by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

The Only Way to Survive by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

THE NIGHT WAS

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to open their piece with this line:

The night was...

The line came from the 1987 film Throw Momma From The Train starring Billy Crystal as a writer and creative writing tutor and Danny Devito as the student who lures him into a murder pact. The film is a brilliant black comedic replay of Patricia Highsmith’s novel Strangers on a Train.

We watched clips of the film showing Crystal’s character apparently battling with writer’s block as he tries to start a novel with the words: The night was. The main reason Crystal’s writer can’t get past the frist three words is that he’s telling rather than showing. Using the word ‘Was’ doesn’t actually tell us anything. It’s simply saying that something existed. In a way, it’s meaningless. Using “was” too often can make your writing sound weak. It makes it monotonous. But most importantly, it robs the passage of having strong verbs.

I read the opening of Annie Proulx’s short story ‘People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water’ from her 1999 collection Close Range. Proulx’s writing is always robust, confident and inspiring. Everything is brought to life for the reader by vivid ‘showing’.

For the homework I asked our writers to use this line from Annie Proulx’s award winning novel The Shipping News:

You know, one of the tragedies of real life is that there is no background music.

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Orchestration by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s poem

Rhythms of Life by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

You Know by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Whitechapel to Canterbury by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Early Days by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Soundtrack by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

The Night Was…a timed exercise by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

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UNLIKEABLE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to write about someone they knew who was unlikeable.

We then discussed the Elizabeth Strout’s character Olive Kitteredge. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition – its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

Focusing on making your characters, particularly your lead protagonists as likeable as possible is a common and understandable mistake. After all you want your readers to relate to your characters as much as possible. But if you simply make them ‘likeable’ then you’re in danger of rendering them bland and two-dimensional. We discussed famous unlikeable characters in literature that were nonetheless compelling, Heathcliff, Anna Karenina, Tom Ripley, Captain Ahab, Scrooge…

However, the compelling unlikable character exists in every medium – Joffrey Lannister (Game of Thrones), Javert (Les Miserables), Yvonne “Vee” Parker (Orange Is the New Black), the Narrator in Fight Club (or more broadly, possibly every character in every Palahniuk novel), Holden Caulfield, Jack Torrance … there’s no end to this list.

For the homework I asked everyone to use this line from Olive Kitteredge and to create a character that had some unlikeable traits.

She didn’t like to be alone. Even more, she didn’t like being with people.

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Soft Focus Fish by Ali Giles

Read Ali’s piece

The Accomplice by Elaine Weddle

Read Elaine’s piece

They Didn’t Discuss it by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

Prima Donna by Paul Hunter

Listen to Paul’s piece

A Lich WIthout a Cause by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

Running by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Facades by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

Grannie Goes Shopping by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Ursula by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Alone by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

The Support Group by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Biding His Time by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Being Alone by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

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THE LAST WORD

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use to end their piece with one word:

Silence.

If the beginning of a story draws the reader in and sets the stage for the drama about to unfold, the end must resolve that storyline and leave the reader satisfied with what happened to the characters. For this reason, learning how to end a piece is critical to your long-term success as a writer.

The elements of a good and satisfying ending include:

1. Resolution: An ending must always wrap up and resolve the central conflict you laid out in the beginning of the novel. A reader should walk away with a feeling that the story is complete.
2. Transformation: A story’s ending should bring a powerful close to your character development. The main character has learned valuable lessons along the way and the ending should illustrate their transformation.
3. Suspense: A story’s ending is intensified when there’s a moment when the main character might not succeed. That last-minute tension makes the ending more satisfying when the main character overcomes their obstacles.
4. Surprise: Readers follow a character’s story to be entertained. Satisfying endings have an element of surprise. Predictable endings will make a great story fall flat.

The title for the homework was…

The Last Word

 
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The Last Word – an Ode to Bernadette by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Last Words by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

That Last Word by Martin Bourne

Listen to Martin’s piece

The Last Word by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

The Last Word by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Who Has The Last Word? by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

The Last Word by Elaine Weddle

Read Elaine’s piece

The Last Word by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

The Last Word by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Last Word by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

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SOMETHING OVERHEARD

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use this dialogue scene anywhere in their piece:

“So what did you make of that?”?

“Oh I loved it. Of course my husband used to be French.”

This was real dialogue I overheard recently in a cinema foyer. We then discussed eavesdropping which is an important element in the writer’s toolbox.

For the homework I asked everyone to write about Something Overheard.
 
……………………………………………………………………

The Cafe by Martin Bourne

Listen to Martin’s piece

Eavesdropping by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

The Devil by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

The Man From Seat17a by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Something Overheard by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Green-Eyed Monster by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Moths by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Harbinger by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Technical by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Night Nurse by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Afloat by Ali Giles

Read Ali’s piece

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URBAN MYTH

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write about this image:

This is the famous ‘Bike Tree’ on Vashon Island, Washinton. The story goes that in n 1914, a young man leaned his bicycle against a tree, left Vashon Island, Washington, and went off to war, never to return. The tree did what trees do, and two became as one. So goes the legend of Vashon’s infamous bike tree, a poignant, romantic, tragic story. Unfortunately its an urban myth. The bike, which has become a tourist attraction, actually dates from the 1950s and is a child’s bike.

Urban myths are an important part of popular culture, offering insight into our fears and the state of society. Usually passed on by word of mouth by word  or more commonly today in e-mail or texts etc, they often invoke the famous “it happened to friend of a friend” clause that makes finding the original source of the story virtually impossible.

For this week’s homework I asked our writers create their own Urban Myth.
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The Breath-Stealer by Martin Bourne

Listen to Martin’s piece

Urban Myths 2122 by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Kissing Ritual by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Urban Myth by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Goatley Manor by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Two Urban Myth Poems by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Edward the Texture – a timed exercise by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Tree – a timed exercise by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

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IT’S CATCHING

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use this openig line:

My friend Patsy was telling me a story.

I also asked them to use some of these words in their piece:

Dash   Burst   Grasp   Slink   Gush   Shimmer   Groan   Garble   Plunge   Trudge   Dangle   Toddle   Surge   Clutch  Obtain   Clasp   Expose   Jostle   Stroll  Hail  Fuse   Glare   Intertwine  Gaze   Mimic   Peak   Seize   Saunter

These are strong verbs. A strong verb is a verb that conveys more information than a simple action—strong verbs can convey emotion, speed, intention, direction, or significance. For example, walk is a weak verb. It simply conveys the idea that someone is moving their feet to take them from one place to another. It’s not a bad verb, but it is a weak verb because it doesn’t convey any other information other than what specific action is taking place.

The opening line came from an essay by the American humourist David Sedaris called It’s Catching. The essay appears in his sixth collection When You Are Engulfed in Flames.  Sedaris made his comic début on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” in 1992, reading “SantaLand Diaries.” His original radio pieces can be heard on the show “This American Life” and on BBC Radio 4’s “Meet David Sedaris.” In 2001, he was named Humorist of the Year by Time. Sedaris uses a very effective blend of weak and strong verbs in his work.

I asked our writers to use this title for their homework:

It’s Catching

……………………………………………………………………

It’s Catching by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

It’s Catching by Ali Giles

Read Ali’s piece

It’s Catching by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

It’s Catching by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

Infection by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Catching by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

It’s Catching by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

It’s Catching by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

It’s Catching by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Finding the Right Man for the Job by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

It’s Catching by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

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THE BASIS OF ALL HUMAN FEARS

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use this line in their piece:

“Let me in,” the voice whispered. Stepping back, my heart leapt into my throat.

This was an exercise in how to show fear.  It was a partial quote from Stephen King’s novel Salem’s Lot.

Mark Petrie turned over in bed and looked through the window and Danny Glick was staring in at him through the glass, his skin grave-pale, his eyes reddish and feral. 
Some dark substance was smeared about his lips and chin, and when he saw Mark looking at him, he smiled and showed teeth grown hideously long and sharp.

“Let me in,” the voice whispered, and Mark was not sure if the words had crossed dark air or were only in his mind.

Fear is a universal emotion, so if you want fear to actually come across to readers, then you need to explore the root causes, make it individual, and keep surprising your readers.
The problem is that as writers, fear is an emotion we’ve felt so often that we gloss over it. We’re neither going shallow to surprise readers, nor going deep to pull them in closer.
Rather, many put a foot in both techniques, which has the effect of glossing over, summarising, or skimming over details. This strategy offers no surprise, no tension, no feelings for readers.

I asked our writers to use this quote from Salem’s Lot in their homework:

The basis of all human fears, he thought. A closed door, slightly ajar.

……………………………………………………….

Waiting for Sadaam by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Whispers by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

The Bedroom Door by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

Its What You Can’t See by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

Who’s Afraid? by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Real Deal by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Buttermilk by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Human Fear by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Did You Hear That? by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

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JANUARY 2022

DID YOU HEAR THAT?

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to work this scenario:

Your character is hiding behind a sofa.  People enter the room and things start happening, things your character can only hear. 

This was an exercise in ‘showing sound’. If you’re limiting yourself to just naming a sound, you’re missing out on the richness that the sense of sound could bring to your writing.  Next to sight, sound is the most commonly used sense in fiction, but three techniques can help you change the sounds you use from plain background noise into something that adds new depth to your stories:

Use Onomatopoeia for an Echo

Play With the Emotional Effects of Sound Deprivation or Sounds We Can’t Control

Let Sound Set the Mood

I asked our writers to open their homework with this line:

Did you hear that?

……………………………………………………….

Dinner For Three by Gill Hilton

Read Gill’s piece

Nothing Intended by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

The Sound by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

What Were That? by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Did You Hear That? by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Kiss, Touch, Hold by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

Je ne Regriette rein by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

What by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Hell’s Bells 2 by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

The News by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Emily’s Little People by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Darrel by Martin Bourne

Read Martin’s piece

Euthanasia – a timed exercise by Garf Collins

Listen to Garf’s piece

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SILENCE IS SOMETHING YOU CAN HEAR

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this opening line:

When the phone rang I was in the kitchen

This is the first line of Haruki Murikami’s 1994 novel the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Like so many of Murakami’s previous works, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is part detective story, part Bildungsroman, part fairy tale, part science-fiction-meets-Lewis Carroll.  It’s a novel about versions:  versions of reality, versions of selves, versions of stories told about selves and realities. This is the book where Murakami takes a big leap from a very sovereign-self-affirming narrative universe and lands in one where everything is fragmented.

We get many chapters narrated by other characters, chapters in third person,
bits of narrative we have a hard time assigning to anything, really.  We get quoted letters. Quoted magazine articles.  Quoted instant-message chats.  Disembodied voices and devoiced bodies. Ultimately it’s a richly rewarding and often mysterious read.

For the homework I asked our writers to use this line from Murikami:

Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear.

……………………………………………………….

The Janitor’s Daughter by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Tales From The Backseat by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

Buried in the Woods by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

In Love With the World by Gill Hilton

Read Gill’s piece

The Joy of Hearing Silence by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

Silence by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Silence by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Silence by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Hell’s Bells by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

The Silent Scream by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Silence by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Silence by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Granny by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The Rest of My Life by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

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I AM NOT SURE THAT I EXIST ACTUALLY

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our wirters this opening line and asked them to fill the gap with their own name:

The other one, the one called….is the one things happen to.

In his iconic, 1960 short story “Borges and I,” the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges recounts living alongside a second version of himself, to whom he is slowly “giving over everything.” The story is known for its brevity—at about one page long—and its sense of compression, as Borges describes this struggle between self and persona. “I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor,” he writes.

The story is essentially about the gulf between the private self and the public persona. Its central theme can be extrapolated and applied to our modern obsession with celebrity,  particularly in the age of social media. Many of Borges’ most celebrated stories are about reality versus perception. Read it here

For the homework I asked everyone to use this quote from Borges anywhere in your piece:

I am not sure that I exist, actually.

……………………………………………………….

Cheesy Chips by Ali Giles

Read Ali’s piece

Decisions, Decisions by Sho Botham

Listen toSho’s piece

Existing by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Till Death Us Do Part by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

I Am Not Sure That I Exist by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

I’m Not Sure I Exist by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Celebrity by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Cogit Ergo Sum by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

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A NEW YEAR

For the last timed exercise of 2021 I asked you to use this opening line:

It is December and we must be brave.

“It is December and we must be brave,” writes Natalie Diaz in “Manhattan is a Lenape Word,” a poem from her Pulitzer Prize–winning collection, Postcolonial Love Poem (Graywolf Press, 2020). Diaz sets the scene by describing the sounds and colors of New York City: “The ambulance’s rose of light / blooming against the window.” Then she moves from the exterior to the interior: “I’m the only Native American / on the 8th floor of this hotel or any…”

Natalie Diaz was born in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian community. Conveying clear ideas through crisp, dazzling images, Diaz’s poems typically unfold in long lines grouped into short stanzas. She instructs and inquires; she mourns and rhapsodises. Often her poems seem to create their own language that is both challenging to the reader and highly compelling. Read it here

For the homework I asked everyone to use this title, inspired by Diaz’s poem No More Cake.  Read it here

A New Year

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A New Year by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

A New Year by Sho Botham

Listen toSho’s piece

A New Year by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

A New Year by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

A New Year by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

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DECEMBER

PLAYING THE FOOL

For this week’s timed exercise I showed everyone this image:

This photo was supplied by workshop writer Sho Botham whose father Tony Marino was a celebrated Punch and Judy man. Tony worked in variety shows and pantomimes in theatres in Scotland. During the war he was in Ensa. He became a children’s entertainer, known as Uncle Tony, performing Punch & Judy, at Children’s Corner, Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. He made the puppet frames for the parties himself and my mother made and dressed the puppets. Commedia dell’Arte, was the first professional theatre in Europe, appearing in the 1550s in Northern Europe. Actors were paid a fair wage. A round of applause on your exit line meant you often got extra money… and on stage, for the first time, there were women.
Traditional themes involved riches and poverty, power and servitude, barrenness and fertility, wisdom and folly, and, of course, life and death – powerful reasons to drive characters through their stories. There was no central hero in the Commedia dell’Arte, rather each character had a storyline with a beginning, middle and end to their plight, and all these stories were woven together to end, usually with a marriage, in the final scene.
As well as socially, the characters were also divided by whether or not they were masked.
The masked characters are cyclical and end the story back in their rightful places; the unmasked are linear and go on a journey from one state to finish in another. Both sets of characters have lessons to learn on the way about life, love, justice and society – all topics that would concern their audience.
I gave everyone this title for their homework:

Playing the Fool

………………………………………………………..

Playing the Fool by Sho Botham

Listen to  Sho’s piece

Tomfoolery by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Homeland by Lauren Holstein

Read Lauren’s piece

Playing the Fool by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

The Fool by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Playing the Fool by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Playing the Fool by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

The New Employee by Martin Bourne

Read Martin’s piece

In the Provinces by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

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SECRET SANTA
For this week’s timed exercise I showed everyone this image:

This was an exercise in creating Mystery.  One of the reasons we like surprise gifts is the instant mystery they create. Unlike nonfiction, fiction’s motor doesn’t run on information, but on its opposite: mystery.

Mystery is about the puzzle.
Thriller is the push and pull between the protagonist and the villain.
Suspense is about tension and what may happen.

I read from Italo Calvino’s short story ‘Santa’s Children’. Read it here

The story is the last in the Marcovaldo collection published in 1963. The book is made up of a collection of twenty stories. Living with his wife and children in a nameless industrial city, Marcovaldo is a blue-collar worker who longs for escape from his dreary existence.
He is at heart a dreamer, attuned to nature’s small miracles, but is burdened with the constant realities of debt and drudgery. Nevertheless, he throws himself wholeheartedly into little adventures, simply for a chance to connect with the natural world. In Santa’s Children – The company Marcovaldo works for chooses him to dress as Santa and deliver Christmas presents to its important clients; one of his children accompanies him and unwittingly starts a new trend in gifts.

In the closing paragraphs, Calvino pulls the focus back, away from Marcovaldo and his mundane toils, away from the city and its cold, false wrappings, and instead situates the reader in an ancient forest where a jack-hare in snow is pursued by a wolf in shadow. Beautiful and haunting, this ending hints to a grander perspective beyond human control and concerns, with each animal perhaps alluding to the primordial interplay between light and shadow, life and death.

For the homework I gave everyone this subject, which they could also use as a title:

Secret Santa

………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Tallulah by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Sons of Gryla by Ali Giles

Listen to Ali’s piece

Secret Santa by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Secret Santa by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Georgie’s Secret Santa by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Secret Santa by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Secret Santa by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Santa’s Children by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

The Box – a timed exercise by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

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I BELIEVE EVERYTHING OUT OF THE COMMON
For this week’s timed exercise I showed everyone this image:
This was an exercise in working with a MacGuffin. (The ticket was found in a biography of Alfred Hitchcock, obviulsy being used as a bookmark) A MacGuffin is a plot device used in novels and films that sets the characters into motion and drives the story. A MacGuffin is an object, idea, person, or goal that the characters are either in pursuit of or which serves as motivation for their actions. Usually, the MacGuffin is revealed in the first act. In ball games, the ball is the MacGuffin.
 
Alfred Hitchcock popularised the term MacGuffin and the technique with his 1935 film The 39 Steps, an early example of the concept, in which the MacGuffin is some otherwise incidental military secrets. Hitchcock explained the term MacGuffin in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University in New York City:
“It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men on a train. One man says, ‘What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?’ 
And the other answers, ‘Oh, that’s a MacGuffin’. The first one asks, ‘What’s a MacGuffin?’ ‘Well,’ the other man says, ‘it’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.’ 
The first man says, ‘But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,’ and the other one answers, ‘Well then, that’s no MacGuffin!’ So you see that a MacGuffin is actually nothing at all.”
 
I asked everyone to feature a MacGuffin in their homework piece and to use these lines from The 39 Steps:

I believe everything out of the common. The only thing to distrust is the normal.

………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Keeping Watch by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Muffin MacGuffin by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The MacGuffin by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Ms Tarpleman by Martin Bourne

Read Martin’s piece

Grace by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

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HOW WONDERFUL TO BE ALIVE

For this week’s timed exercise I showed our writers this photo and asked them to write about who works in this location:

This is Arbatskaya Metro Station, one of the soviet era metro stations photographed by Christopher Herwig. These metro networks built across the Soviet Union between the 1930s and 1980s,  were used as a propaganda artwork – a fusion of sculpture, architecture and art, combining Byzantine, medieval, baroque and Constructivist ideas and infusing them with the notion that Communism would mean a ‘communal luxury’ for all. Today these astonishing spaces remain the closest realisation of a Soviet utopia.

I then discussed the important of location and setting and read from Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I also asked everyone to consider the importance of the ‘story location’ in David Lean’s films.
Ever since childhood Yurii Andreievich had been fond of woods seen at evening against the setting sun. At such moments he felt as if he too were being pierced by shafts of light.  It was as though the gift of the living spirit were streaming into his breast, piercing his being and coming out at his shoulders like a pair of wings. The archetype that is formed in every child for life and seems for ever after to be his inward face, his personality, awoke in him in its full primordial strength, and compelled nature, the forest, the afterglow, and everything else visible to be transfigured into a similarly primordial and all-embracing likeness of a girl. Closing his eyes, “Lara,” he whispered and thought, addressing the whole of his life, all God’s earth, all the sunlit space spread out before him.  – Dr Zhivago

I asked everyone to set their homework in the UK any time during the past 18 months and to use this line from Dr Zhivago:

‘How wonderful to be alive,’ he thought. ‘But why does it always hurt?’

How Long is a Piece of String by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Alive by Fran Duffield

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The Half Life by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Your Family’s Never in Your Past by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Family Ties by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Watched by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Unheard by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

It All Depends On Doncaster by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Devil’s Dyke by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

How Wonderful to be Alive by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Andrew by Martin Bourne

Read Martin’s piece

Remembrance by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

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YOUR FAMILY’S NEVER IN YOUR PAST

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to write about this image of a wood with two diverging paths.

I then read and discussed The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. Listen to Robert Frost reading his poem

In one respect the poem’s subject is a dilemma. For the very reason we don’t like dilemmas, your fictional characters should experience the confusion and burden that their choices will make. Does the hero save the girl from the clutches of the villain, or does he save the family trapped inside a house that the villain has just set fire to? Whatever the choice, each one has a different outcome.

I read the opening of The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman published in 2012. Australia, 1926. Tom and Isabel live a happy but solitary life on Janus Island where Tom is the lighthouse keeper. The only blight on their existence is Isabel’s desperation for a baby. When one morning a boat washes up on the shore with a dead man but a living baby Isabel and Tom make a decision that will have consequences not only for them but for Isabel’s family the baby’s real mother. This is a novel of dilemmas, decisions, consequences and human nature. It is an emotional tale of love, loss and the blurred lines between right and wrong.

I asked everyone to feature a dilemma in their homework and to use these two lines from the novel:

Your family’s never in your past. You carry it around with you everywhere. 

 

Threads by Fran Duffield

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Your Family’s Never in Your Past by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

Far Away, So Close by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Your Family’s Never in Your Past by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Old Aunt Hilda by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Black Ice by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Geese in Autumn by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Mother’s Words by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Your Family’s Never in Your Past by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

My Mysterious Neighbour by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

The Letter by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

………………………………………………….

NOVEMBER

CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with one of the following:
Narrator Statement:
Sandy would come to regret taking the train that day.
Dialogue:
“Don’t worry Sandy,” said Terry, as the train lurched forward, “as long as you get to the office before Karen,
you’ll destroy that letter and she’ll never know.”
Figurative Language:
Sandy gazed at a snail making its way across the train window.
……………………………………………..

This was an exercise in Foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is a literary device that is used as a means to indicate or hint to readers something that is to follow or appear later in a story. Foreshadowing, when done properly, is an excellent device in terms of creating suspense and dramatic tension for readers. It can set up emotional expectations of character behaviours and/or plot outcomes.  Chekhov’s Gun is a form of foreshadowing – if there is a gun on the stage in one scene, it should be fired in a future scene. So, an object that seems insignificant may turn out to be a key element later on.
Many novels have foreshadowing in their titles, for example most of the works of Agatha Christie – Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express etc.

I asked everyone to feature foreshadowing in their homework and to use this classic Christie title:  Cat Among the Pigeons.

Cat Among the Pigeons by Grant Mcfarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Cat Among the Pigeons by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

The Last Thing He Wanted by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Cat Among the Pigeons by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Cat Among the Pigeons by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Cat Among the Pigeons by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Cat Among the Pigeons by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Cat Among the Pigeons by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Cat Among the Pigeons by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Ripples by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Cat by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

………………………………………………….

THE TIME MACHINE

For this week’s timed exercise I showed you a photograph of Lady Florence Norman, a suffragette, on her Autoped in 1916, travelling to work at offices in London where she was a supervisor. The Autoped was a birthday present from her husband, the journalist and Liberal politician Sir Henry Norman.
The Autoped was an early motor scooter or motorized scooter manufactured by the Autoped Company of Long Island City, New York from 1915 to 1922. It cost $116.
I then read from The Time Machine by HG Wells one of the first science fiction writers. In his work HG Wells predicted phones, email, television, genetic engineering,
lasers and directed energy weapons, atomic bombs and nuclear proliferation. You would almost have thought he had a Time Machine.
Time machines can take many forms. One of the most celebrated is Proust’s madeleine, a small cake which transports him back to his childhood. In France, a madeleine de Proust is a common expression referring to a smell, taste or sound which dredges up a long-lost memory.

The title for the homework was: The Time Machine. I also asked everyone to follow Proust’s lead.

The Mint Time Machine by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Bad Food by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

Time – Poems in the Flamenca Form by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s poems

Cut Hay by Martin Bourne

Read Martin’s piece

The Time Machine by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

The Time Machine by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Look What the Wind Blew in by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

The Time Traveller by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

The Time Machine by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Time Machine by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Out of Time by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The Time Machine by Lauren Holstein

Read Lauren’s piece

The Time Machine by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

The Arrow of Time by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

Mid-life Madness by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Last Station by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

The Time Machine by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

………………………………………………….

I CAN’T EXPLAIN WHY

For this week’s timed exercise I asked you to open your piece with this line:

Now its dark.

This is the opening of ‘On the Show’ a short story by Wells Tower from his 2011 debut collection ‘Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned’.

Now it’s dark. The sun has slipped behind the orange groves, disclosing the garbled rainbow of the carnival rides. The blaring reds of the Devil’s Choir and the blue-white of the Giant Wheel and the strobing greens of the Orbiter and the chasing yellow and purple of the Chaises Volantes mingle and the sky glows hyena brown. Panic takes hold among the egrets in the drainage canal. They flee for the live-oak tree that surveils the hay-bale corral of the World’s Smallest Horse. For a time, the tree moves with a white restlessness of egrets stowing and unstowing their overlong wings.

Most of Tower’s protagonists are striving for happiness despite having conspicuous flaws. Their self-defeating natures and their attempts to do the right thing when faced with moral dilemmas endear them to the reader. And the author’s powers of observation are such that one cannot help but associate with all of the characters, in spite of their mistakes and idiosyncratic situations. The author himself has said: “I don’t think that many of us are trying to do ill. And I think that most of the ill that happens in the world happens despite our best notions of ourselves. And that’s something that continues to interest me.”

Tower is a great reviser and all of the stories in this collection have been revised or completely rewritten up to 7 times after their initial publication.

I asked our writers to use this line from Tower’s story, ‘The Retreat’ anywhere in their homework:

I can’t explain why I did these things.

Some of our writers might have done this homework before, if they had, then here was their chance to REVISE it.

There Are Not Enough Words for Love by Gill Hilton

Read Gill’s piece

Chasing Praeteritum by Grant Mcfarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

The Children’s Ward by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

A Slow Walk Anywhere by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Why by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

I Can’t Explain Why I Did These Things, I Guess its Called Growing Up by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

Saying Things by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

My Life by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Tache Noir by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

I Can’t Explain Why by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Thinking of Gaia by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Shadow Box by Lauren Holstein

Read Lauren’s poem

Now its Dark – a timed exercise by Lauren Holstein

Read Lauren’s poem

Now its Dark – a timed exercise by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

Sad Street by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

………………………………………………….

ADDICTION

For this week’s timed exercise I asked thr workshop writers to open thier piece with this line – but not to write about people:

There are many that I miss.

This is the opening line of Billy Collins’ poem The Best Cigarette. What makes this poem relatable to more than those who engage in the habit of smoking, are the occasions and the emotional connections. Addiction is certainly one of the poems main subjects but it shines a broader light on Collins life as a writer. Watch the animated version of the poem

I then read from the The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon, which was published in 1983.
All addiction is an avoidance of pain, and in this book Ruth – labelled “She-Devil” by her philandering husband and determined to live up to the title – avoids hers by undertaking a series of meaningless sexual encounters once he leaves her for Mary. But ultimately her addiction is not to sex: she is doing it only to anaesthetise herself to intimacy. Unable to forgive, she has dedicated her entire self to first destroying, and then becoming, her rival. Envy is her addiction, then. That, and revenge.

The subject for the homework was Addiction – I asked the workshop writers not to write about alcohol, drug abuse or gambling.

A Hundred and Forty Two by MaryPat Campbell

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Autumn’s Overcoat by Stuart Carruthers

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Addict by Fran Duffield

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Laura by Paul Hunter

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The Lover’s Addict by Victoria Watson

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Imelda’s Flat by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Another Kiss by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Addiction by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Addiction by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Addiction by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Addiction by Gill Hilton

Read Gill’s piece

Addiction by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

………………………………………………….

October

WHO WANTS FLOWERS?

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open your piece with this line:

I studied much and remembered little.

This is the first line of the poem ‘Tin’ by the American poet Jane Hirshfield, which was recently published in the New Yorker magazine.

The poem is written in first person which makes it feel immediately personal. I talked about the advantages and difficulties of writing in first person. First person perspective limits a reader’s access to information. They only know and experience what the narrator does. This is an effective tool for creating suspense and building intrigue in stories, particularly in thrillers or mysteries.

I then read from The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger and I asked you to write your homework piece in first person using some of these lines from the novel:

Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.   I‘m quite illiterate, but I read a lot.  People always clap for the wrong reasons.   Mothers are all slightly insane.    People are always ruining things for you.  Make sure you marry someone who laughs at the same things you do.

Singles by Victoria Watson

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Twitchy by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Flowers by Paul Hunter

Read Paul’s piece

Flowers by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Lillies by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Last Game by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Slightly Insane by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Who Wants Flowers by Ivor John

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Loaded Mind by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Mothers Are Slightly Insane by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

The Small Print by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Who Needs Flowers by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s’s piece

……………………………………………………………..

A GARDEN PATH STORY

For this week’s timed exercise I gave everyone the following sentences to work with:

The old man the boat.    The horse raced past the barn fell.   The girl told the story cried.  
We painted the wall with cracks.  
Cake in your mouth doesn’t cake on your face.   The man who hunts ducks out on weekends.  
The management plans to cut vacation days are rejected.

The florist sent the flowers was pleased.  Wherever John walks the dog chases him.

These are examples of Garden Path Sentences. A garden path sentence is a sentence with an ambiguous part, that leads the reader to initially assume a certain interpretation for the sentence, until they reach a point where the ambiguity is resolved and this initial interpretation is shown to be wrong.

There are of course Garden Path stories and novels, for example: Ambrose Bierce’s Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, William Golding’s Pincher Martin,  Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman and Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

For the homework I asked everyone to write a Garden Path Story.

Wish You Were Here by Stuart Carruthers

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Out of Luck by Miriam Silver

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Challenging Husbands Can Be Thrilling by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Danny Boy by Catriona Millar

Read Catriona’s piece

Lady’s Fingers by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Just Press Send by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

Your Number’s Up by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Last Night by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

The Good Old Days by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Garden Path Story by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Management Speak by Martin Bourne

Read Martin’s piece

………………………………………

MEMORY BELIEVES

For this week’s timed exercise I gave everyone the following name to work with:

Joe Christmas

Joe Christmas is one of the lead characters in William Faulkner’s 1932 novel Light in August. A landmark in American fiction, the novel explores Faulkner’s central theme: the nature of evil.

Joe Christmas – an orphan born on Christmas day is a man doomed,  deracinated and alone – wanders the Deep South in search of an identity, and a place in society. After killing Joanna Burden, his God-fearing lover, it becomes inevitable that he is pursued by a lynch-hungry mob. Yet after the sacrifice, there is new life, a determined ray of light in Faulkner’s complex and tragic world.

For the homework I asked our writers to use the novel’s most famous line:

Memory believes before knowing remembers.

Memory Believes Before Knowing Remembers by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Wheels Within Wheels by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Memory Believes by Lauren Holstein

Read Lauren’s poem

Movement in the Trees by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

For Esme With Love & Squalor by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

The Clocks Tick Backwards by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Memory Believes by Miriam Silver

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Memory Believes by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Memories by Vera Gajic

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Life’s a Beach by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Cold Comfort by MaryPat Campbell

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Denmark Hill by Ivor John

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Margate by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Joe Christmas – a timed exercise by Lauren Holstein

Read Lauren’s poem

………………………………………

HOW TO DISAPPEAR

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line, but not to write from a human point of view.
There are many theories as to how we came to be, I’m not sure which one I believe.
This was an exercise in Personification and to some degree an origin story. The line opens Savannah Brown’s poem, Loving like an Existentialist. Watch the video here
Savannah Brown is a performance poet and we watched a video of her performing this poem. Brown is from Ohio but now lives in London. She self-published her first collection of poems Graffiti in 2016 when she was 20. The collection was a finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards. I read from her latest novel, The Things We Don’t See, a beautifully written thriller published by Penguin.
“There’s a shadow in me that doesn’t waver. The eternal tar-dripped facet of my personhood. I could make myself whatever I wanted to be, were it not for the trauma
– a chameleon always outed by the shadow, marked by the same dark matter. I fight my way out. If I’m locked in, I jemmy the lock. If I’m lost in the woods, I draw a map.”
I asked you to use the title of the novel’s prologue for the title of your homework.

HOW TO DISAPPEAR

How to Disappear/Stay Safe by Victoria Watson

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Around the Houses by Saffron Swansborough

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How to Disappear by Lauren Holstein

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How Not to Disappear by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

How to Disappear by Martin Bourne

Read Martin’s piece

How to Disappear by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

How to Disappear by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

The Couple on the Train by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

How to Disappear by Miriam Silver

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How to Disappear by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

How to Disappear by MaryPat Campbell

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How to Disappear by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Invisible Man by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Len Comes to Conyer by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

………………………………………

September

NOW EVERYONE KNOWS

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

I think of myself as somebody not at home.

This is part of a quote from a 2019 interview with Zadie Smith for Marie Claire. When asked about whether living in the United States and England affects her writing, Smith responded, “I think of myself as somebody not at home. Not at home anywhere, not at home ever. But I think of that as a definition of a writer: somebody not at home, not comfortable in themselves in their supposed lives.”

On the subject of writing she says, “It comes out of reading of being a reader and wanting to create something like what I’ve read. And also it’s a way of experiencing time, like never missing any of it. Writing is partly a kind of stupidity, other people just live their lives and get on with it day by day, writing is a way of slowing it down and thinking what just happened? What did it mean? What was the point? I’m just a writer of life, of what I see around me and what I understand.”

I read an excerpt from Smith’s fifth novel Swing Time. Like all of Smith’s novels, Swing Time has brilliant things to say about race, class, and gender, but its most poignant comment is perhaps this. Given who we are, who we are told that we are not, and who we imagine we might become, how do we find our way home?
For the homework I asked everyone to use this quote from Swing Time as their opening line:

The body of the message was a single sentence: Now everyone knows who you really are.

Dysfunction by Ali Giles

Read Ali’s piece

You Gave Me The Answer by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Finding Home by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

How is Your Lockdown Going? by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

Betrayal by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

September 26 by Sue Hitchcock

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Everything You Know is Wrong by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

I Am a Long Covid Statistic by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Who is my friend, who is my enemy? by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

The Message by Miriam Silver

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Now Everyone Knows by Ivor John

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Marie Antoinette by Lauren Holstein

Read Lauren’s piece

………………………………………

THE ACHILLES HEEL

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to use this line in their piece:

Uncle Ken, wise as he was, was hit by a car.

The line comes from Nicole Sealey’s poem ‘Medical History’. Read Nicole’s poem

In the poem, Sealey lists the speaker’s and their family’s medical history, creating a startling portrait of genealogy and the anxieties surrounding mortality that come with it.

I then read an excerpt from ‘On Immunity’ by Eula Biss, which was published in 2015.

‘The first story I ever heard about immunity was told to me by my father, a doctor, when I was very young. It was the myth of Achilles, whose mother tried to make him immortal.  She burned away his mortality with fire, in one telling of the story, and Achilles was left impervious to injury everywhere except his heel, where a poisoned arrow would eventually wound and kill him. In another telling, the infant Achilles was immersed in the River Styx, the river that divides the world from the underworld. His mother held her baby by his heel to dip him in the water, leaving, again, one fatal vulnerability.’

The subject for this week’s homework was the Achilles’ Heel.

Achilles Heel by Gill Hilton

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A Bit of a Weakness by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The Achilles Heel by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Annie’s Achilles Heel by Sue Hitchcock

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First Meeting by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Achilles Wong-Side Up by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

The Moneyspinner by Martin Bourne

Read Martin’s piece

Mrs Tavistock by Victoria Watson

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Small Feet Big Shoes by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Achilles Heel by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Lily’s Achilles Heel by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Dr Muffett’s Recommendation (2) by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Medical History by Lauren Holstein

Read Lauren’s piece

………………………………………

REMIND MYSELF TO BREATHE

For this week’s timed exercise I gave everyone this opening line:

I wanted to write a story about a friend, but my mind turned to Emily.

This is the opening line of Death, Myth and Dreaming in Wuthering Heights by Nicholas Ashe Bateman Read it here

In the essay Bateman says, “For me, Emily Bronte’s wild and unknowable masterpiece is one of the most astounding pieces of worldbuilding that I know. I consider the entire work to be a spell that she cast in the ground around her, transforming Yorkshire and imbuing the soil with something else entirely, whipping her up in the wind and taking it all away. She hasn’t created a far off place, she’s remade the only one in which she has. That is one of the most profound creative acts that I can imagine, and the reverent dedication with which she accomplished it was something that inspired me daily over the years.”

It seems such an obvious thing to say but without the moors, the rocks and the heath, without the house, there is no Wuthering Heights, there is no novel as we know it. This is the profound effect of setting.

For the homework I asked everyone to think about using a very clear setting along with this line from Wuthering Heights:

I have to remind myself to breathe — almost to remind my heart to beat.

An Ending by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Enclosure by Saffron Swansborough

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Roma by Sue Hitchcock

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Remember to Breathe by Catriona Millar

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The Family by Martin Bourne

Read Martin’s piece

The Will To Live – a true story by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

The Woods by Victoria Watson

Read Victoria’s piece

The Devil’s Handshake is Reflective by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Erasure by Fran Duffield

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Remember to Breathe by Miriam Silver

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Twenty Years Older by MaryPat Campbell

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The Siege of Bethlehem by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

What I Wonder When I Wonder About September by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

………………………………………

WRITER’S BLOCK

For this week’s timed exercise I played a video clip featuring scenes from 53 feature films of writers struggling with their work. The timed exercise subject was Writer’s Block.

Watch the clip here

Writer’s block is a modern notion. It was little known by the early Romantic writers. In fact the term was coined in 1947 by Dr Edmund Bergler, a famous Austrian psychiatrist living in New York.  A better way of looking at it might be ‘creative inhibition’. But even then that’s just a catch-all for all manner of problems that probably have little do with your writing. We discussed how to address Writer’s Block – Read the Tip Sheet on Writer’s Block

For anyone familiar with Graeme Greene’s prolific output, it’s hard to believe that he could ever suffer from writer’s block. But, in his fifties, that’s precisely what happened—he faced a creative “blockage,” as he called it, that prevented him from seeing the development of a story or even, at times, its start. The dream journal proved to be his saviour. Dream journaling was a very special type of writing, Greene believed. No one but you sees your dreams. No one can sue you for libel for writing them down. No one can fact-check you or object to a fanciful turn of events.

In the foreword to “A World of My Own,” a selection of dream-journal entries that Greene selected, Yvonne Cloetta, Greene’s mistress of many years, quotes Greene telling a friend, “If one can remember an entire dream, the result is a sense of entertainment sufficiently marked to give one the illusion of being catapulted into a different world. One finds oneself remote from one’s conscious preoccupations.” In that freedom from conscious anxiety, Greene found the freedom to do what he otherwise couldn’t: write.

The title for the homework was The Dream Diary.

The Dream Diary by Ali Giles

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Night Dream by Elda Abramson

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The Dream Diary by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The American Dream by Janie Reynolds

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Lily is Not Dead by Lauren Holstein

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Dr Muffett’s Recommendation by Ivor John

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Dream Diary by Victoria Watson

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I Got the Message Myself by Stuart Carruthers

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Dream On by Miriam Silver

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The Dream Diary by MaryPat Campbell

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Lockdowns & Curfews by Lesley Dawson

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………………………………………

Day to Day

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers a dialogue scene and asked them to give it context and setting. Read the dialogue scene

This is a highly effective way to write a scene that includes dialogue, used by writers like Chekhov and Hemingway to name just two. Writing the dialogue separately allows you to focus on speech without the distraction of setting, action or characterisation. These can all be added later. I’ve attached a pdf of some of Chekhov’s writing advice. Read Chekhov’s Advice on Writing

I asked our writers to use this line by Chekhov in their homework.

Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out. 

Learning to Swim by Ali Giles

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What Crisis? by Sue Hitchcock

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Esther by Elda Abramson

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Slow Release by Marion Umney

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Wearing Thin by Fran Duffield

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The Ladder by Richard Lewis

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Uninvited Friends by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

The Idiot Englishman by Martin Bourne

Read Martin’s piece

Coming Out by Ivor John

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The Scream by Victoria Watson

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Crying Angels Never Tell by Stuart Carruthers

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Misdemeanours by Miriam Silver

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In Times of Crisis by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Kicking Off by Gill Hilton

Read Gill’s piece

………………………………………

August

………………………………………

THE MASK

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to open their piece with this line:
It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.

The line came from The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. In his 1989 Man Booker prize winning novel, Ishiguro creates a character for whom it’s a point of pride never to let his mask slip and admit the truth of his own emotions, even to himself. In the summer of 1956, an ageing butler goes on a motoring holiday to visit an old colleague. The journey becomes a chance to reflect on his past and the mistakes he made throughout his long career in servitude. Ishiguro slowly peels back the layers of masks the protagonist has been wearing to protect himself from hard truths.

Ultimately we get a picture of a man trying desperately to keep a lid on his emotions – and what a complete picture it is. The Remains of the Day does that most wonderful thing a work of literature can do: it makes you feel you hold a human life in your hands.  When you reach the end, it really does seem as if you’ve lost a friend – a laughably pompous, party-hat-refusing, stick-in-the-mud friend, but a good friend nonetheless. You want to give him a hug, except he’d be outraged. 

The title or subject for the homework was:  The Mask.

Lockdown Kernels by Saffron Swansborough

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Fallen Angel by Stuart Carruthers

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The Vacationers by Victoria Watson

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Saving Face by Janie Reynolds

Listen to Janie’s piece

The Mask by Fran Duffield

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The Mask by Ivor John

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The Masked Stranger by Richard Lewis

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The Mask by Gill Hilton

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The Mask by Sho Botham

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Harold by Vera Gajic

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Masks by Rosalyn Hurst

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The Mask by Lesley Dawson

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………………………………………

JULY

TASTE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use the following quote in their piece:
Egotist, n.  A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

This is an entry from Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary. Read it Here

In fiction, the characters’ five senses are what allow us to get lost in the story. But few writers realise which of the five senses they lean on more heavily than others. As a writer, you will have a natural inclination toward one sense over the others. One sense that is often overlooked or undervalued is the sense of taste. Read it Here

A lot can be learned form food writers and restaurant critics. The first great food writer was Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Although he was not a chef, Brillat-Savarin has been one of the most influential food writers of all time. He is known for his 1825 book Physiologie du Goût  (translated variously into English as “The Physiology of Taste”, “The Philosopher in the Kitchen”, etc.) Read it Here

I gave our writers this quote from Brillat-Savarin to use in their homework and asked them to focus on using that neglected fifth sense – taste.

Long practice has taught me that one pleasure leads to another.

A Tasteful Ending by Grant Mcfarlane

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Curry Love by Shevlyn Byroo

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The Yellow Rowing Boat by MaryPat Campbell

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Funny Money by Martin Bourne

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Autumn’s Overcoat by Stuart Carruthers

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Fleeting Pleasures by Fran Duffield

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Atrocity Exhibition by Ivor John

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Jules & Julia by Vera Gajic

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One Pleasure Leads to Another

by Richard Lewis

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The Sweetest Pleasure by Mia Sundby

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One Pleasure Leads to Another by Miriam Silver

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Mellow by Lauren Holstein

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A Secret Life by Lesley Dawson

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………………………………………

I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU

For this week’s timed exercise I showed our writers this image…

I then read from ‘Milk Fed’ Melissa Broder’s most recent novel. Pairing superlative emotional insight with unabashed vivid fantasy,  Melissa Broder tells a tale of appetites: of physical hunger, of sexual desire, of spiritual longing. Milk Fed is a tender and riotously funny meditation on love, certitude, and the question of what we are all being fed.

In an interview in the Rumpus, Melissa Broder speaks with Greg Mania about Milk Fed and her writing process.

“I’m still doing it the same way I’ve been doing it: dictating the first draft into my phone, three paragraphs per day, using Siri and Simplenote (free notes app). Don’t stop or proofread or think about it or change anything until the whole mass of clay has been thrown down—even if I see things are spelled wrong, or Siri is missing stuff (always). Just keep going. Encourage your own messiness. This part takes about nine months.” 

“Then begins the editorial process, the first round of which is just me trying to figure out what I was even saying half the time. Edit the whole thing over and over and over and over again. Treat it like a poem: every word intentional. Listen for rhythm. Nothing should stick out as shitty or like I’m trying to pass something off or arhythmic or like I’m lying to myself or the audience. When everything gets quiet, then I’m maybe done.”

I asked our writers to use this line from Melissa Broder anywhere in their homework:

I’m in love with you and you don’t want anything to do with me so I think we can make this work. 

They Always Get Back Together by Ali Giles

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Heathcliff by MaryPat Campbell

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It Hurts Too Much by Sho Botham

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Number 9 by Martin Bourne

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I’m in Love by Rosalyn Hurst

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Love Actually by Lesley Dawson

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Where Did the Fun Go? by Stuart Carruthers

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I’m in Love by Ivor John

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The Beauty by Richard Lewis

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I’m in Love with You by Miriam Silver

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………………………………………

A SECRET LIFE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use this line in their piece:

We called it alimony.

With one caveat, I asked everyone to create a setting for the word ‘alimony’ outside of the usual divorce scenario.

The line came from a Southbank talk by John Le Carre where he refers to the payment made to agents in the field,  “We paid them a pittance and we called it alimony.”

Alimony – early 17th century (in the sense ‘nourishment, means of subsistence’): from Latin alimonia ‘nutriment’, from alere ‘nourish’.

I then read from A Perfect Spy by John le Carre. The novel starts by introducing the protagonist Magnus Pym and tracking his movements across  “a south Devon coastal town” on his way to a Victorian guesthouse, where he is addressed by the elderly landlady who says, “Why Mr. Canterbury, it’s you.” In this deft use of dialogue, LeCarré illustrates the essence of the classic writing technique “show, don’t tell,” revealing that Pym has a secret life, has visited the guesthouse before and is travelling under a pseudonym.

The subject for the homework was:  A Secret Life

Alimony by Karen Akroyd

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Futureproofing by Saffron Swansborough

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What I Would Say by Martin Bourne

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Silvia’s Garden Shed by Sho Botham

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Aunt Elizabeth by Victoria Watson

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Secret Lives by Rosalyn Hurst

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A Dress To Die For by Garf Collins

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The Conquer Room by Stuart Carruthers

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A Sign of the Times by Gill Hilton

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A Secret Life by Fran Duffield

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Secrets by Miriam Silver

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………………………………………

MEMORY IS THE THING WE FORGET WITH

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this sentence to use in their piece:

Ribbon, bell, emerald, stamp.

This line comes from The Memory Police by the Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa.

‘Ribbon, bell, emerald, stamp. The words that came from my mother’s mouth thrilled me, like the names of little girls from distant countries or new species of plants.’ A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss the 1994 novel, has a dream-like tone influenced by Kafka. An English translation by Stephen Snyder was published in 2019.

The story follows a novelist on an island under the control of the Memory Police. An unknown force causes the people of the island to collectively ‘forget’ and lose their attachment to objects or concepts, e.g. hats, perfume, birds and ribbon. The Memory Police enforce the removal of these objects from the island, and of the people who continue to remember, such as the author’s mother. Some, who continue to remember, escape from the island or hide in safe houses to evade capture by the Police.

Ogawa’s weightless and unadorned prose weaves a world where memory is always associative; we remember not just the object itself but what it conjures. Birds are byways to flight, lightness, quickness, youth, song, mornings, twilights, migrations. They partake in stories, paintings, metaphors and myths. Each object that is disappeared takes layers of personal and shared knowledge with it. One of the inspirations for the novel was the Diary of Anne Frank.

I gave our writers this quote from Alexander Chase to use in their homework: Memory is the thing you forget with.

Memory by Karen Akroyd

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A Funny Hat by Sho Botham

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Billy by Victoria Watson

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Memory is the Thing by Rosalyn Hurst

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Memory Is What You Forget With by Lesley Dawson

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Jules & Julia by Vera Gajic

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The Stone Bears Your Name by Stuart Carruthers

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Going Back by Ivor John

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Memory is a Way of Forgetting by Richard Lewis

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I Must Write it Down by MaryPat Campbell

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Memory is the Thing you Forget with by Miriam Silver

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…………………………………………

A SIGN OF THE TIMES

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to open your piece with this line:

When you are on the dancefloor there is nothing to do but dance.

This is a quote from Umberto Eco’s 2004 novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.

When book dealer Yambo suffers amnesia, he loses all sense of who he is, but retains memories of all the books, poems, songs, and movies he has ever experienced. To reclaim his identity, he retreats to the family home and rummages through old letters, photographs, and mementos stored in the attic. Yambo’s mind swirls with thoughts, and he struggles to retrieve the one memory that may be most sacred, that of Lila Saba, his first love. The novel is steeped in nostalgia and filled with vivid, sometimes wondrous imagery.

I then read and discussed Umberto’s 36 Rules for Writing Well – Read them here…

Aside from being an internationally acclaimed novelist, Umberto Eco was also a Semiologist. He made a wider audience aware of semiotics by various publications, most notably his novel The Name of the Rose, which includes (second to its plot) applied semiotic operations. Semiotics includes the study of signs and sign processes, indication, designation, likeness, analogy, allegory, metonymy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. Eco proposed that every cultural phenomenon may be studied as communication.

I gave everyone this title for their homework:  A Sign of the Times

A Sign of the Times by Victoria Watson

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A Sign of the Times by Lauren Holstein

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A Sign of the Times Haiku by Saffron Swansborough

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A Sign of the Times by Sho Botham

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A Sign of the Times by Grant McFarlane

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A Sign of the Times by Ali Giles

Listen to Ali’s piece read by Mia Sundby

An Eyebrow Raising Sign of the Times by Jill Webb 

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A Sign of the Times by Karen Akroyd

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Signs of the Times by Rosalyn Hurst

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A Sign of the Times by Lesley Dawson

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A Sign of the Times by Martin Bourne

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One Foot on the Ladder by Stuart Carruthers

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A Sign of the Times by Ivor John

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A Sign of the Times by Richard Lewis

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A Sign of the Times by MaryPat Campbell

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A Sign of the Times by Miriam Silver

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…………………………………………

JUNE

THE LOVER’S DICTIONARY

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with this line:

I wrote a good omelette… and ate a hot poem.

“I wrote a good omelet… and ate / a hot poem… after loving you,” writes Nikki Giovanni in her poem “I Wrote a Good Omelet.” The poet, whose seventy-eighth birthday was  just last week, describes going about various common tasks in strange and humorous ways, replacing, for example, “car” for “coat” in the phrase “drove my coat home” and “bed” for “hair” in “turned down my hair.” Through these playful reversals, Giovanni mimics the dizzying feeling of falling in love, as if the speaker is unable to focus on anything after being with their beloved.

In The Lover’s Dictionary David Levithan finds a fascinating way to tell us something about love. Told entirely through a series of dictionary entries, this modern love story is abstract, quirky, and so incredibly charming. The reader only receives brief windows into this romantic relationship, but it’s so interesting to see these small glimpses through the lens of different words. Levithan’s conceit is fascinating, and he completely pulls it off. For example:

acronym, n.“I remember the first time you signed an email with SWAK. I didn’t know what it meant. It sounded violent, like a slap connecting. … And the next time you wrote, ten minutes later, you explained.I loved the ridiculous image I got from that, of you leaning over your laptop,touching your lips gently to the screen, sealing your words to me before turning them into electricity. Now every time you SWAK me, the echo of that electricity remains.”

For the homework I asked our writers to emulate the treatment of The Lover’s Dictionary and break their story into a series of 5 or 6 word definitions. This would be an interesting way of working out what their story is actually about.

Love Letters by Saffron Swansborough

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The A – Z of Vital Signs by Ali Giles

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The Lover’s Dictionary by Victoria Watson

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The Alcoholic’s Dictionary by Grant McFarlane

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My Time by Sho Botham

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Margaret and Me by Gill Hilton

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ABC of Unrequited Love by Ivor John

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Four Seasons by Richard Lewis

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Five Words by MaryPat Campbell

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Reversals by Miriam Silver

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The Party Pooper by Lesley Dawson

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…………………………………………

WE CAN ONLY DIE IN THE FUTURE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to open their piece with this line:“Tell me things I won’t mind forgetting,” she said.

This is the first line of Amy Hempel’s short story, “The Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried,” In Hempel’s first and most anthologised story, the narrator fails her terminally ill best friend, almost entirely in subtext. She visits the beachside hospital, bearing welcome, “useless” facts and jokes, but when an extra bed appears for her to stay the night, she panics and decides to go home. Hempel doesn’t give us the final goodbye, or the bad-news call, or any of the other obvious scenes a “maximalist” writer might dramatize. Instead, we get the tacit admission that the narrator bailed before the end, enrolling in a “Fear of Flying” class the same morning her friend is buried.

Hempel has said that the idea for “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” was suggested to her by her teacher Gordon Lish, the fiction editor of Esquire in the 1970’s, in a fiction-writing workshop that she took at Columbia University. Lish told his students to write on their “most terrible, despicable secret, the thing you will never live down.”Hempel has said that she knew immediately what that secret was for her: “I failed my best friend at the moment when I absolutely couldn’t fail her, when she was dying.” Hempel, like her most admired writer, Anton Chekhov, knows that grief, by its very nature, resists ordinary attempts to articulate it. Grief cannot be talked about; it can only be objectified in efforts to avoid it.  Read In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried.

“My favorite compliment that I got from a writer early on, was someone saying to me, ‘You leave out all the right things’. That was wonderful to hear. To know you’ve given your reader credit for being able to understand without you having to say it.”

For the homework I asked our writers to use these two lines from Amy Hempel in order in their piece.I moved through the days like a severed head that finishes a sentence. We can only die in the future, I thought; right now we are always alive.

The Book of Life by Saffron Swansborough

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Hiding by Ali Giles

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Kir by Victoria Watson

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Severed Head by Mia Sundby

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Legs/Teenage Dreams by Lauren Holstein

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Woe is Me by Sho Botham

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Death Bed by Janie Reynolds

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Today I’m Alive by Ivor John

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Locked Down by Vera Gajic

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I Feel the Devil’s Love by Stuart Carruthers

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The Present Tense by Fran Duffield

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Big Sister by MaryPat Campbell

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Severed Head by Miriam Silver

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Missing Inaction by Martin Bourne

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…………………………………………

A GOOD TURN

For this week’s timed exercise I showed our writers some photographs I had taken of a van that was parked near my house.

I asked everyone to write about the fictional owner of the van. 

I then read and discussed the Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett.  Miss Shepherd, or rather, Margaret Fairchild was born in 1911 in Hellingly in East Sussex. A gifted pianist, according to her brother in about 1932 the middle-class and well-spoken Margaret Fairchild studied at the École Normale de Musique de Paris in Paris under the virtuoso Alfred Cortot. She led a chequered life eventually ending up in Alan Bennett’s driveway where she lived for 15 years in a hand-painted yellow van. When she died in 1989 Bennett immortalised her in his diaries, which he later turned into a radio play, a novella and a film.  Read The Lady in the Van.

I gave our writers a quote from the novella to use it in their homework: One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation.

The Slum, theMum and the Staycation by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s poem

The Neighbour by Jill Webb

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Quid Pro Quo by Ali Giles

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Trouble Crossing by Richard Lewis

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Thanks for Nothing by Stuart Carruthers

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The Good Neighbour by Fran Duffield

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All Sorts by MaryPat Campbell

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The Earth Mother by Miriam Silver

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Good Turns and Strangulation by Mia Sundby

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Afternoon Tea with a Difference by Lesley Dawson

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…………………………………………

May

IT ALL STARTED WITH A DREAMFor this week’s timed exercise we discussed the idea that every story has two sides to it. With this in mind I asked everyone to write two contrasting viewpoints of the same story using this opening line:

She had an evil face, smoothed by hypocrisy; but her manners were excellent.

This line is from The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson had long been fascinated with split personalities but couldn’t figure out how to write about them. Then one night he had a dream about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “In the small hours of one morning … I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis,” his wife Fanny said. “Thinking he had a nightmare, I awakened him. He said angrily: ‘Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.’” Stevenson later elaborated on the dream in an essay called “A Chapter On Dreams.”

The opening line of of this week’s homework was: It all started with a dream.

Queen of the Dance by Lauren Holstein

Read Lauren’s poem

Sweet Enough by Ali Giles

Listen to Ali’s piece read by Mia Sundby

Divebombing by Saffron Swansborough

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Roots by Victoria Watson

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Something I Don’t Know by Stuart Carruthers

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Starring Part by Grant McFarlane

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The Dream by Martin Bourne

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It all Started as a Dream by Miriam Silver

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In My Dreams by Vera Gajic

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Evil Face by Sandra Banks

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…………………………………………

NOTHING TRAVELS FASTERFor this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this opening line:

Kettle, plug, fridge, milk, coffee. Yawn.

This was an exercise in Pace and the line came from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Instead of taking the readers through the whole process of making a cup of coffee,  Douglas Adams simply chose the words associated with the action, allowing readers to fill in the blanks.

The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re outlining your story and thinking about pacing is balance. A single story can’t and shouldn’t be all fast or all slow.

Instead, there should be a trade-off between the two. This provides variety, makes the story interesting, and keeps the readers hooked. Think about it as music: it’s the highs and lows combined that makes a song appealing to the ear. If it was made up of a single, flat note, it would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it? Read attached pdf on pacing your story.I read from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and asked you to open your homework with this line from Mostly Harmless, the fifth and final part of the Hitchhiker series: Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.

Travelling Light by Gill Hilton

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The Lies, Deceptions & Falsehoods of Grief by Victoria Watson

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This is Not Here by Stuart Carruthers

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The Speed of Divorce by Grant McFarlane

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Chinese Whispers by Jill Webb

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Highly Strung by MaryPat Campbell

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Bad News by Sho Botham

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Voiture en Panne by Martin Bourne

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Nothing Travels Faster by Miriam Silver

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Bad News by Fran Duffield

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Larkins by Catriona Millar

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…………………………………………

THE ALIBIFor this week’s timed exercise I asked you to use this scenario:

The Colonel has been found dead in the library, it looks like suicide. You are being interviewed by a detective. “When did you last see the colonel?” they ask. Are you the murderer?Agatha Christie considered the opening of her 1941 novel, The Body in the Library to be one of her best openings, it was certainly her favourite.

Mrs Bantry was dreaming. Her sweet peas had just taken a First at the flower show. The vicar, dressed in cassock and surplice, was giving out the prizes in church. His wife wandered past, dressed in a bathing suit, but, as is the blessed habit of dreams, this fact did not arouse the disapproval of the parish in the way it would assuredly have done in real life… Read Ronald Knox’s 10 Commandments for Detective Fiction 

I asked everyone to use this line from The Body in the Library anywhere in their homework piece:  No innocent person ever has an alibi. The title for the homework was:  The Alibi.

The Alibi by Gill Hilton

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The Alibi by Victoria Watson

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No Alibi by Lou Beckerman

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The Alibi by Stuart Carruthers

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The Alibi by Rosalyn Hurst

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The Alibi by Janie Reynolds

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The Alibi by MaryPat Campbell

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The Alibi by Sho Botham

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The Alibi Maker by Vera Gajic

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The Alibi by Ali Giles

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The Alibi by Miriam Silver

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The Alibi by Fran Duffield

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The Alibi by Karen Akroyd

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The Alibi by Catriona Millar

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…………………………………………

THE SECRET NOTEBOOK

If your work doesn’t have trouble it may as well be a shopping list, unless of course there is a gun on your list or strychnine.  With this in mind I asked our writers to feature a shopping list for one of the following in their 20 minute timed exercise:

Poisoner     Burglar     Kidnapper      Pirate       Ghost      Murderer    Assassin Evil Mastermind

Following the death of Agatha Christie’s daughter, Rosalind, at the end of 2004, a remarkable secret was revealed. Unearthed among her affairs at the family home of Greenway were Agatha Christie’s secret notebooks, 78 handwritten volumes of notes, lists and drafts outlining all her plans for her many books, plays and stories. Mixed in with these literary traces there are telephone numbers, maps, shopping lists, doodles and aide-memoires demonstrating that Christie saw no difference between her life and her work.

The title for this week’s homework was:   The Secret Notebook.

I also asked everyone to use this line from The Thumb Mark of St Peter anywhere in their piece: Everyone is very much alike, really. But fortunately they don’t realise it.

The Secret Notebook by Victoria Watson

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The Secret Notebook by Grant McFarlane

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The Secret Notebook by Stuart Carruthers

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The Secret Notebook by Richard Rewell

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The Secret Notebook by Sho Botham

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The Secret Notebook by Martin Bourne

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The Secret Notebook by Vera Gajic

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The Secret Notebook by Ali Giles

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The Secret Notebook by Miriam Silver

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The Secret Notebook by Sue Hitchcock

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The Secret Notebook by Lesley Dawson

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The Secret Notebook by Ivor John

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I Write the Letter by Karen Akroyd

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Grocery List – a timed exercise by Lauren Holstein

Read Lauren’s poem

Divided by Catriona Millar

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