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 revelation and I love watching 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 addition. Visit https://horsemenageconstruction.co.uk/blog/ to get the latest information about a blog.

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.

Its not uncommon for one of the workshop writers to develop and combine their homework pieces and craft them into a long form story, or even a novel. This new piece by Sue Hitchcock is just such a work, coming in at over 8600 words, The Disinformation Correspondent is a contemporary, murky thriller.

The Disinformation Correspondent by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

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January

December

CHARACTER MOTIVATION

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

After all, there is no harm in smiling.

This is a quote from Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita and an exercise in Character Motivation.

Motivation is the force which pulls the reader through the story, as it creates a sense of empathy with the character.If a character’s motives are unclear or repellent, then it can cause the reader confusion or unease. Powerful motivations include a desire to survive; to save or to protect, or to change things for the good. You then need to decide what your character’s goal is in relation to the plot. This is very much determined by genre: the rational motivation of a detective is to find the murderer, so his goals will be step by step movements to uncover evidence against him; the motivation of Humbert Humbert is to avoid detection and to seduce Lolita, so his goals change as he travels across America. The former is a rational motivation; the latter is more conflicting and complicated.

For the homework I asked everyone to think about their character’s motivation and to use this quote from Lolita anywhere in their piece:

And the rest is rust and stardust.

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Common Courtesy by Ali Giles

 Listen to Ali’s Piece

Whose Idea Was It? by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Stardust and Rust by Francesca Ryan

 Read Francesca’s Piece

Dook by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Rust and Stardust by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Rizz by Sho Botham 

Read Sho’s piece

The Offering by Chani Fifield

Read Chani’s piece

The Clock Ticks in Reverse by Stuart Finegan

Read Stuart’s piece

Fools by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Jarvis by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Nana Gould – a timed exercise by Ali Giles

 Listen to Ali’s Piece

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November

A MATTER OF TASTE

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

A book is a fragile creature, it suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements and clumsy hands.

This is a quote from Umberto Eco’s 1980 bestselling debut novel The Name of the Rose. Although the work stands on its own as a historical murder mystery, it is more accurately seen as a questioning of the meaning of “truth” from theological, philosophical, scholarly, and historical perspectives. With a narrative apparatus as complex as it is beautiful, Eco’s work gives the reader both a clear defence of semiotics and an intricate detective story.

Both facets are framed by an unfinished story, the narrative of a scholar who finds an interesting tale within a number of manuscripts.

Perhaps because the space this framing story is given is so slight – compared with the density of what is to follow, or perhaps because of the tone of the scholar, these first few pages remain with the reader as the text goes back to the source of the manuscripts in the early 14th century.
 

For the homework I asked our writers to use this quote from Umberto Eco anywhere in their piece:

To Survive, you must tell stories.

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A MATTER OF TASTE

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

It came like magic in a pint bottle; it was not ecstasy but it was comfort.

This is a quote from ‘Little Dorrit’. Dickens was a true Victorian foodie, a man who took serious pleasure in eating and drinking. His culinary interests likely stemmed from surviving meagre times during his youth.

In his novels and stories Dickens used food to create character and comedy but also highlighted social issues. His characters’ attitude to food often gives us clues to their morality.Fat adults often starve thin children; characters who share and enjoy lavish feasts are good, characters who make lavish food just for show or who waste food are generally bad.Think Miss Havisham’s fossilised wedding cake… Do not underestimate the power of writing about food in your work. Food is primal. Food is life. By adding descriptions of taste to your scenes or your lines of prose and poetry, you’ll deepen the reader’s experience of your work. The secret is to get the food and drink off the table and into your characters’ and then by extension, your readers’ mouths. 
I read and discussed Joanne Harris’ novel ‘Chocolat’.

I asked our writers to feature food and drink in their homework piece and to use this line from ‘Chocolat’:

I carried recipes in my head like maps.

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October

HOW TO START YOUR STORY

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

Sometimes it’s overwhelming: the burden of knowing that the man you most admire isn’t real.

This is the opening of Jeffery Deaver’s 2014 short story “The Adventure of the Laughing Fisherman”.

A long time Conan Doyle fan Deaver tweaks the Sherlock Holmes premise in this story as bipolar amateur detective Paul Winslow inveigles his way into a murder investigation with his knack for deducing.

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. Granted, a compelling opening is not an easy task to accomplish. Besides grabbing the reader’s attention, you want to ground readers in a setting, establish voice, hint at theme, and introduce a protagonist readers can get behind.

To do this, you need to answer specific questions for your reader, while at the same time planting others.

Remember – Story Revolves Around Questions.

For the homework I asked our writers to pay close attention to the opening of their piece and to use this line from Stephen King anywhere they liked:

The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted.

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WHITE ROOM SYNDROME

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this image to work with:

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.

Your first job as a writer is to get your passengers into your train – your readers into your story. Only then can you hope to transport them. And that crucial first step doesn’t have much to do with story or plot. What matters first is this: your fictional world has to seem real. It has to grip the reader as intensely as real life – more intensely, even. Writing descriptions that seem vivid is essential. The characters, the buildings, cities, places, rooms, trees, the weather of your fictional world must have an emphatic, solid, believable presence.

There are many novels where the setting is in the title. For example The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgkins-Burnett published in 1911.

For the homework I asked our writers to pay close attention to the setting of their piece and to use this line from The Secret Garden:

Everything is made out of Magic.

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September

STRONG VERBS

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this line and a collection of Strong Verbs to use in their piece:

I know what they’d like, they’d like a blank they could fill in.

Batter   Jostle   Brood   Ensnare   Lurk   Extract   Fling   Mimic   Hail   Grope   Mystify   Intertwine Scorch   Peck   Sizzle   Prickle   Smash   Wrestle Transform   Stretch   Wreck   Refine   Oppress

This was a quote from Patricia Highsmith’s second novel ‘The Price of Salt’.

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. 

Patricia Highsmith’s novels were often about characters circling each other with guarded circumspection. It was an appropriate dynamic for one of the most acclaimed crime fiction writers of the 20th century, but it also defines her quasi-autobiographical 1952 romance The Price of Salt. Focusing on an affair between a divorcing housewife and a young woman in New York, it was originally published under a nom de plume, as Highsmith didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a “lesbian-book writer”; it wasn’t published under her real name until a 1990 reprint, when it was rechristened Carol. She adopted a similarly elusive nature in her own life, departing the United States for Europe, much like her most famous creation, the conman/murderer Tom Ripley.

For the homework I asked our writers to use this quote from Highsmith in their piece and to pay close attention to strong verbs.

Obsessions are the only things that matter.

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TONE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked you to use this line of dialogue anywhere in your piece:

“Don’t you take that tone of voice with me”

Like the tone you use when you talk to somebody, tone in writing determines how a reader responds. If the piece sounds angry, they get nervous. If it’s wry and knowing, they will settle in for an enjoyable read. If it’s dull, they leave it on the train, half read.

If you were a photographer, tone would be the way you light your subject. For dramatic shadows, lit from the side. For a scary effect, from above. For romance, lit with candles. In a movie, tone is often conveyed with music—think of the ominous score accompanying the girl swimming in shark-infested waters in Jaws. A writer doesn’t have a soundtrack or CGI to build the effects they want. Instead they have conflict, surprise, imagery, details, the words they choose and the way they are arranged in sentences.

As an example of tone in writing I read from Toni Cade Bambara’s short story ‘The Lesson’. Here’s the opening line:

Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were the only ones just right, this lady moved on our block with nappy hair and proper speech and no makeup. 

In one sentence, you know who everybody is. Not only do you want to read on, but you want to know what else she’s written so you can get that, too.

For the homework I asked our writers to pay particular attention to the tone of their piece and to use this line from Toni Cade Bambara:

Words are to be taken seriously.

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August

CHARACTER BUILDING

For this week’s timed exercise I asked you to use this character profile in your piece:

Your character is a writer and a typical extrovert. Flamboyant, daring, and outgoing to a fault, they try to join in every activity and conversation. Their unstoppable imagination helps keep their life anything but ordinary. However they tend to brag about their exploits.

This was the character profile of ‘Snoopy’.

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.

When you first start creating a fictional character, your impulse might be to create a completely unique individual, with a background that’s new and different, or a person with a weird way of looking at the world, an unconventional mind.

But at our core, every human being is essentially a cliché. You’ll have a very hard time creating a character who meets absolutely none of the standard types, whether you’re writing conventional literature, fantasy or a mystery. As the saying goes, every story has been told a thousand times before. So has every character.

For the homework I asked everyone to pay close attention to the characters and to use this line anywhere in their piece:

It takes two to make an accident.

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GASLIGHT

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

Her thoughts, however, resembled those of a fish.

This was a quote from Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky by Patrick Hamilton.

Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962) was born in West Sussex. His father was a bullying alcoholic comedian and aspiring historical novelist; his mother, a sometime actress and singer. After his mother withdrew him from Westminster School at the age of fifteen, Hamilton worked in the theatre and then took up writing, publishing his first novel when he was nineteen and rapidly making a name for himself as an up-and-coming author.

In 1927 Hamilton fell unhappily in love with a prostitute—an experience which was to inspire one of his masterpieces, the trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky.

His play Rope was lovingly transferred to the big screen by Hitchcock, but it was his play Gaslight that left a lasting impression. From this fascinating, gripping tale of greed and psychological manipulation we get the term ‘Gaslighting’.

For the homework I asked our writers to use this quote from Hamilton in their piece and to feature a manipulative character:

Too much thought is bad for the soul, for art, and for crime.

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JULY

GASLIGHT

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

Her thoughts, however, resembled those of a fish.

This was a quote from Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky by Patrick Hamilton.

Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962) was born in West Sussex. His father was a bullying alcoholic comedian and aspiring historical novelist; his mother, a sometime actress and singer. After his mother withdrew him from Westminster School at the age of fifteen, Hamilton worked in the theatre and then took up writing, publishing his first novel when he was nineteen and rapidly making a name for himself as an up-and-coming author.

In 1927 Hamilton fell unhappily in love with a prostitute—an experience which was to inspire one of his masterpieces, the trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky.

His play Rope was lovingly transferred to the big screen by Hitchcock, but it was his play Gaslight that left a lasting impression. From this fascinating, gripping tale of greed and psychological manipulation we get the term ‘Gaslighting’.

For the homework I asked our writers to use this quote from Hamilton in their piece and to feature a manipulative character:

Too much thought is bad for the soul, for art, and for crime.

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HUMOUR

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

Something funny happened on the way to work this morning…

This was an exercise in using humour in your work. Humour is the pressure valve against excessive tension. When we ratchet up the tension without moments of release, the experience can overwhelm the reader — reducing the experience the writer intended. Our heart rates can only go so high. If we introduce too much tension without the occasional release, we get anxiety — the work then evokes a state of fight or flight. In walks humour.

For the homework I asked everyone to feature a little humour in their piece and to use this quote from Oscar Wilde:

Be yourself, everyone else is taken.

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FILTER WORDS

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

Maria noticed James had gone silent and was staring past her out the coffee shop window.

This was an exercise in ‘filter words’.

Filter words are verbs that 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.

As an example, in the sentence, “I hear the engine rumbling,” you could eliminate the filter words “I hear” and simply write, “The engine rumbles.” Filter words pop up in both third-person and first-person narratives, and they dilute the potency and immediacy that narration affords an author. Eliminating filter words can help you show instead of telling.

The filter word in the exercise was ‘noticed‘. The sentence is more effective like this:

James had gone silent and was staring past Maria out the coffee shop window.

For the homework I asked our writers to pay special attention to filter words and to use this line from Jane Eyre anywhere in their piece:

I would always rather be happy than dignified.

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JUNE

SECRETS

For this week’s timed exercise I gave everyone this scenario to work with:

Your character keeps a secret diary.

Secrets are the engine that keep a story moving forward. Readers love being surprised by secrets in stories, as what was hidden is revealed. Although the revelation and its lead-up may seem mysterious to readers, authors, like good magicians, should know what they are doing.

Secrets can be powerful tools in fiction. When readers sense a secret is in play, their ears perk up, and they’re drawn into the story to ferret out that secret— and to watch the consequences. Almost all characters keep a secret. Your job as a writer is to know why the secret is being kept, to decide when and how to reveal it, how to conceal it beforehand, and what the consequences of revelation will be.

I read from The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

For the homework I asked everyone to use this line from the Diary and to feature a secret:

Because paper has more patience than people.

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ACTION

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

Everything was still, silent. My thoughts raced madly.

This is a quote from Joe Simpson’s book Touching the Void and an exercise in writing action.

The two keys to great action scenes are short, clean sentences and dynamic verbs. Short sentences keep the action flowing smoothly and quickly, and dynamic verbs make the action interesting. Writers can have the tendency to focus on movements and not what is going on in the character’s head, which can contribute to a reader’s boredom. In a story, as opposed to a film, you can portray what’s going on in a character’s mind, so use that ability to your advantage.

I read from Touching the Void, Joe Simpson’s account of his near-death experience in the Andes.

For the homework I asked everyone to feature action in their piece and to use this line from Touching the Void:

Fear seems to exist only in our imagination.

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LOST THE PLOT

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers these three questions:

Who is Sara?

Why is she running down the street

What is she holding?

This was an exercise in plot building.

“Every story is made up of both events and characters. A story happens because a pattern is interrupted. If you are writing about a day that is like any other day,
it is most likely a routine, not a story.” Margaret Atwood.

Essentially plot is the chain of connected events that make up a narrative. It refers to what actually occurs in a story and is one of storytelling’s major pillars. It is not a series of random incidents. Generally, there must be a cause-and-effect relationship between the events and the plot points. The king died and then the queen died, for instance, is not a plot, as E.M. Forster notes. But the king died and then the queen died out of grief is one because it reveals a causality in the sequence of scenes.

For the homework I asked everyone to use one of these plots:

The Riddle 

The riddle plot entertains the audience and challenges them to find the solution before the hero, who steadily and carefully uncovers clues and hence the final solution.
The story may also be spiced up with terrible consequences if the riddle is not solved in time.

Rivalry 

In rivalry, two people or groups are set as competitors that may be good hearted or as bitter enemies. Rivals often face a zero-sum game, in which there can only be one winner,
for example where they compete for a scarce resource or the heart of a single other person.

Revenge 

In the revenge plot, a wronged person seeks retribution against the person or organization which has betrayed or otherwise harmed them or loved ones, physically or emotionally.
This plot depends on moral outrage for gaining sympathy from the audience.
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VIEWPOINT

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

Once upon a time there was a…

This was an exercise in viewpoint, I picked that line because fairy tales have a flat or zero viewpoint.

Viewpoint, also known as point of view or POV, is one of the most complex facets of fiction. It is confusing and misunderstood, so viewpoint errors are among the most common errors editors see in new writers’ manuscripts. Confusion about viewpoint stems from the very words we use to describe it: close third person, limited third person, middle third person … what do they mean?  “Third person” doesn’t say anything about viewpoint. It only says you’re using he and she instead of I. Think of viewpoint as a camera. Who’s carrying it? You have two choices: give it to a narrator, or give it to one or more characters. I read the opening of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Diary one of the stories in Goodbye to Berlin published in 1939.

Set during the waning days of the Weimar Republic. The novel recounts Isherwood’s 1929–1932 sojourn as a pleasure-seeking British expatriate on the eve of Adolf Hitler’s ascension as Chancellor of Germany and consists of a “series of sketches of disintegrating Berlin, its slums and nightclubs and comfortable villas, its odd maladapted types and its complacent burghers.”

The novel’s plot recounts factual events in Isherwood’s life, and the novel’s characters were based upon actual persons. The insouciant flapper Sally Bowles was based on teenage cabaret singer Jean Ross.The novel was adapted by John Van Druten into a 1951 Broadway play called I Am a Camera. Which was made into a successful film before transforming into the well know musical, ‘Cabaret’.

For the homework I asked everyone to use this line from the Berlin Diary:

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.

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MAY

CONFLICT

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

Your character has been blamed for something they didn’t do.

This was an exercise in creating conflict. Learning how to create conflict in your stories is crucial. We often think that to create conflict we need to show spectacular events. For example, a car chase, an argument between lovers, a fistfight, or the threat of a nuclear explosion. Or we think of conflict as some kind of internal suffering: depression, longing, or pain. But the truth is that if events and emotions were the only elements of conflict in our stories, we’d have some pretty flat stories.

Conflict, in good stories, is not about spectacular events or painful emotions. Good conflict is about values.

We looked at the conflict in values in Pride & Prejudice. Looming above the whole story is the value of marriage and love. Mrs. Bennet wants all her daughters to get married. The daughters want to get married too, but only if they’re in love… and preferably in love with someone wealthy (another central value in the story). Marriage, love, and wealth are all positive values. Their values most of us would agree with! However, figuring out how to adhere to all of those values at once is incredibly difficult, and in Pride & Prejudice, we get to watch the characters try, fail, and then finally succeed at achieving all of these good but conflicting values.

For the homework I asked everyone to feature characters with conflicting values and to use this line from Pride & Prejudice:

I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.

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The Writing Room by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Daisy Chain by Judith Horth

Read Judith’s piece

Motives & Morals by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Missing Peace by Chandra Fifield

Read Chandra’s piece

Being Interviewed by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

What If? by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Find Ye a Necromancer by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

The Devil Always Sings the Best Tunes by Stuart Finegan 

Read Stuart’s piece

Benefit by Ivor John

Read Ivor’s piece

Crime & Punishment by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

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SUSPENSE

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

Someone must have been telling lies about…

This is of course part of the opening of Kafka’s The Trial which immediately throws the reader into a world of mystery and suspense.

Building apprehension in the minds of your readers is one of the most effective ways to engage them in your work and keeping them flipping pages late into the night. Simply put, if you don’t hook your readers, they won’t get into the story. If you don’t drive the story forward by making readers worry about your main character, they won’t have a reason to keep reading.

“You have a scene with two characters in conversation. Surprise is when, suddenly, a bomb goes off. Suspense is when the reader knows there is a bomb that will explode at 1 o’clock, and is now sitting on the edge of their seat as the characters remain unaware of the bomb’s existence, while 1 o’clock is slowly approaching.” – Alfred Hitchcock

For the homework I asked our writers to use this line in their piece and to include suspense:

I like to make use of what I know.

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The Helping Hand by Judith Horth

Read Judith’s piece

Devil’s Gold by Chandra Fifield

Read Chandra’s piece

Waiting by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

A Warm Blaze by MaryPat Campbell

Read Sho’s piece

People Stay off the Heath by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

God Knows You Sin by Stuart Finegan 

Read Stuart’s piece

Pretty Meh! by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Amen to That by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Que Sera, Needn’t Be! – a timed exercise by Judith Horth

Read Judith’s piece

Trapdoor – a timed exercise by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

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APRIL

WAIT

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

Wait

We looked at the American poet Galway Kinnell’s poem ‘Wait’

I also read from Katrin Schumann’s article When Being a Writer Means Playing the Waiting Game – which I’ve attached. Schumann’s debut novel ‘The Forgotten Hours’ was a bestseller. I read the prologue of Schumann’s second novel ‘This Terrible Beauty’.

On the windswept shores of an East German island, Bettina Heilstrom struggles to build a life from the ashes. World War II has ended, and her country is torn apart. Longing for a family, she marries Werner, an older bureaucrat who adores her. But after joining the fledgling secret police, he is drawn deep into its dark mission and becomes a dangerous man.

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

Silence isn’t always empty, is it?

I read my column ‘Lofty’ from my first collection of columns, ‘The Familiar’ Read it here

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Crocodile by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Getting to the Bottom of Things by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Timeless by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Claustrophobia by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Where is my Hand by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

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TIME

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

But this is such a pleasant day: wouldn’t it be nice to have just a little more of it?
This is a line from David Kirby’s poem “The Hours,” in which the poet reflects on a subject that feels more significant at the start of a new year: the presence of time. “I’m going to rely on you hours to lead me, / to open one door after another and beckon / me through. Look it’s time to make lunch. / Look, it’s time to go back to work.

Look, / it’s time to rub cat Patsy’s belly again,” he writes. Read it here

I read Margaret Atwood on ‘time in fiction’ – Read it here

I read the opening of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. The original title for the novel was ‘The Hours’ and the work has a preoccupation with time, not just ‘clock time’ but ‘remembered time’.

All of the novel’s action, aside from the flashbacks, takes place on a day in “the middle of June” of 1923. It is an example of stream of consciousness storytelling: every scene closely tracks the momentary thoughts of a particular character. Woolf blurs the distinction between direct and indirect speech throughout the novel, freely alternating her mode of narration between omniscient description, indirect interior monologue, and soliloquy. The narration follows at least twenty characters in this way, but the bulk of the novel is spent with Clarissa Dalloway, Peter Walsh, and Septimus Smith.

I asked everyone to use this line from Mrs Dalloway anywhere in their homework and to consider time as a theme or a motif.

Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame.

I read my column The Mystery Guest from my first collection of columns, ‘The Familiar’ Read it here

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Once by Ali Giles

Read Ali’s piece

Old Habits Never Die by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Pandora’s Box by Juliet Robinson

Read Juliet’s piece

Wrong by Fran Duffield

Read Fran’s piece

Thirteen Days by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Is it Necessary by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Gerard Knows Best a timed exercise by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

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TRANSFORMATION

For this week’s timed exercise I asked everyone to open their piece with these two short sentences:

Ove is fifty-nine. He drives a Saab.

This is the opening of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Fredrik Backman got tepid responses when he sent out the manuscript for his debut novel, A Man Called Ove. Most publishers ignored him, and several turned it down.

After a few months and a few more rejections, he began to think perhaps there wasn’t a market for a story about a cranky 59-year-old Swedish widower who tries and fails to kill himself. “It was rejected by one publisher with the line, ‘We like your novel, we think your writing has potential, but we see no commercial potential,” said Backman who lives outside Stockholm with his wife and two children. “That note I kept.”

In hindsight, that critique seems wildly, comically off base. Ince its publication in 2012 the novel has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide and has been made into films, most recently starring Tom Hanks in the title role.

The novel’s protagonist, Ove, is a lonely curmudgeon who screams at his neighbours for parking in the wrong place and punches a hospital clown whose magic tricks annoy him. Six months after his wife’s death, he’s planning to commit suicide and has turned off his radiators, cancelled his newspaper subscription and anchored a hook into the ceiling to hang himself. But he keeps getting interrupted by his clueless, prying neighbours. He strikes up a friendship with an Iranian immigrant and her two young daughters, who find Ove’s grumpiness endearing.

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

It is difficult to admit that one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time.

I read my column The Fabulous Baker Boy from my first collection of columns, ‘The Familiar’ Read it here

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Glorious by Janie Reynolds

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Saquin Point by Juliet Robinson

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Who Are You? by Sho Botham

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Lucifer’s Wish Disguised by Her White Collar by Stuart Finegan

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Retirement Dream by Ivor John

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Fairy Godmother or Wicked Stepmother by Sue Hitchcock

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Drunken Safety Blanket –  a timed exercise by Juliet Robinson

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Gerard Knows Best a timed exercise by Mia Sundby

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ARTEFACT

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

After a winter of gluttony & grief I’m back on plan for good this time.

This is the opening line of Kiki Petrosino’s poem ‘Whole 30’.

Originally from Baltimore Kiki Petrosino is the author of White Blood: a Lyric of Virginia (2020) and three other poetry books, all from Sarabande. She holds graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Her memoir, Bright, was released from Sarabande in 2022. She directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Virginia, where she is a Professor of Poetry.

Kiki Petrosino’s definition of poetry

“My definition of poetry is that a poem is the artifact or the trace that is left behind and created through the poet’s movement of mind over a problem or a situation.”

We discussed artifacts in fiction and in real life. As an example we watched a video clip of a 6 year old child prodigy Paul Petrescu playing Fur Elise by Beethoven. In 1867 Ludwig Nohl found an autographed piece of music by Beethoven among the papers of Therese Malfatti and published it – under the wrong title. Beethoven had a doomed love affair with Therese Malfatti. She was his 18 year old student, and he fell in love with her. He wrote a short but haunting piece for her – Bagatelle, but after she rejected him and his proposal of marriage the piece was shoved in a drawer. Ludwig Nohl misread Beethoven’s messy handwriting and so ‘Für Therese’ became one of the most famous piano pieces ever – ‘Für Elise’.

For this week’s homework I asked everyone to have their protagonist find an artefact from their past – an inciting artefact which could be something as personal as a photograph or journal. Or it could be a complimentary or derogatory note (or letter) that involves them that they had never seen before. Of course, you could also make it something fun like an old treasure map.

I read my column The Big Sucker from my first collection of columns, ‘The Familiar’ Read it here

Boxed by Janie Reynolds

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I Wish I Hadn’t Told Ya by Jill Webb

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All The Little Pieces, Inga by Juliet Robinson

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Tea Towel by Sho Botham

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Damascus by Rosalyn St Pierre

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House Clearance by Ivor John

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Grandfather’s Letter by Sue Hitchcock

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I Kiss You –  a timed exercise by Juliet Robinson

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NEW YEAR METAMORPHOSIS

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

These are the things I decided I would do this year.

This line comes from Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding. New Year’s Day is often a time in novels in which tensions erupt or a new life is envisioned for a character facing a transformation, such as in Middlemarch by George Eliot, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, and Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. It is no surprise that literature has, for millennia, attempted to document our human fascination with metamorphosis. We could say, of course, that all literature is about change – about characters growing, developing, learning – but some transformations are more emphatic – changes of heart, changes of mind.

I read from Bridget Jones Diary.Zellweger famously gained 30 pounds to play the titular role in 2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, repeating the process again for the 2004 sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. By the time she filmed Bridget Jones’s Baby, however, the Oscar winner was tired of talking about her weight.

For the homework I asked everyone to open their piece with this line from Bridget Jones Diary and to focus on change. What new life does your protagonist embark on? What changes, or doesn’t change, for them and their desires?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.

I read my column The Hogmanay Coat from my first collection of columns, ‘The Familiar’ Read it here …………………………………………………………………………

Art by Sho Botham

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Mirrored What I Saw in Me by Stuart Finegan

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Universal Truth by Rosalyn St Pierre

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Karma by Janie Reynolds

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Telltale by Sue Hitchcock

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What’s Larp? a timed exercise by Mia Sundby

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