In this section we share a selection of our writers’ weekly homework pieces and timed exercises. Homework is normally 300 – 600 words maximum, the timed exercises are completed in the workshop within 20 minutes.

The Familiar

The new revised edition of The Familiar includes several new columns while others appear for the first time in their virginal form, before they were coerced into fitting a particular shape.  The format however, is similar to the original, forming a single year distilled from around ten years of columns. The alternative was a whole book of columns about my teeth.

Buy The Familiar on amazon

Like all the best career moves the idea of writing a ‘living autobiography’ happened by accident. The first column was written to fill an unexpected hole in a newspaper. Quite a large hole, around 1400 words which is almost half a page of a broadsheet so no pressure. The deadline was tight, less than 24 hours so I used what was to hand, namely my family’s move to the country, an event we are still recovering from. Before I knew it one column had turned into a thousand. Most writers would have something better to do, but the truth is, when you get paid to air your dirty linen in public, it becomes addictive.

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November

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE FOLLOWED?

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

A farmer lived, but not well. If she planted grain, it would not sprout. If she grew rice, it would rot.

These are the opening lines of The Rain Heron by Tasmanian writer Rob Arnott. A spellbinding eco-fable that delivers a powerful message about the human need to control and subdue the natural world. The novel’s straightforward conditional opening sentences help to quickly synthesize information and set the tone for conflict in the story. Starting the first sentence with an “if this, then that” scenario produces tension and sets the stage for what will unfold. – see attached pdf.
‘A farmer lived, but not well. If she planted grain, it would not sprout. If she grew rice, it would rot. If she tried to raise livestock, 
they would gasp and choke and die before they’d seen a second dawn (or they were stillborn, often taking their mothers, 
which the farmer had usually bought with the last of her coins and hope, with them). Success and happiness were foreign to her, and she had forgotten what it was like to go to bed unhungry. 
All she had was her hunger and her farm—and her farm, as far as she could tell, wanted her to starve.’
 
What Is a Conditional Sentence?
A conditional sentence is a sentence that describes a hypothetical situation, like an action or event, and the result of that situation.
Here’s an easy way to think about it: a conditional sentence can usually use the words “if” and “then.” Here’s an example:
If a global pandemic occurs, then I hope my family survive.
For the homework I asked our writers to use rain as a character and to use this line of dialogue from The Rain Heron:  “How does it feel to be followed?”

Water Damaged by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

Beats by Grant Macfarlane 

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Beats Unplugged by Grant Macfarlane 

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Revolve Around You by Saffron Swansborough 

Read Saffron’s piece

How Does it Feel to be Followed? by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

I Dance by Lou Beckerman

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1936 by MaryPat Campbell

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Come Again Another Day by Gill Hilton

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Boyle by Martin Bourne

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Nimbus by Vera Gajic

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Last Days by Victoria Cooper

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Rainy Day by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

How Does it Feel to be Followed? by Rosalyn Hurst 

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Close On My Heels by Karen Ackroyd

Read Karen’s piece

How Does it Feel to be Followed? by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Hitchcock and the Birds by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

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I LANDED IN LONDON…

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use this line from Great Expectations in your piece.

With those words, he released me – which I was glad of, for his hand smelt of scented soap.

Pip meets Jaggers on the stairs at Miss Havisham’s house and the solicitor grabs hold of him:

‘Well! Behave yourself. I have a pretty large experience of boys, and you’re a bad set of fellows. Now mind!’ said he, biting the side of his great forefinger as he frowned at me, ‘you behave yourself!’ With those words, he released me – which I was glad of, for his hand smelt of scented soap – and went his way downstairs. I wondered whether he could be a doctor; but no, I thought; he couldn’t be a doctor, or he would have a quieter and more persuasive manner.  

Dickens was the first novelist to make smell a narrative device. For Dickens smell is the most visceral sense. The most extraordinary, and perhaps the most horrible, event in all his fiction makes itself known by a smell – a smell so strong and so nasty that it is almost a taste.  I’ve attached a pot-pourri of Dickens fictional smells.

For their homework I asked our writers to use this line from David Copperfield and to feature a smell is an important feature of your piece.

I landed in London on a wintry autumn evening.

An illustrated Guide by Ali Giles

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Polly by Christina Buchanan

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Apples by Grant Macfarlane 

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You’ll Amount to Nothing by Stuart Carruthers

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I Landed in London by Miriam Silver

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On Misty Bridge by Lou Beckerman

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I Landed in London by Janie Reynolds

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Flat Whites by MaryPat Campbell

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Fleurs de Bulgarie by Gill Hilton

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Arrival by Saffron Swansborough 

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The Only Constant is Change by Victoria Cooper

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Death Changes Everything by Marion Umney

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One Last Time by Richard Lewis

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Coming Out by Lou Beckerman

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Anosmic by Grant Macfarlane 

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I STOLE HER HEART AWAY AND PUT ICE IN ITS PLACE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to incorporate this character description in their piece:

“A large hard-breathing middle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes, and sandy hair standing straight upright on his head,  so that he looked as if he had just choked, and had that moment come to.”
This is Mr. Pumblechook from Great Expectations. Mr. Pumblechook is the proprietor of a dry goods shop in the small town where Pip, the protagonist of Great Expectations, grows up. His name alone tells us that we are not expected to respect Mr. Pumblechook, or even to take him very seriously.
“The Dickensian phrase ‘as if’ is the phrase, more than any other, that unlocks the novelist’s fantastic vision of the sheer strangeness of reality.”   John Mullan.
The construction “as if”, appears in all of Dickens’ work, 266 times in Great Expectations alone. These two little words hold in place a complex device that allows Dickens to see his characters from the outside, and show us how they see themselves, while indulging in his own flights of fancy.
For the homework I asked our writers to use the construction “as if” and this line which comes from Great Expectations:

I stole her heart away and put ice in its place.

James by Christina Buchanan

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Mamie by Ali Giles

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Happy Ever After by Janie Reynolds

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Fledglings by Mari Syrad

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Skinny Jeans by Sho Botham

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Yet Her Face Remained the Same by Stuart Carruthers

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On Misty Bridge by Lou Beckerman

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Rose by MaryPat Campbell

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I Stole Her Heart Away by Miriam Silver

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Gutted by Gill Hilton

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The Man in the Aisle – a timed exercise by Sho Botham 

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Thaw by Saffron Swansborough 

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Dreams by Rosalyn Hurst 

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Dying by Karen Ackroyd

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Agamemnon’s Lament by Marion Umney

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Stricken by Richard Lewis

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Ice Maiden by Vera Gajic

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I Stole her Heart by Sandra Banks

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Heart of Ice by Mia Sundby

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DREAMS ARE WHAT YOU WAKE UP FROM 

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

My friend Mel McGinnis was talking.

This is the first line of Raymond Carver’s short story, ‘What we take about when we talk about love’.
Carver’s second short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, published in 1981, is a slim volume of about 150 pages featuring tales of love and woe, everyday life and the sometimes-unbelievable weirdness of it. Carver created a world in his writing that was much like his own hard Oregon upbringing: sparse and challenging, sparing no one heartbreak. Heavy drinkers and disillusioned people making bad choices fill Carver’s work.
One of the most striking things about the collection is its economy of phrase; you get the feeling that not a single extra word dare show itself. Carver’s writing is lean, spare, and cool. Characters react to one another with passion, but there’s a distance between them and Carver’s rendering of their world that became part of his signature style. Crisp and unemotional, his work set a tone for modern American fiction that many still try to emulate today.
For the homework I asked our writers to use this line by Carver anywhere in their homework:

Dreams are what you wake up from.

Sleep Smiles by Sho Botham

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Out with the Boys by Ali Giles

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New Dawn on Monday by Dan Judd

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The Man in the Rain Part 3 by Christina Buchanan

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Sleep Walking by Victoria Cooper

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Nothing that Cannot be Turned back by Stuart Carruthers

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Silk Purse part 2 by Lou Beckerman

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The Starry Sphere by MaryPat Campbell

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Dreams by Miriam Silver

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Madeleine by Marion Umney

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The Catch by Sue Hitchcock

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The Devil is Dead by Garf Collins

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Dreams by Rosalyn Hurst 

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A Dream by Vera Gajic

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Tinder Box by Richard Lewis

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October

THE DEVIL’S OUT OF FASHION

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use this line from Dodie’s Smith’s classic novel I Capture the Castle.

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

I Capture the Castle was Dodie Smith’s first novel, written during the Second World War when she and her husband were living in California. She longed for home and wrote of a happier time, unspecified in the novel apart from a reference to living in the 1930s.
Published in 1949 the novel relates the adventures of an eccentric family, the Mortmains, struggling to live in genteel poverty in a decaying castle during the 1930s. The first person narrator is Cassandra Mortmain, an intelligent teenager who tells the story through her journal. It is a coming-of-age story.
It’s also a book about reading, and a book about the history of the English novel, and how different formations of the novel butt up against each other and fight. But what makes it so compelling is the voice of its narrator: thoughtful, funny, and eminently lovable Cassandra.
Dodie Smith loved dogs and kept Dalmatians as pets; at one point she had nine.
The first was named Pongo, which became the name Smith used for the canine protagonist of The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Smith had the idea for the novel when one of her friends observed a group of her Dalmatians and said, “Those dogs would make a lovely fur coat.”
For the homework I asked our writers to use this line from the novel anywhere in their piece:

The Devil’s out of fashion.

The Devil’s out of Fashion by Grant McFarlane

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Devil’s out of Fashion by Mia Sundby

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Devil by Ali Giles

Listen to Ali’s piece read by Mia Sundby

Face Mask by Victoria Cooper

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There is no Wrong Turn by Stuart Carruthers

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Silk Purse by Lou Beckerman

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The Leaf by Janie Reynolds

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The Devil’s out of Fashion by Richard Lewis

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Sympathy for the Devil by Dan Judd

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Tight Red Trousers by Sho Botham

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It’s a Kind of Magic by Ali Giles

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At Breakneck Speed – a timed exercise by Dan Judd

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CALL ON ME IN THE DAY OF TROUBLE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use this line from Robinson Crusoe:

It is never too late to be wise.

 
Published in 1719 Robinson Crusoe is often described as the ‘first modern novel’ because it was intentionally written and sold as a productIn Defoe’s time, there was no publishing industry. The book was printed at the Amsterdam Coffee House and cost two shillings. The first printing, of a thousand copies, quickly went to a second, third and fourth. The book was translated into French, Dutch, German, Spanish and Russian, 
making Crusoe one of the world’s most recognised fictional characters. But the author, who had been repeatedly imprisoned for his opposition to the British government, remained anonymous.
 
In the novel Defoe presents a powerful Imaginative adventure story that has gripped readers for over 300 years. However,  it is also a morality tale and allegorically treats the theme of sin, punishment and repentance in a striking manner. Robinson Crusoe commits a sin of disobedience as a result, he gets punishment finally, he attains salvation through the recognition of sin and repentance.
 
I asked our writers to use this line from the novel anywhere in their homework:

Call on me in the day of trouble.

The theme was Repentance.

Betting Man by Catriona Millar

Listen to Grant MacFarlane read Catriona ‘s piece

Repentance of St Peter by Ali Giles

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Respects by Grant McFarlane

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How to Break Up with Someone by Victoria Cooper

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Call on me by Lou Beckerman

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Fidelity and Courage by MaryPat Campbell

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I Move Heaven and Earth by Saffron Swansborough

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Hidden Danger Richard Lewis

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Call on Me by Mia Sundby

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Ho’oponono by Dan Judd

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Worry Circles by Sho Botham

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Call on Me by Miriam Silver

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Call on Me by Vera Gajic

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The Day of Trouble by Sue Hitchcock

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Raw by Melody Bertucci

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Repentance by Garf Collins

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Deliverance by Marion Umney

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Call on Me by Rosalyn Hurst 

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Repentance by Stuart Carruthers

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GREATER STRANGERS THAN BEFORE

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

After a time she believed in the reality of this comedy.

This is a quote from Emile Zola’s 1868 novel Thérèse Raquin.
Thérèse Raquin is a young woman whose bland marriage to her Cousin Camille forces her into the arms of her husband’s friend and colleague, Laurent. While the two embark on a feverish affair, Camille becomes nothing more than an obstacle. And so a wild murder plot begins, with consequences neither Thérèse nor Laurant could have foreseen. 
 
Thérèse Raquin is less a “drama with characters” than a scientific study of the collision between conflicting temperaments. Laurent, a rough and conscienceless peasant, represents “blood”; Thérèse, the illegitimate product of a French army officer and a “native woman of great beauty”, represents “nerves”. What happens when blood meets nerves for the joint enterprise of murder? Nerves incites blood, blood acts, and then – perhaps to the non-theorist’s surprise – nerves infects blood with its own nervosity. Thus Laurent succumbs just as Thérèse does to physical guilt, against which all his peasant brutality and blood is powerless.
For the homework I asked our writers to use this line from the novel. The theme was Deceit.

They seemed to be greater strangers than before. 

Deceit by Ali Giles

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 Journey by Grant McFarlane

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Runaways by Victoria Cooper

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The Man in the Rain by Christina Buchanan

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The Man in the Rain Part 2 by Christina Buchanan

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Namaste Sweetheart by Lou Beckerman

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Six Nations by MaryPat Campbell

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Accompaniment by Saffron Swansborough

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A Broken Promise by Sho Botham

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Deceit by Miriam Silver

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Adam’s Family by Vera Gajic

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Lockdown Delusions by Marion Umney

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Locked-up Lockdown by Sue Hitchcock

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The Gorge by Melody Bertucci

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I Like a View by Lesley Dawson

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The Ritual by Rosalyn Hurst 

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The Shoe Doesn’t Fit Anymore by Stuart Carruthers

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I LIKE A VIEW

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write a monologue with these opening lines by Gertrude Stein.

It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.

In 1932 Gertrude Stein, the high priestess of early 20th-century modernist art and writer of baffling radical novels, came up with an audacious idea to make some money. The plan was that she would write about her own life in the guise of writing the autobiography of her partner, Alice B Toklas.

If Alice were to narrate the book, it meant that she, Gertrude, could use her beloved as an avatar to speak about her own (often mocked) writing and offer a personal view of her friendship with some of the famous artists and writers she had met in Paris between 1903 and 1932.

It was not lost on Stein that her relationship with Picasso, who was 24 when she met him, and Matisse, who was 35 (never mind Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald), would be of interest to a wide American audience when the book was published in 1933. This proved to be true and to her shame and delight,

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas – her most conventional book – became her most commercial. Later in 1954 Alice B Toklas achieved notoriety for her Recipe Book which contained the recipe for Hash Brownies. Stein was a writer of ritual as many writers are. Although Stein’s was probably more unusual, she wrote her best work while her partner Alice drove her around in a car.

Using the theme of Ritual I asked our writers to use this line by Stein anywhere in their homework: I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it. 

Ritual by Ali Giles

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Views by Grant McFarlane

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A Woman with a Hat of Bees by Victoria Cooper

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Nine, ten, begin again by Lou Beckerman

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I Like a View by MaryPat Campbell

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Untitled by Janie Reynolds

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Genius by Saffron Swansborough

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Don’t Look Back by Sho Botham

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I Like a View by Miriam Silver

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Yet Another Morning by Garf Collins

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Out on a Limb Richard Lewis

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Paris 1925 by Sue Hitchcock

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While the Light Lasts by Dan Judd

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I Like a View by Lesley Dawson

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The Ritual by Rosalyn Hurst 

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The Writing is on the Wall by Stuart Carruthers

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Man’s Search for Meaning by Grant McFarlane

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September

THERE ARE NEVER REALLY ENDINGS

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

You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.

This is the last line of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. 
Published in 2011, The Night Circus is a sprawling historical novel about magic and the circus. Highly whimsical, it is a narrative so wilfully contrived that contrivance is its raison d’être.  It is intensely visual, so much so that what remains in its wake are almost exclusively images – more so than plot, or character, or even the prose itself.
Morgenstern paints precise, evocative and visually lush scenes within the tents of her fictional circus. Reading the novel is, in this respect, more like watching a film in the making – not an ordinary film, however, but an imaginative collaboration between writer and reader. Through the movements of her characters in this sparklingly realised alternative reality, Morgenstern explores the relation between competition and collaboration, collusion and manipulation, fate and freedom. The Night Circus poses questions about the essential connection between fantasy and reality, and the human need for the former for the sustenance of the latter.
For the homework I asked our writers to use this line from the novel, the theme was Rivalry.

There are never really endings, happy or otherwise. 

The Middle Sister by Lou Beckerman

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Oh Baby by Ali Giles

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Love in the Time of Covid by Grant McFarlane

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Freedom by MaryPat Campbell

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Tell Your Name by Marion Umney

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Lament by Saffron Swansborough

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There are never really endings by Miriam Silver

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The Pursuit of Happiness by Garf Collins

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Wiped Out by Richard Lewis

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The Match by Sue Hitchcock

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Shadows on the Wall by Dan Judd

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There are never really endings by Lesley Dawson

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DID I TELL MY NAME?

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

The morning sun was streaming through the crevices of the canvas when the man awoke.

This is the opening line of Chapter two of the Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. When the novel opens, Henchard is a disconsolate twenty-one-year-old hay-trusser who, in a drunken rage, sells his wife and daughter at a county fair. Eighteen years later, Henchard has risen to become the mayor and the most accomplished corn merchant in the town of Casterbridge.

The novel is similar to the Greek tragedies, in particular Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. Both literary works use three elements: catharsis, a complicated plot containing a secret, and the presence of a tragic hero — to create the effect of tragedy. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, however, Hardy uses these three characteristics to create a modern Aristotelian tragedy played out in mid-nineteenth century England.

Hardy started work on novel in the spring of 1884. He completed it in a little over a year, and it was first issued in weekly parts in January 1886, followed by full publication in May 1886.  The foremost theme in The Mayor of Casterbridge is regret. Henchard’s drunken decision to sell his wife and baby daughter haunts him throughout the rest of his life.

For the homework I asked our writers to use this line of dialogue from the novel anywhere in their piece, the theme was Regret.

“Did I tell my name to anyone last night, or didn’t I tell my name?”

Great Expectations by Grant McFarlane

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Did I Tell My Name? by Mia Sundby

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Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, Names Can Ever Harm Me by Lou Beckerman

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Did I Tell My Name? by MaryPat Campbell

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Thomas and Emma by Ali Giles

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Tell Your Name by Marion Umney

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The Dichotomy of Being Seen by Mari Syrad 

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Did I Tell My Name? by Miriam Silver

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Mary-Ann by Sho Botham

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Wiped Out by Richard Lewis

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Regret by Sue Hitchcock

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Mr Cellophane by Dan Judd

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Did I Tell My Name? by Lesley Dawson

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I CAN’T EXPLAIN WHY I DID THESE THINGS

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to open their piece with this line and write your piece in the future tense:

I will stay inside if it’s raining tomorrow.

I then read and discussed the Wells Tower short story ‘Down Through the Valley’. The story comes from Tower’s acclaimed 2009 collection ‘Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned’. In Wells Tower’s work there is always, just off the margins, a kind of dread and cruelty lurking, waiting to burst onto the page. Tower is a burgeoning master of articulating the weird shapes our private fears take when they become public—or real. The ambient unease of “Down Through the Valley” soon erupts past terror into violence, displaced onto a bystander. There and elsewhere, the author is eerily, painfully adept at observing the exact moment of our own self-destruction, when the implicit becomes horribly overt.
 
For the homework I asked our writers to use this line anywhere in their piece.

I can’t explain why I did these things.

No Reason Why by Victoria Cooper

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The Man in the Rain by Christina Buchanan

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Sirens by Grant McFarlane

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I Can’t Explain Why by Mia Sundby

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What Goes Around Comes Around by Lou Beckerman

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Again and Again by MaryPat Campbell

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Halved by Saffron Swansborough

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I Can’t Explain Why by Marion Umney

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To My Love by Vera Gajic

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I Can’t Explain Why by Miriam Silver

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No More by Sho Botham

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Double Trouble by Richard Lewis

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I Can’t Explain by Sue Hitchcock

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New Moon Rising by Dan Judd

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I Did Not Ask by Rosalyn Hurst 

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The Bond by Stuart Carruthers

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

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

When I dream of the afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the… 

“When I dream of the afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote of the hotel he often frequented with F. Scott Fitzgerald. The hotel is used in his novel The Sun Also RisesThe basis for the novel was Hemingway’s trip to Spain in 1925. The setting was unique and memorable, depicting sordid café life in Paris and the excitement of the Pamplona festival, with a middle section devoted to descriptions of a fishing trip in the Pyrenees. Hemingway’s spare writing style, combined with his restrained use of description to convey characterisations and action, demonstrates his ‘Iceberg Theory’ of writing.
 
For the homework I gave our writers a selection of lines from The Sun Also Rises to use in their piece.

The Pursuit of Happiness by Janie Reynolds

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The Pursuit of unHappiness by Victoria Cooper

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The Pursuit of Happiness by Grant McFarlane

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The Pursuit of Happiness by MaryPat Campbell

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The Pursuit of Happiness by Marion Umney

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The Pursuit of Happiness by Vera Gajic

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Lost in the Moment by Sho Botham

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The Pursuit of Happiness by Richard Lewis

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The Pursuit of Happiness by Lesley Dawson

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Into the Black and out of the Red by Dan Judd

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The Pursuit of Happiness by Rosalyn Hurst 

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The Pursuit of Happiness by Stuart Carruthers

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The Pursuit of Happiness by Miriam Silver

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An Average Wednesday Afternoon by Mia Sundby

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THE SUN ALSO RISES

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

When I dream of the afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the… 

“When I dream of the afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote of the hotel he often frequented with F. Scott Fitzgerald. The hotel is used in his novel The Sun Also RisesThe basis for the novel was Hemingway’s trip to Spain in 1925. The setting was unique and memorable, depicting sordid café life in Paris and the excitement of the Pamplona festival, with a middle section devoted to descriptions of a fishing trip in the Pyrenees. Hemingway’s spare writing style, combined with his restrained use of description to convey characterisations and action, demonstrates his ‘Iceberg Theory’ of writing.
 
For the homework I gave our writers a selection of lines from The Sun Also Rises to use in their piece.

My Inescapable Self by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

Nomadism & Belonging by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

Click by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Socially Distanced by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

The White Elephant by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

29 August 2020 by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Their First Time by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Clock by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Missed Opportunity by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

If You Want People to Like You by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

When I Dream by Rosalyn Hurst 

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Heaven by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

……………………………………….

August

THE WHITE ELEPHANT

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this prompt.

The Tip of the Iceberg

I then read from ‘Hills Like White Elephants’  by Ernest Hemingway which I’ve attached. Hills Like White Elephants’ tells the story of a man and woman drinking beer and anise liqueur while they wait at a train station in Spain. They are physically and emotionally at a crossroads. The man is attempting to convince the woman to get a termination, but the woman is ambivalent about it.

First published in 1927, ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ perfectly demonstrates Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory in writing.

Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory

Also known as the “theory of omission,” Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory contends that the words on the page should be merely a small part of the whole story—they are the proverbial “tip of the iceberg,” and a writer should use as few words as possible in order to indicate the larger, unwritten story that resides below the surface. Hemingway made it clear that this “theory of omission” should not be used as an excuse for a writer not to know the details behind his or her story. As he later wrote, “A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

For the homework I gave our writers this title:  The White Elephant

Leopold by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Sirens by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

The White Elephant by Mari Syrad

Read Mari’s piece

The White Elephant by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

The White Elephant by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The White Elephant by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

The Clock by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

The White Elephant by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

The Devil is in the Detail by Dan Judd

Read Dan’s piece

The White Elephant by Rosalyn Hurst 

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Graham by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Editing Yourself by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

……………………………………….

RAGS TO RICHES

For the timed exercise I gave our writers this line from Oliver Twist:

Crime, like death, is not confined to the old.

Oliver Twist, was published serially under the pseudonym “Boz” from 1837 to 1839 in Bentley’s Miscellany and in a three-volume book in 1838. The novel was the first of the author’s works to realistically depict the impoverished London underworld and to illustrate his belief that poverty leads to crime. It’s also the first novel to feature a child as a central character.

It was an immediate success partially because of its scandalous subject matter. It depicted crime and murder without holding back—causing it, in Victorian London, to be classed as a ‘Newgate Novel’ named after Newgate Prison in London. While critics often condemned such novels as immoral, the public usually enjoyed them. Because the novel was initially published serially, the anticipation of waiting for the next instalment and its many cliffhangers also contributed to its popularity. See attached pdf.

For the homework I asked our writers to use the following classic plot type:

Rags to Riches

In Search of Normal by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Blessed Are They by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Rags to Riches, a Guide by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Riches to Rags by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

Rags to Riches by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Lemon Water by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Eyes in the Road by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Connection by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

I’ve Started So I’ll Finish by Dan Judd

Read Dan’s piece

A Noisy Evil by Rosalyn Hurst 

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Rags to Riches by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Rags to Riches the TV Interview by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Rags to Riches by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

………………………………………………………………………………

MANSFIELD PARK

For the timed exercise I gave our writers the following Plot motivation:

What if Cinderella was sent to kill the Prince?

This motivation subverts the traditional ‘Persecuted Heroine’ plot of Cinderella. I then read from Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

Jane Austen lets the Cinderella fairy-tale resonate through Mansfield Park, but refuses to allow the work to be taken over by any one pattern. Born into a poor family, Fanny has the “wonderful good fortune” to be taken in by her richer uncle.  He is well-meaning but initially ineffectual like most fathers in fairy-tales, and leaves the heroine to the mercy of selfish stepmothers and stepsisters – appearing here in the form of aunts and cousins.

Fanny’s transformation is not “magical” like that of Cinderella, but the magical elements of the fairy-tale are nonetheless present: Sir Thomas gives her a dress for Maria’s wedding and orders the carriage to take her to her first real social event (the dinner at Mrs. Grant’s), at which Henry decides to make Fanny fall in love with him.  Sir Thomas then plans the ball, which completes the pattern, culminating in the scene in which Fanny as “Queen of the evening” leads the first dance with Henry Crawford, and speculates on the possibility of her cousins being jealous.

Austen evokes these fairy-tale elements, however, only to temper them with realism and point to the fallacies of the expectations they set up.

For the homework I asked our writers to you to use a line from Mansfield Park.

Pride & Persuasion with a Bonnet by Victoria Cooper

Listen to Victoria’s piece

The Path by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

A Watch in Time by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Worn Out by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Repeat Performance by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Mother by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

A Noisy Evil by Rosalyn Hurst 

Read Rosalyn’s piece

I Used to Dwell by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Ode to Procrastination by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Sinders by Grant McFarlane

Read Grant’s timed exercise

………………………………………………………………………………

FUNNY STORY
For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write about someone who felt a vital part of them was missing.

I then read from The Nose, a short story by the 19th century Russian writer Gogol. 
Major Kolyakov, wakes one morning and finds a space in the middle of his face “as flat as a pancake.” Concealing his shame–he goes out onto the St. Petersburg street, and spies what he is sure is his nose leaving a carriage and entering into the house of an important official. But, worse than all this, is the fact that that his former nose is now wearing a uniform, and the nose’s rank is higher than that of the “Major” himself.
Written in 1835, The Nose is an early triumph of surrealism It’s daring and delightful in the way it jars and disjoins one realitiy from another, but it is also a vivid realistic depiction of the sights and sounds of early 19th century St. Petersburg (including the essential bridges, buildings and monuments), a savage criticism of the way petty bureaucrats jockeyed for position within Russia’s complex government classification system, as well as a critical examination of the nature of story-telling itself.
At the age of 42, Gogol fell into a deep depression. One night, he burned some of his manuscripts (including the second volume of “Dead Souls”). He later dismissed this as a joke played by the Devil himself and went to bed, refusing to eat. Nine days later, he died.
I asked you to use this quote from Gogol in your homework piece:

The longer and more carefully we look a funny story, the sadder it becomes. 

Red by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

Black Dog by Victoria Cooper

Listen to Victoria’s piece

Iran by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

The Punchline by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Short Sighted by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Strange Reflections by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Funny Story by Penny Jones

Read Penny’s piece

The Weight of Happiness by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s timed exercise

Vital Part Missing by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Hidden Mother by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Wish Me Well by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

………………………………………………………………………………

OBSESSIONS

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to base their piece on a short scenario set in a train compartment. The four characters were not permitted to speak, just think, or express emotion. They were allowed one short line of dialogue.
I then read from Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.
Guy Haines, on the way to Texas to divorce his wife Miriam so that he can marry Anne, is picked up by Charles Bruno, an alcoholic and a maniac, who suggests to him that he murder Miriam- in exchange for Guy’s murder of the father he hates. Dismissing this at the time, Guy later finds that Miriam has been murdered, and he is haunted by the reappearance of Bruno, threats, letters. Guy, composed and reputable at the time, is finally worn down by guilt, fear, sleeplessness, and he commits the murder that Bruno lays out for him. 
Highsmith’s acclaimed debut novel, became the classic 1951 Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring Robert Walker and Farland Granger. The major theme in the novel is obsession, particularly in regards to the unstable character of Bruno. Without his obsession for his inspired plan, the book would have no stakes, no tension, no conflict. 
I asked our writers to use this quote from Highsmith in their homework. 

Obsessions are the only things that matter.

 

Cousin Judith by Victoria Cooper

Listen to Victoria’s piece

Obsessions by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

Minor Matters by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Obsessions by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Obsessions by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Night Time in the Stalag by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Better Safe than Sorry by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Mother Lines by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie”s piece

………………………………………………………………………………

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE YOUR STORY WITH ME?
For this week’s timed exercise I showed a photo of a bench with a dedication plaque.  We then watched an excerpt from a Ted Talk by Dr Dixon Chibanda.

Dr. Chibanda, tells us there are only 12 certified psychiatrists in his country, which consists of 14 million people.  The country was in crisis with too many Zimbabweans suffering from “Kufungisisa” or thinking too much. It’s better known in the UK as depression.

At a gathering of psychiatrists, it was decided that the only way the physicians, with their limited resources, could lift the country out of its epidemic depression was to use an existing resource in the country and train them to work with depressed individuals.  After much research, they found the best resource in the country was its grandmothers.

Hundreds of grandmothers were trained and spanned the countryside.  Some found their “patients” simply by sitting on park benches and talking with strangers who looked to be suffering from kufungisisa.  Over a period of years, more than 30,000 depressed individuals were treated from these Grannie Benches.

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

Would you like to share your story with me?

 

Dead Inside by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

The Search by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

An Ambitious Story by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Share Your Story by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

The Problem by Rosalyn Hurst

Listen to Rosalyn’s piece

The Story by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

The Hidden Mother by Victoria Cooper

Listen to Catriona Millar reading Victoria’s piece

Dunster Beach by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

The Hidden Mother by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

Open Wings by Melody Bertucci 

Read Melody’s piece

Petunia Pink by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Would You Like to Share? by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Would You likes to Share? by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

…………………………………………………………………………

THE HIDDEN MOTHER

For this week’s timed exercise I showed everyone an example of ‘Hidden Mother’ Victorian photography. Even though exposure times had been drastically cut down to about 30 seconds by Victorian times, mothers still had to go to very strange measures to get their children to sit still for baby photos. Babies had to be held by their mothers who, with the best of intentions, hid themselves in quite peculiar ways so they could calm their babies and also stay out of their children pictures. Mostly the Mothers disguised themselves as furniture. 
 
I then read from The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal. This is Syal’s third novel and is a cautionary tale about international surrogacy.
The homework title was:

The Hidden Mother

 

The Hidden Mother by Victoria Cooper

Listen to Catriona Millar reading Victoria’s piece

The Hidden Mother by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Great Aunt Jilly by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Hidden Mothers by Rosalyn Hurst

Listen to Rosalyn’s piece

Lost Mothers by Marion Umney

Listen to Marion’s piece

The Hidden Mother by Victoria Cooper

Listen to Catriona Millar reading Victoria’s piece

Nestings by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

Hidden Mother by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Hidden Mothers by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

I Was a Mother Once by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Hidden Mother by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

The Hidden Mother by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

The Hidden Mother  by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

I Have Been Loved by Rosalyn Hurst 

Listen to Catriona Millar reading Rosalyn’s poem 

…………………………………………………………………………

ADVICE TO YOUNG WRITERS

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to open their piece with this line: 
One night I was sitting on my bed in my hotel room. 

This is the opening line of John Fante’s celebrated 1939 novel, Ask the Dust. 
 
Set during the depression in Los Angeles it is one of a series of novels featuring the character Arturo Bandini as Fante’s alter ego, a young struggling writer. The novel is widely regarded as an American classic. The book is a roman a clef or novel with a key, in which real life events are overlaid with a facade of fiction. The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the “key” is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction. Celebtraed examples of this genre would be Plath’s The Bell Jar, Kerouac’s On the Road, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. But to some degree this is the essence of creative writing where the lines of truth and fiction are blurred to create a new experience. 
For the homework I asked  our writers to include  this line from ‘Ask the Dust’ in their piece.

My advice to all young writers is quite simple.

 

My Advice to Young Writers by Catriona Millar

Listen to Catriona’s piece

Original Sin by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

An Interview with Dame Daphne Inkwell by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Advice to Young Writers by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

Last Orders by Dan Judd 

Listen to Dan’s piece

What we Learn… by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

The Beech Tree by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

Lost Words by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

The Signal Box by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Advice Who Needs It? by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

New Writers Advice by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Coke Cans in the Wind by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

The Red Coat by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s timed exercise

Just, You Know by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s timed exercise

…………………………………………………………………………

LOST WORDS

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers a selection of more 40 words from the natural world that were removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary and replaced by words relating to social media and technology, such as blog, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, and voicemail

 
Adding words that have to do with technology, while removing the words that speak to a child’s natural environment was worrisome enough that it caused 28 well-known authors, nature experts and education specialists to sign a letter to OUP stating their concerns. The signatories included, Margaret Atwood, Sara Maitland, Helen Macdonald, Andrew Motion and Ruth Padel. 
 
I read poems by Alice Oswald from ‘Weeds and Wild Flowers’ This book is a magical meeting of the poems of Alice Oswald and the etchings of Jessica Greenman. Within its pages, everyday flora take on an extraordinary life, jostling tragically at times, at times comically, for a foothold in a busying world. 
 
The homework title was Lost Words. 

 

Lost Words by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Lost Words by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Lost Words by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

Last Orders by Dan Judd 

Listen to Dan’s piece

Lost Words by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Lost Words by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

The Beech Tree by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

Lost Words by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Lost Words by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Lost Words by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

Lost Words by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Lost Words by Sue Hitchcock

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Lost Words by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Lost Words by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Lost Words by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

………………………………………

June

FIRST YOU BORROW, THEN YOU BEG

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write about a time when they thought luck – good or bad, had an influence on their life.Whether you personally believe in luck is irrelevant. Its more important that your character believes in luck, or not.

In Tracy O’Neill’s new novel, Quotients (Soho Press, 2020), one character says to another: “When the luck is good, the answer is not why. It is yes.” Emily Dickinson wrote: “Luck is not chance— / It’s Toil— / Fortune’s expensive smile / Is earned.” In No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy wrote: “You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” And in The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway wrote: “It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

The Old Man and the Sea is a short novel written by Ernest Hemingway in 1951 in Cuba It was the last major work of fiction by Hemingway that was published during his lifetime. One of his most famous works, it tells the story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who has gone 84 days without catching a fish, considered “salao”, the worst form of unluckiness and how he struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba. The novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

I asked our writers to use this line from the novel in their homework and to feature luck – good or bad.

First you borrow. Then you beg.

 

Bella by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

First You Borrow by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

Cards on The Table by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

Make Your Own Luck by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Luck of The Draw by Mari Syrad

Read Mari’s Piece

Spoilsport by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Martingale by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Coffee Klatsch by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

Heard the One About? by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

First You Borrow by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

First You Borrow by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

The Continuing Dialogues by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

………………………………………

HEARD THE ONE ABOUT

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to solve this mystery:
 
A car is completely buried in snow. Inside, the driver is slumped on the steering wheel.
 
This is the set up in Simon Armitage’s poem, ‘Snow Joke’ Read the poem
 
Northern and vernacular, dramatic and jaggedly witty, Armitage immediately established his distinctive style. “Heard the one about the guy from Heaton Mersey?” opens “Snow joke”, the very first poem in his 1989 debut collection ‘Zoom’. 
 
The poem then plays out in what we now identify as a classic bit of Armitage psychodrama: a man, middle-aged and conventionally compromised (“Wife at home, lover in Hyde, mistress / in Newton-le-Willows”), is brought down by hubris (“he had a good car so he snubbed / the police warning-light and tried to finesse / the last six miles of moorland blizzard”) and is found “slumped against the steering wheel / with VOLVO printed backwards in his frozen brow”. 
 
 
For the homework I asked our writers to open their piece with this line:
 

Heard the one about…

 

Social Distancing by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Heard the One About? by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

You’re Joking by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The Light at the end of the Eiderdown by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

Bad Verses from Post Lockdown Britain 2020 by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

From a Reliable Source by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s Piece

Big Joe by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Coffee Klatsch by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

Heard the One About? by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Heard the One About? by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Drisclued by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

………………………………………

I HAVE EVERYTHING

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

This woman on the telephone, says she is a man, not a woman.

This line comes from Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Fearful’. Plath and Hughes were living at Court Green in Devon. Plath’s mother Aurelia was visiting and the pair had been shopping in North Tawton. Earlier in the day, Plath had proudly told Aurelia, “I have everything in life I’ve ever wanted: a wonderful husband, two adorable children, a lovely home, and my writing.” When they arrived home, the phone was ringing. Sylvia hurried inside and answered it. The woman on the other end of the line pretended to be a man. Sylvia was not fooled by this ruse: she knew it was Assia Wevill, the woman with whom Hughes was having an affair. By now Ted had descended the stairs from his attic study. Sylvia stonily handed him the phone. Ted spoke to the “man” and hung up. Sylvia angrily pulled the phone cord out of the wall.
This is the telephone incident that precipitated the end of Plath and Hughes’s marriage. It reverberates in such Plath poems as “Words heard, by accident, over the phone,” “The Fearful” and “Daddy”: “The black telephone’s off at the root, / The voices just can’t worm through.”  These poems are collected in Plath’s posthumous collection ‘Ariel’.
For homework I asked our writers to use this line their piece:

I have everything in life I’ve ever wanted.

 

Falling Down by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Please be Kind to my Daddy by Catriona Millar 

Listen to Catriona’s piece read by Maureen Marsh

Buy One Get One Free by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Raising Hope by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The ‘I’ They Don’t Mention by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Bad Jam and Nibbled at Lettuces by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

Looking Back Out to Sea by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Everything in Life by Vera Gajic  

Read Vera’s piece

The Winchester by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

I Have Everything by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

I Have Everything by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

The Big Boss by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Delusions of Grandeur by Mari Syrad

Read Mari’s piece

Balance Sheets – a timed exercise by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s timed exercise

Banquet of Consequences by James Stiffel

Listen to James’s piece

………………………………………

May

FUGITIVES

When you search for your name online, who else appears in the results? For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write a piece inspired by their online doppelgänger.

How does it feel to imagine somebody else with the name you consider your own?

I read from The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier. The story has the same premise as The Prince and the Pauper. Except in Du Maurier’s version the life swap is not an amicable arrangement.

https://www.dumaurier.org/menu_page.php?id=109

Du Maurier wrote the novel at record speed in sixth months and then collapsed with nervous exhaustion. Du Maurier began to experience odd connections between the writing of the novel and her family life which disturbed her. In Margaret Forster’s biography, she reprints a letter, which du Maurier wrote in 1957 when her husband Tommy Browning had had a nervous breakdown and she herself was on the verge of nervous collapse.I asked our writers to open their homework with this line by Du Maurier.

People who travel are always fugitives.

The Five Star Nomad by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

Locked Up With A Broad by Catriona Millar 

Listen to Catriona’s piece read by Maureen Marsh

Travels in my Garden by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Don’t Stop Dreaming by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Tinned Meat and Elephants by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

La Machina del Tempo Suburbana by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

Fugitives by Vera Gajic  

Read Vera’s piece

People Who Travel by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

People Who Travel by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

People Who Travel by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

People Who Travel by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

Missing by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s Piece

…………………….

THE DAYS PASS QUICKLY

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use these two lines of dialogue in their piece:

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been laughing all day.”

These lines come from Three Sisters by Chekhov. The sisters live an isolated life in the provinces constantly planning to move to the bustling cultural life of Moscow. They never do.

While a Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University, Michael Goldman presented his view on defining the elusive quality of Chekhov’s comedies stating: “Chekhov is comic in a very special, paradoxical way. His plays depend, as comedy does, on the vitality of the actors to make pleasurable what would otherwise be painfully awkward – inappropriate speeches, missed connections, faux pas, stumbles, childishness – but as part of a deeper pathos; the stumbles are not pratfalls but an energised, graceful dissolution of purpose.”

I read from The Lady with the Lapdog by Chekhov. If you haven’t read Chekhov you will be pleasantly surprised. Clarity is key. The writing never gets in the way of the characters and their story.

For the homework I asked our writers to use this quote from the Lady with the Lapdog in their piece.

The days pass quickly, and yet one is so bored here.

Head Teacher in Coronavirus Lockdown 2020 by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Born by Maureen Marsh 

Listen to Maureen’s piece

Letter from Petrograd 1916 by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Alphabet Spaghetti by Catriona Millar 

Listen to Catriona’s piece read by Maureen Marsh

One or Two by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Anguish by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

The Shadow of the One by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

Trapped by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

The Days Pass Quickly by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

The Days Pass Quickly by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

The Days Pass Quickly by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Pandora and Pavlov by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

The End of a Losing Streak by Grant McFarlane

Read Grant’s timed exercise

Lockdown Madness by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s timed exercise

…………………………………………………………………….

A BANQUET OF CONSEQUENCES

For this week’s timed exercise I showed our writers the John Singer Sargent painting, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose and asked them to write a piece inspired by the work.

The painting depicts two young girls lighting Japanese lanterns on a twilit summer evening. The viewer’s perspective is set at an adult’s eye level, looking down on the scene. So it’s very much from an adult’s point of view yet Sargent has captured that secret moment of child’s play, more accurately than any photograph. We can almost hear the girls talking to themselves.

The work is set in an English garden in the Cotswolds, England, where Sargent spent the summer of 1885 with his friend, Francis Davis Millet. Robert Louis Stevenson was also staying there while writing “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” The two became friends, and Stevenson’s verses inspired Sargent to create the painting. I’ve attached a pdf of “A Child’s Garden of Verses.”

Here’s a video from the Tate about the painting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ao12qChxaiA

For the homework I asked our writers to use this line by RLS in their piece.

Everyone, at some time or another, sits down to a banquet of consequences.

I would like to take this opportunity by Victoria Cooper

Listen to Victoria’s piece

Toxic Mistress by Maureen Marsh 

Listen to Maureen’s piece

Dinner Party by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Asparagus by Catriona Millar 

Listen to Catriona’s piece read by Maureen Marsh

A Banquet of Consequences by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

Fortune and the Brave by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

Consequences by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

A Banquet of Consequences by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Everyone by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

A Banquet of Consequences by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

A Banquet of Consequences by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

Dream Maker by Adam Phillips

Read Adam’s timed exercise

Light the Lanterns by Sho Botham  

Read Sho’s timed exercise

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TELLING THE TIME

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to use this line by Oscar Wilde as a piece of dialogue:

Resist everything but temptation

Using specific Pressure Points like TEMPTATION we can force characters to act, opening the door to inner growth. You can’t hide from a pressure point, and that’s the beauty of incorporating them into your story. Good or bad, a character must act and in doing so, reveal who they truly are, both to readers and to themselves.

I read from The Discomfort of Evening the acclaimed debut novel by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Its a bestseller in the Netherlands and was recently long listed for the International Booker Prize. The 10 year old narrator Jas grows up in a strict religious family on a dairy farm. Tragedy isolates the family and pressure steadily builds with alarming consequences. Yet there is a bold beauty to the book, which for all its modernity seems to be set in a different age of automatic religious belief: the immensity and mystery of the universe coexisting alongside the claustrophobic community of farm, church and school.

For the homework I asked you to write a piece in which your main character learns something new about themselves during a crisis. Is there an unexpected feeling of panic, wild and unpredictable behavior, or is all eerily calm? Does your character step up to the plate or cower under pressure? I also asked you to use this line from The Discomfort of Evening:

It had taken me a year to learn to tell the time.

Telling the Time by Maureen Marsh 

Listen to Maureen’s piece

The Helicopter by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Stayin Alive, Stayin Alive by Catriona Millar 

Listen to Catriona’s piece read by Maureen Marsh 

Shoes Were Not My Thing by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s Piece

A Bolt to Boultbee by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

Time Piece by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Keys by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Telling Time by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Telling Time by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Snow White? by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Dad by Vera Gajic 

Read Vera’s piece

Its Time by Garf Collins 

Read Garf’s piece

Crisis by Penny Jones

Read Penny’s piece

Help by James Stiffel

Read James’s piece

Clockface by Mari Syrad

Read Mari’s piece

Resist Everything by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s timed exercise

Temptation by Sho Botham  

Read Sho’s timed exercise

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SHE WAS NERVOUS ABOUT THE FUTURE

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this line for inspiration.

I have been loved by something strange, and it has forgotten me.

This line comes from Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, published by Faber & Faber in 1936 with a preface by TS Elliott. Djuna Barnes was an American artist and writer. During the 1930s, Barnes moved between England, Paris, New York, and North Africa. It was during this restless time that she wrote and published Nightwood.  William Burroughs hailed Nightwood as one of the greatest books of the 20th century. Its a fiery, enigmatic Modernist masterpiece that constantly surprises the reader. There is nothing quite like Nightwood.

The novel employs ‘Modernist’ techniques such as its unusual formIts also notable for its intense, gothic prose style. As a roman a clef the novel features a thinly veiled portrait of Barnes in the character of Nora Flood, whereas Nora’slover Robin Vote is a composite of Thelma Wood and the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.I’ve attached a small section of quotes from the novel.

Read Jeannette Winterson’s essay on Nightwood

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

She was nervous about the future.

Loving the Stranger by Maureen Marsh 

Listen to Maureen’s piece

The Promise by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Tea and Sympathy by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s Piece

She Was Nervous about the Future by Catriona Millar 

Listen to Catriona’s piece read by Maureen Marsh 

Black Dog by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Lockdown by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

The Time is Now by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

She Was Nervous about the Future by Adam Phillips

Read Adam’s piece

They Were Nervous by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

The Folded Handkerchief by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Fresher by Liz Rider

Read Liz’s piece

Catapult by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

She’s Got Issues by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

She Was Nervous about the Future by Vera Gajic 

Read Vera’s piece

No Security by Garf Collins 

Read Garf’s piece

Loved by Sho Botham  

Read Sho’s timed exercise

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APRIL

PROLOGUE

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

This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.

This is the last line of the Prologue to Donna Tartt’s first novel The Secret History.

Read about Secret History here

From Homer’s request to the Muse, to the opening lines of the Finnish oral epic, The Kalevala, a prologue is as integral to our stories as the heroine or the hero.

“I have a good mind / take into my head / to start off singing / begin reciting / reeling off a tale of kin / and singing a tale of kind. / The words unfreeze in my mouth / and the phrases are tumbling / upon my tongue they scramble / along my teeth they scatter.” – THE KALEVALA, as translated by Keith Bosley

In newer fiction, a good prologue is one that introduces the tone and style of the story. A great prologue, however, is all about setting the stage, baiting the tease, opening up the mystery, allowing the reader to come in slowly and–once they’re there–hooking them.

For their homework I asked our writers to write the prologue for an imaginary novel.

Love in Dangerous Times by Maureen Marsh 

Listen to Maureen’s piece

Prologue by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Prologue by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Prologue by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

Prologue by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s Piece

Caught in a Moment by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

Prologue by Adam Phillips

Read Adam’s piece

The Pirate by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Prologue by Liz Rider

Read Liz’s piece

Prologue by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Prologue by Katy Wise

Read Katy’s piece

Secret by Sho Botham  

Read Sho’s timed exercise

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LIES

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

The Monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

This is the opening of A Monster Calls, a low fantasy novel for young adults by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd illustrated by Jim Kay and published in 2011. While young Conor struggles with the consequences of his mother’s illness he is repeatedly visited in the middle of the night by a monster who tells stories that will change and heal Conor. Here’s the link to the book trailer I showed. A Monster Calls Book Trailer  

The monster, which is a vehicle for Conor’s healing through his mother’s death, is a yew tree. Several times throughout the novel Conor’s mother points this out and often stares out the window at the old tree. The doctor’s last ditch effort for Conor’s mother’s cancer is a formula made from yew bark. The film version of the novel was released in 2016.

https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/jan/18/a-monster-calls-patrick-ness-review

Low fantasy or intrusion fantasy is a sub genre of fantasy fiction where magical events intrude on an otherwise normal world. It thus contrasts with high fantasy stories, which take place in fictional worlds with their own sets of rules and physical laws.

I asked our writers to incorporate this line from the novel in their homework piece:

Sometimes people need to lie to themselves most of all.

Wonderful World by Janie Reynolds

Listen to Janie’s piece

Birdsong by Olivia Sprinkel

Listen to Olivia’s piece

Cover Up by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s Piece

Pregnant Pause by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

A Bit of a Wobble by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Lies by Maureen Marsh 

Read Maureen’s piece

Lying to Yourself by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Sometimes People Need to Lie by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Climbing the Slanging Tree by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

Sometimes People Need to Lie by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Annie by Sho Botham  

Read Sho’s timed exercise

Caught in the Light by James Stiffel  

Read James’s piece

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MONSTER

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

This is how you tell a story.

This is the opening line of a piece by Lauren Tischler called Story. Its an extract from  Story and the Writer, a multimedia dance piece  narrated by Tilda Swinton. You can watch it here on Youtube. Story and the Writer

We then discussed three archetypal story forms.

In Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them John Yorke takes us on a journey to the heart of storytelling, revealing that there truly is a unifying shape to narrative forms – one that echoes the fairytale journey into the woods and, like any great art, comes from deep within. From ancient myths to big-budget blockbusters, he gets to the root of the stories that are all around us, every day.
 
With that in mind I asked our writers to use this classic storyline for their homework.

A dangerous monster threatens a community.

Elvira by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Can You Hear Me by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The Arboreal Revolution by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Monsters by Maureen Marsh 

Read Maureen’s piece

Times Up by Mari Syrad 

Read Mari’s piece

Ladies Laughing by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s Piece

A Murder by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s Piece

Community of Thoughts by Katy Wise

Read Katy’s piece

The Lockdown Monster by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Princess by Sue Hitchcock 

Read Sue’s piece

A Sweet Goodnight Covid by James Stiffel  

Read James’s piece

From the Mammoth Hunter…by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

A Dangerous Monster by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

She Whispers by Liz Rider

Read Liz’s Piece

Defeating the Monster by Penny Jones

Read Pennys piece

A Dangerous Monster by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Number Seven by Richard Lewis 

Read Richard’s piece

Tide and Time by Dan Judd 

Read Dan’s piece

The Villagers Knew Better by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Mr Armett by Sho Botham  

Read Sho’s timed exercise

This is How you Tell a Story by James Stiffel  

Read James’s timed exercise

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RENT A FAMILY

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to open their piece with this line from My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier.

I love the stillness of a room after a party.

I read the opening of My Cousin Rachel and discussed how it sets the tone and the mood for what’s to come.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/17/rereading-my-cousin-rachel-daphne-du-maurier

For the homework I read an extract from a New Yorker magazine article about one of Japan’s family rental service company. Read the article here

rental family service (レンタル家族) or professional stand-in service provides clients with actor(s) who portray friends, family members, or coworkers for social events such as weddings, or to provide platonic companionship. The service was first offered in Japan during the early 1990s.

The company Family Romance launched the “Real Appeal” service in 2017. “Real Appeal” provided clients with actors to pose with the client in photographs meant to be shared later on social media. The cost for each actor was ¥8,000 per hour, with a two-hour minimum, and all travel expenses were borne by the client. The service was designed to boost the client’s perceived popularity.

Although the phenomenon of social isolation (Hikikomori) is well-publicized in Japan and some families have hired rental friends to break that isolation, other clients are not withdrawn but are merely seeking a relationship not defined by societal expectations, i.e., a sympathetic or confessional ear. Family Romance also offer a wedding service, which is staged two or three times a year at a cost of¥5,000,000. In some cases, the rental includes guests and groom.

I’d asked our writers to you use the concept of renting a family member in their homework.

The Perfect Doting Nephew by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Rent a Hubbie by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Deception by Maureen Marsh 

Read Maureen’s piece

Empty Chamber by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

Kanami by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s Piece

Cupboard Love by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s Piece

Rent a Riding Instructor by Katy Wise

Read Katy’s piece

Rent a Family by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Family to Rent by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Arffa a Husband by James Stiffel

Read James’s piece

The Olden Days by Sue Hitchcock 

Read Sue’s piece

Family Romance by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

Rent a Family by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Family Rental by Penny Jones

Read Pennys piece

It Doesn’t Really Matter by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

After the Party by Maureen Marsh 

Read Maureen’s timed exercise

Two Visitors after a Party by Sho Botham  

Read Sho’s timed exercise

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

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold.

This line comes from Chapter 54 of Great Expectations.

We then listened to an excerpt from the Radio 4 dramatisation of A House to Let.

Here it is on Youtube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfAaBYXN6Qc

A House to Let is a classic Victorian mystery. It is unusual however as its a collaboration, written by Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Adelaide Anne Procter with each author writing a chapter. The story was originally published in the Christmas 1858 edition of Dickens’s Household Words magazine.
 

The homework title was:  A House to Let.

A House to Let by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

A House to Let by Sho Botham  

Read Sho’s piece

A House to Let by Liz Rider

Read Liz’s Piece

A House to Let by Winnow Hardy

Read Winnow’s piece

A House to Let by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

The Pale Blue Shoes by Sue Hitchcock 

Read Sue’s piece

Shelter in Place by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

A House to Let by Maureen Marsh 

Read Maureen’s piece

A House to Let by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

A House to Let by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

A House to Let by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

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MARCH

IT TAKES TWO TO MAKE AN ACCIDENT

For this week’s timed exercise I asked you to write about something they could give up.
I then read from chapter 6 of The Great Gatsby.
 
At the end of chapter six Gatsby is just about to kiss Daisy but, as she approaches him, he pauses. He suddenly realises that if he kisses her he will no longer have to invent new methods of winning her back because he will have achieved this goal. Daisy will be his, just as he has always dreamed. Kissing Daisy, therefore, means Gatsby must give up his elaborate visions to win this girl back. In one sense, he must give up his very being; he must give up being Jay Gatsby.

For their homework I asked our writers to use this line from The Great Gatsby.

It takes two to make an accident.

Back Between the Covers by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Reaction by Sho Botham  

Read Sho’s piece

Power Disempowerment by Liz Rider

Read Liz’s Piece

Kitten by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

It Takes Two by Winnow Hardy

Read Winnow’s piece

It Takes Two by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Something you could give up by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s timed exercise

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AND IN THAT MOMENT

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers a selection of recent photographs of Folkestone by Saffron Swansborough.

I asked them to use these highly atmospheric visual prompts and add elements of other senses in your piece – sound, smell, touch and taste.

Photographs are an excellent visual prompt for writers but the other senses will help bring them to life.

There are a number of great novels and short stories about photographs and photographers.

For the homework I read an extract from The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. 

On leave from his teaching job at the University of Northern Iowa, Waller decided to photograph Madison County, Iowa’s, covered bridges. This event, alongside a song Waller wrote years earlier about “the dreams of a woman named Francesca,” gave him the idea for the novella, which was completed in eleven days. The work was a huge success and has been turned into a play, a film and a musical.

I asked our writers to use this line from the book in their homework.

And in that moment, everything I knew to be true about myself up until then was gone.

Masks by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Keep Calm and have a Custard Cream by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Late Pentecost by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s poem

Lightning Strike by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s Piece

Dorothy by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

The Change by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Crowsnest Pass by Richard Lewis 

Read Richard’s piece

The Separation by Mari Syrad

Read Mari’s piece

Good News for the Earth by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Eldest First by Lorraine Gailey

Read Lorriane’s piece

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MODERN LOVE

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

There is never a good time to fall off your couch. 

This is the opening line of an essay by the American writer Brian Gittis called, At the Hospital, an interlude of Clarity. This essay first appeared in the celebrated New York Times Modern Love column which is now 15 years old. The column is now a podcast and an 8 part series on Amazon Prime.

You can read some of the essays here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/18/style/essential-modern-love-essays.html
And listen to some of the podcasts here:
https://www.nytimes.com/column/modern-love-podcast
The reader submitted pieces are here:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/25/style/tiny-modern-love-stories-the-twin-bed-we-were-forced-to-share.html
The title of this week’s homework piece was Modern Love.  

From the Couch by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s poem

Never a Good Time to Fall off Your Couch by Liz Rider

Read Liz’s piece

Modern Love by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Kith and Kin by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s Piece

Modern Love by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

Brad Pitt by Maureen Marsh

Read Maureen’s piece

Modern Love by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Modern Love by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Modern Love by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

They Said it was Modern Love by Richard Lewis 

Read Richard’s piece

Modern Love by Liz Ryan

Read Liz’s piece

Modern Love by Penny Jones

Read Penny’s piece

Modern Love by Jane Grey

Read Jane’s piece

Modern Love by Noel Winnow

Read Noel’s piece

Modern Love by Lorraine Gailey

Read Lorriane’s piece

Chat Zoe by Liz Rider

Read Liz’s piece

The Indian Lawyer by Maureen Marsh

Read Maureen’s piece

…………………………………………………………………………….

SILENCE

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

The car breaks down on the way to the…

This line is packed with trouble, it also pitches the reader straight into a story that seems to be already happening. Its good to think about your stories as winding river that appears from around one bend and disappears around another.

This is actually the opening line of ‘Rezise’ a short story by the Australian writer Cate Kennedy.

Resize comes from Kennedy’s first collection ‘Dark Roots’The stories are melancholy but deliberate and coolly exact. They depict characters in crisis, often so mired in what Walker Percy called the malaise of everydayness that the horror of their condition is invisible to them. Some of the stories culminate in epiphanies; others hinge on a jolt — a violent act or loss. “I love the manipulation of readers’ emotions,” Kennedy has said, “it’s like pantomime: readers want to call out to a character, ‘Don’t go in there.’

Kennedy’s prose is sharp, evocative and often poetic, but the measured precision of her storytelling gives the writing a muted quality, as though it has been benumbed by the characters’ despair. Their pain unfolds before us like an aquarium show: silent, slow-moving, seen through glass. 

https://scribepublications.com.au/books-authors/books/dark-roots

I asked our writers to use this line from another Kennedy story in their homework.

Why is silence so worthy of suspicion? 

Why is Silence so Worthy of Suspicion by Janie Reynolds

Listen to Janie’s piece

What is not Said is a Mime by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

Magic Hour by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Meditation by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s Poem

Why is Silence so Worthy of Suspicion by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

Why is Silence so Worthy of Suspicion by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

My Silence by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

The Noisy Silence by Maureen Marsh

Read Maureen’s piece

Silence by Richard Lewis 

Read Richard’s piece

Two Men on a Hill by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

Silence by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

Out of Silence by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s piece

Why is Silence so Worthy of Suspicion by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Fatal Joke by Garf Collins 

Read Garf’s piece

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