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 big hole if I remember correctly, 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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September

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:

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

Listen to Grant’s piece

Did I Tell My Name? by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

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

Read Lou’s piece

Did I Tell My Name? by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Thomas and Emma by Ali Giles

Read Ali’s piece

Tell Your Name by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

The Dichotomy of Being Seen by Mari Syrad 

Read Mari’s piece

Did I Tell My Name? by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Mary-Ann by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Wiped Out by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Regret by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Mr Cellophane by Dan Judd

Read Dan’s piece

Did I Tell My Name? by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

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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

Listen to Victoria’s piece

The Man in the Rain by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Sirens by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

I Can’t Explain Why by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

What Goes Around Comes Around by Lou Beckerman

Read Lou’s piece

Again and Again by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

Halved by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

I Can’t Explain Why by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

To My Love by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

I Can’t Explain Why by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

No More by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Double Trouble by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

I Can’t Explain by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

New Moon Rising by Dan Judd

Read Dan’s piece

I Did Not Ask by Rosalyn Hurst 

Read Rosalyn’s piece

The Bond by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

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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

Listen to Janie’s piece

The Pursuit of unHappiness by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

The Pursuit of Happiness by Grant McFarlane

Listen to Grant’s piece

The Pursuit of Happiness by MaryPat Campbell

Read MaryPat’s piece

The Pursuit of Happiness by Marion Umney

Read Marion’s piece

The Pursuit of Happiness by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

Lost in the Moment by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Pursuit of Happiness by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

The Pursuit of Happiness by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Into the Black and out of the Red by Dan Judd

Read Dan’s piece

The Pursuit of Happiness by Rosalyn Hurst 

Read Rosalyn’s piece

The Pursuit of Happiness by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

The Pursuit of Happiness by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

An Average Wednesday Afternoon by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 

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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

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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

…………………………………………………………………….

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

…………………………………………………………………………….

…………………………………………………………………………….

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

…………………………………………………………………………….

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

…………………………………………………………………………….

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

…………………………………………………………………………….

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

…………………………………………………………………………….

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

…………………………………………..

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

…………………………………………………………………………….

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

…………………………………………………………………………….

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

…………………………………………………………………………….

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

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Modern Love by Jane Grey

Read Jane’s piece

Modern Love by Noel Winnow

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Modern Love by Lorraine Gailey

Read Lorriane’s piece

Chat Zoe by Liz Rider

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The Indian Lawyer by Maureen Marsh

Read Maureen’s piece

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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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February

THE YEAR WITHOUT A SUMMER

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to open their piece with this line:
 
I had a dream, which was not all dream.
 
This is the opening line of Byron’s poem ‘Darkness’. 
 
“I had a dream, which was not all a dream. / The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars / Did wander darkling in the eternal space, / Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth / Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air.” 
 
Byron wrote this poem in the summer of 1816, when unusually frigid temperatures, ominous thunderstorms, and incessant rains forced Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley to take refuge in a Swiss villa. While there they initiated the famous ghost story contest that launched Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, Dr Polidori’s The Vampire and inspired Byron and Percy Shelley to create work filled with foreboding elements of the natural environment. 
 
In 1815 Mt. Tambora erupted and ejected immense amounts of volcanic ash into the upper atmosphere, where it was carried around the world by the jet stream. The volcanic dust covered the Earth like a great cosmic umbrella, dimming the Sun’s effectiveness during the whole cold year. Without this climate changing event the great works of gothic literature might never have been written.
 
https://www.almanac.com/extra/year-without-summer#

The homework title was: The Year without a summer

The Year Without a Summer by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

The Year Without a Summer by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

The Year Without Summer by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

View from the Ark by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s Sestina

The Year Without Summer by Marion Umnay

Read Marion’s piece

The Year Without a Summer by Susan Tracy

Read Susan’s piece

The Year Without a Summer by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Year Without a Summer by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

The Year Without a Summer by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s piece

The Year Without a Summer by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

The Year Without a Summer by Maureen Marsh

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The Year Without a Summer by Penny Jones

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The Year Without a Summer by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

The Year Without a Summer by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

Widdecomb Fair by Sue Hitchcock

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Rage by Mari Syrad-Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

Brumby Buck by Katy Wise

Read Katy’s piece

………………………………………………………………………………

YOU’RE SCARY

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

“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”

This line comes from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

There are many fictional characters with scars but Harry Potter’s lighting strike on his forehead is probably the most interesting as it has a life and a purpose beyond its origin, although its origin is also extremely important.

For the homework I asked our writers to use this line of dialogue from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone:

“You’re a little scary sometimes, you know that?”

That Moment by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Henpecked by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

Ode to my Arachnid Friend by Marion Umnay

Read Marion’s piece

I Was Waiting for You by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Mrs Stamford by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Scarifying by Penny Jones

Read Penny’s piece

Prayer for the Scared by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Ventricle by Mari Syrad

Listen to Mari’s piece

The Former, the Newborn and Me by Mari Syrad

Listen to Mari’s piece

………………………………………………………………………………

THE SCAR

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write about something they had written on the back of their hand.
 
This exercise continues the theme of memory and forgetting. 
 

In 2003 the writer Shelley Jackson embarked on a work called ’Skin’. Each word of the work is being tattooed into volunteer’s skin. The full text of the 2,095 word story will be known only to the participants. Jackson refers to the project’s participants as her “words” and states that “they are not understood as carriers or agents of the words they bear, but as their embodiments…. As words die the story will change; when the last word dies the story will also have died.”

Since 2014 Jackson has delivered her story ‘Snow’ by writing one word at a time on the slushy playgrounds, frosted stoops, and other snowy spaces of her neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.  
 
“To approach snow too closely is to forget what it is,” begins the text.
 
Patchwork Girl is probably Jackson’s most celebrated work. Created in Storyspace it ranks among the most widely read, discussed, and taught works of early hyperfiction. Here’s an example of hyperfiction http://www.glasswings.com.au/modern/24hours/
 
In Patchwork Girl Jackson asks: What if Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were true? What if Mary Shelley herself made the monster — not the fictional Dr. Frankenstein? And what if the monster was a woman, and fell in love with Mary Shelley, and travelled to America? A retelling of the Frankenstein story where a female monster is completed by Mary Shelley herself.
 

“Scar tissue does more than flaunt its strength by chronicling the assaults it has withstood. Scar tissue is new growth. And it is tougher than skin innocent of the blade.” 

For their homework I asked our writers to write about a scar.

Shipwreck by Mari Syrad 

Read Mari’s piece

Beautiful Scar by Maureen Marsh

Read Maureen’s piece

Crochet Critical by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

Scars by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s piece

Miles Apart by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Scar in the Mind by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

The Scar by Mia Sundby

Read Mia’s piece

The Scar by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

Lifeline by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

A Scar and his Friends are never Parted by James Stiffel 

Read James’s piece

A Scar that Scares Me by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Broken Crown by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Scar  by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Frozen by Mari Syrad

Listen to Mari’s piece

………………………………………………………………………………….

LIFE BECOMES A HABIT

For this week’s timed exercise I asked you to write about something that they didn’t want to to forget.

Traditionally, forgetting names, skills, events or information is often thought of as purely negative — a passive decay. However unintuitive it may seem, research suggests that forgetting plays a positive role in the function of the brain. It can actually increase long-term retention, information retrieval, and performance.
“Without forgetting, we would have no memory at all,” says Oliver Hardt, who studies memory and forgetting at McGill University in Montreal. “Forgetting serves as a filter,” he said. “It filters out the stuff that the brain deems unimportant.” The brain is constantly optimising itself to help you retrieve relevant information. Think of it like a little garbage collector running around in your brain, forgetting things that aren’t frequently used or depended on. Most importantly we tend to remember things when they are punctuated by a major event, 9/11 for instance. When we are threatened, the brain prints and stores everything related to that threat.”

One of the greatest novels about forgetting is Lanark by Alasdair Gray, published in 1981.

Gray’s astonishing debut novel begins with its melancholy protagonist, Lanark, wandering a dystopian city called Unthank, with no memory of who he really is or how he got there, before transporting us back to the childhood and adolescence of someone called Duncan Thaw, who may, it turns out, be the same person. Even more postmodernly, Duncan Thaw may also be Alasdair Gray, who may also make an appearance as The Author. Or perhaps not.

Lanark is massive and labyrinthine and fantastic and grimly inventive, it is pure Glasgow plus so much more. It is cities and class politics and energy and the connections between physical and mental illness and art and obsession and stubbornness. And a dragon.
 
“We have no nature. Our natures are not built instinctively by our bodies, like beehives; they are works of art … It is bad habits, not bad nature, which makes us repeat the dull old shapes of poverty and war.” 
 
I asked our writers to use the following line anywhere in their homework. 
 
Life becomes a habit.

Flint by Mari Syrad 

Read Mari’s piece

Habits by Maureen Marsh

Read Maureen’s piece

Life Becomes a Habit by Tilia Guilbaud-Walter

Read Tilia’s piece

Habitus by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s piece

Some Day I May Say it by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

Just Another Day by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Life Becomes a Habit by Chris Baker

Read Chris’ Piece

Life Becomes a Habit by Vera Gajic

Read Vera’s Piece

Life Becomes a Habit by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Teller of Tales by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s Piece

Life Becomes a Habit by Penny Jones

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Life Becomes a Habit by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

Do You Mind by Tilia Guilbaud-Walter

Read Tilia’s piece

………………………………………………………………………………………………

January

TRUE LIES

For this week’s timed exercise we continued the theme of anonymity.
I asked our writers to write about The Mysterious Worshipper. This is a real position and is basically the sacred version of the Mystery Shopper.

In her novel Fludd, Hilary Mantel uses the device to shake up a 1950’s Catholic diocese.

Read about Fludd here

”My name is Fludd,” says the mysterious young man at the threshold, holding what looks like a doctor’s black bag. ”I’ve come to stay.” Here’s the curate at last, Miss Dempsey says to herself, then notices an odd sensation. ”Deep within her, behind her cardigan and her blouse and her petticoat trimmed with scratchy nylon lace, behind her interlock vest and freckled skin, Miss Dempsey sensed a slow movement, a tiny spiral shift of matter, as if, at the very moment the curate spoke, a change had occurred: a change so minute as to baffle description, but rippling out, in its effect, to infinity.” To her embarrassment, she breaks into song.

I asked you to open their homework with this line by Mantel.

Some of these things are true and some of them lies.

Vicissitude by Mari Syrad 

Read Mari’s piece

Celulite by Maureen Marsh

Read Maureen’s piece

Truthsayer by Janie Reynolds

Listen to Janie’s piece

Some of These Things by Kenneth Tyndall

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Everything you know is Wrong by Stuart Carruthers

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No Rhyme nor Reason by Jill Webb

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The German on a Motorbike by Richard Rewell

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Some of these Things are True by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Some of these Things are True by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s Piece

Some Things are True by Penny Jones

Read Penny’s Piece

Not Wanting to Forget – a timed exercise by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s Piece

Don’t Forget – a timed exercise by Maureen Marsh 

Read Maureen’s piece

Beauty Interrupts by Maureen Marsh 

Read Maureen’s piece

Truth and Lies by Richard Lewis

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When I Wake Up by Elda Abramson

Read Elda’s piece

Bad Feeling by Elda Abramson

Read Elda’s piece

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

ANON

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers an obsolete occupation and asked them to write about it. You can find them and many more at this wikipedia page:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Obsolete_occupations

Every character you create must have a job to do, or a role to play in your piece.
Think carefully about the jobs or roles you assign to each character because it will have implications for the whole story.

I read one of the passages featuring Oddjob in Goldfinger by Ian Fleming. Oddjob is the strong silent type. He has no dialogue, he is a man of action and his job, or role is to strike fear into the reader through James Bond.

Read Fleming’s 1963 essay on how to write a thriller. https://lithub.com/ian-fleming-explains-how-to-write-a-thriller/<https://lithub.com/ian-fleming-explains-how-to-write-a-thriller/>

I asked our writers to open their homework piece with this line from the novel:

Bond liked anonymity.

Concertinas Anonymous by Kenneth Tyndall

Read Kenneth’s piece

Martha the Great by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Oh oh 7 by Jill Webb

Read Jill’s piece

Smith liked Anonymity by Chris Baker

Read Chris’s Piece

See You Anon by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

The Unnaming by Steve Brown

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Small Victories by Victoria Cooper

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Anonymous on a Busy Street by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s Piece

The News Spread Swiftly by Tilia Guilbaud-Walter

Read Tilia’s piece

………………………………………………………

REBELLION

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write from the point of view of a small, witty animal.

In a New York Times By the Book interview, when asked what subjects she wants more authors to write about, actor and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge says,  “I wish more people would write from the point of view of tiny, witty animals.” 
 
This is an exercise in perspective. Perspective is the lens through which you create your story. The lens you choose affects your reader’s experience and opinion of your characters. As the author, you bring your own unique world view to your story. So do your readers. However, it is your choice in main character and distance that have the greatest affect on your story’s perspective.
 
I then read and discussed Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm and asked our writers to open their homework with this line from the novel:
 
Rebellion meant a look in the eyes, an inflection of the voice at most, an occasional whisper.

Poor Cow by Maureen Marsh

Read Maureen’s piece

Meerkat Matriarchs by Lorraine Gailey

Read Lorraine’s piece

Fall of an Empire by James Stiffel

Read James’ Piece

Wainwright Worm by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Rebellion by Chris Baker

Read Chris’s Piece

Grimalkin by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

A Modern Act of Rebellion  by Paige Modestou

Read Paige’s piece

Out from Tagnarog by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s piece

Rebellion is Futile by Victoria Cooper

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The Skateboard Rebellion by Stuart Carruthers

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Ad Astra by Mari Syrad 

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Outcast by Malcolm Walker

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Revenge of the Cows by Sandra Banks

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Kitten by Sue Hitchcock

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Dragoman  by Paige Modestou

Read Paige’s piece

………………………………………………………

THE GIFT

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to open their piece with this line: This Christmas was going to be different.
 
I then read a column from The Familiar, the first collection of my columns published by Black & White in 2009.  http://www.roddyphillips.com/?page_id=6

In the Gift that Keeps on Shrinking I describe the horrors of the festive gifting nightmare. http://www.roddyphillips.com/?page_id=83

For your homework I asked you to write about a similar experience while using this line from the column…
 
She had a bad feeling about the contents of this parcel.

Psychopath in Fur Pajamas by Maureen Marsh

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The Parcel by Lorraine Gailey

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Village Life by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

The Forest People by Olivia Sprinkel

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Christmas time and space by Daniel Judd

Read Daniel’s piece

The News by Chris Baker

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The Blessed Harmonica by Richard Rewell

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Gaslighter  by Janie Reynolds

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The Arrivals by Steve Brown

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Rumour Has It by Victoria Cooper

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Hidden Secret by Stuart Carruthers

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Rise Up by Mari Syrad 

Read Mari’s piece

………………………………………………………