In this section we share a selection of our writers’ weekly homework pieces and timed exercises. Homework is normally 300 – 500 words maximum, the timed exercises are completed in the workshop within 20 minutes.
Lost for Words is the third collection of my newspaper & magazine columns 
and it’s available now on amazon as a paperback and kindle.
Like all the best career moves the idea of writing a ‘living autobiography’ happened by accident. The first column was written in 1994 to fill an unexpected hole in a newspaper. The deadline was tight 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 more than 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. The selection of columns in Lost for Words dates from 2000 to 2002. Most of them are set in rural Scotland, which explains a lot.

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May

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

Read 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

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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.
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

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

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

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

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.
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

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.
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

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

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

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:

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

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

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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. 
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

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

…………………………………………………………………………….

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

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

Read Maureen’s piece

The Year Without a Summer by Penny Jones

Read Penny’s piece

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

Read Sue’s piece

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

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 

A Scar that Scares Me by Victoria Cooper

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 

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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

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

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.

”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

Read Kenneth’s piece

Everything you know is Wrong by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

No Rhyme nor Reason by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The German on a Motorbike by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

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

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

Read Richard’s piece

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

See You Anon by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

The Unnaming by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s piece

Small Victories by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s Piece

Anonymous on a Busy Street by Stuart Carruthers

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

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

Read Victoria’s Piece

The Skateboard Rebellion by Stuart Carruthers

Ad Astra by Mari Syrad 

Read Mari’s piece

Outcast by Malcolm Walker

Read Malcolm’s piece

Revenge of the Cows by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

Kitten by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

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

Read Maureen’s piece

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

The Blessed Harmonica by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

Gaslighter  by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

The Arrivals by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s piece

Rumour Has It by Victoria Cooper

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Hidden Secret by Stuart Carruthers

Rise Up by Mari Syrad 

Read Mari’s piece

………………………………………………………

2019

December

THEY WERE LATE

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this title:  Arrested.

I asked our writers to use as few adjectives and adverbs as possible in their piece.
Stephen King famously wrote, in his memoir On Writing, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

King doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever use them. The point is that a carefully chosen verb packs a more powerful punch on its own. If you do use an adverb to amplify a verb, choose it carefully. And that applies to adjectives, too. In a letter to a young friend back in 1880, Mark Twain wrote:

When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.
 
The title Arrested came from Elizabeth Strout’s new novel ‘Olive Again’ which is a sequel to ‘Olive Kitteridge’. Strout is one of our greatest living writers and her work is noted for its clarity and apparent simplicity. Remembering that writing is a form of conversation Strout cleverly leaves space for the reader to participate in the drama.
Your homework should open with these this sentence from ‘Olive Again’.

They were late.

Lemmings by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

They Were Late by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

Late by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Forests of Rain by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s Piece

They Were Late by Daniel Judd

Read Daniel’s piece

They Were Late by Sue Thomson 

The Last One Chartered by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

The Invisible Man  by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

The Man in the Lake by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

The Strange & Astonishing Engagement of Miss Dulcie Grey by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

……………………………………………………………..
ASKING FOR TROUBLE

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this title: Lost for Words.

This is the title of my latest collection of newspaper columns, available on amazon as a paperback and kindle.

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. The deadline was tight 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. The columns in Lost for Words date from 2000 to 2002. Most of them are set in rural Scotland, which explains a lot.

I read samples of various columns from Lost for Words including Asking for Trouble which was the title for this week’s homework.

Asking For Trouble by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Asking For Trouble by James Stiffel

Read James’ piece

Asking For Trouble by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Asking For Trouble by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s Piece

Asking For Trouble by Chris Robinson

Read Chris’s piece

Asking For Trouble by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s Piece

Lost For Words by Stuart Carruthers

Same Old Story by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

Asking For Trouble by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

Asking For Trouble by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

THE SAME OLD STORY

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this title: Dear Ms Right.

Dear Ms Right is the title of a ‘Low Life’ Spectator column by the late Jeffrey Bernard.

Jeffrey Bernard was his own Boswell. From 1976 he wrote hundreds of columns, week after week, for the Spectator ostensibly about low life in Soho and on the racecourse: but all the time he was writing about himself. He had the rare gift of making the reader, once he had begun a column, want to go on to the end. And his writing was funny. He said, he never edited, writing was hard enough in the first place. He wrote a spoof obituary of himself in 1978, which is acute but unfair, being self-deprecatory, presumably from motives of self-defence.

“In 1946 (aged 14) he paid his first visit to Soho and from that point he was never to look upward. It was here in the cafes and pubs of Dean Street and Old Compton Street that he was to develop his remarkable sloth, envy and self- pity.”

With the intention of writing his autobiography he once asked readers if any of them could tell him what he was doing between 1960 and 1974.
He was eventually immortalised in Keith Waterhouse’s play ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’.
For the homework, I asked everyone to write about a writer, which technically speaking Bernard was doing in all his columns.
The homework title comes from another of Bernard’s columns:   The Same Old Story.

The Same Old Story by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The Same Old Story by Nick Parnell

Read Nick’s piece

The Same Old Story by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

The Same Old Story by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

The Same Old Story by James Stiffel

Read James’ piece

Architecture by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s Piece

When I Wake by Sue Thompson 

Read Sue’s Piece

Write About a Writer by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

The Same Old Story by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s Piece

The Same Old Story by James Stiffel

Read James’ Piece

The Same Old Story by Stuart Carruthers

Thank You for Choosing our Rooms by Marina Davies

Read Marina’s piece

The Same Old Story by Richard Lewis

Read Richard’s piece

The Same Old Story by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

The Same Old Story by Jane Figges

Read Jane’s piece

When She Woke Up by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Three’s Brewing by Olivia Sprinkel

Read Olivia’s piece

………………………………………………………………………………………………

November

WHEN I WAKE UP

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers this title:  The Big Bang

In writing, the big bang or the inciting incident is an episode, plot point or event that hooks the reader into the story.

This event should thrust the protagonist into the main action of the story. Screenwriting guru Syd Field describes it as ‘setting the story in motion’ or a ‘call to action’.

Inciting incident examples include the moment Dorothy is picked up by a cyclone in The Wizard of Oz, the moment when Luke Skywalker receives Princess Leia’s message in Star Wars and the moment when Katniss Everdeen’s sister’s name is drawn and she decides to take her place in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. In romance novels and movies, an inciting event is nearly always the moment that the couple-to-be meets for the first time.

The inciting incident can happen to the protagonist or can be caused by the protagonist. It’s up to you as the writer to decide what’s best for your story.

However, it has to take place in the first act. This is non-negotiable: it is the catalyst that sets the rest of your story in motion.

The dramatic change can be positive or negative and should give the protagonist a goal they can’t turn away from. To make your inciting incident shine, make it cause both a conscious and unconscious desire in your protagonist. Write your inciting incident as a dramatic scene and not as backstory or narrative summary. This enables the reader to experience the event at the same time as the protagonist and increases your chances of getting the reader emotionally involved.

For the homework I asked our writers to open their piece with the first line from the Hunger Games and to create your own inciting incident in 300 words.

When I wake up the other side of the bed is cold.

An ill Wind by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Pandora by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

Secrets and Lies by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Frozen by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

The More of This by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s Piece

When I Wake by Sue Thompson 

Read Sue’s Piece

Afterimage by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

Turning by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s Piece

When Things Go Downhill by James Stiffel

When I Wake Up by Marina Davies

Read Marina’s piece

A Night on the River by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

When I Wake Up by Janie Reynolds 

Read Janie’s piece

He’s Not There by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

10.23pm by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

When I Wake Up by Jane Figgess

Read Jane’s piece

When She Woke Up by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The Condom in the Road by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

………………………………………………………………………………………………

THERE’S ALWAYS MORE TO IT

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write the story that accompanied this headline: Nobody Hurt in Small Earthquake.

This is the title of Michael Green’s second memoir of life in a provincial newspaper.

Headlines are a perfect example of writing short. In a headline everything is front loaded e.g.: Nobody Hurt. Writing short will help you create focus in your work. In your next piece try to isolate the most important sentences and make them as short as possible. I read from Don Delillo’s outstanding novel ‘Libra’ as an example.

“Monumental, DeLillo at his chilling best. Concentrates on the inner life of the people who shaped the Kennedy assassination. He constructs the very human faces behind a monstrous event, creating fiction which trespasses on reality.” (Time Out)

For the homework I asked our writers to write 150 words and end their piece with this line from ‘Libra’: There’s always more to it.

Watch This Space by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Slice by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

There’s Always More To It by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

There’s Always More To It by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

Tardiness by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

There’s Always More To It by Penny Jones

Read Penny’s Piece

The More of This by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s Piece

The Voice in My Head by Sue Thompson 

Read Sue’s Piece

There’s Always More To It by Nick Parnell

Read Nick’s piece

Stuff by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s Piece

There’s Always More To It by James Stiffel

There’s Always More To It by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

There Was Always More To It by Janie Reynolds 

Read Janie’s piece

There Was Always More To It by Daniel Judd

Read Dan’s piece

The 3’s by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

Write it Short by Jane Figgess

Read Jane’s piece

………………………………………………………………………………………………

HOME THOUGHTS FROM ABROAD

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write a letter to their future self. In that letter I asked them to use the following line “Oh and by the way, how’s your…”

The line came from a 1973 song by Clifford T. Ward entitled Home Thoughts from Abroad. Ward uses the line at the start of each chorus as an unexpected change in gear or direction. The song was inspired by the Robert Browning poem of the same name. You’ll notice that there are no people in Browning’s original, only flora and fauna.
Th homework title was:  Home Thoughts From Abroad

Home Thoughts From Abroad by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Home Thoughts From Abroad by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

Roots by Elda Abramson

Read Elda’s piece

England by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Home Thoughts From Abroad by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Home Thoughts From Abroad by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Home Thoughts From Abroad by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

A Great Day by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

Home Thoughts by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s piece

Home Thoughts by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

The Wood in Autumn and Winter by Penny Jones

Read Penny’s piece

………………………………………………….

THE POWER OF NUMBERS

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write about their lucky number.

Numbers are important in fiction and their power is often overlooked as we search for the right words.
Roy Peter Clark tells us that writers and editors have come to think of numbers as the enemies of good narrative, little blood clots in the flow of interesting language. But just the right number at the right moment can drive the story forward.
Numbers are the tools of counting of course, but also the tools of memory. They help us keep track of narrative characters,
sequences, or challenges. We discussed the amount of sayings and cliches that include numbers e.g. Three’s a crowd, a bunch of fives, six pack etc
And the amount of book titles e.g. 1984, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Catch 22 etc.
I then read from Enid Blyton’s Five go to Billycock Hill.
You’ll see how little exposition or description there is, rather the work is packed with dialogue that shapes character and moves the plot and action forward.
Time is always of the essence in Enid Blyton world.
For the homework I asked our writers to make numbers vital to their plot and to feature numbers in their title.

37.8136 by Mari Syrad-Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

The Seventh Day by Penny Jones

Read Penny’s piece

Treatment by Numbers by Chris Robinson

Read Chris’s piece

Five Days? by Lesley Dawson 

Read Lesley’s piece

My Perfect Weekend by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

My Perfect Baby by Jane Lucas

Read Jane’s piece

1759 by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

Tracking Station 189 by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

7lbs Something by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

………………………………………………….

October

MY PERFECT COUSIN

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

Sold to the lady in the sunglasses and the green shoes.
This is the title of one of Simon Armitage’s poems from his outstanding 2010 collection Seeing Stars.
Seeing Stars is as disorienting as its title promises, a wildly inventive mix of satire, fantasy, comedy and horror. In a series of vignettes that hover somewhere between poetry and prose, we see a young James Cameron discover that his family and friends are actually actors working for the government; we meet a man who puts on more weight the less he eats; and we hear from a Mumbai balloon seller who inadvertently sells his soul by blowing up his last balloon. Armitage changes gear and switches genre with headlong abandon, driving the reader on through an utterly unpredictable world. These are the fairytales of middle age: fantastic and cruel, they tell of small, crabbed lives confronted by surreal twists of fate. There are few happy endings. 
I then read Overtones from Seeing Stars and gave our writers this title for their homework:
My Perfect Cousin

Best Wishes by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The Perfect Dame by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

My Perfect Cousin by Daniel Judd

Read Daniel’s piece

My Perfect Husband by Elda Abramson

Read Elda’s piece

My Perfect Weekend by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

My Perfect Sunday Morning by Garf Collins

Read Garf”s piece

My Perfect Baby by Jane Lucas

Read Jane’s piece

Life’s a Bitch by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

My Perfect Cousin by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

………………………………………………….

ATONEMENT

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

But what really happened? The answer is simple:
 
The line came from Atonement by Ian McEwan.
 
“To sin is human; to forgive, divine.” Alexander Pope’s infamous words on forgiveness say a lot: everybody makes mistakes, we all sin, we all do hurtful things to one another, and most eventually will seek forgiveness. In the second half of his quote however, Pope makes it clear that forgiveness for our sins is much more difficult to attain than the act itself was to commit. Despite the difficulty, many still wish to be forgiven and to have the ability to make up for their wrongful actions. 
 
Ian McEwan explores this aspect of human nature in his 2001 novel.
 
Atonement’s plot is shadowed by Western Europe’s violent twentieth-century history. At the book’s beginning, World War I is still a relatively recent memory, and the later plot is dominated by World War II. The two female characters, Briony and Cecilia dedicate themselves to the war effort by working as nurses, and Robbie conscripts in the military to fulfill his prison sentence. Various historical battles shape the plot: Robbie fights to repel the Nazi invasion of France, and dies on June 1, 1940 at Bray-Dunes, during the Dunkirk evacuation. Cecilia dies a few months later during a bombing raid on London’s Balham Underground station.
 
The end of the book reveals that all of Atonement is a semi-autobiographical novel that Briony has written decades after her youthful mistakes took place. This framing device gives new signifying power to the self-conscious storytelling and narration that appear throughout the plot. Through storytelling and reshaping Briony seeks atonement.
 
For your homework I asked you to write about atonement and open your piece with this line from the novel:
 
She lay in the dark and knew everything.

No Chance by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

The Afternoon Nap by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

Atonement by Daniel Judd

Read Daniel’s piece

A Page out of the Lost and Minor Tragedies by Steve Brown

Listen to Sheridan Maguire reading Steve’s poem

Atonement by Lorraine Gailey

Read Lorraine’s piece

She Lay in the Dark by Victoria Cooper

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The Auctioneer’s Soliloquy by Saffron Swansborough

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Confusion by Malcolm Walker

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REVENGE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write about something sweet.

The earliest appearance of the phrase Revenge is Sweet is in William Painter’s 1566 Palace of Pleasure.

Vengeance is sweete unto him, which in place of killing his enemy, glueth life to a perfect friende.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Painter_(author)

Revenge is one of the classic literary master plots, where the protagonist believes he’s been wronged and seeks to retaliate against the antagonist. But revenge can also be a literary theme. How it manifests through the plot and characters will depend on what kind of story the you want to tell. But regardless of the protagonist’s motivations, his target, and the impact his pursuit has on other characters, all revenge tales shed light on the destruction resulting from the protagonist’s actions, from the loss of his morality to the price he and others may have to pay.

Charles Portis’s brilliant novel True Grit from 1968 has been compared to the works of Mark Twain. In every detail of time, place and action, it is a convincing depiction of 1870s Arkansas as recalled from a distance of 40 years by a resolute, eye-for-an-eye Presbyterian. Filled to the brim with the Old Testament, Mattie is fearless and ferocious in her quest for vengeance.

Here’s Donna Tartt enthusing about True Grit…

https://brickmag.com/the-great-abiding-pleasure-of-true-grit/

And Emily Temple’s close reading of the first paragraph of the novel…

https://lithub.com/a-close-reading-of-true-grits-perfect-first-paragraph/

For the homework I asked our writers to write about Revenge.

Got yer back by Jill Webb

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Closure by Candida Lloyd

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The Green Death by Daniel Judd

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Bitter Revenge by Chris Robinson

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The Right Order of Things by Janie Reynolds

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Revenge, Remorse, Renewal by Lorraine Gailey

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Revenge by Victoria Cooper

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The Last One of the Day by Richard Rewell

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Revenge by Penny Jones

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BETRAYAL

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers just two words, Trust me.

In a drama Betrayal is always hovering in the wings when Trust is onstage.

Betrayal seeps through literature like a dark stain; betrayal of love and friendship, of a vision or an illusion; betrayal of others and of one’s own nature and ambitions. It is part of the human condition and although often seen as showing weakness of character, the kind of fanatic strength derived from love, or blind faith, may also lead to betrayal.

If there was ever a master of betrayal fiction, it was Graeme Greene. The End of the Affair, published in 1951, is a sad and beautiful story of love racked by jealousy and Catholic guilt. Written during the postwar austerity era, but set in wartime London, the narrative is loosely based on Greene’s affair with Lady Catherine Walston. When jealous ex-lover Maurice Bendrix realises that his major rival for the love of Sarah Miles is God, The End of the Affair is cast in new light.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/26/100-best-novels-the-end-of-the-affair-graham-greene-observer-robert-mccrum

The homework subject was betrayal

The Anti-Adulthood League by Christina Buchanan

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My Betrayal by Sue Thompson

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The Hotel Room by Candida Lloyd

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Twisted by Sho Botham

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Betrayal by Marina Davies

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Betrayal by Lesley Dawson

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Coalface by Saffron Swansborough

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Betrayal by Victoria Cooper

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I Catch a Falling Bird by Mari Syrad Grieves

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Betrayal by Richard Rewell

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Betrayal by Miriam Silver

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Betrayal by Sue Hitchcock

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Betrayal by Garf Collins

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September

GUILT

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

You only have yourself to blame.

We then discussed the theme of guilt in fiction. Click this link to read about the 5 defined guilts.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201208/the-definitive-guide-guilt

Guilt is a solitary experience. “It represents the noblest and most painful of struggles,” writes Dr. Willard Gaylin, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, “guilt is between us and ourselves,” he says.

Only dramatic literature can capture this experience. When Lady Macbeth sleepwalks she confronts her guilt in one of the most memorable scenes in theatre.

Listen to Kate Fleetwood’s performance as Lady Macbeth

According to Aristotle, when we see the tragic hero fall into a state of isolation, pursued by an inevitable law of retribution, we become reunited as a community of spectators. The tragic hero takes our guilt upon himself; the inward conflict is brought out onto the stage. We share in the character’s burden. For the moment we are redeemed.  See attached pdf of Aristotle’s Poetics, allegedly the most popular source material among Hollywood screenwriters.

The theme for the homework was Guilt.

Guilt by Christina Buchanan

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Guilt Money by Candida Lloyd

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Necessity, Shame by Steve Brown

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Tormented by Sho Botham

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Guilty by Marina Davies

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Guilt’s Voice by Melody Bertucci

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Fodder for Al Basty by James Stiffel

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Guilty Children by Victoria Cooper

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Munchausen by Proxy by Mari Syrad Grieves

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Guilt by Nick Parnell

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My Guilt by Sue Thompson

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Guilt by Miriam Silver

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Guilt by Lizzie Staples

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Guilt by Janie Reynolds

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Guilt by Pauline Walden

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Remorse by Garf Collins

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Luggage by Sheridan Maguire

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I HAVE THIS MEMORY

for this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers write about an inherited trait or characteristic.

This is an interesting way to flesh out a fictional character, it gives them history and depth.

I then read an extract from Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter. 

“Sometimes my mouth opens up and my mother’s laugh jumps out, a parlor trick.”

The book took Zambreno 13 years to write. Its essentially a meditation on memory and grief that takes the form of fragments, lyric essay, poetry, memoir, reflections, and criticism. At the book’s core is the death of Zambreno’s mother and the author’s piecing together of their relationship and its bearing on her childhood and identity.

“As for what sustained me to keep going with it,” says Zambrano, “I think it was just that itch—to not only figure out why I wanted to write about my mother, but also why I couldn’t.”

I asked you to open your homework with the first two lines from Book of Mutter.

I have this memory. I think I dream about it sometimes.

https://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/kate-zambreno-screen-tests-warhol-interview

The Soprano by Candida Lloyd

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Memory Dream by Sho Botham

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Some Memories Never Die by Richard Rewell

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Memordream by James Stiffel

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Things Are Never As Bad by Victoria Cooper

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Amygdala by Mari Syrad Grieves

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Out of Time by Nick Parnell

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My Old Soul by Sue Thompson

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I have this memory by Miriam Silver

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I have this memory by Lizzie Staples

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Fall from Grace by Victoria Cooper

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Dear Digital Native by Saffron Swansborough

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THINGS ARE NEVER AS BAD AS THEY SEEM
For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to create a likeable character.
This is more difficult than it sounds. Its far easier to create villains and unlikeable characters because we think they are more interesting.
For the homework I read from To Kill a Mockingbird and discussed Atticus Finch.
I asked our writers to open their homework with this line from the novel:

Things are never as bad as they seem

Rhododendron by Sheridan Maguire

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Nan’s Tropical Roly Poly by Christina Buchanan

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The Lure of Water by Melody Bertucci

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A Penny Worth by Steve Brown

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Things Are Never As Bad by Lesley Dawson

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Things Are Never As Bad by Victoria Cooper

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Morning Raid by Nick Parnell

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The Letter by Sue Thompson

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Running Away by Stuart Carruthers

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I have this memory by Candida Lloyd

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SECRETS
For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write about their personal obsessions or fixations.
 
I then read an extract from Golf Balls, Pencils, Whales, What Makes an Author’s Obsession a Thrill, Not a Bore? by Mary Norris
When you’re a new writer, struggling to make sense of your characters, there’s a simple question that unlocks everything else:
What does your protagonist want? What a person wants from life, whether it’s happiness or money or love, powers every decision. 
And what is obsession, but wanting on steroids? It’s a can of petrol thrown over the flames of desire. 
 
Literature is packed with obsessional characters. Novels like Wuthering Heights, Moby Dick and Misery spring to mind.
Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal gives us two obsessions.
Although a forbidden affair between a teacher and a student is at the centre of Heller’s 2003 novel, the deeper infatuation portrayed here is the platonic one between two friends. When a flighty pottery teacher, Sheba, gives in to an ill-advised sexual obsession with a teenager, disaster inevitably follows. 
We see Sheba through the eyes of her confidante and colleague, Barbara. Heller deftly explores the ways a close friendship can slide from co-dependence into something toxic and twisted.
 
For the homework I gave our writers this line from Notes on a Scandal to use anywhere in their piece:
 
We are bound by the secrets we share.

Saucepan Man by Christina Buchanan

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Ventricle by Mari Syrad Grieves

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The Secret by Chris Robinson

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Yes by Chris Baker

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We are bound by the secrets we share by Janie Reynolds

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Secret Secrets by Sho Botham

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I Have a Secret by Sue Thompson

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August

CURTAIN
Beneath the streets of San Francisco lies the remains of dozens of old ships left over from the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s.  The ships transported prospectors hurrying to California, but eventually most were abandoned and buried under landfill as the city grew. 
For the timed exercise I gave our writers this title:  What Lies Beneath.
For the homework I read an excerpt from Curtain by Agatha Christie.
This is Poirot’s final book. Christie wrote the book in London at the start of the Second World War.
Worried that she may die in the blitz she decided that she owed her loyal readers Poirot’s last case.
She wrote Curtain and put a copy in a bank, then buried the manuscript in her garden.
After the war she retrieved it, but didn’t publish the book until 1975 a few months before she died. It was hailed as one of her greatest works.
Christie shows her famous detective as an old man crippled by arthritis in a wheelchair, but thankfully the grey matter is still in working order.
For the homework I asked you to write about a well known character from literature or folklore/fairytales etc in old age.

Old Friends by Christina Buchanan

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Game by Sheridan Maguire

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Helen by Sue Hitchcock

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All the Better by Saffron Swansborough

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Remembering Holden Caulfield by Victoria Cooper

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Goldie by Candida Lloyd

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At the end of the day by Rosalyn Hurst

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Methuselah by Garf Collins

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ZOE IS THE KIND OF PERSON
For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers the title ‘Beep’.
Beep is a short story by the American/Israeli writer Shelly Oria from her 2014 collection, New York 1 – Tel Aviv 0.

In this debut collection, Oria tests her characters’ definitions of nationality, gender and relationship status, their tenuous senses of belonging to a place and to others. These are crisply told, biting tales about characters split in two because of country or love. Everything is up in the air for these people; they have no feelings of security or comfort or home. In the title story, from which I also read an extract, a woman in a polyamorous relationship becomes jealous at the discovery of her girlfriend and boyfriend having sex without her. She feels suddenly out of place. “There are two Me’s,” she says: the tough Israeli soldier and the woman trying to fit in in America, where “once a week she gets lost in the city on purpose, then walks—no maps, no questions—until she finds her way home.” 

In the Cheever-esque “Beep,”  a woman hears an infernal repetitive sound in her apartment, but no one else seems able to hear it. Oria’s fiction is tense and gripping; it’s like the surprising and disconcerting sound that emerges from an instrument played by a traditionally trained musician who’s chosen to explore new territory.

Here’s an interview with Shelly Oria in the Paris Review.
For their homework I asked our writers to use this line from the title story in their piece.

Zoe is the kind of person you lose easily.

A Very Small Suitcase by Nick Parnell

River Birch by Candida Lloyd

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Not Again by Stuart Carruthers 

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Scaredy Cat by Christina Buchanan

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Zoe is the Kind of Person by Victoria Cooper

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Zoe by Malcolm Walker

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Recoil by Saffron Swansborough

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I Keep a Diary by Hugh O’ Neil

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Hotel by Sheridan Maguire

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AWOL

The Mysterious Disappearance of Roddy Phillips by Christina Buchanan

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