Armchair Theatre is the latest volume of my autobiographical newspaper and magazine columns. It features a selection from 2011 – 2018 and is available on amazon worldwide as a paperback and a kindle.

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

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November

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 Lesley’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

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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

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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’ve attached a selection from Seeing Stars as a pdf.
I then read Overtones from Seeing Stars and gave you this title for your 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

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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

Read Victoria’s piece

The Auctioneer’s Soliloquy by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

Confusion by Malcolm Walker

Read Malcolm’s piece

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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

Listen to Jill’s piece

Closure by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

The Green Death by Daniel Judd

Read Daniel’s piece

Bitter Revenge by Chris Robinson

Read Chris’s piece

Revenge, Remorse, Renewal by Lorraine Gailey

Read Lorraine’s piece

Revenge by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

The Last One of the Day by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

Revenge by Penny Jones

Read Penny’s piece

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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

Listen to Christina’s piece

My Betrayal by Sue Thompson

Listen to Sue’s piece

The Hotel Room by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

Twisted by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Betrayal by Marina Davies

Read Marina’s piece

Betrayal by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Coalface by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

Betrayal by Victoria Cooper

Listen to Victoria’s piece

I Catch a Falling Bird by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

Betrayal by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

Betrayal by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Betrayal by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Betrayal by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

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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

Listen to Christina’s piece

Guilt Money by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

Necessity, Shame by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s piece

Tormented by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Guilty by Marina Davies

Read Marina’s piece

Guilt’s Voice by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

Fodder for Al Basty by James Stiffel

Read James’s piece

Guilty Children by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Munchausen by Proxy by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

Guilt by Nick Parnell

Read Nick’s piece

My Guilt by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

Guilt by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Guilt by Lizzie Staples

Read Lizzie’s piece

Guilt by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Guilt by Pauline Walden

Read Pauline’s piece

Remorse by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

Luggage by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

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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

Read Candida’s piece

Memory Dream by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Some Memories Never Die by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

Memordream by James Stiffel

Read James’s piece

Things Are Never As Bad by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Amygdala by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

Out of Time by Nick Parnell

Read Nick’s piece

My Old Soul by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

I have this memory by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

I have this memory by Lizzie Staples

Read Lizzie’s piece

Fall from Grace by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Dear Digital Native by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

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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

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

Nan’s Tropical Roly Poly by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

The Lure of Water by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

A Penny Worth by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s piece

Things Are Never As Bad by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Things Are Never As Bad by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Morning Raid by Nick Parnell

Read Nick’s piece

The Letter by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

Running Away by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

I have this memory by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

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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

Listen to Christina’s piece

Ventricle by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

The Secret by Chris Robinson

Read Chris’s piece

Yes by Chris Baker

Read Chris’s piece

We are bound by the secrets we share by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Secret Secrets by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

I Have a Secret by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

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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

Listen to Christina’s piece

Game by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

Helen by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

All the Better by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

Remembering Holden Caulfield by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Goldie by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

At the end of the day by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Methuselah by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

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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

Read Candida’s piece

Not Again by Stuart Carruthers 

Read Stuart’s piece

Scaredy Cat by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Zoe is the Kind of Person by Victoria Cooper

Read Victoria’s piece

Zoe by Malcolm Walker

Read Malcolm’s piece

Recoil by Saffron Swansborough

Read Saffron’s piece

I Keep a Diary by Hugh O’ Neil

Read Hugh’s piece

Hotel by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

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AWOL

The Mysterious Disappearance of Roddy Phillips by Christina Buchanan

Read Christina’s piece

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July

THE STORY OF MY CHILDHOOD

For this week’s timed exercise we discussed a recent news report about Alan and Christine Tait from Ammanford in Wales. The couple have hundreds of hours of recordings containing different ghostly sounds, all of which they claim are coming from underneath their house. Consequently they moved out and have been living in a camper van. Women and children screaming, heavy knocking and men talking in a foreign language were just some of the sounds that disturbed the couple to the point where, within weeks, they would leave their home of 11 years and vow not to return.

I asked you to write about this from any point of view.

For the homework I read from Hilary Mantel’s brilliant memoir Giving up the Ghost.
There are ghosts everywhere in Hilary Mantel’s life. At times, she says, she has found herself keeping house for them, loading up the fridge and making sure there are enough guest towels. Some have names. There is Jack, her step-father, whose presence makes an odd stirring on the stairs of her Norfolk weekend cottage. And there is Catriona, the daughter Mantel never had, a strong-shouldered girl with an Irish complexion and a wonderful knack with the material things of life – driving, money, making curtains. Mostly though, these ghosts, which Mantel maintains we all have rustling and creeping around our lives, are not instantly identifiable. For they represent the parts of ourselves that we never got the chance to know. 
 

“You come to this place, mid-life. You don’t know how you got here, but suddenly you’re staring fifty in the face. When you turn and look back down the years, you glimpse the ghosts of other lives you might have led; all houses are haunted. The wraiths and phantoms creep under your carpets and between the warp and weft of fabric, they lurk in wardrobes and lie flat under drawer-liners. You think of the children you might have had but didn’t. When the midwife says, ‘It’s a boy,’ where does the girl go? When you think you’re pregnant, and you’re not, what happens to the child that has already formed in your mind? You keep it filed in a drawer of your consciousness, like a short story that never worked after the opening lines.”

 
For your homework I asked you to use this sentence from Giving up the Ghost anywhere you like in your 500 word piece.
 
The story of my childhood is a complicated sentence that I am always trying to finish.

An Homage to PG Wodehouse by Nick Parnell

The Story of my Childhood by Penny Humphrey

Read Penny’s piece

The Story of my Childhood by Stuart Carruthers 

Read Stuart’s piece

Four Eyes by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Peripheral by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s poem

Forever Escaping Me by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

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SOME PEOPLE SAY

For the timed exercise we discussed ‘Sunshowers’. Many cultures have expressions to describe the phenomenon of sunshowers. In Japan, a sunshower is said to mean that foxes are getting married; in Iran, that a wolf is giving birth; and in the United States, that the devil is beating his wife. 
 
I asked you to create your own folkloric explanation for Sunshowers.
 
In her poem “Sunshower,” Natalie Shapero uses the American Sunshower myth that the devil is beating his wife as a refrain and twists it in a way that critiques both the saying and the culture it represents.
 
I asked you to open your homework with the following words:    Some people say…

Some People Say by Nick Parnell

Hell on Earth by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

On James Lovelock’s 100th Birthday by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The People Next Door by Christina Buchanan

Listen to Christina’s piece

Some People Say by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

Some People Say by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

Some People Say by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

Some Might Say by James Stiffel

Read James’s piece

Claudia by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Duffel bag by Sheridan Maguire

Read Sheridan’s piece

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ROBOTIC PERSONALITY

For the timed exercise we discussed Sophia one of the world’s most expressive robots. Created by former Disney Imagineer David Hanson, Sophia can mirror people’s postures, discern emotions from tone and expression, and react with her own realistic facial movements. Modeled in part after Audrey Hepburn and Hanson’s wife, the robot was built to mimic social behaviors and inspire feelings of love and compassion in humans.
 
Ever since her unveiling in 2016, Sophia has rocketed to stardom. The robot has sat for TV interviews, appeared on the cover of ELLE and Cosmopolitan magazine, been parodied on HBO, and was appointed the UN’s first non-human “innovation champion.” 
 
I asked everyone write your exercise either from the point of view of Sofia or from a human interacting with her.
 
I then read from Ian McEwan’s new novel Machines Like Me. 
 
In an alternative 1982, Charlie lives alone in a small flat in Clapham, south London, where he plays the stock market from a home computer without much success. He explains that he is only able to afford his extravagant purchase thanks to a recent inheritance from his mother. For reasons that are never entirely clear, only 25 of the devices are available, 13 Adams and 12 Eves, in a variety of ethnicities. Charlie would prefer an Eve, but they have all been snapped up, so he has to make do with an Adam, whom he brings home and unboxes. “At last, with cardboard and polystyrene wrapping strewn around his ankles, he sat naked at my tiny dining table, eyes closed, a black power line trailing from the entry point in his umbilicus to a thirteen-amp socket in the wall.”
 
For the homework I asked everyone to write about someone who was behaving in a robotic manner.  Think of someone who is cold and shows no emotion, someone who is disconnected from life and just going through the motions without really feeling anything. Someone who is on auto-pilot that you can’t engage with.  Perhaps its their nature or maybe they have a good reason for being like that. 

Morning Raid by Nick Parnell

1996 by Louise Alley

A Note from the Past by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

Mortality by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

My Name is Jared by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

Sunshine on Groundhog Day by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Dubstep by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

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June

SHE WARNED HIM

For this week’s timed exercise we discussed The World Association of Ugly People (Club dei Brutti), an organization dedicated to fighting for the recognition of ugly people, in a society that places a high value on physical beauty. 
Every year in Piobbico, a small village between two mountains in central Italy,  thousands of self-identified ugly people gather in the town square to celebrate ugliness and cast their votes for the club’s president. 
Here’s a link to an article about the Association in the Paris Review.
I then read an excerpt from Beauty in the Beast and asked you to use this line from the tale in your homework:
She warned him not to be deceived by appearances

Me Old China by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

At the Bartholomew Centre by Louise Alley

Something Missing by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

Tasha Choice by Christina Buchanan

A Knock on the Door by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Deceived by Appearances by Chris Robinson

Read Chris’s piece

Deceived by Appearances by Penny Humphrey 

Read Penny’s piece

Gone by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

From Adam by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

From Nine to 12 by Sho Botham 

Read Sho’s piece

…………………………………………………………………..

A KNOCK AT THE DOOR

For this week’s timed exercise I read the opening of The Tale of Two Cities by Dickens.
I then asked you to write two contrasting pieces… It was the best… and  then, It was the worst…
The 45-chapter novel was published in 31 weekly instalments in Dickens’ new literary periodical titled All the Year Round. From April 1859 to November 1859, Dickens also republished the chapters as eight monthly sections in green covers. All but three of Dickens’ previous novels had appeared as monthly instalments prior to publication as books. At present there arelisted 1,529 editions of the work, including 1,305 print editions.
Writing in serial form gave Dickens the chance to hold his audience in his spell. Writing several chapters ahead of himself he was able to puff the 
forthcoming chapter with an alluring title like A Knock at the Door, from which I read. 
On this website Spark Notes have provided us with a modern translation of that chapter. That’s a translation from English into English.
The homework title was… A Knock at the Door

A Knock at the Door by Louise Alley

Read Louise’s piece

Social Intercourse by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

A Knock at the Door by Christina Buchanan

A Knock on the Door by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

I Knew You Were Coming by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

A Knock at the Door by Penny Humphrey 

Read Penny’s piece

A Knock at the Door by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

A Knock at the Door by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

A Knock at the Door by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

A Knock at the Door by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

A Knock at the Door by Garf Collins 

Read Garf’s piece

A Knock at the Door by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

A Knock at the Door by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

……………………………………………………………………

THURSDAY AFTERNOON

For this week’s timed exercise I played Brian Eno’s 6 second piece of music for the PC operating system Windows 95.In 1994, Microsoft designers Mark Malamud and Erik Gavriluk approached Eno to compose music for the Windows 95 project.

They asked for a piece of music that was inspiring, universal, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional…

The commission came at a time when Eno was at impasse with his work, here’s what he said about the process:

“It was like making a tiny little jewel. I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music.

In fact, I made eighty-four pieces. I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my own work.

Then when I’d finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time.”

I then asked you to write 5 miniature pieces using the first lines I provided.  These opening lines came from actual short pieces on the website https://miniaturefiction.com

This exercise which you might call ‘Less is More’ is a valuable lesson in editing and clarity. Its almost the opposite of how you would normally write during a timed exercise.

For your homework I played and then gave you the title of one of Brian Eno’s most celebrated works:

Thursday Afternoon

I’d like our writers write as many short pieces called Thursday Afternoon as you could within the 500 max word count. At least more than one…

Thursday Afternoon by Louise Alley

Listen to Louise’s piece

Thursday Afternoon by Candida Lloyd

Listen to Candida’s piece

Thursday Afternoon by Christina Buchanan

Living in the Soul by Caroline March

Read Caroline’s piece

Thursday Afternoon by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

Thursday Afternoon by Lizzie McKinney

Read Lizzie’s piece

Thursday Afternoon by Penny Humphrey 

Read Penny’s piece

Thursday Afternoon by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

Thursday Afternoon by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

Thursday Afternoons by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

Thursday Afternoon by James Stiffel

Read James’s piece

In the End by Tilia Guilbaud-Walter

……………………………………………………………………

IN THE END IT DIDN’T MATTER OF COURSE

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write about The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
This is of course the title of Arundhati Roy’s long awaited second novel.
 
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent – from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war. 

It is an aching love story and a decisive remonstration, a story told in a whisper, in a shout, through unsentimental tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Each of its characters is indelibly, tenderly rendered. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, patched together by acts of love – and by hope. 

As this ravishing, deeply humane novel braids these lives together, it reinvents what a novel can do and can be. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.

I asked our writers to open their homework piece with this line from the novel:
In the end it didn’t matter of course.

Thicker than Water by Christina Buchanan

You Can’t Cry When You’re Smiling by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Living in the Soul by Caroline March

Read Caroline’s piece

In the end it didn’t matter by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

In the end it didn’t matter by Hilary Cole

Read Hilary’s piece

Patience by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s poem

…………………………………………………………………..

May

I’M NOT HAPPY, BUT I’M NOT UNHAPPY ABOUT IT

To set this week’s timed exercise I talked about character vulnerability.  Basically readers are drawn to characters that need help. A wounded character gives a reader a reason to root for them. Even a villain must have weaknesses, real or imagined. With that in mind we discussed Munchausen’s syndrome,  a mental disorder in which a person repeatedly and deliberately acts as if they have a physical or mental illness when they are not really sick. Munchausen syndrome is considered a mental illness because it is associated with severe emotional difficulties. It was named after Hieronymus Karl Friedrich von Münchhausen an 18th century German aristo who was renowned for telling tall tales.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baron_Munchausen

We then listened to Alan Bennett reading his short story, The Greening of Mrs Donaldson, from Smut.

https://savidgereads.wordpress.com/tag/the-greening-of-mrs-donaldson/

Mrs Donaldson is a 55-year-old widow who finds part-time work as a “demonstrator” for the local medical school, role-playing various patients and relatives in exercises designed to improve the diagnostic skills and bedside manner of the “budding healers.” One day she’ll be called upon to portray a transvestite with knee trouble, the next someone whose mother has gone into a coma. The execution of these little dramas, rife with possibilities for cross-talk and misunderstanding, allows Bennett to draw on the sketch-comedy skills he acquired half a century ago with his colleagues in “Beyond the Fringe.” But, more important, the hospital improvisations reveal Mrs. Donaldson’s reserves of empathy and anger, a whole range of emotions stifled during her middle-class married life.

I gave our writers this line by Alan Bennett to open your homework:

I’m not happy, but I’m not unhappy about it.

I’m Not Happy by Candida Lloyd

Listen to Candida’s piece

The Perfect Excuse by Christina Buchanan

Poundland by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

I’m Not Happy by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

I’m Not Happy by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

Settle on not Settling by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

The Not Ungood Soccer Manager by Richard Rewell 

Read Richard’s piece

Not Happy by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – a timed exercise by Christina Buchanan

…………………………………………………………………….
BIT OF A BOMBSHELL
For the timed exercise I talked about Mark Twain again and his advice about writing what you know. By which he meant you know what it feels like to be angry, sad, lonely, hungry etc.
With that in mind I asked you to write about your feet.
I then played the opening of Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet, a talking head by Alan Bennett, which I’ve attached.
Here’s the video clip on YouTube:
The reason why Bennett’s monologues worked so well on television is that his speakers talked as if from living room to living room. 
They could be neighbours popping round for a chat. The intimacy with which they addressed the camera/audience looks unmediated by anything as flashy as direction or performance. It helps that the scripts attracted the very best actors – in this case, a flawless Patricia Routledge – to create that mirage of naturalism, 
but also that Bennett has a furtive ability to peer deep into the speaker’s soul while the speaker is looking the other way.
I asked you to write a talking head monologue and open it with the first line from Miss Fozzard:
Bit of a bombshell today. 

Bit of a Bombshell by Christina Buchanan

Twiddling my Thumbs by Jill Webb

Listen to Jill’s piece

Well I Never by Jill Webb

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

Food Intolerance by Janie Reynolds

Read to Janie’s piece

Bit of a Bombshell Today by Chris Baker

Read Chris’ piece

Numbers and Greys by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

Bit of a Bombshell Today by Chris Baker

Read Chris’ piece

Reg Smith’s Changing World by Richard Rewell 

Read Richard’s piece

Bit of a Bombshell Today by Lesley Dawson

Read Lesley’s piece

Bit of a Bombshell Today by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

Italian Evening by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s poem

The Supermarket Sighting by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

……………………………………………………………………

MOTHER’S LITTLE LEGACY

For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers a different idiom from a TED translation project and asked them to use it in their piece and
create your own meaning for the idiom.
I then read from Marina Lewycka’s 2005 excellent comedy novel ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’. You can read it here:
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was bestselling author Marina Lewycka’s bestselling debut novel which has sold over one million copies worldwide. Lewycka tells the side-splittingly funny story of two feuding sisters, Vera and Nadezhda, who join forces against their father’s new, gold-digging girlfriend.

Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcée. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside.

Sisters Vera and Nadezhda must aside a lifetime of feuding to save their émigré engineer father from voluptuous gold-digger Valentina. With her proclivity for green satin underwear and boil-in-the-bag cuisine, she will stop at nothing in her pursuit of Western wealth.

But the sisters’ campaign to oust Valentina unearths family secrets, uncovers fifty years of Europe’s darkest history and sends them back to roots they’d much rather forget . . .
Each chapter of the novel is titled. I gave you the second chapter as your homework title:
Mother’s Little Legacy 

Mother’s Little Legacy by Christina Buchanan

Mother’s Little Legacy by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

Mother’s Little Legacy by Janie Reynolds

Read to Janie’s piece

Mother’s Little Legacy by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Mother’s Little Legacy by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

My other world by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

Mother’s Little Legacy by Richard Rewell 

Read Richard’s piece

Mother’s Little Legacy by Gill Kane

Read Gill’s piece

…………………………………………………………………..

HE IS NOT EASY TO DESCRIBE

for this week’s timed exercise I read a recent article about a woman in Taiwan who was clearing weeds from a gravestone as part of the Chinese Qingming Festival—a day for sweeping, tidying, and paying respects at ancestral tombs. Suddenly she felt a pain in her left eye. Upon seeking medical attention, the source of the swollenness turned out to be four bees that had flown into her eye and were feeding on her tear ducts.
I asked our writers to write a short horror story that starts with a seemingly innocuous irritation that turns out to be something more unsavoury. Your story could start with a presumably everyday nuisance—sand in your eye, a pebble in your shoe, a paper cut on your finger—and then let the horror unfold bit by bit.
I then read the first transformation scene from The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde and again discussed the importance of change and unexpected change.
I finished by reading this passage from the novella:
“He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point. He’s an extraordinary-looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way. No, sir; I can make no hand of it; I can’t describe him. And it’s not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment.”
The homework should start with the line: He is not easy to describe.

He is not easy to describe by Janie Reynolds

Listen to Janie’s piece

Friend or Foe by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

He’s not easy to describe by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

He is not easy to describe by James Stiffel

Read James’ piece

My other world by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

Bad Times in Buenos Aires by Richard Rewell 

Read Richard’s piece

The Landlady by Mia Sundby

Listen to Mia’s piece

……………………………………………………………………….

APRIL

UNEXPECTED CHANGE

For the timed exercise I asked our writers to write about one thing they would change about themselves, physical or otherwise.
We then discussed the significance of change in fiction. Basically every story you read or hear amounts to ’something changed’.
Unexpected Change makes us curious and curious is how we should feel in the opening movements of an effective story.The best writers create moments of unexpected change that seize the attention of their protagonists and by extension their readers.
The threat of change is also a highly effective technique for arousing curiosity. Alfred Hitchcock was a master at alarming his audience with the threat of change.
He reminded us that ‘There’s no terror in  the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
Roald Dahl turned the threat into a promise with his Tales of the Unexpected. Ironically this is the theatre of expectancy. We hope there is some unexpected change looming and of course we are not disappointed. In his 1959 short story The Landlady – see attached pdf, Dahl leads us up an increasingly dark path and ultimately lets us decide the fate of Billy.
The homework title was The Landlady and I asked our writers to be aware of change and unexpected change.

The Landlady by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Landlady by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

The Landlady by Ros Jones

Read Ros’ piece

The Landlady by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

A Short Weekend in Dorset by Jill Webb 

The Landlady by Malcolm Walker

Read Malcolm’s piece

The Landlady by Chris Robinson 

Read Chris’ piece

The Landlady by Candida Lloyd 

Read Candida’s piece

The Landlady by Chris Baker 

Read Chris’ piece

Edinburgh by Sue Hitchcock

Read Sue’s piece

The Landlady by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

The Landlady by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

The Landlady by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

The Beechwood Couple by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Short Changed – a timed exercise by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

……………………………………………………………………….

THE WOMAN WHO…

For this week’s timed exercise I gave each writer the title of a short story from the Irish writer Cecelia Ahern’s recent collection ‘Roar’ and asked them to interpret the title literally.
Cecelia Ahern is arguably one of Ireland’s most recognisable exports, up there with U2, Guinness and Tayto, her novels – 17 at last count – are beloved to the tune of 25m books sold worldwide and have been published in more than 40 countries. Ahern’s formidable output appears to run on discipline and an apparently inexhaustible imagination; famously, she publishes a book a year, seemingly spinning the plates of promoting the last book while, plotting, writing and editing the next.
To set the homework I read an excerpt from Roar.

Roar adheres to many tenets of magical realism – a woman’s relationship is haunted by a ticking clock inherited from a relative and, in another, the woman is swallowed up by the floor in the middle of a meeting and runs into a whole host of other embarrassed women down there. The worlds are largely ones we recognise – the mums at the school gates, the office ­- with the fabulous elements introduced matter-of-factly by an impassive authorial voice. Historically, magical realists have often employed the form to offer political criticism and Roar is no different. Ahern weaves gender issues and cultural criticism into her fictions but always with humour and a pleasingly light touch. The Woman Who Was Pigeonholed is one of the funniest and thought-provoking of the book. A clerk is filing women away in a busy office. From their individual pigeonholes they protest. “I’m a fat feminist man-hating slut, I should be in at least four boxes!” shouts one.

For the homework I asked our writers to create their own title based around the concept of Roar e.g.:  The Woman who…

The Woman Who Sewed Herself Back Together by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

The Woman Who Turned into a Cat by Christina Buchanan

The Woman Who Ignored Her Fears by James Stiffel

Read James’ piece

The Woman Who Turned Into a Doormat by Holly Raber

Read Holly’ piece

The Woman Who Turned Into a Doll by Pauline Walden

Read Pauline’s piece

The Woman Who Owned a Flowershop by Hilary Cole

Read Hilary’s piece

The Woman Who Dies On Thursdays by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Woman Who Wasn’t There by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

The Woman Who Didn’t Know Her Name by Rosalyn Hurst 

Read Rosalyn’s piece

The Women Who Tried by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

The Boy Who Liked Chocolate by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

The Woman Who Fell To Earth From A Star by Lizzie Staples Thompson

Read Lizzie’s piece

The Woman Who Elbowed Her Way To The Top And Flew Off The Handle by Richard Rewell 

Read Richard’s piece

……………………………………………………………………….

A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write about the mysterious noise reported in Scotland last week:

A mysterious humming sound that plagued residents in a Scottish seaside town and drove some to leave has returned, more than 30 years after it was first reported.

I then read from Linwood Barclay’s new thriller, ‘A Noise Downstairs’. 
 
College professor Paul Davis is a normal guy with a normal life. Until, driving along a deserted road late one night, he surprises a murderer disposing of a couple of bodies. That’s when Paul’s “normal” existence is turned upside down. After nearly losing his own life in that encounter, he finds himself battling PTSD, depression, and severe problems at work. His wife, Charlotte, desperate to cheer him up, brings home a vintage typewriter—complete with ink ribbons and heavy round keys—to encourage him to get started on that novel he’s always intended to write. However, the typewriter itself is a problem. Paul swears it’s possessed and types by itself at night. But only Paul can hear the noise coming from downstairs; Charlotte doesn’t hear a thing. And she worries he’s going off the rails.
 
The title of the homework was A Noise Downstairs.

 

A Noise Downstairs by Christina Buchanan

A Noise Downstairs by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s piece

A Noise Downstairs by Sheridan Maguire

Listen to Sheridan’s piece

A Noise Downstairs by James Stiffel

Read James’ piece

A Noise Downstairs by Gill Kane

Read Gills’ piece

A Noise Downstairs by Penny Humphrey

Read Penny’s piece

Rescue by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

A Noise Below by Sue Hitchcock 

Read Sue’s piece

A Noise Downstairs by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

A Noise Downstairs by Lizzie Staples

Read Lizzie’s piece

A Noise Downstairs by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Noise Downstairs by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

A Noise Downstairs by Miriam Silver

Read Miriam’s piece

A Noise Downstairs by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

……………………………………………………………………….

INSOMNIA

For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to create a cure for insomnia in their 250 word piece. For the homework I read the opening of Chuck Palahniuk’s brilliant novel Fight Club which features one of the most famous insomniacs in literature.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/dec/20/first-rule-about-fight-club-no-one-talks-about-the-quality-of-the-writing

I asked our writers to open their homework piece with this line from Fight Club:

There are a lot of things we don’t want to know about the people we love.

 

Some things are better left unsaid by Jill Webb

There are a lot of things we don’t want to know by Malcolm Walker read by Jill Webb

Vessel by Mari Syrad Grieves

Read Mari’s poem

Saving Grace by Sheridan Maguire

Read Sheridan’s piece

Unseen Beauty by James Stiffel

Listen to James’ piece

Twiglets Entwine by Sue Thompson

There are a lot of things by Candida Lloyd

Listen to Candida’s piece

The East End Job by Richard Rewell

Kitchen Conversation by Stuart Carruthers

……………………………………………………………………….

March

YOU’RE MY DREAM

For this week’s timed exercise I played an excerpt of a choral piece called Vitsa: A Charm Against Pain by the Estonian composer Tauno Ainst. Listen to the piece here
Vitsa means birch and from this tree came remedies for arthritis and rheumatism etc. I asked our writers to create a charm against anything they liked in 250 words.
I then read from Andrus Kiviahk’s bestselling novel The Man Who Spoke Snakish. This novel is so well known in Estonia that its has been turned into a boardgame.
Set in a fantastical version of medieval Estonia, The Man Who Spoke Snakish follows a young boy, Leemet, who lives with his hunter-gatherer family in the forest and is the last speaker of the ancient tongue of snakish, a language that allows its speakers to command all animals. But the forest is gradually emptying as more and more people leave to settle in villages.
 
 
I gave our writers this line from the novel to use anywhere they liked in their homework:
 
“You’re my dream and I plan to sleep forever.” 

North from Eden by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s piece

Together by Chris Baker

Read Chris’s piece

You’re My Dream by Janie Reynolds

Listen to Janie’s piece

You’re My Dream by Sue Thompson

You’re My Dream by Candida Lloyd

Listen to Candida’s piece

Game Over by Ros Jones

Wishing Upon a Dream by Melody Bertucci

You’re My Dream by Tilia Guilbaud-Walter

Read Tilia’s piece

A Cure for Insomnia by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

……………………………………………………………………….

DON’T WRITE

for this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to place these lines in the middle of their piece.

I’m writing this in a stranger’s room on a broken chair at an old school desk. The chair creaks if I move, and so I must keep very still.

The lines actually open Sarah Perry’s brilliant first novel, After Me Comes The Flood. You can read a review here:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/26/after-me-comes-flood-sarah-perry-review

The novel opens In Medias Res, in otherwords in the midst of the story. This is a common device and adds mystery to the work. Every Sherlock Hiolmes story opens like this and in fact most crime stories.

I then discussed Sarah Perry’s second novel The Essex Serpent. You can read a review here:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/16/the-essex-serpent-sarah-perry-review-novel

I asked our writers to use these lines from the book anywhere in your homework.

Don’t write. Don’t come. I don’t need it. It’s not why I’ve written. 

Don’t Write by Candida Lloyd

Read Candida’s piece

Just Another Day by Holly Raber

Read Holly’s piece

Don’t Write, Don’t Come by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Can’t Write by Lizzie Staples

Read Lizzie’s piece

The Core by Melody Bertucci

Read Melody’s piece

Retribution by Garf Collins

Don’t Write by Penny Humphrey

In Medias Res by James Stiffel

Read James’s piece

Dearest Sister by Chris Robinson

Brides by Rosalyn Hurst

Read Rosalyn’s piece

In Medias Res by Mari Syrad Grieves

……………………………………………………………………….

I’M TIRED OF WORDS

For this week’s timed exercise I told our writers to take notes of what was happening in the workshop, not only what was being said, but what they could see or smell. These notes became the material for your timed exercise. Note taking is an important part of a writer’s tool box. If you continuously write down what’s happening around you, then you’ll have a lot of raw material to use in your work. Once you develop the habit of taking notes, you’ll become more perceptive and your skills as a writer will improve significantly. That means not just more stories, but more inspired stories.

For the timed exercise I also gave our writers this opening line:  I couldn’t remember the colour of her eyes.
This line came from a short story by the great Israeli writer Amos Oz called All Rivers.
I asked our writers to open their homework with this line from All Rivers. I’m tired of words. You strive to be accurate, and the words come along and falsify everything.

Man Alive by Sheridan Maguire 

Read Sheridan’s piece

Words by Chris Baker

Read Chris’s piece

I’m Tired of Words by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

I’m Tired of Words by Sue Thompson

Sagacity by Holly Raber

Read Holly’s piece

I’m Tired of Words by Ros Jones

I’m Tired of Words by Penny Humphrey

An Injection of Hope by Garf Collins

Read Garf’s piece

I’m Tired by Lesley Dawson

……………………………………………………………………….

THE HELPING HAND

For this week’s timed exercise I told our writers about the auction of the Oresman collection:

“The New York auction house Doyle was honored to auction the Collection of quintessential New Yorkers Patricia and Donald Oresman on November 20, 2018. Comprising over 550 lots, this remarkable collection showcased the works of prominent artists, popular illustrators and renowned photographers. The paintings, sculptures, works on paper, prints and photographs spanned several decades, movements and mediums.” 
 
A huge art collection yet each artwork shared the same subject. I asked you to write about that subject and why the Oresman’s had been so obsessed by it. The subject was in fact Reading. Throughout the collection, figures were depicted in the act of reading, writing, printing and studying, many fully engrossed in literature.
For their homework I asked our writers to use one of the paintings – The Helping Hand by Don Freeman from 1933 as their inspiration.

The Helping Hand by Chris Baker 

Read Chris’s piece

In My Defence by Jill Webb

The Helping Hand by Lizzie Staples

Read Lizzie’s piece

The Helping Hand by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

The Helping Hand by Sue Thompson

The Helping Hand by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

Two Helping Hands by Melody Bertucci

The Helping Hand by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

The Helping Hand by Sandra Banks

Read Sandra’s piece

The Helping Hand by Penny Humphrey

The Helping Hand by Stuart Carruthers

Read Stuart’s piece

The Helping Hands by Lesley Dawson

Wait, Let Me Explain –  a timed exercise by Tilia Guilbaud- Walter  

………………………………………………………………………..

HE HATED THE WORD RETIREMENT
For this week’s timed exercise I asked our writers to write about something that was the last of its kind. I then read from Josephine Wilson’s award winning novel ‘Extinctions’.
For the homework I asked our writers to use this line from the novel as the opening line of their piece: ‘He hated the word ‘retirement’, but not as much as he hated the word ‘village’, as if aging made you a peasant or a fool.

Retirement by Jamie Moore 

Read Jamie’s piece

Chin Up by Jill Webb

The Collector by Holly Raber

Read Holly’s piece

He Hated the Word Retirement by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Clickety-Click by Sheridan Maguire

Contentment – a timed exercise by Chris Kingham

They by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

In the Eyes of Love by Melody Bertucci

She Hated the Word Retirement by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

……………………………………………………………………………….

February

A MANUAL FOR CLEANING WOMEN

To set this week’s homework I read from Lucia’s Berlin’s short story, ‘Angel’s Laundromat’ and discussed the merits of the ‘broken line’ story. Berlin uses the ‘broken line’ in a lot of her work, sometimes very subtly, interrupting the narrative flow with different scenes and characters to create a rich tapestry-like effect that nonetheless remains tight, gripping and surprising.

You can read ‘Angel’s Laundromat’ here: https://fsgworkinprogress.com/2015/08/20/angels-laundromat/
I asked our writers to consider creating a ‘broken line’ story in their homework. The homework  title was inspired by Lucia Berlin’s posthumous 2015 collection of short stories.
A Manual for Cleaning Women

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Chris Baker 

Read Chris’s piece

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Melody Bertucci

Patients and Patience by Jill Webb

Sugar Mummy by Holly Raber

Read Holly’s piece

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Janie Reynolds

Read Janie’s piece

Instructions for Cleaners by Garf Collins

A Tall Tale by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Candida Lloyd

Goldilocks: the Enigma Variation by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s poem

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

A Manual for Domestic Cooks by Richard Wilding 

Read Richard’s piece

A Manual for Cleaning Women by Ali Gale

………………………………………………………………………………………..

January

GOLDILOCKS
To set this week’s homework I read from the The End of Endings by Amanda Hess:

‘The age of the sequel is over. Now it’s the age of the sequel to the sequel. Also the prequel, the reboot, the reunion, the revival, the remake, the spinoff and the stand-alone franchise-adjacent film. Canceled television shows are reinstated. Killed-off characters are resuscitated. Movies do not begin and end so much as they loiter onscreen. And social media is built for infinite scrolling…’

For homework I asked our writers to write a sequel, or a prequel to the fairy tale Goldilocks.

And There She Was by Chris Baker 

Read Chris’s piece

Little Bear’s Adventure by Melody Bertucci

Wait Let Me Explain by Jill Webb

The Three Bears by Sheridan Maguire

Read Sheridan’s piece

The Desperate Mother Bear by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

The Golden Ticket by Garf Collins

A Tall Tale by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

The Golden Ticket by Stuart Carruthers

Goldilocks: the Enigma Variation by Steve Brown

Read Steve’s poem

Warning by Richard Rewell

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El Sombreron by Richard Wilding 

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Who Was She? by Hilary Cole 

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Not a Short Story – a timed exercise by Chris Kingham

Read Chris’s piece

The Golden Ticket by Chris Kingham 

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An Excellent Year’s Progress – a timed exercise by Malcolm Walker 

Read Malcolm’s piece

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For this week’s timed exercise I gave our writers a bar of legendary Soviet ‘Alyonka’ chocolate to write about. You can read about it here: https://soviet-art.ru/legendary-soviet-chocolate-alyonka/
I then read from Roald Dahl’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The homework title or subject was:  The Golden Ticket

I Don’t Want To Write About You Anymore by Tilia Guilbaud-Walter

Read Tilia’s piece

Herbs and Spice by Melody Bertucci

The Golden Ticket by Sheridan Maguire

Read Sheridan’s piece

A Grey Day by Jill Webb

The Year is by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

A Fairy Tale by Penny Humphrey

Maud by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

The Golden Ticket by Stuart Carruthers

The Golden Ticket by Gill Kane

Read Gill’s piece

The Golden Ticket by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

El Boleto de Oro by Richard Wilding 

Read Richard’s piece

The Golden Ticket by Jamie Moore

Read Jamie’s piece

Little Green Men by Chris Kingham

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Seven Kisses a timed exercise by Chris Kingham 

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I Wish You All…  – a timed exercise by Tilia Guilbaud-Walter

Read Tilia’s piece

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For this week’s timed exercise I read the first part of Shelly Oria’s short story Documentation,
in which she charts a relationship in the form of kisses. Read Documentation by Shelly Oria
I then asked our writers to write 7 kisses. For the homework I read the Acknowledgements page from Oria’s superb collection of short stories ‘New York 1, Tel Aviv 0. I then asked our writers to use the first line as the opening line for their homework: I grew up in another language.

I Grew Up in Another Language by Tilia Guilbaud-Walter

Read Tilia’s piece

I Grew up in Another Language by Candida Lloyd

I Grew Up in Another Language by Sheridan Maguire

Read Sheridan’s piece

A Grey Day by Jill Webb

Assimilation by Garf Collins

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Another Language by Penny Humphrey

Another Language by Sho Botham

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Pentecostal by Steve Brown

Mother Tongue by Holly Raber

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I Grew Up in Another Language by Richard Rewell

Read Richard’s piece

Hand in Hand by Richard Wilding 

Read Richard’s piece

7 Kisses – a timed exercise by Sheridan Maguire 

Read Sheridan’s piece

7 Kisses – a timed exercise by Elaine Weddle

Read Elaine’s piece

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For this week’s timed exercise I asked you to end your piece with this line: Money makes the world go around. Which led us to Cabaret and Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Diaries. I asked our writers to open their homework piece with this celebrated line from the Diaries: I am a camera, with its shutter open. I also asked our writers to think about their scenes like a film director and write using ‘Word Cameras’.

The Library Book by Garf Collins

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I am a Camera by Penny Humphrey

Camera by Sho Botham

Read Sho’s piece

The Bear in my Camera by Melody Bertucci

The Dinner Party by Chris Robinson

Read Chris’ piece

Daguerrotype by Richard Wilding

Read Richard’s piece

I am a Camera by Sue Thompson

Read Sue’s piece

I am a Camera by Tina Blower

Read Tina’s piece

From a Safe Distance – a timed exercise by Chris Kingham

Read Chris’s piece

Apparent Transparency by Chris Kingham

Read Chris’s piece

Gossip by Sho Botham

Listen to Sho’s piece

Life’s Too Short by Jill Webb

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