Friday, 27 December 2013

BBC Initiatives

Once again a series of interesting initiatives available, mainly to new writers. Go to bbcwritersroom for information on opportunities.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Rosie Garland

Palace of Curiosities is Rosie Garland's debut novel. Without divulging too much of the plot, the events she writes about take place in and around a Victorian show of physically unusual people.  

The characters she has created are outsiders, different. They drive the story forward in unexpected ways and yet symbolise all people who find themselves on the margins of society.

Rosie Garland herself is an interesting person - a performer and poet and now novelist - have a look at her website

How do writers create interesting characters? 
What constitutes an interesting character?

To start with they need purpose and motivation. A writer must decide what a character wants, and set them on the path of finding those desires - giving them flaws and situations that reveal how they behave when challenged, who they are, what they will and won't to to get what they want.

Think of memorable characters in books - Captain Ahab in Melville's Moby Dick - Miss Haversham in Dickens' Great Expectations. Both of them have strong reasons  for being as they are and behaving as they do.

It isn't enough to have a character. A plot and story and other characters are needed to make a piece of writing work. However, look through a piece of writing that you have completed but would like to improve. Could the characters be stronger?

Create a character based on someone you know. Give them a couple of dark characteristics that  aren't immediately apparent or that they usually manage to hide. See if the character you create inspires a story.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Large Cast Productions

I've been looking at the plays of Caryl Churchill, most of which have large casts - 16 parts being an average. In all cases these parts have been divided amongst 5 / 6 actors. This saves costs and it must be easier to co-ordinate 6 actors rather than 16. 

Large Casts enable multi viewpoints and brilliant challenges for actors. However, the costs involved with putting on productions often result in writers and producers opting for fewer roles.

There are some cases when a large cast is needed. My Story Quilt (The Horse's Quilt) has 20 characters. This figure could be swelled to include more people, in schools for example, by having stage crew and musicians. 

I'm thinking of writing another large cast drama piece for community settings and have looked at those produced by other companies and writers. They vary from the sublime to the banal.

What large cast plays have you seen. Who is known for writing plays with vast casts?

Have you any ideas for such a thing. Jot down some ideas and see if it inspires something you haven't thought of before.

Caryl Churchill

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Ovid, Don Quixote and unfullfilled ambition.

I've mentioned translations before. Things lost as well as found when work is changed from one language to another. I'm reading Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes amongst other things at the moment and note that the translation by Edith Grossman took two years to complete and she was as nervous showing her work to the world as any author might be. 

Don Quixote is one of those books that you might read or you might decide, given its size, you won't bother with. I know parts of it that have been used to demonstrate points in writing classes. I'll see how  go on with reading all of it.

Speaking of translations, I have used In Summer's Heat In my classes over the past couple of weeks. This poem by Ovid, translated by Christopher Marlowe describes a sexy afternoon. Timeless and relevant in the time of Ovid as well as Marlowe and now. Do read it. 

Which brings me to my subject which is people who didn't shine as they might have done. Christpher Marlowe, clever, feisty peer of William Shakespeare was killed in an undignified fight. Who knows what amazing plays he might have penned or what other work he might have translated. Rupert Brooke, beautiful boy poet and soldier didn't live through WW1 and his war poems don't have the bite and bitter taste of reality contained in the poems of Owen, for example.

Imagine a character from any world, not just the arts, whose talent didn't materialize for any kind of reason. Write about them from the point of view of someone who knew them or still knows them. What talent did they have? Why didn't it materialize? 

A very interesting picture may emerge.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

shakespeare reduced and other abbreviations

There's no way that all of Shakespeare's plays should be able to fit into a single average length perofrmance but the Reduced Shakespeare Company managed to do that at a performance at The Oldham Coliseum last week.

Humour, 3 male actors with wigs, costumes and props, a fairly simple set and a lot of energy gave an enteratining whistle stop tour of the Bard's output. 

Could you do that with your life? Make a descriptive list of key events and then develop that into a poem or performance piece. Could you do 2 separate accounts of your life? One that is known and you don't mind sharing, and a less known or inner life?

Think of the things you do regularly, your failings and successes and use them throughout to aid the structure of the piece. Try to create a story and not a list (or a CV)

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Films plots.

Watching good films is one of life's great pleasures for me. I appreciate everything from the words spoken to the scenery chosen. Some films follow a fairly transparent route from start to finish while others ie Indie Brit Films and French Films take risks with plot. Others can be based loosley or closely on books with varying outcomes.

Have a look at books on writing films.  

One thing I like to do is consider the plot in its most basic form and then think of a story of my own that follows that plot. This isn't new. Plots are recycled all the time. I have a book about Silent Movies in which the business of recycling plots by changing settings and times was a big job for writers of the time.

Try this -

Think of a film you like
Write the plot out in a series of 10-15 sentences.
Use the plot line to construct a story of your own, set in another time and place.

Use a bit of writerly skill to make it difficult to see at a glance the film you got your idea from.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Novel in a month. NaNoWriMo

Hardly news but November is the month in which writers can join an international event that involves writing a 50,000 word novel. It's a tough call but thousands of people do it.

I have an idea that I'd like to work on and I'm going to give it a try. My life is busy enough and I don't know how I can write almost 2000 words a day but if other busy people are doing it I'm going to try.

For much more information go to where you'll find all the help and support you need.

Get that novel written. You know you want to.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Mystery and perspectives

Look at the untrimmed hedge in the above photograph. It is at the back door of a house owned by a man who teaches languages at a college.

Write a short story from three perspectives about this situation.

The first perspective could be that of a neighbour, the second from the man who owns the house and the third, a person of your choosing. 

What message does the untrimmed hedge give to the people involved? 
How does it affect them?

It should be interesting to write. Think of a few plot ideas before you start.

You can write each perspective in a first or third person voice, You can choose to write each perspective as

1. A short story in its own right with  a structure, start, middle and end.


2. Each story can follow on from the last to build up the whole. 

Have fun.

Friday, 11 October 2013

NAWE National Association for Writers in Education.

NAWE is the National Association for Writers in Education. 

Their remit is quite broad and they offer a lot of services to writers who work in education and welfare. Subscribers can receive newsletters, job information, details of courses and up to date industry views and insights from people who are prominent and informed. At the moment they are taking bookings for a large annual conference. They offer a really good mix of stuff - more than I've mentioned.

I'm not advertising for them but I find what they do useful and interesting and subscribe to a monthly e-bulletin that tells me about opportunities in the world of writing, some of which I can tell others about.

You can visit their website for an idea of what they do at

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Confucius Quotation

'Have no friends not equal to yourself'


An interesting quotation. Are the friends in your circle your equals? What does this make you, and them? 

Drama isn't made when things are equal and the same. Is there anyone in your circle who doesn't fit because at some level they aren't equal? Have you ever not fitted because you weren't equal? It's uncomfortable to think about but isolate a person, or a time in your own life and write about it.

In order to fictionalize something real you could write in the third person. Try to create a sense of structure by framing an incident with a 

start  - when did the situation arise and what was it like? 
middle - what happened to the people involved? 
end - how did things turn out?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

First sentence story prompt.

Write a short story of no more than 2000 words beginning with the opening sentence

They ordered coffee and while they waited for it to arrive, sat awkwardly, wondering what to say.

In the story, in any order, include the words jewelled, interruptions and ring.

Have lots of fun.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Working without inspiration. Good or bad idea?

Sitzfleisch is a German word that means the power to endure or to persevere in an activity: stamina. 

The word sitz  means buttocks and the idea is that your bum sticks to the chair for the duration of the task in hand. It can be applied to all tasks but when applied to writing it refers to the business of writing through those periods when imagination seems to have dried up rather than putting your work down until you feel inspired.

I've experienced the need to stick to the chair on many occasions, for example, as a deadline approaches or when writing time is limited.

When inspiration has dried up I write lists, I revisit characters at different times of the day on in different places, I change names or find an ending and write backwards.

What other things can be done to trigger an imaginative response when you want to stay in your chair and finish a writing task?

Do you think carrying out this idea of sticking to your chair while you write through a dry patch leads to inferior work?

What other words, from any language, do you think need more appreciation and use?

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Megaliths: Mystical or mundane?

This (not very good) photo is of a field in Carnac in Southern Brittany, France. It contains some of the hundreds of megaliths that exist in the area. They are scattered in many cases but also can be found in very organised groups. Although they are not like Stonehenge, there are some resemblances. 

Many theories exist about the possible origins of these stones. They could be:-

A pre - historic grid reference for people whose advanced mathematical and astrological knowledge was then lost for thousands of years.

The  remains of communities in which the ceremonies connected with birth, death, marriage, fertility, retribution and sacrifice were carried out publicly and relied on symbolism.

Connections with aliens or other-worldly beings.

Rocks thrust up through the ground as the earth's surface changed, oceans realigned and land masses separated.

I'm very pragmatic and although I haven't researched the area and don't have access to the research of others, I'm inclined to believe that these stones, however amazing, could have been forced through the earth's surface during times of climate change or movement.

For untold years they lay untouched in the fields of farmers. 
What must the farming families and agricultural workers of other times have made of them?
Is it possible that people once knew the origins of the stones but that knowledge was lost?
How did the farmers of old and their families feel about the stones?
Were they believed to be mystical, benevolent, religious?

Write about a person who lived by the stones in another century. Show how they feel about them and what locals believe about them. Consider the theories that exist about these stones now, but try to imagine one of your own.

Do you live near an ancient monument or structure?  

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Word counts count

How long is a short story? I'm asked this on a weekly basis. I don't like to be vague if I can help it so my answer is that some of the shortest short stories known as flash fiction can be 500-800 words long. Some stories have had as few as six words.

I think that a piece of fiction above 8000 words  might be considered as a pocket novel or novella. Writing competition organisers and  editors have word counts that must be adhered to so that work fits on a page or within a broadcasting slot.

I'd say that if you are writing for yourself a short story can be any length you like. If you are writing for inclusion or payment there are guidelines. Competitions always state a maximum word count and magazines have slots of varied and specified sizes - 800, 1000, 2000, 3000 +

And then of course you can be creative. You can link stories or group similar themes and perspectives together.

How many words are in the longest story you've ever written?
Do you prefer quick reads or something longer and more developed?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Writing short stories for women's magazines

For up to the minute information on writing short stories and serials for women's magazines go to this excellent blog 

You will find answers to some of your writing questions, guidelines, and news from people currently selling to this market.

It's a good read and and time well spent if you've ever wanted to write short popular fiction.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

BBC writing opportunities.

Check the BBC writing website for regular news about writing initiatives.


Do you believe in co-incidences? 

The day I saw this motorbike and side car I saw three other models. I really like the idea of travelling in a side car, or on the bike. Is that a co-incidence?

Some people believe they don't exist and that simultaneously occurring incidents have a logical explanation. Other people believe that co-incidences serve as a reminder or warning.

On the whole I usually find a logical reason for co-incidences and hear my inner voice saying 'there's no such thing as a co-incidence'. I have had those experiences however that can't be explained easily. Dreaming of a person or event before it happens. Making friends and relationships with people I have strange things in common with. My husband and I have the same birthday; I'm friends with someone who took the same extraordinary number of driving tests; family birthdays, names and significant dates are very connected.

Using co-incidences in fiction requires skill. They can't easily be brought in to explain part of a plot. That can come across as a weak device. On the other hand starting a piece of work with a co-incidence and then exploring it throughout a story could be intriguing.

Jot down a few co-incidental things from your own experience of life.

Is there a story in any of them?
As a group could they be combined in a plot?
Are any of them hard to explain and therefore perfect for a mysterious story? 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

artistic inspiration

When I was in France I did a workshop with an artist called Patrizia Ingenuo. Her work is featured in the photo above. It is made of found objects and reminds me of the art of Native American Indians. 

She was lovely and generous and inspirational and her workshop was fantastic. Full of projects that she has begun and materials she uses. 

There is a connection between art and writing. I often visit galleries and museums with students and the work produced afterwards is astonishing. Sometimes people are so energised by what they've seen they sit and write there and then in the art gallery coffee shop.

Do you pass a gallery or live near to one?
Peep in the window or pay to go inside and find a piece of work that inspires you.
Write about yourself looking at this work. Compare your world with the world of the picture. See what results you get.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Holidays are over.

At this time of year when I return from my summer holiday I do writing warm up exercises with any souvenirs I bought or found. This year it's been old letters and postcards with messages. I found an envelope with three beautifully written letters from a daughter to her mother on Mother's day. They were about 300 miles from where they were written and sent. The tone was sweet with a few moans about studying. The writing and paper are exquisite.

Also there is a story in there. 

Next time you're at a junk sale have a look for letters. See if you can find a story in them.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Found in translation.

Misery by Stephen King ( was written in English and has been translated into many other languages. I have a copy of it in English with explanations for French people who are learning English. You can see in the photo above.

It's fantastic to read translated work as it gives an insight into other people, their lives and sensibilities. It's not just translation that takes place but interpretation. I have had my work, a play called Walking De Niro, translated into German. An interesting process.

Consider a few translated writers. Isaac Singer wrote in Yiddish, a language he considered more vibrant than others, and believed was more expressive than English.

 J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels have been translated into dozens of languages.

If you understand more than one language try translating a few lines from work in one language into another.

Try writing some dialogue in your usual style. Re write it in the voices of different characters, for example someone very psh. Someone very un-posh. Does it make a difference?

Read some translated work and a bit about the people who did the translating. Very insightful.

Friday, 16 August 2013


What makes you laugh? I like slapstick. I wish I didn't but I do.

Do people laugh at different things in different countries. I was in Australia one and watched as the Aussies roared with laughter at a comedian who left me feeling as though I hadn't left school. Do people get British humour?

Have you ever sent an email that was supposed to be funny and when you read it back realised it could be taken the wrong way.

Some things are funny, some people are funny. Why is this.

Write down what makes you laugh.

Try to write a sketch of about one minute in duration (one typed page) and look at it after a couple of days to see if it works.

Who are the funny people in the world?



What is it about them that makes you laugh?

 Try to analyse this and bear it in mind in your writing

Monday, 12 August 2013

Editing your work

I've mentioned Edgar Allan Poe a few times lately. I'm reading his stuff and it's taking ages because I keep going over the long and elaborate sentences and imagining them as they might be if they were more modern and more brief.

It isn't just EAP who gets this treatment. I recently wrote a story that was rejected by a magazine editor. When I came to look at it again I decided it could be made shorter. I got it from 2000 words to 1000! Not something to be proud of. What twaddle had I written that wasn't missed after a hefty edit?

Do it now. Get one of your stories and see if you can remove 20% of the content without changing the story. It makes you resourceful. Maybe you could remove more. Always a good thing to put stuff away for a while and come back to it with a view to reducing it to make it powerful and tight.

If all your stories are edited, try looking at Poe and see what you come up with when you reduce his sentences.

Random picture of me at a storytelling event.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Tips and wrinkles.

What is the best bit of advice you've ever been given? Who gave it to you and when? Do you live by it?

Ask a few of your friends and family for the best bit of advice they got and why? Ask who gave it to them?

You'll get some fantastic answers and if you have enough pieces of good advice you could compile one of those little books of helpful ideas.

What's the worst bit of advice you have ever had? Who gave it to you and what happened when you followed it?  There's another little book in the making but more of a dark book or tragic comedy.

What bit of advice do you give. Have you ever taken it yourself?

The best bit of advice I had was written down. It said love life is to love many things....I think that's true. The advice I give people is to accept yourself as you are and forgive your limitations. Good advice or a cop out?..

Thursday, 8 August 2013


Music is a big part of our lives regardless of who we are and where we are from. As a writing exercise choose two or three pieces of music that are important to you. Play them if you can and then immediately after write notes about the memories they invoke.

Can you make these recollections into a story? This may involve standing back from the memories you have evoked and writing about yourself as a fictional character.

Try writing continually for five minutes about your music and what it makes you think of. Write  stream of consciousness.

Could you write a poem of any style made from your recollections?

If you wrote about all the songs that have formed a soundtrack to your life you might have a novel...

I'm thinking now about Kung fu fighting. It always reminds me of a fantastic holiday I had as a kid.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Secrets in noisy cupboards

This piece of furniture is French. What makes it French is the long drawer in the middle which has been designed to store baguettes. It's an entirely functional piece of furniture intended to be very useful but the cupboards are stiff and open with difficulty and a loud noise. 

Create a scenario in which a person wants to retrieve an important document from the cupboard but can't because the house is never empty and opening the cupboards alerts everyone's attention. Imagine the document is a birth certificate that contains proof or evidence of great importance to the character.

The person is motivated to recover this document and this motivation drives him or her forward to take risks and think resourcefully. Motivation, risk and resourcefulness are wonderful ingredients for drama. 

This scenario could be very funny or it could be sinister or a combination of the two.

Think about why the document is important.
What will happen when the evidence is found?
Why can't the protagonist just walk up to the cupboard and open it?
Why is the protagonist so powerless?
Who in the household is the protagonist scared of offending or causing trouble with?

There's a film in this... or a novel...if you keep writing.

Is there a place in your home where secrets are kept?
Who keeps them and why?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Names and their influence.

The Royal couple have named their baby boy George. I wonder what his name would have been had he been a girl. A friend of mine - very muscled and masculine - told me his mum was going to call him Janet if he had been born a girl. Janet??? I could never look at him without thinking of him with that name.

My parents would have called me Blake if I'd been born a boy. 

What were the names your parents chose for you - the ones they didn't use?
How would your life have been different with another name?
If you are a parent, what names did you write on a list for your expected child? What made you pick the one you chose and reject the others?

Are you named after anyone? 

Write a story beginning with a name you might have had and go on to describe a day in the life of the person you might have been.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Fulfilling small ambitions.

I made these pottery items. I made lots more but they aren't ready to bring home yet as they need to be fired and glazed. Pottery is something I've always wanted to try but always put off. The six classes I took were very relaxing and I'm now glad I've fulfilled a small ambition.

What hobby or new occupation have you wanted to try?
Why haven't you done it yet?

1) Could you write a story about someone (it could be you) who dreamed of doing something like pottery or asking someone for a date and then did it?

Were their expectations met or exceeded or was the activity a disappointment?
Write a story with a traditional start middle and end structure.

2) What about a story about someone doing something they didn't want to do or dreaded like paint-balling or standing up to a difficult person. You could try a different story structure such as writing your story as a diary for example.

What happens to make a person have to do these things?

Sometimes we can be surprised to find ourselves enjoying something unexpected, or facing up to something difficult with good courage.

The two scenarios will give you very different stories.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Get it write.

I read a book from a mainstream publisher that had several typos in it. I found this so odd that when I came across them they distracted me from the story as I pondered the reason...staff cuts, someone rushing because of a heavy workload...I once read a self published book that told a good story in such appalling English that it spoiled the book and its chances of a good review or recommendations. The best story in the world won't get past an editor if it contains mistakes that the writer should have spotted.

Spelling and grammar are important elements of the written word. 

Your spell check won't find all the mistakes in your work and the best way to see them yourself is to print work off, rather than editing it from the screen.

Reading work aloud is another way of finding errors as is leaving work for a couple of weeks before re-checking it. Having a break from a piece of work is a good way to see it again as though for the first time. 

Create a list of the mistakes you commonly make. I always struggle to spell rhyme and manoeuvre and have to go carefully when I want to use whose or who's.

Keep the list handy for when you are writing.

Write a short story about someone who can't spell and the effect this has on their life. 

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Edgar Allan Poe

I'm working my way through a number of ghost stories so that when I begin the September term I have a few choice examples to use in my lessons. The pictured book of Edgar Allan Poe's works is full of stories with the most fabulous titles. Von Kempelen and his Discovery, Mesmeric Revelation, The Devil in the Belfry, The Premature Burial, The Masque of the Red Death, The Oblong Box, The Purloined Letter and The Black Cat being a few.

Yesterday I read The Fall of the House of Usher. The story was bursting with Gothic creepiness and I must say that I enjoyed the pomp and drama of it. It seems to me that Poe has gathered ornate and elaborate words and used them to construct fittingly fancy sentences. The sheer wordiness of the story made me think it would be an interesting task to write the story, sentence by sentence, in a modern and stark style to see if its essence could be retained. 

Poe uses every device to create mood. In The Fall of the House of Usher there is a story within the story, a poem, a smattering of Latin words and references to writers of merit with interesting names. At the heart of the story is a human fear that has troubled people since the beginning of time (read it and see)

Some of the words used are wonderful. I might try to slip them into my own writing, or a conversation. 

Could you do the same with the following?

Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light  (my favourite)

Try reading Poe and leave a comment about what you think of his work.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Deadly Sins and Heavenly Virtues

How many times have you read stories or watched films in which the seven deadly sins are at the heart of the plot? Lots I imagine, when you come to think of it, as sin leads to all kinds of conflicts and that's what creates the drama necessary for a story to be interesting. 

Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, when extreme, might be considered as character flaws and flawed characters are possibly the most engaging to read about and create.

Are you aware of the seven heavenly virtues?


It is said that observation of the above protects us from temptation. (Temptation being the source of so many good stories from the Garden of Eden onward)

Could you write about them?

Maybe a poem or a performance piece - a series of monologues or one act plays.

Can you see how they too, when you interpret them, could be the source of conflict?

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Storytelling Quilt and other props.

I tell stories of Victorian Britain and beyond with this vast quilt.

Traditional hexagon patch used to tell the story of Victorian Penny Dreadful novels.

Crazy patch made from old coats in a patch used to talk about factory workers,

Madeleine Solazzo and Joseph Stacey act out a scene in which the quilt is bundled up like a baby.

Joseph Stacey and Madeleine Solazzo in a scene where the quilt becomes a kimono.

My storytelling quilt in action. There are 20 blocks in the quilt, each with its own story. It would take too long to act out each story so I advise event organizers to select 5-6 blocks that they think their audience will like or find valuable. Those 5-6 stories are played together in a unique performance. Quilts are fantastic props for telling stories and fairly simple to make. 

Is anyone else using a quilt as the basis of a play?

My quilt tells stories from Victorian Britain. A quilt could be made in any number of ways to tell stories about anything.  

What other devices would enable the telling of fantastic tales?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Finding a familiar neighbourhood changed.

Yesterday I drove to an area I was once familiar with. I used to work there and knew a couple of families and where the shops and main buildings were. 

Yesterday it was almost unrecognizable. Two pubs that didn't appear to have changed gave me some idea of where I was but new streets with new names, flats and buildings whose use had changed left me feeling as though I had never been before. 

The central feature of the district was a vast cinema. It was still there, being used as a church, but somehow hard to find and the houses that ran alongside it were gone, replaced by a garden centre.

I wondered where the people went who once lived there and what happened to their communities. The area I was in has been radically altered twice in the last eighty years and the movement of settled groups is nothing new..

I'm ready to write about the experience while it's fresh. I think I could write a poem. The liberal requirements of free verse would lend itself to my observations and I would aim to write it without sentimentality, nostalgia and the wistful looking back to things lost.

There's a story in there too; one that explains my long absence and possibly the reason for my visit.

Have you ever gone back to somewhere you once knew and found it vastly different?

Is your old neighbourhood still the same as it was when you lived there?

Is there an area or house you would like to visit?

I think there's a lot to write about.

Saturday, 29 June 2013


Is anything taboo anymore? Shelagh Delaney's play, A Taste of Honey, was challenging in terms of its subject matter when it was released in 1958. Its story is one of a sexually permissive mother who ignores the plight of a daughter who is made pregnant by a young black sailor who deserts her. Support in the situation comes from a gay man. 
It's still a powerful play, one I'd watch were it to be shown at a theatre or on TV, but do its social challenges still exist? 
Are mixed relationships or sexually permissive people taboo anymore? Are there any taboo subjects? Mixed marriages are commonplace now - does that mean taboos no longer exist?

Do you think there are still taboo subjects?

A radio producer once told me I could afford to be braver with my writing.

It was true and I took it on board.

Write bravely about a taboo.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013


This is a picture I took at Stonehenge during the summer solstice celebrations. it looks light but it was only about 4 o clock in the morning. Before I went I imagined the stones would be swarming with Hippies, Druids and New Age souls chanting free the stones. It wasn't like that. The event was heavily staffed with security personnel, there was a drugs amnesty and a vast bucket for people to drop their spliffs etc in before they went near the monument. Some people were drunk and cheerful, others were dancing, some to the music inside their own heads. There were one or two druids, a few hippies and a lot of new age travellers. I enjoyed the event enormously but didn't get any of the spiritual vibes I secretly hoped  I might.

Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles features a scene in which Tess is lost in Stonehenge, trying to feel her way around. I was imagining this scene when I was there.

I thought there was a lot of potential for stories at Stonehenge. 

Could you write a story about the lives of Druids or others who may have used the stones when they were first erected? 

Is there a story in the people whose caravans filled the field nearby or a person who visits sacred sites? Write some notes. See if you have the makings of a short story. 

Monday, 24 June 2013

BBC writersroom - fantastic up to date information for writers

BBC writersroom is a great on-line resource for writers. Opportunities in the form of competitions and initiatives to submit scripts for radio, television and theatre are updated frequently. It's possible to read examples of scripts and watch interviews with writers of current programmes. There are tips, inspiring success stories and a definite flavour of what's currrent and important in the world of commercial writing. 

Find this resource at 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Broken Plate Story Scenario.

I found this broken dish and couldn't remember how I broke it or why the broken pieces hadn't been thrown away. Always on the lookout for writing exercises I wondered if there was a story in these pottery pieces that were once a pretty and useful dish. 

Why don't you try using these important story elements to create a story.


Is there a mystery to be found or a comedy? 

Is it the start of something or the end?  

Is there one story or several?

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Pop Up Theatre

A performance I saw by the Hardgraft Theatre Company called I Love Oldham, written by Mark Whitely, who also played one of the parts alongside Rayyah McCaul was a fun event. These hardworking actors greeted their audience, sorted tickets and then performed a two act play whose action is set in a charity shop and in this case, a real charity shop.

A vacant retail unit in Oldham's indoor market was transformed into a play set. To passers by it looked like a regular charity shop but it was laid out with a collection of mis-matched chairs and was a theatre for a two week run.

Vacant shops are a part of life at the moment and with a bit of planning could be put to better use. I know that pop up restaurants have been coming and going in empty shops, particularly in London. I'm aware that craft workshops and exhibitions were commissioned in Lancashire a couple of years ago. With arts funding being reduced and in some cases cut it might be an idea for small theatre groups and community projects to have a look at some of these spaces. The only rental needed is for the run of the play and with the glut of shops available and the right script the idea could work anywhere in the country.

Well done Hardgraft.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Fictional Characters. Who would You Be?

Some great characters exist in fiction and I tried to imagine which character I most resemble. I so wanted it to be someone exciting and female but the character I kept thinking of was Don Quixote....Maybe not all the time and it could have been worse. Mrs. Danvers in Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca or a munchkin in L. Frank Baum's the Wizard of Oz.

I sometimes read poetry and books and find characteristics in people being described that remind me of myself. Perhaps we all do and thet's why we read - to find ourself reflected in the world.

If you were a character in a story or poem,

Who would you be and why?

What makes a character memorable?

What makes people love or hate characters?

Friday, 7 June 2013

Keys to Paradise and Other Locks.

Go to any museum and you'll find rusty and rotted keys from thousands of years ago, ornate and elegant keys that hung from the waists of Victorian or French housekeepers. In the drawers and cupboards of all our houses there are likely to be keys, put there for safekeeping, that belong to locks that no longer exist.

Keys take on a different form in the twenty first century. Safe combinations, swipe cards, iris and fingerprint recognition and keys smothered with bling and patterns to make them stand out.

However you look at it, everyone from the Roman Soldier to the Modern Art Teacher had or has something they want to lock up. Salt, saffron, sugar, secrets. Love letters, evidence, diamonds, people.

Make a list of everything you have locked up. Do you see the beginnings of a poem in that list? Or a story?

Look at the photo of keys above. Select one. Imagine you keep it somewhere safe. Write about the lock it opens. Tell a story about what's locked away and why. 

Write an intriguing sentence that includes the word key.

Have you any interesting stories that involve keys?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Stones in his Pockets. A play by Marie Jones

I'm re-reading Stones in his Pockets by Marie Jones. It's a play with a large cast that has traditionally been played by two actors. Set in Ireland, it looks at the effect a visiting American film crew has on a close knit community.

The dialogue is very effective. All characters come to life on the page and not a word is wasted. I'll be using this play in September when I will be running a play reading course.

It's inspiring to see what can be done with two actors, a fantastic script and no props. Somehow the essence of how powerful theatre can be is embodied in this layered and thought provoking piece. The tone is humourous but the play doesn't shy away from large and small politics.

Reading it reminds me of something I wrote. It's a play with two characters who are both played by one actor. I must get it out, blow the dust off it and see if it's any good.

Has anyone seen a production of Stones in his Pockets?

What did you think of it?

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Ghost stories....what is a ghost?

I've read my book of ghost stories - a mixed bunch of tales. I enjoyed them but thought most were tenuously connected to ghosts and could have been included in several categories. Some were funny, others surreal and one or two were mysterious.

Ghost is an expression that seems to cover a range of mental as well as physical anomalies and sometimes the fantastic is just that...a bit fantastic.

I'm going to be looking at ghost stories in the September term so I'll have to read a few more, study the form and write a couple. 

The fact that none of them gave me a decent attack of the creeps was disappointing...was I asking for too much? 

What is a ghost?
Have you ever been in the presence of anything you could describe as a ghost? Write about it.
Do you think ghosts exist or that a state of mind creates them?
Are there any ghost stories in your family? Tell them!
Why do you think people like ghost stories and want to be scared?

Thursday, 30 May 2013

What could you write about buttons?

Do you like buttons? I love them and know lots of people who love them too. Some of the buttons above were sold to me at a car boot sale. The woman I bought them from held them to her chest for a few moments, told me they belonged to her grandma, wrestled with some guilt I expect and then sold them to me. I've cherished them. 

When I say that I love buttons I don't mean dull things from ordinary coats or workaday trousers. I mean gorgeous buttons. Shiny, blingy, jewelled, expensive, rare, art deco, surprising, complicated and desirable.

As a tutor of textile based and craft subjects I've met people who detest buttons and feel sick at the sight of them. They can't handle buttons and choose clothing with zips, velcro, ties, hooks, press studs ....anything but buttons.

In creative writing I've used buttons to stimulate stories - what fantastic stories. I've invited people to take a button from my collection and imagine where it came from and on a few occasions people have asked to keep a button or have taken it!!
In my experience men like buttons as much as women, sometimes for different reasons.

What d'you think about buttons? 

Write a few lines about where some of the buttons in the picture came from.

Do you know the word that describes a button phobia?

If there's a button jar/box/tin in your house, have a look at it. Write a story about the person who owns it. If it's been passed down write about who it belonged to and the people who inherited it. Are the buttons workaday or fabulous? What clothes do they come from?

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Stories in a tiled floor.

I can't resist tiled floors. The jazzier the better. My favourite tiled floor was black orange and cream coloured shapes that looked like many variations on a church building. It was so jolly I would liked to have rolled it up and taken it home. The junk shop where those tiles were laid was never open when I passed so I never got a good photo.

The tiles in the above picture are laid in a long room; a granny flat at the side of a house. The room has whitewashed walls, dark beams and an elaborate fireplace made of rose granite. An older lady lived in this room, alone but next to her family, for the last years of her life. The room was furnished and adorned with family photos and ornaments.

This floor looks different depending on the weather and where you stand on it. Sometimes it's a mosaic and other times a woven cloth.

Write a list of factual words that describe the floor.
Write what the floor makes you think of, or reminds you of.
Write a few phrases about the woman who lived there - it's entirely up to you who you imagine.

Once you've gathered your ideas see if you can write a poem made up of couplets with the first word of each couplet being because.

for example

Because the yellow squares
remind her of his youthful hair

Because the grey squares
remind her of her own.....

You could try to tell a story in the poem, or be descriptive, or go where the subject matter takes you.    

Let me know how you go on?

What floor coverings are interesting to you....floor coverings...interesting? You know the sort of thing...home made rugs, plush hotel carpets with fabulous patterns running along them...floorboards...

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Ghost Stories

Have just started to read an anthology of ghost stories and am looking forward to being a little bit terrified by them. The collection has been compiled by Everyman in their Pocket Classic series and the writers included are on the whole from the early and mid 20th century.

I won't be able to leave it at that. I'll then have to gather ghost stories from modern writers and then look into the psychology of enjoying fear at a distance via stories and films. There's no doubt that I'll ruffle through the pages of Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots - Why We Tell Stories for his take on the pleasure and purpose of creepy stories. Then I'll be compelled to write my own ghost story.

Recently I did begin a story about a haunting and set it in a very modern urban environment but it ran out of steam as I wrestled with the source of the ghostliness. Imagined or actual? Ahhh, the pleasures of writing. Who could possibly succumb to the pleasures of chocolate biscuits or the lure of crime with so much to do?

Have you seen a ghost or something unsettling that can't be easily explained?