What's it about?

This blog has a very specific purpose: it's a place to post prompts for creative writing during the time of the lockdown. Initially it was for the use of my writing group, as we cannot for the time being meet in person - but I want to open it up to anyone who'd like to have a go at creative writing. I very strongly believe that writing is good for you: while you're writing, you're off somewhere else - you've escaped! And that can only be a good thing during lockdown.

Do sign up to be notified by email when a new prompt is posted - usually on Thursdays - and I would love to hear how you're getting on in the comments. Have fun!

Friday, 30 October 2020

Two pictures that tell a story?

 These are two pictures by Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi of the same woman, Ida. (I am indebted to Phyllis's son, Martin, for telling me about this artist - I hadn't come across him before.) How about having ago at filling in the gaps between the two pictures? The woman is called Ida. Start with asking some questions.

Who is this young woman?

What do you think you can tell about her character, about the sort of person she is, about her situation?

What do you imagine her feelings are in the first picture, where she's wearing a white dress?

What about in the second picture?

What has happened in between? 

(Or you could take them the other way round, with the picture of her in the dark dress coming first.)

If you are a bit wary about telling a story, just describe what you see in the two pictures - and see where it goes. Have fun!

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Food, glorious food!

Two of my writing group have requested an 'uplifting' task centring on food, and thank you to them: I can't think why I haven't thought about it before. You only have to think of the shelves in bookshops full of temptingly luscious cookery books (I succumbed myself only the other day), or the popularity of gorgeous national treasure Mary Berry, or the runaway juggernaut that is The Great British Bakeoff, to be aware of what an important part food plays in our lives - apart, of course, from it being an essential component of, well, being alive.

So, food. Time to recall some special meals. Here are a few possible starting points. You can just enjoy writing about food memories (hoping for some mouth-watering descriptions here), or food could form the starting point for a story - a special meal where something goes wrong or something gets decided, perhaps.

  • How has food changed? Think back to your childhood. What were the foods you especially liked or loathed? I'm thinking puddings - we had a pudding every day, WITH custard almost invariably; tinned fruit and evaporated milk, fried potatoes and cold beef on Mondays; the excitement of Vesta curries, Angel Delight (well, -ish), prawn cocktail.
  • Special meals - feast days, celebrations, disastrous/amazing first nights out, birthday cakes.
  • Food you encountered on holidays - exotic, delicious, a little bit strange.
  • Particular foods you associate with particular people.

Lemon meringue pie was one of my great favourites as a child, and it still is.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The next step...

 As a couple of you have already guessed, your next task is to to write a story using your character/s. 

Just to chuck something else into the mix, you could 'borrow' a character from someone else too, and arrange a meeting - a meeting which could lead to a change, even if only a small one, in one or both of their lives...? 

Don't forget about setting - especially if this 'story' ends up being largely dialogue, setting could help to set the mood, change the pace, and alleviate/create tension.

Saturday, 12 September 2020


To me, both as a writer and as a reader, characters are the most important element of fiction. So let's begin what I always think of as the new year (the legacy of my teaching years) with a focus on people.

Ideally, I'd like you to go out and do some people-watching. (Obviously not in a creepy sort of way...) Look at the people around you. Some will intrigue you more than others.  Choose two - initially: you're very welcome to do more.

If you're not able to get out an

Describe them, as accurately as you can. Describe them physically - but also, what drew you to them? What is particularly interesting/unusual/appealing about them? What can you imagine about the sort of person they are, the way they live.

Don't get into a story just yet. This task is about observation.

Rembrandt was clearly a great people-watcher...

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

'Summer's lease hath all too short a date...'

Welcome back!

The quote above comes from Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 - the one that begins: 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' (In it, he suggests that the fame of the person he is addressing will last far longer than a summer's day - because, apart from anything else, of the poem. And it turns out he was right, wasn't he?)

Anyway, I've appropriated it - because here we are, at what feels like the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, and I want you to think about that. Do you regret the passing of summer, or do you look forward to the crisper days of autumn?

As ever, you could start by gathering some ideas together. What was/is good about summer? What do you look forward to - or not - about autumn?

Here are some suggestions for writing. You choose - do one, two, or all three! 

  • Haiku(s) - always useful for limbering up, and to focus your thoughts. Remember - 17 syllables: first line five, second line seven, third line five.
  • A reflective piece at the turn of the season: an opportunity to look back, but also to look forward.
  • A story or memoir, with the above title. The obvious theme might be transitoriness: a particularly special summer which ended in loss of some kind; some aspect of life at a seaside resort! I'm sure you'll have your own ideas.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Lucky Dip

This will be the last task of this strange term: at the beginning, I made a folder in my email inbox and called it Class During Corona, and I guess that's what it's been. It seems a long time since those sunny April days, when the lack of traffic noise made the birdsong sound louder. I don't know yet where or how we'll meet in September, but for now, we are going to have our usual summer break.

For the last task, an online version of the Lucky Dip story exercise, where normally I pass round a number of envelopes, each containing several possibilities - one for character, one for setting and so on. The challenge is to construct a story round these suggestions. A bit like a sort of literary rounders game.

Choose one from each list. I don't quite know how we can introduce the element of chance - if you want to do that, it's up to you to find a way. Otherwise, just choose a bit of what you fancy.

Constraints have an odd way of setting the imagination free. Usually, we get some intriguing results from this exercise, so I'll look forward to seeing what emerges from the depths!

A random pair of ruby shoes!

A nurse
A dustman
An investment banker
A gardener

A park
A bridge
Beside the sea
A train station


Turning point
Selling/moving/losing house
An unexpected visitor/letter
An encounter with a stranger
A wedding/funeral/christening/retirement party.

Random element
A pair of shoes
A picture
An old saucepan
An expensive phone

Friday, 10 July 2020

What we treasure

This week's task comes from a magazine called The Simple Things. Each month, they ask readers to write 500 words on something that they treasure. So your task is to do just that. 

Here's an example. 

If you decide you'd like to send yours in and have a go (they don't mention payment), the address is: thesimplethings@icebergpress.co.uk