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!

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

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Starting with the end

When writers get together to discuss writing, sooner or later they will start to discuss planning. Some will shudder and say they can't bear to be tied to a plan; others will look anxious and say they have to know exactly what's going to happen before they start.

Many - Philip Pullman is one - will say that they don't know exactly what's going to happen, and it would be boring if they did: but they do need to know how their story will end.

The ending of Casablanca - brilliant, as is everything else about this film:
'Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.'

So here to help as ever, I'm going to give you a list of endings. (They are real ones.) All you have to do is write the story that leads up to the one you choose. Also as ever, my advice would be to start with a spider chart to help you gather ideas - but that's up to you!

  • It had never occurred to him that a dog could be clairvoyant.
  • I turned and walked away through the rain.
  • It was all right.
  • And everything, every smallest detail, would be written on my heart forever.
  • I turned the key in the ignition and drove off.
  • From hate to love - the journey was only just starting. 
  • There should be no need to dig there ever again.
  • I put out my hand to stop her getting up and I cross the room to answer the phone.
  • 'Now how about another drink? I'm as thirsty as hell.'

(Adapted from an exercise in The Five-Minute Writer, by Margret Geraghty.)

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Picture Post

One of the books I'm reading at the moment is about the French Impressionists. It's very good, but it doesn't have many images of the paintings in it, so this morning I hunted out some little books about the Impressionists that I've had since I was a teenager.

In one of them, I came across this picture. It's called The Balcony Room, and it's by a German painter called Adolf Menzel. It was painted in the second half of the 1840s, so before the French paintings with which we are more familiar.

I've always remembered it, though I had no idea till today where I'd first seen it. I'm not sure what it is about it that was so fascinating; perhaps it's that it's empty of people - there's a sense that someone has just left: perhaps that enables you to fill the space from your own imagination. Or maybe it's the light, the simplicity, the spaciousness of the room. Whtever it is, I still find it evocative.


  • If you'd like to write a story prompted by the picture, ask questions. Where might it be? Who might it belong to? What is happening in their life? (Remember for a story, you probably need this to be a moment when things are changing for the main character - a moment of significance.)

  • Or, choose a different room - one you've known. If it's a room you once knew well, you could draw a quick sketch of it, and brainstorm the memories you associate with it - of people, of things that happened there. Then go in whichever direction you choose - you could write about your memories of the room, or about why it's significant to you. You may wish to start with a description of it.

  • Then again, you could write about a room you've seen, but which isn't part of your personal history. You could write about it, and why it interests you; or you could set a story in it.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

'We are tied to the ocean...'

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch - we are going back from whence we came. 

John F. Kennedy

An interesting quote, certainly true in that life began in the sea, and before birth, we are creatures suspended in liquid.

Whatever the reason, I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds the sea endlessly fascinating. In fact, just thinking about it now, I'm really missing it. We lived in the Midlands, almost as far away from the sea as you can get on our island, but every summer we would trek off to Skegness on Sunday school day trips, and later go on our annual week's holiday to Scarborough or Llandudno. I remember watching Mum and Dad in their deckchairs watching the sea go in and out, and wondering why on earth they found it so fascinating - but now I'm just the same. An hour down at Eype in Dorset and I am calm, relaxed, at peace - whatever mood the sea is in: whether it's grey and stormy or blue and tranquil.

Lots of books are set near the sea. Its background music sets the scene; any kind of scene really, because the sea is nothing if not changeable.

So, this week, a memoir, a story, or a poem, featuring the sea in whatever kind of mood you want. You will all have so many associations with/memories of the sea, that even those who aren't keen on mind-maps/spider diagrams might find it helpful to jot some notes down to sift ideas.

And here, to send you on your way, a picture of someone who just loves being beside the sea!

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Into the rose-garden...

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind...
                                  Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

(From Four Quartets, by T S Eliot)

It's been a glorious spring, and for obvious reasons we've been confined to home for most of it; so those of us who are fortunate enough to have gardens have probably enjoyed them and observed them more closely than ever before.

Because of that, and because I'm happy to avail myself of any opportunity to quote the above lines (Eliot was write, his words do ech in the mind), I thought this week's task could centre around gardens.

First, read the lines through several times. Read them aloud. You may notice that intially, the poem is about choosing not to go into the garden, but don't let that distract you! For some reason, that choice was significant - what did it lead to? What did it avoid? And now, we are told, there are 'other echoes' - what might they be?

I'd like you to write something inspired, however loosely, by these lines.

  • It can be a poem, a story, a memoir, or a piece of non-fiction writing. It could even be a letter, or a diary entry.
  • It could be about your own garden or one you visited, or one that meant a great deal to you.
  • It could be an imaginary garden.
  • It certainly doesn't have to be a rose-garden!

Gather your ideas first in a mind-map or spider diagram - jot thoughts down, anywhere on a page, and then start to make connections and link relevant ones together. Gradually, an idea will emerge.

The rose garden at Villandry, in France.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Never name the object!

Your prompt this week comes from a friend of mine, Linda Strachan, writer of a recently published and immensely useful guide to writing children's books, which you can see here. Linda says she didn't actually make this up, and has no idea who did - so if the author is out there, please get in touch and I'll credit you!

The starting point is an object - you can either do it about an object you have , or you can make the whole thing up and turn it into a story - up to you!

Important - do read the whole thing through before you start! 

The headings give you a structure, and underneath the headings are some suggestions.

Never name the object

1 Choose an object. Describe it in detail but in the first person - picture it in your mind and make it personal.
Eg I like it because it feels smooth and I like to run my fingers over it...

2 Where did you find it, or how do you came to have it?

Eg I was standing at the side of the road…

My grandmother gave it to me for my...

3 Why is it important to you?

Eg I keep it close all the time because…

4 Say something that bothers you or worries you about it.

Eg I am terrified I will lose it and..

I am scared someone will see me with it…

5 Make a decision about it

Eg I’ve made up my mind to throw it away…

I’m going to pass it on to ______ because...

I’m going to give it to a charity because…

I’m never going to be free of it but…

BUT - never name the object!

Some objects other people have used:

Toy Car
Cuddly animal
Bottle cork
Hospital Bracelet

Here's a (brief) example: 

  1. I like it because it feels smooth when I run my fingers over it and the mottled surface with streaks of colour.
  2. I was crossing the road when I found it, I'd almost stepped on it. It caught my eye so I picked it up and put it in my pocket.
  3. That was the day I almost got run over so I decided it was my lucky charm.
  4. The problem is I now never want to leave the house without it and if I find I've forgotten it I panic and have to go back for it. It rules my life, so either I have to throw it away or try to leave it behind and not go back for it. But what if I do and something happens to me or a loved one, could I bear that?
  5. Today I dropped it down a drain, so the deed is done. I went about my business all day and the sky never fell on me. I am free of it and I feel wonderful. I spotted another one on my way home and I almost picked it up but a car was coming and if I had I might have been run over, so perhaps I am lucky enough without it?

Did you guess? It was a pebble.