Friday Creative Writing Prompts

Hello everyone,

Time for a cup of tea? The sun is out and lockdown is easing so we are slowly getting back to some normality. But we are still very distanced so I’ve been considering how to shake things up a bit!

I have recorded an exercise for you so you can listen to me instead of reading!! You’ll get this by email from Hazel.

We’ve been doing short stories and poems for a while now so I thought I’d post up a challenge this week. As always, if you are confused ask me on email, if it’s not inspiring maybe try the exercise on the recording or just consider the picture below and let that spark something.

WRITING TIME:

You are going to write a story in three scenes that spans a long period of time – how long is up to you. The scenes are going to be a beginning (we see the scene of a character in an ordinary world but something happens), a middle (the thing that happens causes a problem for the main character that they have to overcome) and an end (the character does overcome the obstacle – or not. It’s up to you.)

Each scene starts in the same PLACE but a different TIME. In between the scenes something has happened that causes the story to move forward.

This picture is of London in 1940 next to London in the 2000s.

oiPwiXX london gif

eg. Scene 1 Front room in a small house, 1930 . Mary got in the tin bath, shivering as her mother poured water over her. ‘Stop messing,’ she said but the words were covered by coughing. Her mother wasn’t well, Mary knew that, but this time she dropped the bucket and water spilled over the floor. The landlord had no sympathy for the orphan child and Mary determined one day she would own the house.

Scene 2. Front room, the same house, 1964. Mary had her hair in curlers but young Bill from the butchers was knocking at the door. What was he doing here? She had her answer as her daughter came running down the stairs in tiny ankle socks and a skirt half way up her legs. ‘My mother would turn in her grave seeing you like that!’

Scene 3. Front room, the same house, 1984. Christmas wasn’t Christmas without Mary’s turkey dinner. The whole family gathered on the sofa’s toasting her as she worked away in the kitchen, still in charge.

This isn’t perfect by any means, but you can see the idea I hope! Best of luck and let your imaginations run wild – it doesn’t have to be set in a house, in London, or anywhere. Just free write by describing the scene and let your creativity take care of the rest. All the best Rachel x

READING TIME:

In a nice coincidence, Adeline has written a story about a telephone box that shows us how changes can be hopeful even if they seem drastic at the time.

RED TELEPHONE BOX

Once upon a time I stood proudly on the corner of a street in Hampstead. I was freshly painted bright red, and my many windows gleamed in the morning light. I even had a crown emblazoned on the fascia at the top front of my box. Inside was the public telephone with a slot to take coins. I had visitors galore from early morning until the wee small hours. Whenever anyone needed to make a telephone call they came to visit me with their pennies to put in the slot. They dialled the number and were able to speak to friends, employers, Doctors, Dentists. They could make appointments, arrange meetings, ring home to family in other parts of the country. Sometimes there would even be a queue outside as so many people wanted to use my phone box to make their calls.

Over the years the number of people coming to visit me started to diminish. New technology meant that phones became mobile and almost everyone had a personal phone and no longer needed to come out to wait their turn to use my services. I was no longer freshly painted with shining windows. I became shabby. People started sticking Escort services and Massage postcards on my walls. Occasionally the odd person who was ‘caught short’ and needed a toilet used my floor to relieve themselves. My windows got broken, the phone was smashed, my paint became peeling and faded. Rumours started to abound that I might be removed from my corner and put on the scrap heap.

Then something unexpected and exciting happened. In 2015 the traditional red phone box was voted as one of the greatest British designs of all time. We have been added to the listed building register. Tourists love to take photos of their friends and families standing beside me. Many councils rent phone boxes out for various uses. I have become a small and popular coffee kiosk. Others are being used as small swap libraries, florist shops, even small art galleries. Many contain defibrillators.

So, once again I stand proud and useful in my street in Hampstead. I will not be going anywhere anytime soon.

Writing from prompts.

Hi from Rachel, hope you are enjoying the sunshine! Some reading this week from Liz, a wonderful story prompted from the image of the postbox in last week’s blog.

See you with more exercises next week!

The Red Telephone Box by Liz

Emily sat in the sixth form common room contemplating the university brochures spread out in front of her. She knew she had to plan her escape carefully with a cool, strong head. There would be no margin for error. She had already applied to Leeds university and been accepted. But she had applied under duress, under pressure from her father. Leeds university was not far away from home and her father saw no point in travelling miles away in order to study.

He controlled and dominated every aspect of life in her family. Emily and her younger sister and brother had alabaster white skin and flaming red hair, but only her sister Lulu had the legendary fiery temperament. In heated dispute with her father she argued until he would bodily fling her onto the walls and the floor. Lulu’s skin would bear witness in livid bruises. Any questioning of his authority provoked appalling violence. Emily and James kept their heads down at all times.

Emily discovered the only way to make life bearable was to stay out of the house as much as possible. She had plenty of excuses; special lessons for A level students, extra library duty. Ages ago she had discovered an old red disused telephone box in an empty parking lot at the other end of town. It had advertisements pasted over all the windows and was dim inside. She felt safe in there. Over time she made the floor comfortable with discarded cushions she found around and about. It was a haven, a sanctuary, a godsend offering peace and calm.

Emily determined to attend university well away from home. She was thinking of  Durham or Warwick. This was her chance now and she was going to take it. She liked everything she read about Warwick, filled in the forms and went to see her beloved English teacher. She told Mrs. Forde that despite being accepted at Leeds, she had had a change of mind and would now like to go to Warwick. She was in a quandary as some questions on the application form needed authorisation.

Mrs. Forde knew that Emily’s father had signed the previous application so she sat back and surveyed Emily, her spectacles glinting and gleaming as she idly tapped a pencil on her desk. She continued steadily looking at her. Emily’s heart began thumping. If she didn’t get this signature she would be stalled at first post. Mrs. Forde was still looking and Emily felt she could almost see the machinations of her brain going round and round. Please, please, please, she was silently begging. Suddenly Mrs. Forde leaned forward and signed the form in a second. She handed the papers over and said ‘be careful, Emily, be careful.’

On the day Emily expected a reply to her application she contrived to leave the house early to intercept the postman. He handed over the vital envelope with both Warwick University and her name clearly printed on it. She ran straight to the telephone box. With frantic fingers she fished out the paper. When she stopped trembling she looked. She had won an unconditional place starting in October. He relief and glee knew no bounds. She sang ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’ in her head all the way to school.

After school Emily went again to the telephone box. She knew she would need an accomplice; she couldn’t manage on her own. Emily did not have friends although she had always wanted one. Her father didn’t allow people into the house and she was banned from entering others. Boys had taunted her since infant school with ‘carrots’ and ‘ginger nut’ and worse. But now, just occasionally, she was aware of some of the male students looking at her. Matthew, a shy person in her class, had told her a few weeks ago he would like to meet her from home in the morning so they could walk to school together. She had said no, as her father would come storming out like Attila the Hun, and he laughed. Little did he know she spoke the truth. She resolved to approach Matthew for help.

Emily worked through the summer holidays in the local supermarket and saved money. Her parents thought she worked every day but she had Wednesdays off. She contacted Matthew and invited him to the telephone box one Wednesday. He came quite bemused. She told him she was not going to go to Leeds, as he was, but to Warwick, and she told him why. He was shocked and agreed to help her.

Together they worked out how Emily could pack luggage without anyone knowing, and how she could slip the front door on the latch in the night to enable a silent departure in the morning, among all the other considerations.

On the appointed day Matthew waited outside her house in the dark. The street was eerie, silent and still. Emily, stiff with tension and fear, had managed to manoeuvre the luggage down the stairs and out. There was one big backpack and one wheelie suitcase. He took both from her, lifting them up noiselessly, and started for the station at a smart clip. She could barely keep up.

They arrived breathless at the terminus and saw her train already flagged for departure at 5a.m. They sat on a bench. They had twenty-five minutes to wait. Matthew said he would go and get coffee. Emily felt unreal in an unreal world but strangely calm now that she was away from the house. Matthew came back, handed her a cardboard cup and an envelope complete with his address and first class stamp. He said ‘please write to me Emily’ and then abruptly departed.

When she was safely on the train, Emily thought of Lulu and knew she was making a route out for her also. As the train pulled away she realised unexpectedly that she would miss her mother, but that most of all she would miss the old red telephone box.

Where do stories come from? Friday writing prompts.

Today I wanted to share some ideas for generating stories – because the truth is they rarely come out of mid air. The myth is that writers are struck by some genius inspiration of an idea that has come out of nowhere – ok so that does happen sometimes. Mary Shelley woke up having dreamt up Frankenstein and there is a fabulous talk from Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) about creative genius (click to watch it) being available to us all. But this is rare and unusual and just because you have an idea, it doesn’t mean you get a full story out of it. So how can we develop ideas, and where do they come from?

Much of the time the truth is they come from the writer’s own experience. Their own life is played out in thinly veiled fiction or they magpie situations and characters to reuse in their stories. But this doesn’t mean you have to write memoir – it just means that if you are looking for ideas you don’t have to look too far to find them!

Exercises:

  1. Write a list of memories when you felt something strongly – you aren’t going to share these so don’t censor yourself. Something funny happened, or weird, or hard, or exhilarating. e.g. The day I got stuck in Manchester during a train strike and couldn’t get a coach home as they all sold out. I was stuck in a strange city with nowhere to go. Or the time I went on a trip to Jerusalem and had all my money stolen in a hostel so I had to rush back to where I was staying as the sun set because on the sabbath everything would be shut and I’d have had nowhere to stay.
    Find a connection with the emotion, a link between stories – this was the terrifying and lonely feeling of being stuck in a strange place with no money and no way out. (I did find a way out but the feeling is still there!)
    Next – change the place and character, make it very different to you but keep the same emotion e.g. A young man on a secret mission in World War 2, parachutes in but misses the landing pad.
    Then have a go at writing the story!
  2. Write for five minutes describing the day in the life of a character you remember or yourself from an earlier time. What was the routine? What has changed? Are there any stories in there that you could develop?

e.g. I’ve included an extract of Liz’s writing to show how our memories can be fertile ground for stories. Her description of the Daily Mirror offices shows how characters and situations spring up asking to be written about.

Morning Walk by Liz

I walk on and stroll across Ludgate Circus, normally a crushed, hectic and dangerous crossing, with high fatality figures, and enter Fleet Street.   I pass the now iconic Daily Telegraph and Daily Express buildings.   My first job aged 16 was typing at the Daily Mirror offices in Fetter Lane.  These offices were a hive of constant activity, almost frenzied at times.  Phones never stopped ringing, keen young reporters asked typists to type up their ‘copy’ almost hourly, or so it seemed.   Lunch time Fleet Street pubs did glorious business, with editors, sub-editors, copy writers pouring into them to enjoy boozy, shouting camaraderie for a couple of hours at least.   They returned to their desks mid-afternoon saturated with drink, but, nevertheless still able to execute perfect work for the next edition and the circulation figures continued to soar and soar.   It was a time of influential press barons wielding enormous power and Fleet Street, together with its neighbour, the financial district, the square mile, formed a mighty hub of London.

I continue walking as far as Trafalgar Square, passing the National Gallery which brings back happy memories of attending lectures, tours and talks.   When my children departed home, one to university in Scotland and the other to taste the then bohemian bed-sit land of Earl’s Court, I returned to work.   Although living on the outskirts of London I chose to commute to the centre and worked in a building off Oxford Street.   I was secretary to the Finance Director, which was a hollow laugh as I have never, ever, been able to understand numbers.   Those were the days when the Board of Directors occupied the carpeted top floor and enjoyed wood-panelled, private dining rooms, the hoi-polloi eating in a canteen below.   When the lady with her tea trolley came along at 11a.m., I, being a director’s secretary, had my own small tray, with a pretty china cup and saucer, and a selection of ‘superior’ biscuits.   Little did we know then, that in a few years’ time, all staff, from top to bottom, would be required to key in their own letters, memos, and speeches themselves, and a shorthand-typist never heard of.    Whilst working there I could get to the National Gallery to attend the lunch time lectures.   These attracted a huge, enthusiastic following with some people getting there an hour early thus setting up a queue.  When the doors opened a rush of the light brigade ensued as people ran pell mell to ‘bag’ their favourite seat.  The lectures were excellent and thoroughly entertaining, with some lecturers so charismatic they acquired a retinue of adoring, devoted fans.

Walking back, I retrace my steps around  St. Paul’s, and find the squirrels still bent on their exuberant quest running hither and thither, and the pigeons still hopefully strutting around the benches and looking just as fat as ever.    

by Liz

Final thoughts from Rachel :

There’s a wonderful novel ‘Transcription’ by Kate Atkinson which is not memoir but conveys character and time from the point of view of a typist/transcriber for Intelligence services during the war, who becomes a BBC producer and her subsequent story. It’s full of twists and vibrant characters, but could easily be a memoir. Consider how much you could reinvent your memoir as fiction, and how much fiction has memoir slipped in between the lines!

What are you reading or writing this week? Send in your words and I will post them up here. If you get stuck write a story about the phone box in the picture – who would use it? Does it still work Where is it?

all the best Rachel

Rewriting and reading

Hi, I hope you are all keeping well. I’ve ranged between burning out and firing up, but I’m also doing a lot of reading. My book this week is Wild Swans by Jung Chang, it’s rich with detail of Chinese history and wonderful characters in her family history too. I’ll follow up in my blog on writing from personal histories on Friday.

Today’s writing comes from Angela in response to the game of rewriting classic writers.

Picture to accompany Angela’s writing

Creative Writing – Poetry Session

I have chosen a poem by Walter de la Mare 1873 – 1956 for this activity (in italics).  It appealed to me as it is about springtime, nature and links present day with ancient times. 

All That’s Past

Very old are the woods;
And the buds that break
Out of the brier’s boughs,

When March winds wake,
So old with their beauty are–
Oh, no man knows
Through what wild centuries
Roves back the rose.

Walter de la Mare

Response from Angela:

Very old are the lanes;
Sunk in woodlands green,
A shimmering blue haze
Of bluebells seen
When April showers fall,
Fairy bells ring
Fields of dancing colour
Where blackbirds sing.

Very old are the rocks;
And the cliffs that rise
Where ancient creatures
Swam in swollen seas.
Mem’ries of early shores
Fossils still frozen
In towers of yellow sands
For time to wash away.



How to get unstuck – Friday creative writing prompts.

This week I got stuck trying to think of what to write. The lockdown days repeat like an endless blending from one to the other and it’s played havoc with my creative ideas. I’m sitting at my desk writing this because I realised that this is a common experience.

The creative process isn’t a fixed point in time. You don’t pick up a pen and immediately write a best seller, or a poem, or paint a picture. It is a process, that starts with ideas, practicing and developing, often hits a wall in the middle and then gets a second wind to finish.

A mistake all of us can make is thinking whole point of writing is to get to the end – your finished product – as that is how we consume everything else. But thinking about how things are made takes time and nurturing. Even the desk I am writing from was once a tree that took time and nurturing to grow, be harvested and processed (thought I think it’s made out of mdf, so it might be the sawdust from a number of trees!). Consider your creative writing process like gardening. It’s not going to happen overnight and sometimes it seems that the seed won’t grow. It all takes a little bit of practice, time and nurturing for it to grow, get bigger and more developed and finally blossom.

So what happens when you ‘get stuck’?

We are often in the wrong headspace to get started – something in life is bothering us, we’re tired, there’s too much noise outside, we don’t feel like it, can’t think of anything to say – but the trick is to acknowledge those feelings – and do a little tiny bit anyway.

Yesterday I was stuck on my new novel. I’m writing the first draft, which isn’t properly worked out yet so I know it won’t be any ‘good.’ The point is to make the clay so I can mould it later. Every writer has their own way of working and mine is quite intense. I take a lot of thinking time but once I get started I power on through until I get to the end, regardless. But I’ve reached a wall. I didn’t know what to write next, I didn’t know which bit of the novel to do and began berating myself for getting too far into the story without feeling it was growing organically. I was staring at the soil waiting for the seedling to break through and nothing was working.

So I did my own special magic trick. ‘Ok,’ I say to myself, ‘You aren’t going to write lots today. Maybe just ten words. Maybe one paragraph, that’s ok. Just open up the document and read a bit, then write a paragraph. Just look at it.’

And that’s what I did, I opened up the document, I looked at it. I started writing my one paragraph and wrote over a thousand words – my aim for the day.

Don’t panic – I’m not expecting you to write a thousand words! It’s an example how even the most prolific person can get stuck. How do you get out of your rut if you do get stuck?

The game today is to be kind to yourself. If you are writing then be kind, it’s clay it’s not finished, enjoy what you’ve written – you did it! If you aren’t writing lots, or anything at all, it’s ok. If you are struggling to do anything, it’s ok. You aren’t necessarily going to write a lot today. Maybe only one word. One sentence. One paragraph.

Look at what you’ve written – now this could be exercises from class, what you’ve been writing at home or even a shopping list. It doesn’t matter.

One word. One sentence. One paragraph. What do you think you can do?

Just look at what you’ve written and either take a sentence of it, write it again and carry on writing, even if it’s just one more sentence. Or start at the top of a fresh page. Write one sentence.

Here’s the tip though – if you do start writing and you get to the end of the paragraph and you have more to say – keep going. Whatever comes out is fine, you can look at it later.

Thinking of you! Rachel x

This week’s writing extract comes from Angela, a lovely piece that uses noticing a seagull as the basis for a lovely description of a place and time.

Friday Creative Writing Prompts: Noticing – a mindful way to write.

Don Juan, Lord Byron

A mighty mass of brick, and smoke, and shipping, / Dirty and dusty, but as wide as eye / Could reach, with here and there a sail just skipping / In sight, then lost amidst the forestry / Of masts; a wilderness of steeples peeping / On tiptoe through their sea-coal canopy; / A huge, dun cupola, like a foolscap crown / On a fool’s head – and there is London Town

I wanted to start today’s blog with a quote about noticing your environment. About nature even in the city. Here Byron weaves a ‘forestry of masts’. This London is an urban forest. What is your patch of the world to you?

Noticing seems like a simple thing to do, and it is. It is really another way of saying ‘mindfulness’. Try and do it for five minutes and you will find there is more to see than you imagined. As we are locked in more and more, noticing becomes important. I only have a small window of time to look through into the world now. I notice people have emptied the streets and the walk I make is the same every day. I notice the trees more now, any weeds poking through concrete.

I notice in my work as well that playfulness makes it all seem a lot easier to do so I’m going to stop calling these prompts ‘tasks’ or ‘exercises’, they are games. You can play them if you want, but if you don’t like the rules try them out then change them. It’s all about experimenting with your own creativity, though my tip is that limitation can be a fantastic motivator. So give them a go, if you don’t like them then see it as a warm up and try your own way.

The game today is all about noticing things and writing it down as a record. The rules are – when you are ‘noticing’ don’t talk to anyone and try to still your mind. Take it all in. Write before speaking to anyone.

Walking mindfulness game.

When you go on your walk, notice what sticks out to you, think of smells, sounds and sights. Choose one or two things you see on your journey. How many magpies were there? What birds can you see? Take your notebook and record what attracts you when you see it (if safe to do so) or wait until you get home and, without speaking or sharing, write it down straight away.

Adeline was more inspired by the idea of keeping a journal than trying the games last week, which is fine! I am posting an extract from her journal, a great example of ‘noticing’.

Have a wonderful week – Rachel xx

Musings on a lockdown by Adeline


It’s been a time of acclimating to our new routines, and I would say we are  doing pretty well on the whole. I don’t think our days in any way feel “normal” just yet, and quite possibly they never will while we are living with such restrictions. But we are managing to create some small daily habits and gentle structure to our days, and maybe that’s the best thing to aim for as we all muddle through.

My husband and myself go out for a walk early each morning, before there are many people about. Everything is fresh and green. It is re-assuring to hear the birds singing, and going about their business, busy building their nests, oblivious to the difficult time we humans are experiencing. Nature is wonderful. It fills me with hope for the future. We are lucky to have quite a nice park within walking distance from us.

I find I don’t get bored of this walk, even doing it day after day – every day has it’s own unique feel depending on the weather. It’s been fantastic to witness the wild garlic growing ever greener, and to see fresh new buds and the may blossom emerging.

I often take photos while we are out on these walks. It will be a way to chronicle these weeks so I can look back and remember in years to come.

I am naturally accustomed to being very aware of my surroundings when I am out and about and always try to practice a sort of mindfulness as I walk. But during these home-safe weeks when our outside freedom is so limited, I find I am tuning in even more than usual to the little details, soaking in every teensy bit of natural beauty and colour. It’s a good life lesson I think – to slow down a little and really pay attention to the beauty that surrounds us every minute of every day. It’s right there to be enjoyed, so good for the soul.

Friday Creative Writing prompts: That isn’t writing? Is it?

This lockdown’s going on a bit long isn’t it! Another three weeks of it at least, and I don’t know about you but some days writing is the last thing on my mind. Or not writing is the first thing on my mind. Procrastinating and feeling like you ‘should’ be writing, can make writing creatively feel like hard work.

Reading, however, is a pleasure that I have been happy to go back to. In the busy-ness of the world it can be so hard to find the time to dig deep into a good book and now we have this chance.  Doodling is another one I find easy and jotting down my thoughts is fine too. But the truth is – it is all the same as creative writing in one way or another.

I’m thinking of ways to combat the claustrophobia and weirdness and how can we use creative writing for our own well-being. Not sharing it necessarily, (though you may be surprised what you come up with) just doing it to make you feel better:

Morning pages – the Artist’s Way is a classic book by Julia Cameron about releasing your own creativity. A powerful way to connect to your writing is by doing ‘Morning Pages’. Exactly as they sound you write pages in the morning.  I suggest allowing yourself to write as little or as much as you want and follow one simple rule – Write before speaking, looking at your phone, doing anything else. Leave a notebook/A4 paper by the side of your bed and when you wake up just start writing.

Sketchbook writing – I attended a key note speech from David Almond who showed us his way of writing, via a sketchbook, and I’ve employed this ever since. My freeing notebook is filled with pictures and scribbles of text. I see it as an unlocking of the creative way of writing  – expressing something through pictures as well as words can assess different parts of your brain.

Here are two pages from my writing/sketchbook to show you it’s not all write, write, write! undefinedundefined

Reading – yes, reading is still an important part of writing – can form thoughts in your head that are unlocking imagination.  The famous book ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brand suggests you take an author you love and copy the way they structure paragraphs – How do they form the sentence? How many adjectives do they use?  This isn’t plagiarising, but writing your own version using a classic author’s sentence structure can really help your own writing and inspire words you didn’t know were there.

Journalling – Just writing down a diary of your thoughts and feelings as we go through this strange time can be helpful. It’s a document for history but also helps to get those worries out on the page. You might read back over your days and write about something that happened, or a story or poem that comes to mind.

Do share your writing so far – it doesn’t have to be the prompts I have posted, whatever motivates you, do go with the flow.

Here is a piece written by Liz inspired by the lockdown, and a couple of short poems by me on grief and hope.

Poetry by Liz

Covid 19

Eerie, silent, world
Vistas of empty streets, empty bridges
Buildings sheer from pavement to steeple top
Perfections of ratio and proportion
Wren’s churches

Cathedral standing in majesty
Free of swarming humanity
Masonry, white, magnificent
Gardens deserted. No lunch-time city workers
No crumbs for squirrels, pigeons, foxes
Forced onto the inhospitable concrete streets
No overflowing litter bins now

Greening the City
No children, ball games, rushing pedestrians
To sully, tread, break foliage
Perfect rows of flaming orange, deep purple
Tulips stand in unspoiled rows
Hyacinths, wallflowers, fritillarys and
Rioting peonies stand in undamaged
Garden design, filling the City’s
nooks and crannies with
glorious, heavenly colour

Images of foreign places standing in isolation too
Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Wuhan displaying rivers of kaleidoscopic
Coloured lights
Empty Manhattan, Berlin, Paris, free of
Buses, coaches, cars and bikes
Reveal cities’ bones, joints, skeletons in
Hitherto unseen starkness of grim reality

Poetry by Rachel

Grief in a time of Coronavirus

We stood six feet apart, about your height
The birds sang your hymns,
prayers were spoken to the sky,
and sunshine did not ask why we were few,
why this was your time to die

Hope in a time of Coronavirus

Stay safe, each email and conversation ends
Stay safe, until the curve bends
Stay safe, we aren’t here for long
Stay safe, stay strong

Reaching out across the waves
of a graph tsunami sweeps by and raises
hope

to be alone means within ourselves
find that place of peace, release
our grasp on the meaning of freedom
Stay safe, we will see you soon
Stay safe, underneath the constant moon.

Rachel Sambrooks 2020