The Key

This was our second tutorial.  We were asked to write a short story of between 500 and 750 words containing three characters and using two time frames.

To make things doubly fun(!) we were required to open the piece with the line ‘Did you see that?’ and pick one of the following as title and stimuli: The Cup, The Key or The Door!

I must admit I seriously struggled with this exercise and actually contemplated chickening out.  Being a chicken, though, is not my style!  After brainstorming ideas about cups, doors and keys for several days, I finally came up with this.  It is far from the best piece I have ever written, but I at least feel much better about myself for having had a go.


‘Did you see that?’

‘What’s that, Sean?’  I was playing for time, having just spotted what he had, winking by the gearbox in the tapering afternoon light .  Oh bugger.

‘Think someone’s dropped something here.’  Sean carefully picked up the tiny silver key and twizzled it between two fingers.  ‘Chloe’s got one like this on her charm bracelet.’  He smiled involuntarily soppily, the way he did at any mention of his new wife.

‘Oh that,’ I said inanely, flicking my eyes from the road for a split-second.

‘Didn’t think jewellery was your thing, Daz.  Bet I can guess what’s going on here.’

‘What, mate?’  I was actually holding my breath.  When I changed gear I left telltale clammy handprints on the steering wheel, which I swiftly covered.


Lucid scenes from last night zipped through my mind.  Chloe and me on the levered-back passenger seat.  She was on top of me; collectively we were on top of Barr Beacon, a hilly beauty spot always dotted with cars that have similarly steamed-up windows and sticky-bodied occupants.  The silver charm bracelet she always wore jangled throughout, in synch with her every bounce.

Chlo is a truly filthy cow, still my favourite, despite all the competition she’s had.  I had to admit I was stunned when my shy friend introduced her as his new girlfriend two years ago.  Seanie was flattered by her affection, and rapidly proposed.  He is her Mr Reliable, she told me the first time we were together, shortly after their engagement announcement, but she has needs he hasn’t it in him to satisfy.  I am hardly in a position to moralise.

 ‘I thought you were going to give me up once you and Seanie-babes were married,’ I panted, after we’d done the business.

‘You’re my addiction, Darryl.’  She looked bloody magnificent in the winter starlight, with those astonishing breasts half in, half out, and her platinum curls naughtily tousled.  ‘I lasted four months of monotonous monogamy with him.’

‘Must be a record for you.’

‘You can talk.’

‘The way I see it, darling,’ I grinned, ‘I have a special skill.  I, like you, am an absolute belter when it comes to the old horizontal poker game.  And I just consider it my duty to share this skill with as many members of the human race as possible.  We’re both providing a service really.’

She took my cigarette packet from the dashboard and pretended to slap me with it as we chuckled.  ‘How many women has it been this year?’


‘I’m sooo jealous,’ she mock simpered, popping a ciggie into my mouth and lighting one for herself.  Sean was unaware of that addiction too, so she always brought mints to our trysts.  She swivelled the fogged window down a small way.  We both shivered and pulled our errant clothes up around us.

‘Sean’s a lucky bastard, though, if he gets this every night.’

‘If only he wanted it every night.’  She expelled a furious spout of smoke.  ‘That’s the trouble.’

‘He still thinks you go to aerobics on a Thursday?’

‘Yup,’ she smirked, ‘so I’ve got an alibi when I go home all sweaty.’


The key charm must have broken off her bracelet without us noticing.  We usually try to be more careful.  Then again, I had no idea Sean’s car was going to break down and I’d be fetching him from the garage today.  He actually told me I was ‘a top mate for doing this.’

‘It’s a present for someone, isn’t it?’ he said now, squinting at the miniature key like the detective who has finally cracked the case.

I almost guffawed with relief.  Why had I even worried?  ‘Got it in one.  This is Chlo’s actually.  She lent it me because I want to get something similar for my mum.  I thought rather than try to remember and describe it in H Samuel, it would easier to take it along.  As you say, I must have dropped it.  You can give it her back now, if you like.’

‘Cheers Daz, I will.  I’m sure your mum’ll love it.’  He smiled and consigned the key to his pocket.  His little face was as trusting as a baby’s.  ‘Chlo’s so sweet, helping you out like that.’

My eyes in the rear-view mirror betrayed the briefest mirth.  Good old Seanie.  Only he would be duped by an excuse like that.


Sretan Božić Bruno

Part 3 of the tutor marked assignment asked us to, in 500 words, write a story or part of a story that fictionalised something mentioned on the radio.

We were asked to choose a setting, which needed to be described vividly, and tell this mini-story from the narrative point of view of a man or woman (a character) whom the story directly affects.  We could not use any dialogue.

The news item I chose was about the Croatian Prime Minister banning office Christmas parties and the exchanging of interoffice Christmas cards in the public sector due to the credit crunch and a need to balance the Croatian economy for the the first time since independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.  I must say I never thought I would ever have need to incorporate a Croatian phrase into a story!!

I am usually grateful my working hours afford me sunset walks home in winter.  This evening, though, I slogged along uninspired by our famously flame and indigo dusk vista.

I was sapped by today’s news from the boss and, more gallingly, the repercussions of my own woeful shyness last year.

Mr Dominikovich had called us in just after lunch to relay an announcement by our Prime Minister.  Ivo Sanader was this Christmas, due to the global credit crisis, banning all civil servants in Croatia from holding office parties or exchanging interoffice cards.

The other suits solemnly concurred that, with the Government freezing public sector wages, festivities were a reckless expense.  I nodded along with them, yet my heart was plunging.  I resented that to none of my colleagues was the regional Christmas get-together the highlight of a dreary year.  That this time around I planned boosting myself with Maraschino, our punchy native liqueur, and asking out Adelina from the Zagreb office.

Now I was thwarted from even sending a card wishing her ‘Sretan Božić’ – Merry Christmas.  The internal postal system was too tightly monitored, and I was not privy to her home address.

I rammed my hands in my raincoat pockets – it was a typically soggy Croatian winter – and masochistically recalled meeting the beaming blonde Adelina at the last do.  We were among the few unattached young people there, and together we blossomed.  That night I felt like so much more than timid Bruno Poljak from the Zadar office – yet I baulked at asking for her number.

Since then we have been in frequent e-mail correspondence – on a frustratingly official footing.  Civil Service communications are so regulated, I would never dare sneak in anything more personal.

As the flamboyant sky dimmed behind the ancient town, I jabbed my key into the apartment block door.  I noticed more sharply tonight the paint flaking around the doorframe; the communal bin erupting with eight bedsits’ rubbish.  As I trudged upstairs, the flickering strip light cast an eerie strobe effect on the dust-sugared banisters.

Fat lot I had to offer Adelina.  By the time Prime Minister Sanader lifted the party embargo, she would probably attend with a husband in tow.

My place was an icebox as usual, economising on heating bills being a universal exercise in these times.  I pelted my shoes under the bed and sagged on to its unmade sheets.  I eased off my glasses and lay rubbing my eyes, wondering whether I should change careers.

Then I spotted the answerphone winking.  I flopped a finger on to the play button, and heard Adelina’s vivacious tones.  She was disappointed not to be seeing me this Christmas but hoped we could meet meanwhile, in a non-work setting.

I knocked my alarm clock and several books off the bedside table in my joyous scramble for a pen.  I had no idea how she acquired my home number but, as I scrawled hers on a bookmark, knew I would find out soon.

Reverend Ellery Crisp

This was part 2 of the tutor marked assignment.  We were asked to, in 500 words, write a mini portrait of a character, in either past or present tense.

I chose to revisit a character I developed a couple of years ago for my novel Gap Year and to whom I warmed hugely.

The old speedboat on St Matthew’s vicarage driveway was an oft commented-upon curiosity among Lower Bratchley residents who visited to book weddings or Christenings.

When they learned it had seen no water since the Reverend Ellery Crisp won it on the game show Bullseye twenty years ago, they wondered why he had never sold the rusting craft.

‘It’s sort of emblematic,’ he would explain, his eyes sprightly behind his giant spectacles, ‘that I’m living proof of the cliché about the Bullseye speedboat, the top prize, always being won by West Midlands contestants.  I can’t exactly race it up the canal, but I just love the idea of having an exhibit from TV history in the village.  It’s such a talking point.’

In his snug lounge to which he ushered parishioners, framed shots of Ellery with the likes of Bruce Forsyth and Dale Winton nestled amid the more holy paraphernalia and imagery.

‘Yes, I won a fortnight in St Lucia on The Price is Right ten years ago,’ he liked to regale, unprompted.

This Black Country village, known colloquially as ‘Lower B,’ had been Ellery’s parish for the majority of his long ministry.  The thousand residents, who all knew each other, be it by heart, sight or reputation, were the family he never had.  A great many had known Ellery Crisp right from when he put a Last Supper dot-to-dot in front of them at Sunday school, and were protectively proud of their ‘celebrity’ cleric.

He in turn embraced their idiosyncrasies and warmth.  When Gertrude the goose was stolen from old Mr Shorthouse’s garden, Ellery offered a hefty reward for the beloved poultry pet’s return.  He adored the fact not an eyelid batted when the neighbourhood transvestite ‘Gracie’ – previously Graham – attended every evensong in Ethel Austin pastels and full make-up.

While ubiquitous on quiz programmes and in the press, Ellery remained solidly a community figure.  Thus, besides being dear to his congregation, he was warmed to by even the more secular of Lower B’s population.  He walked everywhere, though his distinctive gliding gait made some question whether there were actually castors beneath his cassock rather than feet.  He possessed no evident neck either, so his perfectly ball-shaped face, which was invariably covered in a hearty smile, appeared to be dolloped on top of his dog collar.

His glides to the newsagents in quest of Sudoku Monthly or Test Your Knowledge frequently took all day.
‘Still trying for Millionaire,’ he would tap his quiz book cover while pausing to natter in the shop, outside a retirement bungalow or on the canal bridge, ‘that’s the big goal.  Just have to keep phoning, and swotting.  Been ten years now.  By the law of averages, I have to make it on there someday.’

Ellery had already earmarked his fantasy Who Wants to be a Millionaire winnings to the St Matthew’s Primary School fund, a holiday, Christian Aid and that perennial favourite, the church roof appeal.

The speedboat, meanwhile, would be staying put.

Flying Like Superman

This was part 1 of our tutor marked assignment.  We were asked to, in 500 words, write a complete mini-story where the central character is a child.  Write it from the child’s narrative point of view (using ‘I’), and in the past tense.  Pay attention to the kind of language a child might use; and to the observations particular to a child.

Use as your setting: a busy city street, where something has just happened, before the story actually begins.

Use some dialogue.

‘Was that boy trying to fly like Superman, Mummy?  Is that why he jumped off the top of that car park?  Is he magic?  Why isn’t he moving anymore?  Mummy?’

The big boy was lying still on the pavement.  I couldn’t see all of him because there were tons of people crowding round him who seemed to rush out of nowhere.  There were cars everywhere, the drivers were slowing right down to have a look as well.  I thought they wanted to see if he was going to fly off again.  I wanted to see that too, but Mummy grabbed my hand very tightly and pulled me away.

‘Come on Katy.’

I kept trying to look back at the boy.  He seemed to be really peaceful, but some of the people were screaming.  To my horror, Mummy’s hand was shaking.  Suddenly I felt frightened and didn’t want to be there in the town anymore.  I wanted to get home and play with my new Bratz doll.

Mummy stopped in a doorway and fished in her big bag for her mobile phone.

‘Police please,’ I heard her say.  She sounded different, her voice was so squeaky and scared.  I couldn’t hear everything she said over all the screaming and traffic, although I made out a word I hadn’t heard before. 

‘Suicide.’  It sounded a bit like Superman.

As Mummy finished on the phone, a load of big boys and girls came running out of the multi-storey car park.  One of them was our neighbour Billie.  She smoked a lot, and my daddy once said her face was like a pincushion because of all the gold stuff she wore, but she was always nice to me and once gave me a packet of Gummi Frogs.  Today she was crying so hard the black stuff she wore round her eyes had leaked all down her face.

‘Wendy,’ she saw Mummy and threw herself at her, ‘that’s Aaron!’

‘Oh no!’  Mummy’s face turned the colour of sponge cake mix.

Aaron was a boy I’d seen Billie with sometimes.  I’d heard my mummy and Billie’s mummy talk about him once, when they thought I couldn’t hear.  It sounded like Aaron was poorly.  Mummy said something about him ‘going off the rails,’ though he didn’t look old enough to be a train driver.

‘He’d said he was gonna jump.  Most of us were begging him not to do it, but those bloody bullies were egging him on, shouting things like “How hard d’you reckon you’ll bounce?”  It was their fault the poor lad was so unhappy in the first place.  All your fault!’  Billie screeched the last bit at some of the boys as they came out.  ‘Aaron’s dead because of you.’

Mummy clasped Billie’s arms to stop her hitting the nasty boys, who carried on laughing and texting on their mobiles as they ran off.

Dead?  I finally understood that our Superman would never be able to fly again, and I started to cry too.

Dawn Raid on Lidl

In 250 words, write a mini-story that a shopping list might tell, including character(s) and place.

Example: Baked beans, bread, soya milk, chocolate, coffee, lettuce, cigarettes, hand cream.

You might begin: ‘It was 10am on a hot Tuesday in late August, and Jake was running across the park towards the corner shop …’

Dawn Raid on Lidl

‘Batten down those hatches,’ urged the excitable breakfast show DJ, ‘we’re in for a seriously chilly one.  And this snow that’s on its way looks set to stick for the weekend, so get your shopping done early folks.’

Dawn had a habit of acting too literally upon advice, and the onset of extreme weather constituted an emergency on her scale.

It was eight on a Saturday, and she was enjoying the first coffee of the day with the kitchen radio for company.  Within five minutes of the weather warning, though, she was in her woollies and waterproofs, coffee abandoned, car keys primed and a spontaneous shopping list squiggled on the envelope which had contained her latest gas bill.

The morning sky was a malevolent foil-grey, and by the time Dawn parked outside Lidl the promised snow was pelting down.

‘Can’t hang about,’ she said to herself as she shakily steered a trolley into the store.  She hurtled around the aisles, shopping for a blizzard, reciting her supplies list.  ‘Loo roll multipack, de-icer, bread, milk, two tins of soup, no best make that four, better stock up on Lemsips, in case I come down with something, tissues – ditto.’

When Dawn drove home, boot stocked with bulging bags, the snow had already ceased.  The radio warnings proved unfounded, no blizzard materialised, and Dawn bought no more soup or loo rolls for two months.

Mon and Woyfe

Write 500 words in the voice of a character retelling a story from their childhood. Try to make the narrator come to life by showing their individual conversational style and mannerisms, their point of view.   Perhaps highlighting the different way in which children and adults perceive events.

(OK, I admit I cheated slightly for this exericse and used a passage – of which I am still very proud – from my first novel Classmates.  It just seemed to fit very well, and was conveniently close to the word limit too.  I have tweaked here and there, to improve on what I wrote five years ago.)

Mon and Woyfe

I married Karl on a July afternoon when the sky was the flawless blue and the sun the flamboyant orange my junior school paintings insistently depicted.  The crisp, salady scent of freshly mown grass wafted through the hall windows – a summer aroma that forever evokes that day.

Vacuum-packed into an organza frock as stiff and creamy as an Angel Delight, and clutching a posy of pink plastic roses, I bobbed from foot to jellybean sandal-clad foot, lisping my vows behind my net curtain veil.
Bradley Round, the pageboy, was intently picking his nose; my bridesmaid, Samantha Potter, was just as becomingly absorbed, extricating her billowy petticoats from her knickers.

Karl, tall, windswept of hair, snub of nose, in his waistcoat and velveteen shirt, was, as ever, the picture of impish self-confidence.  Nothing has ever fazed Karl Corbett.

There were titters from the enormous congregation as the vicar, Shane Ashcroft, pronounced us, in broad Black County, ‘mon and woyfe.’  (‘Yow may now kiss the broyde’ was an entreaty mercifully omitted from Rev Ashcroft’s sermon.)

To compound the indignity, one congregation member was a Dudley News photographer.  My mother still has his yellowing close-up of ‘the happy couple’ in her scrapbook.

The caption croons beneath it:

LESSONS IN LOVE: Holly Lane Primary School pupils Karl Corbett and Zoe Taylor, both aged six, in costume for their Royal Wedding project.

I have not seen it for years as I, sadly, can recall my piteous appearance without pictorial aids.  Absent front teeth; punkish hair, so incongruous with frills and posies; chubby little body straining for freedom from the chafing dress.

A confirmed tomboy, I abhorred dresses – especially ill-fitting ones exhumed from bottoms of dressing-up boxes.  I remember my wild longing to tear that cream monstrosity from my back in exchange for my usual uniform of either dungarees or a velour tracksuit.

It was 1981.  With Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s nuptials days away, Class 1F was in the grips of joyous, red-and-blue-streamer, commemorative-mug-and-tea-towel fever.  It was the delightful idea of our teacher, Miss Flint, that Karl, Shane, Sam, Brad and I re-enact a wedding in mildewy fancy dress costumes for the whole school (sardonic, comp-bound eleven-year-olds included) on the final day of term.

My casting as bride was down to Miss F also – influenced by my blonde pageboy cut which entertained vague Diana-like pretensions.  Or rather it had until the week preceding the mock marriage.

My poor mother had found me, on precarious tiptoes at the mirror, studiously hewing away with her nail scissors.  A flaxen pond encircled my feet, leaving a crest of anarchic tufts and fronds like a very early Bart Simpson prototype.

‘What – have – you – done?’  Mom yelped.

‘I thought it would look nice.’  Contrite tears were already gurgling up to mirror those dismayingly glazing her kind eyes.

My ragamuffin image did not excuse me from conjugal enactments, but that hideous newspaper snap proved a fantastic deterrent against DIY hairdressing.  I have never so much as lopped off a split end since.

Cyril and Hilda’s story

Write 500 words in the voice of a character telling a story either about him/herself or another person. Try to make the narrator come to life by showing their conversational style and mannerisms, what they find interesting or significant, what delights or annoys them, and so on. Post your story to the FirstClass conference for feedback.

Cyril and Hilda’s Story

I learned of my wife’s death via a newspaper obituary.

I actually overlooked it on first skim, Hilda’s children having listed her under Danks rather than her current married name.  To readers of the Dudley News family announcements, she was the ‘devoted widow’ of Leonard Rudge and Albert Danks, ‘adored mother’ of eight (all named), ‘cherished nan’ to thirteen (ditto), ‘treasured aunty’ to innumerable more.  I could hardly expect any reference to her latterly being the estranged wife of Cyril Nock.

I nonetheless digested the news in distress.  My pal Vern, with whom I had been staying since the locks were changed, poured me a hefty brandy.

‘I feel for you, old man, I really do,’ he put the glass next to me and patted my shoulder, ‘but that harpy deserves none of your tears.  She and that grasping clan of hers bled you dry.  At least you’ll never have to see what trumped up divorce grounds she had against you.’

My hands quaked as I tipped the balming drink down my throat.  The printed words whirled in front of me.  ‘I didn’t even know she had lung cancer.’

‘Bet that lot did.   Hence they saw their inheritance slipping away and couldn’t wait to turf you out.  Eight o’clock in the middle of December and they make a man of your age homeless.  Despicable!  I’ll never forget the tizzy you were in that night.  You’re still next of kin, though, Cyril.  You’re entitled to something.’

‘I couldn’t care less about the money, Vern.  I’d rather have Hilda.’


I drifted back two years to the ballroom class where I was first paired with one of its more recognisable members.  Hilda had a riotous laugh and always wore pink, often dyeing her hair to match.  She was seventy-one, like me, with three sons from her first marriage, two more plus three daughters from her second.  She seemed amazed I was a bachelor (‘Fine-looking chap like you,’ she nudged me with her cigarette-free hand, ‘go on!’), but then staying at home nursing Mum all those years had left me little time for ladies.

Seven months later, I was a bachelor no more – and as dazed by the wedding as anyone.

Hilda had talked me into selling my house, the old family home.  ‘Why hang on to a place with such sad associations, darling?’

I pictured my late mum in her straw hat, tending our beautiful rose bush, before going outside became too much for her.  Back in the present, Hilda’s blue eyes were on me: pleadingly, though not entirely soft. ‘OK, let’s start afresh.’

She hugged me, then chimed her gin glass against my mug of tea.  ‘To us.’


‘We had our ups and downs like any couple,’ I told Vern.  ‘She could be fiery with a few gins in her.  And she was fiercely loyal to her kids and grandkids.’

I involuntarily rubbed my forehead, though the bruise from the plate she hurled at me had long since vanished.  I’d told her about her grandson scraping my car with his skateboard, and she chose not to believe me.

‘When I moved into hers,’ I continued, ‘it was my choice to put the money I got from the sale into a joint account.  I didn’t begrudge Hilda spending it on holidays or furniture for the family.  They were part of her, although none of them took to me.  She wouldn’t hear a word said against them, understandably so.’

‘She was hearing plenty against you, though, Cyril, those nights you used to go out because her family visitors made you so unwelcome in your own home.’

It was after one such visit I arrived to find the locks changed and a suitcase of my belongings deposited on the lawn.

‘It’s over Cyril.’  This time I know I didn’t imagine the menace in her eyes.  My vibrant Hilda was suddenly a cerise-haired Rottweiler, arms folded, cigarette glowing demoniacally between two upturned fingertips, flanked by her regiment of offspring.  ‘You dare try contacting me again and I’ll be straight on to the police.’

I never learned what lies must have convinced poor Hilda I was a monster.

I had nowhere to go but Vern’s, where within days I received her solicitor’s letter warning me a divorce petition were imminent.  Hilda passed away before it was drawn up, though as I discovered not before changing her will to omit me as a beneficiary.  I had, as I said, no inclination to fight the family for any legacy.


That was six months ago.  I’m renting a flat now.  No point buying again at my time of life.  Vern assured me I could lodge as long as I wished, but I hate to exploit hospitality.  I never returned to the dancing classes.

I did drive past my old place yesterday, for the first time since selling.  Mum’s rose bush has gone.  I miss that house.  Despite everything, I miss Hilda much more.


You’ll see that for the purpose of this blog I’ve gone well over the 500-word limit.  I felt the need to expand the piece and attempt to do it a bit more justice.

I aimed to portray Cyril as a kind man – a doormat actually – who strives to please others and is sad but not bitter about his situation.

OU Activities

A few of the shorter activities I have worked through on the Open University Start Writing Fiction course.


1.  Write down 3 separate observations about the room you are in now.

Our kitchen
(Please make no comments about us living in a scutty house!!)
Weak autumn light spatters through the wide window’s frosted glass.
The piling sticky breakfast plates wait to replace their now clean counterparts in the dishwasher.
Dog-eared postcards adorn the fridge, fixed by novelty magnets from around the world.


2.  Pick up an object and in no more than 50 words describe it as accurately as you can.  Use simple language, say what it reminds you of, what it might resemble, how it smells and feels, etc.  Say where it originally came from, why it is in your possession and what it means to you emotionally.

Write fast, being as ‘factual’ and accurate as possible. Don’t worry about how your writing sounds, or about grammar at this stage.

My babyhood teddy bear, my dad’s first gift to his only child.  Aged 31 now, Edward’s yellowy fur is wearing away in patches, his black woollen nose is coming undone, but otherwise he has worn well.  He looks smart in his navy blue dungarees knitted by my mum.  He smells of fluff and age and love.  I adore the feel of his slightly scratchy fur against my face.


3.  In 100 words, say why you think a particular book works.  In another 100 words, say why you think another book does not.

I have chosen two books by the same author, as I recently read them consecutively and found their approaches very different.  For me, the first one succeeds where the second does not entirely.

The Defrosting of Charlotte Small – Annabel Giles
This works well for me, being written with depth, sensitivity, and a heavy dose of black humour which prevents it becoming too maudlin a piece.  The characters leap off the page – they are far from perfect people, but always real and engaging, never mere stock characters.  They are a manageable cast – I never lost track of who was who.

The style is slightly unusual, cutting between the protagonist Charlotte’s present life and episodes from her past which help explain her current behaviour.  The device is handled very well.  It is written in the first person, which suits the highly personal nature of Charlotte’s revelations.

Crossing the Paradise Line – Annabel Giles
This second Annabel Giles novel I read surprised me initially by being very different to the first – much more standard chicklit fare with considerably less depth.

Whilst fun and easy reading, I found a few drawbacks.  It is a touch overlong for me, with too many characters, of whom I found it hard to keep track.  Few of them truly engaged my sympathy, being selfish, shallow and at times stereotypical.

That said, I can’t claim I didn’t enjoy the book.  It just shows a novel can be highly readable even if doesn’t quite work as a piece of high literature.


4.  In 200 words, describe a character’s bedroom, office, garage, or other semi-private space, in a way that provides clues to character.

Carly’s housewarming present to her big brother Craig when he left home was a bedside table lamp.  Duck egg blue, with a corrugated cardboard frame, it was all her Saturday job wages would stretch to.

Craig had now been renting the second bedroom in his best friend Ollie’s maisonette for six months, yet was still to acquire a bedside table.  Carly’s Matalan lamp was poised on a mound of music, film and porn magazines, the cover of the top one always an Olympic flag of coffee mug rings.

Plates, stuccoed with leftover baked beans or brittle toast crusts, lurked behind curtains and on the carpet – though never on top of Craig’s top-notch TV and hi-fi, which he’d lapsed on last month’s rent to buy and which were the only objects in his room acquainted with dusters.

His only other furniture, besides his futon, was the pine wardrobe from his childhood bedroom, all but obscured under Blue-Tacked photographs of friends and relatives.  While inside the wardrobe hung his fluorescent work jacket, emblazoned ‘SECURITY,’ propped against it was the tool of Craig’s true vocation.  His well-thrummed guitar, a sixteenth birthday present, had seen him through numerous bands: student setups and more ambitious groups like his current one The Electric Geckos.


5.  In 250 words, describe a supermarket visited by a woman who has just received a promotion at work.

‘Love you too.  See you later.’  Chloe snapped her mobile shut and slid it into her handbag while one-handedly steering a trolley into Waitrose.

Waitrose all the way from now on, was what she had told her partner Adam on the phone.  He was thrilled about her promotion, of course.  She’d worked so conscientiously, and with Sarah the marketing officer’s imminent departure Chloe was to finally be elevated from mere assistant.

Still radiant from her call to Adam, she smiled indulgently at the pensioner who had left her trolley skew-whiff across the aisle while she faffed about by the root vegetable trays.

‘Here, let me,’ Chloe offered as the diminutive old lady stretched up for a reduced-price bag of parsnips.

‘Thank you dear.’  The lady beamed, and guiltily tugged her obstructive trolley out of Chloe’s path.

Around the next corner, Chloe’s sharpened senses were indulged with colour and scent: the delicatessen’s vivid spread of cheeses and pâtés, the sea bouquet of the fresh fish counter, the wafts of yeasty cosiness from the in-store bakery.

‘Sorry,’ cringed a mother as her hyperactive son ran into a bread display, dislodging a pile of baguettes on to Chloe’s foot.

‘No worries.’

When Chloe unloaded her copious purchases on to the checkout an hour later, she responded vivaciously to usually grating small talk the teenage assistant was obviously coached to make.  Finally she deposited a fiver in the stunned charity bag-packer’s bucket before dashing home to Adam.


Now, in another 250 words, write about the supermarket from the perspective of the same woman, who has just ended a love affair.

Chloe huffed as the old lady whose trolley was skew-whiff across the aisle faffed obliviously by the root vegetable trays.  Her current turmoil was heightening every trifling hindrance to crushing proportions.

Losing patience after roughly five seconds, Chloe wrenched her own trolley around into the adjacent aisle to try and reach the vegetables by alternative means.  Here a display of ready meals for one stared gloatingly at her.  She felt the ominous tickle of tears, and took several deep breaths to avoid a further mortifying fit like yesterday’s in Debenhams.

She selected two of the microwave meals, wincing at their prices.  No, Waitrose could certainly no longer be her supermarket of choice.  She had come today out of mere habit, but her now single income household wouldn’t stretch in future.

As Chloe sagged around the store, dodging the aisle-blockers like her old lady, the howling toddlers and the gossips who inched along nattering with their trolleys two abreast, she encountered a seeming profusion of couples.

Young, glowing people, some cutely carrying baskets between them, so gallingly intimate in their sharing of the weekly chore.  One pair even kissed as they levered a crate of Stella Artois off a shelf, as though somehow celebrating the purchase. 

The Stella was on offer.  It was Adam’s favourite lager.  Adam, who had left Chloe three days earlier, confessing to a longstanding affair with his secretary.

It was the smallest reminders that set Chloe off.  Her fragile composure crumpled, and another shop audience witnessed her downpour of sobs.


6.  In no more than a line, give the following story a plot:
‘Laura was standing by the window.’
In a further line, add some suspense to the same story.
Then, using no more than 50 words, add elements of intrigue, drama and tension.

Laura was standing by the window, waiting for Bobby’s car to pull on to the drive.

Laura was standing by the window, waiting for Bobby’s car to pull on to the drive.  He was late home for the third time this week.

Laura wrung her sob-soaked handkerchief between her fingers as she stood by the window, waiting for Bobby’s car to pull on to the drive.  He was late home for the third time this week.  Tonight she was going to confront him about this, and the incriminating text messages she’d discovered.