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.