fiction writing assignment – Cat glasses and Pekinese

Cat glasses and Pekinese

13 May 2014

Today there was a woman on a bus carrying a Pekinese dog inside her handbag. He had a red bow on his head that matched her sweater.

At first glance, I thought she was in her mid-fifties, but on closer inspection, underneath the pancake makeup and sequined cat glasses, I found her to be much younger.

She seemed like a spy in reverse – instead of drawing attention away from herself so she could slip into places unseen, she attracted the attention of everyone around. For one thing, she kept waving her arms about, which caused the rhinestones on her fingers to sparkle.

No one on the bus was acknowledging her presence, but as soon as she turned away, the passengers would steal a more direct look, and they couldn’t keep their eyes off the little dog.

She kept fiddling with the bow on his head, straightening and adjusting it. Her rings flashed and white powder puffed up from the dog in a perfumey cloud. Other than occasionally licking his lips with a tiny pink tongue, the dog didn’t move at all. He could almost have been a toy.

On her lap she had an old brownie box camera. Was she going to some event to take pictures, maybe a dog show?

I wondered who she was. Judging from the shine on her pumps, she wasn’t on the dole. Or maybe those heels had been resoled recently? And there was a bit of awkward stitching around the toe of one shoe. I wasn’t quite sure.

While I was looking at her feet, I heard a soft click. I raised my head, and she turned quickly to the side, so I couldn’t catch her eye. Both hands were on the camera and the little dog sat serenely in the bag next to her. I took that moment to break the ice, “Oh, what a cute doggie! Where are you taking him?”

“No place, really. I’m just riding the bus. And you? Where are you going, dearie?”

Dearie? I leaned forward, and could see that her skin was perfectly smooth under the makeup. She must be about the same age as my daughter. “Nowhere special, I have a day off work and I thought I’d head to the seafront and see what I could see.”

“That sounds nice. I might have a little walk on the prom, myself. Fancy a cup of tea?”

Later, at the seaside cafe, I asked about the dog. “Oh, he’s my helper, people just adore him, don’t they?”

“Mmm. He’s a cutie, alright.” I reached out to rub behind his ears.

“I’ve got a lot of good snaps already today. You should come along to my exhibit next month. Claudine Mayer Sherman.” She extended her hand.

I gasped. “You’re opening at the Southbank Centre!”

The Observer had a feature on her street photography just last week. But in the article, she’d appeared without cat glasses and without the Pekinese.


I guess she was a kind of spy.


[Inspired by the story of Vivien Maier with echoes of Cindy Sherman]



A place to write

Here is another squib. This is supposed to be a description of a place that is good for writing. I’m working on a series of poems that are written in, and sometimes about, the Treehouse, so this fits. It puts the writer into the scene.


As soon as she stepped into the upstairs room of the cafe, her shoulders relaxed. It must have been the soft colours, cream and turquoise, or maybe it was the filtered light. She found a table and sat down, squiggling into the pillow on the seat. She’d already ordered her lapsang souchong from downstairs, they’d be bringing it up momentarily. She took out her notebook and opened it to the ribboned page. She exhaled slowly and gazed out the window. Birds. Soon the silence was broken by the sound of her pen scratching on the paper. Faeries, faeries riding on the backs of blackbirds. Now why had that popped into her mind? She carried on, making little sketches in the margins.

ordinary words used in unusual ways

Here is another exercise for the writing class. It turned into a flash fiction piece. Close to first draft here. There is one main word used in this description that is used in what I hope is a fresh and original way. I won’t tell you what it is.

Just Desserts

It was a cast party. The waiters had put tables together into a long row, taking up half of the restaurant. Danny sat with his lead actors and actresses to either side of him, the lighting and sound technicians on the end. They were on their second round of bottles of wine, voices cresting and surging like waves. He was in the middle of a story about gypsies in Rome when he noticed Lydia chatting up the chef. His voice plateaued and he put down his glass of Merlot. The others did the same. “Well, let’s pay up, shall we? Well done everyone.”

When Lydia came back to the table, he clamped his lips shut. She sat down and started to eat her tiramisu just as everyone else stood up, abandoning theirs. “What? Doesn’t anyone want their dessert?” She carried on eating as they filed out without a word. She sighed. Being a director’s wife was so lonely.

Exercise 3 for fiction writing course

The paragraph below is based on a very brief video clip. I’ve extended the description beyond what was in the clip. I noticed that the writing on the books was Japanese, so I placed her in Tokyo’s Shinjuku shopping district (a place I have visited years ago). The exercise was about using description to make a scene rich.

What do you think, is there potential in this little chunk? Does it make you want to read more?

She stood in the biology section of the bookshop, sandwiched between the bookcases lining the aisle. Her her fingers danced rapidly over her magenta phone. The corners of her lips tightened. She tipped her head forward, letting her hair fall around her face. A cloud of pink perfume wafted upwards, and there was a faint sound of air suddenly puffing out from her nostrils – not quite a snort. Where was Kazuo? He said he would meet her here half an hour ago.

There wasn’t even room to pace in the shop. She gave a little stomp and then slipped her earbuds in, turning up the volume as loud as it could go. That was better, a little bit of thrash. Then she strode out into the centre of the Shinjuku shopping district. The street was as bright as day, even though it was already 10pm. The neon signs made everyone in the street look like cartoon characters, in red and green and yellow.

She swung her arms at her sides as she walked through the crowd, and nearly bumped into an elderly gentleman on the corner. She wasn’t sure where she was going, and she didn’t even care. Coffee, that was what she needed. And maybe a new boyfriend.

Here is a picture of Shinjuku

Starting to Write Fiction – MOOC

This has been a busy week. I have:

  1. submitted my portfolio for the postgraduate certificate in teaching in higher education. Now waiting for the marks, probably in June.
  2. gone to Dublin for the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference, where I delivered my session about using Blackboard’s Exemplary Course Programme rubric to enable staff to redesign and enhance their courses. Lots of good things came out of that, maybe establish a community of practice.
  3. started the Future Learn MOOC course in writing fiction, which is an Open University free online course.
  4. Image

With all this, I am very pleased that I’ve managed to complete all the assignments in the first week of the MOOC. I’ve been doing a fair amount of short fiction, maybe as short as ‘flash fiction’ for almost two years now. I also did an afternoon workshop in fiction writing given by Honno, the Welsh women’s press, about a month ago, so this is coming at a good time.

I’m very pleased that with all the activity this week, I have managed to complete all the assignments so far. There are little video clips with transcripts (I find sometimes I just read the transcripts, it is faster). There was an audio clip with interesting observations by established writers about why they write, and an assignment to post some thoughts about why I write in response to this. There was a really nice video clip that had observations of people in public, but no real sound track (just some music). This was used as a prompt…we were asked to observe either from the clip or from life, and write down the details. Then we were given two passages showing different approaches to characterisation through description, and given two further activities where we developed our writing.

There have been NO QUIZZES! (sorry to shout). Actually I quite like that. I also like that there are many small and manageable tasks for us to do, using the comments section of each post (or our blog if we want). The instructions for the tasks are clear, and we can interact with other students by making comments on their posts. Very nicely designed.

The intimidating thing was on the very first day…I was at work all day so I couldn’t go to the MOOC until that evening. In a matter of only several hours, more than 700 posts had been made for the first mini-assignment!! I didn’t try to read them all, but dipped in and out sampling some of them.

The part I’m not sure about is where the peer assessment will come in, what we are meant to produce by the end. A short story, I think, but the details haven’t been given yet. We are taking the journey one step at a time.

If you are interested, this module is still open for people to join. It lasts 8 weeks.

So far, I would recommend it.

Bricolage – Call for Papers

Guest Editor: Prof.  Dr. Sélavy

Interests: elementary nugget theory; Conrad group applicable to other areas of oracularity including delusionary optics; condensed leaf oracularity and classical weaving; foundations of delusionary weaving; particularly the question of making the uncertainty cage consistent with canine relativity.


Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Articles based on two-by-two mats are invited. Your articles may contain original performance art or a concise expansion based on your earlier precipitations. It is easier to read articles if sung in the language of two-by-two mats.

The two-by-two mat is the floral viola applicable to all branches of modern oracularity. If its determinant is one, this mat has six overlapping laced edges. It has three laced edges if its elements are pinked. In addition to its role in developing roots in a given branch of oracularity, the same mat formalism may be applicable to other areas of oracularity. It may thus be possible, using the same set of two-by-two mats, to formulate new ectoplasmic furriers based on what happens in a different branch of oracularity where the furriers are more firmly glued.

It is generally assumed that the mouth-feel of this two-by-two mat is well known. Get the luminosity values by solving a feathered equation, and then diagonalize the mat by a contrapuntal involution. This is not always possible. First of all, there are two-by-two mats that cannot be diagonalized. For some effervescences, the contrapuntal involution alone is not enough for us to diagonalize the mat. It is thus possible to gain a new insight to oracularity while dealing with these floral problems.

Prof. Dr. Sélavy

Guest Editor

The Dance is about to Start – flash fiction

by Mary Jacob, 26 May 2013

“Take my arm,” said Liz, “let’s walk out into the grass and wind.”

“No, well, okay.” Her brother, Tony, was only 25 but had to pull himself up from the ancient armchair like an old man. It creaked, and then the Elizabethan floorboards creaked.

They stepped over the thick carpet to the French door and out onto the terrace. A gust of wind blew their jackets open. He recoiled.

She charged forward, leaving him at the edge of the slope, and dived into the daisies that dotted the lawn.

“You’re mad,” he said. He reached behind him to find the bench and lower himself onto it.

“It’s so fresh.” She rolled from side to side, inhaling the green scent. “We haven’t seen the sun for ages, come on, pretend you’re five years old.”

He thought, “Well, there’s no audience here,” and raised himself up again. His bones still ached, and sometimes it felt as if his ankle had been hit with a hammer, but the doctor had said that sufficient time had passed for him to resume normal activity.

Taking miniature steps, he eased himself down the slope and joined her, lying with his face in the grass. He said, “It’s not so cold at this level, is it?”

They started rolling frantically from one side of the lawn to the other.

A few minutes later, a dark figure appeared at the door. “What’s all this hysterical laughter?”

“Oh, Dad,” she said.

“And now what? How’s he going to get up again? Here, take my hand.”

“Dad, I’m fine.” Tony went through a yoga-like sequence of moves involving kneeling, bending, and pushing himself off the ground with his hands.

Clarinet music gavotted out from somewhere deep in the house.

 Liz ran back inside, shouting, “The dance is about to start.”