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]


Rom Com – writing exercise for end of week 2

This is the final writing assignment for the end of week 2, which was to listen to the radio and get some ideas for a story from the first thing you heard. I took some phrases from a comedy sketch on a Fresh Air programme on NPR and I deliberately let them lead me in a different direction from the programme itself. I started by imagining the feeling behind the words, and then the person who would be feeling that. Once I can picture it, the story unfolds and I can both see and hear the characters and the setting.That happened here.

The assignment was to write a 500-word story. This is actually shorter and came out the way my vignette fiction / flash fiction pieces do. This is an early draft and will be revised and possibly expanded. We were encouraged to include as much of the following as possible:

  • physical description
  • thoughts and inner life
  • personality
  • where the character is located
  • the character’s back story
  • how the character acts in the world.

I did these but with a light touch and in a very condensed form, even less than the 500 words but somehow the sequence seemed to tell the whole story. I may end up writing more next week. Hope you like it.


Rom Com

It was 10 pm when she walked into the student union. She clutched the front edges of her cardigan together – it was missing a button. Disco lights flashed overhead and music reverberated around her. People were clustered around the bar, leaning towards each other. They looked as if they were shouting but she couldn’t hear any voices.

Does anybody want to talk to me?

Last week she’d driven 200 miles to come here for her first year at uni, and she didn’t know a soul. Not only that, she was the only girl in the whole room wearing a cardigan.

She squeezed up to the bar with a fiver clenched in her hand. It took a while, but eventually the barman looked in her direction. “Vodka tonic, please.” That sounded sophisticated, didn’t it?

She took a sip. It looked and tasted remarkably like lemonade, just not as sweet. Then she made her way to a corner, where she saw someone from her programming module. He was short and a little plump, to put it kindly, and he had black curls sticking out in all directions. He was nursing a Brains bitter. And he seemed to be completely alone!


“Gina, is it?”

“Erm, well, Jean actually. How did you do on that first assignment?”

“Oh, it was rubbish. No idea why they had us write some code before they’d even taught us anything. I’m not the smartest guy.” He smiled, and his dimples came out.

She paused a beat. Maybe you’re not, she thought, but you do have warm eyes. She slid into the booth and sat next to him, feeling like a version of herself in a sitcom, no, make that a rom com. She was the young sophisticate taking him under her wing, yeah, he was a fledgling and she would teach him to soar.

And when he turned into an eagle, she’d be the envy of all those girls at the bar, in their black little-nothing dresses and high high heels.