ShutUp30.30: 30 Days of Writing


Write a story, in 100 words.

Lorna wanted to go on a journey, so she stood at the junction and stuck out her hand. The car that stopped was not the one she wanted to stop; tatty but chintzy, it was driven by the kind of old woman who tugged a shopping cart up the high street and smiled at pigeons. Did she want to go home, asked the woman? I have no home, Lorna said, gazing out of the passenger-side window.

Instead, the kindly woman found her a new home, with a room of her own. They brought her home-cooked food, in between her clients.

ShutUp30.29: What is Plot Anyway?


Today’s task was to write one sentence plot summaries of movies, and then one of my own work in progress. It feels like a bit of a cop-out, but here’s my one sentence.

After a client is shot and killed on her watch, a young woman is forced to leave her home and go in search of the voices in her head.

ShutUp30.28: Burial Grounds


Write a death scene for the prompt “surrounded by family”.

Edith leaned back on the mauve armchair in the corner of the sitting room. The springs had gone back when it still lived in the back room at number 56, before her older sister Maud had passed. Lucky that she weighed so little these days, and had so little extra flesh to be troubled by the lumps and bumps, she thought. Silver lining to everything. That’s our Edith.

The lace curtains were drawn, but through the crack in them she could see kids straggling home from school, uniforms already askew with the promise of freedom. Tyler would be about their age, she thought, though he was slight and small, still a boy. It had been too long, she thought. He’ll walk through the door all of six foot eight, sprouting hair everywhere, you’ll see. She couldn’t wait to see him. He’s a good lad.

Victoria wanted to be called Tori. With an “I” at the end, to distinguish her from the political party. Edith didn’t let on that she had been voting Conservative for years. Who else was there to vote for? In between her job and her political friends, Victoria didn’t come around half as much as Edith would have liked.

The mantelpiece clocked ticked gently in its chrome-effect case. Edith felt her eyes begin to close. 5 o’clock, she’d said they were coming. Already a quarter to six. They’d ring the doorbell when they got here. No harm if she slept until then.

When Victoria did arrive, Edith could no longer be woken.

ShutUp30.27: We All Have ‘Em


Write about three fears.

Ever since I was young and learned that to journey is to find yourself, I’ve been afraid that if I grow roots, I’ll never be free again. This fear causes me to avoid activities such as marriage, childbirth and mortgages. While I’m curious about what would happen if I faced my fear, I’m bereft of a partner in crime. Men, it turns out, can smell fear.

I am afraid that nobody will notice that I’m here, and that I have all sorts of ideas. Writing allows me to calm the fuzzy muddle of competing theories, yearnings and self-beliefs, to smooth them into something resembling my smooth unblemished surface. But what if nobody’s listening? What if nobody sees me?

I worry that, even after all my struggles, when I burst to the surface, gasping for air with which to give life to my words, my ideas, my truth, it will be found wanting. How derivative, they’ll say. What a load of cobblers. To think she spent years writing this twaddle, when she could have been down the pub. This, of course, is the one that keeps me from doing.

ShutUp30.26: Don’t Be a Stranger


Write a bio of yourself at an earlier stage of your life.


What is she passionate about?

Spiller’s Records, and the big laminated book that lets her order Fugazi records for nothing.

What is her morning ritual?

Staying in bed until the absolute latest that will allow her to walk into morning registration in the final minute.

Is she close with her family?

Close but emotionally reticent. Believes that feelings are a kind of private shame.

What is her favourite holiday? Why?

Staying at home while her parents go away, because it’s almost like being a grown-up.

What does she fear the most?

That she’ll be stuck here forever. That there will always be school. That there will always be predators, never subject to the rules of adulthood.

What is her worst memory?

The predators, and the time they wrote an ironic poem about how ‘beautiful’ she was. They sent it to a local DJ, who dutifully read it out. Oh, how they cackled. There’s a part of her that hates that DJ.

What are her goals?

To go far.

ShutUp30.24: Black or White


Choose a character. Put them in a moral dilemma and see what they do.

It’s the morning of big sis’s big day, and I can’t sleep in spite of the wine we’d shared the night before. We’d shared butterflies, too, and perhaps that’s why I was so restless. You told me how, every time you heard the word “forever”, your insides went on a spin cycle. Best get it out of your system before the ceremony, we joked. But it scares me too, truth to tell. Even watching someone else go through it.

After four and a half hours of tossing and turning, trying different positions in the unfamiliar double bed, I turned to my usual solace, and went for a run. It was dark enough that nobody would spot that I was sweating into my PJs. Besides, it’s not like anyone in Keswick knew who I was. Perhaps I would go down in local legend. The Pyjama Poltergeist of Derwentwater.

I turned left out of the hotel and jogged past the Cumberland Pencil Museum, feeling the crisp night air between my ribs. I kept to the main road, not wanting to become headline news for getting lost, or, well, worse. It wasn’t long before I hit the bypass road, so I turned south to run along the lake road. A faint pinkish light was beginning to illuminate the gloom.

I hadn’t gone far when I saw him. He was standing in the car park of a rustic lodge, set back a little from the waterfront. Even with this tall skinny girl’s tongue down his throat, I knew him. Ben, our groom, my sister’s intended. He needed to be with his parents tonight, he’d said; from tomorrow, they’d be together forever.

This goodbye was lasting too long for me to believe it could be final.

I stood in the shadows, shivering a little as my heart slowed, until she got into her car and – kiss through the window, some hand-holding, another kiss – finally drove off. Which left me, cold and in the dark in my pyjamas, wondering what to do. I had no idea who the girl was. If my sister found out, it would break her heart. Mum would be inconsolable.

One option: confront Ben.

After he’d left the car park, a solitary light had appeared on the second floor, three rooms across from the reception area. There was no movement on the ground floor of the hotel, but when I pushed the front door it swung gently inwards.

I padded up the stairs and along the corridor to the third door. Light spilled out around the sides. I knocked, twice.

Feet padded to the door and paused, long enough for him to realise that it was too dark to see through the spy hole. The door opened.

“Jessie?” said Ben, desperately moderating shock to surprise. “What are you… what are you wearing? It’s 5 in the morning. Come on in, for god’s sake.” I did.

“What do you… Are you cold?” he said, reaching for a hoodie draped over a chair back. I shook my head.

“Ben, I saw you,” I said. “I know what you did.”

His body seemed to tumble. Before he could fall, he sat down heavily on the side of the bed, and put his head in his hands.

“What happens next?” he said, looking up at her, head still hung low.

“All this time, and you two were-” Jessie choked. “All I want to know is, all this time, why not me?”

ShutUp30.23: A Day in the Life


Take a character from one of your stories. Answer some questions about them. Then, write their average day before the story starts.

Ivy woke long before the light, as she did every morning. She clicked on the bedside lamp and turned over to squint at the dial of the alarm clock. 4:32, it said. That was 36 minutes more than yesterday, at least.

Turning sent a shooting pain down her gammy leg. She spent the next five minutes massaging the aching tissue, and the five minutes after that trying to breath deeply like Doctor Singh had taught her. She didn’t really believe that it helped, but it was probably worth a try.

At five to five, Ivy swung her bad leg over the side of the bed and lowered it gingerly to the floor. She turned off the ringer on her alarm clock, wondering when the last time it had actually rung was. Still, Sharon had been thoughtful to pick out one so solid and familiar. Ivy hated the red buzzing lights and over-cheerful morning DJs that came with most modern clocks.

It took Ivy about five minutes to get down the stairs these days. The kettle isn’t going anywhere, she thought ruefully, using both her cane and the rail to bolster her bones against the shocks of gravity. By the time she arrived in the kitchen, she’d more than earned a cuppa and a sit down. In a wee while, she’d put some porridge on. Once the sun came up.


What do they do in their free time?

Bingo, shopping, a walk on the beach.

Where do they go on vacation? How often?

Madeira, once a year, with the Legion.

Do they collect anything?

Porcelain ornaments.

Do they give support to a charity? Which one?

Royal British Legion, volunteers in Marie Curie Cancer Care charity shop

Do they read books? Go to the movies?

Reader’s Digest, Silver Cinema at the Odeon

Do they have plants in their home?

Cheese plant (dusted every day)

Do they cook?

Since Arthur passed, mostly tinned fish and toast. Porridge for breakfast. Discounted breakfast pastries when she can get them.

Are they politically involved?

Politicians are all the bloody same.

What are their habits?

Early to rise. Fond of comparing greengrocers’ prices across the town, using her free bus pass. Walks with a cane. Tuesdays bingo, Thursdays Silver Cinema. Tea with Sharon and the boys on Saturdays. Church on Sundays.

What do they have in their bathroom cabinet? Under their bed?

A lot of pills, mostly Arthur’s. Under the bed there is a chamber pot, although Ivy isn’t quite sure why. It just seems a shame to throw it away.

ShutUp30.22: Shopping Cart


Tall human, hairy face. Has brought own bag (plastic). One ready meal: PriceCut Special LoSalt Lasagne. 6 tall cans No Frills lager. Large bag pork scratchings. Bip, bip, bip. 

Small human, hairless face. Yellow hair with two tails. Pick ‘n’ Mix; strong preference for fizzy worms. Bip.

Long thin human, hairless face. Long straight hair; long straight turquoise attire. Some evidence of knees. Feet: artificial height enhancers. Masottina Le Rive di Ogliano Millesimato Extra Dry Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, 6 bottles. 2 packs Private Selection Finest Hors d’Oeuvres. Ibuprofen (generic), 1 pack. Bip bip bip.

Perfect size human, hairless face. Symmetrical chestnut hair. Pleasing peach face. Soft, in all right places. One ready meal: chicken curry for one. Oh! One small screw-top bottle of dry white wine. OH! Bip, bip, my heart goes bip. Are you dining alone? Bip! 12-pack, Durex XL Comfort condoms. Bip!?

ShutUp30.21: Your Story Your Way


Write about the image below.


Joyce waited by the big old wooden door at a quarter to seven on a Sunday morning. Few people passed, at this time, mostly young people with their hoods up, shrouding hangovers. Nobody paid attention to Joyce at the best of times, not these days. But then he came.

He came slowly, our Henry. He’d pitch himself forward on to his stout wooden cane, throwing the slimmer cane out to the side in case the world suddenly invented gravity that came in horizontally. Joyce waited for him to look up, for the eye contact, for the anticipation, but moving took all his attention. When Henry finally arrived by her side, he took a few deep breaths before meeting her eyes.

“Alright, pet?” he said.

“Aye,” she said.

“What news?”

“He took over funny on the train. Young lad stood up to let him sit, but he lost his balance and fell. Station staff brought a stretcher, carried him up the stairs, and that’s when we saw him.” She shook her head. “Terrible to-do”.

“Hmm,” said Henry. Joyce wasn’t sure if this was an expression of sympathy or a cough. She waited, and the silence grew up between them.

“And the product?” he said.

Joyce shook her head. “It wasn’t mentioned. I told them I was a family friend. Sat in the waiting room for hours until his wife left. I could hardly pretend I was her.”

Henry rested both hands on his cane and looked down, as if deep in thought. When he brought his head up again, his eyes were sharp, with none of their earlier confusion.

“We had a deal, and you will uphold your end of that deal or suffer the consequences. Product or payment, in full, by the agreed deadline. I don’t care how you go about it.”

Henry put down his other cane, and began to wheel away. Joyce stood frozen.

Over his shoulder, he added “You know what I’m capable of.”

“Yes,” Joyce murmured. “I do.”


ShutUp30.20: Walk That Way!


Take three with that same prompt.

A lone light shone in the house. The rest of the neighbourhood stood in shadow. Not a thing moved.

Inside the light sat a woman. Her hair is long and fine, but lustreless, in transition from brown and grey. It hangs flat against her temples as she hunches over, intent on the objects in her lap.

These small, fragile artifacts are all that remains of this village. They must be preserved, curated, remembered. She is a Collector, and this is her Collection. She, and it, are all that remain. The last bulwark against forgetting what was, and, in so doing, losing ourselves.

Tea, Dolly?

Collectors did not choose to be Collectors, she thought, lovingly smoothing a bent corner. They were chosen, chosen by the simple fact of being the only ones left. Chosen by the cataclysm.

Are you asleep in there, Dolly? Shall I turn off the light?

The Collector studied the largest of the artifacts. Four figures, arranged in a line, two bigger than the others. Unknown and long dead, as all these humans were. Yet there was something about the tallest figure, the man in the middle in the fitted jacket, that made her feel… that made her feel.

With a faint click, the light died.

Sleep tight, Dolly.

The Collector remained at her post, artifacts still arranged on her knees, invisible in the dark.