Writing Prompt: Family History

Everybody has a story. When we’re growing up, many of us hear stories about where our families came from, anecdotes about our parents and grandparents, our aunts and uncles and cousins. We hear tales about how people met and got married, about the black sheep in the family and about incidents that help either forge or ruin family relationships.

For this exercise, write down a family story you’ve heard. Try to remember all of the details and try to give an opinion about what happened. How did this story affect the rest of the family?


Writing Prompt: The Witching Hour

In keeping with our spooky Halloween theme, I’ve been thinking of different horror films and stories I seen/read throughout the years.

There is really a long list of things that can frighten us and exploring fear can be interesting. I’m not particularly afraid of many things, my fears are generally rational, but there have been times when I have been slightly freaked out. For instance, there was a stormy night a few weeks ago when the house was shaking in the wind and the rain was beating against the windows and the walls of the conservatory. The house was locked, I was all alone except for the cat (she is solid black) and I had given up on TV as it was late on a school night and I knew if I wanted to have a productive day, I would have to sleep eventually.

As I lay there with the duvet tucked under my chin, the rain rapped against the window and I could hear noises coming from the small hatch that led to the loft from across the room. I turned to my side and seeing the clock on my night table flick it’s digital light to midnight, the door flew open. I leaped up in my bed and stared at the opening. The cat jumped onto the bed and arching her back, hissed at the blackness.

I sat perfectly still, trying to adjust my eyes to the black of the room and attempted to make out shapes around me. Every sound in the house was amplified against the storm and for a moment, I was five again, all arms and legs tucked in around me, not dangling in any direction off the bed.

At last, my rational, grown up mind took over and remembering my mobile rested under the pillow beside me, I reached for it and clicked on the light to illuminate the room. There, across the other side of the hatch door was nothing but luggage, skies, a set of unused weights and a rolled up tent. I got up and upon closing the hatch, secured it with a laundry basket propped against it. When I was at last calm and back in my cosy bed, I tutted myself for my silliness and went back to sleep. As I drifted off, I distinctly heard a “tap tap tap” against the hatch. My eyes flew open and after listening and waiting for a moment, decided that sometimes it’s best not to explore the house past midnight.

Writing Prompt: Write a story about someone alone in the house. Use the following props:

1. Mirrors

2. Attic Door

3. Kitchen Knife

4. Weather (you pick)

5. Voices (TV, Radio, Telephone, Answering Machine, other)

Writing Prompt: Redrum!

As a tribute to the new Hitchcock film and the fact that I’m currently watching “Vertigo” with two of my all-time favourite actors (Kim Novak and James Stewart), I’d like to challenge you to write a simple murder plot.  I’ll try to give you some tools to proceed…. have fun and be adventurous. 

Motives: revenge, money, jealousy, impulse

Weapons: necktie, nail file, poison, drowning (method rather than weapon)

Cover-up: burial, burning, acid


You can go off the reservation on this one, but be sure you used the three elements: motive, weapon and cover-up. 

Happy Hunting. 


PS. If you decide to write this, let me know. I don’t often ask, but I’d be interested in seeing what people come up with. 


Writing Prompt: The Room

fleur de lisWhen I wandered into the cafe, I felt like I had been transported back in time to my college days.

There were odd posters and paintings from local artists on the walls. The furniture, mismatched and awkward suited the overall thrown-together feel of the place. It was an open planned room with a stage, random fixtures and glass vases of odd shapes and sizes on the shelves. A cuddly-toy bunny sat abandoned on a window sill. The place seemed to say, pull up a chair, make yourself at home, I’m not really fussed, I’m too busy being a tortured artist.

When I entered the cafe, it was sunny outside, summer having just arrived made me wish I had a place to sit and write with a beer and some colourful company to look at, away from the corporate types that litter my usual part of the city. The cafe offered one, anyway. On it’s menu I could choose from coffees in all shapes and sizes and every free-trade tea imaginable, but no alcohol. I opted for Earl Grey and my reaction to getting no lemon and a splash of milk made me realise was heading towards becoming a middle aged and suited snob. Oh dear, I thought. Best knock that attitude on the head and just enjoy the solitude.

I dragged a chair over to a table in the corner and with tea and journal in hand, settled in to write. The characters in the room were full of colour. No one wore black or anything resembling a suit. Nothing grey, nothing that would fit in at a meeting. Just a rainbow of colours from the hair on down to their Birkenstocks.

When I was at university, my favourite place was a mirror of the cafe where I sat writing. It was called the “Fleur de Lis”. My friends and I met there every night to discuss our projects, listen to local musicians and impromptu poetry readings. Even I found the nerve to spout a verse or two, back before the self-consciousness of public speaking settled in. It was a place where we were all freaks and weirdos, all wanting to stand out as unique, where we were all going to be Shakespeares and Mozarts, Hemingways and Picassos. 

The conservative town where it had found it’s own little corner didn’t approve of the comings and goings of the Fleur de Lis’ clientele. When it was time for the young couple who ran the Fleur de Lis  to renew their licence, it was refused. It was handed over to a retired cop who turned our home into a tea house with white doilies and cucumber sandwiches. Our club house was gone and we all had to move on.

When I graduated, I wanted to have something with which to remember those happy days of creativity. So, when the chance came to immortalise that place and the memories it carried, I thought of the proper tribute. With a friend in tow, I handed the artist my drawing and leaned on the table. The sting of the needle didn’t bother me at all, and now I have a reminder that isn’t going anywhere without surgery…

Writing Prompt: The Room

Describe a room and the personality it conveys. Have fun, leave nothing out.

Writing Prompt: The Book List

As you may have noticed through some of the other pages on the site, I’ve started a new book list for 2009. As I go through them, I’m writing down what I finish and adding a review. So far, I’ve read “Candide” by Voltaire (for the 20th time), “Fire in the Blood” by Irene Nemirovsky and “Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne. I’ve loved all three in different ways and I highly recommend them all. Particularly the last one on the list. I read it on train journeys to and from work over two days. Having finished it tonight, it left me sad, a little shaken and with the total conviction that I’ll read it again. It was beautiful and although it ended in the only tragic way a book on that subject could, I didn’t want it to end. I’ve just picked up “Crooked Little Vein” by Warren Ellis and I’m sure it too will be completed in a matter of days, judging by the speed at which I’m turning the first few pages.

I’ve always been an ambitious reader. I make lists, set targets; I’ve spend thousands on books throughout my life and I’m proud of the little library I’ve collected and stacked on the dark wood shelves around me. There are some books there that I’ve had for years and never got around to, this is their year.

Tell me, if you could get through ten books this year that you’ve always wanted to go through, but never managed, which ones would they be? What is it about them that attracts you? Is it a recommendation, a genre, the author, the storyline? What we read speaks volumes about who we are. What does your list say about you?

From the books above, I’d say I’m a tragic-romantic prone to the darker side of life who appreciates irony….

Writing Prompt: The Book List

Writing Prompt: Random

My mind is going in a hundred different directions. It drifts to work and some intense meetings I had today.  I’ve been thinking about next year and the things I have to do to make it successful. I’m excited, but it’s going to be busy.  I have so many plans and ideas and there are so many people I want to share them with.

Thoughts have wandered to my family back in California and for the first time, I understand that if I wished it, I could leave and go back there. It would be hard, it would take a few months to get it all sorted, six at least, but I’m free to go when I choose.

I thought about Wanda, one of my dearest friends and how much I admire her independence. I wonder if the guy who invented paperclips still gets royalties. Titch is on the sofa with me asleep and although I know this is a long way off, just the thought of not having her with me makes my throat constrict and heart beat a little faster. The Terminator is on TV and I remember where I was when it was released in the cinema and how scary Arnold Schwarzenegger was to me at that age.

I feel restless and I wish my mind would sit still for just a minute. I’m hoping that by having a bit of a stream of consciousness brain-dump, I’ll feel better and have a chance to sleep, an activity that has avoided me for some nights now.

When I feel like this,expressing some random thoughts sometimes helps. I use this exercise in the morning sometimes, when my mind is still working, processing my dreams and trying to push them back until they’re nothing more that an indent on my pillow, waiting for the night to come again.

Try this, just write freehand for 30 minutes. Don’t edit, don’t stop. Just let your mind wander and see where it takes you.

Writing Prompt: Random

Writing Prompt: Sweet, Sour or Savoury?

Quite often, in writing, description focuses on appearances, sounds, sensations or smells. What about taste? I’ve never really thought about it, but I think that deep down I’m a savoury kind of girl. I love spices, strong chilies, rich butter and I’m a total steak monster and shepherds pie is just the thing to make me happy when I’m tired and need comfort food.

Sure, I love my sweets too. Sticky toffee pudding with dates and ice cream, sugary lemon sorbet with a sweet wafer in the middle or in a sugar cone, strawberries dipped in milk chocolate, and oreos with milk send me off to sleep with a smile.

I love lemons, limes, oranges, tart pomegranates, and grapefruits.

With all the flavours the world has to offer, what’s your favourite? Describe the things you love to taste and work them into a narrative.

Writing Prompt: Sweet, Sour or Savoury?

The Lift – A Short Story

The lift was of the old fashioned sort, large with cushioned benches along the edges. On the walls at waist level were mirrors with gold trimmed panels surrounding the glass. In the centre of the wall that faced its passengers as they entered was a clock of Roman numerals. When the woman cast her glance towards it, the hands indicated 11:32pm with its thin second hand gliding towards the ten. 


 She was tired and the flight had drained her of energy. She had a long day ahead of her in the morning, but her mind was alert, even if her body was aching. A drink in the bar would help solve that problem, but she wanted to be good. Her hand hovered over the numbers of the lift. She stood on the ground floor. Her room was on the third and the bar was in the basement level of the plush hotel her company had chosen. 


 Just one, she thought, just one. A little Mount Gay and coke, a little ice, a little slice and everything will fall into place. 


 She pressed the large glowing “B” and headed down. When she reached the bar, the lights were dim and music drifted out into the hallway. A piano player churned out random covers whilst the patrons in various stages of chatter and intoxication went about their business. 


 When she stepped into the lift five hours later, she was a little tipsy and the stranger stepped in behind her.  She had observed him smoking in the small patio outside the bar and temptation had got the better of her. She wandered out into the cool night air and approached him. 


 “Could I buy a cigarette from you?” she asked. 


 “No…” he said, reaching into his coat pocket. “…but you can have one.” 

 He handed her a cigarette, lit it and together they sat on a short brick wall that doubled as a flower bed for yellow roses. They fell into conversation and over the next few hours they traded lives and bought drink after drink until finally, the barman rang last call.  


 The woman giggled into her glass and whispered to him. “The garden door is still open. Shall we get a bottle of red wine and sneak out?”



 He nodded in assent and went to the bar to collect the wine. A moment later, he made his way towards the garden doors. She watched him from her spot at a corner table while he motioned for her to follow him.



 Once outside, he reached out from beneath his coat and produced the bottle. “It’s Pinot Noir. I hope that’s ok. The barman wouldn’t let us take it away, so I hid it under my coat.”



 “Nice work.” she said.

In the time they had been together they had talked about everything. She told him of her childhood in London, of her job, her family, her kids. She shared her fear of flying with him.



In turn, he talked of his fiancé, of his business and his love of old movies. By the time the day’s first light was hinting towards the horizon, they felt as though they had been friends for years.



As they reached the lift, he slipped his arm around her waist. She glared down at her side, then at him but didn’t pull away.



They stumbled into the lift and she collapsed onto the cushioned bench.




“What floor?” he asked.




She held up three fingers and he pressed the button for the third floor. “I’m on six.” He said and sat beside her as the doors closed.




“I can’t believe what time it is.” She said. “I was only going down for one drink. I’m blaming you.” She smiled at him and he chuckled.



“You’re the one who came after me for a cigarette. I’m not taking the blame for this.”


“50-50?” she asked.


“60-40.” He said.


“Fine, you take sixty percent of the blame, I’ll take forty.”


He shook his head. “I don’t think so.”


They were between the second and third floors when the lift came to an abrupt stop. They were given a jolt and they stared at each other for a moment before he reached for the buttons and pressed a few at random, hoping for a response. When nothing happened, he opened the small panel at the side of the wall to reveal a phone. After a moment, someone answered.


“What did they say?” she asked when he hung up.


“It was the concierge. He said they could tell we were stuck and that they’d get someone over to fix it as soon as possible.” He leaned back against the wall. “Apparently, this happened a week ago. I guess they didn’t quite fix it.”


“Did they say how long it would be?” She looked up at the clock. “My God, I’m supposed to be at a meeting in five hours. I can’t bloody believe this. I also can’t believe I’ve been up all night. I never do this.” Her tone was light, as though she didn’t really mind at all.


He laughed and picked up her hand. “Me neither.” As he held her palm in his, he brushed the fingers of his free hand over the top of her fingernails.


“What will you do tomorrow?” she asked.


“I’m flying home. I guess tomorrow is today now that we’ve been up all night.” He sighed and leaned forward. “I had a great night. I was about to go up to my room when you turned up.”


She shifted in her seat and moved towards him, wrapping her hand around his. “It’s funny. I was trying to decide whether or not to head up for bed or to go for a drink. I just pushed the button. It could have gone either way, really. To think, we might have missed our chat.”


“I’m really glad you came down.” He said. “Do you suppose this thing has a camera?”


“Shocking.” She said, but there was laughter in her voice.


Colour rose to his cheeks. “That’s not what I meant. Well, it’s sort of what I meant.”


As he leaned towards her, he could feel her tense up, her grip of his hand became tighter as though she was deciding something.


As suddenly as it had stopped, the lift came to life and startled them. They let go of each other’s hands and pulled back as the doors opened on the third floor.


“I guess this is where I get off.” She said and stood up.


He rose to his feet and holding the doors open watched her move away. As she turned to say goodbye, he reached out for her arm. Aware that she could easily pull away, he kissed her cheek. They stood in that attitude for a moment until, remembering the time and seeing the sun beginning to come in through the windows she stepped into the hall.


“I’m glad we met.” She said and disappeared down the corridor.


She turned back within a few seconds, unsure of what she would do if she caught him. She reached the hall too late to stop them, but in time to see his hand go up in a small flicker of recognition as the lift doors closed.

© Eliza Dashwood, 2008







Untitled – Chapter 1

This work may not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.

© Eliza Dashwood, 2008


Socorro lifted the glass to her lips and as she took yet another drink, she began to feel dizzy. Although their frequent visits to the cantina made her more accustomed to drinking, the excess, the late nights and noise was hard on her. John laughed with the barman, ordered another round and slipped his arm around her waist.


“I’m a little tired, Amour. Can we go soon?” She asked.


He tilted his head and shook it at her in a way that made her feel she disappointed him. She felt small, like a child asking for a treat after she’d been naughty.


“It’s too early.” He said, with a lazy grin. He was clearly already drunk, but had no intention of releasing her before he was ready. “My girl can handle a few more.” The discussion was over. She would stay.


Carlo, the barman pulled two more pints of beer and placed them on the bar before them. He chuckled at John’s witticisms, placed fried tortilla chips on the bar to appease the tourists that asked for nibbles and wiped the counter. When John ordered more beers, his face betrayed a flicker of disapproval of which John seemed oblivious but did not go unnoticed by Socorro. She searched his face for an ally and sensing Carlo’s fear of intruding found none.


Placing a gentle hand on John’s shoulder, Socorro stepped down from her barstool.


“Where are you running off to?” he asked.


“I’ll be right back.” She nodded towards the toilet at the back of the bar and moved in that direction, steadying herself on the backs of chairs along the way. Her shoes were high and the uneven floor of the cantina made it even more difficult to walk.


When she reached the door to the toilet, she knocked and hearing no reply from within, entered. She faced the mirror with a crack down the side and stared at her reflection. The face that looked back seemed older than her thirty six years. There were deep lines around her eyes and in the edges of her full mouth. The remains of a beautiful woman were there, struggling beneath the marks of years with a selfish and ill-tempered husband, too sick to move from his bed and the demands of her children too young to be sent to work away from home.


She thought of John and his kindness to her and children he didn’t know existed. He was generous, but it came at the price of evenings in his company, propped up against the bar, a hand resting on her knee or caressing her arm while he lifted his pints of beer with the other.


Her mother in law, Juana would have put the girls to bed by now. It was getting late and she needed to last at least another hour before John would think he had enough. Juana had at first been enraged when she spotted Socorro speaking to a strange gringo on the street, afraid of what people would say, but when she considered the possibilities an American with money could offer, she encouraged Socorro to see him again.


Socorro had objected to that line of thinking. “Mama, he was just asking for directions. He wanted to know where he could get food. He lives on the other side of the border and comes here for business sometimes, that’s all.”


“Well, he was paying you a lot of attention, and why not? My son wouldn’t have married an ugly woman. He could take you out, maybe buy you lunch and in return you could be good company while he is in town. If he gives you some money for showing him around, what’s the harm?”


The colour rushed to Socorro’s cheeks. “Your son is sick in the next room and you say this to me?” Socorro quickly glanced around her to be sure none of her daughters where within earshot. The tone and words her mother in law had used implied so much more than being just a tour guide.


“Do you realise what that would make me?” Socorro asked.


“You have this family to think of. I look after the girls, clean my son’s bedding, prepare his meals. I keep this house in order. You’re the only one who can bring money into this house. Selling fruit on the street isn’t good enough. I’m the one who has to clean up the mess when Irma has one of her nose bleeds or Delia makes a mess in the kitchen. I expect you to do your part.”


By Juana’s response, Socorro was made to understand that she found the thought of her doing more than “showing the American around” an acceptable price for keeping food on the table.  As she balanced herself on the sink in the cantina’s dingy bathroom, the memory of that conversation made her wince. She would bring some money home, but she would have to make sure John was happy, drunk and satisfied with his evening out. That would require more time.


Socorro thought of her daughters huddled together in their bed and braced herself for what she would have to do. Stepping to the toilet, she leaned forward, closed her eyes and forced her fingers down her throat. She vomited, holding her stomach with one hand and pulling her long black hair away from her face with the other. Emptying her stomach would allow her to carry on a little longer.


When she had finished the unpleasant task, she pulled some peppermint leaves from her small handbag and chewed them. Before leaving to meet John, she had gone to the rear of the house where they kept some space to grow vegetables and tore some leaves from the peppermint plant that grew just below the kitchen window.


As she emerge from the toilet and went back towards the bar, someone grabbed her arm at the elbow. When she tuned, Carlo stood beside her.


“Seniora, please forgive me for saying this, but I’ve known you and your family for such a long time. I’ve seen you in the market with your children and I’ve seen how you play with them in the square. I even knew your husband before his stroke. You don’t belong here. How long can you do this?” Carlo said.


Socorro looked across the room where John sat speaking with one of the locals. They smoked roll up cigarettes and chatted away like old women at the market. John crossed the border from Texas every week to conduct his business and at the end of each trip made his way to Socorro’s village to call on her and take her to the cantina. He was a decent man and only wanted to talk at first, but as time went on, he became bolder and handled her more frequently. She allowed him to kiss her on the rare occasions he attempted it. On the whole, it was not as terrible as she had feared, but as Carlo stood before her, she realised how she longed to be free of those nights. She wondered for how much longer John would be satisfied with how they spent their evenings.


Realising that Carlo still held her arm, she pulled away. “I have no choice. You don’t understand anything, you’re so young.”


“I know you don’t belong here. I know your daughters must wonder where you are.”


At this, Socorro flinched and took a step back. She had always been so careful to make excuses about where the money came from and what she did on her nights away from home. The girls were all so little, so trusting and gave their mother so much of their affection that the thought if disillusioning them made her queasy. If her husband, Francisco knew of her whereabouts, he didn’t care. Money was coming in, his food and cigarettes arrived via his mother each day. She begged Juana to keep the whole business to herself and the old woman had agreed.


Since Francisco had suffered a stroke when the youngest of their daughters was still an infant, he had not left his bed. The episode removed all movement and feeling from the right side of his body. Socorro often thought back to the days before he was immobilised and tried to remember if it was the affliction that had made him cruel. She searched her memory for a time when he was kind to her and found none. It was as though the event merely provided him with an excuse for his selfishness and an outlet for his mother to run the household with a firm hand.


“Why are you telling me this now? I’ve been here dozens of times and you’ve never said a thing.”


“I thought I had no right to speak. I know you don’t like coming here. I know you’d rather be at home with your family. But my conscience won’t let me stay quiet any longer. You’re a good woman and you deserve better.”


Socorro moved away from him and started towards the bar. She stopped and turned to face him for a moment. “You’re right, I’d rather be home or selling oranges on the street, but I have a family to think of. This man keeps food in the house and shoes on my girl’s feet. A little longer and I’ll have saved enough to send Irma to school. I’m not so rich that I can choose these things.”


When Socorro returned to her place at the bar, John offered her a lazy grin and pushed a full pint glass towards her. His eyes were half closed and he slurred his words when he spoke.


“So, when is my girl going to introduce me to her lovely daughters? I was just talking to this nice man here and he said you have some real beauties at home.” John glanced over his shoulder at an old man with a dusty jacket and long beard. The old man was slumped over his empty glass trying in vain to strike a match. When John indicated to him, the man looked up, hopeful for another free drink, but when John returned his attention to Socorro, he realised a free drink would not be forthcoming and went back to the unlit match.


“My girls are at home asleep.” Socorro said.  “It’s quite late, after all.”


He nodded and sliding his hand on her knee leaned over and kissed her cheek.


“Well, if they’re as beautiful as their Mama, I’d love to meet them. You’ll have to bring them out with us next time I visit.”


Carlo stepped up to the bar to serve a customer, but Socorro saw him cast a dark look in her direction.


“We’ll see.” She said and took a sip from her drink. “They’re quite young. The youngest is barely five.”


“Well, a five year old can still enjoy an ice cream, right? How old is your oldest?”


Socorro took a drink of her beer and tried to think of a way to stall him. She didn’t like his line of questioning and she had no intention of involving her girls in this business.


“Would you like me to order you another drink?” He nodded lazily and signalled to Carlo.


“Let’s have something different. Carlo, Tequila por favor.” He said.


This was a mixed blessing. He seemed to forget the subject of her daughters as he lit a cigarette, but Tequila made her ill.


When they finally emerged from the cantina an hour later, Socorro was queasy. So much beer with little food made her dizzy and she had a desperate need for the toilet.


At her insistence, John never walked her home. He knew she had a husband and wanted no trouble, so they always met at the end of the road leading to the cantina and went in together. As they walked, she placed her hand at the crook of his arm, as was his preference and when they parted company; he leaned in and kissed her on the mouth. He was feeling merry and although this made him generous it also made him more forward. When he released her from his embrace, which was closer and lingered longer than usual, he pressed some money into her hand.


“This is just something to tide you over. Get something nice for your girls from me and be sure to bring them next time.”


He kissed her again and with a grin that reminded her of a child used to getting its way, he walked away.


As soon as she was sure he was gone, she stuffed the money into her shoe and ran back to the cantina. There were few people left inside. Most of the candles that peppered the room on the small wooden tables were out and Carlo was washing some glasses at the sink behind the bar.


“Carlo, what am I going to do?” Socorro said.

Without tuning, he said, “You can’t bring them here just because he said so.”


From that, Socorro was sure that Carlo’s eavesdropping had not been imagined. He had heard everything and had his answer for her ready.


She sat back down on the barstool and dropped her head to her hands. She felt his hand clasp the top of hers and she looked up.


He repeated his previous statement. “You can’t bring them here.”


“What choice do I have? He helps support my family.”


Carlo moved beside her. “Leave him. He doesn’t love you or know you. He looks on you as a pet. He talks to you as though you should do what he says just because he buys you things and shoves pints of beer in front of you. I see you here with him every week and I hear and see the way he treats you. It isn’t right.”


Socorro dropped her eyes. “I know. It’s because I let him. I do what he wants and make him laugh and smile and drink himself stupid because I need the money he gives me. I deserve what I get if I’m willing to sell myself like this.”


Carlo took her hands in his and she did not resist him. Returning to the cantina made her later than usual and she was exhausted.


“You think you deserve this, but you don’t. You think this is the only way, but it isn’t.”


“What do you suggest that I trade one man for another?” As soon as she said it, Socorro was sorry. Carlo had never been anything but kind to her. “I’m sorry. I’m confused and tried and I want to see my girls.”


“Go home, Seniora. Rest, then come back tomorrow and work for me. I won’t be able to match what he gives you, but it will be safer and you won’t need to be ashamed or lie to anyone.”


“Why are you doing this?” Socorro asked.


“Because you’re a good woman and because I like you. Vaya con Dios.”


Chapter 2 to follow next week…


Copyright © Eliza Dashwood 2008


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