Yes, I can talk

Mental Health, Workplace

Receiving an email I liked, I decorated the heck out of it:

In response to this welcome email, I recorded a one-minute video for person X at the law firm Blahblah & Blahblah.

I made it anonymous because I think it applies to others too, and I wanted to share it here.

(No disrespect intended by those pseudonyms.)

Thank you for reading.

Have a nice day.

Writing made harder, made easier.

1. Invention

Georges Perec, who found artistic freedom in formal constraint.

Perec wrote a novel without the letter E, good enough on its own merits for at least one reviewer to miss that detail.

(A subsequent work used no vowel except E.)

Silly word games? You might think so. Perec was a complex man who lost both parents as a boy. His mother died in Auchwitz.

Growing up shy, given to joking rather than baring his soul, Perec only found expression in formal devices.

But if you think about it, writing his novel La Disparition (The Disappearance) without using the letter we most rely on was an artistic manoeuvre with plainly autobiographical significance.

Starting next week I’m running online classes for people who want to be better writers. In this one I’ll focus the benefit of formal constraints.

Details on my Events page. Do join me. Thank you for reading.

9 April 20 | Daily challenge

Writing challenge

Write about your day in a long sentence (minimum 100 words) that is both readable (because elegantly punctuated) and sustains interest all the way, by keeping back something dramatic.


I did not want to know but I have since come to know that one of the girls, when she wasn’t a girl any more and hadn’t long been back from her honeymoon, went into the bathroom, stood in front of the mirror, unbuttoned her blouse, took off her bra and aimed her own father’s gun at her heart, her father at the time was in the dining room with other members of the family and three guests.

Opening sentence from A Heart So White, Javier Marias, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Your turn!

Build connection in lockdown: poet in residence

Events, Workplace

Get some Rhyme in your Zoom

I’m in lock-down, to stop the spread of disease (coronavirus, 2020). You may be too.

Yesterday, I was surprise guest at a company’s online meeting.

After a short introduction, we settled down to making up a poem. I shared my screen, and I did the typing, as everybody lobbed in ideas, and rhymes.

I jigged things about a little, then read the poem back to them all.

It was very odd, because I couldn’t see many of them. But what fun.

They seemed to like it:

4 April 20 | Daily challenge

Writing challenge

Write to yourself from tomorrow.


Hello Darling,
I hope you and Jane had a wonderful day yesterday on your birthday. I enjoyed our toast by Skype and am sorry I could not hang on a bit longer – I was just so tired and knew you would understand.
This must likewise be short. But it is important. I developed a temperature during the night and have the dreaded dry cough. Please do not come heading straight over – it’s not too bad at the moment. I don’t want you to get it. But please, stand by your phone and be patient if I ring you, even in the middle of the night. If I say, “Come,” please come quickly. I do admit, I am a bit frightened. I should be OK but, as you know, my heart can play up and we must both face the possibilities.
I can’t write any more. Just too tired. I love you, sweetheart. I am thinking of that day, 26 years ago, when you came into the world so precipitately.

Got to sleep.



Deb Shedden (NB. This is fiction)

3 April 20 | Daily challenge

Writing challenge

Write a grovelling apology.

Grovelling can be fun, refreshing, in a world that generally esteems showing off and “looking good”.

Apology is a wonderful example of a status transaction. The apologist lowers him/herself, thus raising the person(s) being apologised to.

But be careful: if you overdo it, the apology becomes insincere and undermines itself, so that the person receiving the apology feels lowered, but not in a fun, refreshing way.


I’m really sorry I didn’t post any writing exercises yesterday, or the day before. And I’m sorry if you are one of the people I promised to get back to with a time for our one-to-one, or a group session. I have found the whole coronavirus business a bit overwhelming and I’m also concerned not to overstep the mark with whatever it is Arvon wants me to do to help get this Arvon At Home malarky off to a whizzy start. I’m incredibly grateful for all your support, and it makes me smile no end when I see your brilliant efforts at these daily challenges. So: sorry for being slightly but not entirely useless, and thank you for your being absolutely the opposite.

Your turn! (Mine was a real apology, but you can make one up if you prefer.)

31 March 20 | Daily challenge

Writing challenge

Most of these daily writing challenges involve experiments with form. Today’s is about altering content, specifically emotional content.

  1. Write a (very short) story about something that has annoyed you.
  2. Then write it again, but make it more than annoying: maddening, infuriating.
  3. Then write it to be surreal, but somehow recognisable.
  4. Finally write it as delightful, lovely.


Annoyed: When I went downstairs this morning I found the kitchen in a state, and felt quite resentful about doing all the tidying up.

Maddened: I couldn’t believe the filth and squalor awaiting me in the kitchen today, and bellowed furiously as I hurled it around, smashing plates on the wall.

Surreal: Lowering my head into the washing up bowl I was surprised to find it full of fish and frogs.

Delightful, lovely: I crept into the kitchen, washed and dried our most beloved cups and plates, and took breakfast in bed to my family.

Your turn!

30 March 20 | Daily challenge

Writing challenge

Warn somebody in the past about something that will really happen.

Do it in your own voice or in the voice of somebody else.


Boris. Congratulations, you are prime minister. It’s a big thing, and you deserve to enjoy the moment. But I want to let you know that Brexit is not going to be your biggest concern in 2020. In fact, you will give it very little thought. More important than Brexit will be the pandemic of coronavirus. This is a deadly virus rather like flu. It will start in China – may even have started already – and spread rapidly around the world. I would never have thought that this was the kind of thing you could deal with, but that’s a reflection on me, not you. Because actually you will handle it quite well. You will very sensibly fortify yourself with experts. And you will find yourself fighting a war that justifies your inner Churchill. I don’t mean that to sound bitter. I mean that you will do well. Not perfectly – who could do that? – but a lot better than I would ever have expected. And better than I would have done. I wish you well, Boris. Yours, Theresa

Something like that. Or much better please!