Big little stories

For our March session, we focussed on ways to call small memories to life and turn them into short, authentic pieces of writing. It was a wonderful experience to hear people’s work, and see how even small incidents led to large insights when remembered with attention and clarity. Scroll to the end for the writing instructions!


We started by ‘interviewing’ each other using questions I had hidden inside paper fortune-tellers, the kind I remember making as a kid. I wanted people to be comfortable telling their stories verbally before we got on to paper, and I was glad to see everybody enjoying the process of getting to know each other better. Some questions were more serious than others – “what do you know about your grandparents?” carries a different weight to “would you rather be a mermaid or a pirate?” We then chose the memory or opinion we had most enjoyed talking about, and tried to write down our thoughts in exactly the same language we would use when talking. I’m interested in people getting interested in their own true voices, without feeling pressured to be “poetic”!

We then watched a film from 1935, in which there were many interesting and shocking images, including a ‘local comedian’ in blackface. We spent some time discussing what these images raised in us, before identifying a single personal memory to work with. Then we wrote, following this direction:

Visualise the memory as if it is a still from a film. Imagine you are climbing through the frame of the image and stepping into your former self.

Look down at your feet. Begin to describe what you see – the surface your are standing on, your clothes, your body, your age.

Slowly look up and around you. Continue to describe the scene in front of you, which you can see in freeze-frame. Describe the colours, textures, objects, smells, sounds, the time of day, the quality of the light, the people you are with.

Start the film running again. What happens next? What do you do, what do the other people do, what words are spoken? How do you feel?

Pause the film again, and step back out of the frame. From where you are in the present, look back at the memory and make some comment on what happened, what you understand of it now.

And here are some of those fortune-teller questions for you to use as prompts for all kinds of ice-breakers and writing exercises!

What was your favourite subject at school? Do you like playing sports? Have you ever been camping? What keeps you awake at night?What do you know about your grandparents? Who is the most famous person you’ve ever met? Can you grow plants? Do you have siblings? What’s the best thing that’s happened this week? Have you ever won anything? Do you have a hidden talent? If you could time-travel, when would you visit? What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done? Which three words best describe you? Who is your hero? What would be your dream job? What makes you laugh? How did you come to own your most prized possession? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Are you sunrise, daylight, twilight or nighttime? Who is the most important person in your life? Who or what would you like as an imaginary friend? If you were a vegetable/fruit/animal, what would you be and why? If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? What’s your best chat-up line and when have you used it? Describe the first house you remember living in? Do/did you have pets? What’s the best/worst present you’ve ever been given? What was your favourite toy/book/TV show as a child? What skill would you like to learn? Have you ever been a volunteer? Is there an item of clothing you have lost and still miss? What one thing do you do every day? What is your favourite memory of happiness? What was the first thing you learned to cook, and who taught you? What is the secret to happiness? What would be the title of your autobiography, and why?



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