Writing Activity: Describe The Outside Of A House


People took porches and porch time for granted back then. Everybody had porches; they were nothing special. An outdoor room halfway between the world of the street and the world of the home. If the porch wrapped around the house as the Abbotts’ did, there were different worlds on the front, side, and back porch. If you were laid up on the side porch the way the Ya-Yas were in the picture, you were private, comfortably cloistered. The side porch — that’s where the Ya-Yas went if their hair was in pin curls, when they didn’t want to wave and chat to passersby. This is where they sighed, this is where they dreamed. This is where they lay for hours, contemplating their navels, sweating, dozing, swatting flies, trading secrets there on the porch in a hot, humid girl soup. And in the evening when the sun went down, the fireflies would light up over by the camellias, and that little nimbus of light would lull the Ya-Yas even deeper into porch reveries. Reveries that would linger in their bodies even as they aged.

from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

There isn’t much to be said about a porch itself there’s little furniture, no wall-hangings, and little to distinguish one porch from any other architecturally. So the author writes about all the people who inhabit the porch, and evokes an atmosphere via character memories.


The novel opens via the viewpoint character of a wolf, who starts in the forest then happens upon a house, taking the reader into civilisation. Wolves would not be able to describe a house in the following way, but a few details suggest a wolfish, and therefore forbidding, lens.

Notice too how Sparks takes the ‘camera’ from the porch to the inside, led by the cry of the baby, through the veil of curtains.

[The small ranch house] had been built on elevated ground above the bend of a creek whose bends bristled with willow and chokecherry. There were barns to one side and white-fenced corals. The house itself was a clapboard, freshly painted a deep oxblood. Along its southern side ran a porch that now, as the sun elbowed into the mountains, was bathed in a last glow of golden light. The windows along the porch had been opened wide and net curtains stirred in what passed for a breeze.

From somewhere inside floated the babble of a radio and maybe it was this that made it hard for whoever was at home to hear the crying of the baby. The dark blue buggy on the porch rocked a little and a pair of pink arms stretched craving for attention from its rim. But no one came. And at last, distracted by the play of sunlight on his hands and forearms, the baby gave up and began to coo instead.

The only one who heard was the wolf.

The Loop, Nicholas Evans


Frank Blackwell Mayer - Independence (Squire Jack Porter)
Frank Blackwell Mayer – Independence (Squire Jack Porter)
Carl Larsson dog on front steps
Carl Larsson dog on front steps
Continue reading “Writing Activity: Describe The Outside Of A House”

Writing Activity: Describe Main Street Of A Small Town

Stean Dohanos, Main Street


On weekends and evenings, whenever he was free, Levinson liked nothing better than to explore the streets of his town. Main Street was always alive, but that wasn’t the only part of town with an energy you could feel. On residential streets, houses displayed new roofs, renovated porches, bigger windows, fancier doors; in outlying neighborhoods, empty tracts of land blossomed with medical buildings, supermarkets, family restaurants. During early visits to the town, he’d seen a field of bramble bushes with a sluggish stream change into a flourishing shopping plaza, where stores shaded by awnings faced a parking lot studded with tree islands and flower beds, and shortly after his move he’d watched, day after day, as a stretch of woods at the west end of town was cut down and transformed into a community of stone-and-shingle houses on smooth streets lined with purple-leaved Norway maples. You could always find something new in this town—something you weren’t expecting. His city friends, skeptics and mockers all, could say what they liked about the small-town doldrums, the backwater blues, but that didn’t prevent them from coming up for the weekend, and even they seemed surprised at the vitality of the place, with its summer crowds, its merry-go-round in the park, its thronged farmers’ market, and, wherever you looked, on curbsides and street corners, in vacant lots and fenced-off fields, men and machines at work: front-end loaders lifting dirt into dump trucks, excavators digging their toothed buckets into the earth, truck-mounted cranes unfolding, rising, stretching higher and higher into the sky.

“Coming Soon”, Steven Millhauser

In the description below, author Nicholas Evans describes a small town first from a long shot point of view then, as the driver (Dan) drives into the town we see it as he would from a car window. The description of a ‘blink and you miss it’ town is not original, but the verb ‘fishboned’ is. By listing the shops, Evans gives us a good idea of the population of this town — their needs, their desires, and then injects a touch of irreverent humour by putting churches and bars into the same category.


In the far distance now, Dan saw the town looming. It was the kind of town you could drive through and barely know you’d been there. One straight street, a couple of hundred yards long, fishboned with a few side alleys. At one end stood a rundown motel and at the other a school, and in between you could find a gas station, a grocery, a hardware store, a diner, a laundromat and a taxidermist.

Many of the town’s five hundred or so population lived scattered along the valley and to service their various spiritual needs there were two churches and two bars. There were also two gift shops, which said more about optimism than sound business sense; for although summer tourists often passed through Hope, few chose to longer.

In an attempt to remedy this and to meet demand from the modest but growing band of subdivision newcomers, one of these shops (and by far the better) had last year installed a cappuccino bar.

The Loop, Nicholas Evans


Using imagery from two or more of the images below and write a description of a Main Street.

Continue reading “Writing Activity: Describe Main Street Of A Small Town”

Writing Activity: Describe a Market

Every Saturday morning all summer long, the parking lot across the street from me is transformed. Friday night, it’s full of sports cars and sparsely moustached, beer-guzzling boys with cell phones and car stereos that shake the glass of my front windows, but come Saturday morning at eight, it’s a farmer’s market. There is the fey fella selling homemade dog biscuits, the family-run fireweed honey corporation, the lesbian cheese makers from Salspring Island, a gumpy poter, and a sunburnt man selling bundles of organic mustard greens and butter lettuce. You can buy cherries and maple syrup, visit the latte wagon, and get gardening advice. You can sign petitions and join a jam-making group that donates to the food bank. There are face painters and banjo players. People wear sandals and the dogs rarely get into fights, because everyone is too busy saying hello and showing off their new bedding plants. Yard sales spring up spontaneously on street corners.

Ivan Coyote, One In Every Crowd, opening to “Saturdays and Cowboy Hats”
Johann Mongles Culverhouse - Moonlit Market
Johann Mongles Culverhouse – Moonlit Market
'A Fishmarket in Venice' Postcard illustrator unknown
‘A Fishmarket in Venice’ Postcard illustrator unknown
Achiel Van Sassenbrouck market
Achiel Van Sassenbrouck
Mr. Jollys sidewalk market, 1963 illustrator, Laura Jean Allen
Mr. Jollys sidewalk market, 1963 illustrator, Laura Jean Allen
Jane Werner (1914-2005) and Cornelius De Witt (1925-1970) collaborated and produced this 1949 book called- Words How They Look and What They Tell market
Jane Werner (1914-2005) and Cornelius De Witt (1925-1970) collaborated and produced this 1949 book called- Words How They Look and What They Tell
The Ladybird Book Of Bedtime Stories Geoffrey Lapage, Illustrations George Brook (Wills & Hepworth Ltd., Loughborough UK, 9th edition 1950)  market
The Ladybird Book Of Bedtime Stories Geoffrey Lapage, Illustrations George Brook (Wills & Hepworth Ltd., Loughborough UK, 9th edition 1950) market
Charles E. Martin, New Yorker cover illustration, 1976
Charles E. Martin, New Yorker cover illustration, 1976
Helen Jacobs (American, 1888–1970) The Fairy Market
Helen Jacobs (American, 1888–1970) The Fairy Market
Florence Harrison, 1877-1955, Australia, UK, Fairy Peddlars market fruit
Florence Harrison, 1877-1955, Australia, UK, Fairy Peddlars market
Winter scene by Anton Pieck, Dutch (1895-1986)
Winter scene by Anton Pieck, Dutch (1895-1986)
Anton Franciscus Pieck (19 April 1895 – 24 November 1987) night market
Anton Franciscus Pieck (19 April 1895 – 24 November 1987)
Anton Franciscus Pieck (19 April 1895 – 24 November 1987) European market winter Christmas
Anton Franciscus Pieck (19 April 1895 – 24 November 1987) European market

Which novels are Australian high school English students studying?

This list is collected from online chats about children’s books. Comments are from teachers who have used these books in class in 2020.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas — American. Huge success with Years 9 and 10s. “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.”

Beyond Belief by Dee White — marketed at readers over 10 years old but works with Year 10s. “Inspired by the true story of Muslims who saved the lives of Jewish children in the Second World War. In 1942, in the Grand Mosque in Paris, 11-year-old Ruben is hiding from the Nazis. Already thousands of Jewish children have disappeared, and Rubens parents are desperately trying to find his sister. Ruben must learn how to pass himself off as a Muslim, while he waits for the infamous Fox to help him get to Spain to be reunited with his family. One hint of Ruben’s true identity and he’ll be killed. So will the people trying to save him. But when the mosque is raided and the Fox doesn’t come, Ruben is forced to flee. Finding himself in the south of France, he discovers that he must adjust to a new reality, and to the startling revelation of the Fox’s true identity.”

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell, Fiona Wood — Australian. Written by three different authors. “ADY – not the confident A-Lister she appears to be. KATE – brainy boarder taking risks to pursue the music she loves. CLEM – disenchanted swim-star losing her heart to the wrong boy. All are targeted by PSST, a toxic website that deals in gossip and lies. St Hilda’s antidote to the cyber-bullying? The Year 10 Wellness program. Nice try – but sometimes all it takes is three girls.”

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon — Australian. “Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of a distant homeland, Subhi has only ever known life behind the fences. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment. The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie—a scruffy, impatient girl who appears on the other side of the wire fence and brings with her a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it herself, she relies on Subhi to unravel her family’s love songs and tragedies. Subhi and Jimmie might both find comfort—and maybe even freedom—as their tales unfold. But not until each has been braver than ever before.”

Detention by Tristan Bancks — Australian. Year 7. “Sima and her family are pressed to the rough, cold ground among fifty others. They lie next to the tall fence designed to keep them in. The wires are cut one by one. When they make their escape, a guard raises the alarm. Shouting, smoke bombs, people tackled to the ground. In the chaos Sima loses her parents. Dad told her to run, so she does, hiding in a school and triggering a lockdown. A boy, Dan, finds her hiding in the toilet block. What should he do? Help her? Dob her in? She’s breaking the law, but is it right to lock kids up? And if he helps, should Sima trust him? Or run?”

When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah — Australian. Deals with serious topics without suicide, self-harm and sexual assault. An uplifting read. (Themes: race, class, gender, refugees, the role of media). Year 10. “When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides. Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre. Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.”

Lion: a Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley — Australian. Comes in movie, adult, younger reader and picture book versions. “Can you imagine being lost and not finding your way home again?Saroo Brierley became lost on a train in India at the age of five. Not knowing the name of his family or where he was from, he survived for weeks on the streets of Kolkata, before being taken into an orphanage and adopted by a family in Australia.Despite being happy in his new home, Saroo always wondered about his origins. He spent hours staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall. He pored over satellite images on Google Earth seeking out landmarks he recognised. And one day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for.Then he set off on a journey back to India to see if he could find his mother.This inspirational true story of survival and triumph against incredible odds is now a major motion picture starring Dev Patel, David Wenham and Nicole Kidman.This edition has been specially edited for younger readers who want to discover Saroo’s extraordinary story for themselves.”

When The Ground Is Hard by Malla Nunn — Australian. “Edgar Award nominee stuns in this heartrending tale set in a Swaziland boarding school where two girls of different castes bond over a shared copy of Jane Eyre. Adele Joubert loves being one of the popular girls at Keziah Christian Academy. She knows the upcoming semester at school is going to be great with her best friend Delia at her side. Then Delia dumps her for a new girl with more money, and Adele is forced to share a room with Lottie, the school pariah, who doesn’t pray and defies teachers’ orders. But as they share a copy of Jane Eyre, Lottie’s gruff exterior and honesty grow on Adele, and Lottie learns to be a little sweeter. Together, they take on bullies and protect each other from the vindictive and prejudiced teachers. Then a boy goes missing on campus and Adele and Lottie must rely on each other to solve the mystery and maybe learn the true meaning of friendship.”

Lost Souls Atlas by Zana Fraillon — Australian. “A boy awakens in the Afterlife, with a pocketful of vague memories, a key, a raven, and a mysterious Atlas to guide him as he sets out to piece together the mystery of his final moments”.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley — Australian. Not younger than Year 10 because of the ‘kissing bits’. “In this beautiful love story from the author of “Graffiti Moon, ” two teens find their way back to each other in a bookstore full of secrets and crushes, grief and hope–and letters hidden between the pages.”

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller — Indigenous Australian with paranormal elements. ” Stacey and Laney are twins – mirror images of each other – and yet they’re as different as the sun and moon. Stacey works hard at school, determined to get out of their small town. Laney skips school and sneaks out of the house to meet her boyfriend. But when Laney disappears one night, Stacey can’t believe she’s just run off without telling her. As the days pass and Laney doesn’t return, Stacey starts dreaming of her twin. The dreams are dark and terrifying, difficult to understand and hard to shake, but at least they tell Stacey one key thing – Laney is alive. It’s hard for Stacey to know what’s real and what’s imagined and even harder to know who to trust. All she knows for sure is that Laney needs her help. Stacey is the only one who can find her sister. Will she find her in time?”

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke — Afro-Caribbean Australian. Studied with Year 12s. Might work with younger years. “In this collection of award-winning stories, Melbourne writer Maxine Beneba Clarke has given a voice to the disenfranchised, the lost, the downtrodden and the mistreated. It will challenge you, it will have you by the heartstrings.”

Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina — Year 10. Australian. “An extraordinary thriller, told from the perspective of two Aboriginal protagonists, which weaves together themes of grief, colonial history, violence, love and family. Nothing’s been the same for Beth Teller since she died. Her dad, a detective, is the only one who can see and hear her, and he’s drowning in grief. Only a suspected murder, and a mystery to solve, might save them both. And they have a potential witness: Isobel Catching. Aboriginal by birth, like Beth, she seems lost and isolated in the world. But as the two get closer, Isobel’s strange tale of glass-eyed monsters and stolen colours will intertwine with Beth’s investigation – and reveal something dark and terrible at the heart of this Australian town.”

Parvana by Deborah Ellis — Comes in a graphic novel. “There are many types of battle in Afghanistan. Imagine living in a country where women and girls are not allowed to leave the house without a man. Imagine having to wear clothes that cover every part of your body, including your face, whenever you go out. This is the life of Parvana, a young girl growing up in Afghanistan under the control of an extreme religious military group. When soldiers burst into her home and drag her father off to prison, Parvana is forced to take responsibility for her whole family, dressing as a boy to make a living in the marketplace of Kabul, risking her life in the dangerous and volatile city. By turns exciting and touching, Parvana is a story of courage in the face of overwhelming fear and repression.”

The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary L. Blackwood — Good introduction to a Shakespeare unit. Short. “Widge is an orphan with a rare talent for shorthand. His fearsome master has just one demand: steal Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”–or else. Widge has no choice but to follow orders, so he works his way into the heart of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s players perform. As full of twists and turns as a London alleyway, this entertaining novel is rich in period details, colorful characters, villainy, and drama.”

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins — is still being taught. There’s plenty of teaching material out there on this.

A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park — Aimed at Year 7 but younger kids tend to love it. “In 1985, southern Sudan is ravaged by war. Rebels and government forces battle for control, with ordinary people — people like the boy, Salva Dut — caught in the middle. When Salva’s village is attacked, he must embark on a harrowing journey that will propel him through horror and heartbreak, across a harsh desert, and into a strange new life.”

Writing Activity: Describe A Park Or Playground

Henry Nelson O'Neil - A Picnic

They drove a couple of miles down a rough country road—having turned off the highway and then off a decent unpaved country road—and found a place for cars to park, with no cars in it at present. A sign was painted on a board and needed retouching: “caution. deep-holes.

Alice Munro, “Deep Holes

Kenopsia: The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.

Continue reading “Writing Activity: Describe A Park Or Playground”

Writing Activity: Describe The Theatre

The Rossini Opera House (r.) Pesaro - Illustration by Achille Vildi, 1969

Suburban cinemas were often pretty comfortless places. While the entrance could be quite imposing with the box office generally at the top of a flight of white marble steps, presumably to accommodate the rake, the auditorium itself was often not much more than a hangar, the aisle carpeted but he seats on lino or even bare concrete. Wartime meant there was no ice cream but enroute to the cinema we would generally call at a sweet shop and get what Dad called ‘some spice’, provided, of course, we had the points, sweet rationing the most irksome of wartime restrictions and still in force as late as 1952 when I went in the army.

Alan Bennett
Continue reading “Writing Activity: Describe The Theatre”

Writing Activity: Describe A Church

Elisabeth Sonrel (1874 - 1953)

The church was a large and lonely one, and we loved to go there, especially upon bright nights. The path skirted a wood, cut through it once, and ran along the crest of the hill through two meadows, and round the churchyard wall, over which the old yews loomed in black masses of shadow. This path, which was partly paved, was called “the bier-balk,” for it had long been the way by which the corpses had been carried to burial. The churchyard was richly treed, and was shaded by great elms which stood just outside and stretched their majestic arms in benediction over the happy dead. A large, low porch let one into the building by a Norman doorway and a heavy oak door studded with iron. Inside, the arches rose into darkness, and between them the reticulated windows, which stood out white in the moonlight. In the chancel, the windows were of rich glass, which showed in faint light their noble colouring, and made the black oak of the choir pews hardly more solid than the shadows. But on each side of the altar lay a grey marble figure of a knight in full plate armour lying upon a low slab, with hands held up in everlasting prayer, and these figures, oddly enough, were always to be seen if there was any glimmer of light in the church. Their names were lost, but the peasants told of them that they had been fierce and wicked men, marauders by land and sea, who had been the scourge of their time, and had been guilty of deeds so foul that the house they had lived in—the big house, by the way, that had stood on the site of our cottage—had been stricken by lightning and the vengeance of Heaven. But for all that, the gold of their heirs had bought them a place in the church. Looking at the bad hard faces reproduced in the marble, this story was easily believed.

Man-Size in Marble by E. Nesbit
Frederic Edwin Church - View of Olana in the Snow New York America
Frederic Edwin Church – View of Olana in the Snow New York America
Andrew Loomis (1892–1959) singing church
Andrew Loomis (1892–1959)
1959 cover by Dick Sargent
1959 cover by Dick Sargent
Henry Bacon - Christmas Prayers church
Henry Bacon – Christmas Prayers
Henry Bacon - Pay Attention
Henry Bacon – Pay Attention
Mary Whyte - South Carolina, USA  Sunday morning devotion - watercolor church
Mary Whyte – South Carolina, USA Sunday morning devotion – watercolor
Joseph Christian Leyendecker (American artist) 1874 - 1951 Easter church service 1918
Joseph Christian Leyendecker (American artist) 1874 – 1951 Easter church service 1918
Charles Dana Gibson 1925 Church
Charles Dana Gibson 1925 Church
Grant Wood, American, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931)
Grant Wood, American, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931)
Nils Hans Christiansen (Danish, 1850 - 1922) Walking to Evening Church in the Snow
Nils Hans Christiansen (Danish, 1850 – 1922) Walking to Evening Church in the Snow
by Anton Franciscus Pieck (19 April 1895 – 24 November 1987) cathedral
by Anton Franciscus Pieck (19 April 1895 – 24 November 1987)
Cornelius Krieghoff - Village Scene in Winter
Cornelius Krieghoff – Village Scene in Winter
Babar Took Them to See the Cathedral of Notre-Dame
Babar Took Them to See the Cathedral of Notre-Dame

Philip Richard Morris - The Christening Party
Philip Richard Morris – The Christening Party
Louis Remy Mignot - Church at Dusk
Louis Remy Mignot – Church at Dusk
Emanuel Church, Lyons Plain Road, Weston, Connecticut 1957 New Yorker cover
Emanuel Church, Lyons Plain Road, Weston, Connecticut 1957 New Yorker cover
New Yorker cover by Garrett Price night delivery church
New Yorker cover by Garrett Price

Header painting is by Elisabeth Sonrel (1874 – 1953)

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Writing Activity: Describe Medical Rooms and Hospitals

William Simpson - One of the wards of the hospital at Scutari 1856

Medical rooms and hospitals are safe, infantalising, dangerous, creepy, life-saving, traumatising places, and I offer them here as examples of what Foucault called ‘heterotopia‘.

The hospital’s ambiguous relationship to everyday social space has long been a central theme of hospital ethnography. Often, hospitals are presented either as isolated “islands’ defined by biomedical regulation of space (and time) or as continuations and reflections of everyday social space that are very much a part of the “mainland.’ This polarization of the debate overlooks hospitals’ paradoxical capacity to be simultaneously bounded and permeable, both sites of social control and spaces where alternative and transgressive social orders emerge and are contested. We suggest that Foucault’s concept of heterotopia usefully captures the complex relationships between order and disorder, stability and instability that define the hospital as a modernist institution of knowledge, governance, and improvement.

Heterotopia Studies
Shutter Island landscape poster
In 1954, a U.S. Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderer who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane, making use of hospital as island symbolism.

Hospitals (like airports) elicit the full range of human emotion and are symbolically useful arenas for storytellers. Who better than writers to describe what it feels like to be inside a hospital?

I followed [the psychiatrist] down a depressing hallway into a tiny windowless office that might have housed an accountant. In fact it reminded me a bit of Myron Axel’s closet, filled with piles of paper waiting to be filed, week-old cups of coffee turned into science experiments, and a litter of broken umbrellas nesting beneath the desk.

I must have looked as surprised as I felt when I entered her office, for Rowena Adler looked at the utilitarian clutter about her and said, “I’m sorry about this mess. I’m so used to it. I forget how it looks.”

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron
Samuel Richards - Evangeline Discovering Her Affianced in the Hospital
Samuel Richards – Evangeline Discovering Her Affianced in the Hospital

The author may have enjoyed writing that description because at James Sveck’s next appointment they are in a different room.

Dr Adler’s downtown office was a pleasanter place than her space at the Medical Center, but it wasn’t the sun-filled haven I had imagined. It was a rather small dark office in a suite of what I assumed were several small dark offices on the ground floor of an old apartment building on Tenth Street. In addition to her desk and chair there was a divan, another chair, a ficus tree, and some folkloric-looking weavings on the wall. And a bookcase of dreary books. I could tell they were all nonfiction because they all had titles divided by colons: Blah Blah Blah: The Blah Blah Blah of Blah Blah Blah. There was one window that probably faced an airshaft because the rattan shade was lowered in a way that suggested it was never raised. The walls were painted a pale yellow, in an obvious (but unsuccessful) attempt to “brighten up” the room.

The description of James’ psychiatrist’s rooms is broken up, judiciously, and fits around the action. James’ reaction to the rooms reflects how he feels about life at this juncture: He expected better. He expected different; instead he gets this underwhelming life.

I looked around her office. I know it sounds terrible, but I was discouraged by the ordinariness, the expectedness, of it. It was as if there was a catalog for therapists to order a complete office from: furniture, carpet, wall hangings, even the ficus tree seemed depressingly generic. Like one of those little paper pellets you put in water that puffs up and turns into a lotus blossom. This was like a puffed-up shrink’s office.

In a book of essays, Tim Kreider’s description of hospitals is one of the best I’ve encountered:

Hospitals are like the landscapes in recurring dreams: forgotten as though they’d never existed in the interims between visits, but instantly familiar once you return. As if they’ve been there all along, waiting for you while you’ve been away. The endlessly branching corridors sand circular nurses’ stations all look identical, like some infinite labyrinth in a Borges story. It takes a day or two to memorize the route from the lobby to your room. The innocuous landscape paintings that seem to have been specifically commissioned to leave no impression on the human brain are perversely seared into your long-term memory. You pass doorways through which you can occasionally see a bunch of Mylar balloons or a pair of pale, withered legs. Hospital beds are now just as science fiction predicted, with the patient’s vital signs digitally displayed overhead. Nurses no longer wear the white hose and red-cross caps of cartoons and pornography, but scrubs printed with patterns so relentlessly cheerful—hearts, teddy bears, suns and flowers and peace signs—they seem symptomatic of some Pollyannish denial. The smell of hospitals is like small talk at a funeral—you know its function is to cover up something else. There’s a grim camaraderie in the hall and elevators. You don’t have to ask anybody how they’re doing. The fact that they’re there at all means the answer is: Could be better. I notice that no one who works in a hospital, whose responsibilities are matters of life and death, ever seems hurried or frantic, in contrast to all the freelance cartoonists and podcasters I know.

Time moves differently in  hospitals—both slower and faster. The minutes stand still, but the hours evaporate. The day is long and structureless, measured only by the taking of vital signs, the changing of IV bags, medication schedules, occasional tests, mealtimes, trips to the bathroom, walks in the corridor. Once a day an actual doctor appears for about four minutes, and what she says during this time can either leave you and your family in terrified confusion or so reassured and grateful that you want to write her a thank-you note she’ll have framed. You cadge six-ounce cans of ginger ale from the nurses’ station. You no longer need to look at the menu in the diner across the street. You substitute meat loaf for bacon with your eggs. Why not? Breakfast and lunch are diurnal conventions that no longer apply to you. Sometimes you run errands back home for a cell phone or extra clothes. Eventually you look at your watch and realize visiting hours are almost over, and feel relieved, and then guilty.

Tim Kreider, “An Insult To The Brain”, We Learn Nothing
Margaret Mary Tempest (1892–1982) was a British illustrator and author

It’s a fact known throughout the universes that no matter how carefully the colours are chosen, institutional décor ends up either vomit green, unmentionable brown, nicotene yellow or surgical appliance pink.

Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites

They are now the only two people in the upstairs waiting room of the dental clinic. The seats are a pale mint-green colour. Marianne leafs through an issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and explores her mouth with the tip of her tongue. Connell looks at the magazine cover, a photograph of a monkey with huge eyes. 

from “At The Clinic” by Sally Rooney


What’s It Like To Work In A Psych Hospital? is a podcast from Psych Central with someone who explains how psychiatric hospitals are traumatising for everyone in and around them, not just for the patients.

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Header painting: William Simpson – One of the wards of the hospital at Scutari 1856

Home » Classroom Use

Creative Writing Prompts from Photos


from @DoWise

  1. Go beyond the picture; use it as a stimuls; don’t be constrained by it.
  2. Start with a wide focus and then zoom in on specific details
  3. Flashback and then jump forward if it fits your narrative to do so
  4. Craft the way you start some of your sentences (e.g. triple-noun-colon)
  5. Vary the length of some of your sentences (don’t overuse one-worders)
  6. Proof-read your work; always be meticulous
  7. Try to finish your narrative by refocusing on the image

Unsplash is a website offering free, high quality images for blogs and whatnot. Sometimes when I’m looking for something else, I linger on certain images, wondering about the context, wondering what else is going on outside the frame. These are the photos I want to save for creative writing prompts.


Photo by Jacob Rank on Unsplash

This story would (non-ironically) be horror or at least fantasy, though the writer could flip it and write comedy.

As it is, the coffee drinking guy seems unaware of what’s happening right outside the window, which puts the audience in superior position.

This is that old Hitchcockian trick of showing the audience there’s a bomb under the table, but not showing the character:

“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

― Alfred Hitchcock

We are fascinated by chicken body parts, in general. At least in the West, we’re a little grossed out by their feet. This is an age-old attitude and has surely influenced stories such as the Baba Yaga category of folk tale.

The glass and chicken-leg photo could prompt a modern Baba Yaga story in which writers practise the Hitchcockian technique of writing suspense (rather than surprise).


white lady looks out of a window

Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash

Do you know your neighbours? Do you really, though?


a baby elephant walks past an outdoor dining set

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

This baby elephant looks sad to me. I’m thinking of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’m also thinking of that 1980s tearjerker film about Bette Midler and her best friend — Beaches — specifically that harrowing, resonant scene in which the teenage girl invites other girls to her birthday party. All the frenemies bow out at the last minute, phoning her one after the other, each with a bogus excuse. They have gathered somewhere else.

What about your take?


man flies above his bed

If you could wake up with a super power what would it be? The ability to fly has been part of wish fulfilment stories since forever. What would you actually do, though, if you could fly? Would you let everyone know about this newfound ability, or would you keep it under wraps? Are you scared of heights? Is there some way you could put this skill to good use, Super-man style? Or maybe it only gets you into trouble, Icarus style.


man in hoodie at night with his reflection in puddle

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

It can be super fun to play with mirrors and reflections in storytelling.

When I look at this photo, I feel like the puddle is a portal. The photographer has foregrounded it. At the very least, this guy has a double life.