Tag Archives: Social etiquette


After a long (looong) hiatus, I have been inspired by an old writing buddy to pop back and post about an old, fictional friend. Melanie never ages, so she is still 7ish, but now Sebastian is 7 too; he wasn’t born when she started being 7 in my head. Yesterday we chalked our walk (and those of some friends we are missing!) – the blue writing above it is hard to read but says “We’re in this together”.




When I stuck the last red heart to the living room window it made a complete rainbow of hearts and I couldn’t see so much of the street outside. For a whole week now, we’ve been stuck here, in the house, waiting. Waiting for the government to say we can go out again? Waiting to get bored? That’s happened already. Just waiting, I guess. Every day, I’ve folded and cut and pasted up tissue paper hearts of a different colour. Now the rainbow is done and I’ll have to think of something else to do with the long hours indoors.

Looking out of the window doesn’t help really. There’s nothing to see. A few people wearing those little blue paper masks. They wear those at the hospital a lot, but they’re everywhere. Do they really help? Does the invisible enemy really care about a tiny scrap of paper?

Mrs Mwana has put up a rainbow too. Mrs Mwana always has amazing sweets that she keeps in a little jar and now the wrappers shine their colours across the street. “It’s like hugging,” Mrs Mwana said, “Put something in your window each day and I will do the same. That way we know each other is there.”

I said we should do a rainbow because the rainbow is the symbol of God’s covenant not to kill all the people again in a massive flood. Mrs Mwana doesn’t believe in God, so she said “I’m not sure about God, sweetheart, but this is our covenant. You and me.”

Mrs Mwana’s rainbow has stopped at the orange line. I should go across and check she’s OK, but Daddy said nobody was allowed to go outside or touch each other. It’s why we can’t visit Mummy at the hospital any more. Not even to say goodnight.

I wonder what Mummy is doing right now. Sleeping, probably, Mummy spends a lot of time sleeping. Last week, I was watching Mummy sleeping and I wondered how they would know when she died. Would she really look any different? I asked Mrs Mwana. Mrs Mwana said not to worry, the doctors would know. Then she said “And when it happens, you come and see me so that we can say goodbye to her spirit.”

Except now I can’t even hug Mummy goodnight and I can’t visit Mrs Mwana and if Mummy does die, there’ll be no way to say goodbye to her spirit because I’m locked in this stupid house with this stupid rainbow that doesn’t even block out the weird, broken world or the horrible virus that’s flooding across the planet to kill everyone I love.

I want tear down the hearts, because God broke his covenant and Mrs Mwana broke her covenant or she’s lying dead in her kitchen and can’t even tell me. Then I see something moving in her window. Mrs Mwana is taping red sweet wrappers over the top of the orange ones. She sees me and points upwards to where a cloud catches the light from her sweet wrappers, or maybe it’s God, painting his promise back onto the sky.



Filed under Writing

May I introduce ..?

When writing fiction, it is important to get to know your characters as best you can. In the shortest pieces of writing, this might not involve anything apart from hearing their “voice” in our heads, but with longer works, more is required.

Take, for example, my current novel, Eric. The main characters are Eric himself, who is 50-something and English, and his Mum, Lillian, who is a dementia patient. To ensure that the Eric of chapter 49 sounds the same as the Eric of chapter 3, and different from Lillian (who must also be internally consistent) takes more than just a casual acquaintance with them. Much of this comes in the editing process, but I find it useful to experiment with a few things before the first word hits the page (or at least, early on in the first draft). Many writing guides focus on lists – age, height, favourite food, hair colour, level of education … etc. And that’s all good stuff, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the person does it?

Occasionally, in this blog, I’d like to introduce you to a few exercises I use to get to know my characters better. They are fun and, even if you’re not a writer, you might like to try one on someone you know. Maybe it will even help you understand them better!

When introducing two people at a party, the best introductions involve three pieces of information. First: name; Second: relevant information (eg job title at a business function, relationship to you or the couple at a wedding etc); Third: interesting fact. You get one point for each of these, for each person, a maximum of 6 points in total. But, you get three bonus points if your interesting facts somehow link these two previously unknown people.

Note that this interesting facts should be neither boring nor overly personal. If you introduce two people at a wedding, you don’t share their innermost secrets or insecurities.

To show you how it works, let’s introduce Bob and Matilda to each other.

Bob, this is Matilda (1), she is the bride’s aunt (2) and is addicted to coffee. I once saw her ditch the mug and sit with the cafetiere between her knees. (3). Matilda, this is my best friend(4), Bob (5), he runs a coffee plantation in Bury St Edmunds (6,7,8,9 … we have a winner!).

Bob and Matilda can now be left to talk to each other entirely unaided, because you, the introducer, have given them a clear pointer as to a topic of conversation which will get them under each other’s skin.

Making introductions like this on the fly at parties, is hard work and takes practice. Unless you were planning this meeting, you’re unlikely to have these links worked out in advance. With characters, you can have a little more time to think about it. But here’s my first draft introduction between Eric and Lillian if, hypothetically, they didn’t know each other.

Lillian, this is my main character (1), Eric (2). He’s researching his family history and struggling with just how much he doesn’t know(3). Eric, this is Lillian (4), she’s your mother (5,6,7,8,9!).

Go to it, and feel free to post you favourite introductions (fictional or otherwise) in the comments below!

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Filed under Writing