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03 December 2019

#WriteCBC – Three Wise Writers: 1. Sandi Toksvig

Sandi Toksvig
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

We are SO EXCITED to bring you our #WriteCBC Christmas special, which we’re festively calling Three Wise Writers. Across three Tuesdays, three fabulous authors will each be offering you a writing tip and setting you a writing task on Twitter @cbcreative. You’ll then have 24 hours to post your response to the task as a tweet, and each week we’ll be giving away a place on one of our 6-week online writing courses to the winner; £50 discounts off the 6-week courses to two runners-up – and a few free books to some ‘highly commended’ entrants. Take a look at this blog for further explanation of how it all works. And then it’s eyes down for the tip and task from our first Wise Writer – the utterly splendid Sandi Toksvig!

If you were a child in the 1980s like me, you’re likely to have first encountered Sandi Toksvig OBE in the unforgettable guise of ‘Ethel’ in the long-running ITV children’s television programme Number 73. Or perhaps, more recently, you saw her on TV in Call my Bluff or Whose Line is it Anyway, or hosting QI … If you’re a Radio 4 listener, you’ll doubtless have heard her presenting The News Quiz, which she did for ten years – or you’ll know her as an activist who co-founded the Women’s Equality Party. But besides all that, Sandi is also an acclaimed and prolific writer, who has published more than twenty fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. Her latest is a memoir – Between the Stops – which came out just a few weeks ago – and it’s this new book that brings us nicely to her #WriteCBC tip and task …

Sandi’s writing tip:

My new memoir uses the views from my bus journey as jumping-off points to help me tell my story and give it shape. Remember, stories can come out of everyday life and routine, and from the smallest crumbs of experience   fiction as well as memoir.

Sandi’s tip highlights two key points for the writer:

1. The first point is about the usefulness of finding a clear structure to help you organise your material and tell your story. In Sandi’s book, the number 12 bus journey becomes a strong organising principle and gives shape to her narrative. It’s a journey that runs through many years of Sandi’s life. The London that the bus passes through – the places Sandi has got on and off over the years and the other passengers and passers-by – these provide the perfect jumping-off points for story, and allow Sandi to move nimbly around in her narrative. If you’re struggling to tell your story, whether it’s a memoir or indeed a work of fiction, it could be well worth considering if there is an element of your material that could help you to frame your story and give it structure – while also freeing you up from the restrictions of slavish chronological order.

2. And the second point is about how stories can flow from even the smallest and most workaday experiences. We’ve of course all heard the “write what you know” mantra – though I’m the very last person to tell you that you should in any way limit your ability to dream up stories, characters and places by forcing yourself to write within the frame of your life experience. BUT we should all remember, as writers, to draw on our experience when it’s useful for our fiction. Something strange that you saw on a bus journey last week could spark a whole story. Perhaps a character that you’re writing about could be fleshed out through being given some of your own memories and experiences – even if that character lives in Tudor England or 100 years in the future. Something as small as a crack in your garden wall that’s been there for years can take you in the most interesting of directions in your writing.

Sandi’s writing task:

Write a mini-scene which uses, as its jumping-off point, something you’ve noticed on a journey you’ve made today. If you haven’t gone anywhere today, use a moment or observation from walking around the house or from your chair/bed

So now it’s time to go for it! Think hard about where you’ve been today – did something memorable happen on your journey? What or who did you see who attracted your attention? Was there smoke rising from a building you walked past? Did you see somebody carrying furniture out of a house and loading it into a van? How about the animals  – the dogs being walked, the lone magpie in the tree, the fox that darted by? Maybe there was an advert on the bus or tube that you found yourself staring at, and which annoyed you? Whatever it was that you saw, heard, smelled, touched or tasted on your journey – or perhaps spotted through your window if you haven’t left the house – see if you can spin a tweet-length story from it. We’re looking forward to reading your entries.

Our first festive #3WiseWriters #WriteCBC winner is Jenny Moore @JennyWriteMoore!

Erin kicked at the dead pigeon, sending pearls of dew shimmering across the grass.

“Don’t,” said Lisa. “There might be maggots.”

But Erin was too busy watching the boy in the torn jeans to worry about maggots. Watching and waiting. Willing him to kick it back to her.

We really enjoyed the way that Jenny transformed the macabre and usually mundane pigeon into a token of young love in this mini-scene. The real life observations from the shimmering dew to the boys torn jeans help this piece really grab transport the reader.

Congratulations Jenny, you’ve one a free place on the six-week course of your choice!

Well done to our runners-up Marissa Hoffmann @Hoffmannwriter and Rachael H @Shoequeeny. You both win a £50 course discount to be used on the six-week course of your choice.

For in-depth advice, writing tasks to help you hone your skills, a forum to share material with fellow students and the chance to get a report on your work, take a look at our six-week online courses, all of which start in January: Work on your life story with bestselling memoirist Cathy Rentzenbrink in Writing a Memoir; craft a short story with award-winning Cynan Jones in Writing Short Stories  – or get going on your novel with CBC’s MD Anna Davis in our three courses to take you from first idea to final pitch: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit and Pitch Your Novel

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