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December 2022 - Year 24 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Making Short Stories out of Your Life Experiences

Andrew Wright’s professional life in story writing and telling includes publishing with CUP, OUP, Longman, and Helbling Languages. He has written and illustrated for the BBC, ITV and West German TV (WDR). He has worked as a story teller in 50 countries to children and to adults. Andrew Wright’s available books on writing stories: Writing Stories by Andrew Wright and David Hill, published by Helbling Languages in 2008, and Creating Stories with Children by Andrew Wright, published by Oxford University Press in 1997. As for Andrew’s books of short stories (Beggar in Bogota, Larger than Life, It takes all sorts), he did not offer these stories to a publisher because he wanted to decide which stories were included and  wanted to control the visual form of them. Email:



I am particularly interested in the stories which unfold in my everyday life. Here are some of the things I find useful in writing and telling such stories. At the end of the article are three of my stories.

1 My Polish Father

2 He learned to navigate by the stars

3 The broken conservatory

In the article are five of the features which I find useful in making, writing and telling stories. In the article, I give examples of each useful feature taken from these three stories.

I refer to the stories by the numbers I have used to list them, above.


1 Finding stories: the unusual in the usual

I don’t look for stories but things happen and they are sometimes interesting and that makes me want to write them down.  Shame to lose them!  Does that sound familiar? 

Examples of finding the unusual in the usual

1 The extraordinary details the woman gave me in her description of her father.

2 The map of the night sky next to the banker’s desk.

3 The record, ‘I will always love you.’ lying in the yellow grass bending over in the cold wind.


2 Wants, difficulties and struggles

If you want something and go to the nearest shop and buy it there’s not much of a story to tell.  Stories are so often about the struggles of people trying to have what is difficult to have.

Stories are so often, ‘wants’ and ‘struggles to get wants’.

‘So often…’  There can be no final rule about stories!

There are big and small, ‘wants’ and associated difficulties:

Examples of big difficulties

1 The father who wanted to seem to be successful in life but who lived on his wife’s earnings and she was a cleaner.

2 The man who loved the sea and being a sailor but who, at the same time, wanted a home and a family.

3 The home in a paradise but the signs of happy family life coming to an end.

Examples of small difficulties

And there are small difficulties which are so necessary to entice the reader or listener to carry on to see what happens next.

1 ‘’He was so mean with money!  He was amazed if you had a packet of polos and then offered him one….’

2 ‘It was my turn to crouch at the glass and…’

3 ‘No one answered my knocking at the door.  I knocked again.  No movement from the house only the wind…’


3 Senses: see, hear, smell, taste and touch

We want the person and place and others things to be there so we can really see, hear, smell, taste and touch them…(perhaps not all the senses at the same moment!)

Examples of the five senses

1 ‘He used to wear dark-green velvet jackets and white trousers and carry a silver-topped cane.’

1 ‘even a bag of crisps could keep him occupied for hours.’

2 ‘He was thin faced with flat and broad cheekbones…’

2 ‘I learned to navigate by the stars.’

3 ‘…only the wind breathing through the gaps in the dark, dry stone wall….’

3 ‘…bounding vines and fat leaves, were now straggly or dead.’


4 Beginnings and endings

Of course, the body of the story must grip you and that will depend how real the people are and how engaging their struggles are.

But the beginning and ending must play their part as well.  Provocative?  Unusual?  Dramatic?

Examples of ‘Beginnings’

1 ‘…he thought of himself as superior to all of the Poles around him.’

2 ‘Italy.  It was a bank facing the sea…’

3 ‘…small wood…’ ‘The trees…stunted and bent, beaten by the constant winds from the moors…’

Examples of ‘Endings’

1 ‘What is it?  Don’t you care anything about your father?’

2 ‘…whatever it was I had gone into the bank for, I can’t remember.’

3 ‘One of the family, at some time, years ago, had spun the 45 record I had found, arching it across the garden and into the wood.’


5 Language as companion

Of course, language helps us to communicate meaning....But language also offers the immediate sight and sound of itself: prosody; volume, pitch,  intonation, rhythm, stress, softness and harshness and so on.

And this potential of language to contribute sight and sound is particularly important in very short story telling and writing, I believe.

Sight: not included in the examples below would be the graphic and typographic presentation of the text but check: ’sans’ and ’sans serif faces’ and ’bold’.

Examples of language as a living medium and not a mere bearer of meaning

1 ’He was so mean with money.’  ( double alliteration of ’m’ and the contrast of the long, thin,  ’mean’ with the shortness and double bounce of, ’money’.)

2 ’I did so and now I am a banker.’  (so clipped and prosaic) ’...across the sea I sailed on so freely..’  (the occurance of the hissing ’s’...five letters, four graphemes! And the ’e’ in ’sea’ and ’freely’)

3 ’Dead, broken branches stuck out from the trunks of the trees.’ (’b’ and ’t’ alliteration and the rhythm of ’short stick’ single sylllable words.)


My three stories to provide examples of ’useful features’

My Polish Father

My father was Polish, and only had Polish friends. He considered Poles to be superior to the English, and he thought of himself as superior to all of the Poles around him.  He let it be known that he came from a good family.

He was a dandy; he used to wear dark-green velvet jackets and white trousers, and carry a silver-topped cane.  My mother was a machinist in a sweat shop.  My father didn’t have a job; he swanned around London as if he were a rich man, but it was all on her money.

At home, he spent most of the day reading in his room; he kept the door locked.  We had to knock to attract his attention, to call him for meals and so on.  He went to the library four times a week to borrow books, and very occasionally he went to bookshops.  The books were on every subject you could think of: Geology of the Chilterns, The History of the Incas, How to Run a Small Business.  Years after he died, we learned that he told his cronies that he ran a small but prosperous business and, presumably, he used the ideas and language from the book in order to sound convincing.

He was completely bald, and he never had any teeth, not even false teeth, although his face didn’t show it.  But that was why he took so long over his meals; even a bag of crisps could keep him occupied for hours.  Mealtimes had to be on the dot. He had a rigid, unwavering schedule which he branded on every single weekday.  He could be furious if a meal was served even one minute later than his scheduled time.  He got so angry, he shouted and bent stiffly from his hips, hingeing his body up and down as he beat the table.

He very rarely beat us, but I remember he did beat my sister once.  He slapped her so hard she fell over the table, and then he continued to beat her wildly, with his cane, as she lay there.  My mother leaped on his back, trying to strangle him with his white silk cravat, and then she tore at his eyes and his cheeks with her arched finger nails.  I don’t think he ever did beat us again after that.

He never touched us warmly, or put his arm around us, or kissed us.  He showed no love to any of us, including my mother. although I have seen family photographs of me on his knee, and he does seem to be looking at me in a loving sort of a way.

He was so mean with money!  He was amazed if you had a packet of polos and then offered him one.  He went to the cinema once a week.  One of the children had to go with him to keep him awake, because he couldn’t bear the idea of sleeping through a film he had paid for.  He would rather pay the extra for one of us to be with him than for that to happen.

He always drank tea with lemon.  He kept lemon segments and used each one for five cups of tea.  If you washed his cup and saucer by mistake and threw his lemon away, he would go crazy.

He was a very tidy person. He cleaned and swept every part of the house that he used: his room, the bathroom, the toilet, and the kitchen.  He would kneel for ages picking up threads which the vacuum cleaner had left behind. He wore a long, white, heavy apron when he was doing his housework.

At night, he used to undress in the kitchen.  I don’t know why, but he always did. At 9.30, he went upstairs and brought down his pyjamas and dressing gown: the pyjamas and dressing gown were always made of silk.  Then, he took all his clothes off.  He did this slowly, as if he had nothing more to do and he wanted to make the most of it.  He held up each bit of clothing, shook and folded it, and lay it over one particular chair back..  He stripped right down until he was naked.  Then he always put on his pyjamas jacket first, slowly buttoning it up, and then he put on his pyjamas trousers, and then his dressing gown.

When I was a teenager, I used to be horrified at the thought of visitors coming when my father was undressing.  I knew there was no stopping him.  It was as inevitable as the occurrence of 9.30 itself.

When he died, all the family and friends smothered his stiff, pale face with kisses, and they sobbed and wrenched themselves about, even people who had hated him.  I couldn’t do it.  My mother said, “What is it?  Don’t you care anything about your father?”


He learned to navigate by the stars

Italy.  It was a bank facing the sea, only a promenade separating it from the beach.  I went in and queued. 

It was my turn to half crouch at the glass and to speak to the bank clerk.  He was thin faced with flat and broad cheek bones like the curving boards on a wooden boat.


But my attention was caught by the large coloured poster of the night sky fastened to the partition on his desk separating him from his colleague.

“Excuse me, please.  I can’t speak Italian. Your map of the stars is so beautiful!”

He looked at me through the small arched hole in the glass, intently, with very dark eyes.

“I used to be a sailor: the captain of a ship.  I learned to navigate by the stars.   Of course, we used modern technology but I was proud that I could navigate by the stars using a sextant like my forebears.  I travelled the seas under the heavens for twenty years but I lost my first wife.  Life with a seaman was not for her.

“I was torn.  I am a seaman but also a family man. I felt I had been a seaman for many years but must be willing to give up that life and be a family man.

“I did so and now I am a banker.  But when there are no customers I can see through the bank door or the windows across the sea I sailed on so freely and I can look at the poster of the stars and half closing my eyes imagine myself on the bridge of my ship once again.”

Did I remember to carry out my transaction, whatever it was I had gone into the bank for?  I can’t remember.


The broken conservatory

I was walking in a small wood near the farmhouse where the Lee family used to live on the Chatsworth Estate, in Derbyshire.  The trees in the wood were pines, stunted and bent, beaten by constant winds from the moors.  Dead, broken branches stuck out from the trunks of the trees.  On the ground beneath the trees were more broken branches overgrown with thin, yellowing grass, bending over in the cold wind. 

In the web of grass, I saw an old 45 record and pulled it out.  The title was, 'I will always love you.'

The conservatory, at the back of the farmhouse where the Lee family had lived, was broken down: broken window panes, peeling paint on the wooden frame.  The plants in the conservatory, once a deep, rich green with bounding vines and fat leaves, were now straggly or dead.

No one answered my knocking at the door. I knocked again.  No movement from the house only the wind breathing through the gaps in the dark, dry stone wall of the kitchen garden behind me.

I peered through the end window of the farmhouse, into the sitting room.  A self-portrait by Terry stared solemnly out of the shadows of the room.  Just distinguishable to the right was one of Rosie's pictures of the yew maze at Chatsworth with a darting, naked figure running for sanctuary…somewhere.

They had loved each other.  It had been an ideal family: Terry and Rosie, two long haired painters. Rosie in long skirts and their three sons with faces like eggs, nested in long, fair hair.  They spent their daylight hours padding in and out of the house, in and out of the wood and fields and across the wild moors like young foxes.

Fragile!  One of the family, at some time, years ago, had spun the 45 record I had found, arcing it across the garden and into the wood. 


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Tagged  Creativity Group