Saturday 2 January 2021

Bury Art Museum Workshop Extra - writing by numbers


This is something to try at home. Make yourself a grid like this one Dawn made:




Main character 

Other character  (friend , mentor or enemy)

Opening problem



5.00 a.m.

single dad

Sir Toby Mason

A door is jammed


shopping centre

just before Christmas

post person


A car won’t start


old castle

last day of term

Mrs Wilkins

head boy / girl

There’s been a flood.



the day the strike ended

King Arthur

Indian chief

A building firm has collapsed


In front of the cinema

fifty years in the future



A strange animal has come into the room



a week on Wednesday



Someone has found or come into some money.


So, you choose six settings, six times – and note these can be precise clock times, seasonal, tied to events  - six main characters, six other characters and six opening problems. You then roll a dice to see which setting, time, main character, other character and opening problem you are going to work with.

You can see Dawn’s choices here.

How to choose what to put into the grid? The first thing that pops into your head is useful but if you find you are constantly working with the same ideas, you could perhaps flip through a magazine or newspaper to new ones.  

If you work with a writing group you could pick ideas for each other.

Here is Dawn’s story:

Sleep with Us


Dawn Knox

Word Count = 2,230

Gripping her mop by the business end, Maureen O’Donnell pointed the handle towards the sleeping figure on the bed. Next to her, fellow cleaner, Brenda Starling, whispered “It looks very lifelike, don’t it? D’you think it’s part of the display? Like one o’ them new mannequins what moves…”

“Hmm,” said Maureen thoughtfully, “I don’t think so. Look.” She jabbed the mop end at the sign suspended over the bed which read:

SLEEP WITH USkings’ Ultra-Deluxe Beds.

Advanced Sprung, Memory Feather Pocket Technology.

No Finer Mattresses in the World – Available Exclusively in Harrods.


“You know Mr Quisley’s rules about touching the Uskings’ beds,” Maureen said, “I doubt he’d put anything on one o’ them, not even something what ain’t alive. He won’t even let customers try them out when they want to buy one.”

“I know,” Brenda said, “but then if you can afford an Uskings’ bed, you can probably afford to buy it untested and if it ain’t comfortable, you could just throw it out.”

“Hmm,” agreed Maureen, “You could buy a mansion with what one of them beds costs.”

The sleeping figure on the bed spluttered, gasped, snorted then settled down again.

“Well, there’s our answer,” said Brenda, “it’s too lifelike to be artificial pretending to be lifelike.”

“I dunno what that means,” Maureen said slowly, a puzzled expression on her face.

“I think she’s real.”

“So, what’s she doin’ fast asleep on one of them expensive Uskings’ beds?” Maureen checked her watch, “It’s only five o’clock. She can’t be an early customer, the store ain’t open for several hours. An’ if she’s here from yesterday and accidentally got locked in, why didn’t she call security? Are you sure she ain’t one o’ them robot things. Artful intelligence is pretty good these days.”

The woman on the bed began to snore.

Maureen and Brenda stepped backwards.

“Shall I prod her?” Maureen asked, still armed with her mop, “If she’s not real, she won’t mind…”

“And if she is?” 

“Well, I don’t think she should be there, so she can hardly complain… I’ll just give her a quick poke, shall I?”

“Yes, okay,” said Brenda, “We’ll be in trouble with Mr Quisley if we leave any rubbish lying around after our shift.”

Like a soldier with a bayonet advancing in slow-motion, Maureen crept forward, smartly jabbed the sleeping figure on the shoulder and speedily retreated. 

The woman’s eyes flew open and she blinked rapidly looking from side to side, finally focusing on the two cleaners. “Who are you?” she asked, her voice hoarse with sleep, “I wish to speak to someone from the management.”

“That’s not us,” Maureen said looking down at her floral pinny, “But who are you? And what’re you doing here?”

The woman blinked rapidly again, “I demand to see my lawyer,” she said, her voice becoming authoritative now she was awake.

Metal rattled against metal.

“Strewth! She’s handcuffed to the headboard,” Brenda squealed, exchanging anxious glances with Maureen.

“Who did this to you, dear?” Maureen asked, lowering her mop handle and stepping forward, “Did you mention your lawyer? The swine! Never trust a lawyer, my ol’ mum used to say.”

“Oh, no, you misunderstand,” said the woman, “My lawyer didn’t handcuff me here, I did it myself. I’m a protestor.”

“If you bought one o’ them beds and it ain’t comfortable, I’d take it up with Mr Quisley, dear,” said Brenda, “Or even go over his head. Mrs Barnacle’s in charge of the floor. I always said if you’re going to buy a bed, you really should be allowed to try it. But I’m afraid Mr Quisley won’t be in for another twenty minutes.”

 “I’m not protesting about the bed,” the woman said crossly, then her tone changed, “in fact, it’s one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on. It sort of reels you in and before you know it, you find you’re fast aslee…” Her head nodded and her eyes began to droop.

Maureen cleared her throat, “You were saying you’re a protestor?”

“Yes, yes!” the woman’s eyes flew open, “I’m protesting about Harrods’ disgraceful behaviour towards my husband. And when I’m finally arrested, I demand my lawyer is present. And the Press. Now, I wish to see the management. If you’d be so kind…”

“Ooh!” said Brenda. It was a long, drawn-out sound on a note which rose, fell and rose again, “Don’t you think it might’ve been a better idea to go and see the customer relations department? I don’t think Mr Quisley’s going to be able to help. He’s just the bedding department manager. And he’s not going to be very pleased you’ve manacled yourself to ‘is top o’ the range Uskings’ bed.”

 “Hmm,” said Maureen, nodding in agreement, “he’s not the most understanding of men and he particularly don’t like nobody touching them beds. If you need a refund, you won’t get one from Mr Quisley, I can assure you - he’s really tight-fisted.”

“I never met anyone stingier nor more particular than Mr Quisley. If you ask me,” Brenda said, with a knowing nod, “you’re unlikely to get a penny out o’ him. You stand a better chance with Mrs Barnacle…”

“I don’t want a penny,” said the woman rattling the handcuffs, “I’m here demanding justice.”

“I’m not sure justice is Mr Quisley’s sort of thing,” Maureen said with a frown.

“No,” agreed Brenda, “Justice definitely ain’t Mr Quisley’s strong point. But I can tell you for nothing, he’s not going to be happy about you on that Ultra-Deluxe Uskings’ bed.” Brenda glanced at her watch, “And ‘e’ll be here shortly to check Maureen ‘n me ‘ave finished. If you want my advice, dear, you’ll get off the bed, before ‘e comes.”

“I can’t,” said the woman with a triumphant toss of her head, “I’ve eaten in the key.”

“Strewth,” said Brenda with a grimace, “I reckon that’s going to come back to bite you.”

“You ain’t wrong there, Bren,” Maureen said, she turned her mop up at the right way and continued moving it in a rhythmic motion from side to side across the floor, “Well, don’t mind us while you’re protesting, dear, only if Mr Quisley comes and there’s the tiniest speck of dust on this floor he’ll have my neck for garters.”

“Guts,” said Brenda, “it’s guts.”

“Yes,” said Maureen, “if you ask me she’s got plenty of that.” She tutted and lunged at a dust bunny that was lurking under Mr Quisley’s desk.

 “If you don’t mind me asking,” Brenda said, “only I wouldn’t want you to think I’m being nosy but what exactly has Harrods done to your husband?”

“Well,” the woman said, “my husband’s building company was engaged to do some renovations in the basement but without a bye your leave, Harrods sacked him! It’s outrageous!”

“Ooh, I say,” said Maureen, “You don’t mean Wilkins and Co.?

“Yes, I do! I’m Hilda Wilkins and I will not stand by and watch my husband being treated in such a cavalier manner!”

“Cavalier, eh?” Brenda said thoughtfully.

“Bren!” said Maureen sharply, “Get that duster moving or you’ll be outter here faster than you can say Jack Spratt. Mr Quisley’ll be here in a few minutes.

“Robinson,” said Brenda

“Quisley!” said Maureen.

“No, Jack Robinson, not Spratt.”

“So, they’d treat you in a cavalier manner too, eh?” said Mrs Wilkins, “Fire you at the drop of a hat? They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it!”

“No!” said Maureen, “They shouldn’t! Although, to be fair, they didn’t actually fire your husband…”

“Of course, they did!” Mrs Wilkins said, “otherwise his men would be here working now.”

“Oh, no,” said Maureen, “they wouldn’t. Your husband’s building company went bust last month and the men were quite upset at not being paid.”

“Poppycock!” said Mrs Wilkins.

“How’d you know that, Maureen?” Brenda asked.

“Oh, you get to hear all sorts ‘o stuff while you’re moppin’ floors,” Maureen said tapping the side of her nose, “Mind you,” she added, turning to Mrs Wilkins, “I wouldn’t blame the top brass if they had fired your husband after finding ‘im with his fingers in the till in the gents’ leisurewear department.”

“I beg your pardon!” Mrs Wilkins said, drawing herself up as high as she could whilst still shackled to the bedhead.

“It’s true!” Maureen said.

“How’d you know?” Brenda asked.

“I heard it from Sharon in Accounts… before she and Mr Wilkins left for Marbella. Apparently, she’s ‘is new PA.”

“What nonsense!” said Mrs Wilkins. Her voice had risen an octave and she appeared to be hyperventilating.

 “Scurrilous and slanderous nonsense!” With her free hand she unclipped her handbag and holding it between her knees she rummaged inside and brought out a mobile telephone. Holding it in her handcuffed hand, she used the other to dial a number.

“First I’m calling Mr Trimble, my lawyer,” said Mrs Wilkins, “and then I shall call the Press and then I shall call my MP…”

“If I were you,” said Brenda “I’d call a locksmith first.”  

The following morning at four thirty am, Brenda and Maureen met at the bedding department to begin their shift.

“Seen the newspaper today?” Brenda asked.

“No, ain’t had time.”

“Well, feast your eyes on this!” Brenda held a newspaper up. The headline read:

Jilted Wife Protests in Harrods Sleep-In.

Below that, it read:

Loyal Wife Seeks Justice For Love-Cheat Husband Who Ran Off With Another Woman To Spain.

The huge accompanying photo showed Mrs Wilkins raising a fist of solidarity, enclosed in a handcuff, still attached to the bedhead. Next to her on the bed looking rather flustered, was a small, sharp featured man in a pinstriped suit who clutched a briefcase to his chest. Next to the bed was a man bending over Mrs Wilkin’s manacled fist with a bunch of keys and on the other side, was a bewildered looking policeman who didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. Behind the group, with arms outstretched and his hands resting protectively on the bedhead, was a smiling Mr Quisley. Above them all, was the sign declaring ‘SLEEP WITH USkings’ Ultra-Deluxe Beds’.

A smaller picture below, showed Mrs Wilkins with the locksmith holding the open handcuffs triumphantly aloft and another with Mrs Wilkins and Mr Quisley shaking hands.

Mrs Wilkins was quoted as saying: Despite the unfortunate circumstances which brought us all together, everyone who sat on that wonderful bed simply fell into a blissful sleep.

“Strewth!” said Brenda stabbing a paragraph further down the page with her chubby finger, “It looks like Mr Usking of Uskings’ Ultra-Deluxe Beds was so pleased with the publicity, he’s booked Mrs Wilkins for a photoshoot in Harrods for his other mattresses and she’s going to be photographed handcuffed to each of the bedheads with Mr Trimble fast asleep alongside. And look at this! Uskings are paying her a five-figure sum.”

“Show me!” said Maureen, snatching the paper, “Blimey O’Reilly! Look at this!” her voice had risen an octave. She tapped the page insistently and read, “After Mrs Wilkins was set free, Mr Quisley, Harrods’ head of bedding, sold six of the luxurious Uskings’ beds and is set to become employee of the week and will receive the associated bonus.”

“Well!” said Maureen crossly, “I’m glad everyone’s happy! All we got out of it was more mess to clean up! And we was the ones what found her! I’m going to bring in a set of handcuffs tomorrow, chain myself to the Uskings’ bed and see where that leads me!”

“If you think I’m cleaning this entire floor on my own while you doze off on the Uskings’ Ultra-Deluxe bed you’ve got another think coming!” Brenda said crossly. 

“It was just a thought,” said Maureen, “actually I wouldn’t know where to get handcuffs. But it makes you wonder, don’t it, dear? I mean, what’s so special about that bed? Everyone who sits on it seems to nod off.”

 “Yes, I know what you mean,” said Brenda, “Well, there’s only one way to find out…”

“You don’t mean…?”

“I certainly do. My legs are killing me today. I’m going to try it out.”

“Well I suppose it can’t do any harm,” said Maureen, “after all, it had lots of people trying it out yesterday and it don’t seem any the worse for wear. We could just try it out for a second or two…”

Brenda was the first to wake when she became aware of the excited chatter a few yards away. She opened her eyes and sat up in a panic, to see Mr Quisley with a group of customers gathered at the end of the bed.

“So, you see, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “This amazing Uskings’ mattress is irresistible! Even my hard-working cleaning team can’t help falling asleep. It lures you in and before you know it, you’re fast asleep. Yes, it’s guaranteed to give you a good night’s rest!”

There was more excited chatter and a round of applause.

Mr Quisley turned to one of the customers, “Yes, sir,” he said, “I could have two beds delivered to your penthouse tomorrow… Not soon enough? How about I arrange for special delivery this afternoon?... Perfect! Well, if you’ll step this way to my desk, we can finalise the order.” As Mr Quisley turned, he made a frantic gesture to Brenda to lie down again.

“Keep sleeping!” he mouthed. 

Image by adriano7492 from Pixabay 

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