Julie's Quest

Hello, and welcome to my blog. My blog is about the trials and tribulations of writing, where we celebrate successes and commiserate our near misses. We tell it like it is here and will do our very best to help you on the road to being published and pick you up after the rejections (they will come!) Whether you are a professional or amateur writer you will find something useful here.

I hope you enjoy reading my posts and will visit again soon.

Happy Writing

Julie Phillips - freelance writer - member of the Association of Freelance Writers - member of the Society of Authors

Friday, 2 October 2009


What does 'home' mean to you? Everyone here in Blog Land lives in different parts of the country - some in different parts of the world. So when you think of home, what images does it conjure up? Rose covered arches in a country cottage garden and a thatched roof; a tower block affording spectacular views of the city at night; or maybe a semi in leafy suburbia; a nightmare in place of what should have been your dream new-build home, but due to the recession the building has ceased and you're in the middle of a building site.

Think back to the houses you have lived in during your life time. Are you still living in your childhood home? Or are you many miles away from where you grow up? Turning the clock back and remembering the houses you have lived in previously can be an emotional journey. Some of the memories may make you laugh out loud, while others will be tinged with sadness.

Have you got a 'fantasy' house? I have. It's the house you would have if money was no object and you could live anywhere in the world. It's so much fun thinking about your fantasy house. I visit every room in my imagination, walking down the hallway and opening every door to every room. I know the decor, the furniture, how many bedrooms, what the garden is like - everything! And my study/writing room is to die for!

I also have a 'nightmare' home. For me it would be living in a small flat at the top of a tower block in a city. I don't like heights or crowds! Where would you most not like to live. It can stir up some pretty unpleasant feelings just thinking about it.

Because our homes are personal to us and tied up in emotion, our families, our memories, our safe haven from the world, they actually make good settings for short stories. If you ever get chance to look around other people's homes - via an estate agent - or an auction then take it. It is a gift to writers. As you wander around the rooms think about what the people who live/lived there are/were like. Look at the furnishing, the nick-nacks, the general 'feel' of the house. The characters will pop into your head.

Take your characters along an emotional journey. There are any number of conflict combinations you can use in the home theme:

The family move around a lot because the dad is in the army.

The house is ordered and just that little bit too neat because the mum is obsessed with cleaning.

The house is a mess due to two teenage boys and a mother who works outside the home because the dad ran off with her best friend.

A refugee from Afghanistan has moved in next door (displacement).

They are having to move out due to the recession (repossession).

Downsizing as kids left home (empty nest).

Up sizing due to (unexpected) growing family.

Taking a lodger in.

Trying to get rid of a lodger.

Moving in to their dream home but all is not as rosy as it seems.

Moving in to a dilapidated building and renovating it.

Emigrating miles away from all they know and love.

Having to move closer to work.

House hunting.

New neighbours moving in but there's something suspicious about them.

Bad/grumpy/snobbish neighbours/neighbourhood disputes.

Good neighbours/mystery/ fighting against bad neighbours.

Elderly person having to move into a home for the elderly but resisting it.

Daughter/son having to have their elderly mother or father move in with them

Parents trying to persuade their thirty something son/daughter it's time to fly the coop!

The list is endless! But use some of these prompts to give your characters something to get their teeth into and they'll virtually write the story for you. Home is a universally evocative concept that tugs at people's heart strings. Maybe they are in a home they don't want to be and long to be somewhere else, or maybe they are happy in their home until the-neighbours-from-hell move in. Whatever the reason for the conflict in the home/about the home, you can really go to town and use your 'fantasy' home or 'nightmare' home to its full advantage.

I also find looking in the magazines devoted to homes useful to see what the latest trends are in people's homes and also history books on the same subject if I want to write a period piece.

All homes are different and so are the people who live in them. There's always an underlying tension in most homes and this can be exaggerated to make an excellent short story. Making something up and blending it in with fact is wonderfully satisfying and if your neighbours have annoyed you you can use your frustration to write a story with them in it! They will never know, and you'll feel better - particularly if you earn some money from your story. Just remember to change names and any identifying features - unless you want to have to move out to escape your neighbour's anger when he reads the story! That's why pseudo names are sometimes a good idea!

Happy house hunting!

Julie xx


Fee said...

I saw my dream home this week in The Sun newspaper it looked lovely in the top picture. The second one soon took my smile away. It was built not far from a power station which didn't appear in the first picture. It was a shame too as we have friends in that area.

I can still dream.

Best wishes


Teresa Ashby said...

What a lovely thought provoking post, Julie!

My nightmare home would be the same as yours.

Julie P said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one, Teresa! I think home is definitely where the heart is. No matter where you are you can always dream about where you want to be!

Julie xx

Julie P said...

Not very nice to have a nuclear power plant for a neighbour either, Fee! Mind you, you could save on your energy bills as the glow from the power plant would light your house and keep it warm!

No harm in dreaming, Fee. I do it regularly! I also look at the mega posh/mega expensive homes on the websites of estate agents! It's fun! Sighs deeply

Julie xx

Martin H. said...

Lots of food for thought in your post Julie. I've always found it strange how a completely empty house can make you warm to it or send a shiver down your spine. We know it's only bricks and mortar.....or is it?

Julie P said...

Too right, Martin! The subject of a house, whether inhabited or not, has such potential for so many stories and characters doesn't it?

I know I've walked into a few houses and felt something untoward - a prickle at the back of my neck. Yet other houses have made me feel safe and happy! What's that all about?!

I think I've inspired myself with my own post to get writing some 'home' and 'house' related short stories!


Lynne Hackles said...

We move house every seven years. I get fed up after that length of time and need new rooms to decorate, dust etc.
I always go by the feeling a house has. We once bought one where the furniture was strategically placed over the holes in the floors. It took us several years to do it up but it was such a happy house from that first day the agent showed us around. Houses have memories. I reckon so anyway.

Simon Whaley said...

And don't just think home- think 'holiday home' too. Our Wrekin Writer retreats have provided some great accommodation and inspired many a story. And then there are the homes lived in whilst on holiday with family. Like the farmhouse with a spiral staircase that the dog couldn't cope with. And the house up such a bumpy drive, that I had to ask two people toget out of the car, so i could drive it without scraping the underside!

Fran Hill said...

It all depends, I guess, on what home is like. If it's nice and warm and cosy, home is where the hearth is. If it's full of conflict, home is where the hurt is. If you live with Damien Hurst, home is where the art is. I liked your post very much - it inspired me.

Julie P said...

I love it when I walk into a house and it's got a lovely feel about it, Lynne, so I know what you mean.

I'm not sure if I'd have the patience to do up a house. Too much mess, but worth it in the end I suspect.

Julie xx

Julie P said...

Ah! I had forgotten about holiday homes and retreat homes! Probably because I don't travel that much!

You're right about the last retreat house though - wasn't it wonderful, so atmospheric - especially when the devining rods came out, and the chair of death!!

Julie xx

Julie P said...

I love the Damien Hurst, home is where the art is reference, Fran! I hope the post has everyone thinking about home and they are suitably inspired. I know I am.

Julie xx

Lynne Hackles said...

I've been doing a bit more thinking about this post and realised I've used some of our homes in stories. The stories I sold were where the house was the setting. The ones I didn't sell - and they were the ones I liked best - were where the house could have been called the main character.
This was a great post, Julie. Perhaps you should try enlarging on it and trying to sell it to a writers' magazine.

Julie P said...

Thanks, Lynne. I don't think I've used a house as the main setting yet in a story but I think it's a good idea - it's a shame the stories you did where the house was almost a character didn't sell.

Already pitched and written the article on houses in writing, Lynne - oh yes, gotta strike while the iron is hot!

Julie xx

Suzanne Jones said...

Great post Julie - it's got me thinking.


Julie P said...

Thank, Suzanne. It's an interesting subject isn't it - how we are so emotionally entangled with our homes. Makes great short story theme.

Julie xx

Olivia Ryan said...

Lots of fantastic story ideas there, Julie - great post! In fact reading through all those ideas I realised I've used two of them (broadly) in stories I've written this year - which just goes to show how often we use the 'home' theme without even really being aware of it.

Julie P said...

Yes, Olivia, it's amazing how many times the theme of home is used in short stories without it being obvious.

Julie xx