Features, For Writers

Explore our 2021 shortlist reading guides and writing prompts

Photo of the Women's Prize Shortlisted books for a virtual literary event

If you’ve loved the books of the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist and are inspired to start writing yourself, here are a fantastic selection of reading and writing prompts taken from our bespoke reading guides to inspire you.

There are two prompts for each of the six titles, and our full reading guides can be explored by clicking on ‘Explore this title’ for each book below.

Please note, the following contains spoilers!

The Vanishing Half

Shortlisted for Women’s Prize for Fiction  The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in…

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As The Vanishing Half is a story about identical twins, research some famous identical twins (or perhaps you have identical twins in your family or friend group) and use what you find out to write a magazine-style article about their lives. Have the twins led very similar or very different lives? Have there been any odd synergies between them, like the sometimes-reported phenomenon of twins ‘just knowing’ things that the other one is experience? An account of twins separated at birth and then finding each other later in life might inspire you.

 

Alternatively, research any cultural myths surrounding twins, identical or not. What do twins signify in myth and religion? What are some of the better and lesser-known mythological twins – Apollo and Artemis, Balder and Hoedur, Castor and Pollux? What are their stories? See if the myths inspire a new story, retold in the modern-day.

Piranesi

Winner of Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has. In his notebooks, day…

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Start by doing some online research of the Carceri d’Invenzione engravings that feature in Piranesi. Use one of them to inspire a piece of creative writing, such as a narrative or prose poem – or perhaps an account of one of the humans experiencing one of the prison rooms. How does your character experience the prison? How do they describe what is around them – are they frightened, bemused, accepting? Do they marvel at their prison and admire it in the same way that Piranesi does? Do they undertake daily activities? What are the smells, tastes, and textures of the rooms, walkways, the devices that they live with? Why do they think they are there?

 

Alternatively, write about how you have experience quarantine and lockdown. Has it been a fever dream in some ways, like the uncertainty Piranesi experiences at the beginning of the novel? Have you felt imprisoned? Or have you felt freer than usual, with a different routine? What have you discovered about yourself over the past year? Have you experienced loss? How do you feel? If you haven’t already, you could start a diary, inspired by Piranesi, even to record the mundane of daily activities. Perhaps you will look back on them in years to come and remember your life now.

Transcendent Kingdom

Shortlisted for Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 As a child Gifty would ask her parents to tell the story of…

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In Transcendent Kingdom, we meet a family, including the main character Gifty, struggling to process the impact of their old life in Ghana (regardless of whether they lived there or not) with their new life in the deep American South. Soon after arriving in Alabama, Gifty’s father returns to Ghana.

 

Throughout the novel, we see diary entries Gifty writes as a child. Write some entries from Gifty’s older brother Nana’s childhood diary or from an older Nana who is immersed in typical American sports such as basketball or soccer. What are his thoughts and feelings? How does he feel about his family? Does he find his younger sister annoying or endearing? How does he feel about his father returning to Ghana? Maybe you could include Nana’s reactions to his father’s daily phone calls that eventually cease after a while. What does Nana think about church, school, and football?

 

Alternatively, write the diary as Gifty’s mother. What are her private thoughts about her husband’s absence, her children, church, her work as a carer? Maybe her diary is where she vents her feelings about hard work and long hours. How does she feel, being left in America to support her two children? How does she feel after Nana’s death through his addiction?

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House

Shortlisted for Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 In Baxter’s Beach, Barbados, Lala’s grandmother Wilma tells the story of the one-armed…

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Many fairy tales and folk tales were originally written as cautionary tales for children, to warn them against natural dangers and human and animal predators. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House begins with Wilman telling Lala the story of two girls in a tunnel, which she intends as a cautionary tale. Yet, Lala doesn’t see the story in the same way as Wilma, she sides with the one-armed sister, which is unexpected.  

 

Find a folk or fairy tale that has a traditional cautionary element or moral to the story. Then, re-write it from a more empowering viewpoint. You could look at the Anansi folk tales of the Caribbean and West Africa, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or traditional tales from India like the Panchatantra and the Mahabharata. Does the original moral still stand, or should a different message take its place now? What are the male and female characters like in these stories? Are the female characters well-rounded or stereotypes? What would you change?

 

Alternatively, re-write Wilma’s story of the one-armed sister and the tunnel. How does the sister lose her arm in your story – or does she lose it at all? What is in the tunnel? What adventure do the sisters go on, and what do they discover? In Wilma’s telling of the story, inevitably, the one-armed sister will still have to sweep her house. Is that inevitable in your story? Why or why not?

Unsettled Ground

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 What if the life you have always known is taken from you…

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In Unsettled Ground, the twins Jeanie and Julius learn that their mother Dot Seeder had a love affair with their landlord, Spencer Rawson despite both of them being married. Write love letters between Dot and Spencer. What might these lovers say to each other? Is one more poetic and romantic than the other? Do they write about their dreams for the future? What does Dot say about her concerns about her children? What does Spencer say about his marriage? Perhaps they don’t mention either of those things at all. Are the letters short, or long? Try to get into the head of each character. What is their voice like? Do they have any favourite phrases? Are their letters, formal, funny, tongue-in-cheek, flirty, serious, or a combination of all of these things?

 

Alternatively, write the story of how Bridget and Stu (Dot’s best friend and her husband) met. Bridget explains briefly that Stu kisses her an hour after meeting her, but what else happened that day? Write a short story from either Stu or Bridget’s point of view and describe the first impressions of the other person, how their meeting came about, what the kiss was like, what happened after, and perhaps what had happened already that day – was it relevant in any way? How does the other person appear to Stu or Bridget? Is there instant attraction, or is there something else going on?

No One is Talking About This

Shortlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021 A woman known for her viral social media posts travels the world…

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A large part of No One is Talking About This  involves our connection to the online world and how it seeps into our daily life. Copy half an hour’s worth of text from one of your social media feeds, for example, Twitter, into a document or copy the text into a notebook, then read it aloud. How does it sound? Are there any repeating themes, a common  consensus about something, certain language, slang, or phrases it uses? Do some voices speak more than others?

 

Now look at your text and see if you can make something of it, perhaps a poem or the inspiration for a short story. If it’s a poem, see if you can use the text you have without adding anything else – mix it up if necessary. Alternatively, use a phrase or a topic mentioned as the inspiration for a short story.

Submissions are now open for our 2022 Discoveries writing development programme. Find more information on how to enter, plus our programme of free content and events, here > > >

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