A writer can be inspired in many different ways and for me none of those ways are better than working with a strong photograph. It has something to do with the reality, the knowledge that this is or was “actual” – the empathy, the emotional tug, the link that is set up between subject and viewer – in this case the writer.

In the three very short stories that follow, three very different writers looked at the same photograph for a moment or two, then wrote all at the same time. There was very little planning, or editing. Each story rose up almost automatically from the writers, all of whom are experienced in writing short fiction. We wrote together on an online forum called The Fiction Workhouse. None of us has met in person.

Each piece took no more than twenty minutes, from looking at the image to sharing the work with each other. Each piece is different, but each, I think, is emotionally “true”, as each writer has responded in their own way to something communicated by the image.

One of my own favourite stories was written to a photograph, several years ago. I can remember the moment I looked at the photo in question – the response was visceral. It was relatively easy in craft terms to use the emotion in that response and translate that feeling into fiction, creating fictional characters, not “acting out” what was happening in the photo, but characters who embodied the shared humanity of that “tug” between image and viewer.

I am glad to have this chance to say thank you to all photographers who capture those extraordinary moments that are so inspirational, and to encourage any writers out there to have a go. If a photo grabs you, it is for a reason – it is speaking to something creative as well as emotional. Don’t think about it too much, just write. You may be surprised at the results. Several writer-colleagues decided the image here was too tough to look at. Just think what they might have written if they had gone beyond that.

Vanessa Gebbie
Oct 08

©Yannis Kontos
Photo © Yannis Kontos, from the series Life as an Amputee.


Maiba’s Ribbon by Vanessa Gebbie
Vanessa Gebbie is a writer, editor and Creative Writing tutor living in East Sussex, UK. She is widely published and has won awards at Bridport, Fish International, Per Contra, The Daily Telegraph and many more. Her debut collection Words from a Glass Bubble (Salt Publishing 2008) was nominated for the Frank O’Connor Prize. She is founder/editor of Tom’s Voice Magazine, co-editor of Cadenza Magazine, and is a member of New Writing South’s Education Team.

My Father’s Fiction by Ethan Anderson
Ethan Anderson is a freelance writer in Berkeley, California. He has written for businesses, humor anthologies, poetry anthologies, comedy web sites, commercial web sites, and entrepreneurs.

Let us Pray by Douglas Bruton
Douglas Bruton is a teacher at a high school near Edinburgh in Scotland. He graduated from the University of Aberdeen with honours in English and Philosophy. But it was later, at Edinburgh College of Art, that he discovered he could write. He has been writing ever since. He has gained recognition in over fifty UK based writing competitions over the past two years and has been published in many competition anthologies as well as in The Eildon Tree Literary Magazine, Transmission, Storyglossia, Ranfurly Review, The Smoking Poet and Blood Orange Review.