31 Days: #Writeprompt : Bowie’s Creativity Technique & story from Gerry O’ Donnell

­­Another pleasure of this 31 days posting odyssey is finding writers who’s work I had not been aware of before. Gerry O’ Donnell joined in with earlier writing prompts to produce fantastic flash fiction and poetry. Knowing that I was a fan of David Bowie Gerry kindly got in touch to tell me about a creativity technique he’d heard Bowie talk about. He said  “I remember seeing a documentary about Bowie a few years ago. Apparently part of his creative technique in writing songs involved writing words and phrases on pieces of paper, putting them into a container and then randomly drawing them out and putting them together. He later computerised the process.

In the programme they even had some University Professor sit around a table analysing his lyrics in an effort to decipher their meaning. They ended up giving up because the lyrics had multiple meanings. This is pretty much the way with great poetry – multi faceted and multi layered.” Gerry went on to suggest that we could use this idea for our next flash fiction prompt.

The exercise

Gerry went on to try out the exercise. He went on to select several words. His one stipulation to himself was that he would use the positive connotations of the words to create a lighter piece. Here are the words that Gerry used and that will be the word prompt for this week’s writing exercise.

Randomly Selected Words

Note, Train, Vineyard, Watch, Matriarch,

Sports car, Beer, Taxi, Regret, Homeless


Write a short fiction containing some or all of the words above. Alternatively you can use your own shortlist of words. To give you an idea, Gerry has agreed to let me post the flash fiction he came up with as a result of the exercise. The quality of his work goes to show what can be achieved from linking seemingly random words. Sometimes we need to seek a spark instead of waiting for the perfect story to suggest itself.

Runaway Train

Leaving the Matriarch speechless on the veranda, she jumped into her red sports car. Before driving off, she doughnuted one last time, looking at her home, while spraying her highness’s feet with the red dust of La Provence. That was the only thing her mother ever cared about anyway. Now she wished she could bury her in a sandstorm of the cursed stuff.

Racing through the vines with the radio blaring, she snapped open a bottle of beer with her teeth, downed it in two slugs and threw the empty at the pewter face of her great grandfather, the founder of the Vineyard, who adorned the archway over the entrance. She burped loudly, wiping her mouth with her arm and smiled wryly when she thought of her tutors in the Swiss finishing school.

Once on the highway, that ran alongside the rail track, she felt free from her chains. The vines that had wrapped and suffocated the neck of her spirit, fell away now and she tasted oxygen as if for the first time. It was better than any vintage Provence had ever produced.

She looked at the time on the note he’d squeezed into her hand a week before when she had got ­out of the taxi. She heard the train gaining on her. It was alongside now and she could see him at one of the windows.  The sunglasses and that enigmatic smile.

She floored it until she got to the train station where she skidded to a halt sideways, alongside the  steps, beside a hunkered homeless teenage couple. Hopping out, she grabbed a travel bag from the back street and tossed the keys to the boy.” It sticks a bit in third” she said, and winked. He smiled broadly. She knew there would be no regret.

Looking at her designer watch and then down at his girlfriend she spoke again.

“Where I’m going, time doesn’t need to be quartered”. She took of her watch and handed it to her.

The train had pulled in and was getting ready to leave again. Standing at the gate she hadn’t a single cent with which to buy a ticket. Just then a paper aeroplane came flying out of a window on the train, across the barrier and hit her gently on the brow. Along with the ticket collector she laughed heartily when she found a train ticket inside it.

A bronzed hand opened a carriage door. The locomotive started to move. Her dress billowed one last time on the platform before dissolving like a watercolour onto the mirage of the runaway train.

©Gerry O’ Donnell


Put your flash fiction pieces in the comments if you want to share them or simply use this technique to see how it works for you. It would be great if you come back and share what worked or didn’t work about it. I won’t be selecting a winner as such but you are welcome to add your names in the comments for a draw for Self-Printed, Writing Gifts and Housewife with a Half-Life in the writing for financial resilience post.

Many thanks once again to Gerry for this great word prompt and wonderful story.

4 thoughts on “31 Days: #Writeprompt : Bowie’s Creativity Technique & story from Gerry O’ Donnell

  1. Hi Alison.
    Another great writing prompt. I have really enjoyed this challenge. I stuck to Gerry’s selection of word prompts and included them all, and tried to have a positive outcome too. This is what I wrote:

    A Journey of Hope

    It had been the usual hectic week, only now on the train home for the weekend, did I find time to open my post. The week had got away from me, lurching by taxi from one meeting to another, to finalise the launch of my clients’ TV series. The matriarch of the production had flexed her diva muscles, refusing to meet and greet with an influential journalist whom “she didn’t like the look of”. I’d regretted my inexperience and struggled with persuasive reasoning. She finally relinquished her self importance long enough to surrender to my insincere flattery.

    My head was still throbbing from the excess of beer and champagne that I had initially shunned and eventually clamoured for as my body relaxed into the launch party last night. My head soon lost control to the giddy relief the free bar had brought. I looked up from the repetitive correspondence and glanced out at the regimented lines of grapevines. The Kent countryside still seemed an unlikely producer of wine, surely wine came from the sunny mysticism of French vineyards.

    I glanced at my watch, yearning for my station to be the next stop but realising there was another five to endure. Mindlessly I opened the next envelope, the “Personal” mark top left, obscured by my inattentiveness. The handwriting jumped up and clouted me hard. This note had my absolute attention.

    My daughter was alive. She wanted to come home. She was alive.

    Two whole years of wondering at an end. I imagined her smile, her soft hair as I hugged her. I started to read through the tears. The prized boyfriend long gone leaving her homeless on the very streets I whizzed along to meetings. I never noticed what lay on the pavements from the comfort of the black cab. She wanted to come home; she wanted to be our daughter again. I could barely breathe as joyous relief escaped from every pore. I would go home, tell Miranda and we would go and collect her together. I almost missed my stop. Suddenly my brain registered my sports car in the spot I had left it on Monday. I got off the train, realising the return train to London was approaching on the opposite platform. I couldn’t wait any longer. I ran over the bridge, puffing hard as I jumped on.

    I had to find her now, no time to collect Miranda. The letter was dated Tuesday. She wanted her Dad to collect her. I knew she would still be there waiting for me. I yearned there would be no regret.

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