Get Bugging!

As the rosy fingers of dawn etc etc, this is the day we’ve been waiting for. GET BUGGING!

Go forth, dear Buggers, and enjoy the illicit thrill of eavesdropping wherever you are. Our ten core writers will be in locations from Italy to Derby, in the pub and in hospitals, in rehearsals and in the supermarket. And the rest of you, the hundreds who we know are out there, will be in graveyards and on canalboats; in meetings and seminars; at family dinners and in pub quizzes. We know, because some of you told us.

Keeping an ear to the ground

Still fearful that you ‘won’t hear anything interesting’? Oh, come on! Even the most mundane overhearing can be the kernel of a wonderful piece of writing. We are giving you license to invent a fascinating back story. If you overhear someone saying ‘I’m sorry, I can’t make it tonight’ then what are they missing? An Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – a cross-dressing convention – a meeting with the ex-husband? Don’t fret. Just install yourself in a bus station, a coffee shop, a pub or a park – and re-acquaint yourself with the writerly skill of listening.

Listen for jargon which might sound familiar to you, but could be mysterious to others – ‘Yes, the DPM and the MOD are meeting tomorrow about the P223 plans.’ Listen for exasperation or mystery – ‘To be fair, if he doesn’t shave his toe I’m not walking with him’ (that’s a real one) – or listen for the back story: ‘No madam, as I have told you before….’

Keep your ears open...

And if you are thinking that you might not bother, because you aren’t really good enough, then take it from us: we’ve judged competitions and edited journals, and many great writers exclude themselves simply because they don’t submit. Don’t be anxious – just enjoy the day and help us to make Bugged a huge success by sending us some work before August 15th. We want to be swamped with brilliant new work.

How do you do that? The submission form and details are up on our Submissions page (see the tabs above), and have a look at our FAQ if there is anything still befuddling you. It’s really very simple. Enjoy. Write. Share.

Keep in touch with us on Twitter (@BuggedProject) and Facebook (Bugged), let us know where you are and what you’ve heard. Send us pictures of the places you’re in to For the next few days we’ll be posting these things… and then this site will be given over to YOUR writing. So the sooner you get writing, the better eh? And if you doubt how much pleasure your ears can give, have a look at this little fellow who just heard his mum’s voice for the first time.   Now then you Buggers – dust off that ear trumpet and get out to hear things!


B-Day minus one!

Do you think they'll notice?

Yes, we know that B-day is an unfortunate title (that’s why we like it). With fewer than 24 hours to go, writers across the UK are getting ready to eavesdrop on Thursday, July 1st and to write from what they hear. If you’re not sure how it works have a look here.  Now, if you walk about tomorrow looking like the gentleman above, people may realise that you are listening in to their conversations and throwaway comments. So we asked our friends on Twitter and Facebook for tips to avoid detection. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Borrow a ‘hearing dog’ for the day so everyone thinks you are deaf. Tony Keeton doesn’t explain how the person who owns the hearing dog is supposed to cope in its absence
  • Pretend to be asleep (ideal on trains or bus journeys, unless of course you are a bus driver)
  • Wear headphones – though they would need to be pretty bad ones, incapable of blocking out sound
  • Pretend to be reading – Fran Martel reminds us that your book needs to be the right way up and you should turn the page occasionally
  • It’s a bit late for this one – but you could try surgery and turn out like this gentleman (one for the strong of stomach, this)

Listen in at the park...

There is, of course, a serious purpose behind Bugged. We certainly want  to generate and showcase brilliant new writing, by means of a single shared happening. The best of the submissions will appear here and in a book, launched in October. But the most important thing of all is the one highlighted in this blog by a Bugged participant: writers need to pay attention to the world around them.  We need to notice the things that happen. Our environments are full of distinctive oddities and idiosyncracies. It’s by transferring those details into poetry, fiction or drama that we ground our writing in reality and make it solid, and believable; these are the things that will make your Bugged submission credible. If it can be incredible too, then so much the better!

Final tips from David and Jo:

1   Listen well and discreetly. We don’t want you to get punched, and when you come to write your piece you will need to change names, places and anything else that can identify your eavesdroppee.

2   Remember that even a mundane fragment of conversation – ‘Five hundred pounds, it cost’ – can be made into a piece of writing. Work backwards – what was it that was worth five hundred pounds? A rare bird’s egg – the last sticker for a football album – the removal of a tell-tale tattoo? You are writers: you can spin gold out of straw.

3   Enjoy the day, and enjoy the process of writing. Start writing while your memories are fresh – and get your submission to us by August 15th. Details of how to submit will appear in our FAQ and a new Submissions page tomorrow.

....or in the bus queue. Enjoy!

Dramatic Overhearing

With just a week to go now before B.O.D. (Big Overhearing Day) we’re still receiving a lot of eavesdropping jewels through Facebook and Twitter. Here are a few:

  • “I sold that organ for £50.”
  • You can’t kill them. The worst you can  do is hurt them. So just jab it in.”
  • “I’d already had a tattoo by 11.00 this morning.”
  • “I knew all about it before anybody told me.”

Now any of these would make a good starting point for an imagined conversation, and they’re quite fun to write. Initially, you can just create a couple of characters, put them in a particular location, give one of them the overheard sentence as a starting line, write what  the other character says in response, and let it go from there. It’s freefall writing, really,  not thinking about it in detail, almost letting the characters speak for themselves and seeing where the conversation leads. A bit like overhearing in your own head. But if you want to take this further than simple conversation, and develop it into a piece of dramatic writing, there a few points you’ll want  to consider:

  • you’ll  need to fashion a plot, so that the dialogue tells a story
  • find a way of differentiating between the way the characters speak, so that we get a good idea of of who each character  is.
  • find a way of letting us know the setting through the dialogue, in a way that doesn’t sound forced or unnatural.
  • there’ll need to be a conflict of some kind, or a dilemma or problem that needs to be solved. This will form the basis  of the plot
  • you’ll want to bring the story/drama to a resolution. This may not necessarily mean solving the problem, but will give the reader a feeling that the piece is complete.

He shouldn’t have trouble overhearing

If you think you may want to write a script after July 1st, then have a go at one  of the following exercises.

You have to flesh out the ideas with specific setting, characters and situations. You don’t have to resolve the conflicts or the dilemmas, but should indicate a solution. The piece should also have a satisfactory ending, and not just stop. Also, when you’ve written it, try reading it aloud with one or two friends, to see if it really does work.  Speaking aloud is, after all, what drama is written for. You can also check that it does last for 5 minutes.

  • Two characters. One is trying persuade the other to do something that he or she is reluctant to do.
  • Two characters. One has something the other wants. It doesn’t have to be a physical object. Persuasion and/or trickery should be used rather than brute force.
  • Two characters. One has some news to give the other, that she or he is reluctant to give.
  • Three characters. Two of them are in conflict over something, and a third tries to help.
  • Three characters. A has a secret. B wants to know the secret, and persuades C to find out what it is.

If you’re happy with your piece, then send  it in, and we may post it on our examples page.

Eavesdropping in the corridors of power….

Seagull eavesdroppings....

Less than two weeks till the big day (see here if you’re new to Bugged), and we have all sorts of people listening on street corners – booksellers and scientists, a Member of Parliament and at least two BBC radio presenters. Adam Horovitz has even asked for the day off on July 1st to go Bugging. The least we can do in return is vote for him in the Independent’s Hospital Club 100 poll, where he’s in the ‘Publishing and Writing – emerging’ category and described as a Brilliant Young Voice. His dad, Michael Horovitz, has just been pipped at the post for the Oxford Professorship of Poetry so let’s make up for it.

Thanks for the overhearings you’ve sent us via Facebook (Bugged) and Twitter @BuggedProject. One of several bloggers following us offers: “He had bacon and eggs as usual for his breakfast, but his bottom was still bleeding so we took him to the vet.” This would make a great starting point for a story – as would simpler statements we’ve heard like, “He’s doing my head in with that patio.” Our favourite is this one:

There's a story in that suitcase

“And as soon as I heard Michael Jackson’d died, I thought, ‘Like fuck will I keep that suitcase now.’ ”

What can this mean? How did Michael Jackson’s death make the suitcase so undesirable? There are plenty more on Facebook and Twitter so if you can’t wait till July 1st to start writing, then practise your skills on one of them. Already a skilled eavesdropper is Nik Perring, as you can see from his story The Angel in the Car Park.

Let’s brag about other projects our core writers are getting involved with. David Gaffney’s Poole Confessions encourages you to confess your sins (anonymously) so that he can shamelessly convert them into writings – not unlike the ethos of Bugged! And our co-f0under Jo Bell is readying herself for her stint as Glastonbury Festival website poet in residence. She should be recovered just in time for our big day.

Eavesdropping at Central Station....

Michael Holden, champion of the eavesdropping community and friend of Bugged, has even given us a book of his All Ears column – (see the book here) as a prize. We’re looking for the best photo of a place where you might eavesdrop – send it to Michael has had more opportunity than most to think about the ethics of eavesdropping:

‘….the conversations of strangers are everywhere. They’re like static. There is no need to skulk about to collect them: you just need to tune yourself in. And there’s nothing shameful about it either. In the contemporary climate of global-surveillance hysteria, the action of simply noting down what is said around you because you like the sound of it is comparatively benign. If people think they aren’t being listened to on some level in the twenty-first century, then they’re just not paying enough attention. ‘

You Show Us Yours…

Where will you be? At the Bull Ring...

Hello all you Buggers. Are you a new Bug? Have a look at The Basics (right) or click here. As for you old hands, quite a few of you have written to tell us where you’ll be on Eavesdropping Day (1st July), and it does make for an interesting and varied list of places. There’s the gym, the library, art gallery, museum, cafe. There’s the canal – by it and on it – the old fire station – with actors! –  the six year old’s birthday party – noisy! – and the graveyard – which might  be fairly quiet.  And one of you will even be auditioning for Allo Allo, the musical….

....on the stage with thesps....

Now, while it’s good to hear about the places you’ll be,  we thought it would be even better to see where you’ll be. So if you’re willing, we’d like you to take a photo of the place where you’ll be doing your eavesdropping – if you can – or, if you can’t (because you’re not there yet) – a place where you’ve already done some successful practice eavesdropping. Just take a quick snap on your digital camera or mobile phone, and send it to: Then we’ll post them, and make our site look a little brighter. We might also use a few of them as a writing exercise later on. Do remember though not to include people’s faces, unless you have their permission. There’s a prize, by the way… read on….

Writer Michael Holden was listening at doorways, in cafes and on the Tube when Bugged was not yet a glint in our eye, and posting the results in his brilliant weekly Guardian column All Ears. He’s listening in on us too – he sent us his latest gem, “He said, he had an idea of his own about Salvador Dali’s dry cleaner.” Michael has kindly offered us a signed copy of the current All Ears book: and that, dear Buggers, is our prize. So send us a pic of your eavesdropping venue.  Watching the footie in the pub, sitting at the bus station…. whatever…. with no recognisable faces (or if there are you must confirm that you have the consent of all those shown).

....or with the National Women's Register committee?

Send a photo to before next Sunday, June 21st. Include in your email your postal address, a little information about the location shown in your photo, and tell us who you’d like the book dedicated to – because, dear winner, lovely Michael will sign the book for you and only you – or your mum, dad or gerbil. Off you go – cameras at the ready!

David Calcutt and Jo Bell

The Summer of Bugged

Ah, hello. Come on in. What kept you so long?

Going to a festival? Take your ears with you

Bugged is just over a week old, and already there are hundreds of us on board for the liveliest writing project of summer 2010. To all the newbies, we say Welcome – whether you found us through the Guardian Books Blog, or other kind links like this one from Claire Conlon which also includes other writing deadlines. If you just found us then have a look here to find out how Bugged works. Find us on Facebook (we are a Page, called Bugged) or Twitter (as BuggedProject). Get listening, get talking.

For those old lags who have been following us since… er… last week, thank you for helping us to spread news of Bugged. You’ve already shared some marvellous overhearings – perfect material for sparking off a poem, a story or a script. Some are comical:

“She’s got a boyfriend at last.”
“That’s good!”
“Yes, but he’s short.”
“Oh I am sorry.”

Some are intriguing… ‘What’s the only word in the English language that ends in MT?’ asks a pub landlord. Answers in the next post…. or find Bugged on Facebook to read the answer.

But there are potentially tragic ones too. ‘I’ve been pregnant before, it was no big deal,’ says a schoolgirl on a bus. Another person says, ‘When it was over I didn’t wash for six months afterwards. I lived in a toilet and drank alcohol.’ There are huge stories behind these tiny soundbites. Make sure that your work does them justice, brings them alive – and keeps them anonymous.

Most unsettling of all, a conversation about Bugged itself was overheard on a bus today. We hadn’t foreseen that we might be victims of our own surveillance team.

Keep those overhearings coming in and do have a bash at our nano-survey to tell us where you’ll be on National Eavesdropping Day.

Jo Bell

Overhearing the Ordinary

There have been some wonderful examples of overheard conversations coming in,  and many of you appear  to have a real skill – or is it just a certain setting on your antennae? – for picking up quirky, unusual, and downright surreal snippets of conversation. Unlike me.  I only seem to overhear the most ordinary things: “What time are you getting the bus?”; “Hot, ain’t it?” “Come  here! Now!”; and so on. Maybe there are others of you who have the same experience. Well, I’ve decided it doesn’t  matter. This project is about taking any overheard piece of conversation as a starting point, and the ordinary can be as much of a key to unlocking a piece of writing as the unusual. Each thing spoken is an insight into a moment of time, a mood, a story, a life.  So don’t let the lack of the unusual put you off. We can celebrate in writing the rhythms and music and poetry of ordinary speech. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. “Get writing! Now!”

David Calcutt

Bugged – it’s alive!

Bugged has obviously struck a nerve in a nation of  creative nosey parkers. We’re not even a week old and already hundreds of you are following us. We’ve been picked up by the excellent Literary Platform and others are showing interest too – let us know if you see us mentioned anywhere.

If you missed our first post explaining how it works, look here – but essentially Bugged encourages all writers (great and small) to eavesdrop discreetly on July 1st, and to write something based on their overhearings by August 15th. The good stuff will appear on this blog, and the very best in a book alongside our ten core writers (see the Blogroll, right). Be tragical or comical, moving or uplifting. And be as good as you can be.

I couldn't help overhearing....

We love the overhearings you’ve sent so far via Facebook and Twitter; keep them coming. We especially liked: ‘Yes, we’re rabbit-sitting. They’re paying us in cushions and umbrellas’…….. ‘He opened the car boot and it was full of somebody else’s clothes’…………….. and, ‘She brought her granddaughter back some pebbles from the Firth of Forth, then in the middle of the night she was worried they might be radioactive, so she got up and boiled them.’ We also like the philosophical dialogue overheard in a shop car park – “We’ll only have enough money left for food and booze.” “Do we ever really need anything else though?” “True.”

Summery conversations...

All have great potential to start off a story, a poem or a script. If you’ve not heard anything quite so inspiring, have a little practice with one of these. Play with viewpoints – are you the grandmother, the granddaughter or one of the pebbles?

Our examples page now has ‘overheard’ poems from Alwyn Marriage and Lorraine Mariner. Our Small Print page to see our word limits for prose, poetry and scripts. If you’ve not come across Flash Fiction before, have a look here for a discussion of its strengths and weaknesses.

Is anyone listening? David Calcutt and Jo Bell

There’s a month to go till the big eavesdropping day, and it will be a damn boring wait unless we talk to each other. So do find us on Facebook (Bugged) or Twitter (BuggedProject) to share overhearings and and interesting links.  Established writers – tell us about your websites and work so we can promote it to a captive audience.

If you’re a new or first-time writer, don’t be put off: there will soon be exercises and tips to get you creating, from David Calcutt and others. And if you have a writing group or online community, why not encourage them to write something from an overheard or ‘found’ statement?

We’re glad you like our idea – pass it on!