Two Sheffield writers' gameshow-style podcast aims to shed light on the writing process

Two Sheffield-based writers started a gameshow-style podcast which challenges guests to put pen to paper under pressure and create short stories in minutes.

Thursday, 30th December 2021, 6:00 am
The first series has been recorded and the pair are already planning series two.

Stephen Mellor, age 54, from Crosspool and Letty Butler, aged 38 who lives in Sheffield city centre, started writing focused podcast-gameshow Prompety Prompt after working together at an arts company.

The pair realised that the importance of the writer was often overlooked, and they wanted to create something to support and encourage emerging writers, while also having fun themselves.

Their podcast is in two halves, the first section features a discussion with two guest writers about their life and work. The second half introduces the gameshow element as guests are given a short prompt and have to write short fiction against the clock.

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Letty and Stephen with short story writer Nik Perring and poet Genevieve Carver.

Stephen said: “We let people behind the curtain to see how the magic happens. We give the writers scene prompts and they write up to 200 words about a week before the show.

“Then we have two unseen prompts, they have three minutes to write something and then read it out. For the last prompt they have one minute."

By design, these prompts lead to each writer coming up completely different results, showing how their style and thought processes differ. In one episode, the writers must use the words canary, laptop, and blanket, leading Stephen to justify what he had written by saying, “I just liked the sound of kill the canary.”

Stephen came to writing later than Letty. He used to run his own company but after his partner died suddenly from cancer, he questioned what he wanted to do.

Stephen and Letty are working with Off The Shelf to produce a podcast with audience participation.

He added: “I packed it all in and wanted to write. The first stuff I wrote was absolutely awful but as I wrote I got better and better. It has helped me when it comes to the confidence and having to self edit your own work. One show I had imposter syndrome because of the calibre of guests we had on - but it makes you feel as if actually you can do it.

“People are scared when they come in and high as a kite when they come out, it’s such good fun to do. The feedback we have has has been excellent - we have had people laughing, crying and cheering.”

Letty, who identifies her style as surreal dark comedy, is an actress by profession and came to writing through working on theatre scripts, and later writing shows for a comedy double act she was one half of for Edinburgh Fringe.

She said: “If you pick up a pen you are a writer, you don’t need to have awards or accolades. Doing the podcast has shown me that you don’t actually need a lot of time to write. Everybody has got five minutes a day. If you did a timed prompt for five minutes every day you would end up with quite a decent body of material after a month.

“When you give a lot of writers the same prompt it still amazes me how different the responses are. It shows that only you can write the story you are writing. We wanted to find a space for emerging writers as well as established writers so we have both in these episodes. We want to build that writing community and get people writing wherever they might be.”

Currently three episodes of Prompety Prompt are out and eight more have been recorded, but there is much more in the works. Stephen and Letty are working with Off The Shelf to have a live podcast with audience participation, and will also produce an episode based on the audience’s attempts at the prompts.

The pair are already planning series two which features guests including flash fiction writer K.M. Elkes, and novelist Julianne Pachico.

If the hosts could wave a magic wand and have any literary legend on their podcast, Stephen said that he would love an hour with Shakespeare because he is very drawn to playwriting.

Letty opted for a writer who is still alive, which would certainly help drive the conversation, and said that Bernardine Evaristo would be her dream guest. She said: “She is really experimental in her writing and has had a huge success with her latest book (Girl, Woman, Other). I think she would be really open to the process, I love her work and it would be great to see what she wrote.”

Prompety Prompt can be listened to on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and RSS Feed, and online here: https://www.prompetyprompt.co.uk/.