This is a short piece Lois Elsden posted yesterday on her blog:

The Elsden nose

Many, many years ago, near Greenham Common, my dad and a group of his mates were wandering round in a wooded area… I guess the date was probably 1942 –  dad and the others were in the parachute regiment and I am guessing they were  getting ready for the invasion of North Africa as part of Operation Torch… but I don’t really know. When dad told us these stories he didn’t really give any such details – it was the story that counted.
So, I’m guessing that dad and the other soldiers were training, on an exercise maybe, and it seems they were walking through a wooded area – I don’t know if it was a wood, or a forest, or just a place with lots of trees, when they came across a village pub, a small place, probably untouched for generations. I don’t know why, maybe dad described it (I’m sure he did, he was great at telling stories) but I imagine it as a low, thatched roofed inn, with a door which even my rather short dad would have ducked to enter.
He and his mates went in, and I imagine it (maybe he told me) it having a stone slabbed floor, beams, small windows and was rather dark and quaint, maybe even lit by lamps rather than electric lights. The landlord, no doubt delighted to see a group of thirsty soldiers, patriotically welcomed them.
“I know what you have just been doing,” my dad said to him. The inn keeper looked puzzled. “You have just been decanting port,” dad told him.
The man was astonished! Yes, indeed he had! With a candle and a steady hand, he had indeed been decanting port! How did dad know? He had smelled it! My dad had ‘the Elsden nose‘ – he knew what port smelled like, he had been brought up in a pub, and his own dad had decanted port often enough – and maybe dad had done so too!
In my mind, the landlord then bought dad a pint… but maybe that is just my imagination!

© Lois Elsden

Lois chose to write this in a particular way – she was within the narrative, as herself, as a child, as someone listening to another’s words, and with hints of her own associations and feelings.

This story could be told in other ways by a different narrator or narrators:

  • from the father, Donald’s point of view – from his view actively in the story, from his view as recounting or remembering it some time later
  • from the landlord’s point of view
  • from a new introduced character – maybe the landlord’s wife, or child, maybe a regular sitting by the fire, maybe any character you like!
  • from a fellow soldier’s point of view
  • told by an omniscient narrator


  • there is a vague setting, an old pub in a wooded area
  • you could write a more detailed description – seeing the pub from outside, seeing it inside – and seeing it inside as  a stranger or as a regular, or the landlord, or any other character you create
  • you could give the pub a name, a nearby village a name, the area it was in – change it from Berkshire to Yorkshire, to Somerset, to anywhere you like if you want
  • it could even be in a different country!
  • you could change the setting in time; this was during WW2, this could be in WW1, or any other time when a group of soldiers (not marauders, that would be a whole different story, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t write that too!)

What happened next?

  • this could be the starting point for something else, think of H.G.Wells’ Mr Polly who visited a pub and never left it
  • this could be the beginning of a romance, a horror story (think Dog Soldiers) a war story (before the squad get sent overseas) a ghost story (maybe the pub is haunted, maybe the soldiers are ghost solders)

The possibilities are endless!

The point of this is, not that you should use Lois’s story (if you do please link and attribute) but that you could use a family story you know, something you experienced or something you were told, or a photograph you saw… use your imagination – as Mark Twain wrote ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story!’


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