22 July 2016 | Writing

Turning conversations into stories

I shamelessly eavesdropped in on a conversation in a cafe this week because it was so intriguing with tones of disapproval, judgement and underlying worries. I was also part of a bookclub conversation around a table which led me to a new idea for a short story. And I had a conversation at the supermarket which left me thinking about all the small, daily stories which are invisible to us.

So if I were to write these conversations into stories, here’s how I’d start. Original material first, my spin later.

Senior woman sitting in cafe with friends

1. Judgement in a cafe

At a local cafe, I sat at a table next to three women in their eighties who were sipping coffee and nibbling pastries. Once I realised what an interesting conversation these women were having, I surreptitiously listened closely and typed as fast as I could – obviously I’ve missed a bit – there are lots of gaps!

First lady: And they think they’re going to be married after the baby comes along… well, as if that is going to happen!

Second lady: Young people and their ideas of relationships…

Third lady: I like couples to be married before the baby comes along…

Second lady: It’s the way they’ve been brought up…

First lady: He got thrown out of the congregation…

Third lady: It’s nice to celebrate in the proper order… but you can’t tell them… no responsibility, no commitment to anything…

First lady: I heard on the radio…

Second lady: I did organise to have the carpet cleaning done… it was nearly three years ago

Third lady: The bicarb soda absorbs the stain, then you vacuum it up…

First lady: So at my first consultation, she said Medicare would pay half… it’s the least of my worries at my age!

So how juicy is that? Who are these young people who dare to start a family without a marriage certificate? And what relationship do they have with the women discussing their future? Who was thrown out of the congregation? What on earth did he do? And I am a big fan of bicarbonate soda for cleaning so I am totally aligned with the third lady! What sort of procedure is the first lady having? There’s not one but many stories here.

Portrait of four attractive women having lunch and discussing

2. The jeweller’s talent

At my bookclub meeting this week, we discussed the relationship between the two main characters, the husband and wife from The other side of the world by Stephanie Bishop and agreed that there wasn’t much in the book to describe how they felt about each other in the beginning. One of my friends told us that a work colleague’s husband, who was a jeweller, claimed that he could tell whether a couple buying an engagement or wedding ring would stay in their marriage.

Fascinating! I am already taking notes to write a short story around this. It’s like a crystal ball, isn’t it? How many heartaches could this man have saved by refusing to sell a ring on the basis that he felt their marriage wouldn’t last? In a village in the past, would this man have been respected as an elder with great wisdom? What if he were wrong and advised a pair of soulmates not to marry? I’m not sure where I’m going with this story yet, but there are many possibilities.

Customer Paying For Shopping At Supermarket Checkout

3. Supermarket story

Yesterday at the supermarket, I spoke with the lady at the cash register. She sometimes goes to the same pilates class I do, and she has a slight disability. We chatted about her work at the supermarket. She told me that she worked four days instead of five because her eighty-year-old mother lives with her, and requires moving and medication every three hours – day and night. So she stays up late, then sets her alarm twice in the middle of the night to help her mother out of bed, walk her around and give her medication. Then she spends eight hours standing at a cash register.

That’s a quiet story for you. And the thing is, there’s a story like that within many families where carers and parents face every morning with quiet grit and smiling determination. These stories are worth telling.

I’m wondering if you have overheard any conversations or heard any interesting stories recently?

PS. I missed writing a blog post last week because I was sick – fine now.

PPS. The women in the photo for my bookclub story are not the women in my bookclub – we are far more glamorous and gorgeous-looking!

Her sheer audacity



Great stories!

July 22, 2016 at 7:50 am

Karen Comer

Thanks, SP!

July 22, 2016 at 9:20 am

Terri Dixon

I will be much more careful to keep my voice down when having a coffee with friends!


July 22, 2016 at 9:41 am

    Karen Comer

    I’m sure your conversations are fascinating, Terri – you should be proud if someone recorded your words!

    July 22, 2016 at 10:45 am


What an entertaining post Karen!!

July 22, 2016 at 9:50 am


I am amazed that someone could predict whether a couple would stay together by the way they interact with each other when purchasing a ring?!
I wonder if he was able to follow up on any of those relationships!?
I recently read The Other Side of The World. I enjoyed it but quite sad really.
I’m not sure whether I should talk softer or listen harder in coffee shops.

July 22, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Karen Comer

    I know, Kathy – who can possibly predict whether a couple will stay together? Perhaps you should do both – talk more softly and listen more carefully in cafes!

    July 22, 2016 at 9:14 pm


Ah, how did I miss this post! When I was at the Degas exhibition the other day and I was listening to a group of friends (older ladies) discussing the curatorial note to a painting of Degas’s sister and her husband after the miscarriage of their child. The note said that his sister’s stare was one of frozen grief, or something yo that effect. Perfectly reasonable I thought. Apparently ‘that was reading far too much into it’ according to one of the ladies. I wondered what had motivated these ladies to come along, did they just want to see the pretty ballet pictures, are they frequent visitors or just blockbuster attendees? Would they go home to their husbands and share their day? And I like your supermarket story. My mum and I frequent the same Woolies and she was telling me the other day about one of the ‘checkout chicks’ who has been there for years – slightly downtrodden looking, wispy thin hair (a hair extension is a new addition!) – ‘Did you know she is a ten pin bowler? She’s about to find out if she’s made the state team! And she has a man!’we all have stories!

July 29, 2016 at 8:51 pm

    Karen Comer

    Carolyn – I love your conversation story! Yes, did those ladies frequent art galleries or are they more of a cafe set? Or an opera set? Or a lawn bowls set? And what stories about their day would they tell their families? There is a whole novel – or sketchbook – in that conversation!

    August 1, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Leave a Reply