Friday, 27 November 2015

A whole day of storytelling

I was asked a while ago if I'd be prepared to run a whole day session on creative writing for primary school pupils; there'd be 18 gifted and talented children from 9 schools, all of them in Y5 or 6.

I said yes. It happened yesterday, and it was brilliant!

The timetable for the day was built on a foundation of where we could find inspiration and looking in more detail at world building and characters to put flesh on the bones of a story outline.

I didn't worry too much about spellings and capital letters and full stops. As I pointed out to the children, the way I was taught writing at school was very different to the way it's taught today - I just learnt how to write something that made sense, and I can tell you what a verb, noun, and adjective are. I had no idea what a 'reported clause' was when it was mentioned with respect to dialogue, for example. But when I said that I knew you needed speech marks, and you had to put he/she said after them, one of the children piped up with 'that's the reported clause!'


Anyway, even if our spelling did go a bit dodgy at times or we didn't put a comma in quite the right place, we had enormous fun. We made up daft excuses as to why we were late for school; talked about what makes a good book, good; wrote story outlines based on 'The antique glass bottle contained...'; used paint chart colour cards and objects for inspiration; completed character sheets and created a sight-sound-touch-taste-smell picture of the setting that had been chosen.

Outlining a story using three objects from a tin of baked beans, a rainbow sock (of course!)
a police car, a diamond pendant and a length of chain...

Sharing a bit of StarMark when thinking about
where to set a story...

And the best bit - according to 50% of the children on their short feedback sheet, 
completed at the end of the day? 

Writing a story.

A whole story. Just being able to go for it and write the way you wanted, without worrying about any of it being 'right'.

The children had been given free rein, and judging by what they produced as a result, I wonder whether, in our eagerness to teach the component parts of writing, we rather lose sight of the end result? Individuality is lost, because children don't have the opportunity to develop their own style or allow their writing to flow naturally. (Of course, I know that teachers' hands are tied by the requirements of a curriculum that is imposed on them - I'm sure many of them would love to have the time to give the children to develop their creative writing!)

What surprised me most was the sophistication of some of the children's writing; after all the 'building up' work, they had half an hour to start on their final story, then I used a timer to give those that wanted to, a minute to read out some of what they'd produced. Even among 10 and 11 year olds, there were some very distinct voices and styles, ranging from epic fantasy third person to chatty modern first person. There were deep emotions expressed in 'The Vale of Tears' and by the boy with no name, who was hiding in the dark. And there was some very, very accomplished world building on a space station where the character was 16 yans old, and for the 80-year-young girl who was on the run and currently hiding in a cottage in the she had been before...

We're hoping that the children will go away and finish their stories, so that they can be copied and made into a book as a reminder of the day and their hard work and fabulous ideas. I said I'd write a story too; I quite fancy beginning with 'The antique glass bottle contained goblin snot...' (Thanks, Holywell Emma, for that suggestion!)

It was a huge privilege to share in the creation of so many unique stories and immensely satisfying to see some of the children so enthused and inspired they wanted to do it all again!

There are, of course, some non-writing things I'll remember too... The vibrating cushion. Jooshua (with two 'o's.) The letter to the paint company to ask who comes up with the names on the sample cards.

Using the colour sample names to inspire stories...

And finally, the 'Why I'm at this school today' reasons that had some of the younger pupils at Mountfields believing that there were some rather important visitors from Hogwarts in the playground...

Oh, I DO love being a writer!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Challenged by Chuck Wendig

I don't always have time to create new work in line with Chuck's challenges on his terribleminds blog. Fortunately, this week's challenge is to paste 1000 words of your NaNoWriMo WIP (National Novel Writing Month Work in Progress for the non-writer readers of the Scribbles!) in your own blog space and link it to his blog. Chuck extended the challenge to include current WIPs as well, so I thought what the heck. (By the way, welcome any fellow terribleminds fans who drop by - my blog's a bit different to Chuck's, but I hope you still find something to enjoy here.)

As regular readers are probably aware, I'm not writing a new story this month - I'm NaNoEdMo-ing. That is, editing my WIP: Kingstone. It seems to be going well.  

Here, for your amusement, are the first 1000 words of Kingstone, a fantasy adventure novel for 9-12 year olds, third draft. 

King Bertrann’s ship slid past Indigon’s famous purple-grey cliffs, far enough out to avoid the deadly rocks jumbled at their base, yet near enough for those on deck to make out the black holes of the mine entrances pockmarking them.
            A bubble of happiness swelled inside Katia’s chest at the sight. Home at last, after six months that had felt like a lifetime. Thank the gods she hadn’t had to wait the full two years to return, unlike those she’d left behind at the Academy. No wonder they’d made things so uncomfortable for her after the announcement.
            Mind you, no-one had been more surprised than Katia herself, when she was told she’d be part of the king’s entourage for this unexpected and hastily arranged trip; she wasn’t exactly top of any classes and there were plenty of other novices who deserved the honour much more than she did.
            But – and this was the important thing to remember – you didn’t say no to the king’s priest when she picked you for something. Not if you wanted to get on in the temple. And more than anything else, Katia wanted to get on…
            Tiny lights twinkled high up on the cliffs, lighting the wooden walkways which connected the separate indigolite caverns. Somewhere up there, Katia’s Da and brother Ned would be nearing the end of their ten hour shift, having worked hard to earn their money.
            A pang of guilt stabbed at Katia but she squashed it quickly. It wouldn’t be wasted effort on their part, not if she tried really hard–
            “It looks as though the rock is sparkling.”
            “Gods!” Katia yelped, and with more haste than care made the greeting to the woman who’d appeared noiselessly at her side.
            Right hand, circle for the sun. Left, a crescent round the circle for the moon. Now fingertips of both hands together: mountain.
            The woman sighed. “Left for sun, right for moon, Katia. Like the symbol.”
            “Sorry.” Katia dug her nails into her palms and hid the fists deep in the folds of her skirt. She was still getting it wrong, even after six months at the Academy. Her right hand took the lead every time… She sneaked a sideways glance at Elder Sevanya, whose attention was fixed on the lights high above them.
            How did the king’s priest manage to look so perfect, even after days of travelling? Sevanya’s purple dress was uncreased, her grey travelling coat unmarked by salt, and her pale hair was still tightly braided – as expected of Senior and Elder female priests.
            By comparison, Katia’s own cream novice’s robe was watermarked at the hem and stained with gravy because plates refused to stay still on board a ship. There was a button missing from her brown wool coat and her hair was sticking out at all angles despite every attempt she’d made to tame her dark curls. No wonder her fellow novices were always finding fault and telling her she’d never make it to Junior priest…
            The beads woven into the ends of Sevanya’s braids rattled quietly when she turned away from the cliffs. “Tell me, Katia, have you ever been up there, on the walkways?”
            “Yes, Elder. Once, at night.” Katia shivered, remembering the sheer drop to the rocks and sea, hundreds of feet below. “My brothers bet I was too scared, but I went to the first entrance and back. At least the wind wasn’t blowing when I did it. Da says when the wind blows strong, the miners hug the cliff face and make sure their safety straps are clipped to the ropes, otherwise they’d get blown off.”
            “I should think a fair few prayers get said to the mountain god, asking for firm footing up there.”
            “Definitely. I know I said lots.” Katia tried to ignore the fact that Sevanya was watching her closely. She had the feeling that the priest was looking for something, but what?
            Suddenly, Sevanya sighed. “Katia, are you sure that you want to give your life to the temple of the triple gods? You don’t have to be a novice to say prayers, you know.”
            “What?” For a moment, Katia was so startled, she couldn’t say anything else. The bubble of happiness which had filled her chest just moments previously burst, leaving a hollow sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Yes, of course I do,” she managed eventually. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
            “And your family? Is it what they want for you too?”
            She had to think hard before answering that one. “No, not at first.” In fact, they’d positively discouraged her, thinking the training beyond her and far too expensive. “But once they got used to the idea, they supported me completely.”
            By taking on extra jobs and working all hours the gods sent, scrimping to make ends meet, and standing up against those who thought your dream was impossible to achieve… 
             “But things are not going very well for you at the academy, are they?”
            “No, but–” Katia swallowed hard. How did Sevanya know that? Surely keeping track of the novices and their training wasn’t a job for someone in her position?  
            “Your tutors have repeatedly informed me of your poor progress. It is that which made me decide to bring you on this journey.”
            They picked you because you’re so bad?
            Katia tried to concentrate on what Sevanya was saying through the buzzing in her ears.  

         The priest looked serious. “I am sorry to say that, during our time here, if you cannot demonstrate to my satisfaction the duties expected of a novice after your first six months of training, I shall have no option but to leave you behind when we return to Eraton and consider your novitiate at an end.”

November - the month of too much to do

There's something a bit depressing about the latter half of November. I don't think it's the nights drawing in, because I love shutting my curtains and cosying up in the lounge with the telly and a blazing fire. I don't think it's the fact that we've had Remembrance Events - in Loughborough, that's counteracted (for me) by our annual town fair, with lights and music and candy floss. Although once the fair's been, my thoughts do turn to Christmas...

And then it starts to get flippin' busy! My mum often tells me off for taking on too much for Christmas, because when I say 'yes' in October, I forget that I have to plan and action things in November to make them actually happen in December. Between now and Christmas Day, here's what's on, (assuming  I've remembered everything):

Black tie dinner with friends
Church council social
Two music concerts (in different schools)
Four choir practises
Three sketch rehearsals
Two carol services (featuring both said sketch and choir items)
A creative writing day for Y6 children
Helping at 'Experience Christmas' (held at the primary school in our parish)
At least one trip to Yorkshire
NIBS Christmas session
Editing StarMark (before the 14th Jan, so I've got a little bit longer...)
Outline plan for creative writing session for ESOL students at the College
Decorating church for Christmas
Two Christmas Eve Crib services

Add on top of that the present-buying, food-shopping, card-writing and house-decorating that is part of my normal Christmas... I ought to say no, but...

So if you see me and I look a bit frazzled over the next few weeks, you'll know why! How's your Christmas preparation going?

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The long and the short of life...

I've always been told that good things come in small packages - mainly because I've always been a titch.

It runs in my family - neither of my parents are taller than 5' 1'', my brother's probably 5' 3" and my sister's a smidge smaller than me - I'm four foot, eleven and a half inches with bare feet.

(By comparison, Mr Squidge is 6' 3", Squidgeling J is 5' 3", and Squidgeling T, 5' 9" and still growing...)

It's had its perks, being short; pre-children, I used to buy my clothes at Tammy girl, to fit 152cm. Since then, my child-bearing hips have meant I needed grown-up sizes from the waist down...and therein lies a problem.

Y'see, not only am I short, I also have short legs in proportion to my body. This means that a lot of clothes are simply far too long, because unless you're prepared to pay Petite range prices, you're left with off-the-peg clothes which have been designed for ladies with legs up to their armpits...

For example;

Lovely long floaty summery skirts? Could wear them as a strapless dress.

Jeans? Remind me, when did turn-ups disappear from the catwalks? Disastrous with bootcut...

Posh frocks? Only ever buy dresses that don't have beading or lace or patterns around the hem, 'cos sure as eggs is eggs, that'll end up being chopped off.

Mind you, if I wear heels...HIGH heels...there's a chance I can get away without shortening. Sometimes.

Yesterday I bought an outfit for a black tie 'do' I'm attending on Saturday night. As you might expect, it needs shortening. By 14cm.

14cm! That's about five and a half inches - and that's WITH my highest heels on. (Fortunately I have a friend and neighbour who is a whizz with a sewing machine, so there's every chance the outfit will be shortened enough to wear on Saturday night...She's a godsend, my friend x)

There are times in my life - especially when trying to buy clothes - that I wish I had longer legs...

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A bit quiet on the blogging front

I'm still here. *waves at readers*

I've not been blogging much over the last few weeks, I know...but there doesn't seem to be much to write about.

Actually, there's plenty; NIBS had a thought provoking meeting on the theme of November (who knew that we packed so much into this month?) plans for the India trip are ongoing (visa arrived last week, yay!), house feels more settled after the building work (still letting the dust settle - literally), proof reading Something Rich and Strange (to be published by the Random Writers later this month, a little later than intended, but life happens to the best laid plans...) and Christmas services and events are coming together for church.

But I've not felt the urge to write about any of it.

I have a theory; I'm focussing so much on Kingstone edits at the moment, it's using up all of my writing energy.

Sounds daft, doesn't it? But I'm getting through a chapter or two of Kingstone a day and I'm loathe to break off from it while I'm on a roll. I want to get it done, want to get a complete MS that feels like a proper story, want to have something to offer BInk for after StarMark...

*whispers* Want to prove I'm not a one-hit wonder...

So forgive me if I'm a bit quiet on here for another week or so? I'll soon be back to normal.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Let there be...electrickery!

Not only has Maison Squidge been plastered recently - last week, it acquired solar PV panels.

We are producing our own electrickery! It sounds really grand, but of course we only produce during daylight hours (wonder whether bright moonlight will work too?). In a dull grey and somewhat rainy November so far, you wouldn't think the panels would be working - but they are! We've got twelve panels - eight on the garage and four on the roof, because since having the loft extension a few years ago, our roof space is somewhat limited by dormers.

When they were connected, I admit, I sat in the cupboard under the stairs with a torch, waiting to see the meter go backwards as all that lovely power zoomed back into the grid. However, we've since discovered that our meter has a back stop, so it won't go just doesn't go forwards as quickly when the sun's shining and we plug the kettle in, if that makes sense?

Mr Squidge spent quite a long time trying to explain how the new meter in the garage shows what we're producing, but neither it or the normal leccy meter can show how much we are exporting; apparently, that's done by guesswork for the feed-in tariff payment. It's assumed you use 50% of what you generate, but of course you could be exporting a lot more than 50% if you don't use much electricity. (And we don't, in spite of being at home most of the time. I'm a natural light, turn off the lights kind of girl!) You can get smart meters, which tell you the separate import/export figures, but they are expensive to fit and can be confusing to read. And frankly, I'm not sure it's worth it.

I know a lot of folk have had solar panels fitted to take advantage of the feed-in tariff (which is due to be phased out at the end of this year) - but for me, that misses the point rather. We've got solar panels because it's a Good Thing. It relieves the pressure, just a little, on the Earth's precious coal and oil reserves. And, like Bob our wind turbine, makes us feel that we're giving something back to the world rather than simply taking all the time. Mind you, to really take full advantage of the panels, we need batteries to store up what power we generate in the daytime for use at night. Those, as yet, I don't think are available for domestic use.

Meanwhile, Mr Squidge and the Squidgelings might have to wait for clean undies 'til the sun comes out and I can put the washing machine on, guilt-free, in the daytime...

Thursday, 5 November 2015

November means editing

There are a lot of writer friends doing NaNoWriMo this month - that is, writing something every day during November to hit a 50K word count by the end of it. (Good luck to everyone doing it!)

Now, I've already documented my lack of discipline and my shaded squares method of keeping track of how much/little I'm writing. Recently, I've not been colouring in so many squares - not because I've not been writing, but because I started a new rough notebook and haven't transferred the sheet over. Fortunately, the habit of writing often seems to have stuck and I'm managing more days writing than not, so I'm not too worried about recording it.

Anyway, this month, I shall not be doing NaNoWriMo. Instead I'll be editing draft three of Kingstone. So far, it's going OK. I've got a much better feel for Katia's voice and a style that's consistent throughout the novel. I'm incorporating comments that fellow cloudies have made too; I was fortunate that in the main, they identified areas which I also felt were weak (great minds think alike!) and my aim for this third edit is to get it all hanging together and feeling like a real story instead of just well-written, separate chapters.

So there you go - November with its nights drawing in and fireworks and fair (in our town, anyway!) means editing. I'll keep marking off the squares and see what I've got at the end of the month...

Monday, 2 November 2015

Getting plastered...

Last Saturday, I got plastered.

And before you tell me it's my own fault, shouldn't drink so much, ought to know better, etc, etc...I'm talking about getting plastered in the building sense of the word.

Y'see, Maison Squidge has had another bout of TLC. A few weeks ago it had the end wall (the one that a few years ago was bowing out and had to be screwed back into the joists) re-pointed on the outside, (and some new concrete in the yard to encourage water to go down the drain rather than into the foundations) and all the internal plaster on the same wall chipped away, in readiness for insulating plasterboard to be installed.

The kids quite liked the bare brick look - it looked like a trendy restaurant, apparently. But the inside walls of houses aren't made very prettily if they're going to be plastered over, so we had some sticky-out bricks and channels for rewiring visible. Plus - as you might expect - it was cold! Our walls are solid brick, so I'm thankful that apart from a couple of colder days, October has been a mild month.

Anyway, after putting him off over half term week, the plasterer turned up at 8am (far too early for a Saturday!) ready to begin. However, he didn't get started for a while because he'd never seen our kind of boards before and because of the paper they were finished with, wasn't sure that they'd stick to the brick. (You can stick plasterboard to the walls or screw it to battens, but the latter means you lose an extra half-inch or so on your stairway. We'd bought the stick-on kind...) After a quick search of the internet and a view of a handy little video to confirm that yes, you could stick this board with its shiny finish, the plasterer began.

Poor guy. The wall looked like a jigsaw puzzle by the time he'd finished the sticking phase; there are a few curvy bits so it wasn't all plain sailing. But by 4.30, all the joins had disappeared and we had a beautifully plastered wall, already drying out.

The jigsaw begins...

(By the way, is it odd that I love the feel of fresh, dry plaster? All velvety smooth and cool to the touch. I keep stroking it... Almost a shame to cover it all up with paper and paint.)

Look at that lovely smooth plaster...

Already, we're reaping the benefit of the insulation - the last couple of nights have been decidedly nippy (and very foggy), but the heating kept turning itself off and we're not aware of the temperature dropping on the way down from the loft to the kitchen in the mornings. (Add to that the unintentional insulating properties of the woodpile against the kitchen wall, and I'm almost wishing we could have a REALLY cold snap so we can get the stove fired up and see how warm we really are.) Even with lots of windows open during the daytime to dry the inevitable condensation on the windows, I'm sitting at the computer right now, on a grey and cool day - without a cardi on.

After over twenty years here, I have a warm house!

And in the other sense of getting plastered - I'll drink to that!