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Assignment 2 – Reflective Commentary

At my library, they have a younger child and teen zone, but surprisingly, books are categorised by author.  Some children do know which authors they like but most would be helped by their parents who would themselves be guided by titles within an appropriate age group.

At the bookshop, they marketed books for different age groups with the following shelf areas clearly labelled:

1)    Learn to read 5-8 year

2)    Fiction 5-8

3)    Fiction 9-12

4)    Teen fiction

5)    Classics

In the younger age groups, there were a variety of reading level series that progressed the child from beginner to fluent reader.

The beginner titles were factual, with simple language and 5-10 word sentences.  Photos supported the text and there were no chapters.

The fluent reader books were factual but introduced headings and more text. The language is more involved often asking the reader questions, and there are colour drawings to support the large font size.

In the “Fiction 5-8” section, serialised fiction is popular. Adam Blade’s fantasy series “Beast Quest” dominates, with over 72 titles split into 12 series comprising of 6 titles.  Each book includes trump cards and stickers, a clever way of encouraging children to read them all.

“Rainbow Magic” by Daisy Meadows is another series with many titles, which when set out in chronological order create a picture on the spine – another way of enticing the reader to the next book; to reveal the overall image.

In the next age range, “Fiction 9-12” category, the storylines become more varied.  The language at this level is more challenging, the font size reduces considerably and only the occasional illustration features.  Chapters are now present, quite often more than 10 per book.

Targetting specific audiences requires specific techniques that aid appropriateness and reader engagement.

Younger readers (5-7 year olds) need short paragraphs and short sentences.  Words should be short (8-10 characters) length with little use of colloquialism or exclamations. The third person is often the viewpoint.

The 9-10 year olds tolerate extended paragraphs, lengthened sentences and words of 10 characters in length. Colloquialism and exclamations should be avoided.  Basic conversation can be introduced and the viewpoint can move between third and first person.

The 12+ age group sees paragraphs varying between 4-12 lines, sentences lengthen to 16-18 words which are 12+ characters long.  Colloquialism, exclamations and dialogue are used, with first person viewpoint favoured as much as third person.

Assigning age categories to extracts was difficult and I found it surprising that children’s books explore such wide subject matters.

When re-writing an extract or the younger children, I used short words and sentences.  Imagery was immediate and obvious.  For the older group I was more expansive, used more detail and longer words/sentences.

I write for 12+ year olds because I find it more creatively free; this is my preferred age group.

Target age groups on book covers are a mixed blessing. They clarify the audience, guiding parents to suitability but it can put children off if a title is aimed at a younger age group; they might feel it “babish”.  This could lead to peer ridiculing.

I wouldn’t include overt sexualisation in the 12+ age group but would include emotions and feelings because this age category will be pre-pubescent. Most subject areas can be covered but in an appropriate way.

Reading has been varied; Anne Fine’s “Ivan the Terrible”, “Blood Ties” by Sophie McKenzie, “Skulduggary Pleasant” by Derek Landy, and “A Mouse Called Wolf” by Dick King Smith.  I am currently reading the second “Artemis Fowl” title and I hope to study Eoin Colfer’s series for my creative commentary.

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Part 2 – Post-assignment homework: Returning to the bedroom

I knock on Jesse’s front door and a few seconds later her mum answers.  She tells me that Jesse is busy in her bedroom and that I should go up.

I remember the journey I took a few hours before and skip up the stairs, again two at a time.  Turning on the landing I take another flight up before seeing the chalkboard on the door.  Jesse’s door.

I knock on it and a small voice answers.
“Who is it?”
I smile. “It’s me, Jesse, Amy.  I’ve brought your notes back.”

A few seconds later the door opens and Jesse is standing in her room, her long blonde hair tied in a plait.  She’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt and dock-style loafers on her feet.

“Hey, Amy.  Thanks for popping round.  Come in!”

I walk into the now familiar room and Jesse returns to her desk, pulling her chair round to face me.  She pats her bed gesturing for me to sit down.

“I love your room, Jesse.  It’s so cosy and really interesting!!  How long have you been into stuff to do with the sea?”

She looked surprised.

“I thought everyone knew I was into ships and stuff?  Gosh.  Well, ever since I was tiny.  My grandfather used to own a really big yacht and I used to go out with him around the bay.  He even let me be skipper once.  It was amazing.  I was standing at the helm turning the big wheel, which steered the boat.”

I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t really like sailing or boats so I couldn’t make any sense of what she said.  It was like another world.

Jesse noticed my confusion.

“But don’t worry, I do like other things too.  I really like looking at the stars.  That’s when the clouds aren’t getting in the way!  Have you ever looked through a telescope, Amy?”

I nodded.

“Great isn’t it?!  We must go out one evening with my telescope and see if we can find some of the constellations. ”

I nod.  I’m not sure what to say.  I feel out of my depth but I love the way that Jesse is so passionate about it.

“Would you like a drink?  I’ve got two cans of lemonade?”

“Yes please” and I take one from her, tapping the top of the can to stop it from spraying drink everywhere when I pull the ring on the top.  The last thing I wanted was to spoil her immaculate, tidy room.

“Did you use those notes for your essay?” Jesse asks.
“Yes I did, they were really useful.  Thanks for letting me look at them.”
“That’s okay, Amy.  I was really glad that you asked me for some help.  Nobody does that at school….just pick on me,” and for the first time Jesse looked sad.

I felt really awkward and didn’t know what to say.  I thought it was probably best I didn’t say anything and just carried on sipping the lemonade.

“My mum says dinner will be ready soon. Do you want me to see if there’s enough for you?”  Jesse got up from the desk and walked to the door.

“That would be really nice.  But only if it’s okay.  I don’t want to put your mum to any trouble.”
Jesse smiled again.  It was nice when she smiled.
“It would be no trouble, Amy.  I like your company a lot.  Let me go and ask her.”

And I was now on my own again in this tiny room.  And despite its small dimensions, it felt the most cosy, inviting room I had ever been in.  I felt safe.

I stayed with Jesse for tea and we sat and talked about the stars and about the harbour all evening until I made my way home.  It was a lovely afternoon and I hope that we can do this again soon.

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Part 2 – Post-assignment homework: Visiting the bedroom

The Bedroom Exercise

Jesse is out playing with her friends at the moment and she left me the keys to her house so that I could pick up her homework notes; she’s letting me borrow them for our next essay due.

She told me that they are in her bedroom.  I’ve walked past her house before many times but never actually been inside.  It’s a beautiful old townhouse on the side of the main hill. The views are amazing; you can see right down to the harbour and the quayside from here.  She’s so lucky.

I turn the key in the front door and it opens revealing the long hallway.  To the right hand side of the hall is the stairs.  Jesse told me that her bedroom is on the second floor, first door to the right.

Carefully closing the door behind me, I take to the stairs, two at a time because they’re so small.  When I reach the second floor, it becomes really obvious which room belongs to Jesse.  Her name is written in chalk on a little board hung from the wooden door.  Bits of driftwood frame the chalkboard and a piece of rope acts at the hook upon which it suspends off a little nail.  How very nautical.

The door latch lifts up with a “clunk” and I step into her bedroom.  It’s tiny.  She warned me it was rather small and she wasn’t kidding.  I close the door behind me to maximise the space I have and look round.

It’s a very bright and airy room, painted a pale cornflower blue.  There is a small fireplace in the middle of the main wall and her single bed lies along the window wall to my right.  A driftwood framed mirror hangs above the fireplace and a small mantlepiece runs across the top of the fireplace displaying an amazing array of shells and pebbles.  Beach combing treasures!

I sit on her bed, which has a very sweet light blue duvet and matching pillow set on it.  Hundreds of little boats are printed on the cotton.  Above the head of the bed is a pin board upon which are lots of photos that Jesse has been taking in and around the harbour.  A veritable “boat spotting” wall with all manner of different shipping vessels photographed for prosperity.  Small dinghies, trawler boats, fishing nets, yachts; they’re all there.  There is also a small piece of netting attached to the side of the pin board, again a probable “find” from the harbour.

On the opposite wall is a map of the world and various places marked with round, red stickers.  Little bits of string draw countries together and as I look more closely, I see that Jesse has marked out some of the major shipping expedition routes; the Mayflower, Cutty Sark, Mary Rose, S.S. Great Britian….they’re all here.  Amazing.

A small bookshelf stands on the cream carpet to the far corner next to the fireplace and next to that a small wooden chest that I guess doubles as a clothes box, because I can see the arms of jumpers poking out.

The room is immaculately tidy, but then being so tiny, I suppose it has to be.  I look up and see a simple blue light shade suspended from the ceiling.

At the end of the bed is room for a little desk, stool and table lamp.  Piled upon this are lots of books and notepads. That’s probably where her essay notes are.  I must remember to take those before I leave.

To the side of the bed on the floor is a small wooden box.  I listen carefully.  There’s no-one here. Can I peek inside?  I’m certain that I am on my own.  I pick up the box and slowly open the lid.  It creaks; must be old.

Inside are strange little pieces of rope, all different in length and size.  Some of them have been formed into knots, different fastenings that vary in complexity.  There’s even one at the very bottom of the box that looks like a ball of rope.  It’s beautiful.

I decide to close the box quickly as it feels like I’m really prying now.  I walk to the desk and pick up the notes which are on the top of the other papers.  Bless her; she’s written me a little note to say “Here they are, Amy.  Help yourself!  Hope they’re useful”.

I’m quite surprised by the lack of computer, television.  I can see a charging lead next to her bed for her mobile but other than that, there are no signs of technology anywhere.

I take a step over towards the bookshelf.  Every book that you could imagine to do with sailing, boat keeping, chandlery suppliers, nautical charts, and astronomy.  She could open a book shop in the quayside and make a fortune with all this stuff!

Aside from the little box on the floor, there are no other boxes or places that she could hide things in.  The only other place that I haven’t explored in here is under the bed.  This feels very sneaky but I’m convinced Jesse would do the same if she was in my room.

To one end is her two cameras in their cases, one small and one slightly larger with a long lens attached.  At the other end of the bed is a telescope lying on its side attached to a tripod.  Wow.  She has a telescope!  She must like looking at the stars; ah, and that’s why she has the astronomy books.  Gosh.  I didn’t realise that she liked stargazing as a hobby.  But Jesse is very quiet.  She doesn’t give very much away at school.

I better get going.  I have the notes, I mustn’t be here too long.  I clamber to my feet and open the door and let myself out.  When I leave and close the front door behind me, I send Jesse a quick text to thank her for letting me go in.  She texts me back really quickly to say that she was really glad to help and that she would be home in a few hours if I wanted to pop round and say hi.  I might just do that….

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Part 2, Assignment 2 – Tutor feedback

Herewith the link to my tutor’s feedback on my second assignment:

Amy Balcomb (510035) Assignment 2 Tutor feedback

Summary feedback points:
1) My character didn’t have a name, which keeps the reader at a distance.
I didn’t give enough time to develop the character fully, hence much of the story and the character had contradictions.  This has taught me to get really under my characters’ skins before writing about them.

2) The character should be hiding from someone, otherwise they’re not hiding!
This seems so obvious now but at the time, I felt myself drifting around, probably because I hadn’t gotten to know the protagonist properly.  Big lessons learnt on this assignment.

Areas for development in story:
1) The fishing village setting
2) The girl being a “watcher” who loves learning the inner world of others, which demonstrates a rich imagination.
3) The tiny room in an upper floor of an old house.
4) Her parents needing to get away from her – is this in her imagination or for real?
5) The parents rowing.
6) The seagull.

Homework to be done before Assignment 3:
1) Write the “bedroom” exercise.
2) Consider the “personal voice” of a character; revise Part 4 from Writing Skills.
3) Always bear in my casualty, which is linked to motivation and personality traits in the character.  Again, if I had spent longer on the characterisation, this may have been more consistent.
4) Remember not to use the RC to summarise all exercises in the next part.  Use it instead to document my experiences of my own writing process, from initial idea to final polish.
5) Include in the RC the characters that I am working on, any structure and content, my thoughts on my ability with dialogue, description, narrative, characterisation and its relation to plot, how a piece can be tightened.
6) What I did with the previous assignment in the redrafting process.
7) Any problems that I have had, which may include the course materials.

Further suggested reading:
Read some Zizou Corder, Michelle Paver, revisit C.S. Lewis’s “Magician’s Nephew” and Nina Milton’s books.

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Part 2, Assignment 2 – A Hiding Place

Mum and Dad are going out again. They seem to go out all the time. Perhaps they need to get away from me. Mind you, I get to watch more TV when they’re not here, which means I avoid the homework pile.

We live in a little house balanced on the side of a hill. I’ve always felt like it’s about to topple headlong into the harbour at the bottom but I’m assured by the limping fisherman that it won’t. The views are nice I suppose. Mum and Dad’s friends are always saying that. I don’t really get it.

I’m sitting in my tiny little box of a bedroom where I can look out onto the quayside. It’s a cloudy Saturday afternoon and they say it will rain tonight. The cobbled street in front of our house trickles down to the main square like a river into the sea. The seagulls are pretty noisy, especially when the fishing boats come in, but I don’t mind them. I think one of them wants to be my friend. Every day he flies onto my windowsill and peeks into my room. I’ve caught him tap, tap, tapping the glass a few times but if I get close he scares off. Perhaps I should put out some bread?

I can hear Mum getting ready. She always flaps and runs around, rummaging through her wardrobe and chest of drawers for hours until “the right thing finds her”. If Dad took as long as Mum did to get ready I’m not sure they’d ever leave the house. At least he sorts himself out in good time and wrestles her out of the door eventually. And just before the door closes behind them, it opens to let Granny in.

I adore Granny. She’s my bestest friend in the world and she pops over to look after me when I’m left on my own. She’s very good; she let’s me do what I want because she says I’m old enough to supervise myself. I suppose if I was hell bent on burning the house down or making off with her car she’d soon put her foot down. Generally, she’s very laid back. She’s very happy with some knitting or a Dick Francis book.

So here I am. Granny downstairs doing whatever, and me upstairs plotting a temporary disappearance. Today I’m going to hide. I’ve done this loads of times before and I absolutely love it. I might tell Granny, I might not. I enjoy not telling her because she gets worried when she can’t find me. I have been wondering though if this is a good idea any more; she’s not getting any younger.

The one thing I will do is stay in. I can’t be bothered to go wandering off into town especially as the weather isn’t looking very good. Plus, I did promise Mum that I wouldn’t go out so I suppose I’ve got to play fair. I want to go out with my two best friends at the weekend and if I muck Granny about, that’s definitely not going to happen.

There are many places that you can hide in our house. It’s quite an old building which makes the rooms all sorts of funny shapes. In one of the bedrooms is a built-in wardrobe with old wooden doors. I love the brass hinges that hold the doors up; they have a pretty pattern etched into them and a few years ago, I took a piece of paper and rubbed a crayon over it to make a picture. Brass rubbing I think they call it. We did it on a school trip to a cathedral once. A famous Queen’s ashes were buried in this massive tomb and I rubbed over the plaque.

As you open the wardrobe doors the top shelf seems to greet you like the meringue on a lemon pie; it froths and bubbles with blankets Mum stores up there. It’s far too high for me to reach but I don’t mind; what do I want with blankets anyway?

You usually get a waft of fabric softener as the doors open, which is either lavender or cherry blossom depending on what Mum’s used. Your eyes then see the main hanging rail. Dad stores his work clothes in here, lots of them. Striped jackets and matching trousers, chequered ones with strange colours running through the material. And then shirts, lots and lots of them, all carefully ironed by Dad who spends his Sunday afternoons pushing and pulling the iron around. I think it’s a complete waste of time. If he put them on a hanger straight after tumble drying them he probably wouldn’t need to.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get adults.

Shoes and walking boots are stacked up in a big heap at the bottom, all sitting on the floor, the same salmony-pink colour carpet that goes up the stairs from the hall and round the 3 small bedrooms. Its quite a nice carpet, quite soft underfoot, but when you sit on it for a long time, it can get quite uncomfortable. I prefer sitting on a cushion.

Right at the very back of the wardrobe at the bottom is a tiny little door. It’s on the right side wall, from the floor to about halfway up the height of the wardrobe. Attached to this door is a black latch that fastens to a little hook pushed into the wall.

Equipped with my pocket torch, small cushion, and packet of biscuits that I sneaked past Mum earlier, I decide that now is the time to hide. I used to take all the shoes and boots out to get to the inner door but I’ve since worked out a better way.

If I push all the shoes to the left side of the floor just enough to allow room for the little door to swing open, I can then crawl over them, through the small opening before pulling a few of them back a bit. It’s not obvious then that anything has moved, I still have enough room for the little door to open and shut, and nobody knows that I’m there.

Once inside, I’m as cosy as a mouse. There isn’t a great deal of space in here to be honest but that suits me. I’m only little. I’m not sure how big you’re supposed to be when you’re 11 but I don’t seem to be very tall yet.

The only thing that’s annoying is my hair. It’s really long and catches on things or falls into my eyes. I try to remember to tie it back with a band before I come in here. It makes life a whole lot easier. It also makes me look less like a girl and I prefer that. I’m not a pink fluffy girl at all. I much prefer tree houses, muddy fields and watching the ships come in. A real tomboy, I suppose, much to my Mum’s annoyance. She’d have me in dresses all the time if she had a chance.

I wriggle myself in. There is more than enough room for me to sit upright because the space itself doesn’t really have a roof. I have no idea what it’s meant to be used for but it’s perfect for me.

If I want to lie down, though, I need to curl my knees up to my chest and get into a ball. This is great for a short time but can get a bit uncomfortable after a while. Once, I fell asleep in this position and woke up to find that I couldn’t feel my legs. They had gone to sleep too! Getting out was interesting as I had to drag dead limbs through a small opening and out across smelly shoes.

Right. I’m inside now. Phew. There seemed to be more boots than ever to clamber over. I wonder if Mum has had a tidy round and put more in here? Either way, it’s taken me a bit longer than normal to make enough space to get the little door open.

I’ve pulled my torch out from my fleece pocket and switched it on. Pow. Let there be light! And it’s such a small space that it lights up like a Christmas tree. It’s magical. I love the way that this little hole suddenly comes alive with the press of a button. I turn myself around, drop the cushion onto the carpet and sit down.

I’m here.

As I move the light around the walls I can see the grooves in the wood in front of me. This is the wall that the little entrance door is set into. There is another wall made of wood to my left which has the bedroom on the other side of it. The wall behind me and to my right are the outside walls of the house and they feel cold and a little bit sticky. This is nice in the summer when the house becomes too hot; I can creep inside here and just sit back against these walls and cool down. That’s if I’m not down by the quayside watching the fishing boats bob around.

I’m getting wafts of the fabric softener from the blankets. It’s quite comforting. It’s nice to be reminded that whilst I’m hidden away, albeit inside a wardrobe, I’m still close to home. I can also smell Dad’s aftershaves, probably from his suits. On the downside, I get to smell the boots and shoes, too. There’s also something musty and damp. One of the pubs on the quayside smells a bit like this. I only know because Dad took me in once for lunch after a shopping expedition and it was the first thing I noticed.

The other thing that I really love about this place is the silence. Nothing but me and my breathing for company. The bedroom is on the third floor and the very highest room in the house so I’m usually a long way away from my parents, which is a good thing because they don’t always get along and I prefer not to hear them argue.

When Granny is here, there isn’t much to listen to except for when she has the radio tuned into old fashioned music. Even worse is when she has the television turned up way too loud to watch the soap operas. She loves them and I have no idea why. They’re terrible, all that swearing and arguing, explosions and murders. She says they’re very real to true life. If that’s true life, I don’t think I want to grow up.

I used to bring my MP3 player and headphones in here with me when I first started hiding. That was before I didn’t hear Mum calling for me once. She eventually got to this bedroom and by the time she got here, she was crying lots.

She had become so frightened tat not being able to find me that she became kind of frantic, like one of those characters you see in a film.

I remember it every time I come up here; part of me will always feel really bad for making her that upset.

So I don’t bring the MP3 player any more. Plus, my hiding place was nearly discovered. At the point that I heard Mum she had already crashed into the bedroom. Luckily, her back was to the wardrobe and I was able to quickly wriggle out through the shoes and pretend I had been sitting with my back to a chair. My headphones were still round my neck and she didn’t think that I had been hidden away somewhere. Phew.

Perhaps one of the best things about hiding are the treats I bring. Mum and Dad are quite strict on what I can have between meal times and if I can steal something naughty from the cupboards enroute, then all the better. They taste so much better knowing that I shouldn’t be eating them.

Today I have Rich Tea biscuits. I put them down next to the cushion and slowly tug on the little red tab where it says “Open”. My fingers are trembling slightly with excitement and I can already taste them, the dry sweet texture on my tongue slowly turning to mush. Yum. As I turn the packet in my hands whilst the red strip tears open, the uppermost biscuit falls out onto my lap. My first victim – crunch!

And here I am. In one of my most favourite of places munching on biscuits. Could it get any better than this? I like to ponder different things when I’m here. And when my mind isn’t distracted with thoughts of my Mum’s upset that day, I often find myself thinking over things that I want to sort out.

I’m not very popular at school. I get picked on quite a bit, something that I haven’t mentioned to my parents because, well, they’re my parents. It’s not a very cool thing to do. If I had a best friend, I’d probably rather tell them, but I don’t.

I have been trying to work out why this one group of girls have decided to pick on me out of all the other people in my class. I used to think that it was because of where I lived. Our house is thought to be in the “posh” end of town, but that’s hardly my fault. I didn’t choose to live here. Besides, one of the girls who is horrible to me lives three doors up so it can’t be that.

Maybe it’s because I love learning? Perhaps they see me as a bit of a nerd? I’ve always been fascinated by discovering new things and school for me, bullies aside, is fantastic. I really enjoy going and right now, they’re spoiling it for me. They pull my hair, call me names, grab my rucksack from my back and throw it across the playground. They’ve even taken homework from my bag and destroyed it. I’ve had to do detentions because of them. No-one knows except me and this space.

Was it because I had long hair? I never wear it loose to school and usually put it in a plait. None of the group have long hair….maybe this was it?

And they do grab hold of my hair quite often.

Another biscuit. Gosh, these are good. I’m flicking the torch down towards the little door. It really is quite a small door. It reminds me of the door that Alice crawls through in “Alice Through The Looking Glass”. Perhaps a part of me wants to get to another world by forcing myself into such a tiny space?

I do ask myself lots of questons, don’t I? That’s what hiding does to me, though. I am quite a curious person by nature and I’m at my happiest when I watch people, when I look at what they’re doing, how they walk, how they move.

I spend hours in the summer sitting with my legs dangling off the quay watching the fishing boats drifting in and out of the harbour. I look out at the fisherman busy pulling on nets or throwing baskets over the sides to catch things.

Some of them know me, some don’t. And then there are the visitors that moor up for a few hours and time their pints to the rise and fall of the tide before making off again.

I suppose I just like escaping. That’s it. Escaping. With a torch and some biscuits to help me along, of course, but escaping is exactly what it is. Life here is so mundane and boring, with Mum and Dad always working or going out. I don’t feel that anyone spends any time with me. Having no brothers or sisters forces me to be fairly creative with my spare time and that’s probably why I enjoy finding a secret place that I can just be.

I’ve been here a good hour or so now and Granny will be wondering how my homework is going. Damn it. I’d rather sit here munching biscuits.

I reluctantly fold the top over the biscuits and ram them firmly into my pocket. I lean forward enough to pull the cushion out from beneath my bottom, and move the torch to the little door once more. I push it open and a little rush of light floods through.

I have to perform a mixture of crawling and pulling to get myself through the entrance and I always hold my breath as I cross the sea of footwear. Geez, they’re gross.

I push gently on the last door, the main wardrobe door, and I flop out onto the bedroom floor. Better turn the torch off. Click. That goes into my pocket, too. I get to my feet and tuck the cushion under my arm, walk out of the room and across the little landing towards my bedroom door.

“Jesse? Are you hungry?”

I couldn’t have timed my release any better. I shouldn’t have eaten so many biscuits, though.

“No I’m okay thanks, Gran. Just got a little more maths to do and then I’ll be down.”

Let’s see if my seagull likes Rich Tea.