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Part 5, Assignment 5 – Tutor feedback

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

Amy Balcomb (510035) Writing for Children Assignment 5 Tutor Feedback

Summary feedback points:
1) There was too much Exposition in the second story, which “told” more than it “showed”.
Given that I was exploring the use of the Omniscient POV within this story, I think that this perspective (which was a new one for me to write within) pulled me away from ensuring the five senses were engaged and conversation was also included.  I will re-write this story to ensure that any exposition I have is used more carefully, reducing some of the sentence lengths.  It feels like I’m learning to walk the high wire and this is a balancing act that I need to get the hang of, because both elements (exposition/tell and the five senses & conversation/show) are important.

2) There weren’t enough scenes in the second story.
I can use this focus to break up the exposition passages. By concentrating on making sure that the scenes contain the five senses

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Part 5, Assignment 5 – Reflective Commentary

I’ve loved Part 5 and I reached the assignment quicker than I thought, even though I fully participated in all the exercises.

Creating a fantasy land was a valuable subject and actually sketching one, whilst not using it for the settings of my assignment pieces, helped me mentally to plan my second assignment.  I knew in my mind where my characters were in their journey and I felt more confident that the drama unfolded “realistically” to the mental picture I had; it made for useful fictional continuity.

I came away from Assignment 4 feeling that I needed to look far more carefully at my POVs and I consciously chose a different POV for one of my two stories at Assignment 5, namely the omniscient.

This viewpoint gave me a very different perspective.  I had a wider view over the action, and I didn’t feel confined as I have done when writing from one person’s experiences and feelings.  It was definitely a refreshing change. On reflection, I would probably want to write from this POV for the older age groups rather than for younger children. The style needed for the younger age group requires a more immediate, empathetic perspective such as first or third person can provide.

Creating names for my fantasy land characters and places was daunting. I felt enormous responsibility to get this right and because I had carte blanche to make them unusual for a change, it wasn’t easy.

I took inspiration from various sources as suggested; cook books, atlases, medical dictionaries, herbs and spice lists.  This lessened the intimidation factor and as soon as I found some names I liked, it helped me settle into writing the stories.

For Story 1, this was for 5-7 year olds.  I knew that I wanted a name for my protagonist to be silly.  Holly Toogood seemed appropriate and I could imagine it being a talking point if the story was ever read out loud at school.  Was she too good or actually quite naughty?  It also gave a humourous edge which I felt was important for this age group.

Ever since I read Derek Landy’s “Skulduggery Pleasant”, I’ve wanted an opportunity to write dialogue in a similar comical, dry style.  Thus, my witch’s small sections of dialogue should bear more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Pleasant.

Story 2 was for the 9+ age group.  This story was an extract from a longer story, something that I’ve not tried before, but like the change of POV, it was a refreshing change and because I knew that I didn’t need a conclusion at the end, I was comfortable with where I drew it to a close.

It had more complicated, interesting names for the characters, the lands, and the sentences were longer.  There was more description and more suggestion of threat and danger to the protagonists. I made this far more obvious in Story 1.

During Part 5, I have been reading Philip Reeve’s “Fever Crumb”, which has been a superb inspiration for fantasy writing.

I have also been re-reading Philippa Pearce’s “Tom’s Midnight Garden”, which has reminded me of a common theme amongst stories of this time; children being sent away and having an extraordinary adventure (Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden).

And waiting to be read is Alan Garner’s “The Moon of Gomrath”.

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Assignment 5 – Story 2 – “The Stolen Crown”

They stood, breathless.  The view from the top of Relatrius Ridge was awesome, with the Valley of Ocarius stretching out like an endless green carpet before them.  They knew that it was now only one more day before they reached Isola, the site of the Labyrinth.

Olida and Acromea had been walking for 3 days continuously, stopping only briefly for rest and sleep.  They felt an incredible connection with their country. They couldn’t believe that with every step they took, a small part of it somewhere was slowly dying.

One of the twin suns was sinking in the sky, dropping like a ripened peach from its branch.  Should it fall below the horizon, all hope was lost; their race would die.

Their mission was a courageous but perhaps foolish one.  Many in their village begged them to stay.  However, the pair knew that their people had no choice; the Crown of Ongar had been stolen.

Olida’s long blonde hair blew in the breeze and caught around the small, mouse-like features of her face.  She carried wisdom beyond her precious 12 years.

Acromea was tall, slim, and 3 years older than his sister, but lacked the same plucky spirit that she possessed.  It wasn’t that he lacked confidence; he was exceptionally independent and capable.  It was just that he didn’t share Olida’s passion for adventure, for new experiences.  He preferred to “go with the flow”.

When the Crown of Ongar had been seized five moon rises ago, a dark cloud drifted up from the South towards the North, towards Quassia, the tranquil land of King Ongar. Quassia was a peaceful realm, ruled with love and sincerity by a family who had kept the scared crown in their possession for many hundreds of years.

The Crown of Ongar was magical.  It influenced the ruling and guidance of its lands, depending on what was felt in the heart of it’s owner.  Fortunately for the Quassians, King Ongar was a kind, gentle, loving man.  He did not possess a single ounce of hatred or malice and he only wanted peace and harmony for his people.

However, King Ongar was acutely aware that should his crown get into the wrong hands, Quassia would die. All the goodness would ebb away and the Second Sun would drop from the sky.  If they didn’t get the crown back before the sun disappeared from the sky altogether, Quassia would never restore and regrow.  It would be too late.

Olida strode out along a narrow path that ran alongside a bubbling brook.  She was tired and her legs ached but she kept moving, kept thinking about the task in hand.

King Jarrow was ruler of the South.  He was in many respects the complete opposite of King Ongar; mean, spiteful and nasty.  His people lived in fear and did not want to get on the wrong side of him.

 

Jarrow made sure that strangers to his land had a difficult and dangerous journey.  He lived within a huge prison-like castle that he made invisible with magic spells.  Anyone wanting to overthrow his rule had to make a treacherous journey through a Labyrinth guarded by The Calix before they reached the castle.

Rumours had circulated Quassia for many hundreds of years about The Calix.  Some thought it was a three-headed man-beast that chased down it’s prey through the darkened tunnels before eating them alive.  Others believed that it was a trick, that Jarrow had nothing but dank air hidden away within the passageways and that it was all just a scare tactic to keep people away.

Olida and Acromea’s quest demanded that they had to risk whatever was hidden within Jarrow’s Labyrinth if they stood any chance of retrieving the crown.

 

They continued on making excellent progress. Acromea spoke very little keeping his thoughts to himself. Olida knew not to pester him as she realised he was very frightened but didn’t want to show it.

The consequences of Jarrow wearing Ongar’s crown was clear to see; Quassia was dying and the Second Sun was sinking.

Nobody knew how the Crown had been taken.  When King Ongar took rest at night, he had a small group of specially trained Quassians on The Watch, a privileged duty of guarding the Crown until the King rose again.

Many thought Jarrow had sent his Layreas, flying creatures who could assume invisibility. Many also believed that they would be seen by those with “sixth sight”.  Many Quassians were psychic and would act as advisors to King Ongar when danger was approaching their land.

When the dark cloud started to drift up from Isola, many of Ongar’s advisors spoke of an ominous presence travelling towards Quassia.  Ongar increased The Watch from that moment on, but it wasn’t enough.  Jarrow knew what he was doing and stole the crown clean away.

A new day dawned and after a fitful sleep, Acromea woke his sister and they got ready to continue.  From their hillside resting place, they could see the outline of the Labyrinth.  It were as though the ground had large scars etched across it, mounds forming in snake-like channels running all over the place.

When Olida saw it, she wondered whether she could sketch the outlines and use them as a make-shift map.  However, the paths were not distinct and she decided to keep their tricky task as simple as possible and not complicate it.

They took a handful of berries from a nearby bush and made their way down the hillside, careful as always to cover their tracks and keep a good look-out for any protectors that Jarrow may have positioned in and around the land.

Many Quassians believed Isola to be a dark wilderness, with swirling clouds and thick mud-filled plains.  It wasn’t the case.  Olida knew that they had reached Isola because of the Labyrinth and it looked green and lush. What Olida was forgetting was that Jarrow was wearing Ongar’s crown.

For the first three sunsets, Jarrow’s land would be influenced by Ongar’s rule; the darkness that normally prevails is replaced with a temporary lightness.  The ground takes on a healthy hue, and some would be mistaken for thinking that they were in Quassia.

Jarrow was ill at ease with this goodness pervading his land.  However, he also knew it would trick potential enemies from the North into thinking that they hadn’t yet reached Isola.  Their guard would be down and they could easily be “removed”.

Olida was a psychic.  Apart from the Labyrinth, she knew that they were now in Isola and she was acutely aware of her surroundings.

An hour or so passed and they reached the entrance to the Labyrinth, a small opening between two huge stones surrounded by thorn-covered bushes.

Acromea’s face was pale. Beads of sweat raced down his back and his breaths came in short gasps.  Olida, however, was very much in control.

She took from her rucksack a small oil lamp.  Acromea did the same.  They looked at one another.

“Right.  Do you remember the plan?  Keep the lamps held high and take small, steady steps. Lift our feet, don’t shuffle, and hold our daggers by our sides.”

Acromea nodded.

“Let’s not speak unless absolutely necessary. And if The Calix appears, we fight like our Father taught us.  Okay?”

A further nod and they entered the darkness ahead.

The oil lamps bounced warm, tangerine light around the narrow tunnel.  They were now like glowworms working their way through the night in search of grubs.  Except for these children, their prey was a little larger.

They moved as silently as possible.  Dirt lay beneath their feet and scuffed up into a dusty haze as they moved deeper and further into the tunnel.  The air was damp and musty; it caught in the back of Acromea’s throat forcing him to swallow hard to stifle a cough.

They came to the first fork in the tunnel.  With little hesitation, Olida took the right branch, her psychic insight guiding her.  They continued like this, snaking their way along numerous routes.  They came across small bones, pieces of grass and plantation strewn across the floor.  It could have been something completely innocent; Acromea thought otherwise, convinced his heart was thumping loud enough to reveal their presence.

All at once Olida stopped forcing Acromea to walk straight into her.  They both remained silent, listening to their surroundings.

Olida sensed something. She could feel eyes boring into her. Then, on her right cheek, a breath.  The smell of rotten vegetables.  She felt sick. Acromea let out a faint but distinguishable cry behind her.  She didn’t know what to do.

She moved the lamp about her, from side to side, in front and then behind.  There was nothing there except golden light bouncing around.  Perhaps she had imagined it.

She motioned to Acromea to continue forward. After a further ten or twelve steps, they both heard a low, menacing growl, a sound that would forever stay in their minds and wake them from slumber.

They stopped dead.  There was something here.  And it was now between them and the crown….

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Assignment 5 – Story 1 – “A Strange Road Trip”

Holly Toogood was bored.  How could a 10 year old be bored?  With so much to explore and learn at that age, she wondered why she was feeling so fed up.

It was the first week of the summer holidays.  Her younger brother Timothy had already shut himself away in his bedroom, glued to his microscope.

Holly wanted an adventure.  She wanted to go exploring. She didn’t want to play in the garden any more and all her friends had gone on trips with their families. Her father was still at work so her family was staying put for the time being.

She looked out of her bedroom window and saw her mother’s car sitting on the driveway. She had an idea!

Holly ran downstairs and found her mother ironing in the kitchen.

“Mum! Mum! Can I go sit in the car?”

Her mother set the iron down on the board and folded a T-shirt neatly into the basket at her feet.  She looked quizzically at Holly.

“Why on earth do you want to go and sit in the car, Holly?  We’re not going out today.”

“Yes I know.  But I can pretend that we’re going somewhere.  Please?!”

Laughter filled the kitchen and her mother reached over to her daughter and pulled her into a big bear-hug.

“You are funny, Holly Toogood.  Go get my handbag from the hall; I think the keys are inside.”

Holly skipped with excitement to retrieve the bag and her mother rummaged around to find the small bunch of keys.  They walked to the front door and her mother pressed the remote.  The car blipped and flashed; it was open!

Holly opened the drivers door and climbed inside.  She sat proudly in her seat, placing her hands firmly on the big steering wheel.  She was the driver!

She looked down at the pedals beneath her feet. Her legs were too short and her feet didn’t quite reach them. She tried to stretch down to touch one of them and ended up almost sliding off her seat.

Just drive, Holly!  Let’s go! 

             Holly placed her left hand on the gear knob to her left and pretended to change gear.  Her hands turned the wheel and she made little driving noises.  She pressed the horn in the middle of the wheel, which annoyed her mother because she appeared at the front door shaking her head.

All of a sudden, as Holly looked out, the view in front of her started to change. The road beyond the end of their drive was shimmering, wobbling in and out of focus.  Holly rubbed her eyes.  Maybe she was tired.  It made no difference.  Everything was blurring and smudging into one another.

She stayed perfectly still whilst everything around her became one big ball of pinky-purple colour. The car started to vibrate, only very gently at first but soon quite violently. What was happening?

As quickly as it all started, Holly now watched as everything around her started to settle.  The pinky-purple colours seemed to fade away and things looked fairly normal.  She twisted in her seat to look back at the house; it was still there as before.  The driveway and the road, the houses opposite; it all looked as it should.

Holly scratched her head.  She didn’t understand.  What had just happened? She got out of the car and went back inside the house to tell her mother.  As she went into the kitchen she couldn’t quite believe what she saw.

There, standing next to the ironing board was a very tall, very thin, very strange looking woman.  It wasn’t Holly’s mother; it looked like a witch.  She was wearing a tall, pointy hat and a long black robe.  Her hands were old and boney, and she definitely wasn’t very good at doing the ironing.

As Holly walked into the room, the witch turned slowly to face her.  Holly noticed she had piercing blue eyes and horrible teeth, all broken and yellow.  She was frightening looking and Holly thought she might scream but managed to stop herself.

“Well, well, if it isn’t little Holly Toogood. Nice to see you could spare some time to have a chat.”

“Who are you?”

“Oh, just a friend of your mums.”

Holly knew the witch was lying.  Something was very wrong.

“Where is my mother?”

“Oh, don’t worry about her, Holly.  You get to see her every day.  I don’t get to visit very often now do I?”

Holly was very confused.  She was talking to a witch who was doing the ironing.

“I don’t get it.  Who are you? How did you get here?”

“It’s really very simple, Holly.  You went and sat in the car.  And then I appeared.  For someone who was feeling bored, you’re not looking very excited at having someone to hang around with.”

Holly wasn’t excited.  If she was going to hang around with anyone it certainly wouldn’t be some old smelly witch who was singeing all their clothes.

“Was that why everything went a funny colour and shimmered?”

The witch slammed the iron down hard onto the board making Holly jump.  She wasn’t a very patient or calm individual.

“Oh, for goodness sake, Holly Toogood, yes!  For every child that wants to go “drive” in their parents car there is always a visitor that appears – that’s me.  Your visitor.”

Holly couldn’t put two and two together. “But I don’t understand why.”

“You’re not supposed to; you’re only ten.  Look, I was chosen to visit your house.  You got in the car; I appeared in your kitchen.  Although why I was expected to do the laundry I’ll never know.”

This was completely weird.  Holly wanted to see her mother.

“Please let me go find my mother.”

The witch took a step in front of Holly blocking her way.

“That’s not such a good idea, Holly.  Your mother has gone.”

“What do you mean gone?”

The witch smiled, the crookedness of her mouth both comical and gross.

“I popped her into the iron.  She’s currently all over your washing, keeping you on the straight and narrow!”

And with that, the witch broke into the most horrendous cackling ever heard.  Molly covered her ears and held her breath, for the old woman had obviously not cleaned her teeth for some time and a wretched smell of mouldy cheese wafted about the place.

“Right, that’s it.  I won’t stand for this any longer.  You give me back my mother or I’m going to get back in that car and make you go away.”

The witch continued laughing at Holly, until Holly made a run for the hallway.  The witch grabbed Holly’s arm and pressed her wrinkled, smelly face up against Holly’s.

“Don’t even think about it, Toogood.  She’s gone!”

She wasn’t sure how she managed it but Holly managed to wriggle herself free of the witch’s grasp and out into the car.  She jumped into the drivers seat, slammed the door behind her and pressed down on the central locking, making sure she couldn’t be followed.  Good job; it wasn’t long before the old hag was banging on the window.

Holly did her best to ignore the witch and placed her hands on the steering wheel once more.  She imagined driving along windy lanes, past little village greens and secluded coves by the sea.  Her hands were gripping the wheel so hard that her knuckles turned white.

Nothing was happening.  And then Holly remembered; things only went strange when she made the car noises, honked the horn, made it real.  The second she did, everything started to swirl and shimmer once more.  The pinky-purple shades wrapped themselves around the car and although she could still hear the witch on the window, Holly couldn’t see her.

After a few minutes of vibrating pinkness, Holly blinked hard a few times and realised that everything was back to normal again.  She turned slowly to her right; no witch.  Thank goodness.

She sat briefly, quietly, trying to take in what had just happened.

She jumped out of the car and raced indoors.  As she reached the kitchen, she ran straight into her mum who was carrying the ironing basket full of clothes.  Shirts and trousers, t-shirts and underwear went soaring up into the air, some of which landed on Holly’s head.

“Holly!  Look what you’ve done!  What’s with all the rush?!”

Holly smiled broadly and threw her little arms around her mother.

“Oh, I just missed you, that’s all.”

“But you’ve only been outside for a few minutes, love!  Come on, help me pick all this lot up.”

And Holly did as did as she was told.  She decided she wouldn’t tell her about the witch or the pinky-purple.  After all, it was only her that had been on such a strange road trip.