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Part 2, Project 2 – Exercise: Questions to ask myself….

1) What age group would I like to write for?
7-11 year olds

2) What do you think the advantages or disadvantages would be of flagging up this target age group on the book cover?
The advantages would be to make it clear what audience the story would be aimed at. It gives guidance to parents as to whether the story is suitable. Disadvantages can be that it can put children off the book if it’s aimed at a younger age group; they can’t discover the story for themselves as they might feel it “babish”. This could lead to peer pressure/teasing. It may unnecessarily get missed by children of age groups outside this recommendation.

3) Bearing in mind your target age group, is there any subject matter that you’ll deliberately avoid?
I will probably avoid overt sexualisation although emotions and feelings will be fine. I think most subject areas can be covered but in an appropriate way.

4) What will you do to help yourself see the world from a child’s perspective rather than an adult one?
I’m going to listen to what children say about things, the world around them. Research child interviews on the internet. Read child reviews of books. Observe the children that I teach and how they interact, how they see things.

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Part 2, Project 2 – Exercise: Writing from the child’s perspective

This was quite difficult to write as it brought back memories, lovely memories of my Granny and time spent with her. It reminded me just how much I miss her….

This was aimed at 12+yr olds.

My grandmother’s sitting room was my sanctuary. Taking the first door on the left as you entered my parents house, just before the stairs took you up, my grandmother resided. Phyllis Pegg moved in with us just a year or so after we got settled into our new home. The downstairs accommodation was more than big enough for us as a family but she still required her own space, somewhere for her bits and pieces, and more importantly, somewhere to call her own.

Granny’s sitting room was somewhere that quickly became the place that I could be found. Perched in the middle of her wooden framed settee with a large cup of tea and a pile of rich tea biscuits on a plate in front of me, we would while away the hours talking about everything that was going on in my world. This included everything that was good, bad and ugly, which included the bullying and what it was doing to my self-confidence.

It wasn’t a large room, but it was cosy. It felt warm and safe. I remember the wooden furniture, the large coffee table with the shallow shelf underneath stuffed with magazines. The glass-fronted china cabinet in the corner, which still stands in that room today, containing all her best tableware, crystal glasses, and Concorde memorabilia that she had “come by” on a day trip to Bahrain (she wanted, to quote, “blow some of my money rather than leave it as inheritance”).

Her faded brown corduroy upholstered reclining chair took pride of place opposite a little television set that was usually turned up very loud and which was set to all the sporting events, snooker one afternoon, horse racing the next. And if the sport wasn’t on, the drama of the soaps were.

I should point out that my parents live in the same property, which is a late Tudor/ early Elizabethan. Wooden beams line the ceilings, which hang low and which create a certain atmosphere – I always felt that it looked like an upside down skeleton. The wooden-framed, lead-glass windows looked out across the small front garden to the opposite side of the street. Along the windowsill was a wide variety of geraniums in various states of growth; some tiny, some huge. The colour palette of the blooms ranged from the palest of pink to the most vivid cerise; I always felt that the window sill was blushing, both in colour and embarrassment.

One afternoon I recall sitting in my usual position on the settee and it came to mind that granny would not be alive forever. As bold as a child can be with little inhibition or thought for how it may have been received, I turned to my granny and told her that I wanted to go around her sitting room and let her know which things I wanted to be given when she died.

I must have only been 7 or 8 years old when this happened. I picked up my cup of tea and walked around her little room looking properly at the many trinkets and favourite things that were on display. I could have had a packet of stickers and marked things as though putting items up for sale in a car boot. But no; I pointed at, picked up, fiddled with and generally poked around through her things.

What on earth possessed me I don’t know? It makes me cringe now thinking back to the arrogance I took upon myself. My granny took the whole situation in her stride. Sitting on her reclining chair, the reading lamp behind her shining through her grey hair, she smiled at me and giggled. She was amused and surprised by my boldness instead of being offended. She even proffered comments here and there, joining in when she felt it necessary but generally stayed quiet, albeit for the laughter.

I’m not totally sure what came of my utterances. I know that I took myself round her entire room stating quite clearly which things I really liked and, more importantly, wanted when she died. I do know that granny did remind me that my twin brother would need to have things, too, but at the time I couldn’t understand which of the many feminine pieces a boy could possibly want.

The conversation then took a more morose tone and we started talking about granny dying. This sort of conversation is never one that you actively want to discuss with someone you adore, but I remember distinctly my granny being very matter-of-fact and calm about it. She was at this time in good health and hadn’t started to suffer from the minor strokes that plagued the last 10 years of her life. She had all her faculties about her and was definitely of lucid mind.

She told me that yes, she would die at some point and that I must not be frightened. I asked her if she was scared and she said no. She told me that she hoped that she would get to see friends and family again, those who had passed and who she missed very much, such as my grandfather who died when I was quite little. I asked her whether she believed in ghosts and she smiled. I’m not sure what made me ask her this but I remember her looking me straight in the eyes and saying to me that she would come back and say hello.

This scared the hell out of me.

The thought of my granny appearing totally unexpectedly as an apparition shocked me to the core of the soul. I vividly remembered the mental image that came to mind; her shuffling around with outstretched arms, a white sheet over her head and a ghoulish wail accompanying her round the house. Perhaps the odd rattle of chains, too, but then I scrubbed this part out of the image because she hadn’t been a prisoner.

Whilst I was incredibly frightened at the idea of granny making her presence known to me after her death, I was also strangely comforted by it. I found myself striking a deal as to how my wonderful grandmother was haunt me; I made her promise that she wouldn’t scare me.

Again, that brilliant smile, all dentures and pink lipstick. She told me this;
“Don’t worry, Amy, I won’t scare you. But you’ll definitely know I’m there.”

I had no idea what this meant and it did little to quieten the trembling murmurs inside of me, and the hairs on the back of my neck went up.

I spent many years after this conversation wondering how and what was going to happen to me once granny had died, and on numerous occasions after she had shuffled into my bedroom and sat on the corner of my bed to have a quick chat, I would consider what my life would be like without her.

It wasn’t that I was wishing her gone. It was more the realisation that I was becoming more aware of her mortality that bothered me. The growing realisation that she wasn’t going to be around for very much longer hurt me more than I could ever imagine and the desire to stop her from leaving me was extremely hard to deal with.

Eventually, the inevitable happened and my granny died. A few days after the funeral, I sat in her sitting room with all her possessions around me. Perhaps I wanted to feel closer to her somehow. Perhaps I felt that being surrounded by her things would mean that she hadn’t really gone, that she hadn’t left me. Sadly, this wasn’t the case.

That strange afternoon years before when I had selected things with such conviction that I wanted to own came flooding back to me. I realised then that what I wanted was her. Not the trinkets, the china, the stuffed bear propped up against the footstool. None of it meant anything any more with her gone. It had all lost its importance, its relevance.

It took a few months. She did come and visit me; I definitely knew she was with me.

Waking to a glorious sunny morning I lay in bed and stretched my legs and wiggled my toes. I pondered briefly what the day had in store and was suddenly aware of a shuffling noise coming along the corridor outside my room. I dismissed it as one of the cats playing with a toy.

Another few minutes passed and I was about to get up when I felt the corner of my bed move; it felt as though someone had sat down. And then it hit me. Granny was here.

I deliberately didn’t look towards the end of the bed for fear of seeing her. Instead, I closed my eyes and started talking to her in my head, thanking her for visiting me. My heart was racing in my chest and I was really frightened. And then I felt a finger stroking my cheek. Very light, very indistinct, but definite. She realised that I was scared and she was trying to comfort me.

It was the first time that I had ever experienced anything like this. Having had many discussions with granny over the “spirit world”, I had always been a sceptic up to this point. And she had managed to firmly change my mind.

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Part 2, Project 2 – Exercise: Show, don’t tell

Extract 3, written for 5-8yr olds:
Napoleon sat in the corner of the barn with a frown appearing across his eyes, two little black beads staring out at the rest of the animals. His short coarse hair was standing to attention on his head and his mouth formed an odd-looking shape, as though a wasp had flown inside and stung his cheek. He wasn’t liked very much in the barn. He was bossy and became grumpy when he didn’t get what he wanted. He was quiet and only spoke when he wanted something. Perhaps being the only Berkshire boar on the farm made him feel the odd one out. It definitely didn’t make him very friendly.

Snowball, like Napoleon, was a pig, but was much shorter in height and the colour of candy floss. Napoleon’s skin was a mixture of greys and blacks, as though someone couldn’t make up their minds which colour he should be. Snowball, however, was easy to find not least for his pink hue but because he skipped around. Sometimes he felt he should have been a sheep, a new-born lamb merrily hopping amongst the fields in the sunshine. However, he knew he was a pig and a happy one at that.

Popular amongst the others, Snowball liked telling jokes and when he wasn’t avoiding Napoleon’s moods, he would chatter with much energy to the others. Some of them enoyed his enthusiasm but others were not sure that Snowball really understood the jokes that he told; he didn’t always get the punchlines and often looked confused when others laughed. Some of the ducks had decided that he was a little shallow and didn’t take much notice of him.

Extract 3, written for 9-11yr olds:
Napoleon walked into the barn confidently, as though he owned it and everything within it. He sat in the middle of the other pigs, himself being the only Berkshire boar amongst them. This made him different. Stand out. Better. He looked down his short snout at the rest of the animals, sniffing the air at some bad smell that only he could sense. His mouth drew a hard firm line beneath his nose. It didn’t move. His rear left foot tapped rhythmically on the ground, annoyance coarsing through him.

Napoleon was silent and bored. The other animals could sense it and kept their distance. All except for Snowball. His pitter-patter trotters danced along the straw-strewn concrete floor, much to further Napoleon’s annoyance.

A bright blob of candy-floss pink was now sitting next to Napoleon, contrasting vividly against the dappled grey and black back of the miserable boar. Snowball was affable, cheerful, always glad of good conversation but felt this was a challenge for some living in the barn. The ducks were moody and often made excuses to go swimming in the pond at the far side of the paddock. The two chestnut brown horses were too old to be interested and preferred chomping down noisily in their nose-bags. The flock of geese were happy enough to talk with Snowball, providing the fox hadn’t been snooping around. All Snowball wanted was someone to listen to his tales of adventure across the yard. He learnt jokes off the farm-hand but would sometimes forget the punchline, which let him down.

For the younger age group, I used shorter words and sentences. The imagery was more immediate and obvious. For the older group I felt able to be more expansive with the story, go into more detail and use longer words and sentences. I found both age groups easy to write for but definitely had to be considerate of my audience and ensure that I kept within certain technical parameters.

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Part 2, Project 2 – Exercise: Reading more closely

Extract 2 is aimed at the younger child, despite the longer sentences and more complex language because it is more literal in its description; it goes into more detail to pain the scene. Extract 1, whilst still descriptive, desotn’ have as much information about the pig as what is happening around it within its environment; the light, the noise.

Differences between the description of Mrs Barleylove in extract 2 and Napoleon and Snowball in extract 3 is that Mrs Barleylove’s appearance is discussed and her breed mentioned. You get a real sense, as the reader, of what the pig really looks like. Extract 3 discusses the personality of the animals; there is little physical description leaving more for the reader to imagine.

I felt extract 4 was targetted at adults because it has more complicated language and expects the reader to understand sentences such as “twitching her snout at my scent” – if this was written for children this would have been written as “wiggled her nose when she smelt me”. There was another sentence that caught my attention; “they could see the wind blowing”. This is not a literal statement.
One cannot see the wind blowing but by using this phrase, the writer is suggesting to the reader that the pig has exceptional eyesight; they are assuming that the reader can understand the level of emphasis placed on making such a statement.

Extract 5 is more suitable for children than 4 and 6 because the words are shorter, the sentences are structured with simpler rhythm (not subdivided by commas) and the syntax is therefore easier. The words are by comparison very short.

Extract 6, in my opinion, is not a children’s book. It feels too grown up with its imagery and the language is complicated.

Extract 4 from “Pig” seems the most sophisticated in content and style. It shows but doesn’t tell which is good and it engages the senses.

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Part 2, Project 2 – Exercise: For children or adults?

I gave an appropximate age category for each of the extracts;
1. 8+yrs child
2. Adult
3. Adult
4. 12+ child
5. 7+ child
6. Adult
This wasn’t an easy task though and I changed my mind many times before settling on the above.

Extract 2 was far more descriptive than extract 3. It takes more time to paint the picture of the pig. Extract 3 is more concerned with the character and describes it in a more grown up way. It uses larger, more complex words; “reputation”, “vivacious”. Extract 2 is I believe aimed at children more so than extract 3. Both could be aimed at adults though.

Extracts 4,5 & 6 all deal with death and violence, but of the three, extract 5 lends itself more for children because the language is more straightforward. The words are short and the syntax is simple; the rhythm and shape of the sentences easier to read.

Extract 6 not only has more complicated words and language but the writer expects more of the reader; imagining gruesome images is fairly tough going. A phrase that felt grown up was “infinite cynicism” and is undoubtably a phrase that adults would understand.

It is surprising that children’s books not only explore really diverse and sometimes hard/gruelling subject matter but also they range in their use of language, the complexity of syntax and imagery. I was astounded that “Lord of the Flies” with it’s adult writing was aimed at children.