We came from the sea

WE CAME FROM THE SEA

We came from the sea, sliding out of the mud, learning to use lungs to breathe the invisible air. Reggie knew all about that. The others didn’t seem to care.

In the Plymouth Aquarium, my class of five-year-olds leant over the rock pool, pointing at the starfish. They named the blennies and the anemones, eager to retell stories of their own. They stopped in front of the hippocampus tank and saw sea-horse tails curved around green stems; tiny eyes in modestly dipped faces. The children ran down passageways where we stared up at nurse sharks flicking their tails. They sat cross-legged and watch enormous rays with undulating gills. They gaped at the sharks, and when one child said their teeth were scary, several of my bolder characters insisted that they weren’t afraid, not one bit. Reggie said they would be if they were in the tank with them, and he received a scornful look. He re-established his kudos at the next stop, where he informed us that, ‘This is the biggest tank in the UK, and it holds two million litres of water.’

‘Did you know that, Miss?’ he asked me.

‘I read it before we came, in case anyone asked.’

Reggie grinned.

I wish I could have taken him when I did my preparatory visit, late one afternoon when all the families had gone home for tea. There was silence in the whole place, and I stood for a long time in front of a living display of tiny jellyfish, ocean drifters, almost transparent, their umbrella skirts pulsating. I remembered snorkelling in Mauritius, dipping my head underwater and finding a world I had heard about, had seen on television, but had never experienced before. It was a wake-up call to being responsible for all this unimaginable beauty. A bit like knowing God is real, rather than being told.

We went to the beach later in the summer term, my class and I. We took parents and carers, and our swimsuits and picnics. A few children were eager to start eating as soon as we arrived, but Reggie told them they’d be hungry later. They pulled a face at him, but closed their lunch-boxes anyway. There were rock pools to explore, and we had buckets and trays to display our finds – two hermit crabs, a pipe-fish, a blenny, various shellfish, fronds of seaweed, a cluster of yellow periwinkle shells. We returned all the living creatures to their homes before we left.

In the classroom we made a display showing how long various objects would take to rot away. The children brought plastic bottles and bits of old rope, bottle tops and drink cans. Reggie committed the whole list to memory.

Perhaps it’s easier for children who live by the sea, to learn to love it, to respect it, to honour it. God’s beautiful underwater world. The place from which we all came.Frog:(Haughtily)

I came from a pond.

A QUESTION OF TRUTH

  • Is there such a thing as truth?

Your immediate reaction may be like mine. ‘Of course there is.’

Then, in my wanderings around the Internet, I found a website which explains the basics of this philosophical question in simple language.  https://oxplore.org/question-detail/does-truth-exist#1082

This is the kind of thing it says:

‘Philosophy helps us deal with questions about what is and isn’t true by encouraging us to stand back and look at the broader picture.

It may not give us absolute truths but it helps us shine a light on how we think about what is and isn’t true. Why we might hold some beliefs and what the difference is between belief and evidence.

What do you think? How do you determine what is true and what you choose to believe as true?’

  • Do you think the best stories and myths have truth at their core?

My wanderings also took me to another fascinating website

https://proverbicals.com/truth

What do you think of these proverbs?

The wise man says, “I am looking for truth“; and the fool, “I have found truth.” ~ Russian Proverb

Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions. ~ Zen Proverb

https://proverbicals.com is full of proverbs from all over the world. It seems as if everyone has something to say about truth.

Some of these proverbs could inspire whole stories. For example:

When one has one’s hand full of truth it is not always wise to open it. ~ French Proverb

Never does a woman lie in a more cunning way than when she tells the truth to someone who doesn’t believe her. ~ Chinese Proverb

It is good to know the truth and to speak the truth. It is even better to know the truth and speak about palm trees. ~ Arabian Proverb

Never show the truth naked — just in its shirt. ~ Spanish Proverb

If you want to hear the truth about yourself — offend your neighbour. ~ Czech Proverb

  • What truth can we find underlying the stories/novels we read?

There are only two ways to reach the truth — with literature and agriculture. ~ Chinese Proverb

Do you agree? Do truth and stories belong together?

I’ve started asking myself the following question:

What truths will readers find when they read my work?

What will they find when they read yours?

Oscar Wilde is having the last word today, courtesy of https://proverbicals.com

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. ~ Oscar Wilde

Do you agree?

FROG: (philosophically)

I’ll agree with anything that’s true.

How do you begin?

Do you start a story with the characters or the plot?

Sometimes one, sometimes the other?

Recently I sat down to create a monologue for a task set by my local writing group. A character from my work in progress seemed to look at me and ask what I was waiting for.

When I say a character, I mean ‘the villain’, though I hope she didn’t hear me say that.

I started by having her furious about something, and of course she was trying to hide her sense of outrage under the pretence of concern for her ‘friend’. (I use the term ‘friend’ loosely.)

At first it was fun, getting inside her head and poking around a bit. Then I started to understand what made her so nasty, and why she couldn’t escape from this part of her personality. I stopped feeling nervous around her, and I began to sense her need to change. She’s trapped in rudeness, no-one likes her, and she’s not happy. I feel as if I can’t change her unless she wants to change. (Yes, she’s very powerful and not putty in anyone’s hands!)

Some villains in books never change, do they? This particular lady is looking at me now, and I think she is asking for help.

It’s great being a writer.

We take what we know and what we understand, and we put these into stories.

Frog: (Hanging out in the garden)                                     

Ever get the feeling you don’t even understand yourself?

 

Exploring children’s books

I’ve been exploring the world of novels for children. There are so many wonderfully imaginative stories to choose from, and I am always adding to the list of my favourite children’s writers. I’ve been a fan of Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo for a long time, but today I’d like to share with you a few of my more recent finds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ross Welford’s The Dog Who Saved the Word is about 11 year old Georgie and her friend Ramzy, and her smelly, eats-anything dog, Mr Mash.    They get to know an ancient and eccentric scientist and virtual games expert, and eventually save the planet from a deadly disease. I loved the characters and the humour. Short chapters. Easy to read.

The Nowhere Emporium is the very exciting and wildly imaginative tale of Daniel, an orphan, who escapes bullies and becomes the loyal apprentice to Mr Silver, owner of a pop-up shop with magical rooms. He becomes caught up in a fight between good and evil, personified by Mr Silver and his arch-enemy, Vindictus Sharpe.

There’s another orphan in Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson. Maia goes to live in Brazil with distant relatives, who turn out to be far removed from the kind and loving people she has imagined. A skilful plot, excellently drawn characters, and a heroine to cheer for.

It’s a joy to read adventure stories which inspire me to make my children’s book the very best it can possibly be.

If you can recommend other children’s authors, I’d love to hear from you.

Frog: (Seriously)

Specially if they have frogs as heroes.

Or tadpoles, of course.

 

 

 

Worst and best

What’s worst thing about lockdown?

Not seeing your family? Not chatting face to face with friends?

Or is it fear? The fear of contracting Covid19, of being very ill, of facing an early death?

Clapping the NHS is one thing. Working for the NHS is another. Or having a beloved relative working for the NHS.

It’s time to take stock, to look at the possibilities. What do I want from life? What can I do for other people?

What would an ideal world look like? How can I help to make that a  reality?

What’s the best thing about lockdown?

The quiet roads? The empty sky? Time with the children? Time to think? To make plans? Time to make the garden beautiful?

Has it been hard to settle down and write? Or is this a blessed release from meetings and the daily grind?

Whatever it has been, how can we carry the positives into the future? How can we become better people because of all we’ve been through?

This is the opportunity for a fresh start. Let’s grasp it and make it work.

 

 

 

 

 

Free book and a free competition

I want to tell you about a poetry competition for poets aged 11 to 17.

It’s running now until the closing date of 31st July.

 

 

Foyles young poet of the year award

On the website it says, ‘Winners receive a fantastic range of prizes, from mentoring to a residential Arvon writing course, Poetry Society membership to books. The Poetry Society also continues to support winners’ development with performance, publication and internship opportunities.’

It also says

‘Read the amazing poems from the Top 15 and 85 commended Foyle Young Poets from the 2019 competition. We hope you find the poems as powerful and inspiring as we do. If you would like to order for free, a printed version of the 2019 winners anthology Your Voice Crosses the Ocean then please contact fyp@poetrysociety.org.uk.’

Our amazing judges this year are the wonderful Maura Dooley and Keith Jarrett. Read Maura and Keith’s blogs to find out what they are looking for in this year’s poems and tips when writing poetry.’

‘The competition welcomes poems on any theme and any length. It is completely free to enter for anyone aged 11-17 in the world.

Poems must be in English, British Sign Language or Braille (do contact us if you have queries regarding any BSL and Braille entries).’

 

Find out more about the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award here.

Or go to https://poetrysociety.org.uk/competitions/foyle-young-poets-of-the-year-award/

So youngsters, why not give this one a try. Somebody has to win the prizes, and if you enter, one of those winners might be YOU.

PS It’s a big achievement to write a poem you’re pleased with, and another big achievement to send it off to a competition.

Frog: (thoughtfully)

I’ve come up here to think. I can’t write anything unless I’ve had a long think!

It does work you know.

 

 

Poetry for children

Welcome to the blog. Today I have some writing challenges for everyone from 5 to 105.

CHALLENGE ONE:READ TWO OR THREE POEMS TODAY

You could start here with two I found at

https://www.panmacmillan.com/blogs/books-for-children/best-poems-for-children-julia-donaldson

‘The Laughter Forecast’ by Sue Cowling 

Sue Cowling’s poem looks at all the ways of expressing happiness in this alternative weather forecast.

The Laughter Forecast

Today will be humorous

With some giggly patches,

Scattered outbreaks of chuckling in the south

And smiles spreading from the east later,

Widespread chortling

Increasing to gale-force guffaws towards evening.

The outlook for tomorrow

Is hysterical.

‘I Opened A Book’ by Julia Donaldson

The joy of reading, perfectly contained in a poem.

I Opened A Book

I opened a book and in I strode.

Now nobody can find me.

I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,

My town and my world behind me.

https://www.panmacmillan.com/blogs/books-for-children/best-poems-for-children

Can you find another you would recommend to me?

CHALLENGE TWO:LEARN SOMETHING NEW ABOUT POETRY

I’ve found a site that’s great to dip into. It’s fun and interesting, and it think it could inspire everyone to write a poem. Even if you never show it to anyone else.

Take a look at Kenn Nesbitt’s website https://www.poetry4kids.com/

I can recommend the Lessons section, and there’s a rhyming dictionary for children too.

CHALLENGE Three:Try your skill at writing a poem

You might send it to one of these competitions.

Radio Two 500 words 

Entry to this competition is open to persons who will be aged between 5 and 13 years on the 12th June 2020

There are two age categories – ages 5 to 9 years (on 12th June 2020) and 10 to 13 years (on 12th June 2020).

Find out more at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/50pnqLfDywb9CFxjNvth5l0/about-500-words

The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is the biggest poetry competition for 11-17 year olds in the world.

Find out more at https://poetrysociety.org.uk/competitions/foyle-young-poets-of-the-year-award/

How many of my challenges can you do today? Or perhaps by next week?

Frog: (thoughtfully) You could write about me if you like. I really don’t mind!

 

 

The Bath Flash Fiction Award

The Bath Flash Fiction Award attracts many very accomplished writers, so let’s take a look at some of the comments made by the competition judge, Santino Prinzi.

‘It’s always an honour to be asked to judge a competition. It’s thrilling and fun, even though it can be daunting. When an author sends you their work, they are entrusting you with something special, so I want start by thanking and congratulating every single author who submitted to this competition, who trusted us with their words. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.’

This is such an encouraging remark, especially for those writers who may feel their work isn’t good enough to send off anywhere. Think again. You wrote a story. You edited it several times. You made it the best it could be. Well done, he says.

‘Each story had its own distinct quality, its own voice, its own style and structure. Each had sentences I underlined and words I circled. Not knowing what I was looking for, I found everything. This made my decisions unfathomably difficult, and I’m indecisive at the best of times…’

Santino Prinzi found his job difficult. Why? Because judging the work of other writers is always personal. Just because a story doesn’t make the shortlist, it doesn’t mean it’s worthless. It may speak volumes to a different person, or maybe it needs another tweek here and there to make it stand out from the crowd.

‘In the end, finalising the everchanging shortlist and deciding the winning and highly commended stories it came down to which stories I gravitated towards more, which ones woke me up in the middle of the night, which characters and their worlds I found my mind drifting off (towards) when I was supposed to be doing other things. I chose the stories that simply pulled me in and wouldn’t let go.’

Read the stories for yourself. Think about the style, the theme, the plot, the characters, the beginning, the end, and the use of language, and ask yourself what made each winning story special. If you agree or disagree with the judge’s choice, can you give your reasons. What can you learn from these stories? 

Maybe it’s time to enter a competition yourself. There’s an interesting themed flash competition running until 29th March 2020 at https://www.retreatwest.co.uk/competitions/quarterly-themed-flash/

Happy writing and good luck everyone!

 

Running with the Wind

It’s always exciting when a friend publishes a novel, and there is something extra special when it’s a debut novel.

Dionne Haynes has worked tirelessly and determinedly on Running with the Wind, and it was a great pleasure to attend her book launch at the end of November.

The book has been well researched and has a convincing plot. Dionne weaves a story of love and danger around the passengers and crew aboard the Mayflower on its famous voyage to America in 1620.

Running with the Wind makes a timely entrance into the world, as here in Plymouth UK, the city is ready to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s amazing voyage.

The Mayflower. One ship that links four nations, spans 400 years of history and connects millions of people.

Find out more at https://www.mayflower400uk.org/

Find Running with the Wind by Dionne Haynes at www.amazon.co.uk/Running-Wind

A Winter Festival

I am not Cornish, but I’ve lived in Cornwall for 31 years, and I claim, perhaps foolishly, to be Cornish by adoption!

However… anyone with an interest in all things Cornish — history, the arts, music, geography, etc — can belong to their local Old Cornwall Society. Our group enjoys talks, visits, spring lunches and Christmas parties. On Saturday 23rd November, the Torpoint Old Cornwall Society hosted the annual Winter Festival, when members of Old Cornwall Societies all over Cornwall and beyond (there are Old Cornwall societies in London and Bournemouth, to name a couple) travelled to this small town next to the River Tamar, for a day to remember.

 

Cornish speaker Leadville with his partner Jacki (right), and their hard-working committee had spent the past year planning the event.The location of the 2019 Winter Festival was the local community college.

So… what was it like?

The morning was informal. People gathered over coffee to meet old friends, to make new ones, and to wander around the school’s large gymnasium, where stalls and exhibitions about all things Cornish were set up. There were book stalls, opportunities to learn about the Cornish language, displays from several Old Corwall Societies, and of course there was history a-plenty. Torpoint sits on the estuary of the River Tamar, opposite Plymouth, and there has been a ferry connection for vehicles since 1834. The Torpoint Archives had a hand-built model of one of the first vehicle ferries on display, as well as historical pictures and information about the town.

In the afternoon, nearly 200 people gathered in the school hall, where the town crier introduced the colourful opening ceremony, with standards from twenty seven Old Cornwall Societies paraded and then displayed. A lively and varied entertainment followed.

The day included, naturally, a pasty lunch and a saffron bun with afternoon tea.

A very happy and worthwhile day, not just for the Cornish bit of me (by adoption!), but also for the writer bit.

Here’s why…

Digging into the past can lead to a wealth of ideas for stories.

You could start with the discovery of an unsung hero, someone who struggled with a problem and overcame difficulties,

or perhaps there’s a well-known person who lived in your town/ county/ area whose story would make interesting reading.

Or maybe you get chatting to someone eccentric who is searching for an old postcard,

or you see someone who seems out of place, who sparks an idea for a story.

FROM INSPIRATION TO STORY

One way to embark on a story is to

Create a character with a flaw

Give him/her a problem

Put an obstruction in his/her way

Work with your character to solve the problem, at the same time aiming for a satisfying, believable end.

 

FROG: (Pensively):

They put choughs on their banners, Barker, but not frogs or dogs. Bit sad isn’t it?