Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Shape-changing in Kidsgrove

On a cold winter day with hints of snow blowing in the air, I drove to Kidsgrove for a workshop on creatures that walk on the dark side.

In a high ceilinged classroom, with footsteps echoing down the corridor outside, Nine Two and I shared our ideas about shape changers, while the rest of the pupils and staff of Clough Hall Technology School went about their usual business.  

The trouble with shape-changers is that they are not what they appear to be. What can seem friendly and familiar might be dangerous and not to be trusted. One of the characters in my novel for kids of all ages, “Dragonfire” is Jocelyn von Drackenberg, the shape-changing dragon. On first meeting he appears kind and helpful, but as the story develops, it becomes more and more obvious that he has very sinister motives.

Showing a real feel for dark fantasy the class concentrated on creating an atmosphere of fear and horror. Some of the settings were conventional. Brandon wrote about John visiting his nan’s grave, with “the wind whistling and the leaves crackling under his feet.” Courtney, however, “was walking down the school corridor late at night …when I saw a figure in the darkness.” While Joe chose “the barren pitch” of an empty football stadium.

Others chose familiar situations, which became more horrific as their stories progressed. Chloe was at home on the upstairs landing when she “saw a man with the body of a dragon, his eyes were yellow. He spoke my name.” Callum was walking home on a Friday night when “All I could think about was the field I had to cross.”

In the other stories the horror became more acute as the writers realized that parents were not what they seemed. Harry wrote that the eyes that peered through the darkness “were just one pair of glasses. They looked a lot like my dad’s glasses and that’s when it hit me, there he was, my dad; but something’s changed…”

Parents are people you should be able to rely on when things get scary, which is why Fern’s story was so effective.
“”Where are you? Please I’m scared. Stop!” Silence, as I turned around. “Mum?” I asked. “Is that you?” No reply.” While in another story, whose writer unfortunately remains anonymous,  “I heard my name being called from outside the door. A light, yet harsh voice. It was my nan.  “Why are you here? How did you get in?” I asked…no reply just a slight smile was drawn on her face.”

The gorier side of horror wasn’t ignored. Hannah woke to “hear a dragging sound. My door opens and something is dragging my parents in the next room ….blood running from my mother’s eyes and my dad’s nose. The creature got its claws and stuck them in my mother’s chest getting blood. It started scribbling blood on the wall…As my eyes adjusted in darkness I could see what it said “I KNOW YOU’RE AWAKE.””

Truly horrific!

Thanks Nine Two for a terrifying afternoon.   

Monday, 28 January 2013

Workshopping Dragonfire

One of the best things about being a writer of children’s books is that it gets you into schools. I’m one of those people who really enjoy working with kids and the workshops I did at Clough Hall Technology NAMe on Friday were brilliant. Thanks guys and thanks Chris Nelson for inviting me.

My first group was Nine Three. We had less than an hour so I decided that the best approach was to concentrate on writing dragon poems. Or at least the first draft of a dragon poem, because by the time I had introduced myself and my books and they had introduced themselves there was little more than forty minutes of writing time left.

I read a passage from "Dragonfire" about Jocelyn the shape changing dragon, then we  talked about my picture of a dragon and brainstormed their ideas. Next came the writing. Five words on five lines, the first ones that come to your head about dragons. Not easy if you’ve never done it before, especially if English and poetry aren’t your favourite subjects.

Building from those original five words, the group drafted their poems. We discussed words, eg why big might be less effective than humungous and why we needed something vivid to describe the power of dragons. From this came Natalia's
“Ruthless teeth tear/ Coldblooded murder kills.” And Owen's “Sharp tail/ Sheer teeth/Scaly ripped skin.

Adam gave us the feeling of power and fury “Vicious wings blow/Angry eyes lazer.” As did Bradley’s “Fierce eyes scare.”

Louis also concentrated on the anger of dragons in the lines “Hard head punches/ Angry fire burns.” While Dean’s dragon had an  “Evil temper always fighting…merciless.”

There was little time to discuss structure but Daniel had an instinctive grasp of form ending each line of his poem with a verb, ie,”Enormous teeth grinding/Armoured body protecting.” As did Sean with his brief three lines. “Long scaly/massive black wings/Sharp claws scratch." While Lewis followed Daniels’ pattern, “Fire breathing burns/Powerful roar deafens" in a tightly structured poem.

Ashley gave us “Scaly fluorescent skin.” Which sent my mind whirling on the possible colours of a dragon’s body and Jordon concentrated on the “Bright eyes glowing mysterious,” the more magical elements of the beast.”

At the end of the session everyone had produced a poem in less than an hour. In an ideal world there would have been time to polish and perfect, but schools work to a timetable and I had another group to go to after lunch.

Thanks Nine Three for a great session. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.