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.””
Thanks Nine Two for a terrifying afternoon.