How a Dead Man’s Hand Inspired Me!. Time and time again, my personal life experiences pop up in my writing – this is a short account of one of those times.
Tag Archives: Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow.
As we all know, characters are one of the most fundamental parts of fiction. This is why we fall in love with a certain series – we are intrigued by the characters. So where do we conjure up these story people who readers always want to know more about? I have different methods but in this post I want to demonstrate how sometimes they simply find us.
I had to take my son, Will to rehearsals yesterday for a production he is appearing in next week. Unfortunately, we had all had the sickness bug and I still felt as if I was on a sailing boat in high winds. So the thought of hanging around for two hours was not an attractive proposition. It then occurred to me that I might feel better in the glorious scenery and fresh air of the country park. What could be more relaxing and uplifting than being surrounded by greenery whilst watching swans floating regally on the lake?
To take away the nausea, I stared at the swans gliding towards me, took deep breaths and imagined medieval music playing in the background. I was starting to lose my physical discomfort when bounding out of the bushes was a man dressed head to foot in combat gear wielding a weapon. For a split second, I thought he was after my handbag. It was a truly uncomfortable moment as there was no-one else around and we were quite a way off from sanctuary.
He rushed past me as if we were in a war zone and he was trying to escape. I have to tell you at this point that this is a rural, leafy backwater where you have to say hello to every stranger who walks past with their dog. As I focussed upon him properly, I realised that it wasn’t a weapon he was wielding but one of those huge, phallic type cameras. He was taking photos of the swans. I made a quick exit and headed for the visitor centre thinking I would sit inside on one of the benches and gaze at the ducks outside through the walls of glass.
After popping yet another boiled sweet into my mouth to take away the nausea, I gazed at a couple of sleeping ducks and suffered envy – true, green, poisonous jealousy. The jealousy was just on the point of going as I decided I didn’t really want to be a sleeping duck when he appeared again. He was there aiming his huge camera at the ducks with the aggression and intensity of a hunter. His camera truly was his rifle. The ducks looked as if an earthquake at the side of them wouldn’t awaken them, yet he was there breathing heavily ready for action. It was at this point that his name came to me – he was obviously called Theophile Twitcher. The ducks slept, he waited and I watched.
After about ten minutes of inactivity, Twitcher heard a noise behind him and he turned around aiming his lethal weapon slowly, like the police do on the television when they rush into a building and don’t know who is hiding there. Unfortunately, for him, another male duck approached the sleeping duck couple and a duck spat broke out. Twitcher was too busy searching for lions or bears or whatever with his gun, I mean camera. He then stalked off.
After popping another boiled sweet into my mouth, I noticed him strutting off into the distance. I could see a huge, bulging rucksack on his back as he covered every movement and sound with his camera. He was dressed and equipped as if he was miles away from civilisation. At this point ,I did wonder if he realised he was in a country park in England. No doubt, I will never find out but what I did find was a character for my next Will Blyton book. The seed had been planted, over the next weeks and months this man will turn into a fully formed story person with a back story, personality and problems. I think the children will love him and I’m really looking forward to meeting him. Have you had any similar experiences?
“Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three suited, hundred pound, filthy, worsted stocking knave…” (King Lear) I hope, dear reader, you don’t think I am referring to you. Perish the thought, no, I simply wanted to grab your swan-like neck and swing it in my direction. I don’t want to insult you but I do want to talk about insults and how they can be used to help children be comfortable with Shakespeare’s plays.
Children love Shakespeare if they are introduced to his works properly. Unfortunately, what should be an exciting journey with The Bard often becomes painful, embarrassing and boring. I say painful, embarrassing and boring because if the background work is not done, Shakespeare’s language can seem unapproachable. It then becomes embarrassing because the learner feels stupid. We all know that feeling when something seems to be definitely “not for us”, we cut off and it becomes boring. I am a great believer, therefore, of priming children with Shakespeare’s works well before they reach the teenage years. Children who have been introduced to the stories (it is important that children know what is happening in story form well in advance of reading a full blown play) and aspects of the language are ready to read one of Shakespeare’s plays. It is thoughtless to expect teenagers who haven’t grown up in a literary atmosphere or a book loving household to embrace a sixteenth century play without any former grounding. Fundamentally, I cannot stress the importance of introducing children to Shakespeare in a child friendly manner.
This is where insults are invaluable. I first came across this exercise whilst doing a day long workshop with The Royal Shakespeare Company. It was used as a warming up exercise to allow everyone to relax and clear out those dreadful inhibitions we can suffer from. Everyone is given a piece of card with an insult written on it. It can be something like this quotation from King Lear:
Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood.
Elizabethan music can be played whilst everyone swiftly marches or skips around the room. When the music stops you turn to the nearest person to you and shout your insult out at the top of your voice. They then shout their insult back at you. The next time, it can be whispered in a sly manner. In essence, the insults can be said in many different ways e.g. angrily or with uncontrollable laughter. It is a very good drama exercise. The insult cards can then be changed around. Incidentally, children, teenagers and adults love this as they are actually allowed to use insults without getting into trouble – it has that naughty, delicious edge to it which allows us to let off steam and then gives us the desire to learn. It also gives Shakespeare a bit of street cred before he gets the label of boring.
As children love to be creative, I have added an activity so that they can create the insults themselves.
They need to take an insult from the first two sections below (both of these are adjectives) and then add it to the third section which is a noun. Add ‘thou’ at the beginning and you have a lovely Shakespearean insult.
Section 1 – base, proud, shallow, beggarly, bawdy, filthy, coward, paunchy, gorbellied, puking, droning, dankish.
Section 2 worsted-stocking, pigeon-egg, boil-brained, onion-eyed, elf-skinned, trunk-inheriting, clapper-clawed, milk-livered, lily-livered, doghearted, hundred-pound.
Section 3 knave, rogue, bladder, bugbear, pribbling, flap-dragon, boar-pig, barnacle, apple-john, maggot-pie, coxcomb.
For instance – Thou filthy, boil-brained boar-pig.
For any children who particularly enjoy the insults, I love Elizabethan insults so much that I have them all the way through my book Will Blyton and The Stinking Shadow. Will finds Hamnet, a small boy trapped in a stone, who unfortunately hurls insults every time he opens his mouth. He is, of course, from the Elizabethan period and has had a curse put upon him by the evil, Elizabethan magician Corpsehound. His outrageous insults get Will into trouble everywhere he goes.
“Leave me be, thou fetid, old skanky breath,” says Hamnet.
So thou base, clapper-clawed rogue – I’m sorry it’s become a habit. What I really mean is “until we meet again, dear reader.”