When Kids Ask the Questions

As you can imagine, I’ve been spending lockdown at my desk, with no author visits on the horizon. But some young people are still reading my books! Pupils from Winchburgh Primary School in Broxburn asked me a whole bunch of questions about my eco-thriller Wilderness Wars. GREAT questions, so I thought I’d share my answers!

IMG_20200515_200335

About the book – Wilderness Wars

  1. What inspired you to write the book?

It goes back to a time when we went on a family holiday. A stone hit our windscreen, out of the blue, there were no other cars around! In an attempt to make light of it, we speculated that a gull had thrown it, and that nature didn’t want us to reach the holiday cottage. That was the start. I wrote into my notebook that night: What if nature fights back?

  1. If you were Em, what would you have done to get the adults to believe in you about the nature fighting back?

I’m not sure I would have done any better than Em. It’s a bit of a crazy thing for people to believe 😊 I might have yelled a little more…

  1. How did you come up with the name Skelsay?

I tried to find a name that sounded real, but with a huge number of islands around the Scottish Coast, most decent names were already taken. There are loads of islands that end in ‘say’ which was Old Norse for island, so I looked up Gaelic and Norse words and tried out different combination. Skelsay means Isle of shells, and there wasn’t one of those yet!

  1. How long did it take you to write it?

The actual first draft – maybe around 6 months. But it needed a bit of work before the publishers were happy with it, so maybe another 3 months on top of that. I usually have several things on the go at any one time, so it can be hard to tell.

  1. What is your favourite bit of the book?

I love the SCREE chapter!

  1. What made you choose a Scottish Island?

I live in Scotland and I love going to the islands because they are a bit wild. Buying an island and building a hotel etc on it seemed to be possible.

  1. Were the characters based on anyone you know in real life?

YES, all of them have bits of people I know. Struan is almost exclusively based on my son Duncan. When he was little, he was just like that!

  1. Who’s the best character that you think that you created in the book?

Again, I like Struan best, but I like the others too. Ian Pratt was such good fun to write.

  1. I would really want to know, What happens after the book is finished.

The postscript gives you a wee bit of an idea. Skelsay rewilds itself in any case 😊

  1. Having written your book, is there anything you would change if you could re-write it?

Yes! I like the ending, but as a very smart kid pointed out at a school visit, Em ends up being a bit of a litterbug at the end, so I would maybe come up with something a bit better…

  1. What made you come up with this kind of storylines?

I care about the environment, and once we lose our wild places, they are gone. We need to take better care of them!

  1. Would you ever make the book into a film?

I’d love to see a film of Wilderness Wars, but as a writer, I have to wait until a studio or a production company takes an interest.

  1. What was the hardest chapter to write?

My publishers asked me to delete the first three chapters of the original manuscript. I was gutted, but it is a better story as a result, I hope. Rewriting the beginning was really tough.

  1. I have started to write my own book about a young boy on a quest and have so many ideas in my head I find it hard to organise them and pick the best to use. I really enjoyed the suspense created at the end of your chapters and all the questions I had before reading the next one. I would like to do the same in my book do you any advice on how I can plan my story ideas to create the same?

 

To be absolutely honest, I don’t always plan my stories out. I literally write as if I am telling myself a story. Then, at a point when I am excited to move on, I insert a chapter break. Keep asking the ‘what if’ questions. If the story gets a little too easy and boring, throw your characters into terrible jeopardy. It works for me!

About being an author in general

2019_08_21 - School Handbook - Winchburgh PS

  1. Do you enjoy reading?

Love it! I constantly have a book on the go and take it with me wherever I go. I also have as book in the car in case I have to wait somewhere. And when times are tricky, I absolutely need to read to give myself a break from real life!

  1. When did you get in to writing books?

I wrote loads of stories when I was a kid. As an adult, I wrote plays first and performed them. I had a wee puppetry business for a few years, but I soon realised that the writing was what I loved best. I then wrote a short story, just to see if I could, and entered it into a competition, and I won! After that, I challenged myself in a New Year’s resolution – wonder if I could write a kids’ book. But I wasn’t published until I had written 6 books! It takes a long time 😊

  1. Did anyone inspire you to become an author and if so, who?

Many people. But I loved Walter Farley’s books about the racehorse world and I remember thinking – creating stories for young people would be the coolest thing that anyone could do.

  1. How many books have you written?

At least 11 full length manuscripts, but many shorter stories and plays too.

  1. What inspired you to be an author?

I just think it’s total magic, how little black marks on paper get some sort of head-cinema going in a young reader’s imagination. I really, really wanted to be part of that and learn how to do that. If you offered me the chance to do real magic, I think I’d still choose this!

  1. Can you talk to someone and if they were talking about a dream could you turn that into inspiration for a story?

I do that constantly! But I can’t write a story that I’m not excited about. I really have to care. If I’m not really invested in it, I can’t expect a reader to be either. So if you are wishing that there was a story about, I don’t know, sword-fighting dogs in Siberia, then your best bet is to write it yourself!

 

Thanks for asking all these cool questions!  

Keep reading, and power to your pens!

Want to run a Kidlit Quiz in Book Week?

Hi there, teacher friends. 

Book Week Scotland is nearly upon us, so I’ve had another go at a kidlit quiz, including a Scottish Round! All based on children’s books.

A ready-to-use powerpoint with questions is here: Kidlit Quiz 2019

A word document with the answers is here: Kidlit Quiz Answers

Have fun! Teams of four or so and about an hour and a half, allowing 30 seconds per questions and time for marking in between rounds.

Let me know how you get on!

 

BRAND-NEW FREE Kidlit Quiz for Teachers – with a Scottish Round!

Book Week Scotland is nearly upon us!kidlit quiz

TEACHERS!

Looking for an easy, ready-to-run kidlit quiz (PPT) with solutions (Word Doc)

It’s ideal for upper primary or even S1 and features questions on classic and contemporary children’s books, from picture books to motion picture adaptations.

This one has ten slides per round. I trialled it with 28 kids, split into groups of four. The full thing may take up to 1.5 or 2 hours, depending how much thinking time you allow. They really enjoyed it!

Here you go!

Kidlit Quiz 2018

Kidlit Quiz 2018 Solutions

How to run it:

  • A plain sheet with group name, round name and numbers down the side will suffice, and a clipboard definitely makes things easier.
  • I have found that kids stay most engaged if you give some answers throughout, rather than leaving a huge info-dump till the end. So, ask Rounds 1 and 2, offer answers/scores for Round 1, run Round 3, offer scores for Round 2 etc. But up to you really.
  • I think a break somewhere at the halfway stage helps!

 

 

Roll of the Dice Creative Writing

Hello again, teachers and writers!

clipdice

Use giant dice if you can! More fun that way.

How about a wee creative writing activity?

Ideal for #Literacy #CreativeWriting #authorvisits

‘I don’t know what to write about!’ If I got paid for every time I heard a pupil complain about lack of ideas, I’d be very rich indeed.

So how about turning the whole thing into a game? I had seen fiction squares in writing magazines before, Would this work in schools?

Yes, I can confirm! It definitely does. I’ve tried it!

Step 1: On a whiteboard, create a blank table:

Fiction Square step 1

Step 2: Get kids to shout out interesting suggestions and fill the table in.

Fiction Square 3

Step 3: Now comes the fun part. Get kids into pairs or groups and let them roll the dice twice for characters, twice for character traits and once each for a problem, an object and a location. I use a giant dice so the whole class can see.

Step 4: Give them 5-10 minutes to come up with a story incorporating these elements. I tend to allow them to ignore/discard whatever doesn’t fit their best idea – it’s about creating compelling stories, not contriving to squeeze the ingredients in at all cost. Remind pupils that the problem must be addressed and possibly overcome in the story. There must be an outcome. That will automatically result in a story arc.

Step 5: Once pupils have generated a story together, you could set them the individual task of drafting an exciting or intriguing opening for the story.  This can later be developed into a longer piece of writing. 

Have fun!

 

A Free Victorian Christmas Script

We all know Charles Dickens’ famous ‘A Christmas Carol’. Nothing beats a good ol’ Victorian Christmas, right?

Teachers!

Here is an instant, easy-to-use 3-page script adaptation which could not be simpler; you could do this in a day!

The flash-back and flash-forward sections are left open for devising. This allows flexibility to accommodate as many or as few pupils as you need, and it also means you can send a group of pupils off to sort out those scenes independently while you rehearse the main storyline with the others. Suitable P4 (keeping it simple) -S1 (with bells on). 

Feel free to print the document below – the original is old enough to have no copyright, and I adapted it myself, so no issues there. Enjoy!

445405

A Christmas Carol

The Ultimate Kidlit Quiz

Stuck for what to do with youngsters during #BookWeekScotland?

I devised this QUIZ (suitable for upper primary/lower secondary school) based on classic and recent children’s titles.

It takes around an hour and a half to run (it helps to have another adult in the room to help with marking!). From The Hungry Caterpillar to The Hunger Games, this quiz should be accessible to all, while still challenging the most devoted of bookworms! The quiz itself is in Powerpoint format, while the solutions are a simple Word document.

The Ultimate Kidlit Quiz

Ultimate Kidlit Quiz Solutions

There are eight rounds, with ten questions each.

I’d suggest handing each team of 4 pupils a sheet for each round. Get groups to think up a group name and nominate a scribe. After each round, collect them in and run through the answers (your helpers can mark the sheets) before issuing the paper for the next round. 

Have fun!

 

 

Free Stuff for Teachers (3) ‘Don’t Touch the Writ’ Game

 

Another Highland Clearances activity for teachers – this time it’s a game!

CaptureThe eviction writ was considered legally binding if villagers had been touched by the document.

In Fir for Luck, the villagers go to great lengths not to touch it – and manage to force the sheriff officer to burn the writ instead. ‘Mind, that writ was never served’ snaps one of the villagers as the servant of the law is sent on his way.

Split the class into two teams. It’s best played in a sports hall or outside, but a cleared area in the classroom may well be fine. Pupils should sit on chairs or benches opposite each other in two lines.

Place a bucket with a rolled up piece of paper in the middle of the two rows, with at least a couple of metres in between.

Number each team, but start the count at opposite sides so that, say, the number 10s on both sides are diagonally across from each other, with the bucket (containing the writ) between them.

game1

Now call out a number. The two pupils with that number will run to the middle, grab the writ and attempt to touch their opponent with it before he/she reaches their seat again. Discourage violence!!!

If successful, they gain a point for their team. If their opponent gets to the writ first and manages to touch them with it, the other team gets a point. Deduct points for not getting up at all.

Mix numbers up, and try to catch pupils out – that way it’s the most fun. Keep it fast-moving, taking care to always place the ‘writ’ back in the middle. I tend to play until the first team reaches 20 points or similar. Kids seem to really like this game.

It also works sitting on the floor, but ensure proper boundaries – in my experience there is a fair bit of bum-shuffling towards the writ! Not something the 18th century villagers would have done, I’m sure!

 

 

Free Stuff for Teachers (2) Freeze Frame Comic

Another freebie – this time a wee Drama activity: Freeze-frame Comics!

Blog comic
A recent freeze frame of the beginning of Fir for Luck, where the girls are unhappy that they are left behind. I thought this Janet looked particularly angry. 🙂

I often use this activity on school visits. The examples here are based on my book Fir for Luck, although you can apply the same principles to any story or class novel.

First establish what a freeze frame is. It is a picture of a dramatic moment in the story, held without movement.

1. Pick two volunteers for the demonstration. One should take the part of a master, and one the part of a servant.

Discuss as a class what dynamic pose (they should both be in the middle of doing something, not just standing there) the characters would strike. The master might stand upright, hands on hips, or wagging a finger at the servant. Facial expression might be stern or even angry. Head will be held high, looking down on the servant (explain use of levels).

The servant, on the other hand, might have his head bowed or look up anxiously at the master. He/she might be in the middle of a task, like scrubbing the floor, or might be begging the angry master for mercy. Kneeling might work.

Once the poses are decided, pupils should hold them for ten seconds without moving. There should be tension in their bodies, as if they were really in the middle of moving – that will make the poses look much more realistic.

2. The Freeze Frame Comic:

For the next part you can either pick volunteers from the class or allow pupils to do this in groups (if you have space enough or are working outside). A few well-chosen costumes and props make all the difference here: for Fir for Luck, you may need a top hat/jacket for the sheriff officer, a shawl for Janet, a wig or waistcoat for the villagers. You will also need a rolled up paper for a writ.

You could tackle the whole book, or just a key scene. A key scene in Fir for Luck is when the main character, Janet, spots a sheriff officer in the distance. Let’s create a comic for this scene!

  • First picture: The man is coming to deliver a writ of eviction to Janet’s village.

writ comic

  • Second picture: She runs to warn the villagers.

Janet running comic

  • Third picture: Together, the women and children overwhelm the sheriff officer, taking care not to touch the writ (touching it would make it legally binding). It is quite a struggle.

Struggle comic

Pupils should create a freeze frame for each of these to tell the story. They should maintain their pose and facial expression for ten seconds, allowing the teacher or a fellow pupil to take a photo.

Once the pictures are printed, speech bubbles and sound effects can then be added to create a comic, of the scene or of the book as a whole. They make fab classroom wall displays!

* I’d like to point out that all schools have given me permission to use these photographs. Many thanks!

Free Stuff for Teachers (1): Highland Clearances Baking

If any of you are doing a Highland Clearances project, you may be studying my own book Fir for Luck, or maybe The Desperate Journey. The 19th century diet in Sutherland consisted of food that could be grown in the region. The staple grain was bere, and beremeal bannocks or scones would be eaten daily in these communities. WP_20170316_09_07_30_Pro

Per table, you’ll need 8oz beremeal, 1-2 level tsp of baking powder, 1 level tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar and 6 fl oz buttermilk.

(Chances are, the originals may not have contained much sugar, but hey – kids like this recipe!)

  1. Buy beremeal from a good local health food shop or order it from http://www.golspiemill.co.uk/products/products-list.html, plus a good supply of buttermilk. You will also need baking powder, salt and sugar.
  2. In preparation, weigh out 8oz of beremeal for each table of 4-6 pupils. I find it easiest to have this sealed in freezer bags to prevent floury mess (enough of that to come!)
  3. On the day, give each table a bowl, wooden spoon or similar and a bag of beremeal.
  4.  Number the pupils, co-operative learning style. That way you can distribute tasks fairly. Instructions follow:
  5. Number 1s, empty the bags into the bowls.
  6. Number 2s, add a level teaspoon of baking powder and carefully stir it in.
  7. Number 3s, add another level teaspoon of baking powder and stir it in.
  8. Number 4s, add a level teaspoon of salt. Stir it in. (You get the idea! Only instructions now)
  9. Add 2 heaped teaspoons of sugar. Stir.
  10. Add the buttermilk, a spoon at a time, and stir it in until there is enough moisture to form an elastic dough.(This gets a bit messy)
  11. Get in with your hands and knead until combined. (This gets fairly messy!! Add more flour to stop sticky dough!)CymSRFlXcAARnOO
  12. Divide dough evenly among everyone at the table.
  13. Each pupil should form a round disk around 1/2 an inch thick.
  14. Place on baking paper on tray, writing your name beside in pencil (this works brilliantly and still shows up after baking).CyqGP_ZWQAAXHHG
  15. Bake tray off at 180C/Gas 6, turning the bannocks over once. You’d be there forever if you wanted to cook them all authentically, on a girdle!
  16. Serve with a dollop of butter. I’ve been surprised how much kids have liked these!

cyqgrotxgaaa8kk.jpg

Enjoy! Tweet me your results @scattyscribbler – I’d love to see them.

P.S. Other (possibly less old-fashioned) recipes for beremeal can be found at http://www.birsay.org.uk/baronymill.htm .