STORIES IN THE MAIL

There’s been no blogging for a while because I’ve been incapacitated – I had to have five stitches in my right hand because of a misadventure with a sharp knife in the kitchen sink. It was a Lady Macbeth moment with much blood dripping from my outstretched hand. I had the stitches out last week, but because it is such a deep wound it’s taking a while to heal so it’s still criss-crossed with steristrips. I can type rather slowly now, but until recently it’s been left hand and one finger at the keyboard. There’s also been no knitting, little gardening, very ordinary cooking and a bare minimum of housework. It’s the most excitement I’ve had for ages, but not in a good way.

I’ve been wanting to comment on some lovely letters I got in the mail a couple of weeks ago. In mid-June, I did two days of workshops about writing history at a girl’s school. I had great fun, and it was good to find out that the girls enjoyed the sessions too.

Not only that, but they began to think about writing stories of their own. Some of them sent me brief outlines of their stories and descriptions of their characters, and I was impressed at the range of ideas. Even though my talk was about Verity Sparks, who lived in inner city London and Melbourne during the the Victorian era, some of the girls were inspired to imagine other times and places. The piece of advice I gave to them was ‘Think yourself into somebody else’s world’ – and that is what they have done.

Maeve, for instance, began to imagine a 10 year old  girl with an absent European father and an Aboriginal mother in the early 20th century. Her mother is imprisoned so she goes in search of her father. There’s a strong ‘Stolen Generation’ theme, and it’s a great set-up for a story with lots of tension and conflict and heart. Maeve might need to do some research…and perhaps she might find a book called Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara in her school library. It’s a true story. There’s also a film on dvd called Rabbit Proof Fence.
Christine’s story idea involves Annette who loves sailing and the sea, but has a traumatic accident and loses her memory. The story of how her character regains her memory – and perhaps manages to sail again – could almost be a detective story, especially if Annette only gains little fragments of her past at a time, and has to try to piece them together. If I were writing the story, I would probably tell it from the girl’s point of view and accentuate the ‘missing’ pieces of the puzzle – that would ramp up the mystery. A very promising idea.

Isabella has begun a story set in the future. It has a strong science fiction element, with a science corporation developing  powerful serums which, injected into the population, can wreak havoc – or activate special magical abilities in children. What’s good about Isabella’s idea is that she’s chosen to concentrate on one girl’s individual journey in this strange new world. That means the readers can experience the future through her experiences.
Laura has planned a story about an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances  – her character is washed away by a freak wave and ends up (with her little sister) on an island. Lots of opportunity there for the ‘ordinary’ child to discover how strong, resilient and brave she can be as she protects her little sister and keeps them both safe. Do they get rescued, or does she work out a way to get off the island? I wonder.

Because I was speaking about historical fiction and the Verity books in particular, some of the other girls  in the class imagined themselves back in the late 1800’s.
Ruby’s The Life of Victoria the Pickpocket starts with a very convincing description of the way a pickpocket watches and listens and observes the way people walk along the street…in order to successfully rob them! She’s chosen first-person narration, which is a great choice – you can really hear Victoria talking to you.
Margaret has set up a family story – her heroine has three sisters and they all must help their mother and father with the family business, selling food from a street stall. With so many fictional orphans around, it’s nice to have an intact family for a change! Mia has made her fictional family very poor, so there is plenty of opportunity for an engaging storyline around their united struggle to survive and make a better life for themselves.
Juliet’s story centres on the maid in a rich household. She is only 12 and wishes she could be free to play and have fun like wealthier children.  Her father is dead, and the rest of her family – mother, brothers and sisters – all work as domestic servants in the city. It’s a good situation and Juliet can really highlight the inequalities of the Victorian era if she shows the contrasts between the lives of rich family and her character. I wonder if she will find a way for them all to be together again. Perhaps they could all go to work on a farm… As city children, there could be lots to learn and a few adventures along the way.

Courtney’s beginning is very engaging, with lots going on. Young Mildred, a servant girl, starts hearing voices in her head. It’s very disturbing – so how can she get help? Who can she tell? Who can she trust? She doesn’t want to be sent back to the orphanage… I wonder how Courtney will solve the mystery of the voices.

Anna’s story takes the poor family situation and gives it an extra twist. Margaret’s parents have died, leaving ten children. As the oldest, Margaret has to look after them all. What a lot of responsibility. Anna could have lots of fun with all the different personalities of the children – perhaps there could be a cheeky one, a dreamy one, a clever and studious one… I would definitely include a couple of naughty siblings to keep the story lively.

And finally Mikayla’s begun a school story (I really enjoyed writing the Hightop House section of Verity Sparks Lost and Found). Friendships are so important and the boarding school setting gives  lots of opportunities for exploring what can go right and wrong among groups of friends.

So many stories, so many ways to write them! I have been working hard on the 3rd Verity Sparks novel, and at the end of this week, I will start work with my editor on the final version. After the editing process is finished, there’ll be a gap of time before it’s released in 2015. But before it’s out in the shops I’ll be working on another novel. The ideas are already percolating because I never feel quite right without a story on the go. With Verity all edited and out of the way, it’ll be time to dive into somebody else’s world again.

 

 

 

 

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