Cathy Farr

It's a Thoughts thing...

fellhounds:

Imitation …or inspiration?

 As a writer, if someone says to me ‘I’m going to use your book to write my own book,’ my immediate reaction… and forgive me if you think I’m being precious here, but … my immediate reaction is generally negative and may end ‘ – off!’ For me copyright is absolutely sacrosanct; I bristle when people tell me how they have just downloaded the latest anything printed or recorded for free.  I feel like yelling, ‘BUT THAT MEANS SOMEONE DIDN’T GET PAID!!’, although, generally, I don’t.

 So when teacher, Steve Chapman, said those very words, I have to admit I took a sharp intake of breath; fortunately he followed with a class order for thirty copies of my novel Moon Chase (Bridge Reader version) and asked me to join him to deliver his innovative literacy programme, The WriteKey, at a junior school this year, so I stayed around to listen to what else he had to say….

 In a nutshell, Steve explained, he has come up with a novel (if you’ll pardon the pun) way to get Key Stage 2 children writing creatively and in the process improving KS2 literacy; he uses published novels to help the children to write – they even write their own books…in the classroom!  Steve has been trialling The WriteKey in his local primary school and has managed to raise literacy levels at least one grade across the whole class – indeed, indeed, many are now producing level six work on a regular basis.  As a result, Wales’ schools inspectors, Estyn, have now rated his approach as ‘sector leading practice’, and the joint education service South Central Consortium are right behind him.

 The idea is to improve overall literacy levels at KS2 using a published novel. The children read out loud in the classroom and on their own at home, before using the text to help guide their own creative writing.  They then take sections of the story, say two paragraphs to start with, and re-write them using a different theme, characters, location, even a different time.  The novel provides the basic structure and tone but the new ideas come from the children themselves. Last year Steve picked The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall (don’t worry Robert, hear me out first…), a novel he had enjoyed in his youth, but while it did the job it’s more of a boys’ book and is too high a reading level for weaker Year 5 and 6 readers. So when he came across the Bridge Reader version of my novel, Moon Chase, via the Head of that school, Steve’s interest was piqued.

 What he liked about this book was that it has been specifically written for weaker or recovering readers and is geared for children with SEN requirements, with a page design that is great for dyslexic readers, too – it’s also been tried and tested and children love it because it’s a great story.

 ‘OK, OK,’ I hear you say. ‘But does it work?’

 Well, see for yourself. This week, only Week 5, of delivering The WriteKey one afternoon a week over this current education year to a group of twenty-five Year 6s whose average literacy level is mid level 4, we’ve got them reading and writing.  

 So far, as well as simple writing exercises, we’ve had them reading the novel out-loud in class and have discovered a few budding actors along the way; intonation has dramatically improved and some of them are even doing voices now!  About half the class are reading ahead and one young lady has already finished the book and written a very accurate two page summary – with hardly any spelling mistakes. But the biggest surprise came this week.

 We took the first of a selection of pieces of text from Moon Chase and, adding some basic bullet points on the board for guidance, the children were asked to write their own piece, using my writing to provide the narrative framework.  This is what we gave them…

 Wil sat on the floor in his cell.  He was cold, tired and hungry.  He was also cross.  He picked up tiny stones from the floor and threw them at the wall.  Why didn’t anyone believe that he had been trying to help Seth?  He thought about the dead bodies – so much blood …. errch!

Just to make sure he really wasn’t dreaming, Wil pinched his arm again.  It still hurt and his fingers left a bright red mark on his skin. He was definitely awake.

He thought about his mother.  It was late; she would be worried.  Wil began to wish he’d listened to Garth and waited for the others.  

A door at the end of the building creaked open. Silver moonlight lit up the dusty floor and a beautiful young woman with silver hair walked into the jail shutting the door quietly behind her.

Her footsteps made no noise as she walked towards Wil’s cell.  

 Now, I was highly sceptical, I have to admit, fully expecting direct copies of my words.  But you know what? Once the chatter and the constant need for reassurance after every sentence had stopped we told them we wouldn’t read another word until they had finished. …and this is a sample of what they wrote, spelling and grammar verbatim, but don’t forget, these are Level ¾ children (in some cases, only just)….

 James sat on the light green chair in the classroom.  He was hot, tired and thirsty.  James picked up two sharp pencils from the grey pot and threw them at the blue bricked wall.  Why didn’t anyone believe that he had been trying to get his phone back? He thought about all of his friends texting him.  So much text’s!

 Just to make sure he really wasn’t dreaming, James pinched his arm for the forth time.  It still killed and his finger nails left a bright red mark on his skin.  James was definitely awake and alive.  James thought about his farther.  It was very late he would be worried.  James began to wish he’d listened to Alan and waited until morning.

A gold door at the end of the corridor creaked open.  A light lit up the dirty floor and a  ugly old man with grey hair walked into the long and confusing corridor and shut the gold door quietly behind him.

 His footsteps made a bit but no a lot of noise as he walked towards the maths room which was next to James.  All he could hear was a rough sponge rubbing against a table. Louise, Year 6

 Tom woke up, he had a pain in his arm, he pulled the tranquillizer out.  Tom was cold, tired and thirsty.  He also smelt.  He picked up some toilet paper and wiped his forehead.  What happened how did he get in the toilet – and it smelt…errch!

Just to make sure he wasn’t hallusunating he closed his eyes and opend them.  Tom was still in the bathroom and it still smelt.  It was definitely reality.

 He thought about his wife. It was late; she would be scared. Tom started to realise he’d never should of went out and stayed home.

 Tom stood up he walked out of the bathroom and turned around. He was in the woman’s toilet! Tom could see someone locking the door.  She had longe blonde hair and her keys made a clinging noise.  She turned the tap off.

 Her voice made no noise, she sand as she walked towards the bathroom. All Tom could here was her loud footsteps going up each stair as she jogged. Eilir, Year 6

 And finally, this is from one of our weaker dyslexic pupils – the most he’s written by about one and a half paragraphs! (It’s also one of my personal favourites – I love the ending):

 Joey wocke up and fleat clod and hungry.  Then he sat up and picked the gravall out of his hier and cheack.  Joey got uo of the flour and walked aroud the arener he thout about the other runners and who won then.  He hears the sound of a gun shot he realises… [the race hasn’t started yet].

 Joey ran as fast as he could he ran threw the crowed and sercruty he got to the start.  Then a blond hered woman came over to Joey and whispered in his ear Good luck.  He felt like the king with wind blowing threw his hier. Ethan, Year 6

 We had sixteen children in that class this week and every single one tried.  Some wrote more than others but they all wrote more than they’ve written so far.  Paragraphs are starting to appear, along with the odd capital letter and full stop. But best of all, they are flexing the wings of their imagination…editing comes later.  Our aim this year is to get them up to level five – I can’t wait to get back after half term!

Posted 80 weeks ago

Writing in the Round Father Christmas’s Big Day by Yr 6

fellhounds:

With only a short sentence prompt, this is what my Year 6 wrote yesteday in 20 minutes.  We then stood in a circle and read it in order.  The kids LOVED it.  Writing in the Round is a great way to get reluctant writers and readers to join in (I’ve kept some of their mistakes in to be true to the authors)…..

  (Sofia)

“We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year”… The alarm repeated.  It got noisier and noisier by the second.  Father Christmas finally gave up and rolled over to turn the alarm off. He was depressed because today was Christmas Eve.  You would think he would like Christmas Eve.  But he dreaded it.  However, he longed for Christmas Day.  

“Get out of bed, Lazy! Mrs Clause balled at the top of her voice!  Today was the day…

(Maddy)

…of hell.

Sparkie the elf woke up. He heard Santa’s alarm go off, singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year”.  That was a sign of a new exhausting day.  More making and wrapping to do for good children.  The days just never stop…

 (Ruby)

It was 9:00 in the morning so of course Mrs Christmas was already awake.  She always woke up before Father Christmas, alarm or not.  The elderly woman soon got bored of laying in bed and decided to make Father Christmas a very delicious breakfast for his big day ahead.  Then…

(Beth)

…a reindeer looked through the kitchen window.  He was smiling.  He was full of energy.  He was white: he was covered with snow.  All the reindeers were resting; they were trying to keep all their energy for tonight. Eventually…

(Mrs Belby)

Father Christmas got up. He got dressed but discovered that his special Delivery Trousers wouldn’t do up.  He tried taking a huge breath in and holding it while again attempting to do up his top button.  His cheeks were turning redder and redder.

“Hhmph” Father Christmas sighed as he eventually wriggled into his scarlet red trousers – the buttons straining to escape.

“Maybe I should do some exercise in the new year,” Father Christmas mumbled to himself as he stomped down the stairs.  The smell of bacon wafted up his nostrils.  I’ll start that diet in the new year Father Christmas thought to himself.

(Nyiera)

Father Christmas woke up excited for his juicy succulent crispy bacon sandwich.  He rubbed his hands together trying to warm them up he put his favourite Frozen slippers on and favourite Superman onezey on too.  He was humming along the way to the eating table. Mrs Christmas knew Father Christmas loved his Christmas sandwich.  He sat down and had a big smile when he saw the hot tea and the bacon sandwich.  And Mrs Christmas put it right in front of him. He took a big bite of the sandwich and a big sip of tea.  He was nice and relaxed.

(Louise)

Relaxed.  He huffed and puffed for a second and stopped, then he thought about making a ginger bread house and eating it all up himself. Father Christmas stomped to the sofa and sat down.  He chucked his Frozen slippers on the Christmas rug and he felt truly bored. After 2 hours he changed his slippers to his dark black shoes and…

(Dylan)

Looked down.  Even though he couldn’t see that good he saw that his black, dark boots that were as dark as the midnight sky.  He yelled to his miniscool elfs.  They didn’t answer.  He waited a couple more seconds of silence.  Then the beautiful Mrs Christmas shouted something…

(Emily)

Then Mrs Christmas was asked by Father Christmas to go and ask any elf if they could go and feed the reindeers.  The job had to be done.  Neither Father Christmas or Mrs Christmas wanted to do it.  They had other things to do.  Finally the elf stopped arguing with them and finally did what Father Christmas and Mrs Christmas said what to do.  Then…

(Sasha)

Father Christmas realised that he couldn’t hear the sound of the hard workers like the extremely working elves or the loud rustling of the wrapping paper, and went down the steep stairs to the workshop wondering what was happening.

(Stefan)

When Santa got into the workshop the elves were lying motionless on the ground.  They were silently sleeping and they were supposed to be making toys for the big night.

“Get up all of you” he bellowed.  But they all ignored him.

(William)

Ignoring Santa they fell back to sleep a long while later.  Eventually all the grumpy old elves woke up but it took them a long time to have more sumptuous breakfast, that Mrs Clause made hours ago, all that Santa and Mrs Clause could think about was how long would it take them to get up off their beds and do their jobs that they were payed to do.

(Lathan)

As they sat there wondering all the elves started to complain about the work they had to do for Christmas and that they had to prepare for the long (yet happy) day.  They grumbled and moaned about everything and they were stuffed from Mrs Christmas’s “special” breakfast so they were very slow working and they just layed there lifeless, except for Father Christmas.

(Josh)

Father Christmas walked around the factory checking on the elves; after a while of walking around the factory he remembered that he needed to get the harnesses so he looked for the one and only tall elf.  After a while of looking he found him, his name was Bob Jones.  Father Christmas asked Bob that he needed the harnesses ready for the reindeer, after that…

(Eilir)

Father Christmas stuffed down the rest of his breakfast, did a long massive burp and started the long, hard journey upstairs to get dressed.

“I hope this year isn’t like last year,” Santa thought to himself.  “I almost got kidnapped; no wonder he was on the naughty list.”

(Connor)

The tiny little elf he sent outside dashed back in.  The mystical reindeers were fighting.

(Danny)

“Urrgh” sighed Mrs Christmas.  She lumbered over to the reindeers.  They were fighting and Rudolf was on the floor moaning.

She ran over to the stomping stampede of reindeers, they were alarmed.  Rudolf got up but was limping in pain.  She went to the cupboard and grabbed bandages and carrots.

She walked out the door and every reindeer looked straight at her.  But then…

((Ethan)

The reindeers were bickering furiously.  Mrs Christmas came out and gave carrots to Rudolf.  Mrs Christmas went away and they carried on bickering at Rudolf.

(Jaden)

One of the reindeers, Rudolf, was very upset.  The other mean reindeers were bullying cause his bright red nose glowed in the dark. Rudolf wondered out in the snow and looked sadly up at Santa’s house and saw Santa moving around.

(Lloyd)

Father Christmas walked slowly up the stairs to have a look at the weather forecast just in case he was going to get soaked along with all the presents. He tightly squeezed on his relaxing chair, eating a pie from last year’s dinner. He asked his wife to fetch the remote but she couldn’t because she was getting dressed, so Father Christmas got up, taking a deep breath and he eventually found himself by the black remote and turned the TV on.  It was not what he expected, on Christmas Day it was raining throughout the night.  He was going to get drenched, when he came back down scoffing another pie up, he went to see the elves and how close they were to finishing the wrapping up, hoping they were finished.

(Jamie)

The minuscule elves were just wrapping the last present until Father Christmas came in and commanded the elves to pack everything in the rucksacks and put the sacks on the sleigh and then they would be off.  They were really struggling, putting the sacks on the sleigh, but in the end they packed everything.

(Mrs Farr)

Father Christmas eyed the sleigh.  It was absolutely jam packed.  He was a little surprised that No 23, St Anne’s Place had gone for the full sized Mazerati after all, but they’d managed to squeeze it in without any scratches…well, he hoped there weren’t any scratches!

The big problem was the fog. It was so thick now that FC couldn’t see his hand in front of his face – how was he going to see all those chimneys? Then…

(Connor, again)

he had an amazing unstoppable idea and went to see the main part of the plan… Rudolf!

(Eilir, again, with a bit of input from Connor)

The amazing plan worked perfectly; every child on the nice list got their presents and all the naughty children got coal.  Even better no one tried to kidnap him…and the cute red nosed reindeer had many new mystical friends.

 The End

 Merry Christmas everyone!

Posted 80 weeks ago

Writing in the Round Father Christmas’s Big Day by Yr 6

With only a short sentence prompt, this is what my Year 6 wrote yesteday in 20 minutes.  We then stood in a circle and read it in order.  The kids LOVED it.  Writing in the Round is a great way to get reluctant writers and readers to join in (I’ve kept some of their mistakes in to be true to the authors)…..

  (Sofia)

“We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year”… The alarm repeated.  It got noisier and noisier by the second.  Father Christmas finally gave up and rolled over to turn the alarm off. He was depressed because today was Christmas Eve.  You would think he would like Christmas Eve.  But he dreaded it.  However, he longed for Christmas Day.  

“Get out of bed, Lazy! Mrs Clause balled at the top of her voice!  Today was the day…

(Maddy)

…of hell.

Sparkie the elf woke up. He heard Santa’s alarm go off, singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year”.  That was a sign of a new exhausting day.  More making and wrapping to do for good children.  The days just never stop…

 (Ruby)

It was 9:00 in the morning so of course Mrs Christmas was already awake.  She always woke up before Father Christmas, alarm or not.  The elderly woman soon got bored of laying in bed and decided to make Father Christmas a very delicious breakfast for his big day ahead.  Then…

(Beth)

…a reindeer looked through the kitchen window.  He was smiling.  He was full of energy.  He was white: he was covered with snow.  All the reindeers were resting; they were trying to keep all their energy for tonight. Eventually…

(Mrs Belby)

Father Christmas got up. He got dressed but discovered that his special Delivery Trousers wouldn’t do up.  He tried taking a huge breath in and holding it while again attempting to do up his top button.  His cheeks were turning redder and redder.

“Hhmph” Father Christmas sighed as he eventually wriggled into his scarlet red trousers – the buttons straining to escape.

“Maybe I should do some exercise in the new year,” Father Christmas mumbled to himself as he stomped down the stairs.  The smell of bacon wafted up his nostrils.  I’ll start that diet in the new year Father Christmas thought to himself.

(Nyiera)

Father Christmas woke up excited for his juicy succulent crispy bacon sandwich.  He rubbed his hands together trying to warm them up he put his favourite Frozen slippers on and favourite Superman onezey on too.  He was humming along the way to the eating table. Mrs Christmas knew Father Christmas loved his Christmas sandwich.  He sat down and had a big smile when he saw the hot tea and the bacon sandwich.  And Mrs Christmas put it right in front of him. He took a big bite of the sandwich and a big sip of tea.  He was nice and relaxed.

(Louise)

Relaxed.  He huffed and puffed for a second and stopped, then he thought about making a ginger bread house and eating it all up himself. Father Christmas stomped to the sofa and sat down.  He chucked his Frozen slippers on the Christmas rug and he felt truly bored. After 2 hours he changed his slippers to his dark black shoes and…

(Dylan)

Looked down.  Even though he couldn’t see that good he saw that his black, dark boots that were as dark as the midnight sky.  He yelled to his miniscool elfs.  They didn’t answer.  He waited a couple more seconds of silence.  Then the beautiful Mrs Christmas shouted something…

(Emily)

Then Mrs Christmas was asked by Father Christmas to go and ask any elf if they could go and feed the reindeers.  The job had to be done.  Neither Father Christmas or Mrs Christmas wanted to do it.  They had other things to do.  Finally the elf stopped arguing with them and finally did what Father Christmas and Mrs Christmas said what to do.  Then…

(Sasha)

Father Christmas realised that he couldn’t hear the sound of the hard workers like the extremely working elves or the loud rustling of the wrapping paper, and went down the steep stairs to the workshop wondering what was happening.

(Stefan)

When Santa got into the workshop the elves were lying motionless on the ground.  They were silently sleeping and they were supposed to be making toys for the big night.

“Get up all of you” he bellowed.  But they all ignored him.

(William)

Ignoring Santa they fell back to sleep a long while later.  Eventually all the grumpy old elves woke up but it took them a long time to have more sumptuous breakfast, that Mrs Clause made hours ago, all that Santa and Mrs Clause could think about was how long would it take them to get up off their beds and do their jobs that they were payed to do.

(Lathan)

As they sat there wondering all the elves started to complain about the work they had to do for Christmas and that they had to prepare for the long (yet happy) day.  They grumbled and moaned about everything and they were stuffed from Mrs Christmas’s “special” breakfast so they were very slow working and they just layed there lifeless, except for Father Christmas.

(Josh)

Father Christmas walked around the factory checking on the elves; after a while of walking around the factory he remembered that he needed to get the harnesses so he looked for the one and only tall elf.  After a while of looking he found him, his name was Bob Jones.  Father Christmas asked Bob that he needed the harnesses ready for the reindeer, after that…

(Eilir)

Father Christmas stuffed down the rest of his breakfast, did a long massive burp and started the long, hard journey upstairs to get dressed.

“I hope this year isn’t like last year,” Santa thought to himself.  “I almost got kidnapped; no wonder he was on the naughty list.”

(Connor)

The tiny little elf he sent outside dashed back in.  The mystical reindeers were fighting.

(Danny)

“Urrgh” sighed Mrs Christmas.  She lumbered over to the reindeers.  They were fighting and Rudolf was on the floor moaning.

She ran over to the stomping stampede of reindeers, they were alarmed.  Rudolf got up but was limping in pain.  She went to the cupboard and grabbed bandages and carrots.

She walked out the door and every reindeer looked straight at her.  But then…

((Ethan)

The reindeers were bickering furiously.  Mrs Christmas came out and gave carrots to Rudolf.  Mrs Christmas went away and they carried on bickering at Rudolf.

(Jaden)

One of the reindeers, Rudolf, was very upset.  The other mean reindeers were bullying cause his bright red nose glowed in the dark. Rudolf wondered out in the snow and looked sadly up at Santa’s house and saw Santa moving around.

(Lloyd)

Father Christmas walked slowly up the stairs to have a look at the weather forecast just in case he was going to get soaked along with all the presents. He tightly squeezed on his relaxing chair, eating a pie from last year’s dinner. He asked his wife to fetch the remote but she couldn’t because she was getting dressed, so Father Christmas got up, taking a deep breath and he eventually found himself by the black remote and turned the TV on.  It was not what he expected, on Christmas Day it was raining throughout the night.  He was going to get drenched, when he came back down scoffing another pie up, he went to see the elves and how close they were to finishing the wrapping up, hoping they were finished.

(Jamie)

The minuscule elves were just wrapping the last present until Father Christmas came in and commanded the elves to pack everything in the rucksacks and put the sacks on the sleigh and then they would be off.  They were really struggling, putting the sacks on the sleigh, but in the end they packed everything.

(Mrs Farr)

Father Christmas eyed the sleigh.  It was absolutely jam packed.  He was a little surprised that No 23, St Anne’s Place had gone for the full sized Mazerati after all, but they’d managed to squeeze it in without any scratches…well, he hoped there weren’t any scratches!

The big problem was the fog. It was so thick now that FC couldn’t see his hand in front of his face – how was he going to see all those chimneys? Then…

(Connor, again)

he had an amazing unstoppable idea and went to see the main part of the plan… Rudolf!

(Eilir, again, with a bit of input from Connor)

The amazing plan worked perfectly; every child on the nice list got their presents and all the naughty children got coal.  Even better no one tried to kidnap him…and the cute red nosed reindeer had many new mystical friends.

 The End

 Merry Christmas everyone!

Posted 101 weeks ago

Imitation …or inspiration?

 As a writer, if someone says to me ‘I’m going to use your book to write my own book,’ my immediate reaction… and forgive me if you think I’m being precious here, but … my immediate reaction is generally negative and may end ‘ – off!’ For me copyright is absolutely sacrosanct; I bristle when people tell me how they have just downloaded the latest anything printed or recorded for free.  I feel like yelling, ‘BUT THAT MEANS SOMEONE DIDN’T GET PAID!!’, although, generally, I don’t.

 So when teacher, Steve Chapman, said those very words, I have to admit I took a sharp intake of breath; fortunately he followed with a class order for thirty copies of my novel Moon Chase (Bridge Reader version) and asked me to join him to deliver his innovative literacy programme, The WriteKey, at a junior school this year, so I stayed around to listen to what else he had to say….

 In a nutshell, Steve explained, he has come up with a novel (if you’ll pardon the pun) way to get Key Stage 2 children writing creatively and in the process improving KS2 literacy; he uses published novels to help the children to write – they even write their own books…in the classroom!  Steve has been trialling The WriteKey in his local primary school and has managed to raise literacy levels at least one grade across the whole class – indeed, indeed, many are now producing level six work on a regular basis.  As a result, Wales’ schools inspectors, Estyn, have now rated his approach as ‘sector leading practice’, and the joint education service South Central Consortium are right behind him.

 The idea is to improve overall literacy levels at KS2 using a published novel. The children read out loud in the classroom and on their own at home, before using the text to help guide their own creative writing.  They then take sections of the story, say two paragraphs to start with, and re-write them using a different theme, characters, location, even a different time.  The novel provides the basic structure and tone but the new ideas come from the children themselves. Last year Steve picked The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall (don’t worry Robert, hear me out first…), a novel he had enjoyed in his youth, but while it did the job it’s more of a boys’ book and is too high a reading level for weaker Year 5 and 6 readers. So when he came across the Bridge Reader version of my novel, Moon Chase, via the Head of that school, Steve’s interest was piqued.

 What he liked about this book was that it has been specifically written for weaker or recovering readers and is geared for children with SEN requirements, with a page design that is great for dyslexic readers, too – it’s also been tried and tested and children love it because it’s a great story.

 ‘OK, OK,’ I hear you say. ‘But does it work?’

 Well, see for yourself. This week, only Week 5, of delivering The WriteKey one afternoon a week over this current education year to a group of twenty-five Year 6s whose average literacy level is mid level 4, we’ve got them reading and writing.  

 So far, as well as simple writing exercises, we’ve had them reading the novel out-loud in class and have discovered a few budding actors along the way; intonation has dramatically improved and some of them are even doing voices now!  About half the class are reading ahead and one young lady has already finished the book and written a very accurate two page summary – with hardly any spelling mistakes. But the biggest surprise came this week.

 We took the first of a selection of pieces of text from Moon Chase and, adding some basic bullet points on the board for guidance, the children were asked to write their own piece, using my writing to provide the narrative framework.  This is what we gave them…

 Wil sat on the floor in his cell.  He was cold, tired and hungry.  He was also cross.  He picked up tiny stones from the floor and threw them at the wall.  Why didn’t anyone believe that he had been trying to help Seth?  He thought about the dead bodies – so much blood …. errch!

Just to make sure he really wasn’t dreaming, Wil pinched his arm again.  It still hurt and his fingers left a bright red mark on his skin. He was definitely awake.

He thought about his mother.  It was late; she would be worried.  Wil began to wish he’d listened to Garth and waited for the others.  

A door at the end of the building creaked open. Silver moonlight lit up the dusty floor and a beautiful young woman with silver hair walked into the jail shutting the door quietly behind her.

Her footsteps made no noise as she walked towards Wil’s cell.  

 Now, I was highly sceptical, I have to admit, fully expecting direct copies of my words.  But you know what? Once the chatter and the constant need for reassurance after every sentence had stopped we told them we wouldn’t read another word until they had finished. …and this is a sample of what they wrote, spelling and grammar verbatim, but don’t forget, these are Level ¾ children (in some cases, only just)….

 James sat on the light green chair in the classroom.  He was hot, tired and thirsty.  James picked up two sharp pencils from the grey pot and threw them at the blue bricked wall.  Why didn’t anyone believe that he had been trying to get his phone back? He thought about all of his friends texting him.  So much text’s!

 Just to make sure he really wasn’t dreaming, James pinched his arm for the forth time.  It still killed and his finger nails left a bright red mark on his skin.  James was definitely awake and alive.  James thought about his farther.  It was very late he would be worried.  James began to wish he’d listened to Alan and waited until morning.

A gold door at the end of the corridor creaked open.  A light lit up the dirty floor and a  ugly old man with grey hair walked into the long and confusing corridor and shut the gold door quietly behind him.

 His footsteps made a bit but no a lot of noise as he walked towards the maths room which was next to James.  All he could hear was a rough sponge rubbing against a table. Louise, Year 6

 Tom woke up, he had a pain in his arm, he pulled the tranquillizer out.  Tom was cold, tired and thirsty.  He also smelt.  He picked up some toilet paper and wiped his forehead.  What happened how did he get in the toilet – and it smelt…errch!

Just to make sure he wasn’t hallusunating he closed his eyes and opend them.  Tom was still in the bathroom and it still smelt.  It was definitely reality.

 He thought about his wife. It was late; she would be scared. Tom started to realise he’d never should of went out and stayed home.

 Tom stood up he walked out of the bathroom and turned around. He was in the woman’s toilet! Tom could see someone locking the door.  She had longe blonde hair and her keys made a clinging noise.  She turned the tap off.

 Her voice made no noise, she sand as she walked towards the bathroom. All Tom could here was her loud footsteps going up each stair as she jogged. Eilir, Year 6

 And finally, this is from one of our weaker dyslexic pupils – the most he’s written by about one and a half paragraphs! (It’s also one of my personal favourites – I love the ending):

 Joey wocke up and fleat clod and hungry.  Then he sat up and picked the gravall out of his hier and cheack.  Joey got uo of the flour and walked aroud the arener he thout about the other runners and who won then.  He hears the sound of a gun shot he realises… [the race hasn’t started yet].

 Joey ran as fast as he could he ran threw the crowed and sercruty he got to the start.  Then a blond hered woman came over to Joey and whispered in his ear Good luck.  He felt like the king with wind blowing threw his hier. Ethan, Year 6

 We had sixteen children in that class this week and every single one tried.  Some wrote more than others but they all wrote more than they’ve written so far.  Paragraphs are starting to appear, along with the odd capital letter and full stop. But best of all, they are flexing the wings of their imagination…editing comes later.  Our aim this year is to get them up to level five – I can’t wait to get back after half term!

Posted 106 weeks ago

Get them writing!

I’m sure I’m not the first, and certainly won’t be the last to describe the following scenario… 

It’s 9.30am.  I walk into the library of a local high school, a very quiet library. Now, I don’t mean very quiet as in lots of diligent children with their noses so buried in books that they don’t even notice my arrival.  No, I mean the ‘very quiet’ that comes with four pupils dotted among otherwise empty chairs clearly meant for a far larger group, plus one embarrassed librarian. 

Just as said librarian opened her mouth, presumably to offer explanation/apology, another adult arrived loosely accompanied by six more children.  Three others drift in as the recently arrived select seats, get split up, reselect seats. At the same time the librarian is muttering something about a school trip from which these children have been excluded for being ‘naughty’: my hopes for a morning of eager participation in a creative writing workshop melt like dropped ice cream on a hot tarmac road. 

But, I resolve, I’m being paid to deliver a creative writing workshop so creatively we will write, and with a deep breath and a request for a glass of water, I begin. 

I start by introducing myself. 

‘Hi, I’m Cathy Farr, author of two fantasy adventures, Moon Chase and Moon Crossing….’

While I’m talking one of the children is whispering to another child – constantly, as if I wasn’t there. I throw a look at the teacher (at this early stage I don’t like to make enemies among a tough crowd).  

 ‘He’s translating,’ the teacher says quietly. ‘They’re Polish.’

 Translating???  

And that, folks, was how I began teaching creative writing to ESL children. Admittedly some warning would have been helpful but as it turned out it went rather well. 

The first thing I did was to write three words on the flip chart: bitter, purple and joy. I checked that everyone knew what the words meant then gave the pupils five minutes to write anything as long as it included all three words.  Then I did a couple of things that I think swung it for me… 

First, I said that they could write anything as long as it wasn’t rude, and that they weren’t to worry about spelling or grammar as all writers get the ideas down first and polish later.  Then I announced that they would be asked to read out their work and that everyone had to be polite and listen, and no one was to be mean or rude about anyone else’s work.  Facing a wall of horrified expressions, I told of similar exercise I had done in a writing workshop some years earlier: when the lady next to me was asked to read her work out she cried …. and she was almost as old as me!   

So with my rules laid out: no stress about spelling, no being rude and no crying, we were off. 

One young man was clearly struggling because of the language issue so I suggested that he and his friend work together. I also got the teacher, the teacher’s aid and the librarian to do the exercises.  This went down exceptionally well. 

With the ‘purple’ exercise completed I cajoled the first poor pupil into reading out her work.  I was very positive and genuinely impressed with what I felt could be the beginning of a nice little story.  I didn’t mention spelling and I wasn’t mean.  Then I got the teacher to read his piece and with that all but one was more than happy to share their work.  I didn’t push the silent hoody-doned pupil, but moved on. 

This time I gave them nine words – a different list for each table; the aim being to use all of the words or derivatives of them.  Some children had chosen to carry on the piece they had started initially, some started afresh, but they all wrote and some wrote a lot.  Some worked together, sharing ideas and even discussing plot, and Mr Silent Hoody wrote two pages!  I gave twenty minutes for this task which gave me time to read over shoulders.  I was careful to pick out phrases or sentences that I liked, and gently correct any big problems, but as we weren’t worrying about spelling or grammar I steered away from any temptation to edit. Again we shared and by this time hands were flying into the air. 

To my amazement they all came back after break – even Mr S Hoody!  The final exercise was writing a piece prompted by a picture.  This required the pupils to invent a scenario from one image and write for 20 minutes to develop the story based around the character in the picture. Younger children, I find, struggle with this, although they thrive on the word use exercises. These pupils, however, were Year 8 and 9 and they had fun: we had a spying granny, a runaway and an intriguing whodunit, plus a lot of werewolves and the obligatory zombie.  But what was fantastic was that they all joined in, all wrote a lot and most shared their work. And best of all – no one cried!

Posted 117 weeks ago

Creativity or control?

 I’ve always been creative. When I was really little, apparently, I used to lie in bed and tell stories to my imaginary friend ‘Stingray’ until I fell asleep.  

Later Stingray was replaced by notebooks that I filled with poems, tall tales, secrets and sketches; I would agonise over a word or a bit of shading for hours even though no-one else ever got to see them – ever.

In the world of work I was very lucky.  I had an indulgent boss and a very patient graphic designer and my creative side was allowed to run free… but so was my controlling side.  As Marketing Manager of a relatively small company I handled everything printed, drawn, photographed and published; creativity and control – I was in heaven.

Then, due to a whole load of happenings I won’t trouble you with here; I gave in to my creative side and wrote a book.  Moon Chase was an absolute labour of love but after not a small amount of self doubt I decided to publish it – thus reawakening that sleeping monster, my controlling side.  

He’d started to stir as the manuscript was transformed into a book: the font was wrong, the chapter titles had to be in a different font, no, not that one, this one; include this map, no not like that, like this; cover design – oh no, I really don’t like anything there, I’ll find a cover artist, I know exactly what I want….

And that’s when it all changed….

I found a specialist book cover artist, Sam Wall, and sent over the brief with photographs and a mock up of my own idea (I even searched the internet to find the ‘right’ full moon!) and then I waited.

My email finally pinged. I hit Open…. I burst into tears.  It was nothing, nothing, like my idea!  I took the dog for a walk.

‘God, that’s fantastic,’ said my husband later, on first view.  ‘She’s got it all, just in that picture.  I love it!’

So with a deep breath I looked again.  And actually Yes, it was all there – everything; but from her mind, not mine, and it was good, very good.  In fact, it’s out there now, in the market place alongside the sequal, Moon Crossing – cover by the same artist, and when Book Three is finally finished she’ll do the cover for that too.

But that wasn’t the end of it.  I’ve gone on to write and release a very special edition of Moon Chase.  It’s been re-written for weaker readers.  There are ten vignettes through the text drawn by Alan Marks.  And taking the lesson I learnt from Sam, all I did was send Adam the text.  And the result?  Every time I opened a new sketch I saw my words through someone else’s eyes – and it was great.

Then came my biggest test – the audio version as narrated by Matthew Gravelle (Broadchurch)…..

Now, I’ve always fancied myself as a director, but leaving my control demon on the pavement outside the studio, I went in, said Hi, confirmed pronunciation of one name and then….. left them to it.  And you know what?  It’s wonderful.  As I listen I’m meeting my characters again, just as I did when the cover was done and the vignettes were finished and I love them all the more for the dimensions that the creativity of others has added, and I know now that letting go of that control was the best thing I could have done.

Posted 120 weeks ago

So, tell me, how did you get published?

I’m in a bookshop in Cardiff, Swindon, Bristol, Cheltenham… Beside me is a table laden with copies of my two books, Moon Chase and Moon Crossing; although the pile is getting pleasingly smaller which will make my journey back to the car at the end of the day lighter.  Someone browsing wanders over to peruse my wares and picks up a copy of Moon Crossing.  ‘That’s the second one,’ I say with a smile, offering up Moon Chase to emphasise the point. ‘I’m signing copies here today.’

‘Oh, a series,’ says the browser, turning the book to scrutinize the back. ‘Who’s your publisher?’

Now, I have learned from experience that this question is invariably followed by, ‘Tell me, how did you get published?  I’ve written a book myself and it’s so hard to get anyone to take it on.’

So, as I tell all those who ask, I published them myself – anyone can do it.  

But before any budding authors out there rush to a draw to retrieve a long-forgotten, dusty and slightly yellowed manuscript from under a pile of publishers’ rejection letters (usually a standard reply, often a pre-printed postcard – cruel but efficient), let me just elaborate…

When I finished the final paragraph of my first novel, a fantasy adventure called Moon Chase, I pressed ‘Print’ and watched 240 sheets of A4 emerge from my printer carrying my story into the world.  Following a lot of editing – killing my darlings, as I once heard the process described – and a small rainforest in paper, I started hawking my book around literary agents, which is the only way to get even close to an established publishing house in today’s packed market place. Bless me; following rave reviews from those close to home I honestly thought all twelve or so approaches would be beating on my door within the standard three months quoted on their websites with six figure contracts clutched in their eager little hands.  Six silent months later and only two sniffs but no firm offers I was sitting at my computer trying to write the second tale, Moon Crossing, and wondering what was the point; as a business person of twenty years standing I just couldn’t see how anyone could make a living writing if this interminable wait was just the start.  Then a chance article on the radio about self-publishing took me down a road I was comfortable to follow (and apparently in the footsteps of authors far more notable than myself: Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Beatrix Potter and D.H. Lawrence to name but a few).

Nowadays there are two types of self-publishing: you either pay a fee to a company who produces your book for you although all editing is down to you, or you commission an editor, typesetter, cover designer and printer and manage the whole process yourself.  Having done both I prefer the second because you have more control, mistakes don’t cost hundreds of pounds to correct and you don’t have to pay commissions for printing; you also own the book in its entirety including the all important ISBN number – the key to the distribution. The downside of self-publishing, however, is that it’s all up to you: marketing, publicity, tour arranging, logistics, accounts, distribution, everything…oh, and writing the next one.

Offering this answer to my browsers in bookshops I suspect most will let that dusty manuscript lie, but the publishing world is changing and self-publishing is here to stay. So if you really believe in your work, well, who knows?  As they say, nothing comes from nothing.

Posted 121 weeks ago

From learning to read to reading to learn

‘The best writers in class are always avid readers,’ said Pie Corbett, English Educational writer and poet.  ‘They are able to draw on their narrative storehouse’; the stock of stories they have read and absorbed during their formative years.  But what about those who fall behind, who at the age of ten or eleven are still struggling to read, let alone write creatively, or who read but don’t remember?  How do you bridge that gap – the gap between learning to read and reading to learn?

At a book signing last summer I heard a young teenager say to her friend, ‘Books, I just don’t get them.’ Now, as the author of the book being promoted my initial reaction was a silent repost about spending more time with a book in your hand than a bottle of nail varnish; but after a few minutes the girl sidled over, picked up my book and started reading.  Then she looked at me.

‘I just don’t get it,’ she said. ‘I can read the words, you know.  It’s not like I can’t, you know, read.  But they don’t stay there. I don’t know what they’re saying.’ She read the page again, put the book down and shrugged, ‘I just don’t get them.’ Then she walked away.

But that girl stayed in my head and I knew what I had to do – I re-wrote that novel.  I pictured the young man in court on my first day as a magistrate, who couldn’t read the oath; I held in my mind the faces of the SLCN (speech, language and communication needs) children I’d met only a month before; and I held on to the memory of the girl who could read but couldn’t remember – and I told the story to them.

But how to go about re-writing a story that, as one reviewer described it, has a pace as fast as a hare on roller skates?

My mission was to keep the story bowling along using vocabulary and grammar accessible to weaker readers while not being boring – or worse, patronising.  Passive sentences had to be avoided at all costs and idioms were a big no no because children struggling with language just don’t get them.  In effect I found myself translating the original text because just simplifying it risked writing something easy to read, but flat and bland.

One trick was to think about the questions that children ask – you know, the obvious ones.  When faced with the scene of a grizzly body under a car in an episode of Casualty children will ask, ‘What happened to him? Is he dead?’

As adults we process new information and frame our perceptions based on what is in front of us interwoven with our own internal data bank of similar past experiences – our own ‘narrative storehouse’, if you like. Children struggling with language and literacy often can’t do this; drawing on their own life experiences is difficult enough.  So I tried to pre-empt those obvious questions.  For instance, the original text of Moon Chase describes the neat dispatch of an early foe as ‘SNAP! He landed heavily and lay motionless with his head twisted round at an odd angle – the rock still sitting snugly in his sling’. Now, as we know, children love a bit of morbidity so keeping the gruesome sound bite was important, but I had to pre-empt that inevitable question: so the new sentence became ‘He landed with a loud SNAP! and lay on the ground with his head twisted around at a strange angle. He was dead.’

Another trick was stolen from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales; simple line drawings to reassure the reader.  I simply sent the illustrator, Alan Marks, huge chucks of text and gave him free rein; the result, I think, is all the better for the lack of stage management.  

But would my re-telling of Moon Chase really keep a struggling reader engaged?  Could I occasionally challenge my readers, giving them small hurdles in the text to build confidence?

Writers generally live solitary lives shaping ideas into words on pages – their own narrative storehouses so bursting with ideas the doors groan on their hinges.  Re-writing Moon Chase for this very specific audience took me right out of my comfort zone: I had to ask for help and act on that help.  But, y’know, the result is better for it. As a much respected teacher and sharer of views said recently, ‘This is fab, what a great idea! It makes the escapades and adventures of Farrow and Wil accessible to so many more children.’ Job done!

http://fellhounds.co.uk/welcome_to_ my_ blog

Posted 126 weeks ago

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