Competition Results

Now, how many of you actually forgot this was coming up? And how many have been waiting with baited breath for the results?

For those of you that completely forgot, here’s the competition details to refresh your memory…

ChristmasCompetitionPosterupdated

We had an amazing turnout, and the top 3 fought hard for their spots. It was a very close call when choosing the winner, who is…

10 year-old, George Moore!

Congratulations! You will now have your story featured in our anthology, as well as receiving a free copy of the book!

In second and third places, also receiving a copy of the book, are Hannah Greenland and Olivia Thomas.

A big “well done” to everyone who took part and congratulations to our top three!

Do you want a sneak preview, guys?

 

catchingsanta front cover

 

Blurb

Do you know how to get off the Naughty List?

What happens if you eat too much on Christmas Day?

Have you ever heard of a Christmas Starfish,

or seen a dragon pull a sleigh?

What does Christmas mean to you; Santa and his Elves, or the latest must-have gadgets and toys? For most children it’s about excitement and wishing, and the characters in Catching Santa are just the same. Busy Elves have work to do, can Santa deliver all his presents on time, and will everyone discover the true meaning of Christmas?

Immerse yourself in this wonderful collection of stories and poems for ages 7-12 that will get you in the Christmas spirit.

 

The book will be launched on 25th October 2014 at Chelmsford Central Library, 11am-3pm. At the launch event, we will have lots of activities for kids of all ages. Why not make a day of it – there are some great activities where parents and children can do things together. More details will follow in the very near future. I hope you can all make it.

Catching Santa poster

Book Review: Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

by Sofia Andrewski

www.theinkyfeather.com

 

Dellarobia lives in poverty on a farm in the Appalachians in Tennessee, and is forced into an early marriage by an unplanned pregnancy. On the way to meet with her extra-marital lover she stumbles across a mind-blowing sight: the forest near her family’s land is blazing like a fire, but instead of flames it is thousands of Monarch butterflies that light the branches.

Despite the beauty before her, Dellarobia soon realises she is not witnessing a miracle, but a sign of a disintegrating climate. But fighting the short-sighted schemes of her fellow countrymen is more than a challenge where money is involved—and the community is forced to choose between alleviating their poverty or the survival of a species.

Kingsolver graduated with a science degree in biology and ecology, and these themes permeate Flight Behaviour. The extreme rural setting helps to encapsulate the story and the message into a coherent whole, like a snow-globe separates a scene from the outside world. This is somewhat ironic considering that the core message is not an isolated issue, but one that applies to the whole planet as a biological system in its own right.

The text skilfully records the micro-moments of Dellarobia’s claustrophobic life whilst constantly underlining the reality of an impending environmental catastrophe. In addition, the author utilises a range of characters, often from very different positions in the social hierarchy, to illustrate the problems of social justice and responsibility that face humanity.

For example, Dellarobia’s husband Cub is an uneducated but good-natured bumpkin, and simply doesn’t grasp the enormity of the unusual weather, whereas the affluent scientist Ovid—who comes to investigate the sudden butterfly migration—fully understands the implications but does not grasp the social idiosyncrasies of the farming communities.

The healthy mix of opinion given by different characters helps Kingsolver to avoid preachiness and she portrays the interplay between the religious and scientific elements of the book with both accuracy and fairness. The reader finishes the story with an unnerving sense of its reality; we only need look out the window to see evidence of the same bizarre weather that Dellarobia faces in the novel. There is a sense of recognition, partly because Flight Behaviour was published in 2012, and partly because Kingsolver chooses to focus on modern themes: climate change is interwoven with social disparity and how the media screens the information we receive.

Even though the story focuses on this at its centre, the plot is personal as the reader follows Dellarobia’s often mundane but identifiable life, and the style of writing does not lack good doses of humour. It is an enjoyable, meaningful read, and hard to forget.

Airborn By Kenneth Oppel

by Christopher Kennett

Airborn

“Matt Cruse is cabin boy aboard the Aurora, the luxury airship he has called home for the past three years. He has high hopes for promotion to junior sailmaker – until Kate de Vries arrives, fired with her own mysterious quest. She may be rich, but she’s spirited and brave and won’t let social distinctions prevent their friendship.

Then one night, over the middle of the ocean, deadly air pirates board the Aurora. Far from any hope of rescue, Kate and Matt are flung into adventures beyond all imagining….”

 

The blurb on this book was what caught my interest and I’m glad I took it out of the library and then later brought my own copy, as it was a very good read. The time setting for this story is roughly Victorian age, properly before airplanes became common use.

The style of writing is told in first-person from Matt Cruse’s perspective. Kenneth Oppel really did a great job in diving deep into Matt’s character, which portrays him as a young honest, reliable, resourceful and hard working cabin boy. At the same time he is also trying to bottle up his inner fears that surface when he isn’t airborn, as he was born as a baby on an airship halfway across the ocean and he feels his life belongs in the air, hence the title of the book.

Matt has a very deep attachment to the ship, which he considers is his home, so if something bad happens to the Aurora, he feels very insecure and worries that he may never be happy again as the ship makes him feel connected to his deceased father. The way Kenneth writes Matt’s view of things truly makes the reader get a very good look into Matt’s personality, how he handles things and in some cases makes me at least sympathize with him.

I also took a great liking to Kate. It should be noted that this story takes place during an age where men do all the work while women don’t and have no right to vote and stay home doing lady things. Kind of like before women started to get equal rights to men during world war two in real life. While most women in “Airborn” accept this way of life, Kate doesn’t. On the contrary, she stands against this society’s way of thinking and is willing to do anything to make sure she gets to stand on equal ground as men.

The actions she takes during the story as well as some of her quotes make for some interesting moments, not to mention putting Matt into some awkward situations. But this is what makes Kate a fascinating character. Mostly female characters in fiction that play a minor role and let the males do all the work just blow over me. But when there’s a strong willed lady like Kate who does not like sitting on the sidelines, but want to get into the thick of the action despite male views comes along, I tend to take a shine to them.

Onto the writing structure, it is very well done. The pacing of the events is smooth and allows the reader to follow the story without suddenly jumping from one event to the next and not give an explanation as to how the characters got there. The story is well built, starting slow, then moving nicely to action, then back to calm actions again before building up to the climax.

The epilogue is also excellently done. It is written so that the reader can choose if they want to go onto the next book or go on to different story altogether. It ties up the story nicely and brings it to a close, yet at same time there are very tiny hints that a second book could follow the first. When an epilogue does this, it is a great bonus in my view.

Another score for this book is Kenneth’s descriptive writing of his fictional creature for the story. During the story, Kate is trying to find an undiscovered species. It’s one thing to describe how a fictional creature appears in any story, it’s quite another to detail the biological side of the said animal, and through Kate, Kenneth does this very well. From the animal’s skeleton, to its habitat, to things like Kate observing the animal is an omnivore (an animal that eats both plants and meat), clearly shows that Kenneth has done his research of animal zoology before writing this book.

Overall, this book is a great read, both for young children and adults alike. It has a well-built story. An interesting cast of characters. Apart from Matt and Kate, I also give honourable mentions to the Caption of the Aurora, Captain Walken and the chief cook, Chef Vlad. The descriptions of the characters, places, and creatures are expertly done. And it has a good epilogue that ties it all up soundly. I would recommend this book as well as its audio CD version to anyone.

 

10 out of 10!

 

The Six Senses

By Carlie M A Cullen

5 senses

When writing a story, it’s as important for the reader to be able to visualise the surroundings as much as it is for them to connect with the characters.

This doesn’t mean you have to create in-depth descriptions of every room, property or area; it can be done quite simply by using the five senses: sight; touch; smell; taste; and hearing.

Let’s imagine one of your characters is wandering through an old-fashioned market, where livestock are sold – along with hand-made crafts, fresh produce and home-made bakery items.

First of all, think about what time of year this is set as you would expect different items to be on sale dependant on the season and whether a particular holiday is coming up. For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to use December.

Now, let’s take each sense in isolation.

Hearing:

Other than stall-holders hawking their wares, what other sounds would he/she expect to hear? Probably the gobbling of turkeys, the honking of geese, bells, carol singers, and children’s laughter as they chased and played while their mothers’ shopped. What about the crunch of frost or snow underfoot or the clatter of footsteps and hooves over cobblestones?

Smell:

Apart from the odours one would expect to come from livestock, what else would your character smell?  I would expect the spicy aromas of Christmas cakes and puddings, cinnamon, fresh baked bread and rolls, spiced apples, newly-sawn wood, and fresh paint.

Taste:

Would any of the stall-holders be offering samples of their wares for your character to try? Were any of the aromas so strong they could taste it on their tongue? Did he/she stop for a bag of roasted chestnuts, a warm glass of mulled wine or a steaming mug of coffee?

Touch:

Is your character tactile? Would he/she arrive at a stall with figurines carved from wood and run their fingers over the grain, or visit a haberdashery stall with skeins of plush fabrics that cried out to be stroked? Would there be a pen with puppies running around, eager for any show of kindness and love? Would there be stalls of horses for your character to pat?

Sight:

There are so many different things your character could see, but what would stand out? Would it be the gay colours or the glossy coats of the horses? Would the stall decorations or the costumes of the carol singers attract their attention? Perhaps the beauty of some of the hand-made crafts or the intricate icing on the cakes.

The Sixth Sense:

No, I’m not going into the realms of clairvoyance here, or anything of that ilk. I’m referring to what emotions and feelings the character gets from the whole experience of using their other five senses. Do they find themselves overwhelmed by the powerful assault on all their senses? Do they love Christmas and are filled with joy? Is there a sad event in their lives which means they can’t celebrate it as the memories are too painful? Perhaps they are filled with a sense of wonder, like that of a child, if their upbringing was such that they never celebrated Christmas.

So how do we put this together without being overly descriptive or verbose?

By picking one element from each of the senses, the one which appeals to your character the most, you can craft a couple of sentences which will transport your reader to the exact location.

Sally approached the market with a sense of expectation and excitement. The Children’s Home she’d grown up in didn’t really celebrate Christmas – well the kids didn’t – the staff had lavish meals and treats while they just got the usual gruel.

She stopped just a few feet in; a cacophony of sound competed with the voices of the hawkers, but it was the melodic harmonies of the carol singers that cut through the noise, the music filling her ears. Her eyes tried to drink in everything at once. There were so many beautiful colours and decorations it felt like she’d gone to heaven. Various fragrances assaulted her nostrils yet although Sally could taste spiced apple on her tongue, it was the smell of fresh baked bread which propelled her deeper into the maze of stalls.

A pen containing a litter of puppies melted her heart completely and she knelt on the crisp snow to stroke them. They were adorable, climbing over each other as they vied for the touch of her hand. Their coats were so soft and fluffy under her fingertips, it made her long to have one. However, with nowhere to live and no way of supporting herself, let alone being able to feed and shelter one of these delicate creatures, it was nothing more than a pipe dream. A stab of sadness pierced her heart as she stood and walked away. Despite her longing, she was soon swept up in the wonder of her surroundings and continued on.

The first paragraph sets the scene for the reader (obviously if this was part of a story, most of this would have already been done, but for this exercise I felt we needed some context, hence my including it).

The next two paragraphs allow the reader to use their senses just as the character does and places them firmly in the marketplace with Sally. I could have used a lot more details and description, but I wanted to show how it could be done in just a couple of paragraphs, whilst also showing how Sally felt, thereby giving the connection to the character as well as the setting.

So the next time you sit down to write, remember the six senses – it will help your story ‘come alive’ for the reader.

 

 

 

 

Masquerade by Shaun Allan

In November 2013, we invited the fabulous Shaun Allan (author of Sin and Dark Places to name but two of his many books) to be our guest. Shaun shared his publishing experiences with us and spoke about his character, Sin, in some detail.

During the meeting, we challenged him to participate in our monthly Flash Fiction, and being the good sport he is, agreed. The theme was Masquerade. Shaun has very kindly agreed to allow us to publish his short story on our new site. What a fantastic start to our new blog.

The Masquerade

It had been two days since the removal van left and boxes were strewn randomly around their new house.

“We labelled everything,” Jeremy’s mother said.  “How come it’s all over?”

“Because your brother-in-law did it,” Jeremy’s father answered.

The move from their small to this much larger house had been draining, the whole affair being brutal in its twisted path to the ‘new start’.  The strain had shown in the bickering between the couple but, finally, they were in. 

Jeremy’s father had his son draw a picture of them standing in before their old house and then erase the building, replacing it with the new one.  “Symbolic,” he said.

 “Why have you rubbed out our faces?”

 “They were sad before,” Jeremy had replied.  “You haven’t started to smile yet.”

 His father frowned.  “I like that, I think.”

Two days.  A pair of twenty four hours sandwiched together by a sleepless night because the beds hadn’t been rebuilt yet.

Still, Jeremy’s parents told him they felt ‘revitalised’.  He felt homesick.

Their new neighbours were very friendly.  There were only a dozen other houses with Jeremy’s own being number 13.  His parents joked about how someone in a hockey mask would kill them in their sleep.  This made his sleepless night that much more sleepless.

There’d been a steady stream of visitors since they’d moved in.  Happy, smiling faces with names Jeremy barely caught.  The welcome was warm and slashed a silver lining through the cloud which hung over them.  There were a couple of children – Julian and Alexis.  Jeremy liked them, especially Alexis.  Pretty and just a little taller than himself.  He felt a flush whenever she spoke to him and enjoyed the sensation.

“I’m looking forward to the party,” his mother said.

“What party?” he asked.

“We’ve been invited to a party, darling,” she said.  “A fancy dress!”

Fancy dress sounded cool.  He could dress up as Jack Sparrow.

“Not that sort of fancy dress.  It’s a masquerade party!”

Jeremy had never heard of a ‘masquerade’ party.  He asked if he could wear his Iron Man mask.

“It’s not that sort of mask,” she said.  “It’s much fancier.  Like a ‘proper’ fancy dress!”

“It’ll be a laugh,” said his father.

Jeremy was fairly sure it wouldn’t mean loud music, crisps and an orange Fanta. 

“We don’t waste any time around here,” said Peter, the host-to-be when he dropped by later that evening to finalise arrangements.  “We welcome new people into our gang straight away.” 

Jeremy met him the day before, instantly liking him.  Peter had been standing next to him when he’d unexpectedly broken wind and had laughed.

“Loud’n’proud son!”

“I look like a girl!” Jeremy said. He was dressed in a tight-fitting jacket.  A too-tight band of elastic held the white-rimmed black mask to his eyes, almost squeezing the breath from them.

“No you don’t,” his mother told him.  “You look very smart.”

“Come on,” his mother said.  “We don’t want to be late for our own welcome party”

She wore a long flowing dress and, for Jeremy’s taste, was showing an embarrassing amount of cleavage.  When he’d voiced his opinion she’d laughed and told him she had it, so she should flaunt it.

Jeremy shook his head.  Parents!

From the voices and laughter that greeted them at Peter’s house, it seemed the whole street was already there.

“Are we late?” Jeremy’s father asked.

“No,” Peter said.  “Everyone else is early.”

He wore a long black suit.  His mask was plain black and Jeremy couldn’t quite see what kept it on his face.  Maybe he’d superglued it.  Jeremy had once accidentally superglued his finger to his shoe when he’d been trying to hide the damage from climbing the walls behind his school one day.

He imagined Peter would have a struggle detaching the mask.

“Come in,” said Peter, stepping back.

They entered the living room.  Faces vaguely familiar filled the lounge, each in costumes ranging from garish to almost obscene.  Bright colours and too large expanses of flesh made Jeremy’s eyes begin to ache and he was pleased when Julian and Alexis pulled him to the middle of the room.

“I’m so pleased you came,” Alexis said.

Jeremy stammered something and was grateful the mask he wore covered his blush.  He saw the children’s masks were attached by the same method as Peter’s.  No elastic or stick holding them in place.

“Yeah,” said Julian.  “It’s good to finally get someone young in the street.”

Jeremy was glad they were relaxed around him.  He might begin to like it here.

“OK.  Let’s get started,” Peter called out.  His voice seemed deeper and Jeremy could feel it vibrate in his teeth.

“What’s this?” his mother asked.

“Just a little initiation,” said Peter.  “It’ll be fun.”

Maybe Jeremy had been wrong.  It sounded like party games were about to start.  It could, actually, be fun.

“Shall we let the children begin?” Peter asked.  The crowd murmured and nodded.

“Thank you, sir,” Julian said.

Jeremy looked at his parents.  They were smiling.  He suddenly didn’t feel like smiling.  The formality of Julian’s comment made him uneasy.

“Away you go,” Peter said.

Julian and Alexis put their hands to their necks, pulling upwards, their faces sliding up revealing…

Jeremy blinked.  Where a nose, eyes and mouth should have been was…

Nothing.

Inside the void which was suddenly their faces was a blackness, as if the whole night had been captured in their heads.

“Wha..?” his mother began, seeing the look of shock on her son’s face.

Jeremy felt he was drowning in the shadows inside the skulls. He heard a yelp then a scream. It seemed far off then he realised he’d made the sound.

His father made to grab his son, but hands were suddenly holding him. He looked up and saw… nothing.  He heard a scream.  His wife.  He wanted to look towards her, but couldn’t take his eyes off the darkness in front of him.

Abruptly, the screams ceased.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to know what happened next! Thank you, Shaun, for sharing this with us.

Shaun would love some feedback on his flash fiction, so please post your thoughts below.

If you’d like to know more about Shaun and his books, why not check out one of his sites?: http://singularityspoint.blogspot.com or http://flipandcatch.blogspot.com or www.shaunallan.co.uk

Shaun-Allan