Tag Archives: imagination

Horror at Ruthvenfield Primary School!

ruthvenfield primary school book writing workshop ruthvenfield's portal to the nineteenth 19th century author john bray perthshire scotlandOver the past few months, I’ve been working on an exciting new project with pupils from Ruthvenfield Primary School. Pupils from their p6/7 class have worked long and hard to create their very own book titled ‘Ruthvenfield’s Portal to the 19th century’.

I didn’t want to post about it until it was all ready. There can be a lot of changes to a book even after a first draft is completed so I felt that it was best to wait until they were ready to share their creation.

I just got back from a wee event they put on today in the forest that features in chapters three and four of their book. (I even got a wee thankyou from the kids written in sticks in some eco-art they worked on this afternoon).

Now that the book is here I’m so glad to finally get the chance to share what we’ve been up to.

More than a one-off workshop

One of Ruthvenfield’s pupils read one of my books (‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘) and his mum suggested to the headteacher (Sarah Burke) that she get in touch. Initially, I was happy to put on an ordinary book talk for World Book Day but Mrs Burke asked me if I would like to do a workshop as well.

I’ve always wanted to try something a bit different when it comes to workshops. I thought that it would be good to have the pupils themselves put in all of the work; creating their own book from start to finish, illustrating, editing, and marketing it. As far as I could see this was the best way to let them feel invested in their work.

This sharing of the workload also helped them demonstrate excellent teamwork. The project was a little ambitious, as it tied in a creative writing project, with young enterprise components, as well as a degree of community engagement/PR/marketing elements. I knew from the start that we were asking a lot of the pupils but they seemed up for it.

Exceeds Expectations

The pupils put together something fantastic. They’ve surprised me often, not that I had low expectations, it’s more that I knew this would be a challenge and they’ve met that challenge and gone above and beyond.

I left as many decisions as I could in the hands of the pupils. During our initial workshop, we listed genres and subjects on the board (nominated by the pupils) and they voted for their favourite; a horror story, focussing on relationships (both enemies and friends), set in their own school.

From this moment on they seemed extremely connected to their book (once the writing itself began one pupil, off ill, even logged in to the shared editing system and worked on his chapter). Miss MacKenzie (the p6/7 teacher) noted that they were all highly motivated to make their book as good as it could be.

About the book

I had the enjoyable task of looking over their work and offering editorial comments. It is genuinely a fun (and scary) read. It follows a group of classmates as they are flung into another time with a set of tasks to complete. If they fail they will never be allowed to return to their own time.

It’s a unique story with a perspective on primary-school aged children that is both enlightening and very honest (because it’s written by primary school children). The book was divvied up with chapters written by small groups of pupils.

Despite the shared workload, they had a structured book plan and character maps for their main characters so the overall tone of the book is coherant and makes for an accessible read. I’m probably biased but I strongly suggest you get hold of a copy.

Copies are available from the school at the end of the day tomorrow (27th June), or from Fun Junction in Perth and Crieff. Priced at £4, it’s a great summer read for anyone aged eight and up.

For Teachers/Group Leaders/Educators (Obligatory Self-promotion)

This was a new take on my usual school visits but one that I feel went very well. If you would like to run something with your own class/group please get in touch.

The full writing task from the first workshop to a finished, printed, book should take around two months. If you would like to have a finished book completed in time for the Christmas holidays I’d recommend getting started soon after the beginning of the Autumn term.

I still have dates available for initial workshops in September and I’m happy to discuss additional details and requirements. You can reach me by e-mailing: jackreusenbooks@hotmail.com

All the best, John

 

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The Ogres: Chapter 4: Miners

To find your way back to the very first chapter click this link

Machines

Huge machines rumbled past the tent and shuddered to a stop. People climbed out to look around, wandering off in all directions.

Mee and Bur-up could tell that something bad would happen if one of these people found them. The Alex and the Logan told them to go back to the cave and do what they could to hide the entrance. They also took most of the stones and metal with them. The boys hid the rest in their jacket pockets.

The people from the trucks were everywhere. The sun had only just come up and these people were busy rummaging through the forest. The family tidied away their tent and did their best to hide too.

The boys’ parents called people on mobile phones and discussed the value of the hill and how much gold they might need to buy it. The Logan and the Alex worried when their dad said “That much?!”

The family had no car to go to and they didn’t want to risk hiding in the cave. If any of these people saw them going into it then all of this would be for nothing.

More phone calls and the boys grew more and more bored. The Alex wandered off with his big brother and played in the forest. Only a few rounds of tig later a man turned up. He was very smart and was carrying a shiny leather case:

“Sorry boys but I’m in the process of buying this place. We’re doing some very dangerous work today. Lots of drilling and digging. I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave.”

Neither of the boys knew what to say. The smart man couldn’t buy a hill could he? They wandered back to their parents just as their mum was getting off the phone:

“What’s wrong boys? You look upset.”

The Logan looked back at the smart man:

“He says he’s buying the hill. You can’t buy an entire hill can you?”

Their mum laughed:

“Actually, I think we just did.”

The angry smart man

They looked back to the smart man with his briefcase. His phone went off. Moments after he answered it, his face turned purple:

“That’s not possible! Who else could have known?…Wait how much did they offer? That’s ridiculous. Keep the deal on hold. There’s no way someone has access to that much money that quickly.”

The man hung up his phone and stuffed it into his pocket. He turned to the quiet trucks behind him:

“OK guys we have to pack up for the day. Deal hit a snag, we’ll be back though. Just have to sort out a few things.”

The angry smart man walked past the family on his way back to his fancy car:

“Looks like you’ve got another day to play boys. We’ll be back tomorrow I think. Enjoy your day.”

He opened his car, got inside, and drove away at top speed. The boys looked at their parents:

“How did you do that?”

Their dad’s eyes widened:

“We promised a lot. Lets hope our new friends can help.”

It took longer than they expected for them to find the cave. When they did it was clear that Mee and Bur-Up were experts at hide and seek. A heap of bracken had been torn up in small patches all around the cave and then piled up in front of the opening. It was so expertly laced that it just looked like a mound of earth.

You would only know the cave was there if you saw people going into it. As the family slipped into the cave someone did see. Far away the smart man was sitting in his car with a pair of binoculars. (“So that’s where they found the sapphire.”)

He climbed out of his car and followed the family’s trail as quietly as he could.

Great big steps

The stairs were very steep. Too steep even for the adults. The boys had to jump from one step to the next and after about fifty their legs started to ache. Surely they would find Mee and Bur-Up soon?

Every now and then they called down the tunnel in front of them, their voices echoing away to nothing. Finally they all needed a rest. The tunnel was getting warmer and it was getting harder and harder to breathe.

Above them a man took off his long overcoat and scarf and sat on a step as well. He could have kept going but the sounds of the family climbing down had stopped. He didn’t want to bump into them, he just wanted to find out where the sapphires were.

Deep below them the echoing voices reached Mee and Bur-Up at the bottom of the stair. The sound couldn’t have come at a worse time. Their leader Biggin was furious to see two bigger-folk strolling down the stairs of Ey-Kan as though it was an ordinary walk in the caverns.

He was figuring out the right punishment when the sound of little-people echoed down to them. Not just little people but little-people who knew both Mee and Bur-Up by name.

Biggin lifted his hands in anger:

“What did you do?”

Mee and Bur-Up hadn’t even told him about the trucks and about being ‘interesting’ yet. When they did he looked like he might just bounce them all the way back up the stairs himself:

“So how do we stop being interesting?”

Mee smiled:

“Don’t worry the boys’ parents had a plan. Though we left before we found out what it was.”

Biggin looked at them as though they had lost their minds:

“What were you thinking?”

Mee was almost in tears:

“It’s hard to explain. When we’re up there it’s like our brains stop working properly. I think it’s the cold.”

Biggin shook his head:

“So all of this bother and the big ice is still there?”

Mee got excited at this bit:

“No, actually no, the ice is gone. The boys explained. It’s just something called ‘winter’. After a little time goes by they get something called ‘spring’ when the plants grow and the animals wake back up again.”

There was a small crowd of bigger-folk gathered to listen to the surface adventurers. A few of them liked the sound of this ‘spring’ thing. In fact even Biggin liked the idea of seeing somewhere new (though for now he couldn’t admit it).

Biggin pulled himself up straight, looking as big and leader-like as he could:

“Right, before we think about anything else we need to see what the little-people’s plan is to make us less interesting.”

Presents for little-people

A lot of the bigger-folk wanted to follow Mee and Bur-Up as they made their way back up the stairs. Some even grabbed gifts for the little people they might meet up there.

As they walked up, each step made them feel odd. Mee and Bur-Up were more used to it now but more than a few of the others had to stop for a rest every few steps.

Their heads got a little fuzzy too, and their arms and legs changed colour and got more wobbly and thumpy (like it was harder to control them).

The yells from the family above got louder and louder (more loud hu-mans) until they could see four little people perched on the edge of a step looking down at them. The Alex jumped up and waved his hands in the air:

“They’re back, they’re back, and they brought friends.”

Further up the steps the smart man listened with great interest.

Who were ‘they’? Where were they back from? and Who were their friends?

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As always, thank you for reading, All the best, John

The Wall

Teeth gritted in defiance, we all face moments that test our mettle. The past few nights I’ve been hitting ‘the wall’ again. It’s something that doesn’t improve with experience. (Apologies in advance, this post gets a bit weird).

I’m growing familiar with this gut-wrenching drain on all joy, all drive, and all ambition. The ‘secret’ is to drum up a ridiculous volume of drive and pep throughout the day in preparation. All the same I get an hour or so in and the wall appears.

A gaping maw opens in its centre and chomps at me. I rush to feed it my hard-won positivity and get on with the task at hand. Sadly the wall isn’t simply a barrier, it’s a predator. It bites my fingers and laughs. It eats and eats my experiences until I’m drawn out. I rest and welcome the meandering adventures of my dreams.

The next day comes with lumps and snippets of joy, comfort, surprise, and fulfilment. Every scrap of experience comes with me to sit in front of the keyboard. To toil at it and shape words to my will. Always waiting in the shadows is the barrier. I hit it and stick to it as he takes my experiences and eats them up once more.

Hours roll by and my barrier and I laugh at the absurdity of what I’m doing. We revel in his hunger and wonder what madness brings me to his door each night.

Many nights ago I hit the wall and it pulled me in. It is alarming in its ferocity, but I know that beyond it lies a finished copy of my third book. Completed pages pile up with each night. The book is taking shape, and for all its efforts, the wall will not win.

Sorry for the theatrics tonight. Felt the need to give the writing muscles a stretch. Hope this finds you well and, as always, thanks for reading. All the best, John 🙂

Why a willful girl makes writing way more interesting

Strong female, character, agency, writing Thanks to a retweet by Ashleigh Bonner I recently came accross a blog post that significantly changed the way I’ve been looking at one of my central characters. The idea behind the post was to demonstrate what separates a good female character from one that is simply good at kicking butt. According to Chuck Wendig, the defining characteristic of a truly strong female character is agency; more specifically she asks writers to consider whether their story would have gone any differently if one were to remove or replace the ‘strong female character’.

If the story is not influenced directly by your character, if events don’t unfold as a direct result of her own decisions, then you’ve created a character without agency. No matter how physically strong she is, no matter what struggles she gets through, if all of her adventures simply happen to her then she isn’t demonstrating true strength.

To be honest a sense of agency seems so pivotal to the construction of any main character that I’d go so far as to say that the lack of it in any character (especially the protagonist or any secondary characters) is a key indicator that what you’re writing isn’t very good.

The main characters in my books are children, they can’t help but live in a world with a moderately reduced sense of agency (adults have a whole additional set of rules that they expect a child to follow). However, I try to ensure that even where the rules are followed, we nonetheless see a degree of choice from the characters.

Jack and Thea both typically do what their parents tell them to. However, I’ve been sure to include moments where circumstances change in such a way as to leave them the freedom to choose. When these moments arise I have to admit I could feel the personalities of both characters at their strongest.

Thanks to Chuck Wendig‘s post I’ve now got a clearer understanding of how important those moments of agency are when writing believable characters (even children). Children will experience a myriad of controlling forces during their young lives. In an ideal world most of these controls will be there to keep them safe. However, what shapes them as individuals are those very moments when they recognise grey areas in these rules and take the initiative to make their own choice.

Perhaps this is what makes young adult and teen fiction so popular; the very trait that we treat as the key indicator of adult agency is being explored in a raw and striking manner at precisely that life stage. We meet these fictional young men and women when they are claiming their own individual personhood. When thought of in this way, no matter how many butts your female character kicks, if you aren’t letting her make her own choices (good or bad) then you aren’t creating a person, at best you’re writing an exciting bit of furniture.

Thanks again to Chuck for opening my eyes, I’ve got an interesting new perspective on my writing now.

What’s your favourite female character, and why? Do you, like me, find yourself drawn to stories that focus on the development of a adolescent into and adult? Are there any books of this type in particular that resonate with you?

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

(Also you’ll make my day if you pop over to have a look at the first book in the Jack Reusen series 😉 )

NOTE: The original post has been edited. I accidentally misattributed the author of the blog post. Many thanks to Ashleigh Bonner for helping me sort out my blunder. Ashleigh also writes her own awesome blog which you can find here.

 

Filling in the shadows

the_open_door_by_la_duqueBeing immersed in a book is very different to a movie; as events unfold right inside your head, they can elicit much more visceral responses. There’s something so weird (considering you’re just looking at some shapes on a page) but also something completely amazing about the whole process.

However, I’ve always run into problems when it comes to thrillers and/or horror stories. On a recent camping holiday where all tech stopped, I decided to pick up a wee collection of short stories based around ghost tales of Scotland.

During the day it was an enjoyable read and it helped fuel some ideas for the darker elements of future books. Then night fell, and the family went to sleep, and with wind howling around the tent I made the mistake of jumping back in. The horrors in the stories bled out of the pages and into the inky black night outside the tent. I jumped at the slightest sound. At one point the sound of an inconsiderate passing sheep mutated and left me gulping back bile.

It’s safe to say that my imagination likes to run with things at night. As a child reading famous five books the wind rustling leaves in the garden below could be nothing but lurking smugglers or other ne’er-do-wells. In my teens I read alien conspiracy stories and watched the faces of prowling cats distort in midnight lights to become malicious grey aliens preparing to abduct me (or had they already abducted me and wiped my memory?).

It took till adulthood for me to realise that a good night’s sleep would not be mine if I read this style of book. All the same I still forget sometimes and once again my mind will reel as the shadows take form and watch me, always behind my shoulder or just at the peripherals of my vision. Slowly creeping closer whenever my attention lapses.

I thought I’d be safe when I started reading the next book in Lari Don’s ‘Mythical creatures’ series, but no. There is one component perfectly crafted to leave children uneasy but to creep parents out to their core.

Don uses the old myths of celtic ‘Faerie folk’ (also used as part of the inspiration for the Fey folk of my books). However, Don stays closer to the legends as these faeries are far from benevolent; they are notorious stealers of children. Their technique is the worst bit; not only do they take your sleeping child from their bed but they replace them with a ‘changeling’ or ‘glimmer’ enchanted to look identical to the missing child. Your child is gone but you don’t notice, you walk into their room in the morning to find them unresponsive and clearly unwell, then over the next few days this replacement will either ‘die’ or disappear themselves.

What’s more is that by now it’s too late for you to claim your child back, as they have now been sentenced to a life in the land of the faerie folk; by eating their food they are doomed to never be able to eat human food again. Even if you somehow found your child and took them home the first bite of human food would turn them to dust. So..yeh…that’s some nightmares for parents right there.

The creepiest bit of ‘Wolf Notes’ (Don’s second ‘mythical beasts’ book) so far has got to be a wee boy’s little sister telling her mum that the boy in her arms in not her son but is instead a ‘doll’, a copy of her big brother. Somehow this got me worse than anything I’ve read by Stephen King.

Does horror in books get to you worse than horror in movies/on TV? What hides in the shadows in your house?

Feel free to share in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Where authors are heading in the next 5 years

pocket-watch-598039_1920When I was a kid my favourite authors were distant entities, the idea of talking to them or even meeting them didn’t even cross my mind. I don’t remember one author visit to my school or even seeing them on TV very much.

The one time I saw something close to an interview was a Blue Peter special featuring Roald Dahl in his writing hut (I’ve written a little about how much the idea of writing huts affected me previously).

However, a children’s author is a very different creature now. The chances of talking to a favourite author are increased massively by social media. Along with this grows a sense of accessibility that simply didn’t exist when I was a kid. 

J K Rowling is commonly in the news for her twitter activities (my favourite being her twitter-inspired spontaneous trip to a library on Orkney). It’s easy to see that the next few years are set to see changes to the way authors behave and the way the public feels about them.

Another huge change is the increase in the respectability of self-published authors. We don’t call it ‘vanity publishing’ any more (or at least less people use the term). ‘The Martian’, ‘Legally Blonde’, and the children’s/teen fantasy book ‘Eragon’ all started life as self-published works. Overall, people seem more willing to try out books published in non-traditional ways.

So what does this mean for the next five years? For me I have to admit that interacting with readers has an undeniable effect on my writing. We’re not talking ‘choose you own adventure’ but there’s certainly a level of reader influence that I hadn’t expected when I started writing. If this is the same for other authors I think we’re likely to see books change significantly over the next few years.

If we combine this with author blogging (as many of us do) this could develop into serial-style writing becoming a more common approach to getting a story out. We could see books shaped in (almost) real time by the responses of readers. This might take the form of pandering, as authors draw attention to characters with more of a following. However, it could just as easily go the other way as authors take a slightly sadistic delight in drawing out plot lines, leaving questions achingly unanswered in ways that would put the writer of ‘Lost’ to shame. (George R. R. Martin anyone?)

Add to this equation a touch of fan fiction and we might even see the emergence of a completely new form of fictional world. If authors decide to nominate some fan-fiction writers as ‘cannon’ writers then the in-universe exploits could grow exponentially, blurring the lines between traditional books and role-play. 

To be honest I author ego would probably get in the way of this becoming a reality but it’s easy to see how this could transform things for writers and readers alike.

Rather than having to wait a year for the next book, we could have a new in-universe book to read every week. Children’s fiction has been doing this for years with ghost writers. One of the most obvious examples being the ‘Beast Quest’ series of books. However, even these struggle to release more than one a month.

As an avid reader (and someone who tends to get absolutely hooked on certain fictional worlds, ehem…geek!) I have to say that the prospect of getting access to weekly books is like a dream come true. 

Writing styles would no doubt differ but if it’s put together well this might not be too much of a problem. Imagine subscribing to a weekly Harry Potter book and you get a rough idea of what we could see.

Alongside all of this traditional publishing will no doubt continue along on it’s merry way but the prospect of regular updates changes the way avid readers will address books. 

I’ll predict that in the next five years (for readers at least) we’ll see less TV consumption (it’s becoming more disappointing every year any way) and more readers turning to regular updates in their favourite universe.

What do you think? Is the world of reading about to change for good? Is social media and self-publishing poised to provide a literary revolution? or am I being to optimistic?

As always, responses are welcome in the comments below. Thanks for reading, all the best, John

NaNoEdit? Over a year of Jack Reusen books

birthday-candlesNo it’s not Jack Reusen’s birthday but it is just over a year since Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame went out into the world, and today marks another landmark too; it’s my birthday.

When I turned thirty I decided that before I hit forty I would write ten books and one album. If you count my philosophy book (don’t worry you don’t have to read it, but I’m thinking it counts) then to date I’m six books in, so not going too badly.

I’ve got a new job so I’ve had to give April’s ‘Camp NaNoWriMo’ (National Novel Writing Month) a miss. On top of that I still have two of those six books to edit properly, with that in mind the actual writing bit has taken a back seat.

To be honest it would be great if the folks at NaNoWriMo made an editing month as well. I’d be surprised if anyone can finish writing a book in just one month and still be able to walk away with something in final form.

Each of the books I’ve already released have had at least three edits, it’s a gruelling part of the process and it definitely would have been beneficial to be able to talk to others going through the same thing.

Maybe this post could count as a plea to the nice folks at NaNoWriMo, or simply to other writers out there who are at the same stage. It can be a bit of a lonely and thankless task at times, and it’s definitely nowhere near as satisfying as the huge rush of creativity that you find in the actual writing bit. It would be great to share this part of the process with others in the same way that people do with NaNoWriMo.

Today I won’t be thinking about editing too much, it’s my birthday so I’ll be spending some time with the family. However, I’m aware of how much I still have to do so if any other writers out there fancy going through the editing process together in May (after this round of ‘Camp NaNoWriMo’) then let me know.

Perhaps we could set up a twitter hashtag or something to tie our experiences together, maybe #nanoedit (it looks like it’s had a bit of use already). If you aren’t a twitter user feel free to post updates on the Jack Reusen Facebook page or in the comments for this post.

In the mean time feel free to pop over and see some of the things I’ve learned since I started writing here, one issue that was particularly difficult for me was simplifying plot, you can get an idea about the ways I’ve found to get around this by clicking this link.

Apologies for the silence on the blog post front over the past wee while, I’ll try and be better.

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John