Tag Archives: Famous Five

I Would Have Gotten Away With It If It Weren’t For You Meddling Kids!

I want to start by saying I know next to nothing about children. To the extent that he can be said to have taught me anything beyond how to deal with one individual child, Sebastian’s lessons still don’t extend beyond his age, and it’s a while since I was too young to buy alcohol.

But I’ve always thought “write what you know” shouldn’t be taken to its extremes, and (prodigies aside), we’d never read books with children in if adults didn’t take up the baton and write them. So how do we write about children, even make them protagonists and narrators, when we’ve left those years behind.

Personally, I think the first lesson is not to underestimate children. Kids are a lot smarter than many adults give them credit for. I was talking to a pre-teen the other day whose ambition is to study Law at Cambridge. She discovered I’d done it and was happy to discuss her thoughts and plans in detail. Talking to her, it was easy to forget that this was just a kid. I could imagine having the same conversation with someone ten years older, hearing the same enthusiasm and excitement, and being enthused by it myself.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we should base our portrayals on the children in children’s stories either: Macaulay Culkin’s Home Alone character, the Famous Five, even the meddling kids from Scooby Doo (How old are they anyway? I always thought they were grown ups, in spite of this line… is it apocryphal? Another ‘beam me up, Scotty”? I’m digressing. And dating myself!) … Anyway, there is no need to go over the top with kids who outwit and outsmart adults at every turn, unless that’s your genre.

But in my (limited) experience, children think about many of the same things adults do, they notice things, they have the same feelings as adults, even if it’s about different things. They are not different from us, they just come at the world from a position of less experience, and less knowledge.

It’s easy to make child characters 2-dimensional and push them into the background, but even if they are minor characters, they can help hold the story together better the more clearly and honestly we write them.

 

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The Castle in the Woods

As promised in my previous post about Dana’s Dice (http://wp.me/p1PeVl-2W), here is a short story based on the picture posted there. I used each die in order and stuck with my initial impression of this beign a Famous Five-type tale. I hope you enjoy – i’d love to hear your thoughts, as ever.

Off to read other people’s stories now. If you want to add your own, do link to it in the comments here, or on the original post.

The Castle in the Woods

Lois bounded into her brothers’ room that morning with a look on her face that foretold adventure and excitement.

“Get up! Get up!” She dragged the covers off them both and wrestled briefly with John when he resisted. “I’ve got us a boat!”

Adrian sat up quickly. “Where?”

“Never mind where, get up, we can go to the castle at last.”

The children had been looking at the castle for days. It nestled in the woods across the narrow creek and they were convinced it must hold magic or mystery. Dad said they had been reading too many Famous Five books and refused to take them over there, but now they could go see for themselves.

Not wanting to be left behind, John pulled on his clothes and raced down the garden after his older siblings, calling to them to wait.

“Shut up!” said Adrian in a loud whisper. “If Dad catches us we’ll never get there.”

“Did you steal this boat?” John asked Lois as he climbed in.

“It was in the neighbour’s boathouse. He hasn’t used it since we got here, I’m sure he won’t miss it for a day!”

She pulled hard at the oars until they were free of the bank and then settled into a careful scull. The creek was narrow here and flowed quickly, but by aiming slightly upstream, she managed to manoeuvre their craft across and land a little south of the castle. They tied the boat to a tree and walked up the sand.

Suddenly, Adrian stopped, blocking his sister with an outstretched arm. “Look!”

They could see what he was pointing at. A single bare footprint in the sand. It seemed to have nothing around it, as if someone had hopped out of the trees and landed there, then disappeared. They searched around, but there were no other prints, so they pushed their way into the trees in the direction of the castle.

“That was weird,” said John after a while.

“Super weird,” Adrian agreed.

They stopped briefly to eat some sandwiches Lois had packed for them, then pushed their way through the thick trees, keeping the sound of the creek on their right as they travelled. After a long walk, the trees gave way to a crumbling stone wall, crawling with green tendrils of ivy.

“This is it!” said Lois in barely a whisper.

The boys came up on either side of her and felt the stonework until John let out a little yelp of surprise. “There’s a hole here!” he said when he could breathe again.

It was just wide enough for one of them to squeeze through at a time, and dark inside. The children looked at each other.

“You found it, John,” said Adrian, “You can go through first.”

But John had peered into the hole and he knew that you couldn’t see the other side. What if it was a dead end, or worse, full of spiders and earwigs and nasty things ready to chew off his arms and legs?

“Lois is the eldest,” Jon replied, trying to stop his teeth from chattering.

“I got the boat,” Lois replied, as if that let her off the hook.

Adrian sighed. “Good job I brought Mum’s decision die along,” he said.

The children had been making decisions with the decision die for as long as they could remember – who sat in the middle seat of the car, who got the first piece of cake – good or bad, the die decided their fate. He pulled it out of his pocket and threw it onto the ground. It teetered on a rock, then fell beside it with 1 showing clearly on the top.

John gulped, but didn’t wait to see Adrian pick the die up. Instead he put an arm into the hole and crept inside. There was a twist and then he was out of the wall and found himself in a small courtyard. Lying on the ground in front of him was an old man’s walking stick and towering above him, the castle they had seen from their cottage. Really, it was more of a fort than a full castle, just one round turret, standing tall in the tiny courtyard, and accompanied there by a small shack, which seemed to be much newer.

Lois and Adrian pushed through the hole in the wall, and joined him.

“Maybe that explains the single footprint,” said Adrian, pointing to the stick in John’s hand.

“A one legged-man!” gasped Lois.

They all knew it didn’t really explain the footprint at all, where had the one legged man gone? And why hadn’t he taken his stick? But it was a better explanation than they had had before.

 “Let’s go in the castle,” said Adrian. He pulled the torch from his backpack and headed for the door. The others were quick to follow.

The castle was as dilapidated as the surrounding wall. Flowers grew through the floorboards and streams of sunlight burst in where the walls had crumbled. But to the children it was a place of wonder and excitement. As they explored the castle, they forgot their initial nervousness, and ran up and down the stairs calling to each other and exploring each room in turn.

When they reached the very top, they burst out into the fresh air like conquering heroes. The bright sunshine was blinding and Lois, who was first through the door stopped suddenly enough for her brothers to collide with her as they emerged.

When their eyes grew accustomed to the light, they walked to the edge of the battlements. The view was spectacular – in two directions entirely blocked by the forest, but to the North they could see the creek snaking away from the island, and overhead, as they eyes grew accustomed to the daylight, the pastel light of a crescent moon against the blue summer sky.

But John was looking East, towards their holiday cottage with its green lawn sloping down to the bank. “Who is that talking to Dad?” he asked, shielding his eyes to see more clearly.

“I think it might be Mr Jennings,” said Lois slowly.

“Mr Jennings who owns the boathouse?” asked Adrian.

She nodded, “We are in so much trouble.”

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