- Published 03 May 2013
How to encourage imagination in continuous writing.
I know that I should be working on completing Mitchell Muffin, and I would, if I did not get distracted with those darned leaves that keep gently floating down from the trees around my garden and coming to rest in a mocking taunt in my garden. It would be fine if I lived in England and I did not have to contend with torrential equatorial rain and blocked drains, but I don't and I do.
One aspect of my work that I cannot leave to the leaves, if you will pardon the terrible introduction, is my tutoring. I tutor a number of pupils from primary, through secondary up to IB and University. I particularly enjoy the primary lesson topics that I am focusing on currently: continuous writing; all part and parcel of student preparation for their Primary School Leaving Exam: PSLE.
So far, we have encountered witches, giant peaches and spiders. This last week, has seen a slight shift as you will see from the story that was prompted by a situation:
It is a hot afternoon and you go to the pool with your friends. Suddenly you hear a loud splash.
Shi Qi planned this story with me and then wrote it up for homework. I am very proud of her efforts, she handled her tenses well - something she is so nervous about, and the twist at the end made me smile.
An Afternoon at the pool
It was a hot and humid afternoon, my friends and I decided to go for a swim. The swimming pool was quite big. While we were playing with the water in the large pool, suddenly a gigantic monster flew down towards the pool. “Bong!” A loud splash. We were all shocked and we did not dare to move towards that big monster. However, I decided to swim towards it eventually.
The monster had sunk to the bottom of the pool, so I swam down. When I went nearer to it, I realised that it was a robot!
“Hey! Guys, it is not a monster, it is a robot! Come and help me to get it up!” I shouted to my friends.
Finally we carried the robot up to the edge of the pool.
“What are we going to do next?” Sammy asked.
“I think one of us must take it back home and took good care of him,” I said.
“I….I can’t my mum will not allow me!”
“Me too, my father doesn’t allow me to keep pets.”
All of them started to give excuses. So, I thought for a while and decided that I would be the one who was going to keep it in my house.
Over the next couple of weeks, I taught it to cook, how to play computer games and how to draw. I thought that it would stay here with me forever, but I was wrong.
One day I had just come back home from school and I was looking for Nunu, the name of the robot.
“Nunu, where are you?” I shouted. But, the familiar figure did not appear.
All of a sudden I saw a pink-coloured note on the table. I grabbed it and started to read:
“Dear Shi Qi. Thank you for taking good care of me. I wanted to stay with you, but I can’t because a long time ago, the day I dropped from the sky, the bad guys from another planet, invaded our sky island. My brothers and sisters were all killed by them. I’m the only survivor. Now, my injuries are healed, I must go back and win my island back. If I win, I will come back again!”
Although I felt happy for him as his injuries were healed and he would win his island back, I also felt very sad to lose a special friend.
Ran Shi Qi
1st May 2013
I suppose we all wish deep down that there is such a thing as AI and that human emotions will one day enter the make-up of machines we call robots.
Robots as small as crane flies that buzz and beat their wings at 120 times a second are now a reality. The challenge is to integrate them into one of my stories. Is this a defining moment for Mitchell and those rotten eggs I wonder?
- Published 02 May 2013
Or motivating a Primary 5 student
My new pupil Hunter whom I am practicing narrative and continuous writing with had a break two weeks ago: he went on school camp.
Last week when I arrived for our lesson, he was thrilled to inform me that he had left camp early as he fell sick. This had moments of deja vu for me. I had in previous years, collected my youngest son from school camp as he developed continuous vomiting, twice and is no allergic to camp.
Hunter went on to explain to me that the food was disgusting, the place was full of bugs and nasty things and no one was enjoying themselves.
Thinking back to when I was a primary student, (going to secondary school), we never went to camp, but we explored the outdoors a lot, whether with my family or with the Girl Guides (yes, I was one of them). I can also remember pitching the family tent in the back garden and sleeping there one night as it was a novel idea. Early morning creeping around the house to unlock the backdoor when my sister and I got caught short, did not go down very well with my father. He thought we were being burgled!
On another occasion I went camping in France with my parents and screeched when my father peeled back an awning adorned with a thick carpet of earwigs one morning. I will never forget my his comment: "I wish we'd had boys."
"Hump, I'll show him," I thought. So in the ensuing years, I spent time outside. I taught myself to change a plug, to rewire a light, to mend whatever needed mending and to learn how things worked. I started a lucrative business sewing on buttons and mending my father's Barber jacket (I always managed to undercut my sister as well).
However, I never managed to overcome my irrational fear of spiders, other arachnids and bugs. Maybe it was my father's sense of humour to capture a tree spider, put it in the fridge for a while and then photograph it close up. Nothing wrong in that, until he interspersed the holiday slide show with macro shots of a spider's eye or fangs. Or maybe it was the holiday in Scotland? I was was about 13 and trying to go sleep in a hotel, on the way to our cottage, when something danced across my face. I turned on the light. Oh my goodness, none other than a fast-moving hairy-legged arachnid sitting on my pillow. It gave me the eye and then leaped onto the floor. If it had worn a kilt, I would have known I was dreaming. It was not in a skirt and the hair on its legs that would make big foot look bald.
My sister screamed at it, her rationale was that screaming made spiders stop dead in their tracks. It seemed to work, so panic stricken, I found something with which to whack it. Not very animal friendly I am afraid, but then we were girls, and 9 and 13 - still no excuse.
That now brings me back to Hunter, his school camp and getting a piece of narrative out of him during our weekly lesson.
We decided that this week, he would find himself in a situation with a giant spider. A little prompting, a quick clip of the BBC Walking with Monsters (Mesothelae) and he was set:
The day I met a giant spider:
Last week, I had to go to school camp with my friends. The camp was at the old POW prison near Changi. Four of us had to share a prison cell and it was not very comfortable as the four of us had to sleep squashed on the floor. The next morning, we were forced to eat worms for breakfast. They tasted horrible. So we decided to run and hide in the jungle.
As I was hiding behind a tree, a strange thing happened. A giant spider as big as my body crawled out of a nasty, muddy hole in the ground. I gasped with shock, it had enormous black, shiny eyes and it was staring straight at me. I froze like a statue.
The spider crept forward with its mouth wide open, showing me its huge teeth. It was going to eat me! So, I began to shout at it. The spider was some completely shocked that it froze to the spot.
I called out to one of my friends to help me. We took our pens and shone them in the eyes of the spider. The ugly spider went blind and began to crawl everywhere. My friend picked up a large stuck and hit the spider. I continued to shout at the spider so it would not move anymore. Finally we succeeded in squashing the spider.
Just then, the cook arrived and said, “Clever boys, you caught dinner!”
That night, we had barbecued spider for dinner. It was really disgusting. I think next time I go to camp, I will take my own food.
25th April 2013
- Published 25 Apr 2013
Am I sinking or being engulfed?
A friend of mine asked me how I am, we need to catch up, its been a long time.
I realised, ashamedly that we had meant to get together about three weeks ago and then I put it off: "I am a bit tied up for the next couple of days." What on earth does tied up mean? I was simply busy, but instead I chose to tell her that I could not possibly move anywhere, or do anything, because I was tied up. It was not shoe laces - which infuriate me as my sons refuse to learn how to tie them properly and I can still remember my father standing over me dictating the process. It was not string, partly because I put the ball of string I have in a drawer somewhere, somewhere safe, so I can find it when I need it, and now, of course I can't.
It was in fact nothing to do with being tied up. I was swamped, engulfed in work. I should be writing, I should be finishing off Mitchell Muffin, it was supposed to be completed, proof read and edited by the end of last month. Now I am fast approaching the end of this month. Oh, gosh, and another birthday, my eldest son will become a teenager. So, yet another urgent matter that I must stuff into my head. I have to admit, it is a strange phenomena that we can cram so much into our brains and then retrieve it, at the drop of a hat, if of course you are wearing one.
Rather than focusing on writing, I have been focusing on new students, and new topics. I have now added not just Social Studies, History, Humanities, Essay Writing, and Conversation to my list of English Language and Literature tutoring, I now have Canadian and World Politics! So, that is the tutoring, what else? Well, I am writing, sort of. I have managed to update my blog, not daily, but better than weekly. I have two stories I have finished and need to illustrate - that keeps waking me up at night. Then I have a couple of books I need to format for e-publishing - that is annoying me as epub is an art form I have not yet mastered. I do not like it when I can't master something and get on with using it constructively. Then I have to sort out book formats for my new printer, finalise some distribution contracts, oh yes and set an RRP for the books I am holding in stock as Bookaburra will be stocking them for the Asian Festival of Children's Content. Thank goodness I managed to get my illustration submitted in time for the AFCC illustrators' gallery.
Guilt is nibbling at my brain as well. I have left poor Mitchell helping Brendon out with a new gas mask and they are about to ride into a cloud of sulfur dichloride gas - as I have not written anything for nearly a week, the two boys are left in limbo, and I am not sure what has happened to Donald, although I fear he may have been side tracked by a donut detector, the DNT3001 recently enhanced by an old friend of mine.
Now I have to rush off in an attempt to clean the house, cook the dinner, do the washing, ironing, mending, sweeping up the leaves - that really gets me, I feel like Uncle Vernon as no sooner have I swept than more appear - where is Harry Potter when you need him?
- Published 22 Apr 2013
Encouragement and confidence is required
For the past couple of weeks my son's English assignment at school has been to blog about Random Acts of Kindness. It has been an exercise in psychological and social interaction as well as a task in the act of benevolence towards those around him, not to mention the English language element.
The output was to write about what he did. So, literally, that is what he did. He wrote a list of what he did. Not exactly what his teacher had in mind, I fear.
Like for many people, well, any self-conscious nearly-teenage-boy, blogging did not come easily to him. He has a wonderful imagination and ability to manipulate language beautifully. When he was younger, we would sit together with his brother at bedtime and create fantastic worlds where adventures lay lurking around corners and our characters were rather incredible. However, when it comes to writing about himself and expressing his emotions, in a blog, available for his school friends and whoever else might chance upon his post, bashfulness took hold. Surely, he had achieved his task? He wrote about the acts of kindness he had engaged in during the previous week. A detailed list should suffice? It was so rather male: straight to the point, no running around the houses, no decorating his work like a Christmas tree; he told it plain and simple, just how it was. I cannot fault him for that.
I ventured a mention that perhaps when he blogs about random acts of kindness, he comments about them, or writes about how he feels, or the reaction of whomever he was helping. A flat: "No." was the answer. I decided to change the subject and let him think about it.
Wise tactic. The critique from his English teacher was an echo of my earlier comment. I resisted rubbing it in with an: "I told you so".
This week, Sunday came and it was time to digitise his gracious acts. The previous week had not seen a significant interaction outside the confines of the family, so he was rather stuck. Should he resurrect the same actions he listed the week before? That would be boring, and certainly would not achieve his goal of "making it more interesting" this week. So, while I cooked Sunday dinner, he sat, with his laptop at the Kitchen counter and we discussed what it actually entails to write a blog.
Emotion, feeling, something from the heart, something of interest, something to get your readers thinking or agreeing (or even disagreeing), something that is worth sharing.
He started by outlining what he had done again this week and then the effect that it had on his family members. It made everyone kinder to each other. A sort of Pay it Forward moment. It did help that I had sat him down to watch the movie: Pay it Forward (despite the sad ending).
All of this brought him to a point of reflection about something he had done a few months ago to help a little boy. We were leaving Universal Studios and I suddenly noticed that Jason had hung back. Max and I turned around and saw him by a restaurant. A little boy had trapped his hand in the door, his parents were inside and had not noticed. Jason, instinctively stopped, opened the door and took the boy inside to his parents. He then returned to retrieve the boy's hat that had fallen outside. A simple act. It was not so much the good feeling of having helped this little boy, but more the realisation that everyone else who had walked past and noticed the child, had done nothing to help him.
A poignant thought that some people go throughout life, unaware of what is going on around them. Now I need to really look where I am going, not where I have been - which reminds me of another story, but that is for another post....
The upside was that his English teacher liked his post, so maybe, just maybe he learnt something from his mother....
- Published 16 Apr 2013
But I am not going to hide in a lighthouse:
It came to me while I was watching Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone again last week. Some days I like the company of a DVD in the corner of my eye, it removes a tendency to feel lonely when I am writing. There are some days when I really do not want company and everything: music, ambient outside noise and the rest get shut out: a sensory overload day (that reminds me I really should update my other blog: MyKidNSid.com).
Back to the subject at hand: Uncle Vernon. Why do I feel like Uncle Vernon? I do not feel exactly like Uncle Vernon: I do not have a nephew who is a wizard in the making and I am not being bombarded with registration letters to Hogwarts. Nevertheless, I do have an acceptance letter and school contract on my desk for my youngest son - so I ought to get that dealt with and out of my "please-get-this-done-now" tray.
The reason is quite straight-forward: instead of being buried under a mound of Hogwarts letters, I find myself rustling about under a pile of leaves, every morning.
It is not Autumn where I live; there are no distinct Northern (or Southern) hemisphere seasons: rather, hot and rainy or very rainy. The trees outside my house have no idea what time of the year it is and so, have the tendency to shed, every day, and some days more than others. Hence a pile of leaves greets me each morning. I cannot get down to writing while I know that there is this mound of discarded foliage in my garden.
OCD aside, the torrential downpours that occur, co-incidentally when you have all the windows open, the washing out and anything else that should not get wet, mean that the leaves have to be cleared. I've tried leaving the leaves (how is that for a little alliteration?). Not a wise idea - if the drain gets clogged with leaves, there is no other place for the water to go but back inside the house.
So, why do I feel like Uncle Vernon? I have not boarded up my house, sealed my letterbox, closed the chimney (no one has chimneys in Singapore), and I have not retreated to a remote, windswept lighthouse.
Quite simply, I clear the leaves, turn my back on a clean, clear garden and then when I turn around, the trees have shed a branch-load more!
This can result in an annoying distraction to my writing and illustrating. I should be strong and block this out, ignore the leaves, ignore the clogged drains and pray that we have a few days without rain.
Now, where was I with Mitchell? He has just sorted out a gas mask for himself; I have been researching sulfur, chlorine, sulfur dichloride and the possible effects of these toxic substances; and now Brendon is about to make a discovery.