Stornoway Saga

Over on John Connell: The Blog, John, thought-provoking as ever, raises the issue of ‘non-writers’ who have a responsibility for teaching writing skills to young people:-

“How many teachers teaching writing have ever actually tried their hand, successfully, at sustained writing of any sort: journalism, report-writing, essay-writing, short story writing, writing a novel….whatever?”

Alfie introduces me to his favourite beach

It’s an interesting question, the kind which often comes up in a sporting context. You know the one, ‘Does a football manager need to have

been a successful player in order to be a successful manager’? My answer to that would be no, but they at least ought to have played the game on a fairly regular basis.

The subject of writing, coincidentally, was also the focus of a transitions workshop I was leading last weekend in Stornoway with an enthusiastic group of primary and secondary teachers who had given up their usual Saturday pursuits to reflect on their own teaching practice. First of all I asked them what they had written in the past week, and then to consider what they asked their students to write. The point of this was not to shame teachers into thinking that they should all be writing short stories or novels or essays, but simply to remind ourselves that when we ask young people to write an extended piece of prose, we are asking something of them which is pretty demanding, and I think it is reasonable that we at least attempt it with them. Incidentally, I read somewhere that for most people, most of the writing they do will have been done by the age of sixteen.

Chancing my arm somewhat, I then introduced the concept of the mini saga, and told the group that they had fifteen minutes to complete one. Not only that, but since lunch was arriving in approximately fifteen minutes time they would have to complete their mini-saga before being allowed to eat it. Imagine my surprise when, far from telling me where to go, they set about the task in complete silence, completed it on time, and in some cases were eager to read them aloud, to the appreciation and loud applause of their colleagues. The moral of the story? Teachers need opportunities to show off the remarkable range of talents they have which led them into teaching in the first place.

If you are unfamiliar with the mini saga idea, the challenge is to write a complete story, of epic proportions, in exactly 50 words. Not 49 or 51. It is a very effective way of teaching narrative, grammar, summary skills and word choice, as well as having fun! With thanks to a great bunch of people on Lewis, and a special thanks to event organiser Liz Sutherland (@doglaunchers), PT English at The Nicolson Institute, for all her hard work before, during and after the event. Thanks also to Alfie, her dog, for introducing me to the beautiful beach at Tolsta on Sunday morning. Sorry I broke the ball launcher Alfie, but promise I’ll bring you a new one next time I visit.

With kind permission I have published the group’s mini sagas below. Why not try one yourself and I’ll add it to the anthology!!

For more examples of mini-sagas and competition details check out the Young Writers website.

Literacy Transitions CPD – Saturday 16th April 2011

50-word Mini-Sagas

In the beginning … God saw it was good, paradise even to those within.  BC, AD, the ice age, stone age, iron age, the dark ages, the Renaissance, rebirth – for what?  Fast forward; earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, infernos, wars – the supreme conflict of the nations: Armageddon.  Is this all there is?

The writer gazed out of the window, seeking inspiration.  A van pulled up and screeched to a stop.  The editor piled out of the van, entered the building and pointed a gun at the writer’s head.  The writer, reluctantly, submitted his 50-word essay, dreading the inevitable consequences.  The editor fired.

The sky darkened suddenly and seemed to get darker still.  It was no storm cloud yet it evoked the same feeling of foreboding.  She noticed the strange quiet – no shouting, no jostling, the market stalls busy a moment ago, suddenly silenced.  Shockingly, she felt herself lifted by the dragon’s claws.

 Once a girl yearned to become an artist.  Everyday she painted everything around her.  Her pictures became lifelike and she often lost track of time.  One day she looked up and asked her parents, “What’s for tea?” but only the paintings of them remained to look back at her.

The princess was missing.  Things couldn’t be worse.  Tristram recalled the King’s words. “Find her,” had been the gist.  The note had followed days later.  “We have your daughter – £10,000 for safe return.”  So here he was, sword in hand, having battled her captors.  Their blood was on the ground.

Jackets on, bags on shoulders, Miya and her friends waited.  The infants had been met, hugged and taken away. Now their parents would come.  The ache in Miya’s stomach was spreading – it was more than hunger now.  Teachers with worried faces whispered “catastrophe”, “nightmare”, “disaster”.  Waiting, patiently, silently, in vain.

The boy on the floor wept.  Beside him, discarded, lay a sword, smudged with red – the evidence of the crime.  Fate called him here; his destiny yet unknown.  Slowly he got up, weary of his battle.  He was victorious.  But then, a roar from behind him sounded.  It wasn’t over.

 Stop thief!  I couldn’t believe it, my hard earned money had vanished!  Downhearted and dismayed I consider what to do next.  Turn once again to a life of crime or beg from disinterested others?  My conscience whispered swallow my pride – ask for help – the baby would suffer – so I did!

 Following a childhood crammed with fairytales and love-conquers-all film endings, Esme found her own prince in Paris.  She fell in love.  He omitted to mention his wife!  Despite the lies, they eventually married and had a daughter.  Esme never read her fairytales!  They did not live happily ever after …

 A simple spartan cottage, isolated, framed in the lonely, barren landscape by purple heather and sweeping russet hills.  A man, alone, tired, stands outside.  A shadowy figure approaches on horseback and dark clouds gather overhead.  He always knew his time here was short.  His freedom has come to an end.

Erik the Bold left his icy homeland with a group of warrior to defeat the sea-monster that terrified  his people.  One night the creature appeared and unleashed its fury.  Erik, with mighty courage, fighting for his life, cut the monster’s head.  He was hailed by all in his homeland, forever. 

 Rainbows filled the skies.  They poured their jewelled droplets onto the earth.  The earth.  He knelt down in the dirt and dug his clear, new nails into the ground.  The earth smelled good.  Here was potential.  “Earth,” he said.  “Ground.  Dirt.”  “World,” he said.  He stood up.  And walked forward.

Inga fell into bed and tossed and turned on the hard mattress, considering her future.  Should she stay on this small farm in Småland or move to America with her brother’s family.  Prospects in Sweden were poor but the journey ahead was treacherous.  She would never see her parents again.

Ellie’s face flushed with confusion and humiliation.  Blinking rapidly but pursing her lips hard together she stood rigidly, only vaguely aware of her mother’s irate words washing over her.  She didn’t understand.  Her mother had said she could have the chocolate – so what if they hadn’t reached the checkout yet?

Hands hovering over the keys.  ‘Delete’ beckoning right.  ‘Send’ glowing red to the left.  Brriinngg!  Startled she clicked ‘Send’.  Gasp!  Hands frozen over the keys she stared at ‘Delete’.  Too late.  The email telling them she was leaving had gone.  Brriinngg!  The phone continued ringing as the door finally slammed.

The slaughter over, the Viking longboats rested on the beach.  Lars surveyed the firth from what would be Thingwas.  Beside him stood Mord.  “It’s time,” Lars said.  He called the council.  “Here rules Morda,” Lars intoned.  All turned to see not a warrior but warrioress – first queen of the north.


5 thoughts on “Stornoway Saga

  1. Now, which one did you write? And before you ask, I DID write one – included above! Thanks for your lovely comments, Bill. I’ve heard variously – from people who attended and people who have spoken to people who attended – that they enjoyed it, liked the informal atmosphere and found the workshop sessions and resources really useful. I feel ‘inanimate alice’ may now take off big-style in the Western Isles – it would be good to see Alice in the Hebrides!

    Cheers – Liz

  2. Haha. OK Liz, I haven’t written mine yet, but I’ll get round to it! Thanks again for your hospitality at the weekend. I’m very pleased for you that it has worked out and I look forward to watching the wiki develop in the weeks and months to come. I’m sure we will see an episode of Alice set in the Western Isles before very long. In fact I would put money on it. Best wishes with the network – I’ll be keeping in touch.

  3. One of the reasons I blog is to keep my writing skills going now that I am no longer in the classroom – because almost every time I set an essay for a class I wrote it too. I miss the challenge now that I’m no longer having to do this. (Gosh – how sad that sounds!)

  4. It certainly makes you think carefully before you set a task Christine! And it is useful to remind yourself as a teacher how difficult writing can be, especially if you aren’t in the right frame of mind, which is most of the time! Notice from your tweets that you’re enjoying this beautiful week of weather – makes you feel good to be alive.

  5. Pingback: More Than One Way to Tell a Story « Bill Boyd – The Literacy Adviser

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