Day 12… NaNo update…

I was going to preface my update by saying it’s been such a busy time in my life… well, it seems these days all the time is a busy time! 2016 was the year of throwing things away – not into the rubbish (although some things did go there) but to charity shops, given to others, recycled… I cleared the decks of much clutter and our usually untidy home had some sort of order restored.  As with many families these days, children who fled the nest have, or are in the process of, returning – so suddenly all our lovely space is being filled up with … things! We are delighted to have them home but it just takes a little organising, to cram three households of stuff in together.

On the writing front I and my fellow bloggers on our Moving Dragons blog have been putting an anthology together, which is now published and available (and we would welcome your comments and reviews on Amazon), and I have at last made my reluctant readers books available on Etsy as actual books, and on Amazon as Kindle e-readers.

As well as my blog here, the Moving Dragons blog and the National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, which I shall tell you about in a minute, I am continuing to try to finish my next Radwinter book, in time to be published spring 2018… I am also hoping to produce my second Radwinter book as a paperback.

Oh, and there’s the rest of my life, including the creative writing classes I lead, the writing groups I go to, the French class and the Saxish class I attend… oh and meeting friends, going places… the usual stuff!

So… how has NaNo been going? I’ve mentioned that I intended to write about a long-standing character in search of a story… however he has wandered off, and instead I am writing about Milla who has come to my imaginary town of Easthope. She is a woman with a mystery past, which has not yet been revealed to the reader. Over the twelve days I have been writing about her, her character is gradually developing, especially as she is coming into contact with other people – the other people who live in the house where she’s renting a room, people in a café where she’s been working part-time, other people from around the town.

She has created what amounts a set of runes, which she is ‘reading’ each day, by taking one at random and bearing it in mind as the day progresses. In order to do this I do have a made up set of images which I am randomly picking out – so in a way the writing of the story is guided by chance. I have got to a point now, where I feel as if something has to happen… there has to be some action and movement to keep the reader engaged because otherwise this will just seem like the diary of an uneventful life – and even if there is some strange secret in Milla’s past, by the time it is revealed the reader won’t be reading any more!

Another thing has struck me which I must have a good think about – if I have time to think as I pound away trying to reach my target… Milla’s character. To be sure she is mysterious, but she is gradually changing into a stock female character without an actual character – she has no personality!

So that’s my task for the next few days, to discover her character, and make sure she is interesting and different!

Here is a link to our anthology:

The Moving Dragons Write:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Moving-Dragons-Write-Dragon-Writes/dp/1549881809/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510513816&sr=8-1&keywords=Lois+elsden

And to my ‘Can read, won’t read series’:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/550200668/lois-elsden-reluctant-readers-collection

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Run-Blue-books-reluctant-readers-ebook/dp/B0771HH6HW/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&qid=1510513816&sr=8-16&keywords=Lois+elsden

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Screaming-Harry-books-reluctant-readers-ebook/dp/B0771G968M/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1510513816&sr=8-13&keywords=Lois+elsden

 

Reluctant readers

I mentioned yesterday that my three short novels for reluctant readers (can read, won’t read) are now available on Etsy.

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LoisElsdenBooks

I didn’t write them to with any idea of them being seen anywhere other than in a classroom; it started as a comprehension with a cliff-hanger ending – a young lad finds the caravan where he lives with his alcoholic father wrecked, and three big men all dressed in black with baseball bats in their hands are knocking on the door – and my students wanted to know what happened next. I wrote another comprehension, which became another chapter – and within half a term I had a complete twelve chapter story!

My students had loved the story, and “forced” me to write a second, and then a third. I used these same exercises over the next few years, editing, tweaking, modifying… and once I had left teaching to write full-time I had these stories published – and they are now available to buy as paperbacks! They will also be available as e-readers by the end of the year.

Here is an excerpt from chapter one of that first story of the lad who lied in the caravan, Blue:

I was so pissed off I stamped all the way back home. Home. A mobile home. A bloody caravan.
As I went through the gate Earl came out. He ran the site, he was a little thin whippy guy and he always smelt of cat’s pee.
“Hey, Blue!” he called to me. The wind was up and it lifted his long greasy hair and he had to keep his hand on it to cover his bald head.
“See you, Earle,” I said trying to walk more quickly. I knew what he wanted and I didn’t want to hear it. I’d had enough shit today and my legs and back were killing me.
“Hey Blue,” and he caught up with me and took my arm. “Look I need the money. You’re two months late with the rent and you’ve got to give me the money.”
“You’ll have to see my old man,” I said, trying to pull away.
“Yeah, well, he’s indisposed isn’t he? Look I’ve got to have the money. I understand, and it’s not me, but Mr Goode, he’s the boss and he wants his rent. It’s not up to me, I only work here.”
“I haven’t got any money, you’ll have to see my Dad,” I said, getting really angry now. The fat bastard I’d worked for all day – if he had paid me I could have given Earl something. As it was I had worked all day for sod all and now –
“Yeah well, Blue if Mr Goode isn’t paid he’ll have to take action, won’t he?”
“Well, he can take a jump,” I pulled my arm away and started to walk up towards the caravan. It was beginning to rain and I was hungry and sore and angry.
“Look Blue – “
I turned round and socked him in the face. There was no power in it but he fell over all the same.
“I’m calling the police!” he scrambled away on all fours. “You scum won’t be here much longer – “
I managed a hobbling run and kicked his arse so he toppled into the puddle by the overflowing rubbish bin.
Without a backwards glance I marched up the road to the van. I got there and the door was open and swinging in the wind, banging against the side of the van. With a sinking heart I climbed the steps and went in.
The place was always a tip, piles of stuff, clothes, dirty dishes, fag ends.  As I looked into the lounge I saw that the telly and video were gone. I went into the kitchen and all the cupboards were open and everything pulled out and the drawers tipped on the floor.
Was it dad? Had Dad done this? I went into his bedroom. It stunk as much as usual but he wasn’t there. His cupboard was open and the clothes scattered everywhere. Not that unusual. I went through to my room, my tiny little room. Even before I looked I knew. I knew I would not find my Gameboy, my Walkman, all my tapes, and my best trainers were gone.
Jesus. Oh Jesus.
I picked up my tin. The bastard had taken the silver chain and locket that had been Mum’s. It wasn’t worth anything to anyone but me but he’d taken it. And the necklace I had made at primary school. It was rubbish, it was only cheap glass beads but I’d kept it all these years.
I sat on the bed and if I’d felt like crying earlier, I sure felt like it now.
Had Dad done this? Had some other drunk broken in and taken the few things we’d had.
I sat and stared at Bob Marley and he stared back at me.
“Well, Bob,” I said. “I shot the sheriff but I didn’t shoot the deputy down.”
I pulled out the drawing pins and took down the poster. Taped onto the wall behind it was an envelope. I took it down and stuffed it in my pocket. Then I folded Bob and took him too. I found the sports bag I’d used when I’d bothered going to school. I stuffed in a few of the old clothes I had.
As I went back through Dad’s room I happened to glance out of the window.
Earl hadn’t bothered ringing the police. Walking up on either side of him was Timmy and Tommy Goode, Mr Goode’s twin brothers. They had baseball bats in their hands, Tommy was swinging his backwards and forwards as he walked. Timmy was thwacking his bat against the palm of his massive hand. God, they were evil.
I went back into my room, kicked out the window, jumped out and legged it.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Find ‘Run, Blue, Run!’ here on Etsy:

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LoisElsdenBooks

Can read – won’t read?

You would think it would be difficult to concentrate on listening when someone is screaming their head off.
It might be difficult to concentrate when that someone is lying on the floor holding their hand and screaming.
It was Mr King lying on the floor and the reason he was lying on the floor was that he had two broken legs. That was enough to make anyone scream; but Mr King was holding his hand because it had been shot clean through.
I’m not joking now.
Mr King, Head of English at St Finbarr’s High had been shot through the hand. This was after he had his legs broken.

This is the dramatic and violent opening lines to a novel I wrote for young people when I was teaching. I was working with young people who for various reasons were not in school; these young people were in their last year of education and had just that one year to turn themselves round and pass some exams so they could go on and go into further studies, training or get themselves a job.

Many of these young people were totally turned off anything to do with school and schooling for all sorts of different reasons, and yet most of them were bright, articulate, intelligent and literate… I taught them English and I didn’t have to teach them to read and write, they could do that, and they could do that very well… but they didn’t want to! They could read, but wouldn’t!!

One day I walked into the classroom and told them we were going to do a comprehension – they didn’t mind functional, practical tasks, and we read a piece I had written with some questions at the end… however, we finished the reading and they demanded to know what happened next? I told them I had no idea… it was just a comprehension… However, the next lesson I had a further instalment which they fell on with glee… and so it went ion, they were reading, reading because they wanted to know what happened next.

That first story was ‘Run, Blue, Run!‘ and when it was finished my students wanted more! The extract above is the first lines from the next story ‘Screaming King Harry’. These two stories engaged the students, got them back into reading, the characters they could identify with, the cliff-hanger endings – previously they could read, but wouldn’t – now they wanted to read! It began to get them back into the habit of reading, and it led some of them to rediscover the joy of reading… Of course for some of them it just served a purpose, to get them reading for their exams.

I wrote a further book ‘The Story of Rufus Redmayne’ which was similar but it also told the story (about missing people and were-wolves) through different writing styles,  diary entries, newspaper reports, one act plays etc which for the purposes of my students were examples of the sort of writing they might employ for their exams.

I’m delighted that these books are now available – you can buy them on Etsy! I wrote them for students about to sit exam, students in a particular situation, but these stories would engage younger people too!

Here is a link:

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LoisElsdenBooks

Exciting news!

I am almost ready to launch my children’s ‘can read, won’t read’ books – aimed to encourage reluctant readers! More details later but here is the flyer I’m sending out:

Can’t read, won’t read… a problem… but CAN read, won’t read?

I solved the problem of KS4 students who were perfectly capable of reading but had got out of the habit of doing so by writing my own stories for them… quick, pacey, relevant and with each chapter ending on a cliff-hanger.

I was teaching bright, clever but disengaged young people not in main stream education; we had one year to turn them round and get them through their GCSE’s, but how to re-engage them? How to prepare them for the work needed to pass English with a good grade? Get them reading.

They might not want to open the set texts, but they did want to know who the sinister men in black were chasing Blue, they did want to know who shot the head of English, Harry King, and they did want to know what sort of monster lurked in Camel Wood and abducted young girls.

Blue is a fifteen year old in ‘Run, Blue, Run!’  Someone has trashed the trailer home where he lives with his father, someone is after him and it’s not the evil Goode twins after rent.

Jo-Jo has seen her English teacher taking money from a dodgy-looking man with a pony tail, then she finds him shot and bleeding on his classroom floor. Graffiti across the front of her parents pub warn her to keep quiet… she’s in danger. ‘Screaming King Harry’ starts with a shooting and ends with a deadly chase across town as Jo-Jo searches for answers.

Young people who are willing to opt back into GCSE work may struggle with the set tasks in examinations. ‘The Story of Rufus Redmayne’ is told through newspaper reports, myths, diaries, first and third person narrators, one-scene dramas, and conventional story-lines and offers different examples of pursuing a narrative, of telling a story.

Something is lurking in Camel Wood, something is killing local farmers’ sheep, ripping their throats out and leaving their entrails scattered in the field. Someone or something has abducted Rufus’s grandmother, and has chased him and his friend Naimh through the woods. Something has taken Naimh…

I have been head of department in an inner-city Manchester school, head of faculty in a large comprehensive in Oldham, and for the last ten years teaching in a KS4 PRU in Weston-super-Mare. I wrote these stories for my students, and now I am able to share them with you.

Your advice needed….

I have mentioned before that I am going to publish my stories fr reluctant readers and I am now thinking about the sort information I need to give to anyone (especially teachers) who might want to buy them for their young people, young people who can read but don’t want to do so.

I would be most appreciative of any comments on the following, which I have written as a sort of introduction to my work which I would send to schools or other people who might want to buy and use my books:

Can’t read, won’t read… a problem… but CAN read, won’t read?

I solved the problem of KS4 students who were perfectly capable of reading but had got out of the habit of doing so by writing my own stories for them… quick, pacey, relevant and with each chapter ending on a cliff-hanger.

I was teaching bright, clever but disengaged young people not in main stream education; we had one year to turn them round and get them through their GCSE’s, but how to re-engage them? How to prepare them for the work needed to pass English with a good grade? Get them reading.

They might not want to open the set texts, but they did want to know who the sinister men in black were chasing Blue, they did want to know who shot the head of English, Harry King, and they did want to know what sort of monster lurked in Camel Wood and abducted young girls.

Blue is a fifteen year old in ‘Run, Blue, Run!’  Someone has trashed the trailer home where he lives with his father, someone is after him and it’s not the evil Goode twins after rent.

Jo-Jo has seen her English teacher taking money from a dodgy-looking man with a pony tail, then she finds him shot and bleeding on his classroom floor. Graffiti across the front of her parents pub warn her to keep quiet… she’s in danger. ‘Screaming King Harry’ starts with a shooting and ends with a deadly chase across town as Jo-Jo searches for answers.

Young people who are willing to opt back into GCSE work may struggle with the set tasks in examinations. ‘The Story of Rufus Redmayne’ is told through newspaper reports, myths, diaries, first and third person narrators, one-scene dramas, and conventional story-lines and offers different examples of pursuing a narrative, of telling a story.

Something is lurking in Camel Wood, something is killing local farmers’ sheep, ripping their throats out and leaving their entrails scattered in the field. Someone or something has abducted Rufus’s grandmother, and has chased him and his friend Naimh through the woods. Something has taken Naimh…

 

I have been head of department in an inner-city Manchester school, head of faculty in a large comprehensive in Oldham, and for the last ten years teaching in a KS4 PRU in Weston-super-Mare. I wrote these stories for my students, and now I am able to share them with you.

Cover design

There is nothing as helpful and useful as having someone else look at your work, especially if you are sitting beside them.

I went to see my publisher (that sounds so exciting – and it is!) on Friday  and we looked at the three books I’m having published for reluctant readers; it was so useful to look through her eyes at my work… suddenly I saw that a frame I had put round one cover didn’t work, the colour of font on another cover was hopeless, and the positioning of a text box was not right… all tiny things but they leapt off the page at me as they hadn’t done when I spent hours working on them.

We went through the text s well, and layout, and again the little things she noticed and commented on, as suggestions not criticism made so much sense and yet I hadn’t noticed them before. Just talking through my work brought up a couple of really useful ideas, a table of contents for one book, and an explanation of how it worked, the font used in another… It really was as if I had a new pair of editorial specs perched on my nose.

The text editing was useful, but the covers are crucial – that’s what my prospective readers will first see!

So, you don’t like reading…

 

While teaching I was challenged by some students who were perfectly and fluently literate but just would not read.  I’ve written about how I tackled their reluctance here:

https://loiselsden.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/going-fishing-hooking-my-readers/

… but I thought you might be interested in another sample chapter.  For various reasons I have changed the name of the head of English, popular teacher William King, to Henry King. In this chapter we find that Jo-Jo has reason to believe not only her life is at risk because of what she saw, but the lives of her parents, Shane and Bev.

Chapter Four

My mum was shrieking, yelling her head off, tears streaming down her face. My dad was bellowing, mainly at me and I was yelling back.

All of this as we struggled to open the fire door at the back of the landing upstairs. We were struggling to open the door because although we often used it as a way out of the pub when we didn’t want to go through the bars, for some reason it would not budge even though it was unlocked.

We were shouting at each other because we were almost deafened by the fire alarm ringing and we were trying to open the door because smoke was billowing upstairs. The pub was on fire.

“It’s no good!” Dad yelled. “The bloody thing won’t shift!”

“Front window – the fire brigade will be on its way!” my mum yelled back.

“No, my room, through the window onto the garage roof!” I dragged my mum’s hand.

It was an easy escape, I’d been out in the evening that way many a time. We ran into my room and threw up the window, it’s an old fashioned sash type.

“Careful, Jo-Jo!” Mum cried but I was already out and stretching my hand to her.

She didn’t need my help; she plays in the first team of the women’s soccer league and is fitter than most of our customers and that includes the Old Bill.

I slithered down the sloping room to where the drain pipe leads down to the water butt. I could hear the two-tone of the fire engines and shouting and noise from the road at the front. I jumped down into the yard, landing where King Harry had been talking to the man.

“Out the way” and my mum shoved me aside as she jumped and then Dad was with us as well, thank God.

We slid the bolts on the back gate and staggered round to the front, coughing and choking now. There were loads of cops milling around as the engines arrived and it didn’t seem long before the flames licking at the broken window were out and there was just a revolting wet smoky smell in the air.

 

“It was arson, Shane,” said one of the cops to my dad as we sipped our tea in the police station canteen.

My dad said a few four-letter words.  We had other people’s fleeces round our shoulders, we were bare-foot, in our night clothes

“Are you in any sort of trouble, Jo-Jo?”  asked a policeman sitting down beside me.

“No, of course not,” I replied in astonishment.

“Only there was some graffiti sprayed on the front door; a petrol bomb went through the window into the bar but there was something written on the door.”

My heart seemed to stop, my hands were suddenly very cold and my mouth was dry.

“What… what did it say?”

“Watch your effing lip, Jo-Jo,” the policeman said.

I looked at him outraged until I realised that it was the graffiti, it was what the graffiti said…

WATCH YOUR EFFING LIP JO-JO