Written by Liam and Aoife!
Featuring top author Pádraig Kenny!
Note: If you’re a teacher or librarian or work with kids check out the guidance for educators section including advice on how to do this month’s Story Challenge!
Everything you need to know if you haven’t read the other episodes…
Hi. I’m Liam. Aoife is my annoying hyper sister. She’s seven. This is episode six of our twelve episode blog series about the crazy and scary things that happened to us last summer because of the Story Thief.
The mysterious Story Thief steals writer’s stories if they don’t write them down or tell them quickly. It carries a massive pen like a spear and has a ledger on its back where it writes the stolen stories before hiding them away in its secret library.
Our writer Dad’s books weren’t getting published so he tried to win a great story from the Thief by doing its three story challenges. Dad got one wrong so the Thief won all our Dad’s stories. One by one, it stole Dad’s stories and then his memories too (because memories are just stories we tell ourselves).
The Dad we knew and loved was vanishing in front of our eyes so we summoned the Thief and agreed to do its Story Challenges to win back Dad’s stories and memories. Like with Dad, if we failed any of the three challenges, it would take our memories and stories too.
As Dad lost even more memories – he even forgot what an oven was – we completed two of the three story challenges with the help of top kids fiction writers.
Now we just had one more Challenge to complete –
I was awoken around 10am by Dad’s phone ringing in his bedroom. It rang for a long time then went silent then started up again.
I found Dad sitting up in his bed examining the phone from all angles as it rang. He shook it. Frowned. Poked at it.
‘Answer it Dad!’
He looked at me, his face scrunched up with confusion. ‘Okay.’
He pursed his lips and made a chirping sound, actually tried to mimic the ringing of the phone as if he was making a moo at a cow or miaowing back at a cat.
I almost laughed then swallowed back tears. The Story Thief had stripped another memory from him last night. Now he didn’t know what a phone was.
I grabbed the phone off him. ‘It’s okay. I’ll answer.’
Mam’s name was on the phone screen.
Dad gripped my pyjamas sleeve. Gestured at the phone. ‘It might be dangerous.’
‘I’ll be fine.’
I answered the phone as I ran into my room, closing the door behind me. Tried to sound cheerful. ‘Hi Mam!’
‘Hey Liam. Where’s your Dad?’
‘He’s, he’s in the shower.’
‘Ah, right, How are you?’
I considered telling her the truth. I really wanted her help, but I stayed silent. Mam is utterly practical. Hasn’t made up a story in her life. She’d never believe in the Story Thief. She’d think we were imagining it. She’d think Dad was going crazy or something. She would just make everything worse.
‘Ah, Everything’s fine. Ah -‘
Dad knocked on my bedroom door, asking loudly, ‘Liam? Did it answer you?’
Mam asked, ‘Is that Dad?’
‘No, no!’ I put my foot against the door as the door handle turned. ‘Mam, you’re back Tuesday, aren’t you?’
Her voice went chirpy. ‘That’s why I’m calling. Good news. They rescheduled my routes. I’ll be home early tomorrow morning. Very early. In time to make breakfast before school. Any requests? French toast?’
Dad pushed on the door, but I shoved it closed again.
‘Liam? What’s that noise?’
‘Ah..’ My mind thought through the day ahead of us. All we had to do was complete the third and final Story Challenge by Midnight tonight. Dad would get his memories and stories back. He’d be back to normal before mam got home hopefully.
‘Liam, is something wrong? You sound -‘
‘Perfect. French toast is perfect Mam. Sorry! The phone battery is about to -’
I hung up and jumped out of way as Dad burst into the room, banged off the far wall and hit the ground and lay there out of breath, asking ‘Did the machine talk to you? What did it say?’
‘Liam!’ Aoife stood in her bedroom doorway waving a piece of old parchment. ‘ The final challenge!’
I passed Dad the phone. ‘It, ah, asked about the weather.’
As Dad gazed at the phone open mouthed, I ran over to Aoife and read the third and final challenge.
By midnight tonight I must be getting
A most fantastical story setting,
A magic world, though seeming true,
But if it’s wrong, I’ll come for you.
Aoife shook her head, ‘By midnight tonight I must be getting – that’s terrible English.’
‘It’s getting lazy.’
‘What does fantastical mean?
‘It’s a, it’s a world where a magical story or a science fiction or horror book takes place in. Like the world of leprechauns and elves in Eoin Colfer’s books or robot children in -’
Aoife shrugged, ‘I knew that,’
A few minutes later after we sat Dad in front of cartoons on TV like he was a toddler, we got working on his computer and sent out our email to a top author.
Mr Kenny, we need your help! How do you invent fantastical settings for stories? Please reply immediately! Liam and Aoife.
I rustled up some scrap paper and laid it out on the desk, grabbed a pen and asked Aoife, ‘Okay, any ideas for our story setting?’
Aoife lay down on the floor and stared up at the ceiling. ‘A world where everything’s upside down?’
Beep! Clearly this author spent most of his time messing around online instead of writing, because his reply had arrived almost immediately. Phew.
I read outloud the Writing Advice from Pádraig Kenny, author of Tin.
Dear Liam and Aoife,
A lot of the time when I write a story it starts with a simple question, probably the most important question of all for any writer who’s writing something fantastical. That question is “What if?” What if the world was turned upside down? What if there was life on other planets? What if we made robots that were smarter than humans? What if Ireland won the World Cup? Admittedly the last question is a little too fantastical, but every time you ask “What if?” it leads you somewhere.
For example, what if there was life on other planets? If your story instincts are kicking into gear you’ll be asking yourself, what kind of life is it? Will it be aliens who look like us, or will they have tentacles and three heads? Will they be friendly aliens or aggressive? Can they travel to Earth? Already you’re looking for answers. Those answers will be the building blocks of your story. (Except for the answer to the Ireland World Cup question which is “No, never gonna happen. Go write a more believable story.”)
When I wrote my book Tin, it started with a single image. It was a man trying to sell a mechanical boy to a couple. I asked myself why was he doing this? What kind of world is this? When and where is this happening? Essentially I was really just asking myself “What if we had mechanical children?” Once I had the question it was just a matter of coming up with the answers.
So, I created an alternate Britain where mechanical children were used to do the jobs people didn’t want to do, but of course if you create something like that you must have rules. These rules must make logical sense, and they have to be consistent, (otherwise you can end up with a scenario where Ireland can actually win the World Cup, and then your story becomes too unbelievable.) I came up with a law that stated that no mechanicals could be created that resembled adults. That led me on to another question,“Why is this the law?” This led me to another answer, one I won’t reveal here because it’s an important part of the book’s plot.
It’s also important to remember that all story settings, both fantasical and real, come from your own experience of the real world – your emotions, your life, your friends, everything.
If you want to base your book in an alternative version of our world, you can use real places you’ve been as a starting point, because it gives you a sense of confidence that you know what you’re describing. On the other hand, not having been somewhere shouldn’t hinder your ability to create the setting. Some research will always help, and your imagination fills in the gaps.
For example, it doesn’t matter if your book is set in Paris, but you’ve never been there. Searching for images of the Eiffel Tower will help, as will researching its history. Once that’s done it’s up to your imagination to do the rest. Before you know it your character is on the Eiffel Tower looking down and feeling very dizzy just as the tower transforms into a rocket propelled giant robot which takes you out into the cosmos, or any other fantastical variation. It’s just up to you and your imagination.
To summarise, when you’re creating a fantasy world:
- Be guided by your own experiences.
- Ask yourself “what if?”
- Follow the answers to “what if?”
- Come up with rules that keep your world logical and rooted in some kind of consistent reality.
- Don’t have Ireland winning the World Cup.
P.S. I have a Story Challenge for you.
First I want you to pick a place. It could be a real place on earth or in our universe or entirely invented by you.
Secondly I want to you to come up with your ‘What if?’ question about that place. Make it as magical and crazy a question as you like, really turn everything upside done.
Now start asking your what if question and follow the answers and the new questions that emerge until you’ve created your created your fantastical setting complete with its own rules.
Finish by writing out a few paragraphs that describe the setting for a story that you’ve created. Maybe do a drawing too.
For the rest of the day, we worked on our fantastical story setting. The only breaks we took from it were for meals and to babysit Dad.
Each time we went back to him he was worse. The Story Thief was stealing all his memories. Once we found him half way climbed into the fridge, fascinated with how it could be cold inside it and warm outside.
Despite everything, just before midnight we had a two page description of a magical story setting. The story world we’d created felt almost real to us. We hoped the Story Thief would agree. This was our last chance.
We carefully placed the sheet of paper under a rock on the trampoline for the Thief to find and retreated inside.
Dad had fallen asleep on the couch in front of the TV. We covered him up with a blanket and went up and sat on my bedroom floor. Neither of us was going to sleep tonight.
Aoife patted my arm, ‘Read to me.’
‘I thought you hated books.’
‘I do, but..’
I nodded. I wanted to escape into the world of a book too. I picked up Pádraig Kenny’s Tin and read it out to her. She listened, putting her head against my shoulder. I didn’t shove her away like I would have before a few days ago. If one good thing had come from the awful Story Thief, it was that Aoife and I were almost friends now.
I don’t know what time we fell asleep against each other, but Aoife shook me awake at around four in the morning. ‘Liam!’
We rushed to my bedroom window and looked down at the trampoline. The pages we’d put there were gone. Would Dad’s memories and stories be back now?
We ran down the stairs and shook him awake on the couch. ‘Dad! Are you back? Are you normal?’
He rubbed his head and looked over at us both with a smile. I was sure things were fixed, I was sure our old Dad was back.
Then a cold wind blew and a flicker of a black cloak blocked our view of him for a second.
When we saw Dad again, he looked around the sitting room where we’d watched TV and played board games and told jokes and lived all our life and said, ‘Where am we?’
I cried out. Aoife screamed in rage. It wasn’t fair! We’d done all the three challenges as agreed! Had we failed this one?!
Hearing movement, we turned. The double doors were open to an unlit kitchen. Something was standing in the shadows. Something tall. Something holding a giant spear like pen with a glinting, sharp metal nib. Something with only darkness where its face should be.
Dad cried out and pulled a blanket over his head. I was angry not scared. I walked towards it and shouted, ‘Story Thief! Keep your promise!
Aoife joined me and roared, ‘Give us back our Dad!’
It just chuckled dryly,
‘Your three challenges you have completed,
But do not think that I am defeated.
Your father was but one, you both are two,
So it’s six challenges you must do!’
I gasped. Aoife started to cry.
In the few seconds before the Story Thief disappeared into the shadows, it laughed and its laughter sounded like a scream.
I heard a key in the front door lock, the creak as the door swung open and Mam’s shocked voice, ‘What are you three doing up?’
Oh No. Oh no. Oh no.
Go ahead now and read Episode 7 featuring Lara Williamson (author of ‘Just call me Spaghetti Hoop Boy’)!
As usual here’s the stuff Dad told me I had to tell everyone…
The Story Thief Challenges is a twelve part series published on the first Monday of each month. Each episode includes writing advice from an Irish children’s fiction author and a Story Challenge activity that can be used by teachers, librarians and other educators with kids.
To subscribe to The Story Thief Challenges – click here.
If you would like more information on Pádraig Kenny and his books and how to contact him, including for school, library and other visits click here.
If you’re a teacher / librarian / educator or parent and you would like advice on how use The Story Thief Challenges and each month’s Story Challenges with children to promote reading, writing, story telling and creativity please click here.
Check out the work done by kids on this series and get work featured on it –click here.
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What a very clever way to teach writers how to write. Very good.
Thanks a lot for saying so. You’re very kind. It’s great seeing kids get something out of it.
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