Episode 10 – The Story Thief Challenges – Magical writing!

Written by Liam and Aoife!

Featuring top kids author Catherine Doyle!

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, little sister. This is episode ten of our twelve episode blog series about the crazy and scary things that happened to us last summer when the Story Thief whirled into our lives.

The mysterious and magic Story Thief steals writer’s stories if they don’t write them down or tell them quickly. It carries a pen the size of a spear and has a ledger on its back where it writes the stolen stories before hiding them away in its secret library.

 

Eve sketch cropped

Our writer Dad’s books weren’t getting published so he tried to win a great story idea from the Thief. He did its three Story Challenges, but got an answer wrong so the Thief won all our Dad’s stories. But because memories are stories too, the Thief started taking his memories as well.

Me and Aoife summoned the Thief. We agreed to do its Challenges to win back Dad’s stories and memories. Thanks to the advice from Irish kids fiction writers we managed to complete the challenges. By then our Dad was a mess. He didn’t remember anyone. Could barely speak. He was in a secure, inaccessible ward in a hospital and our Mum didn’t believe us about the Story Thief and refused to let us visit Dad.

The Story Thief appeared in our room magically. It gave us a note agreeing to return our Dad’s memories and stories, but said that was had to bring our father to our local library before 4pm tomorrow…


Aoife’s eyes were puffy with tears when we finally saw each other over breakfast. I’m sure I looked just as bad. I hadn’t slept all night. The Thief was probably laughing somewhere. It knew when it gave us the note that there was no way to get our almost zombie Dad out of a secure hospital ward to our local library by 4pm today.

note

Aoife tried to whisper to me. ‘Liam -’

Mam interrupted. ‘Eat your breakfast you two!’

She looked worse than both of us, utterly haggard with worry, pale and shaking with tiredness.

I tried to speak. ‘Mam -’

‘Now!’

Aoife put her head down and started to eat, tears rolling down her cheeks, dripping into her cereal. I had to do something, even if wouldn’t help.

I finished my breakfast and stood up. ‘My school bag’s in my room.’

‘Hurry up.’

I rushed up the stairs, straight into Dad’s office. Not fully sure why, I typed a short email to an author I loved.

Dear Catherine, we need help. We’re up against magic and we’re out of our depth. Do you have any advice? Liam and Aoife.

‘Liam!’ Mam’s tired voice. ‘We’re going!’

Fifteen minutes later, we were in the school yard watching Mam’s car pull away in the direction of the hospital.

Aoife poked me. ‘Do you have a plan?’

‘Well, it won’t be any use, but… I contacted a writer this morning.’

‘Great!’ She pulled out a spare set of house keys from her pocket. ‘Let’s go.’

A half hour later, we were at home in Dad’s office. We’d gotten our reply, but I didn’t think it would help.

Aoife stayed optimistic. ‘Go on.’

So, nothing else to do, I read out the Writing Advice from Catherine Doyle, author of The Storm Keeper’s Island.

stormkeepercover

Dear Liam and Aoife,

Of course, there are lots of different approaches to writing magical stories – and no wrong way to go about doing so either – but here are my three best tips. I hope you’ll find some use for them. 

  1. Making Magic: Start off with something completely ordinary, and then add a sprinkle of magic to it. By that, I mean look around you. What do you see? A tree? A table? A bookshelf? Choose something that everyone can imagine with ease. Now think about what would happen if it was magical. What if the tree in your back garden had an ancient face etched into its bark, one that could talk to you and tell you things about the future? What if your kitchen table could sprout any meal in the entire world at the click of a finger? What if the shelf in your bedroom was full of portals disguised as dusty old books, that could take you to places as far away as Neverland? What if the horse in the field outside of town could secretly fly? I think magic works best when it begins in the ordinary parts of everyday life. If the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia is actually a hidden doorway to an enchanted land, then perhaps mine could be, too. Once something as simple as that is possible, then everything else is, as well.
  2. Describing Magic: Once you’ve figured out where magic belongs in your story, describe it with vivid colour and boundless imagination. Ask yourself, how does my magic work? What does it look like, sound like, smell like? For example, in The Storm Keeper’s Island, Fionn comes across a tiny cottage filled to the brim with candles. Some are big and thick and round, like boulders, while others are small and shiny as a coin. Some smell like seaweed and brine, while others contain the wintry scent of turf fires and pine-needles. Although the candles seem ordinary to Fionn at first, when he burns them, the wind whirls around him in a tornado, whooshing him back in time to a memory that smells just like the enchanted wax. When you’re describing your magic, be as expressive as you like – with colours, sounds, smells and scope. Give us lots of details, so we can build a picture of it in our minds. The most fun part of writing is stepping from the ordinary into the extraordinary and using your imagination widely in order to facilitate that journey.
  3. Interacting with Magic: Magic on its own is hugely exciting, but what’s even more important is how it affects your characters. Ask yourself: how does my character discover this magic? How do they use it? In The Storm Keeper’s Island, the Whispering Tree comes alive when Malachy presses his palm against its trunk. The tree erupts in flames, and beneath the crackle and hiss of fire, it begins to speak to him. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the children must suspend their fear and disbelief, and climb through the ordinary old wardrobe in order to get to the secret land of Narnia. In Harry Potter, Harry must steel himself and race through a solid brick wall at Platform 9 and 3/4s to get to the Hogwarts Express on time. Once you figure out what kind of magic you want to write about, ask yourself what your characters think about it. Are they scared, excited, happy or apprehensive? What kind of emotion can we see on their faces, and in their actions? Are they smiling, screaming, laughing? Are they flailing their arms and running away, or looking a little closer, curious? When we understand how characters act in relation to the magic in a story, we can better imagine how we, as readers, would act too, and that makes the moment both exciting and believable. Two crucial elements in any tale!

I wish you both the very best of luck!

Yours magically,

Catherine

PS: Here’s a Story Challenge for you.

Choose something ordinary from your everyday life – it can be anything from a blade of grass to a piece of furniture to the family goldfish. Now, sprinkle it with magic. Delve into your imagination and give it a property that makes it enchanted. Does it talk? Sing? Change colour? Open a portal? As you tell your story, allow your main character to discover this magical item, and pay special attention to what happens when they do – the most exciting part is in the moment of interaction. I want you to tell me all about it!

I creaked around on my Dad’s office chair to face Aoife. ‘I told you. It was a waste of time.’

But Aoife’s eyes were sparkling with excitement. ‘It’s perfect.’

‘Huh?’

She kicked my chair so hard  that I slipped and fell straight off it into a pile of Dad’s books. Too winded to get up, I awkwardly manoeuvered myself to a sitting position.

‘Why do you always hit me?’

She ignored my question. ‘The Thief travels magically, right? It can go anywhere. Why can’t we?’

I pulled out a book from behind me that was poking me in the back. ‘We’re just kids.’

‘We can use her tips to understand how the Thief travels -’

‘But we – -’

‘ – and magically appear in Dad’s room. We could save him!’

She looked to me for some hope, something to stop her from giving up. I looked away, furiously kicked a novel across the room.

As it hit off the wall, something hit me, but not Aoife this time.

It was an idea bigger than I could wrap my mind around.

But small enough to hold in my hand.

‘That’s it!’

‘What?’

I swung my hand out around the room, at the computer packed with dad’s novels, at the heaving bookcases, the books across the floor, even at the ideas roiling in our brains.

‘Stories!’

‘But -’ She paused, thought. ‘What do you -?’

I held up the nearest book I could get my hands on and shouted my insight at her in a incomplete sentence that no one but her could have ever understand.

‘Every time we’ve seen the Story Thief!’

Her eyes blinked, thinking what I’d been thinking a few seconds earlier. Every time the Thief appeared there’d always been a story nearby. Our house filled with books. The stories on the trampoline. Even when it appeared in our car and stole Dad’s memory, I’d had an early draft of a Story Challenge in my pocket –

We spoke in unison. ‘It travels through stories!’

‘And you know what?’ Aoife was so happy she automatically went to punch me, but I caught her fist in my hand in a rare moment of coordination.

‘What?’

‘Dad’s favorite book. You gave it to him yesterday.’

‘Yes!’

We high fived and she went on. ‘ Now all we need to do is travel through a book from here to his hospital room and then from there to the library!’

Hearing how ridiculous that sounded. I slumped back against wall. What were we thinking?

‘You can do it!’

‘How?’

‘You’re the reader! You’ll know!’ She shuffled forwards me, face flushed, grabbed my hand. ‘Take me with you, right?’

I examined a random book with my free hand. Flicked those pages with my thumb. I’d read hundreds if not thousands of stories in my life. Disappeared into them, adventured with their heroes, celebrated victories, cries tears at failures. How hard could this be? I could do it. I could.

‘Let’s go.’

I closed my eyes, imagined the book on my father’s bedside table, envisaged myself and Aoife flying into a book and emerging, seconds later right there in his room and…

Suddenly…

Four hours of pathetic attempts at magic book travel had gone by.

It was nearly 2pm. We were still in my dad’s office. We’d tried all Catherine’s writing advice. We’d tried standing on the books, putting them on our heads, closing our eyes, opening our eyes. We’d emailed another author and an English teacher friend of our Dad for advice, but they hadn’t replied yet. We’d even attempted to literally cover ourselves in books. Nothing worked.

Even Aoife was downhearted. ‘This is stupid.’

Just then we heard a noise from downstairs. A key in a lock then the front door opening. Mam.

Silence for a second. She must have been frowning, wondering why the alarm was off, why –

Her feet stamped up the stairs.  ‘Liam? Aoife?’

I pulled Aoife close and hugged her. Closed my eyes. Thought of my father. I just wished he could recognise us one more time. That we could see his smile.

As Mam opened the office door, a gust of cold wind blew into the room with her. It sent the pages of the books around us fluttering, blowing dust into my eyes, making me blink as it knocked us against the wall.

I sat there for a second then pulled my hand free from Aoife’s painfully tight grip and rubbed the dust out of my eyes. Something seemed off.

Instead of Mam’s shouting, I heard a beeping noise.

Aoife’s shaking voice. ‘Liam?’

I opened my eyes. All the air in my lungs suddenly left me. Aoife was at my side, but we were on the linoleum floor of a hospital room. Dad’s favourite book was sitting in my lap.

She whispered. ‘I knew you’d do it.’

I still couldn’t breath. Holding dad’s book, I stood up on trembling legs. I kept myself from falling over by gripping onto the rails of his hospital bed with my free hand. Aoife stood up at my side.

Dad lay on his back, but facing us. His eyes were blank, like he didn’t even see us.

Aoife whispered.‘Could you do it again?’

My breath suddenly returned but with a surge of confidence like nothing I’d ever felt before.

I placed the book on top of Dad’s chest. It rose and dipped slightly with his breath. I took his hand. His skin felt papery between my fingers, like it might tear. Aoife walked around the bed. She took his other hand and reached across for mine.

I closed my eyes. I said something that I could have sworn at the time was the coolest thing any kid had ever said.

I said it with the swagger of a warrior going into a battle that he knew he was going to win.

I said, ‘Let’s go to the library.’

Go on! Read Episode 11 featuring Celine Kiernan (author of Begone the Raggedy Witches) now!

Oh and 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 every 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 Catherine Doyle and her books and how to contact her, 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. 

Oh and thanks as ever to Eve McDonnell for her artwork. To check out more of her beautiful work click here.

3 Responses

  1. Barbara Byrne

    Dear Oran,

    I enjoyed today’s episode and must go back on the others.

    My sister in law, Liz, a retired teacher in UK,is enjoying helping children with their reading in a voluntary capacity. Will you please send her on just one Episode and she can then decide herself. she loves education, English and creativity and your website ticks all the boxes. I’ll tell her.

    Love, Barbara

    Like

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