Episode 12 – The Story Thief Challenges – Kids’ writing tips!

Written by Liam and Aoife!

Featuring top storytellers Mrs Grieve’s Y6 Students, Parkside School, Surrey.

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 little sister. This is the last episode of our twelve episode blog series about our adventures last summer when the Story Thief whirled into our lives.

The mysterious and magical Story Thief steals writer’s stories if they don’t write them down or tell them quickly enough. It has a giant ledger on its back in which it writes the stolen stories before hiding them away in its secret library.

Eve artwork

Our writer Dad’s books weren’t getting published so he tried to win a great story idea from the Thief. He did its story challenges, but got an answer wrong so the Thief won all his stories. But memories are stories so the Thief took his memories too.

Thanks to writing advice from Irish kids’ fiction authors we completed the Thief’s Story Challenges to win back our Dad’s memories and stories. We learnt to magically travel through stories and even learnt library magic. We travelled to the secret library of stolen stories with our Dad and confronted the Thief.

The library was a candle-lit cave in a high mountain. Heavy wooden shutters were pulled tight against the storm winds outside. There were high shelves with hundreds of leather ledgers of stolen stories. The Thief, defeated and weaker than we’d ever seen it, returned our father’s memories and stories to him.

Having successfully completed the Thief’s challenges, it told us we had won a story from the library. We could choose one stolen story from thousands of fantastic authors. If Dad wrote that story, it would surely make him rich and famous.

What story would we choose?


Dad ran at the ledgers with giddy glee. He jumped up as high as he could to get at one of the older volumes. He slapped it open on the ground.

‘Jane Austen! A story by Jane Austen!’

Aoife dragged down a second ledger. They swung it open together.

‘Stephen King!’

I wasn’t immune to the excitement. I grabbed the nearest one I could get my hands on. There were stories by complete unknowns mixed in with authors.

‘An Eoin Colfer story.’ I flipped the pages again. ‘And JK Rowling!’

Dad looked at the shelves, his eyes greedy. ‘I have to pick the perfect one.’

As he grabbed at the ledgers, forgetting Aoife and me, I looked back at the heavy wooden door at the back of the library. Somewhere behind that door lurked the Thief. What was it doing? Why had it seemed so defeated and tired as it left? I had to know.

I walked towards that door.

‘Hey! I’m coming too!’ Aoife appeared at my side. ‘I’ve got a few things to say to that stupid Thief!’

Behind the heavy door was a damp tunnel roughly hacked into the mountain. We walked towards the dim glow of candle light shimmering through the crack of a another, slightly open door.

Our heart’s pounding, we peered inside. There were a few lit candles on a small table. A little wooden bed. A wooden chair. It was the Thief’s bedroom.

The Thief was smaller than I remembered it. It stood its oversized pen up against the wall and sat down on the bed. It sighed heavily as if tired then took hold of each side of its hood and lowered it.

In shock at what I saw, my breath racing, I fell forward and knocked the door open. The Thief looked up at us and scrabbled backwards on the bed.

‘Leave me be!’

What was sitting on the bed in a suddenly oversized cloak, wasn’t some hideous monster or a scarred, evil man or anything I’d imagined…

It was a boy.

He was pale and thin and about my age. He looked like he hadn’t seen natural light in years. His wispy hair was short and greasy – it needed a good wash. His eyes were lost in the shadows of his eye sockets. And his language was old fashioned but with the whine I recognised from my own voice when I was tired and upset

‘You won! Now begone!’

Aoife’s was as confused as me. ‘You’re the Thief? You’re just a kid.’

He scowled, a spot of red popping up in the middle of each cheek. ‘So??’

‘You were big and tall and scary -’

‘That was magic. You don’t want me to use it on you. So begone or I’ll, I’ll…’

We didn’t begone. He wasn’t fooling anyone. He was more scared of us than scary.

He screeched. ‘It’s not right, to come into my bedroom like this!’

Aoife snapped. ‘You came into ours!’

‘You summoned me.’

I wasn’t staying quiet. ‘You stole our Dad’s memories. He didn’t even recognise us. He – ’

‘I was within my rights. Memories are stories too.’

‘You ruined our life!’

He shut up. Seemed to finally understand. He put his head down and uttered something inaudible.

Aoife said, ‘What?’

He said it again, barely any louder.

‘We can’t hear you.’

He spoke up. Seemed almost sincere. ‘I apologise. It was wrong of me. Now, will you leave?’

I wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted answers.

‘What’s your name?’

The question seemed to upset him. He looked away. ‘I don’t remember.’

‘Why not?’

‘I do try to remember it, almost everything day, but.. it’s been such a long time since anyone called me by it.’

This wasn’t how I expected the conversation to go. I didn’t want to feel sorry for him. ‘Why are you here then? Why do you steal stories? Give challenges? Where are your parents?’

‘If I tell you, you’ll leave me be?’

‘Yeah.’

He accepted my answer and pulled off the oversized cloak and threw it onto the ground. Underneath he was wearing a frayed woolen jumper and dirty trousers. The clothes looked a hundred years old. He kicked off his boots and his socks were grey and filled with holes. He was so thin. What had he eaten all these years? I had so many questions.

The boy wrapped his arms around his legs and spoke.

‘I don’t remember my mother and father. Not very much anyway. They weren’t -’ He waited till the words came to him. ‘ – very interested in me. I was sick a lot. They liked it when I stayed in my room, decided it was easiest if I simply didn’t go to school. My only friends were stories, but I ran out of books. I couldn’t make my own stories so I needed some other way to get. I discovered the magic, just like you did. I practised and I practised and…’

He waved his hands at everything around him, as if all of this was inevitable. It wasn’t.

‘But why steal stories?’

He seemed irritated by my question. ‘Ha. That’s easy for you to say.’

‘What?’

He spoke as I was being difficult. ‘Both of you, your stories, characters, dialogue – all wonderful. Funny, exciting, brilliant. I could never do that!’

I tried to interject. ‘But everyone can -‘

He shook his head. ‘Well I can’t. No ability at all. Where there should be stories inside me, there’s nothing, just pure rubbish. If I found a way to pluck unused stories out of your brains, why shouldn’t I take one or two? You writers have so many.’

‘But that’s stealing. It’s wrong.’

‘Not with all those people in your world who have marvelous stories, but are too lazy to write them down or to tell them. To let those stories go to waste, now that would be wrong!’

I was furious. Stepped towards him. ‘And sticking them in a library in the middle of nowhere to, I don’t know, gloat over them is much better -’

‘At least they’re being written down -’

‘You’ve no right -’

Aoife hand squeezed painfully on my arm and stopped me in my tracks.

‘What?’

‘Shut up Liam.’

I was miffed, but did as she said. She sat down on the bed next to him. The boy shuffled slightly away from her as if unused to having someone so close to him.

He muttered. ‘You said that you’d leave.’

She ignored him. ‘We’re not great writers. I didn’t even like books or writing. It took a lot of work. A lot of practise. A lot of mistakes. It wasn’t easy.’

He was unconvinced. ‘Hmm. Yes. If you say so.’

‘And we didn’t do it all alone either. We had help from authors too. They taught us a lot.’

He pursed his lips, unwilling to take in what she was saying, but she went on.

‘If I learnt how to write stories, why can’t you?’

His eyes teared up instantly as if those tears had been building up in him for years and years. He rubbed them away with a dirty hand.

‘I can’t.’

‘Why not?’

Those tears flowed freely down his cheeks now. ‘My stories would be stupid. People would laugh.’

Aoife spoke softly, touched his arm. ‘I wouldn’t laugh.’ She looked to me. ‘Would you Liam?’

Surprised at how much I wanted to comfort him, I answered quickly, ‘No. I wouldn’t. Not unless it was a funny story.’

He looked between us. Sniffed. ‘I wouldn’t know where to start.’

Aoife held up the phone. ‘This could help.’

I’m sure I was confused as the boy. What use was a phone in a magical cave? Did we get network here?

Aoife unlocked the home screen. ‘We got writing advice today, an email that helped us use library magic to get here. We never noticed a second email.’

I immediately remembered the second message we’d sent this morning. The one we’d sent to Dad’s teacher friend in England.

Mrs Grieve, we need your help with stories. We’re not getting anywhere with them. How do you get somewhere with them? Please help!! Liam and Aoife.

The boy didn’t want to hear Aoife. ‘It won’t make any difference. I’ll never be able to -’

‘Just listen. Please.’ Aoife handed me the phone.

A glance at the screen made me smile. ‘This could really help you.’

The boy looked unconvinced, but listened quietly as I read out the Writing Advice from Mrs Grieve’s Y6 Students in Parkside School.

Y6 photo

Hi Liam and Aoife,

Wow! Mrs Grieve just told us that you emailed her, yes, our English teacher, saying that your stories aren’t getting anywhere. She claimed her mind went totally blank – yeah right! She’s our English teacher and she never has a blank mind, but not to worry, we’d be more than happy to help you write your stories. We’ve got some terrific tips that we’ve learnt from writing stories and practising in school.

So, here goes…

We’re not afraid to ‘magpie’ ideas from books we’ve read, films we’ve seen or stories we’ve heard. Jack says this is great as long as you’re not just retelling someone else’s story; it is fine to borrow snippets that you love and ‘WOW’ words. James is always making a note of fantastic vocabulary that he comes across when he’s reading. He somehow manages to drop these words into his stories and Mrs Grieve is always delighted.

Mrs Grieve is always telling us to use our senses to describe our settings and characters. She says we should ‘show, not tell.’ We dig deep to find our amazing adjectives, awesome adverbs, scintillating similes, marvellous metaphors and ‘poptastically’ powerful personification to paint a picture for our reader. Jamie decided boring words were banned this year and he’s always dropping in spectacular synonyms.

Harris says if you’re not a big fan of planning (obviously ALL teachers are!!!) just start writing a story and see where it takes you. He says that most of his stories are made up with no planning, and trust us; he’s sooooooo going to be an author when he’s a grown-up because he writes the funniest and best stories ever. You really should come and listen to him read one out loud – he’s brilliant! So, try Harris’s advice: pick an idea, start to write and before you know it you’ll be in the zone.

Jack says you should just let your imagination run wild and see where you end up. He also thinks it’s a really good idea to use things that have actually happened to you in the past and write a story around them.

Barney kind of likes the crazy story ideas that jump into his imagination and he loves making his world go Topsy Turvy with lands of dinosaurs and magical dragons.

Monty loves writing about things that he’s super interested in. He often uses people he knows as his characters because then you know their personality and the things they like doing; this makes them great main characters as you can create a plot especially for them.

Finn suggests looking around you at your surroundings. This helps you create the setting and the atmosphere for your story because it’s real; you know it well; and you can give lots of details about it to make it more realistic.

Mark says make your stories dramatic then your reader will be hooked to the book! He suggests choosing your favourite genre and mixing up the plot to create suspense.

I suppose what we’re saying is that we all have stories in us just bursting to jump out and land on a page for others to read. Be brave, be bold and believe in yourselves. Listen to each other! Good luck!

From,

Mrs G’s Y6 boys – Harris, Jack, Mark, Monty, James, Barney, Finn and Jamie

P.S. Mrs Grieve said we could set a writing challenge! Harris was a genius and he came up with this fab idea. Choose someone you admire, it can be anyone – your favourite footballer, popstar, actor, author, anyone. Now write a story with them as your main character.

I put down the phone and saw a boy transformed.  He sat up straight, his face grimy and excited. His voice bubbled with enthusiasm.

‘I could do that challenge.’ He looked to us for reassurance. ‘Couldn’t I?’

‘Of course.’

Aoife gave him a wallop on the shoulder. ‘Definitely!’

He massaged his now sore shoulder and grinned at the two of us as if were his friends.

And, even weirder, we grinned right back at him.

I heard a door creak in the distance then Dad’s nervous voice. ‘Aoife? Liam?’

A couple of minutes later,  the three of us stood in front of Dad in the library. He was as confused as we had been to see the boy who looked sheepishly at him.

‘Who is..?’

Hand to his mouth in surprise.

‘Is he..?’

Then to him.

‘You’re not..?’

The boy spoke up. ‘I’m really sorry.’

Dad’s mouth opened wide.

‘He is!’

Aoife wasn’t interested in Dad’s discovery. She was looking around the library. ‘You made a mess, didn’t you?’

Ledgers were strewn all across the stone floor. Many lay open, their loose pages shaking in the breeze from the library’s tightly shuttered windows which held back the storm still loudly raging outside.

I asked, ‘What story did you pick Dad?’

‘I didn’t pick any.’

It was my second time to be confused in a very short while. ‘Huh?’

He looked around the library. ‘So many fantastic stories here. Many better than anything I could ever write. But they’re not mine.’

He looked back to us. ‘I failed the story challenge, because I wasn’t writing my own stories. Maybe it’s why I didn’t get published. I wanted a hit so much that I copied my favorite writers. I followed trends. I tried to write what I thought would sell. That was wrong.’

His eyes sparkled. ‘Whether or not anyone wants to read them, I want to write my own stories now.’

Within a millisecond Aoife and I had our arms around him, hugging him tight, so proud of our Dad, so sure he’d made the right decision. He hugged us right back and whispered, ‘I love you two.’

Our hug was interrupted by the boy tripping noisily over a ledger near one of the windows. We looked to him. His face was joyful as he reached for the window’s shutters.

‘I don’t need these stories either.’

Dad considered this for a second, then nodded. ‘Good for you.’

‘Will you all help me?’

He didn’t need to explain what he was asking us to do. We didn’t need to answer. Picking our way through the ledger strewn floor, we each made our way to one of remaining three windows. Like the boy, we gripped the metal bolts that locked the shutters closed.

I could hear the roaring winds outside.

Dad called out to him. ‘Are you sure?’

Instead of answering, the boy said, ‘Remember the challenge Mrs Grieve’s Y6 gave? To write a story about someone I admire?’

I answered. ‘Yeah?’

‘I’ll write a story about you three.’

Before I could take this in, he yanked open the metal bolt on his shutters. We did the same. The wind threw each window’s shutters open. The storm exploded into the library like a angry mob of ghosts.

I gripped onto the window as ledgers spun wildly into the air, breaking apart into loose pages.

Dad screamed to us. ‘Come here!’

Aoife and I crawled towards him as around us the old parchment papers were the first to give under the storm’s pressure. They detonated into clouds of yellow dust that swarmed together in the centre of the room as the storm drew in newer ledgers with fresh white paper, tearing those apart too.

This wasn’t a storm. This was raw, uncontrolled magic.

We got to Dad. Aoife hid her face against his chest. Dad had to shout to get me to hear him over the chaos. ‘Close your eyes!’

I couldn’t close my eyes. It was hypnotic. Every single ledger, every piece of paper, every stolen story, everything spun fiercely in the middle of the room now, tearing up into smaller and smaller pieces until it was only a storm of dust, but the storm didn’t stop. It grew stronger.

The winds hit me with such force that I was almost yanked away from Dad. He pulled me back into his arms. I held him tight, but saw Aoife’s terrified face look quickly past me. Dad shouted soundlessly.

In my fear, I had forgotten about the boy.

I called to him. We all did. He didn’t hear us. He wasn’t scared like us. He stood holding onto the window frame. His mouth was open in awe. The storm was beautiful to him.

And it wasn’t an accident what happened next.

He let go.

He didn’t resist as his whole body was lifted up on the wind and thrown right into the eye of the storm of stories and –

Dad pulled my face against him.

I cried out, wishing for home, for my mother, for –

The cold wind dropped away instantly. The room went silent. I could hear Aoife’s sobs and my own cries. Dad’s arms stayed tight around us. I felt something underneath me. One of the ledgers? No, a book. And… a carpet?

This time I felt no nausea or shock, just fear.

We were in Dad’s office, but the boy wasn’t with us.

‘Where is he?’

Dad shook his head. ‘I don’t know.’

Aoife kept crying. I was shocked. I remembered his last words to us. The story he was going to write. I felt tears then –

A thud of footsteps on the stairs. Mam threw the office door open and saw us all there on the floor, huddled around each other. She rocked back and forth in shock in the doorway.

Dad said, ‘Hi honey.’

And there were four of us hugging.

In the following few days, the boy was unmentioned in the whirlwind of medical tests and questions from police and doctors and relatives and Mam. We followed Dad’s lead. We came up with words that people could just about accept – a miracle cure, mitching school to see Dad, a hospital escape and so on.

It was only at night with Mum and Dad downstairs holding hands and talking quietly that Aoife and I talked about the boy together. We wrote him a message. Hid it in her favorite book. There wasn’t any response.

We tried to use story magic to visit his library, but nothing happened. None of our attempts to magic worked. Was it because we didn’t need it enough anymore? Or because the magic had been lost in that storm? We didn’t know.

Even though we’d only really known him for a few minutes, we missed our friend.

Stories helped us heal. Every night we snuggled in bed with Mam on one side and Dad on the other. Dad would close his eyes. Me, Aoife and Mam watched his face, waiting for the magic to happen.

‘Once upon -‘

Dad’s brow furrowed so I knew he was thinking hard.

‘- a time -‘

His eyes popped open, lit up with the spark of a story and he’d tell it.

Sometimes they were amazing stories, sometimes they were stupid, but they were his stories and we loved them. He’s recently started writing one of them. There’s already a publisher interested in it. They say it could be a hit.

I’d tell you the idea, but I don’t want you stealing it.

Oh, there’s one more thing.

On our first day back in school, I was called out of class to see the principal. I was expecting a lecture about us mitching school. I passed a student waiting in the corridor and turned down the little hallway to the principal’s office. His door was open. He was inside with a brightly dressed, chatty and cheerful woman. She was speaking.

‘- don’t have all the answers yet, well, none that make sense, but he’s settling in with us. Eating me out of house and home too. Now, he’s a little nervous, but says he wants to start school. This school in particular. I’m not sure why but -’

The principal saw me and waved me in, interrupting her. ‘Liam. Be a good lad. There’s a new boy starting in your class. Can you keep an eye on him? Help him settle in?’

I nodded. Confused.

The principal pointed behind me. ‘There he is now. Say hello.’

I turned. A thin boy in a new school uniform approached me. I recognised his smile from a little bedroom in a cave in a mountain in a world found only in stories.

I didn’t know what to say so I outstretched my hand and said, ‘I’m Liam.’

He laughed, shook my hand and told me his name.

This has been the final episode of the Story Thief Challenges!

All that’s left is for me to say thank you to every single author who took part in the series. It is incredibly appreciated. Check out their author profiles here.

Thank you also to artist (and ace kids’ fiction writer too) Eve McDonnell for her fab Story Thief art. It really brought the series alive. Check out her art work here.

And a final thank you to all the readers and supporters of this series. Your encouragement was greatly appreciated. A special big thank you to Debbie and her Y6 class who provided the writing advice this week – you’ve all been fantastic!

And if you didn’t already know…

The Story Thief Challenges is a twelve part series aimed to encouraged reading, writing, creativity and imagination in 8 – 12 year olds. 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.

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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