Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Story Cubes

Have you ever heard of Rory’s Story Cubes? It’s a box that contains 9 dice, that is 54 images or more than ten million combinations that you can use to generate stories.

I bought mine in England four years ago when I attended a Writers and Artists event.

This morning, not knowing what to write, I opened mine and threw the little cubes on the table. This is what I got: a sad face, a magic wand, a bubble (like the ones in comics, not a soap bubble), an arrow, an eye, a sheep, a surprised face, two theatre masks and a hand.

This is what I wrote:

Tilly was sad. Her mum and her sisters were in the kitchen talking about the next Witchcraft Tournament, while she sat on the stairs listening.

She wished she hadn’t been born different. For some unknown reason, she was the only one in her family  who didn’t have magical powers and, while nobody seemed to mind, she was jealous of her parents and siblings.

‘Why can’t I be like the rest of you, Mum?’ she used to say every night when her mother came into her room to tuck her in.

‘You are. You have black hair like me and blue eyes like Dad and Dorothy. And both you and Milly are great at singing.’

‘Don’t change the subject, Mum. You know what I mean…’

After many a conversation like this one, when Tilly turned thirteen, her mother finally let her in on an important secret.

‘There’s something I’ve never told you,’ she said. ‘There’s a magician in the forest, a very powerful magician. We call him the Almighty Eye because he can predict the future and fix the mistakes of the past. If you follow the arrows stuck to the oak trees by the lane behind our house you will find him. It will take you an hour, but you must travel at dawn and you must do it alone.’

‘Thanks, Mum,’ Tilly said. She hugged her mum excitedly, thinking that her luck was about to change.

The next morning Tilly’s alarm went off at four. She got dressed and left the house silently not to bother anybody.

When she finished her one-hour trip she found herself in a big meadow. It was peaceful and very beautiful, but there was nobody there. Just a snowy white sheep grazing contentedly.

‘Hi there, I’m looking for the Almighty Eye. Do you know where I can find him?’ Tilly asked.

‘You’re talking to him,’ the sheep said.

Tilly was very surprised, but as she was a very polite girl she did her best to hide her feelings.

‘How can I help you?’ the sheep asked Tilly.

‘Well… I’d like to be a witch like my parents and my sisters.’

‘Oh, that’s easy…Do you like the theatre?’

‘Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?’

‘Oh, nothing at all. I was just making conversation.’

Tilly thought that the sheep was a strange creature, but she kept her mouth shut.

‘So? Is it possible? Can I become a witch?’

‘I think so. Put your hand on my head.’

The sheep closed its eyes and moved its head from side to side.

‘All done. You’re a witch now. You just have to buy a magic wand and you’ll be ready to cast all kinds of spells.’

Tilly said thank you and ran back home. That very day, her mum took her to a wand shop. As soon as they were back home, she cast her first spell… and what do you think happened?

You’re right! It worked! Tilly is now a very happy little witch.

Maybe my story is a bit forced, but I have used all the prompts provided by the dice. So in case you are thinking of buying a fun tool for your writings or just to stimulate your imagination, these story cubes are great. I also use them to play with my youngest son sometimes, but instead of writing down the stories we tell them. It’s most enjoyable.





Louise & I

Louise was my best friend growing up. Maybe my only friend. That’s why I never understood why Mum didn’t like her. She never even talked to her when she came home for a sleepover.

We were inseparable for years and then one day, when I was nine, I woke up and she was gone.

I looked for her for days. I moped around, I didn’t want to eat.

‘Mum, do you think Louise is sick?’

‘No, love, I’m afraid  she was never here. Not totally, at least.’

‘What d’you mean?’

‘Louise was a ghost, love. Children can see them sometimes …’



Sunday, September 17, 2017

English As A Foreign Language

My students insist English is weird and I try to convince them Spanish is weird too. Unsuccessfully, I’m afraid…

They can’t understand, for example, why choir is pronounced the way it is and I don’t blame them… English pronunciation can be a source of unending horror for the non-native, but I try to make it as much fun as possible for them. Anyway, just look at the following sentence and you’ll understand what I mean: The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert. No comments… And this is just one example.

My students disagree with Death being a he, as in Spanish it’s ‘la muerte' which is feminine. And it drives them crazy when I tell them a very small baby is it, but a pet is he or she.

I really enjoy discussing these idiosyncrasies with them and comparing them to others in their own language.

When I say somebody weighs 10 stone, they stare at me as if I was a Martian, and if I explain the same person weighs 138 pounds more or less in the States they are even more confused. ‘Why can’t they use kilos?’ they ask me.

Sayings and idioms can be baffling for the language student as well. Why does it rain cats and dogs? In Spanish it is ‘llueve a c├íntaros', which is slightly more logical because a c├íntaro is a pitcher. Of course, we have our own weird expressions, like ‘meterse en camisa de once varas' meaning to snoop, to interfere. So why the allusion to a shirt (camisa) then? No idea…

Another element of English that is a nightmare for foreigners is the phrasal verb. Why does to go off mean to ring? Why do we say: ‘my alarm went off’? It makes things so much more complicated for the unsuspecting foreigner…

In Spanish, like in French, there are lots of rules. English is special because, even though there are rules, there are even more exceptions.

Some people are mystified by these inconsistencies, but I find them fascinating. They are one of the reasons I like learning languages.

I always tell my students English is not an exact science, it’s a living thing that changes over time and is different from place to place, from generation to generation.

I’m lucky to be able to teach this fascinating subject. A subject that never gets old as I discover new things every day alongside my students.




For Sale



Dear potential buyers,

I have a boa constrictor for sale. Did I just see you doing a double take? No, no. You read it right.

It’s a wonderful creature, shiny and scaly all over. His beady eyes are full of love (if you know how to read the clues). His devotion knows no bounds as his tight embraces will show you. Just be careful not to allow him too near your neck as he isn’t aware of his own strength.

I’m selling him for a thousand dollars, but the price can be negotiated. What? You think that’s daylight robbery? But he’s a purebred specimen! You won’t find another one like him in this continent. Or anywhere for that matter…

What? You want to know why I’m selling him then? Well, there have been a couple of accidents. Nothing serious, just a bite here and a bite there…  

Anyway, if you’re interested, write to the address above and ask me whatever you want to know. And please, if you have kids and you value their lives, do buy a different kind of pet. The same thing applies if you have a small dog, or cat, or bird… or turtle… or… well, you get the idea.

But don’t be discouraged by all these warnings. My Fangs is the sweetest little guy and I’ll miss him dearly.

Best,

A distraught owner

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Life

Once upon a time, I was a little girl with curly blond hair and big hazel eyes. 

Well, the hair was not there to start with… in fact, I was almost bald for the first two years of my life.

The world around me surprised me and I surprised the world. My parents doted on me and found my antics most entertaining.

If family history is to be believed, I could speak perfect Spanish at the tender age of one. I could also walk and ask infinite questions that baffled my parents and other relatives.

Time passed and when I was five, I started school. It was a welcome opportunity to meet people and talk to others, to make friends and start experiencing the perplexities of human nature. Even at that early age, meanness shocked me and made me feel numb.

Before I could realize it, I was a teenager. Of course, I'm telling this from an adult perspective. Back then time went by slowly and sometimes painfully.

I was not a happy teen. I was different and that's a recipe for disaster when you're young. Luckily, I had a group of friends that, like me, were social outcasts.

And then, at the age of twenty, I met a wonderful man and I finally felt sheltered and happy.

Since then, time has flown by. We’ve had three kids and we’ve done a myriad things together.

It will be my birthday in a week. Next Saturday I turn fifty-three and I have to wonder. How did I get here? Where did my life go?

I’m not complaining, I’m happy now… but to tell the truth, I wouldn’t mind being younger.

If I could live my life again, I would change just a couple of things and it would be perfect. But I guess there’s no such thing as perfect, is there? 



Monday, September 11, 2017

Children's Literature

Reading Gareth’s (giraffmang) latest post made me think.

We usually believe that becoming a famous author is an unachievable dream, but then again, there are those who have succeeded thanks to a very simple premise.

Let’s take the Mr Men Gareth was speaking about. You just have to draw a bunch of guys that look like stick men on steroids and write an accompanying story that, while fun, is as simple as they come and boom! You have a recipe for success.

If you are good at rhyming, you only need to write about a silly cat in a hat and you’ll make it. Or invent something even sillier, like green eggs eaten in preposterous places… I love Dr Seuss, but I have to admit his books are not that complicated…

Another simple idea that has conquered the hearts of millions of kids all over the world is Curious George. He’s just a little monkey who behaves like a naughty child… So what’s the secret?

Why do you think these books have become so well-known and well-loved? Do they have a special characteristic that I haven’t been able to pinpoint so far? If you know the secret, please do share it with me.

There’s also Beatrix Potter, but in this case I see more complex stories, more literary merit and more elaborate pictures.

I know I’m probably speaking out of jealousy, but the examples I mentioned above, remind me of the painter Joan Miro. I cannot paint to save my life, but I bet I could copy one of his paintings. So why is he famous, while I will die and nobody will know I spent hours and hours at my computer trying to come up with a lovely story?

Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, maybe simplicity is best. If you have a look at adult literature, some of the most wonderful writers use deceptively simple language. Think for example of Hemingway or Colm Toibin. Although I’m sure Hemingway is gritting his teeth, wherever he is, because of my comparing him to Dr Seuss.

Anyway, maybe one day I’ll find that elusive idea that will carve me a space in the Writer’s Hall of Fame. An elephant wearing a tutu? A witch who wants to be a fairy? Or maybe…

A little dog
Who rocked herself
While her friend the frog
Dreamt of being an elf.

Yeah, yeah… I see you laughing. But as I always say, a girl can dream.



Marionette


My face is sad,
My soul’s gone bad. 
You ask me why,
But it is clear
The reason’s here.

You don’t let me be,
You tell me what do do,
What to wear,
Where to go
And who to befriend.

My face is sad,
My soul’s gone bad. 
You ask me why,
But it is clear
The reason’s here.

I am just a marionette.
A lifeless puppet,
A manequin 
That you control.

My face is sad,
My soul’s gone bad. 
You ask me why,
But it is clear
The reason’s here.

Untie the strings,
Please set me free.
Then I’ll smile
And feel again.

I just want to fly,
To say bye, bye.
You ask me why,
But it is clear
The reason’s here.