Dicing With Story

This weekend, I held two kids writing workshops as part of the Linenhall Arts Centre Roolaboola Festival.

The idea was to use Rory's Story Cubes to come up with random ideas for stories and then show how stories can be made up out of anything.

Towards the end of each of the sessions we allowed ourselves one throw of each dice to decide on such matters as Hero, Nemesis, Desire, Reflection. Obstacle, Romance and the rest. Then we made up a story using these elements. I then took the final idea away and wrote down the two stories and am reading them publicly today.

Here are the two stories which resulted from all this work. Well done to the co-authors, it was a good time.

First up the six and seven year olds, who got from their dice, A Turtle, A Clock, Books, An Alien, A Pyramid Shape... and some other stuff.

The Turtle Who Needed More Time

By Ava Flynn, Jack Follard, Ellie Follard, Tess Nealon, Luke O’Brien, Seoshamh O’Riarda, Aisling Tierney, Freddie Tursley, and Ken Armstrong

Once upon a Time there was a turtle who needed more time.

That’s a bit of a tongue-twister, really.  Not the best way to start a story, with your tongue all twisted up like that, but that’s just the truth of the matter.  Sally was a turtle and she simply needed more time.

Sally was no ordinary turtle either.  She was a South African Speckled Padloper Turtle who was bought by the Lovett Family when she was only a teensy little Turtle-ette.  As she grew, however, she was found to be unusually clever for a Turtle and so was sent to the Convent school for some human tuition.

Sally got on well with her human classmates.  She was like a normal student in many ways – she hated Monday mornings, she was iffy about U2, and she loved Spongebob Squarepants.

And that was where the problems arose: with Spongebob… and with her homework.

You see Sally was only allowed to watch her beloved Spongebob after her homework was completely finished.  And, although she was smart, for a human as well as for a turtle, we have to face this basic turtle fact:  she… was… sloooow.

Turtles are naturally slow and Sally, poor Sally, was no exception.  Her homework took her absolutely ages to do.  Sometimes, on really bad days, all the other Lovetts – Mr and Mrs Lovett and Baby Joshua Lovett - were tucked up in bed before she was finished.  Which was a sad and lonesome state of affairs and, worse still, by that time of the evening, Spongebob was finished.

One evening, on a rare homework-free day, in a fit of desperation, Sally logged on to her computer and, instead of going onto ShellBook to look at photos of her friends, she went onto eBay instead and bought a Speedy Homework Robot direct from Tai Wan.  It cost €2.87 so it had to be good.  Right?

The Lovetts presented Sally with her package one day and they didn’t even ask her what it was because they were a progressive family who respected their turtle’s autonomy.  Sally went to her room, slowly… and opened the package with great anticipation.  Rather disappointingly though, the Homework Robot looked a lot like a cheap pocket calculator.

“This is junk,” thought Sally and she threw it across the room in disgust, as best as she could manage with her green flippers.  But, when the Robot hit the Justin Beiber poster on the wall, the on-switch must have got activated and a electronic voice sprang from the little device.

“I am your homework robot,” it said (sounding a little bit like Stephen Hawking), “what is your wish?”

 For the next two weeks, The Lovett’s were astonished to see Sally finish her homework easily in time for Spongebob every single day. The homework was of the highest quality too, no misspellings or blots or anything.  They were astonished and pleased because they didn’t like to see Sally working so late, they were nice people, The Lovetts.


In the triangular-shaped attic at the top of the Lovett’s house, there now lived an horrific Ghost Alien called Yuk from the Planet ‘Boo!!’.  The planet was not called ‘Boo’ or ‘boo’. it was called ‘Boo!!’ and it was an extremely jumpy and nerve-wracking place to live.  Yuk and his kind could only grow and develop from their spore-stage in triangular shaped places so they sold Robot Computers on eBay and hid themselves inside them and then, when the customers threw their Robot Computers at the wall in disgust, they creeped out and climbed into the triangular attic where they grew rapidly into a Godzilla-like creature who conquered entire housing estates and did terrible farts.

After two weeks, Yuk was already the size of a small rat.  He bathed daily in the water storage tank and he ate the Rockwool insulation which Mr Lovett had installed using a grant from the Government Energy Saving Scheme.  His plans for housing estate domination were already well under way.

Exactly two weeks to the day after it arrived in the post, Sally’s Homework Robot suddenly sprouted tiny blasters and blasted-off up the chimney and back home to the Planet ‘Boo!!’.  This happened right in the middle of Irish Spelling homework which was very bad timing indeed.

After weeping bitter salty turtle tears of frustration, Sally went to the chimney and peered up in the hope that the Homework Robot was sitting up there just having a strop.  It wasn’t, of course but, as Sally extended her lovely stretchy head up the chimney a soft voice echoed down to her in weirdly seductive tones.

“Your Robot is in the attic, Sally, come and find us… I mean - it… come come come…”

It’s not easy for any of us to get into our attic.  There are Stiras (as seen on the Late Late Show) to be pulled down, light switches to be found and heads to be (ow) banged.  Imagine then for a moment how hard it was for Sally –the turtle - to get into the attic and how very long it took. 

Go on, imagine…  exactly.

Most turtles are quite afraid of attics and Sally was no exception but she needed her Homework Robot back and so she struggled and banged her head and eventually she got there.

The attic was a strange and hostile environment for a young turtle.  Sally was surprised at the triangular shape and the general dustiness and the strange lack of Rockwool insulation.

She flapped across the floor of the attic and wondered where her robot was.

A noise caught her attention.  It was coming from the big water tank at the highest point of the attic.  It was a splishing splashing noise.  It wasn’t very nice.

The plywood lid on the top of the tank lifted up a little and Yuk peered out.

“There you are,” it hissed, “you’ve come at last.”

It twisted out of the tank and plopped onto the floor of the attic.  It looked like a rat but it had no hair at all, it was pink all over, had eight legs and it wore a Barbie Doll hat which it had found in an old toy box.

Sally recoiled in turtle-horror but Yuk came right up to her.

“I am here to take over your housing estate and make your entire family into slaves.  If you ever want to see your homework robot again, if you ever want to see Spongebob again, these are my demands.  I need a single Billy Lizzy plant from your mother’s kitchen window, I need a bowl of Greengage Jelly, I need two full…”

But Yuk spoke no more.

Sally did not even have to think too hard.  She loved Spongebob but she loved her family more and she would rather never see Spongebob again than see her family enslaved.  It was a turtle no-brainer.

She extended her large front left flipper and, quick a flash (her flippers were her quickest part) she slapped Yuk and flattened him into a pink and green puddle on the attic floor.

“Spongebob is good,” she thought, as she struggled back down to her Irish spelling homework, “but Family is so much better.”

                                 *                         *                       *                     *
Then came the 7 to 8 year olds.  The Story Cubes gave them A Bridge, A Sad Face, Drama Masks, An Empty Speech Bubble, A Cockroach and a Big Footprint.

Get this:

The Voice of the Bridge

by Alex Avern, Sadbh Caulfield, Ilia Marcev, Aisling O’Connor, James Swift, Hana Rae Quinn, Clodagh Ryan, Abi Skillington and Ken Armstrong

 Photo by ColourfulFoxes

Once upon a time there was a bridge who had lost its voice.

The ancient stone bridge was set high in the mountains to the extreme north of nowhere and it spanned between two mountain peaks where no man ever travelled anymore.

There was a time when men had journeyed every day back and forth across the little bridge but times changed, as they always seem to do, and the men had given up tending their sheep in the frozen hills and had instead gone down into the warm valleys to live.  They had long-since forgotten the ways of the high mountains and so the bridge was left, high and cold and alone.

The bridge did have one loyal friend - a tiny black cockroach who made his home in a small crack in the bridge’s granite keystone.  The cockroach was a constant companion to the bridge and spoke to it all the time about the tiny affairs which occurred everyday in the lands on either side.  Although the cockroach could get no reply from the silent bridge, he knew that it was listening intently and that it treasured both the news and the companionship.

The cockroach also knew that the bridge had once had a voice, quite a beautiful voice, and that its heartfelt wish was to one day get this voice back.  The cockroach did not know these things because it was a mind reader or because it had mystical powers.

No indeed.

It knew them because the Yeti told it so.

Every evening, as the sun went low, the Yeti came down from its lair in the highest peaks and it taunted the bridge.  It laughed cruelly and said how it had stolen the bridge’s voice and was keeping it locked up in his heart and would never let it go free.  It mocked the bridge and ran its huge claws along its stone walls, scarring it and hurting it.  But, for all its cruelty, the Yeti could not kill the bridge for it was made of the stuff of thousands of years and would prevail over all, even the Yeti.  The Yeti knew this and it made him angry.

‘Yeti’ was the name men had given to it – there were others such as Abominable Snowman, Big Foot, Urak Hai and others but, really, after all words had passed, it was simply a man.  It was a man who had set itself apart from the world many years before and had embraced darkness and pain and evil.  It had grown shabby and bent deep in the mountains and it had learned that evil things can live a long time but can only ever reap what they sow.

One evening, after the Yeti had finished its cruel business and left, there was a strange sound under the bridge.  The cockroach scuttled down to investigate.  There, in the long-dry channel under the bridge, he found a tiny trickle of water.  “Could this be it at last?”  He thought, “could the high mountain thaw be finally on its way.  But he saw then that the water was falling from beneath the bridge rather than coming from the peaks above and he realised that this little stream of water was actually the tears of the bridge. 

He saw that the bridge was crying for its lost voice.

He tasted the salty tears and he came to a resolution.  He resolved, there by the briny stream, that he would win the bridge’s voice back from the evil Yeti even if it cost him his small scuttley life. 

He retired to his keystone crack and he there he crafted for himself a desperate plan.

The next evening the Yeti came down to the bridge as ever.
“What ho, you ivy-infested eyesore,” he sneered, “still here I see, still clotting up my land with your smelly disgusting presence.”

And he proceeded to claw at the bridge as he always did, tearing away shards of stone with each swipe of its huge paws.

The cockroach invariably stayed in its lair until the Yeti was spent but this evening he ventured out to the top of the bridge and he boldly accosted the beast.

“Stop,” he squealed in his tiny voice, “Desist and leave my good friend alone.”

The Yeti stopped and looked all around in surprise for it had not in many years heard a voice except its own.

“Who said that?” it boomed, “come forth and show yourself if you dare.”

“I am here,” tweeted the cockroach, “and I fear you not, you overgrown poo-stained furball.”

The Yeti peered down and saw the cockroach and laughed heartily.

“Is it you, tiny snot,” he said, “that dares to assail me?  Be gone or I shall eat you like the errant bogie thou art.”

But the cockroach, shaking though it was, stood its ground.

“Eat me if you dare, you farty-smelling shamble of a beast, I fear you not.”

And the Yeti snapped his huge head down and ate the poor cockroach up, without another word.

Then the tiny stream of tears beneath the bridge grew a little bigger as it grieved for its poor lost friend.

Once inside the Yeti, the cockroach wasted not a moment.  It swam the furry veins and arteries of the Yeti’s innards until, in time, it landed in the chambers of the Yeti’s dark heart.  There, in a pool of black blood, it saw written on the walls the truth long hidden, it saw at last where the bridge’s voice was spirited away and it understood how to undo the evil although the way was fraught with danger.

It left the heart and saw that there was two ways back out of the Yeti and that the second way was dark and extremely unpleasant so it wriggled and tickled its way back to the Yeti’s throat and it rolled around there until the Yeti finally coughed and spat it out onto the bridge.  Then the cockroach scuttled away for it knew it had work to do and it felt there was not much time as it seemed the end was drawing near.

The Yeti was furious.

“Now,” he roared, “I shall avenge myself upon you, bridge, and I shall finally pound you back into the rubble from whence you came”  and he jumped over the bridge and into the bed below and his feet were bathed in the tears of the bridge as he pounded and he beat on the stone walls until it looked as if the bridge could do nothing but finally fall.

Meanwhile the cockroach ran and ran.  It was bloody and spit-ridden from the Yeti’s innards but it knew if it stopped, the Yeti would kill his friend for he had seen the new potential for this deep in the Yeti’s heart.

He ran and ran up the dry bed until he came to the Yeti’s secret – a mountain of broken trees and boulders and earth.  A dam.  A dam to block the river.

The cockroach knew the truth now – that the river was the voice of the bridge and that the Yeti had dammed the river and stolen the voice for himself.

The cockroach knew he had to break the dam to save his friend but he was only one tiny speck against the might of the Yeti’s work.  What could be do?  He picked a single tiny twig from the dam and he threw it aside.

He knew he could only try.

Back at the bridge, the Yeti was close to success.  He pounded and pounded relentlessly and huge chunks of stone had now been painfully torn from the body of the poor bridge.

Then the Yeti saw it.

The Keystone.

“If I bring yonder keystone down, you will fall my silent friend.  This I now know.”

And he beat at the keystone with all of his might.

The tears of the bridge made a bigger stream in the dry river bed now, as its life reached an end.  But could one bridge’s tears really make all the water that was now tumbling beneath the bridge?

No it could not. 

The few twigs which the cockroach had hopelessly shifted had caused a drop, then a trickle then a torrent.  The water around the Yeti now covered its feet, now its legs and now its chest until it could barely stand.  Sensing its doom it spat a final quote at the bridge.

“To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell's heart, I beat at thee; For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”

Then it was swept away in the rage of the river down to the village of men where it was caught and beaten and killed and its body burned in the Halloween blaze.  And it was no more.

The cockroach returned to the bridge.  Two of its legs were badly broken and one of its eyes was lost but it returned.  And the bridge, its wondrous voice restored by the river which bubbled beneath it , sang to the cockroach and, in time, made it well again.

And they live together in the mountains in peace to this very day and they speak of us often.


Jim Murdoch said...

I am impressed. I bet some of those kids rushed off home and say down thinking, Hey, this story-writing's dead easy and then got up after an hour of staring at a blank sheet of paper wondering what went wrong.

Keith said...

Great and entertaining stories. It must have taken a lot of imagination to come up with either tale.
I suppose that once you actually got started on a story, it might just flow. Still... I am impressed with the detail in the stories.
I especially liked the touch in the second story where the river is the bridge's voice and its voice is what defeats the enemy after being aided by an unlikely ally. Touching indeed.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Jim. There was a highly impressive flow of unburdened creative ideas once the ice was broken. Kids have to be seen, doing this, to be believed. :)

Keith: Thanks Keith. You picked up on the part I liked best, the river's voice. Glad you enjoyed 'em.