The Older Child is being somewhat of an annoyance of late. She’s full of a manic, restless energy, hurtling through the house and threatening to dislodge her two front teeth at any given moment on a piece of furniture or stair. This is why I’m none too keen on letting her look at my laptop this evening, lest she sends it flying off onto a tiled floor.
‘I need it to look up ‘500 Words,’ she says, ‘so I can write my story.’
‘You don’t need my laptop for that,’ I say, with barely concealed delight. ‘You have me, I’ve been teaching that very thing, today!’ I had too, and even looked up ‘creative ideas’ to aid the process. It’s an industrious sort, I think, who spends a Sunday afternoon googling ‘How to Ignite Creativity in Teenagers.’
In fairness, I read little that was new and informative, resorting back to the hints and tips on the 500 words website, but still, at least it demonstrated enthusiasm.
The Older Child is taking none of my advice and is engrossed in reading other stories, and writing nothing of her own. I resort to coming at it at a sideways angle. ‘Today, in school,’ I said, ‘I was teaching the children about subverting expectations.’
I am met with a blank stare. Of course I am. She’s eight.
‘So you take a witch, for example, and make her very kind, instead of nasty. Can you think of an unusual sort of a character?’
She shakes her head while I go on chopping up carrots for the dinner. ‘Like instead of a nice granny, with a fluffy cat, you could have a grotty old granny who has a pet cockroach called Cedric? And she takes it out on a lead for walks?’
Not even a smile.
‘You call EVERYTHING Cedric,’ she sighs. It’s true. In our house, Santa’s seagull is Cedric. The Squirrel who makes an occasional appearance in our garden is a Cedric. We met a pigeon last year in Valencia with a deformed foot and I called him Cedric too but pronounced it in a Spanish accent, ‘Cedriqué’.
‘Anyway,’ she goes on, swiping a slice of carrot. ‘I’ve got my characters, a troll and a pizza delivery man.’
‘That’s wonderful,’ I say, sensing progress.
‘There’s a taxi driver too,’ she adds.
‘What are they all up to?’ I ask. I’m quite intrigued, actually.
‘That’s as far as I’ve got,’ she says, running off to put on her Brownie uniform, because of course, what you really want to be doing in gale force winds, is shuttling your offspring off to a Presbyterian Church on the Saintfield Road.
By the time she has reappeared I have the whole story planned out.
I’ve got it,’ I say when she comes down, all kitted out in her rather vile yellow and brown uniform.
‘What’ll we call the Troll? Terence or Trevor?’
‘Terence,’ she says with a deep sigh.
‘So I was thinking,’ I say. ‘He could be living on BRIDGEway Street, and he orders pizza every night for his tea, and one day he gets a new delivery boy who skids in a puddle as the river has overflowed due to climate change and bumps his head. We’ll call him Neville.’
‘Oh great! Neville,’ she smiles happily. The name Neville always gets a laugh. I always think of Nevilles being clumsy and goofy looking, based on the one who featured in the 80s sitcom Duty Free. That Neville has been somewhat usurped by the hapless Neville in Harry Potter who’s always mislaying his toad.
‘What about the taxi driver?’ she asks. ‘We don’t have a taxi driver,’ I say. ‘We’ve too much to cover, and we only have 500 words.’
‘But he was my favourite,’ she says.
‘Why? How?’ I ask, utterly bemused.
‘He just was,’ she says.
I can only imagine that in her head these characters were fully formed and three dimensional but she just has trouble articulating this and giving it expression.
While she’s out The Small Child wants me to sit on the sofa under a blanket with her which gives me time to work on the story.
Lonesome and lacking culinary expertise since the death of his wife, Terence the Troll has taken to ordering pizza every night. He has thus grown rotund and unsightly, even by Troll standards. He goes round in a dressing gown and underpants because the billy goats that used to pester him have eaten up all his clothes off the washing line. That’s why he got so cross and had to threaten that he’d eat them up. He had no intention of actually doing this, having tried goat on his honeymoon in Jamaica and finding it to be a tough and reedy sort of meat. He quite liked The Gruff siblings, and enjoyed watching their antics as they frolicked and gambolled over the fields, but goats can be a terrible menace. They’d chewed up all his jeans and tee-shirts, as well as his hydrangea bush which used to give him no end of pleasure in the springtime.
Anyway, Neville, being Neville, is a clumsy sort of a fellow, and skids when he comes to deliver the pizza, (with extra pepperoni) falling off his bicycle and knocking himself out stone cold. Upon waking, he is surprised to find a bewhiskered but kindly looking Troll applying ice to his forehead. They get chatting and Neville says it’s nice to meet him at last. Neville senses a kindred spirit because he’s a bit on the odd side too and the Troll says that he used to be great on a bike and in fact won third place in the BMX Troll Championships in 1978. He says he’ll give Neville some tips if he wants and Neville is all pleased and in turn he will show Terence how to knock up a Salad Niçoise which has a fraction of the calories of a pizza and reduces Global Warming because all the pigs slaughtered for pepperoni produce terrible amounts of methane.
Both Terence and Neville feel infinitely better for the encounter and declare that it’s rather a shame that they hadn’t made each other’s acquaintance earlier.
I give the Small Child a brief synopsis of the story and she says it sounds excellent. I’m sure I won’t be the first parent to submit a story to a competition under the guise of being under ten. But sure. Maybe the Older Child will produce her own, complete with her taxi-driver character tomorrow. I wait with bated breath.