A curious journey

25th September 1998 at 01:00
There never was a voyage like it. I still remember it vividly, now I'm too old to do much except doze. Sometimes I can feel myself twitching in my sleep as I re-live one of our adventures.

When I first saw the Argo, I was afraid. Most of us don't like water and I'm no exception. But I'd been in little fishing boats to scavenge scraps of fish-heads so I knew you could stay on one and not get wet.

The Argo's huge prow towered above everything else in the harbour at Pagasae. There were 50 seats for oarsmen, but my master carried me on board before the crew arrived.

When they did take their places, I was too terrified to do anything but hide. I got used to them eventually, and soon learned which ones to steer clear of and which would give me scraps from their rations.

One of my favourites was Orpheus. He used to play on his lyre, when he wasn't rowing. And that was often very useful when the other sort of rowing started. They were a quarrelsome lot - like a lot of toms with too little territory to share.

Orpheus had a lovely voice and sometimes I just had to join in. "What's that infernal caterwauling?" Hercules would say and look round for something to throw at me.

Hercules was not one of my favourites. He had the most enormous feet and he never looked where he was putting them.

The nicest feet belonged to Calais and Zetes. They had little wings on each side of their ankles and they used to amuse themselves by fluttering their feathers for me to pounce on.

"You should show more respect," my master said. "They are the sons of the North Wind and could send you flying if they wanted." But they didn't. Only once I saw the other side of them.

We had landed in Thrace where our captain, Jason, wanted to consult the king about our route. King Phineus was supposed to be able to see the future.

I went on shore with the rest of the crew. We were still quite a long way from the palace when my sensitive nostrils caught the whiff of a terrible smell.

A sad scene awaited us in the palace. King Phineus was sitting at his banqueting table. He was thin to his bones yet what had once been a magnificent meal was spread before him. Most of it was being gnawed at by two hideous birds, with the faces of women. And what they weren't eating, they had fouled in the most revolting manner.

Braving the stink, I leapt up on to the table and gave chase to the filthy things. Calais and Zetes were right behind me and when the bird-women flew out of the window, the sons of the North Wind flew right after them!

They didn't come back for hours and then they told King Phineus that those Harpies would never bother him again. The whole party had moved to another room and we were now served a fine meal of roast lamb and honey-cakes. I got my share of scraps sitting under the table with my chin on the feathery ankles of my friends. It was almost as soft and comfortable as that fleece we had on the way home.

Ah, yes, that was a voyage to remember. I wonder if you've heard of it?

About the Author

Mary Hoffman's best known picture book is Amazing Grace, which is now available in big book format from Frances Lincoln at Pounds 12.99. But she also enjoys re-telling myths, legends and fairy tales. Her latest are A Twist in the Tail (Frances Lincoln, Pounds 12.99) Sun, Moon and Stars, (Orion Pounds 12.99) and Clever Katya, (Barefoot Books Pounds 9.99). Her First Myths Storybook is coming from Dorling Kindersley next year.

After hearing the piece read aloud, read it to yourself a few times and discuss it with others.

Discussion points

The 'voice': who is the narrator? When did you find out? What clues does the author give? Why do you think she has retold a Greek myth from the viewpoint of the ship's cat? What are the advantages of writing in the first person?

Description and detail: what sentences tell us things only a cat would describe?

Comments and judgments: writers often include comments on their own and other people's behaviour. Find examples. Make a chart showing the main events in the left-hand column. In the middle column, match what the cat experienced in each event. In the right-hand column, write any comment or opinion the cat expressed.

Writing suggestions

You may want to re-tell a story or myth from the viewpoint of a person, animal or thing. You may want to choose a story as a group and take different voices.

Try to imagine experiences through your character's eyes and decide how to describe them. Drama activities can help, such as acting a scene from the story, "freezing", and asking the characters what they are feeling. Discussing how characters are portrayed can help you decide how they will behave and speak.

A planning chart - described above - may help when you are drafting. When you are redrafting, think about how well you are conveying the views of your 'voice'. Will readers know who is telling the story without your telling them?

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