Here be dragons

25th September 1998 at 01:00
When I was nine, I lived with my parents in what is now called Sabah, but which we knew as North Borneo.

At the bottom of our garden there was a beach that looked like a Bounty advertisement. The only school was a hut made of bamboo and palm leaves, and it was up on stilts, because during the rainy season, water fell from the sky in torrents. From my bedroom window I could see: the road, my friend Toni's house, a field, and then the huge, purple bulk of Mount Kinabalu.

One day the newspaper, The Sabah Times, announced a competition for children. They would give a Parker '51 pen-and-pencil set to the person who wrote the best story called: 'The Legend of Kinabalu.' Also, they would publish it in the paper, and in 1953, a Parker '51 was the most luxurious pen in the world.

My Dad was very encouraging. He brought me special paper from his office. It was beautiful. Each sheet had blue lines to write on, a pink margin and a neat little hole in the top left-hand corner.

Perhaps it was too beautiful because at first I couldn't think what to write. I discussed the mountain with everyone I knew and they told me this: there was a dragon living at the top. That was all I needed. I thought of a tale full of adventures and excitement. It had princes and princesses in it, and the dragon was guarding the treasure. The story ended with my scaly creature chasing the baddies from the mountain, toasting and roasting them with his fiery breath.

After I'd sent it in, I spent my days hoping and worrying. Most of the time I could close my eyes and imagine my words all laid out in the paper, but sometimes I saw my pages being scrunched up and the editor throwing them into the waste-paper basket.

I won't keep you in suspense, dear readers. I won the competition and my story appeared on the front page of the newspaper. I treasured my Parker set for years and years, but lost it at boarding-school. I can remember exactly what it looked like.

After my Dad died, I found my story among his papers. The yellow cutting from the Sabah Times nearly fell apart as I unfolded it. I was reminded of how happy I'd been to win, but even better, how much I'd loved conjuring up dragons, princesses, stolen treasure and an enormous purple mountain. That thrill is there still, whenever I open a new notebook, and look at the glorious blank pages. Anything is possible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

le Geras has lived in Manchester for the last 31 years. She is the author of more than 6O books for children and young adults. These include most recently the Cats of Cuckoo Square series (Transworld) and the Little Swan series (Red Fox).

Her first teenage novel for six years, Silent Snow Secret Snow, will be published by Puffin on October 1. She has won the odd competition since the 1953 triumph described in her story.

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

DISCUSSION POINTS

The 'voice': the author could be talking to the readers. What sentences and phrases give the impression she is speaking?

Descriptiondetail: writers of autobiography often describe things in a personal way. Look at the second and fourth paragraphs and discuss the ways in which the author describes her home and the writing paper.

Emotions: list the writer's emotions and the phrases that describe them.

WRITING SUGGESTIONS

The story might remind you of a competition you entered and won or lost, or it may remind you of something you did, wrote, drew or made that your parents treasured, or about which you feel proud.

Try to remember that time and feel the emotions you felt then. Picture the scene as you saw it. Think of things you said and thought. Drawing or doodling words may help.

You may want to tell someone your story before you start drafting it, or you may want to build it in your mind silently. It may be helpful to imagine a listener or reader as you write. People are always interested to hear personal stories.

Try drafting on a computer. Then you can add in thoughts and move text as you wish. If drafting on paper, write on every other line, so you can add things.

When redrafting, think about how well your own voice is creating pictures in the readers' minds, and letting them know how you felt.

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