Thanks to everyone who sent me a story in the My Life as a Roach competition. This story starter made you step out of your own skin and pull on an exoskeleton – and you did it with a huge dose of enthusiasm.
Your stories displayed all the great elements of storytelling – heroes, villains, conflict, love and loss, kindness and even a little redemption. Plus a lot of lemon curd, which is good in any story 😄. You also invented some magnificent characters – the burglar and the cockroach army (William), Jazzy the Poodle (Alexa), the Bug-Sucker-Upper (Evelyn), Hurricane Charlotte (Olivia), a murderous Cairns Birdwing Butterfly (Grace), Dr Roach von Trap (Nina) and an aerobatic cockroach (Sayu).
Another thing I loved was your HUMOUR. Here are some moments that made me smile.
(Ysabelle wrote) Squinting, I try to remember if she mentioned meeting up with a male relative or friend today, when I realise they all passed in the Dishwasher Incident of November 2019. Rest in pieces, guys.
(Evelyn) But the lemon curd! Oh snap out of it you fool, roomba wants to abduct you and take you into the beyond.
(Alina) I do a little poop. It’s a very nice present for the boy with the fly-swatter.
(Blake) A pair of mint green undies with brown stains were lying in the hallway. Mmmm, chocolate.
(William, referring to a door) It swings open and I slam-dunk the trophy upon the large white flushable object, where many a good cockroach has been lost in the murky brown water.
Heh, heh, heh.
Another thing I love to see in stories is natural-sounding DIALOGUE. It always makes a story come alive.
Marcus hit the nail on the head with his thoughts, dialogue, and action combo.
“Jane!” he shouts. “There’s a blimmin’ cockroach next to you!”
The woman wakes up and says
“Roach! There!” he repeats, pointing at me.
She whips around and stares at me like I’m a bug. Which I am. Then she screams so loud I nearly go deaf. I’m not scary. I’m just a cockroach. We roaches don’t scream when we see humans-with their hairy heads, hairless arms, and ugly, pink-
A lot of you worked hard on your IMAGERY, choosing descriptive words and sounds that help the reader to visualise people, places, and things.
William did this with his description of a bathroom door, which was a huge obstacle for a tiny cockroach.
It stands like a tall sentinel, strong like a giant redwood.
(And from Indigo) There is a pneumatic hiss from behind me, and I scuttle under the couch cushions, catching a glimpse of humongous sagging jowls and rubbery lips as a can emblazoned with the words: Cockroach Killer appears in my field of vision.
All stories need something surprising, something unexpected. Sometimes that comes in the whole idea, as it did when William turned his cockroaches into an army of heroes, battling a burglar. Sometimes that comes when a cockroach’s romantic dreams are shattered (Ysabelle) and sometimes, when it seems that all hope is lost, it comes in the form of a kind young girl’s ability to see a cockroach as something beautiful and wondrous (Indigo).
Suddenly a small hand scoops me up.
“Got it Dad!” a high-pitched voice calls,
“Kill the darned thing!” comes the growly voice. Kill me? KILL ME! I think not! I begin to squirm, kicking my legs in a pitiful attempt to escape the clutches of the child.
“Yes Dad.” But the girl does no such thing. She gently carries me to the pot drawer, and deposits me next to a quivering Lucinda. “There you go little cockroach. Safe and sound.” I am SAVED! SAVED! Hallelujah! She giggles and strokes my shell, “You’re pretty.” See! See! It’s not just Lucinda! I truly am a very attractive cockroach! She leaves after that, but the next day, I find a dollop of lemon curd especially for me, smeared on the handle of the pot drawer.
Compassion is a beautiful thing. That ending moved me. I even started to see Gisborne cockroaches in a new light after reading stories like these, and although I’d still prefer it if they stayed in the shed and compost rather than sneaking in through the old and worn cracks in my wooden French doors, I promise you that I will catch-and-release them outside in future.
I whittled my longlist down to three writers who ticked all the boxes – William Kelly, Ysabelle C and Indigo Tomlinson. All three understood the personality of the main character, but they still managed to use their own writing style to make him come to life. They had action sequences, great dialogue, and a plot with a twist. The story was well balanced from beginning to end, and they used the story starter well. There was nothing missing.
Our junior prize winner is William, and our senior prize winner is Ysabelle (with Indigo highly commended). I’d like to congratulate you and thank you all for entertaining us with your stories throughout the year.
This is what DAVID HILL, author of numerous Puffin books for children, said about your stories.
William – “A brisk and lively story, with clever use of questions and doubts to keep the reader involved. I like William’s use of inventive humour through the events, and his clever wordplay. Nice mixture of thoughts and events, so we meet both the internal and external worlds.”
Ysabelle and Indigo – “I found it hard to separate the stories by Ysabelle and Indigo. Both are very talented writers, who I hope continue to enter competitions during their high school years. I enjoyed Indigo’s pace and inventiveness, her technical skills and her cockroach heroine! In the end, I’ve picked Ysabelle, for her excellent use of dialogue (a great tool for authors); the sustained speed and clarity of her story; the nice sly humour, and the very effective build-up to the amusing climax. I’ll also note that her use of different-sized paragraphs which make her story LOOK interesting on the page is a useful technique.”
For those who thought FaBo was over for 2020, we are responding to a plea from fabo fans, and we are doing one last poetry challenge. So keep writing. Believe in yourself. There is nothing better than a good story (or poem).
Kathy’s Story Starter: My Life as a Roach
You cringed when you read that, didn’t you? It’s okay. We Gisborne cockroaches have broad shoulders. I can handle disdain. Negative thoughts bounce off me like … crikey, is that child with the fly-swat running towards ME?
Time to drop into the trenches. Fortunately I have a bit of pizza down here, wedged between the floorboards. A rather posh thin-crust one with blue cheese, pear and walnuts. My sweetheart Lucinda would love to get her gnashers stuck into this, but she’s over there hiding in the pot cupboard with the pots, and I’m here hiding in the floorboards with the pizza. What a dilemma. Crunch crunch nom nom nom crunch crunch, belch.
I poke my antennae up to see if the coast is clear. Last week, the demon cat with the dirty ginger coat ripped every single hairy leg off my cousin Dennis and then used him as a tooth-pick. That was not a good day.
And the next day my Aunt Helga got caught up in the towels and ended up as confetti after an extra-hot spin in the clothes-drier.
Life is a battlefield. No doubt. I think someone even wrote a song about it. But I mustn’t get downhearted. I will find sweeties to take back to my lovely Lucinda.
The house-owner is asleep on the couch, cavernous mouth open, doing the most epic snoring. Is that doughnut cream I spy on her chin? And is that … oh my goodness, it’s LEMON CURD. My joy is unbounded!
Just call me Robo Roach! I’m off up the wall and running along the back of the couch as fast as you can say Drymaplaneta semivitta or Spheniscidae.
The smell is divine, but I can sense something else. Danger with a capital D.
William Kelly, age 8, Brooklyn Primary
There is a loud rumble, a gargantuan smash and then a thump. I had better investigate… whatever made that noise might hurt Lucinda, right?
As I scuttle back into the other room, I look for clues. What could the sound mean… fly swat kid? No, it’s staring at a screen. A spider invasion? No, spiders are too sneaky. The postman? No, posties are too friendly. What’s that?
Crouching under the window is a human: tall, thin and dressed all in black. Wait, I’ve heard about these – they are dangerous, devious and devilish. The three Ds. This is a burglar.
Maybe I can distract it and trap it in the bathroom, well it’s worth a try. What do humans like? ah yes, SHINY STUFF! I head straight for the house-owner’s Cross-Country trophy which glistens like one thousand stars. No sign of speed today, just snoring! I can hardly move it but then it is huge, brass and heavy and I AM a cockroach.
Eventually after what seems like years of endless suffering I reach the bathroom door. It stands like a tall sentinel, strong like a giant redwood. It’s the only thing between the bathroom and me.
“Right, door, we can do this the easy way or the hard way” I shout as I battle-ram the door…. Splat! Well that was NOT a good idea, let’s do it the easy way and before you can say Formidulosus Ruptor I scuttle up and turn the door handle. It swings open and I slam-dunk the trophy upon the large white flushable object, where many a good cockroach has been lost in the murky brown water.
Surely the human must see it. Now let’s hide. Here he comes….
With a swift leg manoeuvre the bathroom door slams shut and I slide the lock across. WHAM! Trapped!
What shall I do now?
My Plan: I will set my friends on him; I suck in my thorax and then squat. … Paaaaaaarrrrrppppp – Ahhhhh, the ancient cockroach tradition of the call of the foghorn. The waft of blue cheese pizza mixed with an extra serving of cold baked beans summons the Brown Coats. Do you know what this means? War! An intrusion of gnarly, reddish brown cockroaches appear from every nook, cranny, floorboard and even the cupboard under the stairs.
My Orders: Defeat the human. The platoons march, ten by ten, through the gap under the door, their armoured exoskeletons clinking as they pass, antennae to the ready. I hear the human scream, the door opens, and it runs out, purple-faced with eyes boggling, and flees the house.
Slowly my army disperses; soon they have vanished entirely. Hidden from view, their work done. The house-owner stirs, grunts and then the gentle hum of snoring starts up again.
It’s been a long day, Lucinda is safe, and I think you will all agree I’ve earned a reward… So if you want to find me I will be on the chin, having a tasty refreshment.
Ysabelle C, age 13, Baradene College
In fact, danger spelt in all caps. Landing on the epic snorer’s cheek, I scour the area for any potential enemies, ones that could kill me or take my food or both. (Which, by the way, happened to Great Aunt Mary, who was ambushed in the Pizza Hut Box. I vow to never try fresh pizza.)
But I digress. This battlefield has no place for tangents. Lucinda is counting on me, and I’m planning to use that lemon curd for dessert when I propose to her this evening. It’s a shame I haven’t got a ring more splendid than the one Robert got for Tina. That stinky roach manages to upstage me in everything!
Yet I digress. Again.
Suddenly, something shifts. I need to act fast. I take quick leaps up to her chin, where I scoop up the curd and escape without a hitch. Taking a quick taste of the cream, I deem it perfect for the evening and tuck it away. But there’s still danger- no, wait, Danger- hang on, DANGER lurking, biding its time in the shadows instead of roaching up and facing me. Then I feel a featherlight touch brush my back. Whipping around, I ready myself for an ambush.
“GAHAHAHAHAHA!! I CAUGHT YOU I CAUGHT YOU I-”
A lone dust bunny sadly drifts back under the couch. Must be sad it’s single.
Still on red alert, I travel to the pot cupboard. Carefully I avoid the child, who is engrossed in drawing some ghastly portrait of their equally ghastly cat. Entering the cupboard, I flash a grin to Stuart and Ricky, who wave from their pop-up cafe, then I make my way to lovely Lucinda.
“Lulu!” I greet her. Then I see it.
She’s sitting with a man. Squinting, I try to remember if she mentioned meeting up with a male relative or friend today, when I realise they all passed in the Dishwasher Incident of November 2019. Rest in pieces, guys.
“Quentin!” she says, getting to her feet. “How was your day?” I notice her strained smile.
“I got us dessert for tonight,” I test, seeking a reaction from the guy. Sure enough, his face goes blank.
“That’s fantastic, I’m excited about our dinner,” she says. I note the absence of any excitement and open my mouth when-
“Do I know you?” says the guy-roach finally. “Cindy, who is this?”
Lucinda’s tight smile grows even tighter. Something clicks. Is this the danger I felt?
“Who is he, Lucinda?” I ask.
“Cindy, why’s he asking you who I am? Obviously, I’m your boyfriend.”
The world stops.
“Quentin,” Lucinda says softly.
That’s it. “I don’t want to hear it. Here’s the dessert-” I dump the cream onto her- “and here’s the ring-” I gently place it on top of the cream- “and here’s goodbye.” With a slam, I leave the cupboard.
I find myself moping under the couch. While I sit (and cry, but don’t tell anyone), I notice the dust bunnies travelling to the exits. Suddenly, I’m being sucked towards the light with them. Sigh. Us Gisborne roaches can never catch a break. Not even after a break-up.