Hey everyone! Well you’ve made my life very difficult, having to choose between all these amazing stories! All 154 of them. One thing’s for sure – you may have been locked down, but your imaginations haven’t been! The standard of these stories has blown me away. This is my third or fourth time as FABO judge and usually I quickly whittle it down to a shortlist of about ten. Guys, this time I have FIFTY-ONE on my long list. (Help me! )
OK, just going to get myself a fortifying cup of tea then I’ll settle down to read my favourites again, and choose a winner.
Right. So I asked you to finish the story about the mysterious yellow flash in the trees. What was it? It was (are you ready?): a wolf, a phoenix (3 of those), a tui, huia (x 4), dragon (many), a puppy, a mind-reading golden-feathered super-powerful kiwi, various reptiles both friendly and fierce, a silvereye, a fairy, a diplodocus, a portal to another dimension, a griffin, a kakapo, a yellow octopus, an orphaned boy, a tiger (x 2), a grosbeak, a Covid-19-infected wild beast; there were talking lemons and talking bananas; a butterfly, lightning, lemur, golden owl, troll, golden-dragon-owl, a little gold box, scorpion, deer, baby in a crashed plane, an android tomtit, a yellow cat in a spaceship, the rare yellow head (x2), a horse, a toad, a fairy tern, a moa, gecko and buttercup.
Some stories had me snorting with laughter (especially the talking lemons and bananas), while others gave me the shivers; some of your description was so beautiful it made me sigh.
I liked how many of you paid attention to the detail in the story starter and brought that through – the sandwiches, the kauri dieback, and the patupaiarehe. Thumbs up to those of you who knew, or looked up, the meaning of patupaiarehe. Monty Parr wrote: “A little pale-skinned, red-haired person stands there. It looks just as at home in the maze of branches as we humans are in a house. I give a little gasp as an old legend comes back to me. In Maori mythology there are little creatures like this one called Patupaiarehe that live in the deep forest and the mountains … I realise that Patupaiarehe Bush has been left alone for five months, so you could easily call it deep forest. Maybe the bush is living up to its name.”
And Denzel Grevers-Smith wrote: “… standing around me are human-like creatures in the shadows of the dark forest. They have pale white skin. Some have flaming red hair, some have blond. They have dark blue eyes and they are wearing red flax garments. Some men are playing slow enchanting music on flutes and some women are weaving kete.”
This from Zoe Bedford: “The music weaves around me, swirling and twisting. Every fibre of my body wants to follow the Patupaiarehe – for I am now sure that is what it is – as it hops away into the underbrush.”
Before I announce the winner, here are my honourable mentions. I have so many, but I’ll try not to break the internet …
I loved the stories that featured an extinct bird returning to the forest. Maytal Noy wrote: “Huias are a symbol of love because they can’t survive without each other … I want to protect these two beautiful birds with every last atom of my body.”
Frida Peltzer wrote about little yellow birds that helped to save the endangered fairy tern. This was the twist at the end of Frida’s story: “There are heaps of little yellow birds dancing in the trees … Perhaps they are the Patupaiarehe … ‘Thank you’ I whisper, saluting them.”
Caitlyn Young had the forest spirits helping to save the kauri: “‘We are the Forest Spirits,’ she says, ‘and we look after this bit of bush. When the kauri disease came, we protected the forest … I gawp at her. ‘So you’re the one getting rid of kauri dieback?’ I say, shocked.”
There was some superb scary writing that had me looking over my shoulder. Olive Evans wrote about signs appearing in the forest, with messages like: THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU; NO-ONE IS SAFE ANY MORE; and how about this … THE BIRDS DON’T SING ANYMORE. THEY SCREAM.
Olivia Whale wrote a brilliant ghost story. It was beautifully set out (thank you to those of you who took the time to think about your paragraphs and punctuation). This from Olivia: “I crawl under a fern and behind a kauri tree, reaching for the golden wisp, but it dissolves into thin air. Whoosh! It’s further up the trail, I can hear its hummed lullaby, like an ancient chant.”
Mia Fraser also wrote a superb ghost story with great atmosphere.
Big thumbs up to eight-year-old William Kelly, who wrote about a boy and a baby velociraptor. Well done for picking up the reference to caramel in the story starter: “It stares back at me with big blue watery eyes with a sliver of green through them – the colour of those green fruit bursts (not the yellow ones they’re disgusting). When it blinks, I smell a waft, something sweet, like caramel.”
Plot twists – surprises at the end – are always clever; they give your story the ‘wow factor’. Well done to Ayla for: “Ma’am, we don’t have a Burmese python.”
Bethany Scott-Donelan told an intriguing story that made the reader think hard about what was going on. I loved this line: “My sandlike mouth drops open, eyes gaping, trying to chase fact from fiction.”
Originality is important – how can you make your story stand out from everyone else’s? Kiri Clendon wrote a fun, quirky and surprising story about the Great Pet Revolution: ‘… the cats said that humans shouldn’t take other animals as pets and that they would take humans as pets if they didn’t stop. So after a bit of fighting a treaty was signed.”
Many of you wrote beautiful, rich descriptions of the forest and its inhabitants. Words that had me smelling, seeing, sensing … this from Dawn Rattanong: “A bird emitting warmth from each and every feather … It’s radiance shines throughout the trees, out-snazzing every possible competitor.”
And from Connie Wiles, “The tiny ball of light waltzes past the trees, spinning around in circles, heading off the track, deeper into the bush. A beautiful, yet haunting melody following closely behind.”
Lucy Kennedy wrote, “a pair of neatly-folded glittering wings, tinted yellow like stained glass with condensation on a winter’s morning”, and Fiamma Pyne’s story began: “It’s a portal. The cheery yellow darkens and morphs into a deeper, more dangerous colour; a deep blood red one that sends your mind to treacherous places where danger occurs …”
There were some great similes, like this from Jessica Rankin: “… that possibility flies out of my mind faster than a peregrine falcon at top speed.”
William Phoon’s story was funny and action packed and told with lots of bounce, and I loved Archibald Button’s story featuring a brave ecowarrior who took on the men in yellow vests.
More honourable mentions: Sophie Norris (such a clever idea!), Arvin Bhuiyan (a nice mystical vibe), Amber Henry (clever and gruesome), Sam Smith (I love your powers of observation – “there’s a couple in matching fitness outfits”), Samantha Muirhead (nice plot twist), Aisha Gemala (future fantasy writer), Isobel Knowles (I liked how the Patupaiarehe were dismayed that people had come back to the forest); Grace Moodie (lovely description and a nice twist); Ivanka Singh – I absolutely loved your tale of trolls; Indigo Tomlinson ¬– superb writing (“Its feathers are the colour of sunshine on butter”).
Casey Mackintosh – what can I say? A giant talking banana called Jill. I salute your wonderful imagination, and thanks so much for putting a big smile on my face. More thumbs up, to: Pearl from Lincoln Heights School (lovely writing), Clara Stupples (great suspense), Neve Overend (future horror story writer), Leo Jordan (a flying yellow octopus in the forest – well, these are strange times so why not!), Emelie Wissel (“you have no idea what two months of lockdown does to a kid”); Juliet Young (sinister lemons – loved it!), Nelima (whose wonderful imagination took me all the way to Pennsylvania); Meghan Benefield (nice mention of Jacinda); Lois from Bucklands Beach Primary – loved how the trip to the forest made your narrator think about the good things to have come out of lockdown; Isaac Ketchmark – your story was very cool, I love your imagination and you have a unique voice; Cate Neal – lovely description.
Victoria Murdoch – your story was a close runner up, I love your imagination and your powers of description.
And now (drum roll) … my second place goes to Maddie McDowell for her story about a little gold box that turned out to be a time travel machine. Congratulations on lovely writing, and please enter again (and again!).
But my winner this week is Malia Denny from Mapua School. Malia’s story had everything I was looking for. It was original (it had that extra something that really made it stand out), good pace (no boring bits), great description, tension, humour, a plot twist, and it rounded off with a clever poem. Congratulations Malia on a wonderful story!
And here is what one of my favourite writers, the multi-award-winning Mandy Hager, has to say about Malia’s story. Mandy is the author of many fantastic books, including Singing Home the Whale, Dear Vincent, and The Nature of Ash, so praise from Mandy is a precious thing – Malia, you should print this off and frame it!
“I love this story. It’s inventive and playful, while still managing to create a sense of dread, with a fascinating twist at the end. The language is rich and original, and the metaphors strong and unexpected, and the poem at the end is so unique it will stay with me for a long time. Congratulations to Malia – I hope this is the start of a long writing career!”
Sue Copsey’s Story Starter
This is the first time we’ve been to the forest since lockdown. In fact since way before that, because of the whole kauri dieback business. Only one walking track has been open in the whole regional park since forever. You have to disinfect your feet as you go in, just like you have to disinfect your hands when you go to the pharmacy or whatever now.
Seems to have been all about diseases, recently.
But now, lockdown is over (yay and double yay!) and they’ve reopened two more tracks where the trees are getting better too, and so we’ve driven over to Patupaiarehe Bush and brought a picnic. Just like old times! But of course, the parentals want to make us work for our sammys. So we’re yomping through the trees, but it’s tough going. Plants have grown across the path; there’s a mad tangle of rata vines on the forest floor trying to trip us up.
It feels different to before. Denser. Greener. It smells of rain and earth and something sweet, like caramel. It’s quieter – a deeper kind of silence – but there’s more birdsong. I hear rustling in the bushes.
“Nature’s really reclaimed this, eh?” says Mum.
A flash of something yellow to my left catches my eye, and I stop. Perhaps it’s a tomtit. Such a cute little bird. “I’ll catch you up,” I call. I peer into the shadows, and I see it again. But it isn’t a tomtit …
Here is Malia’s tale:
The golden scales glow in the pale light. My eyes slowly adjust as I realize what I see. A shiver runs down my spine, I cower in fear, an urge to call to Mum boils in my mouth. I’m tempted to run and never come back, but my feet are dug into the squidgy mud, cemented like concrete.
Something stops me though … I realize this is the only chance I might get to ever see something as beautiful yet deadly in my entire life.
It swaggers forward – almost gloating over my naiveness, my innocent eagerness to see more.
Beadily, its eyes swivel, examining me – I am reminded of a dartboard and a player; he is the thrower and I am the board, pinned to a wall, flinching in fear of what was to come.
It makes a sudden lunge at my shoulder, I jump to the left, feeling like a dancer imitating my partner’s moves. I imagine the pianist’s fingers weaving about the soft keys, music sputtering out the majestic instrument.
In my head, I hear the music rising, getting louder, as we follow the dance, I step back as it does a jeté reaching out to snatch me up. I glance behind me and the truth slowly dawns on me … I’m trapped! The dark forest lays behind me and a still clearing lies ahead. Mum has disappeared and I’m alone with this beast!
It smirks, laughing at my desperate efforts to fend it off. Slowly it comes around me, its breath gently blowing down my back just enough to know it’s there, I writhe and squirm, fighting with all my strength.
Just when I think I’m knocking on death’s door, I feel a sudden peck at the hair on my head. Startled, I squeeze my eyes tight anticipating the pain to come.
A sudden stillness spreads around the forest floor, my breathing calms almost automatically, my eyes are still shut but I muster the courage to peep through one eyelid. To my surprise and delight I see the silhouette of Mum glowering down. Shocked, I pinch myself, determined it’s all been a dream, but … my skin’s turning a pinkish colour – the mark from my self-imposed suffering.
Scrambling up, I mutter something about getting a tad distracted. She winks, and says with a sly smile, “Only a tad? I’ve been waiting for half an hour!”
Sheepishly, I suddenly take a deep interest in the old knotted shoe-lace on my sneaker, wanting to look at anything apart from Mum.
“A-are you sure there was nothing here when you came Mum?” I ask, trying to sound normal.
“Definite! I just saw you taking a wee nap when I arrived!” She chuckles.
I frown, and place my hands on my shoulder, a line wriggles across my brow as, to my utter surprise I feel a leaflet stuck to my clothing. Opening it quickly, I read:
All I ever wanted was the bug upon your shoulder,
However I was in vain, It only smirked and grew bolder.
I shall forever remember this day,
The day, I met a walking, talking meal and I say,
“Some time, some day, I shall be back,
To meet you again in the proper way.”
See you again for a nice handshake,
Master Blake, the yellow snake.