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Believe in Furry Tales – by Angela Williams Tags: Reading Cats Rescue Cats Childhood literacy Author's Cats Book Buddies

Positive news stories are few and far between these days but when I came across this one which combines two of my favourite things, cats and reading, I just had to share it with you. I kid you not; cats are helping kids to read!

Organized by the Animal Rescue League — an animal shelter in Berkshire County, Pennsylvania — 'Book Buddies' is a program that allows children to read to cats which are waiting to be adopted. The program, which aims to both improve reading skills among children and help socialise the shelter animals, allows kids from ages 6 to 13 at any reading level to participate.

It is a win-win situation. The rescue cats learn to relax in human company, and kids who are shy or lack confidence in reading aloud start to enjoy a hitherto unpleasant and even embarrassing activity. Cats are not judgemental and tend to sit quietly and so make ideal reading companions.

As a child I loved to read and even though I was always two years ahead of my actual age in reading ability, I did have the disadvantage of being painfully shy. When I was little I don't remember reading to my ginger tabby cat, Henry, but I do remember rehearsing a school dance performance for our family horses as they looked out over the stable doors. A truly captive audience! They didn't have score cards and say SeVEN, but their expressions were definitely more Len Goodman than Craig Revel-Horwood (Strictly Come Dancing fans will know what I'm on about.)

All the positive social media attention around the Book Buddies program has been good for the children's self-esteem and the publicity has seen an increase in the number of cats being adopted. The idea is being rolled out at other cat shelters too. What will come next, I wonder? Cats teaching kids to write? Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Ray Bradbury and Colette were all cat-lovers and claimed their feline friend's presence enhanced their creativity. Do you have a favoured animal companion for reading or writing? Maybe you didn't have a pet as a child but always dreamed of one? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday September 18, 2017
Category: Site News

Sorry for the delay, I have been out and about and enjoying life in an unusually sunny Amsterdam with my cousin and her husband who came to visit. My head was literally in the clouds at the top of the Amsterdam Lookout Tower!

  • Alyson has written a blog that will make you salivate as it's all about using the sense of taste in your novel. So next time you have a choccie make sure you savour it mindfully and think about how you would describe it and how that taste sensation could add depth to your character.

  • The Bragging Stool is sizzling with our successes. Jill has won the Yeovil Festival Short Story Prize. Go Jill! Alyson has had not one, but two stories published in a single issue of People's Friend, and the go-getting Sue has won first prize on Ad Hoc fiction! Crilly, Chris and I were also published on Ad Hoc Fiction this week.

     

  • Jo has posted juicy prompts and quirky photos on the Monday Muse forum to get our pens flying over the paper. Why would anyone every put a swan on the back seat of their car? There is a story in there somewhere...

     

  • Maggie has posted her writing vision for the coming five years and has shared her hopes and challenges for her future writing career and how being a member of Writers Abroad can support her in achieving those goals.

  • Sadly, Bieke has decided to leave the group because of the difficult, personal circumstances she faces at the moment. It has been a pleasure to have such a talented lady in the group and we are all very sorry to see her go.

     

  • Next Formal chat is Sunday 24th September at 11.00 am CET on Skype. Nigel is in the chair.

 

Well that’s it! Hope you all have a very creative week! If I have forgotten something please shout.

Who Stole the Rubber Ducky?

Many years ago when I had just moved to the Netherlands and was struggling to learn Dutch and getting to grips with its harsh, guttural sounds, a fellow student revealed to me that she couldn't make those far-back-in-the-throat sounds because using her throat muscles like that reminded her of the suffocating spasms of coughing she suffered as a child during bouts of bronchitis. Consequently, she was abandoning her Dutch studies. Now, had she been a fictional character this is what film director Sidney Lumet and writer Paddy Chayefsky would have rather cynically called her 'Rubber Ducky,' moment. In fiction it is the moment when the protagonist reveals some traumatic event in his/her past which explains his/her current neurotic behaviour; someone stole their rubber ducky when they were just three. In Citizen Kane it's his separation from Rosebud; in Casablanca it's when Ilsa leaves Rick in Paris; and in arguably one of cinema's most memorable monologues ever, in Jaws when Quint reveals his trial by sharks after the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis.

RDMs are a basic building brick of all narratives that have a periodic structure; stories where we know nothing about the protagonist at the beginning, and which create change not from within the character but from the gradual revelation of who the protagonists/antagonists really are.

Past traumatic events were skilfully revealed as flashbacks in the film, Manchester by the Sea, so that the audience learned how Lee Chandler came to be living his sad existence as a janitor in a lonely basement apartment. I found it a rewarding watch because it relies on the viewer putting the character's back-story together, so that instead of being told the answer is four, the two-plus-two sums are revealed incrementally throughout the film. This way the director avoided that potentially melodramatic moment when the protagonist reveals all in a monologue (possibly while sitting by an open fire with piano music in the background).

So how can these revelatory moments be skilfully handled in our writing, bearing in mind we can't use cinematic devices? Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite authors and she rarely explains why major characters in her stories do what they do. It's inferred that Mrs Danvers has a repressed passion for Rebecca, and this may be the root cause for her constant attempts at sabotaging the new Mrs de Winter. In Don't Look Now the murderous dwarf's motives are similarly never revealed. In Bernard Schlink's, The Reader, Hanna's identity as a camp guard is revealed through a war crimes' trial which protagonist, Michael seemingly stumbles upon.

If you do go the way of explanation via monologue there's always the risk that the reader might end up feeling alienated from the character if past traumatic event comes across as implausible or irrelevant. My fellow student's refusal to speak Dutch came across as churlish; why couldn't she just admit it was too hard and she had more enjoyable things to do rather than coming up with something that sounded like an elaborate excuse? When you feel you should explain something about your character's behaviour try asking yourself these questions.

  • Do I need to explain this at all?

  • Does this need to be explained at this stage in the story?

  • Can my reader infer the character's back-story rather than me telling it? (Can I show it rather than tell it?)

  • Will this revelation create more empathy with the protagonist or possibly slow down the action or even alienate the reader?

     

Can you think of revelatory moments which have worked for you in fiction from the POV of a reader/viewer? How much do you explain in your own writing? Does a character's behaviour always need to be explained?

I highly recommend 'Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why we Tell them,' by John Yorke for a much more detailed analysis of story structure, and many thanks to Emma Darwin's blog The Itch of Writing for bringing the Rubber Ducky moment phenomenon to my attention.

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