Yesterday I gave year six some free writing time. Initially twenty five minutes but they campaigned for more and, as I wasn’t going to argue with that, they ended up writing happily – and in near silence which was a big win for this class – for nearly forty minutes.
This is not something they are used to and they were absolutely gleeful with the excitement and freedom. Not one under challenged themself or got silly. Amazing.
In case any felt stuck I said that, if they had no other ideas, they could borrow my plan to write a story about getting lost in the woods – we’re just back from residential where getting lost in the woods was a delicious possibility. Other than that it was ‘make sure you have a pen or a pencil and away you go’. And off they went.
I saw a couple of stories about getting lost in the woods, a fan letter to the new head teacher, some ‘Who Let the Gods Out’ fan fiction, an extraordinary prose poem about Ice.p, a non chronological report about shield bugs… All sorts of varied writing linked only really by the enjoyment of writing. Heavens what fun.
To show them just how ‘hands off’ I intended to be I told them that I wanted to write a story too. Here’s my story – or at least as far as I got with it. Just for fun why don’t you tell me how you would finish it? I bet year six would like to vote on your ideas.
Lost in the Woods
It was a crisp, cold winter day but the day was still bright when I stepped into the woods. Above me the sky was as blue as robin’s egg – and just about as perfect – and the low sun sent long shadows across the winding path. Mum had said I could play for an hour or so before it got dark, she hadn’t actually said that I could go into the woods – but then again, she hadn’t said I couldn’t so that was ok. Surely?
We don’t usually go away for Christmas, usually we spend it at home with dad, his brother and the cousins. But this year dad wasn’t around and mum said she didn’t want to spend the holiday in our house without him. She said it would remind her of all the other Christmases so she looked on line and found this little cottage with its log fire and its funny little rooms and its twisting creaking stairs that hid behind a door next to the fire and the woods a few steps away across the shaggy uncut lawn. It was a bargain, mum said, to find a place like that – and at that price – so close to Christmas. It was a wonder that no one had booked it already.
The path into the woods took a turn just after you went in, it jinked behind a clumpy mass of blackthorn then turned again deeper into the trees. The path was narrow and the branches of the trees joined up overhead: so much that, even though the winter had stolen the leaves from the trees, their interlaced fingers joined up and blocked the light making the bright day gloomy. The path was slippy with fallen leaves, roots lumped their way across it and you had to keep your eyes where you were going or you’d trip. Beyond the first few metres the blackthorn, hawthorn and hazel gave way to different more stately trees. My dad had taught me some of their names, larch and pine – there were more trees I couldn’t name, if dad had been there he could have told me their names but he wasn’t there so they remained nameless. Their trunks were black with the damp, their bark was rough – in places almost scaly.
A path crossed the one I was walking on, without really thinking about it I made a decision and turned left. This path twisted too. Round a kind of pit filled with fallen branches and through a boggy place where the thick mud had an oily sheen and made sucking noises as it pulled at my shoes. A puddle filled my shoe with icy water and wetted my sock.
While I’d been walking the sun has started to set. Maybe from the top windows of the hill the sky was a carnival of reds, oranges and yellows. Certainly the sun was setting. In the woods all I knew was that without me noticing it had started to get dark. Mum had told me to be back before dark. I had better start moving. I turned around to return the way I’d come and started back, the cold was nipping now and I put my hands into a fist and shoved them deep into my pockets.
The boggy place again, I hadn’t noticed that just by the spot where my foot had got wet there was a spot where a path joined the one I’d been on. Or my oath joined the other one, it was hard to tell. But I knew the dark scaly tree bark on the left and went that way. I walked a while – shouldn’t there have been a pit filled with branches. Had I passed it without noticing? Maybe it was further than I’d thought. A cross roads in the paths. I remembered that. I’d turned left hadn’t I? Or right? The night was falling now. Where you could see the sky between the skeletal branches it was dark blue now, and even the blue was fading. I turned left – was that the way I’d come? It felt right. Mum would be worrying, I started to run. Another cross roads – I was sure that I hadn’t passed more than one, I turned left again and speeded up. It was dark, I had lost myself. Mum would be worried. Tears pricked at my eyes. Thorny vines reaching across the path clawed at my Skin and tore my clothes.