Writer's Notebook - Children of Morwena
Welcome readers and writers of any age who love narrative. These are small samples of the ways in which this novel can be used as a tool for teachers and learners.
Firstly – a few ideas on the techniques used by writers.
Secondly - a suggestion for using the subject matter of the book to generate further ideas and to encourage a creative approach through the act of writing.
These and similar activities based on Children of Morwena work well with gifted upper primary students; secondary students; beginner fiction writers (adult and post secondary students); and as a stimulus for writer groups.
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For Students and Book Lovers
The title: Morwena – meaning wave.
Morwena refers to a myth about the founding of a city. She is the mother wave whose children were washed up on her shore. She is the giver and taker of life.
The blurb: Gives an outline of the main thrust and tone of the story with one or two hooks that distinguishes it in some way from others in the same genre, for example, the tone, the ideas, the characters or situation. This important little feature takes a lot of thought and care. Feedback from a target audience or just somebody who loves books is a great help.
Point of View
Why a first person narrative?
I wanted the intimacy of this kind of voice in a story in which the inner life is vital to the choices made by the characters caught up in a life and death struggle. It is not so much what happens to the survivors but how each of the characters responds to events and how it shapes the person he or she becomes.
Who tells the story?
This narration is told by Leila Keiva as a young woman looking back on a two year period.
As the story teller, Leila uses information from other characters and witnesses to fill in the gaps in her own knowledge. In the case of Bonnie in particular, the story is coloured by Leila’s prior knowledge and love of Bonnie.
Devices and Narrative Structure
Devices used in Children of Morwena to deal with a first person narrative:
For much of this novel there are three streams; the stories of Leila, Andre and Bonnie who are separated from each other, their fates unknown to each other.
To help the reader keep track I used linking passages at the end and the beginning of the relevant chapters. Apart from such links, Andre’s story is told like a third person narration within the story.
In Bonnie’s case as story teller, Leila’s own voice intrudes into the narrative. These short passages of just a few lines, are in italics and addressed to Bonnie using a 2nd person voice as in a letter.
Example: Chapter 14: I held my hat close to my cheek. Nothing mattered. I saw upside-down eyes, rosy mouths like butterflies, but the butterflies had stings… Andre! Andre! Where are you brother? I need you..
Example: Chapter 15. While I cried for him, Andre dreamed of the Killer. Always the same dream. An implosion like an indrawn breath. The deep rumble of the earth beneath him…
Example of narrator intruding to address Bonnie followed by an explanation of how Leila learned her story:Chapter 12.
Example: Little sister, you had your feather quilt to keep you warm, but no voice, not even the words that said your name…
Bonnie didn’t know she was in a refuge for young children… I would learn this from the woman who had worked in the refuge and from Tyke, the boy we called the Insect Collector...
Note: The advantage of this method was that Bonnie’s story was told but her fate was not revealed until the end.
Writing Exercise for Beginning Writers
Search through a name book with names and meanings or find in the relevant section of a good dictionary with a section on names.
Find a name and a meaning that appeals to you and make up the title for a narrative
Use the meaning as a stimulus for creating your own narrative with a matching theme.
Jot down ideas and develop a few main characters who share a common problem based around that theme.
Experiment with a first person narrative in which the person has limited knowledge of events. Try some of the techniques used above.
Write a blurb for your narrative without giving away too much of the plot.
Look at other writers and see how they handle point of view.
Why the future and why an imaginary land?
I wanted to draw on my knowledge of an Australian landscape, the world and its history without becoming bogged down with the bias of known politics and prejudices which can distract one from the underlying issues.
For the same reason I drew on the tradition of fairytale which is the frame for quest stories in which a variety of secondary characters (good and bad fairies) either help or hinder the protagonist’s journey of self discovery.
Such characters in this case can be seen as part of setting. Alrica, the wolf woman, the Moccasin Maker, the Lady of Ice and others mark the protagonist’s journey. Most are symbolic figures that reflect difficulties of young people trying to exist in the adult world which includes people intent on using them for their own gain or gratification.
More on Setting
Time: the future. Time frame: two years.
Place: Westland - an imaginary country state based on the known world
Morwena – Westland’s major port and trading centre, recipient of countless refugees from war torn homelands and famine..
The country’s nearest neighbour is a rogue state called Nor’land.
World map changed by rising seas.
Topography of the land – slowly recovering from the devastation of mining, forest exploitation and the damage caused by earth shattering weapons of war..
International borders: affected by rising seas and past wars.
Political – in a world frightened by its own violence, country states have agreed to rules of right behaviour. The governing body is All Nations. Agreements include the banning of all acts of war and weaponry; the banning of nuclear power and fossil fuels.
Economic – slow recovery with the development of innovations in answer to the power crisis, but the world generally poorer due to depleted resources.
Culture: a shift in thinking and the way people live. Children generally employed with education left to parents with the help of good but expensive technology which can be bought at government run ‘Info- Centres.’
Groupings: the formation of different groups according to wealth, position, occupation and tradition. Examples: Hardies, subsistent farmers who garden on the flood plains of Morwena; Mudskippers who recover scrap between drowned cities due to rising seas; fringe dwellers and rejects such as ferls, streeks, and night scroungers who often exist outside the law.
- Read the first three or four short chapters of Children of Morwena. For each chapter summarise what you have learned about the society under the chapter headings: A Family; A City; A Ship, A River.
- Keeping in mind everything you know about Westland, create a character who is a member of a group other than a Hardy, for example a mud skipper or a night scrounger. Build up a picture of his/her life, looks, interests, talents, manner of speech, attitudes, ambitions, memories.
- Write an imaginary interview with the character and his group about their lifestyle and attitudes. Invent a history for the group if you want to explain their outlook on life. Present as a feature for a newspaper or magazine or write a narrative from your notes with a beginning, middle and end.