Scratching around the quarry

charlis-quarry

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads.”

I usually find Charli’s prompts a challenge but, with a bit of digging around in the old brain cells, I can usually concoct something with which I am reasonably happy. This time I’ve been scratching around the surface but have found little worthy of further investigation.

I considered a story of epic proportions, as I can’t think of a quarry without thinking of Gilgamesh.

Many years ago, I took my teenage son and a friend to a performance of the ancient story in a disused quarry. Whether it was part of their English or theatre studies, or what prompted the outing, I can’t recall. I think they were no more familiar with this “first great work of literature” than I; and I knew nothing. The performance made a lasting impression, both for its setting and the repetitious dialogue. I recall little of the hero’s epic journey. We were amused rather than awed.

From Gilgamesh, I considered play of a different, but more familiar kind: play in a sandpit or the dirt with diggers and trucks.

The sandpit was always popular for play at lunchtime, particularly if diggers, trucks, and other tools were available. Often the same children would play day after day, creating and re-creating the same scene with roads, rivers, bridges, and cities. Each seemed to have a particular role and responsibility. Found objects; like leaves, bark, feathers, sticks, and stones, would also be incorporated into the designs.

This play was great for the imagination, and for developing the friendship skills of cooperation and getting along, teamwork and working together. Surely I could find a story in there? But any ideas disintegrated faster than the sandpit structures.

It seems timely then, to revisit previous discussions of the difficulty experienced by children when expected to write to a prompt that may have little significance for them, and about which they may have little opportunity for discussion, reflection or planning.

I discussed this in both Writing to order – done in a flash! and Writing woes – Flash fiction. I suggested that, rather than  using a one-piece response to a prompt to assess children’s writing, the use of portfolios would provide more valuable information about children’s writing development.

A portfolio, similar to that of professional writers, would consist of work at various stages: some as ideas jotted on slips of paper, some in planning stages, others in draft form, others completed and waiting for the next step, and others in publication. Rarely would a piece need to be completed in one sitting, let alone judged for it worth on the spot.

I believe that:

  • a one-off writing assessment task does not give students an opportunity to show their best work and puts pressure on them to perform
  • a portfolio of work collected over time provides a clear picture of student ability, development, and next steps for learning.

However, that writers have a choice about responding to Charli’s flash fiction prompts, makes the process quite different from that experienced by children responding to a prompt as a requirement.

Writers have a choice whether to participate, in what genre to respond, and how to interpret the prompt.

In recent posts Charli has discussed the importance of accepting our first drafts as “raw literature”, as part of the process. She provide us with the opportunity to hone our writing skills, and share and receive feedback on our writing in a safe, supportive environment. Surely this is no less important when encouraging young writers.

Out of sympathy for the requirements imposed on children almost every day, I thought it only fair to respond to Charli’s prompt. This is it.

The Quarry

Old and disused, the bare earth was dry with no hint of topsoil or sign of life. Rock fragments, remnants of its past, littered the surface still pockmarked by tyre tracks. One wall, etched by diggers’ teeth, stood silently telling its story. Circles of ash littered with shards of glass and cigarette butts told another. But tonight it was to tell a story as old as time.  Where once huge trucks had carted away boulders carved from its interior, now rough timber platforms stood.  As darkness fell, flaming torches cast an eerie light as storytellers wove their epic tale.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

31 thoughts on “Scratching around the quarry

  1. lucciagray

    I encourage my adult ESL students to write a lot. Sometimes it’s personal, others informative and others creative. Their first drafts are usually pretty messy and error ridden, but I encourage them by explaining that writing is a long, hard process, so I make suggestions and correct errors and ask them to rewrite until it’s improved. Some persevere and come up with great final drafts, others don’t persevere…I like portfolios too, where they can show their best work, so it’s encouraging. Lovely flash. Very inspiring setting to write a story💖

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Luccia, for adding your perspective as a teacher of adult ESL students. It appears portfolios work rather well for them too.
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  2. julespaige

    There are a bunch of quarries around here…I don’t think any have been used for staged plays.
    You brought to mind a quarry I had visited and half forgotten about… a fossilized coral quarry.
    In south Florida it has become a state park. One of the things that fascinated me about that particular quarry was that some of the coral had red dust. The red dust was from great winds that brought the (if I remember correctly) bits of the Sahara desert to the area.

    https://www.floridastateparks.org/photos/Windley-Key

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  3. TanGental

    Now you’ve reminded me I can recall having a worry, no more than that, about writing creatively because I didn’t know what the answer was (unlike comprehension or maths where I had an idea). School meant right answers no write answers and I’d forgotten that sense of dread. Even at O level I preferred writing to rote than on my own; indeed I worked out some standard ideas to common story lines ensuring that I had a few ‘good’ words I could slip in which I had learnt to spell correctly. How silly that I thought that was the right way to go and how silly of the school for propagation the notion. Neat FF btw!!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Silly indeed! You’ve proven yourself way beyond those fears with your extensive writing repertoire now.
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. I appreciate your kind words. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

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  4. Bec Colvin

    As always, your FF is great, and accompanied by such an interesting perspective. I want to hear more about Gilgamesh! I don’t know anything about it, but I feel like I have been party to jokes about it between you and the rest of the family. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Pingback: From the Quarry « Carrot Ranch Communications

  6. Charli Mills

    Norah, you managed to to find an educational angle, a personal story and worked it into a lovely flash. I wonder if thought is give to children being pantsers or plotters? I always thrived on the spur of the moment creativity and felt stilted trying to outline. I feel like I have a brain barrier to get past to then get to play in the dirt. I love your description in your flash of the quarry and it’s transformation and expectation.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Charli. It was pulled out of the air at the last minute, so I’m pleased it worked!
      I haven’t thought about children being pantsers or plotters. I think mostly they are expected to be pansters, but they may also be given time to plot using story boards and other tools. I think for those of us who thrive on the challenge of producing a piece of writing will love it. I always did, particularly when I could come up with an unusual or unexpected angle on the topic.
      My grandson told me about some writing he did at school this week. He enjoyed it and did well because he’s good at that (he told me) but one of the students couldn’t think of what to do and cried and had to blow her nose and have a drink. She eventually produced something and as a reward for being persistent and resilient got to take the class mascot home for the weekend. It’s great to have the effort acknowledged. With a supportive teacher, hopefully the need for tears will subside. (This was the first week of our school year.)

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      1. Charli Mills

        It is good to get recognized for the effort until such an time it’s not so painful to produce. Your grandson must have a good teacher. Of course, he’s lucky to have a grandma who can help him reflect on his learning experiences.

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        1. Norah Post author

          It is. In fact, it’s always good to be recognised for effort, particularly if it’s not meant to be derogatory towards the product!
          I think my grandson has a good teacher. He is off to a great start for this year. I hope it continues.

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  7. Patricia Tilton

    Your quarry story sounded like poetry. Beautiful choices of words. I would have been stumped, like the kids you referenced. I love the ideas you shared about developing their writing portfolios. Finding what inspires them, is a good start.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Patricia. I am very touched by your words, and am pleased the flash worked. I agree, finding what inspires a writer, whatever the age, is a good place to start.

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  8. Steven

    Although it may not have come to you naturally, I think you have again succeeded in a difficult topic.

    Not far from where we live, there is a park containing a football field and then more open space (maybe another half of a football field). It is a significant size and the open space contains associated structures like change rooms and play equipment. It turns out that this park is the site of a former quarry, probably filled in with car bodies and other junk to make it level again. I find it intriguing to think that people may be playing there now, but underneath their feet perhaps 70 years ago industry was at work. Reading your introduction, I also found myself trying to “vibe” this onto you, but as it turns out your story happened to reflect a similar situation.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for sending your vibes. It’s quite likely that’s what got me over the finish line!
      I was interested to read about the football field new you. There is a sporting field not far from where I live – right in the middle of suburbia you could say. This field was once an open rubbish tip, was filled with soil, leveled, and turfed for sports. It’s possible that only we “oldies” to the area would be aware of the origins of the field. But, like your former quarry. it may yield significant information to historians in years (many years) to come. They will learn of our wasteful ways and over-reliance on plastics if nothing else!

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  9. Annecdotist

    I think it must have been raw literature that was encouraged in my school days. The downside was not having a concept that the first draft could be improved on, the upside was not having my creativity squashed. (And thanks for the reminder of this, that was such an emphasis on rote learning and fact digestion in my education, I’d forgotten there was an aspect in which creativity flourished, so perhaps I do have something to be grateful for from back then!)
    Your description of the quarry is lovely, both in your flash and in your opening about going to the play. Likewise, I know nothing about Gilgamesh beyond the name, and, given your own experience so amusingly described, it’s likely to stay that way.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m so pleased your writing creativity wasn’t squashed, and has continued to flourish. I wonder if that’s in spite of, rather than because of. We rarely did more than one draft of writing in school but the pages were adorned with red pen (not that mine were, of course!)
      Thank you for your words about my flash. I am sorry if I influenced you against Gilgamesh though. I fear I was naive about the ancient works of literature, and my impression was probably more to do with me than with the play.

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  10. Eloquently Kate

    A quarry theatre – it just beckons for performance of plays and stories from ancient times! Love it. And you were right Norah. As writers, we have the luxury of choosing not to write when the subject or material does not inspire us in any way. I used to admire those that can sit down and write an excellent copy for any story or article in one sitting and move on. My ‘raw literature’ is way too raw to let anyone see it!

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Kate. The quarry was quite an interesting setting for this ancient play and created quite an atmosphere. I wish the prompt had been as conducive (for me!)

      Liked by 1 person

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  11. robbiesinspiration

    Hi Norah, this is a very interesting topic. When I was at school we would go into a creative writing exam, be given a list of dry topics to choose from, and be expected to conjure up a story within 60 minutes upon which our creative writing mark for the term was derived. I see that at my older son’s school this is no longer how they approach creative writing. The boys are given the topics the day before the exam. they are expected to prepare an outline (only an outline mind you) of their story and this story preparation is also marked as part of their work. I think this works much better as my son is able to consider the topics and give some thought to which one interests him and angles to his chosen topic and story. This approach would seem to be in line with your thoughts above. Tweeted this and posted to my Facebook.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with writing, Robbie. I’m pleased that things have improved a bit for your son, at least for the school assessment. Over here anyway, they are still given a topic and no preparation time for the national assessment. It’s a tough call, for anyone, I think. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  12. thecontentedcrafter

    So you ended where you began, a story in the round so to speak, which is imminently fitting for an ancient dialogue. I used to love to see the annual summer performances of ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ many years ago – actors dodging behind bushes at appropriate moments was always fun. I imagine watching a play in a quarry could be visually enthralling.

    I agree about the portfolios too 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Yeah – going around in circles! That’s me. The Shakespearean performances in the park sound fun. I guess they were meant to be performed in the round, weren’t they?
      I thought you’d agree with the use of portfolios! 🙂

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