Thursday, 19 December 2019

A Very Krampus Christmas

Long story short, I was faced with two little students expecting a Christmas quiz when I was expecting a normal lesson. Not liking to disappoint, and being totally rubbish at quizzes, I set to thinking what we could do with Christmas.

Krampus, my brain whispered, tell 'em about Krampus.

For heaven's sake, brain. These are nice, quietly-brought up children, they don't need to hear about Krampus.

I thought of Christmas lights (Krampus in the firelight). Christmas traditions (Krampus in a parade), Christmas presents (Krampus likes children in his sack), Christmas beginnings...

Great, no Krampus there, only early people clustered around an enormous fire protecting them from hungry creatures lurking in the dark night at the edge of the firelight.

So, I started to tell the nice, quietly-brought up children about how Christmas, in the very, very beginning was about being glad to be alive and trying to stay that way, about bringing light to dark times and making it through to spring with your fellow people beside you.

'But what about Jesus? Was he by the fire?' asked Small Boy.

'Jesus was in the manger!' his sister shouted across the table. She is a big sister so is used to shouting facts.

'Christmas didn't start with Jesus,' I ventured, regretting this as soon as my mouth dropped me in it. Small Boy looked at me like I was setting up a cauldron and reaching the Juicy Kid Recipe Book from the cupboard.

'Jesus came later,' I carried on, aware of two sets of eyes fixed on me. 'Christmas first then Jesus was born and then his birthday was...mixed with Christmas.'

I am so terrible at this sort of thing.

'But...but,' Small Boy stuttered. 'If Jesus wasn't born at Christmas, when was he born? When is it his birthday?'

We experienced a small diversion into religious history, during which time, somehow, Small Boy became fixated with the idea of pretending to the nursery children at school that he was Herod coming for them. I have no idea how this happened.

Big Sister told him nursery children were too sweet to scare but that they weren't cute by the time they hit Reception so he should chase those children instead

Desperate to come back from the complexities of religious historical figures being used to torment small children we, inevitably now I see it written down, swung back round to Krampus.

To be fair, I did try first to talk about St Nicholas but there is only so much mileage to be had from the idea of a real live elderly gentleman going round houses under cloak of darkness to break in with presents. No matter the link between St Nicholas and Santa, this behaviour only washes if it is Santa doing it.

Inexorably, I said, 'And then there's Krampus.'

At this point, Small Boy was whisked away to his club, leaving just after the reveal that Krampus stuffed bad children into his sack and ate them.

It turns out he doesn't eat them but I was caught on the hop and Small Boy suggested the eating and I agreed, then he left before I realised I had agreed. Readers with experience of small boys will understand how this came about. There are only so many directions the adult human brain can look at one time. Anyway, it turns out Krampus likes to whip children so it was possibly better to say he ate them.

This left myself and Big Sister with the internet and she wanted to see what Krampus looked like. I went to Wikipedia, knowing there wouldn't be anything too terrifying there, but then being proved utterly wrong.

We found this picture which appeared to accurately depict the moment Krampus arrived for Small Boy while Big Sister looked on and Baby Brother was kept safe,

Big Sister laughed at Small Boy being taken then noticed St Nicholas behind Krampus.

'What's St Nicholas doing?' she cried incredulously. 'He's just standing there, staring!'

Well, apparently the role of the early version of Santa included allowing Krampus to take away small children and whip/eat them. Who knew? I think some of us might have suspected though, given Santa's oversight of Rudolph's talents all those years and his inability to give me the garage I wanted in 1975.

From here, I tried to find a nice tradition and somehow ended up with the Yule Goat. Readers, just don't go there. I thought Krampus was bad enough until I found this image which appears to show a giant astounded goat carrying Bill Murray dressed as a far-too-mischievous Santa.

Seriously, though, Bill, what were you thinking?

We ended the lesson in high spirits, having realised there remains nothing scary about Halloween once you've taken a closer look at Christmas and Santa arriving at your door on the back of a confused goat, offering an enormous bowl of stinking brew to be shared amongst your neighbours, naughty or nice. The side-eye to this is that we had more idea where the plague came from and decided Santa was likely complicit in the Black Death as well.

I left the lesson wondering why on earth I ever thought I could become a kindly aunty figure to small children. I should give in and embrace my role as a friendly witch unlikely to use my Kid recipe book and much more likely to introduce points of view you never knew you needed about Santa, the plague, what might be in the wassail and why Santa's boots appear to be made out of tiger feet.

After all this, one comfort was that Krampus had proved to be the least of my worries. The next time I'll just start with him and avoid the rest. I still might leave out the whipping, though.

Really, Krampus! You don't need whips to terrify small children, you only need yourself.


© Amanda J Harrington 2019

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Monday, 23 September 2019

12 year olds are tough these days

I write horror for children. Not guts and lopping of heads (not very often, anyway), but bleeding happens, some sloughing off of skin or dark shadows reaching out to swallow small trespassers. And I don't shirk from people getting their just desserts.

A friend was shocked when I said I wrote children's horror stories. Did children need horror? Should they be reading it? I pointed out how many kids play Fortnite, Call of Duty or worse. Offhanded, more for the soundbite, I said, "12 year olds are tough these days."

I didn't believe it, not really. But as an audience they are tough. How do you pitch a story at a child who wants to kill zombies on-screen? What can I do to compare with the bloody knowledge owned by many children younger than 12 of what it is like to kill someone, virtually and with endless repetition? How can any written word compete with that?

Well, it can't, and it shouldn't. Why would I want to compete with video games in the first place? Is a child's imagination and time so constrained that I have to lure them away from the screen with the promise of more of the same inside my book?

What can I do to take them from the visual gluttony and voyeuristic thrill of shooting a pretend gun at a pretend zombie, which, for all the pretence, looks more real with every year passing?

Why would that particular child want to read in the first place?

There we have the conundrum. Shall I now complain about the youth of today and their inability to either put down the controller or maintain concentration long enough to read a book? Actually, I don't like complaining about the youth of today; they have enough to worry about without adults always putting more blame and responsibility on their shoulders.

Does no one realise how much fun it is to play a video game? Does no one know how much better it can be to fall right into that world and be safe there, surrounded by death and gore and your friends playing alongside you, than to exist more literally in your real world? Can you not see past the lumbering creatures on the screen to the childish heart that accepts them as fantasy and loves the immediate thrill of feeling part of that make-believe?

Before I was 12 I had already read H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, R. Chetwynd Hayes and all manner of forgotten Victorian ghost stories and horror. By the time I was 12, I was reading Graham Masterton in peace and happiness as no one in my life realised what was in his books. It was my life: manitous existing in the world around me, imagining the rage of an evil one coming to life in the everyday. This seemed far preferable to the ordinariness and assumed safety of going to a rough, bullying school every week.

At the end of my day, my hard-won freedom was celebrated before I even got home by bringing out my latest Masterton and reading as I waited for my bus - the bus I caught in town because I dare not use the school bus. A little later, I discovered Stephen King and Peter Straub. I was a deeply unsupervised reader, thank goodness.

We see the games on screen, we see the blood, the screams, the bullets, the re-spawning to fight another minute-long day and we make a judgement. This child is deficient, or will become so; it is not natural for a child this age to revel in depravity aimed at 15 year olds, 18 year olds. How dare this child so soon enter the violent world we pretend does not exist until they are an adult?

This child is in full view, living in a fantasy world where their friends can speak to them as if they are in the same room. The fantasy world is full of monsters - not Grimm monsters with speaking trees and beheaded queens, but monsters which are every bit based on real-life danger. As in a storybook, the video game monsters can be closed down and put away. Controllers set aside as a book is set aside. Stories shelved and waiting for the next time this toughened 12 year old wants to sidestep every small thing expected and demanded of them in a world pretending it is not lost.

Our monsters look different from theirs. I was the only 12 year old I knew reading Victorian horror, I was the only person I knew reading Graham Masterton. When my stepfather looked over my shoulder one day to see what I read, his eyebrows vanished up his face. And then he recommended an adult crime spy book to me that he thought I would like. I didn't but I appreciated the effort, and the fact he didn't shop me to my mother.

Many children do not read books, many children do play video games. These children are not always the same people. A 12 year old zombie killer might go to bed with a book or wolf down a story in class when they're meant to be studying. A voracious reader might go online with friends and momentarily forget the waiting story.

It is the children who have no fantasy I worry about. The ones who know life is real, every day, without freedom of thought or feelings of safety. Let's worry about the kids who do nothing to fuel their imagination, even if that fuel comes in the form of shouts from another room and the tinny voices of their cheering friends.

I am not in competition with video games, I am in league with them. In league with the whole family of imaginary, fantastical pursuits which draw a child, teen, adult out of the Should and into the Maybe.

Let real life settle itself and wait til later. Pick up the controller, the book, the thought that helps you stare at something only you can see, and leave the rest. There is time enough for reality, but for a limited time only we are 12 years old, finding our best adventure.


© Amanda J Harrington 2019

My books on Amazon
My own website for books and tuition

Find me on Facebook and Twitter!

Read my Aspergers blog
And my fairy blog

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Storybusters: Plan and Write Stories and Descriptions

Storybusters Plan and Write Step-by-step Stories and Descriptions are full of story starters and project ideas. The Storybusters are literacy worksheets with exciting backgrounds and pictures. Topics include science, nature, fairy-tales, special events and lots more.

Building from using a complete worksheet, to adding a few words, to thinking of their own ideas to match the story or description starter, the book is designed to help children create stories and descriptions without it feeling like work. There is also a section for Adjectives, Verbs and Nouns where children can practice using special word types. For more books for children, including GCSE, visit my Facebook page.
© Amanda J Harrington 2019

My books on Amazon
My own website for books and tuition

Find me on Facebook and Twitter!

Read my Aspergers blog
And my fairy blog

A story somewhere