Stranger Than Fiction: The Shed Story

At the end of Chapter 50 of St Mallory’s Forever!, there lurks an innocuous reference to just the sort of thing you’d expect to hear in a comic YA mystery set among the hi-jinx of an all-girls boarding school.

Someone got themselves locked in the gardening shed a couple of years back, and there was complete pandemonium until she turned up in the dining hall about an hour later.

Fun fact: that’s not an amusing comic interlude invented purely for a quick giggle and a pleasant sense of irony. It’s a true story.

One of mine, actually. And here’s how it happened.

Back in the Upper Fourth (Year 8 to all you ‘normal’ people out there), someone decided it would be a good idea to have one of our Latin lessons swapped out, bi-weekly, for an hour spent in the greenhouse out the back of the boarding houses. Why this decision was made – and why the first lessons began in the frostiest November since Jack Frost went on a year-long bender – I will never know.

I’ll confess here and now that I’m no great horticulturalist (read: wouldn’t know her geraniums from her marigolds on a good day), but the lessons themselves weren’t so bad. We never actually managed to grow anything, but it was nice to get outside and have a chance to talk about something other than the finer points of Ovid for an hour.

This particular debacle fell in about the fifth week of term. As was my wont, I had been relegated to digging bulbs out of what we hoped would become the tomato patch, and so was rather keen to rid myself of dirt and debris before heading off for lunch.

The sink in the greenhouse stood behind the door. Yes, there was a sink in the greenhouse. Yes, it was strange. Yes, it was bizarrely placed.

Yes, I blame the sink for everything.

Sorry, I digress. I was at the sink, washing my hands and contemplating the prospect of the lasagne waiting for me in the dining room. So engrossed was I in these mouth-watering fantasies, that I did not hear the fateful click. The click, that is, of a key exiting a lock.

By the time I turned back to the door, teacher and class both had vanished, and I was stuck.

What followed was a fairly bizarre thirty minute interlude of jumping up and down in the middle of the greenhouse (hoping to get the attention of the lunchgoers through the window in the boarding house beside the gardening patch), searching in vain for something to use as a lock pick, using anything I could find in the hopes it would make a decent lock pick, discovering that trying to take the lock apart with a screwdriver was no more useful than the previous strategy … and charging the door with a pitchfork.

The last option came to me purely in the hopes that the sound would carry to the grounds staff clipping the hedges off the main road. It didn’t work, but it made me feel a lot better. From what I can tell, the marks were still in the door until the greenhouse was taken down last year.

In the end, I resorted to James Bonding it out of a window – a highly inelegant process, given that I was fairly tall for a 12-year-old and the window was not designed with escape attempts in mind.

The best part of the story? There had not been any debacle whatsoever over my disappearance. On the contrary, no one had even noticed I had gone. I’d been ticked off on the lunch register on the assumption I’d gone to wash my hands – oh the irony – and no one had thought to wonder why the dining room was so oddly quiet.

Suffice to say it was a bit of a surprise for all involved when I came talking in an hour later and declared to the room at large: “I’ve been locked in the garden shed for forty five minutes!”

I did not notice the innaccuracy of my measurement of time. What I did notice, just a moment too late, was that there were three people sitting at my housemistress’ side at the main table. Two parents, and an eight-year-old prospective student.

The fact that I was taken out of the room and sternly told off for upsetting the guests seems reasonable, but I was still rather indignant about it. It wasn’t exactly my fault, after all.

Suffice to say, it was no great surprise to anyone that these gardening lessons were discontinued at the end of that year.

Curse that conniving sink.

* * *

Well, what do you make of that, readers? Reckon any of your stories, from school days or otherwise, can match up to the strangeness factor of The Great Shed Debacle?

There are, of course, plenty more little easter eggs just like this one lurking behind many a line of St Mall’s. Reckon you can spot any more? Suggest them in the comments, and I might just make a little series out of them. Or I might just do that anyway, because I think they’re funny.

~ Charley R

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On The Origins Of Tim

‘St Mallory’s Forever!’ Trivia: Episode 1 ~ In which Miriam takes you ‘behind the scenes’ for some trivia and amusing information about book one.

Warning: this post may include mild spoilers for St Mallory’s Forever! for those who haven’t yet read/finished it.

If you’ve read the reviews of St Mall’s that have been left on Amazon and Goodreads (some are excerpted on the “St Mallory’s Forever page and in the right-hand sidebar of this blog, which I redesigned because I was procrastinating on writing a Classics essay last week. Which, for the record, is also what I’m doing right now), you’ll see that a lot of people have commented on our use of geek culture etc throughout the story. It’s true – there are overt references to Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Star Trek, among other things. There are also covert ones, and most of them relate to Tim Morrigan.

I’m responsible for naming him. This wasn’t a deliberate decision – we didn’t sit down and say, “Hey, Miriam, do you want to invent the antagonist of book one?” (Collaboration over distance means I don’t think we ever ‘sat down’ and discussed anything, although Charley and I did meet up in the summer and we talked about book two then.) I don’t even remember if he was originally meant to play the role he played: I think we had some inkling that he’d be a significant ‘baddie’, but nothing concrete.

So his introduction happened to fall in a chapter that I wrote, which meant I needed to name him. He’s introduced to us as Tim Morrigan, but as those who have read the book will know, he is also known as Ben Phillips. For the benefit of those who haven’t, or haven’t yet got that far, I won’t go into the details of how that came to be – simply why those names were chosen in the first place.

And it’s at this point that I display what a total nerd I am, since his name is actually a threefold joke.

Joke one: it’s a play on Jim Moriarty.

With all the Sherlock references that went into St Mall’s and the fact that we wrote it at a time when I was working my way through all the Sherlock Holmes books, it seemed like a good plan for the bad guy to evoke the idea of Moriarty. I went with the BBC Sherlock “Jim” instead of “James”, though, and that’s where Tim came from. “Morrigan”, on the other hand, has a similar phonetic structure to “Moriarty” and is also an Irish word.

Joke two: it’s a reference to the Morrigan.

The Morrigan is one part of the Irish triple goddess of war, death, destruction etc. She’s a shape-changer, which is fitting for a devious and mischievous character. She’s associated with general misery, and interacts with the hero Cu Chulainn. Some theories associate her with the Welsh Morgan le Fay, though they don’t have a lot in common, even taking the French ‘Vulgate Cycle’ of Arthurian legends into account.

… I think my nerd is showing. I recently wrote a research project about women in mythology, so I was examining that particular comparison. Don’t worry if that went straight over your heads.

Basically, the Morrigan is a troublemaker, a shapechanger, and a nasty piece of work.

Joke three: it’s another Sherlock reference.

You know we were talking about BBC Sherlock? Well, that means Benedict Cumberbatch is involved. And you see, his full name is Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch, which meant that Tim/Timothy was easily paired with Ben/Benedict. He references his older sister as a factor in the name choice, and given that she’s probably about the age of most Sherlock fangirls, it makes perfect sense that she would have done that deliberately.

I mean, I’m neither confirming nor denying that she did, or that she even likes Sherlock. But it’s a possibility, isn’t it? (The answer is right there in the book, if you’re looking for it. I was wondering if the others would notice.)

Okay, but what about Phillips?

I don’t remember where the Phillips came from. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t motivated by a desire to include the dreadful amazing pun in the title of chapter 64 (or 65 if we ever fix the fact there are two chapter 12s in that edition, hee hee): “IT’S PHILLIPS, TIM, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT.” Being, of course, an extra-nerdy joke on the Star Trek quote, “It’s Physics, Jim, but not as we know it.”

Like I said, pretty sure that wasn’t the motivation – just a result that I was very pleased with. I remember sending Charley that chapter and babbling incoherently about the title because I was unbelievably proud of myself, despite knowing that 90% of people wouldn’t even pick up on my genius.

She appreciated it, though.

It might have been that it went well with Morrigan, because it does. It might have been an entirely random name plucked from the ether. Possibly I was looking at my bookshelves and saw the Mortal Engines quartet by Philip Reeve – I have a habit of naming characters after authors. Helen and her mother both owe their surname to Jonathan Stroud, as it seemed appropriate and fit well with both their names, and it’s probably just as well nobody else’s surnames were left up to me or we’d have an entire library of them.

Notably, Philip Reeve and Jonathan Stroud used to be on the same bookshelf which was opposite my desk, although it’s now moved, and I think they were named at about the same time, so I’m going to assume that’s the reason. It’s not quite as entertaining as the rest of his name, but hey, we got four jokes out of it and that’s fairly good going for a single character.

This has been St Mallory’s Forever! trivia. Next time, I’ll probably be talking about Helen, unless there’s anything else you want to know – in which case, please feel free to leave comments!

A Joyful Return

Charley’s been great at regenerating the blog with a few new posts over the past fortnight or so, but I’ve been conspicuously and embarrassingly absent — especially as it was my idea to start blogging more often! I’m very sorry about that.

It occurred to me that we’ve been absent for a long time, and it’s reached a point where the ‘author bio’ at the back of St Mallory’s Forever! is probably outdated and incomplete, so unless you know us from elsewhere or read our personal blogs, you’ll know very little about Charley and me as people. Therefore we thought we’d reintroduce ourselves and our interests.

A vaguely sensible picture of me -- this has got to be a first!

A vaguely sensible picture of me — this has got to be a first!

Who are you?

My name is Miriam Joy and I’m eighteen years old. I’m the youngest member of the St Mallory’s writing team, although even I’m a legal adult now, which is mildly hilarious. I’m a writer, student, dancer, musician, blogger, feminist, tea-drinker, and huge fan of puns. Seriously. The title of this post should have given that away.

The St Mallory’s series is set in a school. What’s your education background?

I go to a state school, a grammar school in South-East London, where I’m studying for my A-Levels, and I take English Literature, Classical Civilisations, French and Music. Don’t let anybody tell you that Music is easy: it’s certainly the hardest subject I chose to take, and I regret it on a daily basis. With any luck, I’ll be studying at the University of Cambridge from October, although of course I have to get the grades in my exams this summer for that to be possible!

Which of your hobbies contributed most to the book?

I’m the musical one of the group, so those who’ve read St Mallory’s Forever! will be able to guess that I contributed a lot to Helen’s chapters, particularly where there’s anything technical going on. I had to teach Charley that violin strings aren’t made of plastic, for example, and I regularly mock her when she sends me chapters that display her ‘musical illiteracy’, as she calls it. I leave the lacrosse side of things to her – and indeed anything about boarding school.

Mind you, I'm quite short, which might not help.

Mind you, I’m quite short, which might not help.

I used to play the violin, flute and piccolo, but unfortunately strained my wrists badly last year and haven’t been able to play since July, forcing me to abandon the violin two weeks before I was due to take my grade eight exam. Such is life. In order not to fail the performance unit of A-Level music, I recently took up singing, and I’ve also just started playing the Celtic lever harp, because why play a small instrument like the piccolo when you can play something that goes up to your shoulder?

Actually, my passion as far as music is concerned lies in folk music, so while I’ve got enough orchestral experience to last me a lifetime and I can write the Classical side without too much difficulty, I much prefer playing traditional folk tunes. I play the tin whistle, too, but I don’t tend to count that among my accomplishments because most people look down on whistle players. No idea why.

What else do you do in your free time?

This was me in 2011, when I still had super short hair.

This was me in 2011, when I still had super short hair.

My love of performing arts isn’t confined to music: I also dance. After a brief stint as an Irish dancer from 2009-2011, I retreated to the infinitely less odd world of ballet, and this year I’m dancing the role of the Cat in my dance school’s production of Peter and the Wolf. I’m also part of the dance troupe for our school production of Fame!, which is entirely outside of my comfort zone as far as technique is concerned, but I think it’ll be a great learning experience. And of course, school productions feature prominently in St Mall’s 2, so it’s all research. (I promise we’ll have a title soon.)

I’ve never really had the opportunity to act as such, though I’d be interested in it, and I’m a massive fan of Shakespeare. Hamlet’s definitely my favourite – I empathise a ridiculous amount with Hamlet as a protagonist, and my theories regarding Ophelia are slightly unusual but I promise you, well backed up with the evidence.

Other than this series, what do you write?

My writing is predominantly inspired by my interest in early/medieval history and mythology, particularly Celtic. An example: I’m currently working on a research project about the position of women in Celtic and Norse society as shown by the mythology of those societies, so if that doesn’t sum me up as a person, I’m not sure what does. As a result, my writing is usually tragic and involves fairies – in fact, one of my long-term projects is a series I refer to as Death and Fairies, so there you go. At the moment, I’m mostly focusing on an action/adventure novel about modern-day knights, and I hope to pursue a traditional publishing route with that.

I also wrote a poetry collection. That was a thing, recently.

What’s your favourite thing to read?

I think my favourite genre of books would be fantasy and all its many permutations and subgenres. In my experience, it provides the best and most cutting social commentary, especially when it’s disguised as humour, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. They’re a fabulously amusing critique of the human race, and I love that about them. Fantasy’s often dismissed as a childish genre, not as serious as litfic or something like that, but I think that’s completely erroneous, because it allows us to step entirely outside of our society and values in order to look at them from another perspective. That’s probably one of the reasons I write so much of it, too.

Mind you, I also like historical fiction, although when it revolves around real people I somehow always manage to run into spoilers simply by researching the period. I was devastated when I found out that Camille Desmoulins was executed while I was still halfway through reading A Place Of Greater Safety… And YA fiction will always have a place close to my heart. A lot of people look down on books written for teens – the same way they look down on teenagers in general life. However, it’s such a massively broad category with so many genres within it, and a lot of my favourite books have been YA because there are often fewer boundaries.

I think what I’m getting at is that I read a lot.

What’s the most important thing to you when writing?

I’m passionate about diversity and representation in books. I definitely feel that literature – including, or perhaps especially, books aimed at younger readers – needs to represent all sorts of people. I think pop culture needs more admirable female characters, more queer characters, more disabled or chronically ill characters, more racially diverse characters … and it should go without saying that their stories shouldn’t revolve around that aspect of their life! You might see some of that sneaking into the St Mall’s series, although obviously it’s set in a girls’ school, so clearly we’re going to need admirable female characters or we won’t have any characters at all.

Anything else you want to tell us about yourself?

Two-in-one photo: archery while dressed as Eponine for World Book Day 2013.

Archery while dressed as Eponine for World Book Day 2013.

When I’m not writing, dancing, playing music (which happens less often now because of my hands), or attempting to realise my dreams of becoming a lady knight (which has involved archery and occasionally horse-riding and will hopefully one day also include armoured combat), I make YouTube videos and watch TV shows that break my heart, like Hannibal or Vikings. Occasionally I dress up as fictional characters, too.

Next time I write for this blog, I’ll share with you a few pieces of trivia about the series … like where Tim’s name came from, or why Helen’s playing the particular pieces she’s playing. In the meantime, though, Charley will probably be writing a post similar to this for herself. See you soon!

— Miriam Joy

A Question Of Sport: Lacrosse

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day, on a slightly soggy August afternoon, that I crossed the threshold of the school shop. It was a bit like Harry Potter’s first time in Diagon Ally, full of weird and wonderful things that I’d heard of, but never quite believed in – kilts, skorts (more on them later), trunks, tuck boxes … and lacrosse sticks.

stick

Seriously – who thought THIS was any sort of sensible?

Lacrosse, to those who don’t know, is a sport that originated in North America – I do believe the Native American tribes used it as a substitute for war to settle inter-tribal disputes. It’s still fairly popular in the US, as far as I know, but over here in the UK it’s rather been relegated to a thing them posh types do when we’re not out drinking tea on the cricket lawn or mercilessly hunting down innocent foxes with packs of baying hounds.

It’s also a very weird sport. You only have to look at the sticks to realise that much.

Those of you who remember way back to when you first read St Mallory’s Forever! may recall a few of Abby’s ramblings on the sport. Abby, however, comes from a world where spending your Saturday morning chasing each other up and down a field after a flying rubber ball is a perfectly normal affair – she’s known the rules since she was about seven, and started having to play the game in P.E.   

It may surprise you to know that I, however, had no such knowledge of the game when I was first flung head-first onto the pitch to play against a worryingly competent contingent from the local state school – not even a rudimentary what’s-where, or any sort of assurance that I’d even know which way up the field to run.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that lacrosse very swiftly became one of my least favourite things in the entire world. Particularly, after a few games, extremely chilly practice sessions, and bruises un-numbered, when I began to realise just how scary it is.

In which the game is (apparently) played sensibly.

Lacrosse, as I said before, is a weird sport, and thus it has rather a lot of rules. The picture on the right here is of a boys’ team in America. Doubtless you’d be impressed at the care taken to ensure they all wear proper headgear and rudimentary padding – a neccessity, you would think, given that lacrosse is a (usually unintentionally) contact game featuring a 13-a-side team, theoretically boundless pitch, and focusses on a small, solid projectile flying through the air at speeds occasionally matched by the Red Arrows.

You’ll probably notice, too, that it’s sunny. Lacrosse is a fairly versatile sport – any muddy old field will do, so long as you’ve a couple of goal posts at the end of it – but summer, on the whole, is preferable for such excursions of sporting prowess.

shers lacrosse

I recognise the referee, too. Fun fact.

I now invite you to throw all these conceptions out of the window, and observe the picture on the left.

This is what lacrosse looks like to my memory – in fact, the player in green is, in fact, a girl I spotted once or twice passing down the corridor when I was in the Lower Sixth.

Padding? What padding? Nah, a mouthguard will do you just fine! And who cares if the pitch is a bit frozen – it’s November, of course it’s going to be a little chilly! What’s that? You’re cold? Suck it up! Your parents spent money on those wretchedly overcomplicated skorts, you might as well get some use out of them! Anyone caught in more than three pairs of thermal leggings will be made to run laps until the paramedics arrive!

Alright, alright, maybe I’m being a little overdramatic. Basically, what I’ve been trying to get at, is that anything – a sport, a word, a way of speaking – can mean any number of different things, depending on its treatment and execution in different environments. I never liked lacrosse, and retreated at the first opportunity to make a half-decent defensive player for the third-rank hockey team at the first chance. Perhaps this might have, just a little, coloured how the sport was portrayed in the book.

But, unless you played lacrosse yourself, you’d never have known that, would you? If you had your own experience, you’d have taken my death-mongering as the symptom of one who’d been smacked in the face one time too many, not as any sort of verifiable truth.

The moral of this little horror story, I suppose, is to say that experience, personal or cultural, can count for a lot in one’s understanding of something. A vague point, perhaps, but relevant. After all, it was only through the co-operative union of mine, Miriam’s and Mark’s experiences of life and publishing that St Mall’s came into existence at all.

However, for all I may rant and rail and waggle my fingers like some hyperactive Cassandra lookalike, I have to admit that my experience with lacrosse was valuable. It taught me about what sort of world I had come into in getting myself enrolled in this school, in this country, with these people, and the sort of values that lay behind the game – though I shall maintain until the day I die that “fair play” stepped aside to admit “homicidal inent” the instant the referee blew the starting whistle.

Sometimes, you never know how useful a seemingly pointless experience is until you’ve had it. Rather like this post, I suppose.

But seriously. Look at those sticks. Just look at them!

~ Charley R

Friday Posting, and A Top Five

And lo, the author cometh! Out of the freezing void, dripping wet, and wondering why the laundry machines not only have to be situated on the floor below, but also have to devour such awkward amounts of her spare change.

First things first: apologies. We’ve left this poor blog alone for far too long, we know. Very naughty of us. Ten points from Marylebone and all those good things.

The good news is, this is all going to change. Despite my self-appointed status as Queen of the Procrastinators (a job I’ll start doing tomorrow, honestly!), I’ve also appointed myself another job. That is, posting. My aim and goal is to post on this blog every Friday. Maybe this will devolve to every other Friday during times of high stress, such as holidays or exam periods, but this is my sticky bun and I, like Sticky the Stick Insect, am sticking to it.

And what manner of excitement shall herald my return from the great beyond? Trumpets? Celestial choirs? Exploding toasters made of cookie dough?

A list. But not just any list. This! Is!

Charley’s Top Five Proofs That You Went To Boarding School!

  • Latin. Although the subject is offered in a great many schools across the UK, and quite possibly a great many more across the globe, there’s nothing like a jolly old boarding experience to convince you it’s perfectly normal for modern English to co-exist with a language that’s not been spoken since our ancestors were running around painted blue. Bonus points if you can still remember your old school motto!
  • Matrons. You can tell a lot about a student by what they thought of their pastoral staff. But, whether she was a welcome friend and comfort during the tough times, or a fire-breathing gorgon come to turn you to stone as she steals your duvet to get you out of bed first thing on a far-too-early Monday Morning, there’s no greater example of the boarding experience than good ol’ matron.
  • House Pride. Sports day is terrifying enough anywhere, particularly if you’re like me and have the sporting prowess of a beansprout. Same goes for any competition, I suppose. But things get raised to a whole new level when each boarding house becomes its own little city state, dons its war paint, raises its banners and marches onto the field (quite literally!) to sing, scream and sprint itself hoarse for its members. Celebratory or comiserative pyjama parties in the snug and hiding the stains from the spilled celebratory lemonade are, of course, compulsory follow-ups.
  • Outdated Language. “We’d better hurry up to lessons, or it’ll be tardy slips all round. No, I will not lend you my history prep, the last time that happened you forgot to give it back and I got gated for a week! I’m not missing out on another night at the stick again for all the jelly beans in the world.” The exactitudes will vary from school to school, many taking root from something particular in the school’s history, but there’s nothing like the confused looks from all your new university friends to remind you what a strange educational plane you came from.
  • Tearful Goodbyes. I do so hate to end on a somber note, but it’s true. With only the occasional weekend set aside for homeward travel, the bonds you make in a boarding school are as close, I think, as those of a family. Years are spent with these people, misadventures are had, victories celebrated, defeats suffered, and sometimes you wonder how you’ll ever cope outside of your second home. When goodbye comes, it’s like leaving home for a second time. You never realise how far away your best friends are until you remember they live on the other side of the world – and this year, there’ll be no half-crazed travelling day to allow for a cramped reunion in the corridor.

There you have it! The first post of the New Year, and of the new St Mallory’s blog posting schedule! All questions, comments, and lampooning remarks are welcome!

See you next week,

~ Charley R.

Encounters of a Mallory Kind!

It’s not even been a full year since Miriam, Saffi, Mark and I unleashed St Mallory’s Forever! into the wider world, and we’ve already had so many excitements.

However, I think all can agree that seeing one’s pen-and-ink darling roaming about in *gasp* ADVERTISEMENTS! has to be one of the best in terms of producing high-pitched emotive reactions.

Behold!

Image

 I spotted this wee dandy lurking in the YouTube adverts! There’s another lurking about that has St Mall’s sitting right next to The Hunger Games, too! How exciting is that?

Image

 

This one is Miriam’s find – lurking in the Google ads pane no less, by the look of it!

Of course, I didn’t drop by just to show these beauties off – although, I have to confess, that was part of it. 

ST MALLORY’S 2 is, as of tonight, in the form of an absolutely horrific Draft 0 opening chapter, in the works! And Miriam and I have  decided to pull our fingers out this summer and try and get it done, dusted, and on its way to all of you lovely people by the autumn!

Stay tuned, all! And have any of you spotted St Mall’s lurking about? Why not come stroke our egos and share your encounters?

~ Charley R

Sequels!

Aha, I see my emphatically placed exclamation point got your attention! Huzzah!

It’s been a few months now since St Mallory’s Forever! made its debut into the world of the reading public, and it’s been an absolutely batty few months for us since then. We’ve written guests posts all over the place – including one at the Office of Letters and Light! – we’ve waited for the ebook to filter through the platforms, and we’ve even tripped over ourselves a fair few times in the run up to the availability of the paperback. Heck, I even did a radio interview with the BBC.

And after that . . . life. Life, with all its multifaceted teeth, claws, and pointy bits. Coursework, sickness, mock exams, shiny things dangling from string – you know, our usual excuses. 

Sorry. We wish we could help it.

However, I do not intend to slip into the void of creating apology posts – because that is bad and i would feel bad if I were to do it because it is bad.

Instead, I come bearing hope. Hope in the fact that Miriam, Mark and I (who dares to commit the sin of breaking up the lovely alliteration) are plotting . . . ST MALLORY’S 2!!!

Stay tuned, all! Once the dark clouds of exams have passed, who knows what silver-lined goodies await thee?

~ Charley R