Teachers’ notes and class activities

For all details plus the range of topics available for workshops and talks, please visit the Workshops, Visits and Bookings page. For more information on my books, please go to my Books page. I have many years’ experience talking to students and adults about researching and writing my novels which may focus on eg my historical novels or have a general overview of writing under the title ‘An Author’s Journey.’ I have also conducted workshops in a variety of genres including writing fiction, short stories, crime, fantasy and historical fiction. Venues for my talks and/or workshops include schools (both primary and secondary), libraries, universities and writers’ festivals as well as other organisations including branches of the FAW, the NSW Writers Centre and other state writers’ centres, Conflux, the Plantagenet and Richard III Societies, as well as U3A and View clubs.

Before giving a presentation, I like to take advice from the teacher/librarian organising the session regarding the focus of my talk. All my talks begin with the question of ‘ideas’, and where they come from, as this is the question I am asked the most often! I illustrate all my talks with powerpoint presentations comprising photographs, maps, illustrations, copies of reports and diaries, etc. I can also tailor my talks to fit a particular aspect of the school curriculum in either History or English – eg my medieval crime series for teenagers/YA, The Janna Mysteries (now retitled and republished as The Janna Chronicles by Pan Macmillan Australia – www.panmacmillan.com.au) will give students of medieval history a very good overview of what life was like in those times from the lowliest peasant to the highest born in the land. Ghost Boy (for upper primary/lower secondary students) is a good introduction to early immigration history, the early treatment of disease and the class system – and there is a special Ghost Boy tour based on the book up at the Quarantine Station in Manly for students studying my novel. A Ring Through Time (YA) covers aspects of Australia’s brutal convict past on Norfolk Island in the 19th century. The Shalott trilogy combines well with a study of myths and the development of Arthurian legend.

There are notes at the back of all my books giving information about the history and settings of my novels, with additional information pertinent to each story. See below for a brief overview of my books plus recommended topics for discussion, themes, activities, plus lists of articles relevant to each book. More detailed information may be found on my Books page.

Ghost Boy

Froggy is haunted by nightmares about drowning. Can he trust Tad, the Ghost Boy, to tell him the truth? And can he overcome his worst fears in order to solve a family mystery? Cassie thinks he’s a loser. Can Froggy convince Cassie that the ‘ghost boy’ is real, and persuade her to help him? The novel is partly set in the haunting Quarantine Station situated on North Head near Manly, in Sydney.  Your school can do a special Ghost Boy tour (based on the book) at the Quarantine Station. Tel: the Education Co-ordinator (02) 9466 1566 for bookings, or visit www.quarantinestation.com.au for prices, curricula links, teachers’ kits, risk management documents and FAQs.  (NB Ghost Boy is now under option for a movie.)

Themes: Australian immigration history, ghosts, quarantine and the early treatment of disease, bullying, courage, friendship, family and identity.

Activities:

  • Ask students to research and draw a family tree – either their own, or a make-believe wish list! There is an example of a family tree at the end of the novel.
  • Research some of the early ‘killer diseases’ and their cures. Visit a quarantine station in your state, if you can. (For example, there are two quarantine stations in WA, in Perth and in Albany, which are similar in design to the Sydney QS described in Ghost Boy.)
  • Pick a scene from the novel and write a short play based on the characters and situation. Choose a cast and act it out. Take a video and show it to the school.
  • Ghost Boy has been published twice with two different covers. The first version featured a drowning boy. Ask students to design a cover for the novel.
  • Write a ghost story! (Who is the ghost, what does it look like, why has it come back, what does it want you to do?)
  • Research the life of someone interesting who has lived in the past. Write a story about him/her. Why did they come to Australia, what work did they do, how and where did they live, how did they dress, what makes them interesting, etc.

Articles to read:

A Ring Through Time

This is a ‘fictional history’ for YA set on Norfolk Island with a flashback to the brutal Second Penal Settlement. Through a time-slip love affair between a convict and the commandant’s daughter (based on a true story) and the growing attraction between their descendants in the present day, the novel touches on a real events and real characters from the 1850s and explores how what happened then has cast a long shadow into the future.  Only when Allie finds a hidden diary can the truth about the past begin to emerge – but the consequences in the present day are devastating.

The Janna Chronicles (previously published as The Janna Mysteries)

This is CSI for the middle ages with many mysteries and crimes to solve as Janna goes on a quest to find her unknown father, hoping that with his help she will be able to avenge her mother’s death and bring a murderer to justice. The books may be read in conjunction with the medieval studies component of the history curriculum in Year 7 or 8. The novels also tie into aspects of the HSC curriculum: crime and mystery writing, while exploring such themes as identity, belonging and the journey. The Janna Chronicles have been retitled as: #1 Blood Oath, #2 Stolen Child, #3 Unholy Murder, #4 Pilgrim of Death, #5 Devil’s Brew, #6 Day of Judgment.

Themes and topics: medieval life in town, country and abbey and an exploration of what life was like for peasants and nobles (both men and women), nuns, pilgrims and jongleurs. The novels explore issues of faith and belief; identity and understanding; independence and responsibility; empowerment through knowledge; morality; love, trust and friendship; courage in the face of adversity; war and peace, ambition and treachery.

Topics for discussion:

  • Janna assumes many disguises’ in these novels. How far does what you wear reflect who you are? Is it possible to reinvent yourself?
  • How do education and career opportunities today differ from life in medieval time for men or women?
  • Janna’s mother has turned her back on the church, but Janna spends a year in an abbey and has to make up her own mind about what she believes. Do we need to believe in something to give our lives meaning, or is it enough to believe in oneself?
  • On her quest, Janna tells lies, steals things and sets fire to a barn. Do you think her actions were justified? Is it okay to lie, cheat and steal so long as it’s in a good cause and/or nobody finds out?
  • Janna learns many things while on her quest. Discuss the importance of education and knowledge in your life.
  • Janna is very independent, but she learns to trust Godric, and accepts his help from time to time. They are equal in status; she and Hugh are not. Discuss friendship, love and trust. How important are they in any relationship? How important is a common background and shared beliefs when it comes to friendship and/or love?
  • The early covers of The Janna Mysteries are very different from how they appear now. Which do you prefer? Why?

Activities:

  • Pretend you are a peasant, a nun or monk, a noble and write an account of your day. Where would you live, how would you dress, what would you eat, what would you do during the day (and night)?
  • Plan a medieval day at school. Dress up for the occasion, stage a mock tournament, or a typical evening’s entertainment (dance, music, a recital of heroic deeds etc) Record your activities on video. Design a cover for the video
  • Rewrite a scene from one of the novels as a play, and act it out. Record it on video. Design a cover for the video
  • The early covers of The Janna Mysteries are very different from how they appear now. Which do you prefer? Why? Design your own cover for one of the books
  • Google a medieval farming calendar; write a description of the various tasks a farmer must do through the year, and the tools and equipment he would use
  • Research medieval beliefs about medicine and the human body (eg the ‘humours’ of the body, aelfshot, the devil.) Research remedies available and the sort of treatment you might receive if you have a headache, a septic wound, the plague or you are in childbirth
  • What happens if you are not the firstborn child? What options are open to you? Explore the roles and expectations of both women and men in medieval society.

The Shalott Trilogy (NB now out of print but will be republished as a bind-up trilogy in the near future.)

Five Australian teenagers, through a virtual reality programme gone wrong, find themselves in Camelot in the middle ages. Their quest: to change a legend, but also to find a way home.  But are the teenagers rewriting their own destiny at the same time?  These novels may be read in conjunction with the ‘myths and legnds’ component of the English curriculum and also with the ‘medieval history’ component of the History curriculum.

Please note: there are comprehensive notes on the legends and the history of the period in every book, plus a copy of the poem, ‘The Lady of Shalott‘, in Book 1, Shalott.

CHALLENGE!

  • See if you can answer the quiz on the Shalott trilogy.
  • Access information about the Ogham alphabet, and see if you can write your name in the ancient alphabet of the druids.

Articles: The landscape of King Arthur, Viewpoint 9, Autumn 2001; Turning history and legend into fiction, Viewpoint 11, Summer 2003. Also Shalott by Felicity Pulman’, article by Robyn Sheahan-Bright, Viewpoint 9, Spring 2001.

Themes: time travel, virtual reality, legends (King Arthur, Celtic legends), medieval history and society, magic and shape-shifting, knights and chivalry, courage, faith and religion, setting personal goals and fulfilling your destiny, family and community, love and friendship, identity.

Topics for discussion:

Topics for discussion:

  • In the Shalott trilogy, characters explore issues of faith: pagan belief, magic, Christianity, humanism and science. Do we need to believe in something to give our lives meaning, or is it enough to believe in ourselves?
  • What did the teenagers learn from their time away? How did it change their lives and change them?
  • The role of women in medieval society vs the role of men
  • Would you rather be a street kid now (Lev) or a street kid in medieval time (Magrit)? Compare/contrast resources and opportunities.
  • Does modern technology isolate us or bring us closer together?
  • Lancelot, the best and bravest knight’, betrayed his friend and king. How should we define a hero or heroine? What qualities should a leader possess?

Activities:

  • Devise your own alternative history based on an event of historical significance.
  • Research what it means to become a knight. Describe the oaths and the ceremony.
  • Describe your day if you were a peasant or a noble living in medieval time.
  • Plan a medieval day at school. What would you wear? What would you eat? What games would you play?
  • Plan a menu for a medieval banquet.
  • You have a toothache, a headache, a battle wound or the plague. How would these be treated in the middle ages?
  • Compare/contrast the Shalott novels with portrayals of Arthur and the knights of Camelot in other media – eg the poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the films King Arthur’ or First Knight’ or Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail’ or the music of Rick Wakeman (The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table), or Maddy Prior (Arthur the King), or Purcell’s opera (King Arthur, 1691)
  • Choose an incident from the novel and dramatise it. Cast it and act out the scene. Film it on video. Design a cover for your video.
  • Draw a plan of a medieval castle, using information from a book or the web, eg www.castles-of-britain.com
  • Choose one of the characters from the novel and rewrite his/her destiny if that character had never gone back to Camelot and found the courage to change his/her life.

Articles to read:

For younger students:

We talk about ideas for stories and where they come from, using visual stimuli such as objects from my ‘magic bag’ and other artefacts; we talk about animals (their pets plus wild and/or imaginary animals and creatures) and I ask the ‘what if…?’ questions that can often lead to a story. We talk about the vital questions that need to be answered when writing a story: who, why, what, where, when and how. I accompany my talk with powerpoint illustrations of various animals and pictures of other potential stimuli, and talk to students about my own novels (Turning the Page, Wally the Water Dragon, The Little Penguins of Manly) – how I came up with the ideas, how I researched them, and I also show them my early manuscripts and how they eventually became a published book.