Category Archives: prose

Knife of Never Letting Go, Storyboards.

Y9 are making a short advertisement for the book.  Their storyboards are here for them to refer to:

storyboard 3

storyboard 1

storyboard 2

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Ness: Knife of Never… Year 9

Great work coming in from Year 9… The knife of never letting go: the book that never stops delivering.

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A level unseen: Dystopia (OCR)

This unseen is based on a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. The passage is beneath the unseen.  This was 55 minutes writing…

My response might read thus: using the SCASI structure as a basis for the writing.

McCarthy’s 2006 novel  is part of the post-apocalyptic dystopian novel group which has appeared since the end of World War 2. It seems that the after-effects of the atom bomb focused thought towards the possible fate for the human race following a disaster of some kind. Novels from the 1950s seem to be focused on the idea of warfare or ‘alien’ interaction, possibly reflecting the anti-communist sentiments of the era – Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids would be an example, whereas the late 20th Century saw in increase in plots derived from the potential danger of medical disasters. A good example might be Stephen King’s The Stand, in which a strain of flu has wiped out civilization or idshiguro’s Never Let Me  Go which focuses on the idea of cloning of humans. McCarthy’s disaster is not clear. The landscape “Barren. Silent. Godless.” resembles that of King’s novel, but there is no hint here of the cause of the disintegration of mankind. In that sense the passage reflects Hoban’s Riddley Walker which, although written in a phonetic language, carries no clear explanation of the actual disaster which has plunged England back into an Iron Age, though in this novel elements of the past civilization are clear to see, just as in The Road, the ‘soft ash’ blew over the ‘blacktop’. The existence of the tarmac suggesting that the disaster was still relatively recent.

The passage presents a double setting to the reader: one the location of the two travellers -the anonymous ‘he’ and ‘the boy’, the second being the nightmarish landscape of the dream. The passage opens with an atmosphere of threat – the woods are ‘dark and cold’ and McCarthy repeats and intensifies the ‘darkness’ in the opening sentences, possibly developing a symbolic Hell on Earth by use of the idea of sin. Even the daytime is tainted: it is ‘more grey’ and the simile likening the day time to ‘some cold glaucoma’ suggests not only a gradually reducing level of light, but also enhances the sense that the planet is suffering from a withering illness, one which is reducing the effectiveness of the eye of the sun.This idea of a ‘sick planet’ is a regular device in Dystopia, recalling the worlds of The Day of the Triffids or Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go. The setting does not relent and there is reference to ‘soft ash’  in the ‘ashen daylight’ with image created being one not only of the after effect of fire and destruction but also the pallid ‘ashen’ appearance of a face when struck by horror or fear. In a tricolon group of monosyllabic sentences, McCarthy presents the Earth as ‘Barren. Silent. Goddless. The anaphora builds towards the depiction of a planet devoid of hope, and lacking a humane presence and also uses language suggestive of female infertility: mother Earth is truly dying.

In the Dream sequence, rather than seeing an image of hope – a trope often seen in Dystopia when characters escape form the harsh reality of their lives in a dream, such as in Orwell’s 1984, the landscape takes on imagery and tone resembling that of descriptions of the Rapture or of Milton’s Hell.  Though horrific, the landscape is enormous and awe-inspiring.Sound imagery is used to add to the feeling of grandeur. Thus water ‘dripped and sang’ and the this sound is described as a’tolling’, heightening the link between this hideous underworld and death. Within the confines of this underworld lurks a creature. described in a triplet which focuses first on ‘its bowels’ before moving upward to ‘the brain that pulsed in a glass bell’. The creature is translucent and the whole world has a darkness illumined only by the ‘light’ which is ‘playing over the .. walls’. It is affected by the light so that it ‘loped off’. The verb has a relaxed tone, possibly suggesting that the evil has been turned away for now, but knows that it will return again.

This idea of a light emanating from the pair, but not carried by them is an indicator of a character which is created with reference to ‘the boy’. He is the elder man’s guide to this underworld, possibly, therefore, the source of the light. Given that light in the context of a hellish setting symbolizes godliness and goodness, the final sentences of the passage take on great weight. Here, the man is clear: the child represents the ‘word of God’ as surely as anything and the reader gathers the impression that hope for the future resides in this child. In the passage he is fragile – wrapped in his ‘plastic tarpaulin’ suggesting the utilisation of the detritus of the previous world – a theme common in Riddley Walker- and also being protected by the older man. His dress- ‘blankets and robes’ possibly suggest the dress of some form of Old Testament prophet who may be protecting the boy through the ‘real’ world yet being guided by him in a dream world. It is the older man who scans the horizon, ‘glassing’ the horizon until the daylight ‘congeals over the land’.  This is a particularly unsettling metaphor, suggesting the pair being trapped under some form of tangible cover, possibly reinforcing the idea that there would be ‘no surviving a winter here’. This landscape and fear for the future, coupled with a need to stay on the move recalls the refugees in The Stand, moving to find food and shelter whilst under threat from the hostile armies which are seizing control of the land, or the revlation found by Todd in Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy once he is able to use Viola’s binoculars ot gain a clearer view of his chasers.

McCarthy’s narrative is clear and generally favours short sentences which precipitate the action except when he is describing the hellish cavern. The language here takes on a richness with similes helping to raise the intensity of the image. The pair are described as ‘pilgrims’ reinforcing their inherent goodness, yet the cavern itself is a metaphorical ‘granitic beast’ -the very earth is personified and made terrible. There is a semantic field suggesting the vast history of the place – ‘without cease’ ‘fable’,’ ancient lake’ all of which help, to create a sense of enormity and by doing so to indicate the fragility of the human forms in the story.

At times the language has resonances of Biblical text as in the simplicity of the phrase ‘he rose and left the boy sleeping’ or the ‘but there was none’ was searching for light in the east -the dawn of a new day. This ties well with McCormack’s vision. As with many Dystopian novels, the hope must be found among the ‘normal’ people and among the innocents – the children. In this passage the hope is the child- ‘his warrant’. The use of this word to mean his justification for his actions – pursuing the search for a better world as they head South – suggests the purpose of the passage  -that hope lies in the innocent in a corrupted world.

An extract from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – a  novel set in a post-apocalyptic world, date and place unnamed , though the reader can assume it’s somewhere in what was the United States. It begins with a man and boy in the woods.( he believes the boy is given to him by God to take care of) The boy is asleep.  The two of them are making their journey along the road. Neither the man nor the boy is given a name; this anonymity adds to the novel’s tone that this could be happening anywhere, to anyone.


When he woke up in the woods in the dark and cold of the night, he reached out to touch the child sleeping beside him.  Nights are dark beyond darkness and the days, more grey, each one that what had gone before, like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.  His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath.  He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none.  In the dream from which he’d awaken, he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand.  Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls, like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast.  Deep stones sleep where the water dripped and sang.  Tolling in the silence, the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease, until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black an ancient lake.  And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool, stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders.  It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see.    Crouching there pale and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it; its bowels, its beating heart; the brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell.  It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

With the first grey light, he rose and left the boy sleeping and walked out to the road and squatted and studied the country to the south.  Barren.  Silent.  Godless.   He thought the month was October but he wasn’t sure.  He hadn’t kept a calendar for years.  They were moving south.  There would be no surviving a winter here.

When it was light enough to use the binoculars, he glassed the valley below.  Everything was paling away into the murk.  The soft ash was blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop.  He studied what he could see:  The segments of road down there among the dead trees; looking for anything of colour.  Any movement.  Any trace of standing smoke.  He lowered the glasses and pulled down the cotton mask from his face and wiped his nose on the back of his wrist and then glassed the country again.  Then he just sat there holding the binoculars and watching the ashen daylight congeal over the land.  He knew only that the child was his warrant.  He said:  If he is not the word of God; God never spoke.


Filed under OCR English Literature, OCR NEW English Literature, prose, teacher training

Notes from class: Year 11. Most memorable character

These are notes from class to share with my y11 class in a lesson following up from the post looking at the most memorable character in TKAM


The IWB was not working and I am trying to wean myself off PowerPoint…

Mainly for their benefit (you had to be there…).

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The Knife of Never Letting Go: Guide and activities

A repeat post for my guide and activities for this wonderful text.  I am so looking forward to engaging with this again, and bothering @Patrick_Ness on Twitter when my students have questions or present something great.





The screencast is here: KONLG intro

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Setting in Veronica: Adewale Maja-Pierce

A short powerpoint to engage specifically in setting in this short story from Part 2 of the IGCSE anthology for Edexcel.


and my original ppt from 2012…


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Of Mice and Men: Candy’s dog table notes

Year 9, collect your notes here:

omam table notes candy dog

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OMAM introducing Curley’s wife

A short ppt to work on the first appearance of Curley’s wife

curley wife intro

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Mockingbird: opening thoughts

Mockingbird Chapter 1,2,&,3

Ask any student what the first chapter of a novel is “for” and soon enough someone will pipe up with something about “wanting to make the reader read on”. Once the dust has settled and you have given the sage advice about avoiding weak generalisations, you will be faced with responding to your own question.

Below, I am going to explore Chapter 1-3 of To Kill a Mockingbird. I love this novel but have found it less satisfactory to tech than I imagined. I think this is because the first section of the novel tends to the heavily laden with contextual detail and backstory. Certainly it can be enough to put off students who have been told by so many adults how “wonderful” the book is.

Possible Themes:
Childhood innocence
Parents and lack thereof
Boo and mockingbirds.

That’s enough for anyone in the opening chapters, I think.

So Lee is setting up the novel. Like any good bildungsroman, our heroine needs to progress as she ages and Scout is given ample chance so to do.

At the opening of the novel she plunges straight into her narration – in media res – and at once the reader is faced with the double narration of the novel – child Scout and Older Scout blend seamlessly throughout. The voice is established easily, as though in conversation, as we are told about Jem’s injury. Already the reader is asking questions of the text and Lee allows us to realize that the speaker is looking back on her childhood from a position of experience – “When enough years had gone by….” This is the clue to unraveling Scout as narrator. We watch her lose her childhood innocence and become educated in life as she gains experience of the world around her. Even in the later years of her growth it is evident that the arbiter of discussion and dissent is her father: Atticus.

At this point Lee digresses to give a brief family history. This is important to notice, if not to dwell upon, since it establishes some key details about the family. They come from a long line of landowners in the South – slave owners – and although this is not stressed, the reader knows it to be true. Their land is not enormous and Simon Finch founded a dynasty and grew rich. Already the reader might enjoy the irony of the man fleeing religious persecution in England founding his new life upon slavery, yet we should not allow this first mention of Race and Discrimination to cloud what is really a contextual digression designed to highlight Atticus as a mould-breaker and a man reluctant to follow the easy path. He is the first male to leave the landing and does so to study law. He also pays for his brother to escape in a similar fashion. Atticus will not settle for the path of least resistance and Lee is giving the reader an introduction to him on this front.
The tale told at this point also provides the first lesson about Justice which will run through the text. Atticus urges his first clients to avoid the rope but they refuse and go to their deaths because “the-son-of-a-bitch-had-it-coming-to-him was a good enough defense for anybody”. This may well be so in the sphere of a natural justice, but not in a court of law. When we reach the Trial in the second half of the novel, this split between Natural and Legal Justice will be thrown sharply into relief. Lee paves the way for the reader in her digression. It is lightly told and much is made of Atticus’ resultant “distaste” for the law, a feeling which arises, presumably because he can see the fault-lines which are evident in this area.

Atticus also allows Lee to introduce a quirk of the novel with regards to parenting: So many single parent families! Atticus, Bob Ewing, Dill – though his father is rather mysterious in his storytelling… It is clear that Calpurnia is the surrogate mother in the Finch Household and that her rule is strong and direct: ”her hand was as hard as a bed slat and twice as hard”. Indeed she is introduced with no preamble as a “cook” and whilst some will have worked out at once that she is black, Lee never quite states it openly. The nearest she gets follows the death of Mr Radley when we are told that “Calpurnia rarely commented on the ways of white people”. I think that as we trace the segregation and discrimination which lines the novel, this is a key moment for the narrator. We know that the Finches have owned slaves and here is a black cook, employed as factotum t the household. Scout does not tell us she is black, because to her this “negro” does not warrant the name, not because Scout is “colour blind” but because this is home. She is quick enough to refer to the ways of “negro[es]” passing the Radley house and will be equally quick to pass comment about all the townsfolk – Calpurnia seems to be above that in her eyes, but we should not be quick to see Scout as a little angel without a discriminatory bone in her body. Indeed the way that she is happy to write off the Haverfords earlier in the chapter and will continue to behave in this fashion for each family in her school class suggests a young narrator who is quick to reach conclusions about character on hereditary grounds when in her innocence. Her awakening to this error regarding the Cunninghams in chapter 2 might be seen as her first really important step towards gaining the experience which she will show as the older Scout/narrator.

Certainly in her innocence she will swallow ay twaddle regarding Boo. Boo will be presented as the catalyst for much of the action of the first section of the novel. Yet we have no idea what to think of him – any more than has the young Scout. He is presented as a truly Gothic creation, but there is detail among the storyline: There is little doubt that he is a victim of a justice system followed by his father, ignoring the legal stipulations put upon him. Again justice is seen to be flawed. For being little more than a teenager, Boo is incarcerated, not be a judge but by his father. Indeed, some of the boys sent to the “industrial school” benefit hugely from the best education available. Boo, meanwhile, is shut up and treated little better than an animal. Because of this, Stephanie Crawford – the “neighbourhood scold” is given free rein to gossip and spread malicious rumours – beginning the evident discrimination against the weak or unusual in society. “According to…. Nobody knew…. Miss Stephanie Crawford said… “ help to develop a convincing story which is seized upon by Dill and Jem as they strive to outdo each other in the invention of a gothic tale to match Dracula and their other reading materials. Jem’s imagination is given full rein in a passage often read literally by students in which he creates a squirrel eating madman, chained to a bed, of immense size and scarred across the face – Frankenstein’s monster, anyone? For the children, and especially for Scout – the innocent Scout – this has to be true. Why else would he be locked away?

Although anyone who has read the novel knows that Boo will line up among the “Mockingbirds” in this novel, the chapter close is a lovely hook – the twitching curtain – a thing of fear for Scout, though, of course, the beginning of one of the most one-sided friendships in literature.

Scout’s journey has started.

Chapters 2&3 complete this first cycle of lessons and information. IN Chapter 2 Scout begins school. The novel moves from Summer to Autumn, as though to signal the closure of childhood, and lessons come thick and fast. Perhaps the most important at this stage are the sense of outrage when natural justice is seen to fail and the sense that compromise is often better than dogmatic holding to the letter of the law. Scout is enraged that Miss Caroline cannot see her accomplishments as good things. She even gets punished for her learning. Writing and reading clearly place Scout above her classmates, but her learning is utterly deficient in other areas. In the scene with Walter Cunningham, Scout shows her swift and ignorant discrimination when writing off his behaviour as down to his family background (“I though I had made things sufficiently clear… he’s a Cunningham…”) and then by embarrassing him around the family table. It is Calpurnia who delivers the reprimand at this point – “Yo’ folks might be better than the Cunninghams but it don’t count for nothin’ the way you’re disgracin’ ‘em”. Scout has noticed that Walter talks easily to Jem and also to Atticus, as though equals, but has failed to see how her behavior has embarrassed a boy who has no social graces, but a wealth of experience of the world – something that Scout is only beginning to develop. The reader also notices the comments about Walter’s “neatly mended overalls”. This is important and will set up one of the most important strands of the book – the dignity shown by the poor black community and some of the poor whites is set against the behaviour of the Ewells. The Cunninghams will come good in the trial and Lee is preparing the reader for this in the school room. When Burris is questioned by Miss Caroline, not only does he not try to fabricate excuses for his behavior, but he also swears at her and runs out of school – the message is clear for us all (and Scout): some people can rise above adversity and others allow it to blight their character. Lee sets up other pre-echoes of the events around the trial in the rather long winded discussion of the Cunningham entailment. We will once again see Atticus’ porch laden with produce from those who can least afford it, after the trial. Once again “good” white poor are being aligned with the black community whilst “trash” like the Ewells are clearly being signposted as the bad elements of this tale. This is heightened by Atticus’ discussion about compromise: it might be easier and better to allow someone like Bob Ewell some leeway in terms of the letter of the law, but his character is such (“the disgrace of Maycomb”) that he will abuse the position. Eventually action will have to be taken. In the meantime, the “law” is waived if only to offer scant protection for his children. Scout is learning that there are degrees to the application of the law. Natural Justice and the Legal Code will clash often in this story. The young narrator is struggling to come to terms with a very confusing world. Against this, Atticus offers his first great gnomic lesson: “you never really understand a person… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”. Scout is too young for this advice, but it haunts her and will re-emerge from time to time as the story unfolds and she develops experience of the world. At this point Scout can relate the comment to Miss Caroline and begins to see things from her point of view; to extend the lesson to Walter or Burris is a little beyond her at this stage, let alone to see how it can relate to the apparently arbitrary application of the law.

That knowledge will come, and is evident in the voice of the older Scout/Narrator. At this stage she is comforted by her father reading to her, (and the information that he never went to school!), and turns to sleep before the next lessons begin in Chapter 4.

These early chapters can seem long and complex to students – there is simply so much information thrown at them, but they allow Lee to lay the trails for so much that will follow:

• It is better to have heritage than to have a moral compass (as seen in the response to the decision of the north Alabamans to secede from the South)
• Justice is unreliable and open to interpretation
• Innocence tends to be a condition of credulousness – Scout will gain knowledge as she gets older
• No one is immune from discriminatory attitudes in some form
• Life is a series of “spots in time” (thank you Wordsworth) which build to deliver an adult based on accumulation of experience.
• First appearances can be deceptive.

And so on…

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Mockingbird and Violence: response to essay.

Explore the presentation of violence in To kill A Mockingbird.

These slides were prepared by a yr 11 class after an essay question (above).  The idea was that we would track Lee’s presentation of violence through the novel and then the students wrote paragraphs in small groups which are appended to the end of the document.  I think it is an interesting activity and the short paragraphs could be used to provoke comment and discussion in any classroom.

As ever, my starting point was: “what sort of society choice is Lee presenting here?”  In short, do we want to live in an Atticus society or a Ewell society?  From this discussion we developed thoughts about justifiable and non-justifiable violence and from there it was a relatively easy job to identify the types of violence on show.  Since so many students are keen to tell me that “it is a sin to kill a mockingbird”, I was surprised how many did not see the fact that you can “shoot all the blue jays you want” suggests that there some aspects of violence which can be tolerated.  Once this is accepted, the essay seems to fall into place!

violence in TKAM

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