Tunnels of Discovery
While I wanted the story to be informative, I didn’t want it laden with factual information so decided from the outset that these would be discoveries for the central character, Annie. I opted for a female protagonist because, in spite of some shifts in enrolment to the sciences, these still tend to be a male preserve in our current education system. The emphasis on strong females is extended by the fact that Annie has a successful single Mum who's a scientist and, of course, the dominant creature in the formicary is the Queen Ant.
In addition to giving Annie conversations with other characters, I have also set out her internal thoughts as speech, to give them more immediacy. The preservation of the planet, the conflict between big business and the needs of third world countries, the respect for cultures other than our own, overpopulation, etc. are major issues which preoccupy us all and I wanted these thoughts to be particularly involving. Similarly, I move from the past tense to the present when Annie goes to Belize to give that narrative greater immediacy too.
I have sought a blend of styles: informal conversation; poetic description; more formal explanation and the inclusion of some culturally unfamiliar terms. The first engages the reader, particularly at the outset; the second is intended to highlight the great beauty of our planet; the third I thought important to ensure that some key themes and facts were clearly presented; and the fourth seemed an easy reminder of cultural difference.
Across the top of the tapestry I have written a set of rhyming couplets in ballad form containing a kind of homespun philosophy relating to the lives of the ants. This is partly because the Bayeux Tapestry itself incorporates brief clarificatory observations, partly because ballads are part of the early tradition of English poetry and partly to give young people models of alternative ways of expressing themselves.
Narrative devices are particularly important and I was thrilled to discover that there is a kind of frog which has pheromones to protect it from attack by the leafcutter ant. Goldie, as I call him, becomes Annie’s guide once she has tumbled into the formicary and it was great fun giving him a rather old-fashioned air to contrast with her youthful enthusiasm. Another device had been suggested to me by Clive and, indeed, by Lewis Carroll in his great creation of Alice in Wonderland. Annie is given a drink of chocolate by an old Maya woman, shrinks and finds herself in the formicary. The third thing is Annie’s bracelet, also given to her by the Maya woman. In order to emphasise the key themes, whenever Annie had a moment of insight, it was magically recorded on her bracelet.
As for setting, I had Belize. That gave me, as well as Nicola, a wonderful opportunity to highlight particularly the fauna of that wonderful country as well as giving a high profile to the Maya culture. One of the wonderful things for me, writing a children’s book and having a highly talented illustrator, is that (am I allowed a cliché?) a picture paints a thousand words and Nicola’s images make the birds in the trees and the beasts in the undergrowth quite unforgettable. They help to bring my words to the surface.
With the ‘enclosed’ narrative, I created a three-part structure: Annie’s interest; Annie’s discoveries; Annie’s new direction in life. It’s a fairly simple way of organising narrative but perhaps a useful model to represent progression.
Throughout, I was also aware of the significant range of opportunities which the book gives for KS2 and when the idea of the tapestry came to me I reflected that it would be a valuable example of an alternative way of presenting outcomes, one which would allow different groups to take up different responsibilities and assemble them in a final group activity.