Friday, 25 October 2013

25/10/13 - Nippers' Nighttimes

I have a little daughter. You may be aware of this, I talk about her a lot. She's pretty much the coolest thing I've ever made. Unbelievably, she's nineteen months old now; parents always say 'oh, they grow up so fast, where does the time go?' and it's totally true.
Anyway, when we first learned that my wife was pregnant back in 2011, I decided to write a book. A book of short stories, cheerful tales that I could read to my offspring - a book just for him or her, something special that we could share together. I got scribbling right away, with the intention of creating ten or twelve stories to combine into something that I'd call 'Nippers' Nighttimes' (subheading: 'Whimsical tales for sleepyheads'). Anyway, with life being busy and whatever, I wrote two stories. Just two. I kept meaning to write more, but I didn't get round to it. And then I forgot about the whole thing.
But these days my baby girl is getting more and more interested in books. Sure, the stories I wrote are far too long for her at this age - I was aiming for something I could read to her when she was, say, three or four, so I've still got plenty of time! - but I think I should probably rekindle the enthusiasm at some point and actually finish the book. So this week's JuicyPips is an opinion-gathering exercise, really... what follows are the two existing Nippers' Nighttimes in full. What do you think? Any good? Or a bit rubbish?

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The ship in the desert.

Edgar was a short, hairy boy who lived in a house in a forest. It was a huge, lush forest full of fruit trees and sunbeams. His floppy fringe kept the sun from his face as he munched on tasty strawberries and squishy blackberries. The house had three bedrooms, and he lived with his two best friends in the whole world, Cluster and Ferrous. Cluster was a bald Egyptian pussy-cat who liked nothing more than to roll around in the glade, with dappled sunlight playing on his skin. Ferrous was a large paperclip who worked for an accountancy firm in Forest City – he worked hard to pay for the house in the forest, getting up every day before the sun rose and not getting home till after dark. But he was happy to do it, because he loved living with Edgar and Cluster. (He thought it was hilarious that Edgar was so very hairy for a young boy, while Cluster should have been hairy, being a cat, but wasn’t at all! Maybe that’s why they were such great friends.)
Edgar and Cluster would happily spend their days investigating the forest and discovering exciting and exotic fruits, although they liked it best on weekends when Ferrous could come to play too. Once on a happy Tuesday they’d discovered a pineapple as big as Edgar’s head, but by the time Ferrous got home they’d eaten it all up. Whoopsie!

One summer morning, the three of them had all been enjoying a lie-in, and were looking forward to some delicious banana pancakes. Edgar was first to open his eyes and – oh no! – he wasn’t in his bedroom at all. He was outside! His friends were out there too. This was all very unusual. ‘Wake up, wake up!’, he shouted, ‘we fell asleep in the forest!’. It was most confusing. They knew for a fact that they’d all gone to sleep in their beds, because they’d been up late the night before playing gooseberry backgammon.  What had happened?
They spent a little while scratching their heads. They wandered around the glade, looking for clues. Ferrous had a little nap, to see if he could dream up an answer. In the end, Cluster realised that they were standing on the very spot where their house should be – it had vanished! How strange. And then he found a clue: a little pile of sand. There were more sand-piles leading from the edge of the glade and into the forest. They decided to follow the trail. After all, this must surely lead them to their wayward house, right?

The trail led them deeper and deeper through the trees, past the cheerful boughs they usually swung from when searching for mangos and lychees, beyond the shadowy orange trees and ever deeper, into a dark part of the forest that was as black as night. Ferrous kept getting caught on creepers because, being a paperclip, he had quite a pointy face, so his friends had to be careful that they kept an eye on him in the gloom.
After what seemed like miles and miles, Edgar held up his hand. ‘Wait!’, he cried, ‘I saw something glinting!’. I know what you’re thinking. Nothing could be glinting in all that darkness, could it? But sure enough, it was. A ray of light was reflecting from Cluster’s shiny cat eyes. They must have reached the edge of the forest!
They pushed their way through a thick grapevine and, blinking in the bright light, saw something they’d never seen before, not even in Forest City: they saw somewhere that didn’t have any grass! In fact, there were no plants at all. What they were looking at was a vast desert, stretching as far as the eye could see. This must have been where all that sand was coming from!

Filling Edgar’s knapsack with limes and pomegranates, they took their first steps out of the forest and into the unknown wilderness of warm sand. They were a little frightened, but more than anything they were hot. So very, very hot! There was nowhere to hide from the sun, and they trudged through the endless sand for hours, occasionally resting to squirt lime juice into each other’s mouths to keep their fluid levels up.
After some time, Cluster pawed his way over a particularly tall sand dune to find something unexpected: a huge ship. He rubbed his eyes in bewilderment (immediately wishing he hadn’t, as his paws were covered in sand and lime juice – ouch!) but he wasn’t seeing things; there really was a ship there. He’d never seen one before – none of them had – but it was obvious what it was. You know what a big boat looks like, don’t you? Everyone does, even fruity forest folk. Well, this was almost as confusing as their house having disappeared. How did a massive ship get into the desert? Ships travel on water, and there wasn’t any water for miles around! The three friends chewed on some juicy pomegranate pips while they tried to figure it out.
After much head-scratching, they decided to climb inside the ship and see what they could discover. Edgar gave Ferrous a bunk-up first (it was harder for him to climb, because he didn’t have any arms), and then he and Cluster crawled up onto the deck. There was something very strange about the ship. Shouldn’t it have been made of iron or some other sturdy metal? You would think so, wouldn’t you? But no, this ship was made entirely out of tasty gingerbread. How odd! Gingerbread isn’t waterproof at all – this adventure was getting stranger and stranger.

They climbed into the little room that contained the steering wheel, which Ferrous told is friends was called ‘the bridge’. (One of his colleagues at the accountancy firm had a boat, so Ferrous felt that his knowledge of boats was the most impressive at that point. He was probably right.) There were all sorts of maps and plans scattered about the room, as well as a compass made of gumdrops and a number of candy-cane levers. This ship was not as healthy as their forest! Maybe that’s why it had fallen over and was lying on its side…? 
Edgar absent-mindedly span the steering wheel, which was a large chocolate digestive, while he peered out over the deck. All of a sudden, the room began to spiral and twirl, with a million flashing rainbows shooting from the wheel and into their eyes. Scary, eh? It was like being on the spinning teacups at the fairground, except that there seemed to be no way to stop it! Cluster used his strong hind legs to pounce on the wheel, but it couldn’t be stopped. The bridge span faster and faster until they were all so discombobulated, they didn’t know where they stopped and their friends began!
…and then, POP! The bright colours, the endless sand, the spiralling gingerbread – it all vanished in the blink of an eye, and Edgar, Cluster and Ferrous found themselves back in their house in the forest, sitting around the breakfast table, a pile of yummy banana pancakes on a big plate in front of them.
You see, while they were playing gooseberry backgammon the night before, they had all been enjoying the spicy rhubarb punch that Edgar had brewed for them. And you should be careful with spicy rhubarb punch. It makes your brain go funny.

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Racing Peas.

Harold and Pinto were cheerful little millipedes. They lived together in a cabbage patch in the shade of a mighty oak tree. They loved to eat cabbage soup because it gave them lots of energy for racing, and racing was their favourite thing in the world. Because they had so very many legs – about a million each, give or take – they could run extremely fast. All of the other insects in the patch were jealous of their speed, and would crowd around the sundial at noon, which was when they liked to run every day. (Not many vegetable patches have a sundial, so Harold and Pinto and their friends were extremely lucky to have one just outside the shade of the oak tree; they always knew when it was precisely noon!)
It was a happy life of soup and racing, soup and racing. But one day, some beetles moved into the neighbouring patch and turned their lives upside down...

Now, don’t be concerned about the beetles – they were absolutely lovely, and became excellent neighbours and firm friends with the millipedes and their chums. But what they brought with them stopped all of the running in one fell swoop: they brought pea pods.
You see, pea pods make excellent race cars. And before the beetles arrived, the millipedes didn’t know anything about race cars They just liked to run. But they heard the popping and banging of vegetable engines from over the fence, their curiosity got the better of them, and they had to take a look. The beetles were racing their pea pods around at crazy speeds! Harold and Pinto had never seen anything like it. The speed, the noise, the smoke, the excitement – it made their running races seem a little, well, boring.

As the days passed, Harold and Pinto found themselves spending more and more time with the beetles, learning all about building fast pea pod racers and how best to drive them. It was funny for the beetles to see the millipedes driving their cars, because they had to sit the wrong way up! Beetles can lie on their backs to drive pea pods, operating the pedals with their feet and steering with their hands in front of their chests. But millipedes are a totally different shape – they can’t lie on their backs to drive because they wouldn’t be able to see past the forest of wavy legs! So the beetles helped them to make special race cars out of sugarsnap pea pods that were longer and rounder. They taught them about using different kinds of peas for wheels (small ones for better acceleration, large ones for higher top speed), how to make harnesses out of grapevines to keep them safe if anything went wrong, and how to make racing suspension out of leaves. There was a lot to learn! But Harold and Pinto loved to play in the beetle garage. It was their new favourite thing. They were addicted to the thrill of speed!

The other insects in the cabbage patch were starting to get a bit bored after the first couple of weeks. They loved the midday running races because it gave their day a nice structure – they knew that they’d be seeing all of their friends at that time, cheering on whichever millipede they fancied to win that day. Without the races, they were a little bit sad. But soon enough, Harold and Pinto had put in enough work to build a super-fast pea pod racer each. They’d made sure that they had plenty of practise, so that they could race the cars safely as well as quickly. And one day, at noon, they wheeled their pea pods down to the sundial and called out to their insect friends. ‘Cooee!’, hollered Harold. ‘We’re ready to race!’, shouted Pinto. Well, this was very exciting news for all of their friends! They swarmed to the sundial in double-quick time, bringing along their Harold flags and their Pinto posters. What a day!

The two pea pods lined up together at the base of the sundial, facing down the old running track. ‘On your marks,’ cried an ant, ‘get set, GO!’
They zoomed off around the track, weaving left and right around the cabbages, sliding in the dust and going NEEEEEEYOOOOWWM! Harold’s pea pod was the faster of the two, so he would pull ahead on the straights, but Pinto had put more thought into his suspension, so he could go around the corners faster and catch up. They whizzed, they vroomed, they screeched and growled and rasped, and crossed the finish line neck and neck. It was a dead heat! All of the other insects were very excited by this thrilling new sport. The next day they brought picnics along and made a day of it – the sunshine, the pea pod racing… it was heaven. Everybody was so happy.

But one day, a week or so later, the beetles turned up to the race with a new racer. It wasn’t small and nimble like the millipedes’ pods; it was a great big bruiser of a thing, made of lots of pea pods stitched together. And it wasn’t powered by peas either. It had a huge tomato for an engine! Now, tomatoes are cheeky vegetables because they’re actually fruit, technically. And because they’re fruit, they’re stuffed with sugar, and sugar gives you energy. This was one powerful race car!
The beetles challenged Harold and Pinto to a race. They were all still friends of course, but the millipedes felt a little intimidated by this massive race car. How could they possibly win?

They all lined up by the sundial, the light glinting off their cars’ green bonnets. ‘Ready, steady, GO!’ The beetles’ car pounced into the lead immediately, leaving Harold and Pinto driving through a cloud of dust. They drove as fast as they could to keep up, but they just couldn’t see where they were going.
Up ahead, the beetles were having a bit of trouble. They’d spent so long spannering together a car that would go fast, they hadn’t given any thought to how they might stop it. Faster and faster they went, and they could see a sharp corner coming up – how would they slow down in time? Well, they couldn’t – their little carrot-top brakes just weren’t strong enough. They went ploughing straight on at the corner, tumbled over a particularly bushy cabbage and landed in a crumpled heap in the neighbouring cauliflower patch, their enormous race car in a thousand broken pieces around them.
Harold and Pinto still couldn’t see through the dust cloud, and they didn’t see the corner coming either; driving blind, they lost their bearings completely, and they too overshot the corner, bounced over the mighty cabbage and crashed into the wreckage of the beetles’ tomato racer. There were bits of pea pod everywhere.

All of the insects ran to the scene to see if anybody was hurt. Thankfully, apart from the odd scuffed knee and bruised elbow, everybody was alright. But that was the last day that the millipedes raced in their pea pods. The beetles carried on developing their race cars next door, experimenting with turnip power and broccoli brakes, but Harold and Pinto decided not to rebuild their pea pod racers. It was much safer to pull on their running shoes and jog around on their many, many legs!








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