You’re out in the snow. There’s a trail of footprints. What do you do? Do you follow them? Who do you think made these footprints? Where are they going?
Once, I thought I saw footprints in the snow on the roof of the building across from where I lived in Stockholm, Sweden. When I looked closer, I realised the ‘footprints’ were just scuffs made by crows, or the wind. But I started thinking, what if they were real? What if footprints began to appear magically and disappear in the snow? What if a snow angel materialised out of thin air? … That was the starting point for my book The Sky Over Rebecca.
Let’s think about snow for a moment...
Snow is a wonderful place for a story. It’s wonderful because of all the things that can go horribly wrong. You can freeze to death; you can be buried under an avalanche; you can fall through the ice on a frozen lake; you can be attacked by wolves; you can be eaten by bears. Help may be very far away, even if you’ve got your phone with you.
But snow also reveals: there are footprints in snow. People and animals leave tracks; everything that moves makes its mark. It means you can follow a trail of footprints, but you can also be followed. It means if there are two people out there in the snow, they’re going to meet, and we’re going to find out who they are.
Something else about snow: it reveals character.
The choices people make when they’re out in the cold tell us a lot about who they are. The decisions they make – to go this way or that, to follow these footprints or to head home – show us what they want, and what they need. And when things then go horribly wrong – as they might – how people behave tells us who they really are.
Are they brave? Are they clever? Do they try to help others? Do they run? We don’t know the answers to these questions yet. All we have right now is a trail of footprints in the snow. We want to know who made them. We want to know who we would meet if we followed them. Let’s go into the world of the story and have a look around.
It’s snowing. Where are we? (This is the fun bit, by the way. We’re just playing with possibilities here). Are we in a real place, or an imaginary one? We could be in Svalbard (the setting for some of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights), or Sweden (the setting for my book, The Sky Over Rebecca), or in a completely made up world like Narnia (the setting for C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Are we on Earth, or a distant, frozen planet?
And when are we? Is it the present day, or the distant past of twelve thousand years ago, during the last ice age? Are we in the future? If so, are we a hundred years in the future, or a hundred thousand years in the future? Now, about these footprints in the snow. Who do they belong to? A homeless person? A missing person? A refugee? A ghost? A time traveller? Are there other tracks in the snow? Wolf tracks? Bear tracks? Is there blood in the snow?
A story can go in a thousand directions from a single starting point. You have to choose the one you want to write. It’s usually the one you like the best, the one you find most exciting. I chose to write about a girl called Kara, who notices strange footprints in the snow. Nobody else notices these tracks – only Kara, and she notices them because she’s lonely. She’s by herself a lot of the time, exploring the woods by the frozen lake. She spends more time with nature and books than she does with other people. She’s like me, when I was her age, with all my hopes and fears and worries and nervousness. Except she’s braver than me: she follows the footprints in the snow, and meets a girl called Rebecca, who (it turns out) is a refugee from another time. Rebecca is sort of Kara’s opposite: she’s strong, driven, and brave; she rescues Kara from loneliness, and makes her braver than before.
Here are three tips to keep in mind when you’re writing your story:
- Use Your Eyes and Ears-
Imagine you’re in the world of the story. Tell us what you see. Tell us about the landscape. Is it snow and mountains as far the eye can see? Are there trees? Do you see a thin trickle of smoke rising beyond the trees? Is there a log cabin? Is it day or night? Can you see the skyglow of a distant city? What about the footprints in the snow – are the large or small? Were they made by an adult or a child? And tell us what you hear. Can you hear your own feet going crunch-crunch-crunch in the snow? Can you hear crows, cawing? Can you hear someone calling for help? What else do you feel or sense? How cold is it, really? How long can you stay out here before you have to find warmth and shelter?
- Keep it Simple-
Don’t make your story too complicated. If you’ve got a boy in a forest with a robot and a bear, you probably don’t need to add an alien and a tank. If you’ve got a girl on a mountain with a wolf – who’s also her best friend – that may be enough. The main thing is that readers can understand what’s happening in your story. Walk the reader through it, step by step.
- And if you get stuck…-
Relax. Take a break. Go for a brisk walk. Sleep on it. You’ll find the idea you need to finish your story will turn up.
Matthew created a fun writing challenge to celebrate the release of 'The Sky Over Rebecca' and you can even win a copy. We’re asking you to create a short story or poem inspired by ‘footprints in the snow’, easy! Email your entries to [email protected] before 23:59 on April 26th 2022 to be in with your shot of winning. Full T&Cs at the bottom of the blog.
- Three copies of 'The Sky Over Rebecca’ will be awarded to three entries picked at random (one entry per person)
- Only open to children aged between 5 and 18
- Delivery to one UK address only
- Entries must be sent to [email protected] before 23:59 on April 26th 2022
- No correspondence will be entered into regarding the winner
- By entering you automatically agree to these terms
- Writers must create a short story or poem based on the inspiration of 'footprints in the snow' to be considered