500 words

The 500 word short story competition is once more open for entries.

In the past these stories have been one of the sources used by the lexicographers of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The words used in these stories are one of the sources for the words that are chosen for inclusion in the dictionary.

There’s an online petition to restore the ‘nature words’ removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

Now, one way to restore these words, perhaps the best way, is to get the words back into the hearts, the mouths and the minds of children. Perhaps by using The Lost Words as a catalyst for the 500 word story competition. Because it is the frequency of the appearance of words in these stories that shapes the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

The seeds of the Lost Words began with a letter, sent to the dictionary, to question the editorial decision of the lexicographers. This letter highlighted a problem that has been growing in our population. As a child I remember being shocked that my contemporaries couldn’t recognise a wood pigeon from a wren. All this life around us, and to some one tree looks just the same as another. Why does this matter? Well, I think Robert Macfarlane says it best in the Newsnight program. It’s about knowing and naming.

And rather than continue to petition the dictionary, who defended their decision, our hope is that we could make a book that would enchant the mind and eye and bring these words back to heart and mind and mouth.

500 words, in stories. I wonder. At a time when children can name more Pokemon characters than they can British Wildlife, can we change this? Pokemon cost money, watching wildlife is free. Listening to the song of birds, is free. 

And it’s not a case of city versus countryside. On Saturday morning I woke in a hotel room in London near Kingscross. The first sound I heard was a blackbird singing the light into the world. On the train journey home, glancing out from the train window I saw a peregrine hunting two rooks against the background of a brutal factory wall, near Bicester. At Bicester Station a family of long-tiled tits gathered in a silver birch tree, so delicate. It still held gold leaves on its dark twigs. Last summer, in the heart of Edinburgh, I watched a family of bluetits clinging to a highrise in a rainstorm. We live surrounded by wildness, and all we need to do is open our eyes, to see, to look up from the screens that increasingly dominate our lives.

So, if you are a teacher then enter your children into the 500 word story competition. It’s a great way to get them writing. Frank Cotterrell-Boyce is giving great writing tips on twitter. And perhaps introduce them to other ways of seeing, using Robert Macfarlane’s words.

Don’t force, just plant the seeds and see if they grow. Rewild the mind of the child.

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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7 Responses to 500 words

  1. Jane Smelt says:

    Thank you for highlighting this. I find it hard to believe, at one level, but at another level I don’t. Words are food for the soul, and we are becoming progressively soul less with the growth of technology. I will be buying your book for various children I know.

  2. Bernie Bell says:

    Hello people
    I don’t do Twitter, so can’t respond to Dan Jones directly, so am hi-jacking Jackie’s blog – again. The text I’d recommend is ‘Ayres Rock’ by Charles P. Mountford, and the following ramble, indicates why………….I wrote this to someone,, a few years ago……..

    “I’m reading a book called ‘Ayres Rock’ by Charles P. Mountford, about Ayres Rock. The way that the aborigines see the rock itself, and associated boulders and landscape, puts me in mind of maybe how the ancient peoples here viewed Hoy Hills, and the stones and sites here, and other hills and stones, in other places, for that matter. I know they’re separated by water, and the Ayres Rock ones, aren’t, but it all looks very similar, to me. I won’t go on about it, it would be easiest, if you’re interested, to have a look at the book yourself, though, for all I know, you may be familiar with it. It’s very interesting, and, well, they were, and still are, a ‘stone age’ people, but they’re alive today.
    One thing I will ramble about, a bit, is the cave paintings. In this book, there are some copies of some of the cave paintings. If you look at them, they’re pretty in-comprehensible. Not the straight forward, ‘man-with-a-stick-chasing bison’ sort of thing, just loads of squiggles and roundy bits and lines, very like if you look at some of the carved stones at Newgrange and Knowth. BUT, the difference is, today, there are still aboriginal people around, who can explain the stories on the stones. Whether those ‘stories’ are creation myths, or calendars of the movements of the sun and moon, or whatever, the stones, whether painted, or carved, are telling ‘stories’ , passing on information, but the aborigines are still there to ‘tell the tale’, and, unfortunately, the ancient peoples, aren’t. What we need is a ‘Stig’, of the dump, that is, not the strange being from ‘Top Gear’!
    Or maybe you’ve noticed all this already? You probably have. Here are a few ‘snippets’ from the book, to catch your interest…………………….

    “The mythical stories of the Pitjandjara link them closely to their environment. They do not consider themselves the “Lords of Creation”, but part of creation itself. The great creators of the animals, the birds, the plants and the topography of the tribal lands, were also the progenitors of the aborigines who live in that country; the same life essence (kurunba) left behind by those creators to vitalize all living things also provides the aborigines with vitality. The aborigines believe that they are an integral part of the life around them, no greater and no less than any of it’s component parts.”

    “These great creators of the aborigines’ land, were, at the same time, the forebears of the tribe; so that there are aborigines of the carpet-snake, hare-wallaby, sleepy-lizard, marsupial mole, willy-wagtail totems, and so on, all of whom believe that they are the direct descendants of one or another of he tjukurapa heroes of the long-distant past. Since everyone claims descent from these mythical beings, and each, in turn, lives in the land created by his immediate progenitor, it follows that every man, woman and child is linked, both by myth and genealogy, with his tribal country.”

    “Ollier and Tuddenham also point out that the rock, owing to the spalling of small flakes from it’s surface, is continually sloughing off skins of equal thickness.” ( Shedding it’s skin, just like we do! a living rock, indeed)

    They have a belief that rubbing or touching certain stones and boulders, ‘awakens’ the life essence, with differing applications, to improve hunting, to help reproduction, both for people and animals. I can’t find the bit about that! but this is one of the bits relating to that………

    ” Other informants claimed that the carpet-snake stones at Kuniapiti were somewhat different from the increase stones elsewhere, for example, those of the sleepy-lizard. They explained that before the men went out hunting on a hot morning, they rubbed the Kunia stones, chanting a special song. This ceremony, called luru-bunangi, would wake up the life essence, Kununba, of carpet-snakes in the stone, which, in turn would go out and cause the carpet-snakes to leave their holes and wander about, thus making it easier for the hunters to catch them.”

    People still have the impulse to touch and rub the stones, today, both at Ayres rock, and Brodgar/Stenness! You get the idea. Or, as I said before, maybe this is all very much old news to you? I don’t know, so I thought it was worth mentioning it to you. All in the cause of trying to clarify what may have happened, and how they may have seen it all. The aborigines, are still living it, in so many ways. Or, they were, when Mr. Mountford wrote his book, as it’s now a Reserve, and a tourist destination, can the people still inter-act with the Rock itself, and the stones and places around it, as they used to? Again, look what happened at Newgrange, and what does happen in the name of conserving a place, it actually loses it’s original purpose, people aren’t ‘allowed’. Rant, Rant, Rant.
    Maybe of interest, maybe nothing new at all. It was new to me, and ties up sooooooo much, I think, with the sites and stones, here. As you know, I think that Hoy Hills, over-looking all, were/are very significant indeed.”

    • Kate says:

      Uluru is its correct name – and for many years the elders have been asking visitors to show respect by not climbing it. Those who ‘get’ the power of Uluru have observed this request – unfortunately, too many have ignored it, claiming that it is their ‘right’ to climb the rock (and leave their rubbish, and urine, etc up there – for them, it’s much more about ‘conquering’ the Rock rather than, as for those who visit Brodgar, for instance, getting in ‘touch’ with the stones). It is perfectly possible to walk around the base, on your own or with an Aboriginal guide – and there is much to see and experience; but from October 2019 the traditional owners will ban tourists from climbing : article by one of the traditional owners here: https://theconversation.com/why-we-are-banning-tourists-from-climbing-uluru-86755 p.s. can’t wait to get 500 words!

      • Bernie Bell says:

        Some people prefer to conquer, than connect.
        When they go there, it might help them. Begin as a conqueror, end up connecting, as Peter Scott did, with the birds he hunted.
        I do believe this to be possible – by going there, they may learn, their eyes might open and they might connect.
        I am of a hopeful disposition – have to be.

        • Bernie Bell says:

          PS The question is – who do you allow, and who do you not allow? I believe that part of the idea, is for people to inter-act with the stones, and the places. It is a thorny question, a very thorny question, and one that I don’t know the answer to. Do you not allow at all? allow some ( in which case, who?) or let these places be despoiled by those who are there for reasons other than ………connection? A very thorny question.
          In the case of Uluru – the original people of the area are still there, still have their beliefs, and do have a right to say. I’d doubt that they’d claim that the place is ‘theirs’, but they are it’s guardians and custodians, so, they can make the decisions. Most places, now, that isn’t the case, and it’s down to such as Historic Environment Scotland or their ilk. A very thorny question.

  3. Dan jones says:

    Thanks for the response Bernie. Very kind and very useful. I’ll track a copy down. All the best
    Dan

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