‘Looking for Alibrandi’ by Melina Marchetta

Panic was my first reaction to the multiple choice options which lay on my desk in front of me. I glanced at the students around me before turning back to question three. I hated multiple choice. Yet I didn’t want to get question three wrong. I didn’t want to get any of them wrong. The outcome would be too devastating for my sense of being.

 

So I began with elimination. ‘D’ was completely out of the question as was ‘A’, so that left ‘B’ and ‘C’. I pondered both for quite a while and just as I was about to make my final decision I heard my name being called.

“Josephine?”

“Huh?”

“I think you mean ‘I beg your pardon’ don’t you, dear?”

“I beg your pardon, Sister.”
“What are you doing? You’re reading, aren’t you, young lady?”

“Um… yeah.”
“Um, yeah? Excellent, Josephine. I can see you walking away with the English prize this year. Now stand up.”

***

So my final school year began. I had promised myself that I would be a saint for this year alone. I would make the greatest impression on my teachers and become the model student. I knew it would all fail. But just not on the first day.

 

Sister Gregory walked towards me and when she was so close that I could see her moustache, she held out her hand.

“Show me what you’re reading.”

I handed it to her and watched her mouth purse itself together and her nostrils flare in triumph because she knew she was going to get me.

She skimmed it and then handed it back to me. I could feel my heart beating fast.

“Read from where you were up to.”

I picked up the magazine and cleared my throat.

“‘What kind of a friend are you?'” I read from Hot Pants magazine.

She looked at me pointedly.

“‘You are at a party’,” I began with a sigh, “‘and your best friend’s good-looking, wealthy and successful boyfriend tries to make a pass. Do you: A – Smile obligingly and steal away into the night via the back door; B – Throw your cocktail all over his Country Road suit; C – Quietly explain the loyalty you have towards your friend; D – Tell your friend instantly, knowing that she will make a scene’.”

You can understand, now, why I found it hard to pick between ‘B’ and ‘C’.

“May I ask what this magazine has to do with my religion class, Miss?”

“Religion?”

“Yes, dear,” she continued in her sickeningly sarcastic tone. “The one we are in now.”

“Well… quite a lot, Sister.”

I heard snickers around me as I tried to make up as much as I could along the way.

 

Religion class, first period Monday morning, is the place to try to pull the wool over the eyes of Sister Gregory. (She kept her male saint’s name although the custom went out years ago. She probably thinks it will get her into heaven. I don’t think she realises that feminism has hit religion and that the female saints in heaven are probably also in revolt.)

“Would you like to explain yourself, Josephine?”

I looked around the classroom watching everyone shrugging almost sympathetically.

They thought I was beaten.

“We were talking about the Bible, right?”

“I personally think that you don’t know what we’ve been talking about, Josephine. I think you’re trying to fool me.”
The nostrils flared again.

 

Sister Gregory is famous for nostril-flaring. Once I commented to someone that she must have been a horse in another life. She overheard and scolded me, saying that, as a Catholic, I shouldn’t believe in reincarnation.

 

“Fool you, Sister? Oh, no. It’s just that while you were speaking I remembered the magazine. You were talking about today’s influences that affect our Christian lives, right?”

Anna, one of my best friends, turned to face me and nodded slightly.

“And?”

“Well, Sister, this magazine is a common example,” I said, picking it up and showing everyone. “It’s full of rubbish. It’s full of questionnaires that insult our intelligence. Do you think they have articles titled ‘Are you a good Christian?’ or ‘Do you love your neighbour?’. No. They have articles titled ‘Do you love your sex life?’ knowing quite well that the average age of the reader is fourteen. Or ‘Does size count?’ and let me assure you, Sister, they are not referring to his height.”

 

“I brought this magazine in today, Sister, to speak to everyone about how insulted we are as teenagers and how important it is that we think for ourselves and not through magazines that exploit us under the guise of educating us.”
Sera, another friend of mine, poked her fingers down her mouth as if she was going to vomit.

 

Sister and I stared at each other for a long time before she held out her hand again. I passed the magazine to her knowing she hadn’t been fooled.

“You can pick it up from Sister Louise,” she said, referring to the principal.

The bell rang and I packed my books quickly, wanting to escape her icy look.

 

“You’re full of it,” Sera said as we walked out. “And you owe me a magazine.”

I threw my books into my locker and ignored everyone’s sarcasm.

“Well, what was it?” Lee grinned. “A, B, C, or D?”

“I would have gone with him,” Sera said, spraying half a can of hairspray around her gelled hair.

“Sera, if they jailed people for ruining the ozone layer, you’d get life,” I told her, turning back to Lee. “I was going to go for the cocktail on the Country Road suit.”

The second bell for our next class rang and with a sigh I made another pledge to myself that I would be a saint. On the whole I make plenty of pledges that I don’t keep.

 

 

YOUR TASK: Choose one section (e.g. the introduction with the magazine, or the discussion with Sister Gregory) to rewrite in PRESENT tense.

‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck

They had walked in single file down the path, and even in the open one stayed behind the other. Both were dressed in denim trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons. Both wore black, shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls slung over their shoulders. The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose. Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, and wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung

loosely.
The first man stopped short in the clearing, and the follower nearly ran over him. He took off his hat and wiped the sweat-band with his forefinger and snapped the moisture off. His huge companion dropped his blankets and flung himself down and drank from the surface of the green pool; drank with long gulps, snorting into the water like a horse. The small man stepped nervously beside him.
“Lennie!” he said sharply. “Lennie, for God’ sakes don’t drink so much.” Lennie continued to snort into the pool. The small man leaned over and shook him by the shoulder. “Lennie. You gonna be sick like you was last night.” Lennie dipped his whole head under, hat and all, and then he sat up on the bank and his hat dripped down on his blue coat and ran down his back. “That’s good,” he said. “You drink some, George. You take a good big drink.” He smiled happily.
George unslung his bindle and dropped it gently on the bank. “I ain’t sure it’s good water,” he said. “Looks kinda scummy.” Lennie dabbled his big paw in the water and wiggled his fingers so the water arose in little splashes; rings widened across the pool to the other side and came back again. Lennie watched them go. “Look, George. Look what I done.”
George knelt beside the pool and drank from his hand with quick scoops. “Tastes all right,” he admitted. “Don’t really seem to be running, though. You never oughta drink water when it ain’t running, Lennie,” he said hopelessly. “You’d drink out of a gutter if you was thirsty.” He threw a scoop of water into his face and rubbed it about with his hand, under his chin and around the back of his neck. Then he replaced his hat, pushed himself back from the river, drew up his knees and embraced them. Lennie, who had been watching, imitated George exactly. He pushed himself back, drew up his knees, embraced them, looked over to George to see whether he had it just right. He pulled his hat
down a little more over his eyes, the way George’s hat was.
***

George looked sharply at him. “What’d you take outa that pocket?”

“Ain’t a thing in my pocket,” Lennie said cleverly.
“I know there ain’t. You got it in your hand. What you got in your hand—hidin’ it?”
“I ain’t got nothin’, George. Honest.”
“Come on, give it here.”
Lennie held his closed hand away from George’s direction. “It’s on’y a mouse, George.”
“A mouse? A live mouse?”
“Uh-uh. Jus’ a dead mouse, George. I didn’t kill it. Honest! I found it. I found it dead.”
“Give it here!” said George.
“Aw, leave me have it, George.”
“Give it here!”
Lennie’s closed hand slowly obeyed. George took the mouse and threw it across the pool to the other side, among the brush. “What you want of a dead mouse, anyways?”
“I could pet it with my thumb while we walked along,” said Lennie.
“Well, you ain’t petting no mice while you walk with me. You remember where we’re goin’ now?”
Lennie looked startled and then in embarrassment hid his face against his knees. “I forgot again.”
***

Lennie got up on his knees and looked down at George. “Ain’t we gonna have no supper?”
“Sure we are, if you gather up some dead willow sticks. I got three cans of beans in my bindle. You get a fire ready. I’ll give you a match when you get the sticks together. Then we’ll heat the beans and have supper.”
Lennie said, “I like beans with ketchup.”
“Well, we ain’t got no ketchup. You go get wood. An’ don’t you fool around. It’ll be dark before long.” Lennie lumbered to his feet and disappeared in the brush. George lay where he was and whistled softly to himself. There were sounds of splashings down the river in the direction Lennie had taken. George stopped whistling and listened. “Poor bastard,” he said softly, and then went on whistling again. In a moment Lennie came crashing back through the brush. He carried one small willow stick in his hand. George sat up. “Awright,” he said brusquely. “Gi’me that mouse!”
But Lennie made an elaborate pantomime of innocence. “What mouse, George? I ain’t got no mouse.” George held out his hand. “Come on. Give it to me. You ain’t puttin’ nothing over.” Lennie hesitated, backed away, looked wildly at the brush line as though he contemplated running for his freedom.
George said coldly, “You gonna give me that mouse or do I have to sock you?”
“Give you what, George?”
“You know God damn well what. I want that mouse.”
Lennie reluctantly reached into his pocket. His voice broke a little. “I don’t know why I can’t keep it. It ain’t nobody’s mouse. I didn’t steal it. I found it lyin’ right beside the road.” George’s hand remained outstretched imperiously. Slowly, like a terrier who doesn’t want to bring a ball to its master, Lennie approached, drew back, approached again. George snapped his fingers sharply, and at the sound Lennie laid the mouse in his hand. “I wasn’t doin’ nothing bad with it, George. Jus’ strokin’ it.”
George stood up and threw the mouse as far as he could into the darkening brush, and then he stepped to the pool and washed his hands. “You crazy fool. Don’t you think I could see your feet was wet where you went acrost the river to get it?” He heard Lennie’s whimpering cry and wheeled about. “Blubberin’ like a baby! Jesus Christ! A big guy like you.” Lennie’s lip quivered and tears started in his eyes. “Aw, Lennie!” George put his hand on Lennie’s shoulder. “I ain’t takin’ it away jus’ for meanness. That mouse ain’t fresh, Lennie; and besides, you’ve broke it pettin’ it. You get another mouse that’s fresh and I’ll let you keep it a little while.”
Lennie sat down on the ground and hung his head dejectedly. “I don’t know where there is no other mouse. I remember a lady used to give ‘em to me—ever’ one she got. But that lady ain’t here.” George scoffed. “Lady, huh? Don’t even remember who that lady was. That was your own Aunt Clara. An’ she stopped givin’ ‘em to ya. You always killed ‘em.” Lennie looked sadly up at him. “They was so little,” he said, apologetically. “I’d pet ‘em, and pretty soon they bit my fingers and I pinched their heads a little and then they was dead—because they was so little. I wisht we’d get the rabbits pretty soon, George. They ain’t so little.”
“The hell with the rabbits. An’ you ain’t to be trusted with no live mice. Your Aunt Clara give you a rubber mouse and you wouldn’t have nothing to do with it.”
“It wasn’t no good to pet,” said Lennie.
***
George undid his bindle and brought out three cans of beans. He stood them about the fire, close in against the blaze, but not quite touching the flame. “There’s enough beans for four men,” George said. Lennie watched him from over the fire. He said patiently, “I like ‘em with ketchup.”

“Well, we ain’t got any,” George exploded. “Whatever we ain’t got, that’s what you want. God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an’ work, an’ no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want. Why, I could stay in a cat house all night. I could eat any place I want, hotel or any place, and order any damn thing I could think of. An’ I could do all that every damn month. Get a gallon of whisky, or set in a pool room and play cards or shoot pool.” Lennie knelt and looked over the fire at the angry George. And Lennie’s face was drawn with terror. “An’ whatta I got,” George went on furiously. “I got you! You can’t keep a job and you lose me ever’ job I get. Jus’ keep me shovin’ all over the country all the time. An’ that ain’t the worst. You get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out.” His voice rose nearly to a shout. “You crazy son-of-a-bitch. You keep me in hot
water all the time.”
He took on the elaborate manner of little girls when they are mimicking one another. “Jus’ wanted to feel that girl’s dress—jus’ wanted to pet it like it was a mouse—Well, how the hell did she know you jus’ wanted to feel her dress? She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin’ for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outa the country. All the time somethin’ like that—all the time. I wisht I could put you in a cage with about a million mice an’ let you have fun.”
His anger left him suddenly. He looked across the fire at Lennie’s anguished face, and then he looked ashamedly at the flames. It was quite dark now, but the fire lighted the trunks of the trees and the curving branches overhead. Lennie crawled slowly and cautiously around the
fire until he was close to George. He sat back on his heels. George turned the bean cans so that another side faced the fire. He pretended to be unaware of Lennie so close beside him.
“George,” very softly. No answer. “George!”
“Whatta you want?”
“I was only foolin’, George. I don’t want no ketchup. I wouldn’t eat no ketchup if it was right here beside me.”
“If it was here, you could have some.”
“But I wouldn’t eat none, George. I’d leave it all for you. You could cover your beans with it and I wouldn’t touch none of it.”
George still stared morosely at the fire. “When I think of the swell time I could have without you, I go nuts. I never get no peace.”
Lennie still knelt. He looked off into the darkness across the river. “George, you want I should go away and leave you alone?”
“Where the hell could you go?”
“Well, I could. I could go off in the hills there. Some place I’d find a cave.”
“Yeah? How’d you eat? You ain’t got sense enough to find nothing to eat.”
“I’d find things, George. I don’t need no nice food with ketchup. I’d lay out in the sun and nobody’d hurt me. An’ if I foun’ a mouse, I could keep it. Nobody’d take it away from me.”
George looked quickly and searchingly at him. “I been mean, ain’t I?”
“If you don’ want me I can go off in the hills an’ find a cave. I can go away any time.”
“No—look! I was jus’ foolin’, Lennie. ‘Cause I want you to stay with me. Trouble with mice is you always kill ‘em.” He paused. “Tell you what I’ll do, Lennie. First chance I get I’ll give you a pup. Maybe you wouldn’t kill it. That’d be better than mice. And you could pet it harder.”
Lennie avoided the bait. He had sensed his advantage. “If you don’t want me, you only jus’ got to say so, and I’ll go off in those hills right there—right up inthose hills and live by myself. An’ I won’t get no mice stole from me.”
George said, “I want you to stay with me, Lennie. Jesus Christ, somebody’d shoot you for a coyote if you was by yourself. No, you stay with me. Your Aunt Clara wouldn’t like you running off by yourself, even if she is dead.”
Lennie spoke craftily, “Tell me—like you done before.”
“Tell you what?”
“About the rabbits.”
George snapped, “You ain’t gonna put nothing over on me.”
Lennie pleaded, “Come on, George. Tell me. Please, George. Like you done before.”
“You get a kick outa that, don’t you? Awright, I’ll tell you, and then we’ll eat our supper . . . .”
YOUR TASK: Write a 100-200 word description of a character (your choice – could be a person or an animal) using a similar descriptive style to the first paragraph of this extract.

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams

Vogon poetry is of course the third worst in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azagoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem “Ode To A Small Lump of Green Putty I Found In My Armpit One Midsummer Morning” four of his audience died of internal haemorrhaging, and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos is reported to have been “disappointed” by the poem’s reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his twelve-book epic entitled My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save life and civilization, leapt straight up through his neck and throttled his brain.

The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England in the destruction of the planet Earth.

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz smiled very slowly. This was done not so much for effect as because he was trying to remember the sequence of muscle movements. He had had a terribly therapeutic yell at his prisoners and was now feeling quite relaxed and ready for a little callousness.

The prisoners sat in Poetry Appreciation Chairs –strapped in. Vogons suffered no illusions as to the regard their works were generally held in. Their early attempts at composition had been part of bludgeoning insistence that they be accepted as a properly evolved and cultured race, but now the only thing that kept them going was sheer bloodymindedness.

The sweat stood out cold on Ford Prefect’s brow, and slid round the electrodes strapped to his temples. These were attached to a battery of electronic equipment – imagery intensifiers, rhythmic modulators, alliterative residulators and simile dumpers – all designed to heighten the experience of the poem and make sure that not a single nuance of the poet’s thought was lost. Arthur Dent sat and quivered. He had no idea what he was in for, but he knew that he hadn’t liked anything that had happened so far and didn’t think things were likely to change.

The Vogon began to read – a fetid little passage of his own devising.

“Oh frettled gruntbuggly …” he began. Spasms wracked Ford’s body – this was worse than ever he’d been prepared for.

“… thy micturations are to me | As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.”

“Aaaaaaarggggghhhhhh!” went Ford Prefect, wrenching his head back as lumps of pain thumped through it. He could dimly see beside him Arthur lolling and rolling in his seat. He clenched his teeth.

“Groop I implore thee,” continued the merciless Vogon, “my foonting turlingdromes.” His voice was rising to a horrible pitch of impassioned stridency.

“And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,| Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon, see if I don’t!”

“Nnnnnnnnnnyyyyyyyuuuuuuurrrrrrrggggggghhhhh!” cried Ford Prefect and threw one final spasm as the electronic enhancement of the last line caught him full blast across the temples. He went limp. Arthur lolled.

“Now Earthlings …” whirred the Vogon (he didn’t know that Ford Prefect was in fact from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, and wouldn’t have cared if he had) “I present you with a simple choice! Either die in the vacuum of space, or …” he paused for melodramatic effect, “tell me how good you thought my poem was!” He threw himself backwards into a huge leathery bat-shaped seat and watched them. He did the smile again.

Ford was rasping for breath. He rolled his dusty tongue round his parched mouth and moaned. Arthur said brightly: “Actually I quite liked it.” Ford turned and gaped. Here was an approach that had quite simply not occurred to him. The Vogon raised a surprised eyebrow that effectively obscured his nose and was therefore no bad thing.

“Oh good …” he whirred, in considerable astonishment.

“Oh yes,” said Arthur, “I thought that some of the metaphysical imagery was really particularly effective.”

Ford continued to stare at him, slowly organizing his thoughts around this totally new concept. Were they really going to be able to bareface their way out of this?

“Yes, do continue …” invited the Vogon.

“Oh … and er … interesting rhythmic devices too,” continued Arthur, “which seemed to counterpoint the … er … er …” He floundered.

Ford leaped to his rescue, hazarding “counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor of the … er…” He floundered too, but Arthur was ready again.

“… humanity of the …”

“Vogonity,” Ford hissed at him.

“Ah yes, Vogonity (sorry) of the poet’s compassionate soul,” Arthur felt he was on a home stretch now, “which contrives through the medium of the verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other,” (he was reaching a triumphant crescendo …) “and one is left with a profound and vivid insight into … into … er …” (… which suddenly gave out on him.) Ford leaped in with the coup de grace:

“Into whatever it was the poem was about!” he yelled. Out of the corner of his mouth: “Well done, Arthur, that was very good.”

The Vogon perused them. For a moment his embittered racial soul had been touched, but he thought no – too little too late. His voice took on the quality of a cat snagging brushed nylon.

“So what you’re saying is that I write poetry because underneath my mean callous heartless exterior I really just want to be loved,” he said. He paused. “Is that right?”

Ford laughed a nervous laugh. “Well I mean yes,” he said, “don’t we all, deep down, you know … er …” The Vogon stood up.

“No, well you’re completely wrong,” he said, “I just write poetry to throw my mean callous heartless exterior into sharp relief. I’m going to throw you off the ship anyway. Guard! Take the prisoners to number three airlock and throw them out!”

“What?” shouted Ford.

A huge young Vogon guard stepped forward and yanked them out of their straps with his huge blubbery arms.

“You can’t throw us into space,” yelled Ford, “we’re trying to write a book.”

“Resistance is useless!” shouted the Vogon guard back at him. It was the first phrase he’d learnt when he joined the Vogon Guard Corps. The captain watched with detached amusement and then turned away. Arthur stared round him wildly.

“I don’t want to die now!” he yelled. “I’ve still got a headache! I don’t want to go to heaven with a headache, I’d be all cross and wouldn’t enjoy it!”

 

YOUR TASK: write a 50 word story with unique and unusual adjectives!

‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between him and his friend! Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and every body hoped that he would never come there again. Amongst the most violent against him was Mrs. Bennet, whose dislike of his general behaviour was sharpened into particular resentment by his having slighted one of her daughters.

Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes to press his friend to join it.

“Come, Darcy,” said he, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”

“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”

“I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Bingley, “for a kingdom! Upon my honour I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.”

“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

“Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”

“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”

 

YOUR TASK: Choose 2 words from this extract that you have not encountered before. Provide a definition for each word and write an example sentence using each word.