Lady of Shalott/ Mariana Mashup

In my last post I was talking about teaching ballads and trying to find ways to make it interesting. The majority of the class loved the creative task and of course I joined in. Below is my example plot outline for the creative writing task- a mashup of Lady of Shalott and Mariana:

Plot Outline

  • Sir Lancelot meets Lady of Shalott at a banquet in the castle Camelot
  • He really likes her, but has to leave on a quest to slay Pentagon the Dragon

    Pentagon the Dragon: the most feared dragon in all the land.
    Pentagon the Dragon: the most feared dragon in all the land.
  • He tells the Lady of Shalott that he will write to her everyday
  • They part ways, both feeling elated that they have found their one true love
  • Sir Lancelot’s journey is harrowing. The towns are abandoned, the villagers have left in fear of the dragon and its trolls who patrol the area and steel turnips and chickens
  • Sir Lancelot starts to panic when he realises the post office is no longer in operation, how will he send his letter to his dear lady?
  • Meanwhile, days pass by and the Lady of Shalott continues to sit in her tower and weaves her tapestries which are becoming famous in the South Shire
  • On the dawn of the fifth day, Sir Lancelot hears the beautiful song of the bluebird, a sound that was thought to have been silenced by the dragon and its trolls
  • Sir Lancelot decides to use the skills of Bertie Bluebird to deliver his message to the Lady of Shalott.
  • After much explaining andfluffing of feathers, Bertie flutters away in the wrong direction

    Bertie Bluebird
    Bertie Bluebird
  • Meanwhile, Mariana (another fair maiden) was about to feast upon cheese, apple and bread when a bluebird flew into her room
  • Mariana tried to shoo the bird away but realised it had a piece of parchment attached to its leg
  • It read: My dearest love, I think about the day and the beautiful emerald dress you wore. It is this that keeps me going and I long to see you upon my return. With affection, Sir Lancelot.
  • Elated, Mariana thinks back to the other day in the market when she caught the eye of a young lord. Never in her wildest dreams did she think it was the famous knight, Sir Lancelot!
  • Weeks went by and the two passed letters back and forth Lancelot winning her heart with tales of bravery and compassion
  • The Lady of Shalott grew restless, she couldn’t understand why Sir Lancelot hadn’t written, she started longing for the outside world and the markets of Camelot
  • Unbeknownst to the Lady of Shalott, the gold thread that she bought in the market weeks ago was cursed by the old lady who lived in the boot by the river
  • The Lady of Shalott got into her boat and sailed across the moat into Camelot
  • Mariana, looking out of her window and thinking about her dreary life saw a small boat sail by
  • By the time the Lady of Shalott arrived on the banks of Camelot she had died, her soul now trapped in her tapestry in the tower, encased in the gold thread
  • Sir Lancelot, who had ridden all night to get to return to his love happened upon the boat and to his horror saw the pale, beautiful face of the Lady of Shalott
  • Angered by her death he vows to find out who killed her and why and he immediately sets off to consult with the Knights of the Round Table
  • Meanwhile, Mariana is sitting by the window looking out at the moat wondering what all the commotion is and wondering who that handsome man is on a white horse.

“My life is dreary, he cometh not” she said

Mariana in the moated grange  (Image from
Mariana in the moated grange (Image from

I’m not going to lie, sometimes English Literature can be depressing.  We might consider certain texts classics and ‘must reads’ but the fact remains that some of the most famous and important texts of our time are in fact filled with sorrow.

Trying to make these texts interesting to a bunch of teenagers can become tricky, especially when a large portion of the class are not native English speakers.  Keeping things relevant, exciting and engaging is often the bane of a teachers life, but it’s also a highlight when we find something that does inspire creativity.

Two texts I’m using at the moment are The Lady of Shalott and Mariana. It wasn’t until we were discussing them that I realised just how depressing these ballads are. Both women are shrouded in melancholy and one of them dies; they are completely hopeless. Not exactly the poster women for feminism and independence!

So, how do you make these woeful texts interesting to teenagers and, in particular boys?

Both ballads offer an insight in to these women, we never really know who they are pining after, only that a man is at the root of their sadness.  We never know who Mariana is waiting for and why he never makes it. So, I decided it was time to find out…

The task for my class was to write a story from his perspective that would offer some reason for his delay, the additional challenge was to somehow include information from the Lady of Shalott too. It could be a reference to Sir Lancelot, Camelot or the lady herself.

A collection of notes
A pile of stories

The stories were an excellent read and the class offered up some rather interesting reasons for Mariana sitting and waiting- “my life is dreary/ He cometh not”

  • The man suffered memory loss;
  • He was imprisoned;
  • He became obsessed with the Lady of Shalott and forgot Mariana;
  • It was a game of hide and seek that went very, very wrong;
  • A modified memory from Merlin….

As usual I joined in the activity and got a little carried away with my idea. It involves a bluebird, miscommunication and a letter delivered to the wrong address…


Finding a Place to Belong

The changing face of Doha
The changing face of Doha

A friend of mine, obsessed with the Third Culture Kid, movement got me thinking the other day about identity and belonging. Although I am a TCK, I had never heard of this until a year ago. It was this friend that introduced me to the phenomenon, and when she did I finally realised that I had found my people!

Being a teacher, there are moments when I wonder how my students are getting on, and I don’t mean with their school work, I mean with life- living in a place that’s not their ‘home’.  I know that I coped, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, but I do look at some of them and wonder what impact being here, or being anywhere other than “home” is having on them.

When I was a little girl, I was very quiet, shy and had barely any friends. I remember hating school; doing PE would make me nervous, being asked to speak out in class would make me nervous; lunch time would make me nervous.  Everything made me nervous. Everything. I didn’t feel like I was good at anything, I felt like I never really belonged. I was on the outside looking in and I had no idea how to change that.

One day, my parents told me that we were going to move. Nothing too strange about that. But, we weren’t moving to a different town, we were moving to another country, a country that I’d never heard of. A country that my parents had never really heard of. We were moving to Qatar. Where?

Qatar. A place that is now on the global radar for many reasons…art, culture, sport, oil and gas, Al Jazeera… but when my parents told me and my brothers we had to get a map. I’ll never forget that. This is mostly because I didn’t know how to feel, it wasn’t like I was really leaving any close friends, but I was beginning to settle into the school I was in. At that time, in my opinion, it was simply bad timing on my parents part. How could they take me away from my school and my comfort zone to a country that no one had ever heard of? Ever.

In short, it was the best thing my parents could have ever done for me. For that, I’m eternally grateful.

Taking a quiet, shy girl out of the Scottish countryside and placing her in the middle of the arabian desert was the beginning of what I will call my awakening. Putting me in a transient community was what made me come out of my shell.  A group of kids who were used to friends coming and going were immediately accepting of me and wanted to be friends. This was a foreign concept for me. Immediately I belonged.

TCK’s will understand this, it’s hard to put into words how this sense of belonging came about. But, it did, and it was the start of me becoming me. So, when I look at my students as they sit in class doing their work I wonder how many of them are like me? How many of them will return in years to come because of a strange pull to the place, to find that sense of belonging.

A simple play on words

A beautiful, visual play on words.
A beautiful, visual play on words.

It’s that time of year when the senior students have finished their highschool education and they’re about to leave and take on the world. It’s always an emotional time, especially when you’ve taught them for a several years.

It’s also that time when, as a teacher, we realise that they did appreciate everything we did, even if we didn’t think they were listening!

This is a card I was given yesterday by one of my senior students. An art student, who decided to create a card for me instead of buying one. I think it’s fantastic, and of course, I love the play on words.

My Friend in the Desert (Part 1)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. One of the drawbacks to living in the desert is the lack of bookshops. There are the occasional trips to Dubai, where the sole purpose is to visit Kinokuniya- an oasis. My oasis in the desert. I don’t go as often as I’d like so, Amazon is my regular go to in the desert. My latest order arrived the other week, and I’m still super excited about my purchases!


Who is Harris Burdick?
Who is Harris Burdick?

It was an unexpected pleasure receiving my copy of ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’,  it definitely was not what I had expected at all. Having never seen the book before, I had expected the standard picture book format, seeing as it’s listed in the picture book section of the website.  What I got however was this:  One fat book!

The book.

I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between words and pictures, especially in this instance where the book is essentially half prose and half picture book.

I haven’t read it yet, I just keep flicking through it. I’ll get over this soon, and when I do, I know I will savour every image and word upon the page. I love that the illustrations are in pencil and I feel like I’m flicking through someone’s notebook. I will no doubt talk about this book again once I’ve read it!

My other purchase, ‘The Chronicles of Harris Burdick’, was bought because I often use the images for imaginative writing exercises in class. And, as I’ve said before, I love to read my books aloud….so having this particular copy that has stories by a range of fantastic authors means I can totally justify reading it aloud to my class!

Mr. Burns
“Excellent” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And again, it’s all about the relationship between word and image. Give someone an image and ask them to write a story and the possibilities are endless. I discovered this with my Yr 10 class. I gave them the image and caption and asked them to write. The variety of different ideas was astounding. It was a really good exercise, that I think I’ll do it myself. It will be just one of the many projects I set myself for the holidays.

The other book I bought is ‘The City’ by Armin Greder. I’ve saved this for my post on show-tell-banner

It is another unexpected book…

Hurricain: The Truth Revealed.

My blogging drought is over. Many people make excuses about their absences from blogging. I’m not going to do that. It’s pointless, we all know that whatever I say will just be an excuse and it certainly won’t be original.  Instead, I’m going to tell you why had to lie low…my secret is out.

The truth is revealed...
The truth revealed…

All my life, I have worked tirelessly at keeping my secret safe. However it seems that I am no match for my Year 7 class, who recently made the discovery.

It all started a few months ago…

One day in November I attended a workshop about effective use of iPads. It meant having to miss a day of teaching, but  us teachers do what we can to keep our audiences interested. So off I went to the workshop, and enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t until my return when I realised that something was amiss.

I was standing outside my classroom, coffee cup in hand, as I do in between classes. My usual pose, and also as other superheros will attest to, a good way of surveying the public. I was awaiting the arrival of my Year 7 class, who came as usual in dribs and drabs. Only this time, instead of yelling out and waving ‘Hey Ms. Cain’, they looked at me, wide-eyed and whispered to each other. It was at that point that I knew something wasn’t right.  The air was electric. They were clearly excited.

Suddenly it was a barrage of questions: “So, where were you?” “We heard you had to save the children” “Is your real name Hurricain?” “Can we call you Ms. Hurricain?” “Do you wear a cape?” The questions just kept coming, so I raised my hands, asked them to stop and then began to tell them my story. My real story, the truth about Hurricain….


Lamps, who doesn’t love them?!

Tiffany dragonfly desk lamp with pigeon sculptures









Lamps. Everyone has at least one lamp in their home. They are everywhere. In our homes, on the streets, in shops…They come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. They can even have a variety of different purposes, they are functional, decorative, some remind of us of a time that was or what will be.

You don’t realize how important they are until you don’t have any. I am currently living in a place that doesn’t really place emphasis on street lighting. I’m embarrassed to say that it took a while to realize what was acutely wrong with the street one night as I was walking back from the shop , add to that no pavement and you’ve got yourself a treacherous journey!

It is one of the unique aspects of my dusty city, one that makes no sense.  I’m not even sure what kind of street lights would fit in to the neighborhood anyway. We are in a state of transition, buildings are being knocked down, my favorite corner shop is now gone and every day the pile of rumble seems to grow.  Maybe this is what gives my suburb its character, but what I do know is that as we approach the summer holidays and I start to think about where I’m going, I start pondering about odd little things.

Street light...years ago

I know that where I’m going I will see streetlights in abundance, and they will be in all different shapes and sizes. That’s the thing about going to Europe, it’s steeped in a different kind of history, one that spills over into its architecture. This short piece below, was inspired by architecture, a student of mine was applying to university and part of her application process was to write about architecture, but the instruction told her to be creative.  This confused her, she wasn’t sure how to tackle the task. I  got right into it and ended up with a couple of examples, this one is my favorite:

The street was quiet, still, except for the figure standing hunched over, bathed in the flickering light. His head hung low as though sad or ashamed.  He had been a fixture on the street for years and was now beginning to feel like it was only a matter of time until he would be replaced, he was just no match for the bright young bulbs on the block.


These bright bulbs that stand up tall and proud, fitting in to the modern surroundings, their youth could easily be confused with arrogance. Their slim metallic lines and steel finishing only accentuated the rusty, tired figure at the far end of the street….