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A Good Story - Sand Island

A Good Story - Sand Island

  12+   My first "published" writing was an Enid Blyton-Famous Five-style adventure story, Sand Island, in 1972. I wrote the story and illustrated it with coloured Texta markers. My aunt, the only one in our family with a typewriter, typed up the manuscript. And my father helped bind and cover the book. I was ten.

My treasured first (and only) edition still exists. I recently re-read the book, and it reminded me of the five elements of a good story: characters, plot, setting, tension and resolution.

A Good Story Needs Characters

I loved Enid Blyton's Secret Seven and Famous Five stories when I was young. And the opening lines to Sand Island are Blytonesque:

"Mm," said Jack, "that tasted good."
"I know," grinned John.
"Why are you grinning, John?" asked Jane curiously.
"My mother made the cake."
"Our mother," said little Wendy.

A Good Story - Sand Island - The Party

Okay, Blytonesque and a little embarrassing — but I was only ten! And now, having established the characters and some of the relationships in the story, it was time for me to set up the adventure:

"Well, now what do we do?" asked Jack. "John's birthday party is over and there is nothing to do."

Remember, this was a time before computer games and gadgets. When TVs were black and white and offered limited program options for children.

"I know," said Jane thoughtfully, "Why don't we go to that little island of sand in the river?"
"What for dumbbell?" said Jack in a dreary voice.
"For a picnic," said Jane.
"That's a good idea, you know," said John.
"You're right," agreed Jack.

Yes, Sand Island has more than a hint of the sibling rivalry and hero-worship found in Blyton's Famous Five. Jane might sound like Anne, Jack could be Dick, and John may remind Blyton readers of the Five's leader, Julian. But it wasn't total plagiarism: there was no cousin George character, or Timmy, the dog (Woof!). And ...

"Don't forget me," butted in Wendy.
"You're too young," answered John.
"No I am not," said Wendy.
"Okay, you can come," sighed John, "and I suggest that we make our plans tomorrow."

A Good Story Needs a Plot

The children meet at Jack and Jane's house the next day to plan their adventure. Jack points to a map of the island and suggests, "We take this part of the sand, as it has some greenness." Fortuitously, Jack's dad owns a rowing boat. It seems irresponsible today, but the children's parents permit Jack, Jane, John and Wendy to row to the island for a picnic and games.

On the way, Wendy proposes the four sing a song:

"I know one," suggested Jack. "It's called 'Row, row, row your boat'. Do you all know it?"
"Yes," they all agreed. "One, two, 'Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream'".

A Good Story - Sand Island - The Journey

Thankfully for the reader, it takes only a few renditions for the children to reach Sand Island.

A Good Story Needs a Setting

John and Jack drag the boat onto the "white sand of the beach" (that I'd coloured yellow in my illustrations). The children spot the place they had picked for their picnic and race each other to it.

"Last one there is a rotten egg," shouted Jack.
Since John was the eldest (being eleven), he won. Followed by Jack, Jane and, last of all, Wendy.

The four children enjoy their picnic and exploring the island. However, "soon the day became a little bit dark". John organises a last race around the island. He ties for first place with Jack. But both boys easily beat the younger girls and start packing the boat while waiting for Jane and Wendy.

A Good Story - Sand Island - The Beach

A Good Story Needs Conflict

When Jane finally joins the boys, she asks, "Where's Wendy?" Big brother John retorts, "I thought Wendy was with you."

Where was she? They had better find her soon. For when the tide rises, Sand Island will be covered with water ...

The children split up to search three points of the island. When they regroup, John remarks they still need to check the east end of Sand Island.

"But we didn't run there," replied Jack.
"You know, and I know that we didn't run there. But does Wendy?"

As John, Jack, and Jane approach the east end of the island, they hear screams.

They were coming from the direction of a big amount of quicksand.
The children ran to where the noise was, and can you guess what they found?
It was Wendy.

While Jane bursts into tears, John and Jack grab a vine and throw it across to Wendy, and the boys pull her from the quicksand. Everyone is relieved, and Jane and Wendy stop crying. (Sorry, George from the  Famous Five George would have been braver.) But on their way back to the boat on the beach ...

Suddenly they heard a rumble and then water. John said the tide was coming in and that in less than two minutes, the island would be underwater.
"I suggest we climb a palm tree," said Jack.
"Good idea, Jack," John agreed. "The water won't go over the top of the palm trees."
So the children ran to the nearest palm tree.

Led by John, the children climb the tree as the incoming tide rushes towards them. Soon, all they can see of the flooded Sand Island is "the tops of the palm trees".

Each child had some fear in their heart, for they knew if the water rose anymore, they would drown.

A Good Story - Sand Island - Flooded

A Good Story - Resolution

Somehow, John, Jack, Jane and Wendy sleep through the night. In the morning, John wakes first to find the island "glittered brightly in the sunlight". The four children climb down from the palm tree and return to the beach. However, the boat is missing.

The children scanned the beach for the boat but could not find it. So they gave up, knowing they were doomed.

At this point, the story begins to sound more like a scene from Lord of the Flies (though I didn't read William Golding's classic until my mid-twenties):

"Oh, it's all your fault, Jane," said Jack nastily. "You and your stupid idea to come to Sand Island."
"No, I should take the blame, Jack, not Jane," said John. "If I hadn't organised that last run around the island we would be home by now."
"I agree, John," said the very agreeable Wendy.
"You would, wouldn't you, Wendy?" cried Jane.
"I know your boyfriend, Jane," said Wendy.
"Oh, shut up all of you," shouted John, trying hard to keep away the tears, too.

But then the children hear voices calling out their names. "It's Daddy," Jane screams excitedly. The children's (negligent!) parents have come to the rescue, and John, Jack, Jane and Wendy are soon safely in a speed boat, heading away from Sand Island.

A Good Story - Sand Island - The Rescue

"Boy, what a story to tell the kids at school," said Jack eagerly.
"Yeah, it would be kind of exciting, wouldn't it?" agreed John.
"I wasn't frightened one bit," remarked Wendy boldly.
"Ha, ha, ha," laughed Jane, John and Jack.
"What's the big joke?" asked Wendy.
"What, ha, you just said, ha, ha, about never being scare, ha, ha," laughed Jack.
"Yeah, remember the time you fell in the quicksand, ha, ha," agreed John.
"He-he and the time you thought we were doomed, he-he," giggled Jane.
By the time they stopped laughing and giggling, the children were home and ready to tell everyone about their adventure.

The 50th Anniversary of a Good Story

My earliest school memories are of learning to read and write—and then writing stories. 

2022 marks the 50th Anniversary of my first "published" writing, inspired by Enid Blyton and my ten-year-old imagination, which back then wasn't distracted by computers, gadgets, or all-day TV.

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Reading Sand Island with my middle-aged writer's eyes, I'm pleased to see that the young me understood the five elements of a good story: characters, plot, setting, tension and resolution.

I try to incorporate these elements in my writing today. Even if the middle-aged me sometimes leaves the resolution hanging in what I hope are my good short stories.

© 2021 Robert Fairhead

N.B. I narrated this post for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast in April 2024 as A Good Story. And here's another Tall And True post on the first book I remember reading, My First Book (September 2017) — no, it wasn't an Enid Blyton!

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Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.

Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.

He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou

Tall And True showcases the writing — fiction, nonfiction and reviews — of a dad and dog owner, writer and podcaster, Robert Fairhead. Guest Writers are also invited to share and showcase their writing on the website.

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