Something for the four children who made stories, just for us.

It’s been five and a half months since we’ve seen some of the family. For various reasons, Ray and I are still shielding, and they’re a hundred miles away. So last week we had a Zoom slot with some of the grandchildren.

It was lovely to see them all together, rather than taking it in turns on the phone. Charlie, Alfie, Sasha and Kelsey told us about the arts and crafts projects they’d done through the summer, and Charlie said that he was writing a book.

‘Wow,’ we said. ‘What a great idea. Who else likes making stories?’

They all did, excitedly taking it in turn to give us summaries of things they had written, and ideas of what they would write next. The inspirations, all different, were influenced by books and films. ‘That’s exactly what writers do,’ we told them.

‘I’ve just had an idea,’ Ray said. ‘You can write stories to read to us on Zoom.’

There was a chorus of enthusiastic yeses.

‘And,’ said Ray, ‘we’ll send each of you a special notebook and lots of pens.’

So, yesterday, we were treated to an exclusive private reading by four authors. It was brilliant.

What would they write next, we wondered. Ray thought they might create a story together. I thought I might join in. Perhaps, I could start them off.

So, this is for our story-tellers, who might, perhaps, decide what happens next…

There were once four children who could sit quite still, if they had to. They were called, Charlie, Aflie, Sasha and Kelsie, or maybe, they were called Kelsie, Sasha, Alfie and Charlie. They may even have been called, Ashas, Lafie, Larchie and Selkie. It’s tricky to tell when your Zoom connection isn’t quite stable.

Stables are where horses live. Lots of children long to own a horse. Sometimes, if they’re very, very lucky, they might get to ride on one.

Most people would say that one of the things no one can do, is promise to post you a horse. Well, not a real, live, breathing horse. But that’s what Aunty Cath decided she would do, when she woke up one Monday morning.

It wouldn’t be easy. It would need some very special skills.

She’d got the idea while watching the children, who were a hundred miles away, on the other end of a Zoom call, eating some really delicious looking sandwiches. Those sandwiches looked so wonderful, perhaps the best she’d ever seen, that she could almost taste them.

She’d said, ‘I’d love one of those. I wish there was a way you could send one to me through the internet, right now. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could put one in a slot on your computer, press a button, and have it arrive at ours, right away? One of you ought to invent a way to do that.’

They had laughed, as if their silly aunt was making another joke. But when Aunty Cath woke up the next morning she knew exactly how to do it, and she wasn’t just going to send food, she would send something alive, something exciting, that could be an adventure.

She had had a dream, not just about how to send a sandwich. No, the thing to deliver, was a horse. A magic horse.

Aunty Cath could remember exactly how her dream horse had looked. All she had to do, was draw it.

That was the difficult part: the trickiest thing she would have to do. Aunty Cath was rubbish at drawing. She much preferred writing descriptions. But, would words come to life?

What a question! Of course they did, all the time. That was the magic of stories, after all.

On the page, to someone who couldn’t read, stories could look like a lot of squiggles. But if you understood them, if you read them, like the four children had yesterday, then whole other worlds could come to life.

Print by Alberto Manrique

It was just what happened when Charlie told Coco’s story. Aunty Cath had run with him, when he was chased by a bully, and followed him into the shopping Mall and the hotel, and it had been lovely. Then, just when she’d thought Coco’s story was finished, another special thing happened: he made friends with a peanut, and how that had made her, and everyone else, laugh.

Next Alfie introduced her to Artemis Fowl Junior, and Dr Doom, and she’d had a very exciting time, going into big battles and mixing with fairies.

After that Kelsey told her about Tom Gates. He’d had to find ways to keep calm when Covid meant he couldn’t play with his friends, and Aunty Cath had been really relieved when he found a way to have a lovely special birthday party.

Then Sasha had described Matilda The Second, who was four years old, and super clever, but had mean parents who didn’t want her to go to school. Aunty Cath had been really worried about that, wondering who could save the little girl. What a surprise when Matilda cleverly tricked her parents into understanding that really, school was a good place for little girls to spend time.

Yes, that was it, all she needed to do was write a true description of the magic horse. She would start with his name, which was Starlight, because he glowed so brightly white.

He was not too tall, but he was strong, with a long glossy tail, and a shiny mane that flicked up softly when he galloped. What he loved sometimes, was to run along a beach when the sea was stormy, stamping through the frothy waves flicking spray up around him.

Other times he liked to walk quietly through long grass, feeling the stems tickle against his long white legs. He was good at stretching his neck and reaching high in the branches of a fruit tree to find apples.

Starlight was a gentle horse. If you were brave, and held your hand out flat, with a piece of carrot on the centre, and shut your eyes, you wouldn’t know Starlight had taken the treat until you heard him munching.

When he was happy, Starlight whinnied, gently, as if chuckling. He loved to have the soft skin under his chin stroked, and the hard bump of his forehead scratched. That always made his ears twitch.

Well, there he was: Starlight was on the page. Was he clear enough? Would it work?

What would the children do if they each received a horse, by email? Would they take him into their yard at the back, and keep him cosy and happy? Would they climb up on his back and see where he would take them?

There really were such a lot of questions that could be answered.