Tag Archives: Cracked Voices

Write your own riddle…

[Click here if you’ve landed here looking for our Primary School Resource Pack].

Bilbo Baggins bets his life on a riddle in The Hobbit. Fortunately, for the story he doesn’t lose (or else the dwarves would never have kept their appointment with Smaug!). That riddling competition takes place in a dank deserted cave under the Misty Mountains…all very lonely and sinister…but riddles are mostly rooted in a far more homely place.

In the drinking halls of Anglo-Saxon Britain riddling competitions were as common as pub quizzes today and the word-puzzles were often packed with as many double-meanings and smut as the Sun. It’s a tradition that still continues in Christmas Crackers where the jokes are made up of sound-alike words and make you groan out loud: 

          Marathon runners with bad footwear suffer the agony of defeat.
          A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it is two-tired.
One for Graham…
         Santa’s helpers are subordinate clauses.
And finally, one for Jenni…
         Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft and I’ll show you A-flat minor.

Exeter Book

 

In Anglo-Saxon times very few people could read, so the riddles relied on sound-alike words. The riddles would be learned by heart and performed in public, sometimes with musical accompaniment (a bit like Cracked Voices). Luckily for the author of The Hobbit, around 975 AD some of the riddles were eventually written down, probably by a monk. The Exeter Book is the largest surviving collection of Anglo-Saxon riddles in the world and provides the first recorded use of the term ‘Middle Earth’.

 

 

 

Most of The Exeter Book riddles pretend something that can’t talk is alive. They give inanimate objects a voice, just like Gollum and Bilbo, and ask ‘What am I?’

Riddle 1 
Voiceless it cries,

Wingless flutters,
Toothless bites,
Mouthless mutters.

Riddle 2
This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.

 The answer to these two of Tolkien’s puzzles are or course wind and time.

When writing about the Anglo-Saxon origins of Therfield Heath (a puzzle in itself) for Cracked Voices, it seemed right to base the song on a riddle, so I set about writing my own.

Riddle the first
Beaten for the silence I steal –
I am the cup that spills sorrow and joy.
With prayerful mouth and enduring noise,
mine is the fateful summoning voice.
Tethered yet ethereal –
no fruit in the Garden so readily peels.

[Scroll to the bottom of the page to find the answer].

It was a fun challenge. Why don’t you have a go? (Don’t worry…it doesn’t have to rhyme!)


Tips

Here’s some tips to help you write your own riddle…

  1. Think of your favourite object…the thing you couldn’t live without.
  2. Think of its function: What makes it special? Why’s it important? What does it do? What’s it similar to?
  3. Think with your five senses: What does the object look like? What does it feel like? Does it smell of anything? Does it taste of anything? Does it make a noise?
  4. Think of your friends and family. Who is your object most like? Why? is it because they have the same emotional connection, do something similar or look alike?
  5. Set yourself three minutes ONLY to scribble down your random thoughts and phrases without analysing them or changing any of them.
  6. Read what you’ve written and then salvage the best one or two lines as the start of your riddle.
  7. Leave it a day or two. Then return to the riddle and expand on it by answering more of the questions in (2), (3) and (4).
  8. Make the object talk but don’t give its name until you give the answer! Always remember you are asking the question, ‘What am I?’
  9. Avoid using like (NOT I’m like a cup). It weakens the riddle. BUT I am the cup...
  10. Post your riddle on Cracked Voices, so others can guess it!

 —

[Answer to Riddle the first: a bell]

For slightly more in depth advice from the Poetry Society on writing riddles click here.

‘Doing History In Public’ does Cracked Voices!

The Doing History In Public website is currently carrying a post on Cracked Voices.

Doing History in Public is a collaborative blog written and edited by graduate historians (mainly at the University of Cambridge). Graham was delighted to be invited to share information about the challenges behind researching and writing Cracked Voices.

Cracked Objects at the Museum!

On Monday 9 October, Graham held a workshop at Royston Museum with ten students from Meridian School. We explored the stories behind objects and students chose objects they would like to write about in their own song cycle.

We can’t wait to help them develop their ideas further…

Many thanks to Royston Museum for welcoming us in (even into their storeroom!).

Everything Changes: book your writing workshop place now

Booking is now open for Graham’s Royston Arts Festival creative writing workshop: Everything Changes: a writing workshop exploring place and time. It will take place at Royston & District Museum & Art Gallery on Saturday 23 September 2017, 2- 4.30pm (£5, Book your place now. )

About the workshop: Whether you’re a beginner in creative writing or a more advanced writer looking for ideas, this half-day workshop will help you shape a setting for your story, blog or poem. Using historic photos from the Museum’s storeroom, it will provide an opportunity to discover how a sense of change and place can inspire your own writing.*

About the workshop leader: Graham Palmer is a member of the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) who has published three books with CUP. He is currently working on a historical biography and a sequence of poems which will form the basis of a new song-cycle, Cracked Voices, with local composer Jenni Pinnock.
*This workshop may also prove useful to those preparing for the Creative Writing element in the GCSE English exam.
Age 15+