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Addlebrain`s Abyss

by Rach76 

Posted: 13 April 2011
Word Count: 1000
Summary: Miss Addlebrain is the thorn amongst two roses at Googleford Heights, the odd school on the hill. Mr Colbright and Miss Flick are wonderful caring teachers, but Miss A owns the place and refuses to leave. She torments most kids, but it's Juniper Berry who risks being thrown into Addlebrain's Abyss this time. The only problem is, she can't speak in public.

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This is my first posting, so please be gentle!!!

Chapter One

“Juniper Berry!” a voice screeched, “Did you hear me or do I need to swill your ears out with detergent?!”

Miss Addlebrain, one of our teachers was standing behind her desk with her elbows bent and a pair of bony hands resting on her hips.

It was Geography, it was Friday and it was the day my life nearly ended.

Miss Addlebrain glared icily at me, but I wasn’t looking back, I was looking at the wall, hoping this would all just go away.

“Juniper Berry,” she said again, very quietly, “I said… did you hear me?”

Keep looking at the wall Juniper, keep looking at the wall.

A horrible silence hung in the air and the whole class seemed to be breathing together very, very slowly around me.

Right, I’ll just keep my eye on the wall. At that spot there where the paint is crumbling, the bit that looks like the shape of a dolphin. Just there. Yes. Keep staring Juniper and it will all go away.

Before I knew it, the dolphin had disappeared entirely and was replaced by Miss Addlebrain who was looming right over me. I couldn’t help but look up into her bonfire eyes.

“Juniper Berry….” she whispered, “Be very, very careful. As you know I will repeat this only one. More. Time.”

She put her hand on the desk in front of me and tap tap tapped. Her fingers swirled around and around, and I couldn’t help thinking that the painted red fingernails made her hand look like a deadly octopus. Then, she crouched down, and pressed her other hand against her forehead.

“Juniper,” she said, moving closer to my ear, “you do know that you have only one more chance don’t you?” She smiled at me, but it was a horrible stretchy grin. “And you know what happens after that, don’t you?”

“Erm, well…” I stuttered….” I think I know, but… ”

“What is the capital of Argentina Juniper Berry?” Her voice was getting higher and higher. “Hmmmm?”

Then, in a flash, she was upright and began swirling around the classroom, dancing as though she was on the world’s finest stage. “Don’t Cry for me Argentina!” she sang in a shrill bird-like voice. “Argentina! What a wonderful place. I danced the Tango there you know….”

She looked far away into the distance and for a moment I thought she’d forgotten all about me and capital cities, but within seconds, she had stopped the funny dancing and was back. “You know, Argentina, don’t you Juniper Berry?” A speck of spit landed on my exercise book. “Argentina of South AMERICA? Hmm? Argentina of Tango and well… other things too!”

“Yes, yes Miss Addlebrain, I know, well, I mean I don’t know, but I think I do and well…”

I tried to think back to last lesson, but it was impossible - there were so many eyes, everywhere. Just forget everyone is here Juniper. You DO remember, it was just last lesson. Come on, Ju, come on!

“Well,” I began, “I think Miss Addlebrain that it is….” I swallowed hard. I knew I knew the answer, but my head was all hot and it felt like my brain had overheated, “B…?”

I tried again. “B…?” Nothing else came out. My mouth was like a watering can that only had a dribble left.

“Come on child, I don’t have time for these meaningless mutterings!!! For the final time, what is the capital of Argentina?”

Just say something Juniper, anything at all. Say it, say it.

I kept picking at my wristband under the table. By now the answer had gone and I knew that I just had to get anything out of my mouth. Just say something Juniper, I told myself, anything at all. Say it, say it.

“Peru?” I asked.

“PERU?!!” Miss Addlebrain spat, “PERU??? Good God child. You’d better take a compass next time you want to go to the toilet! Ha! Peru?! You have clearly not been listening to me have you? And you know what that means don’t you, you little toerag? Hmmm?” Her eyes swept the room. “What does it mean if you haven’t been listening children? Hmmm?? Where do I sentence you to? Where must all cloth eared children go for a good ear swilling???”

The class was deadly silent. Everyone was too terrified to answer - all but one person.

“I know Miss Addlebrain,” a voice said loudly from the back. “Addlebrain’s Abyss, that’s where.”

A slow smile crept over Miss Addlebrain’s face. “Thank you my dear,” she said quietly, “yes you are correct. And can you please inform Miss Juniper Berry what awaits her at this wonderful place. What delights does she face? What divine pleasures might she find there? Hmmm?”

“Well,” continued the voice, “I know that what you got to do is answer lots of well hard questions really quickly in front of the whole class and if you don’t get them right, well then you have to do horrible things and then, you….”

“Cor-RECT!” Miss Addlebrain pursed her lips and clapped her hands together. “Class dismissed!” she said.

Everyone began quietly gathering their things.

“Oh and wait a minute!” She banged on the desk. “Just to reiterate for Juniper Berry’s sake and anyone else foolish enough to forget what happens at the edge of Addlebrain’ s Abyss. Twenty questions against the clock. Spotlight on you. No falling in now!” She let out an almighty laugh. “Three seconds per question. That’s one minute altogether for those brain dead amongst you. And the topic?”

“South America!” shouted the voice from the back.

“Well done my dear girl, well done indeed. And your prize for rising above these bunch of numbskulls?” She paused, looking towards the back of the classroom, “you may be Addlebrain’s Aide on the occasion.”

Everyone sighed and turned around to glare at the traitor in the room.

Blaze Urchinsnap sat smiling back.

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Comments by other Members

Rach76 at 12:59 on 13 April 2011  Report this post
P.S - That should read Goggleford, not Googleford!

Steerpike`s sister at 13:35 on 13 April 2011  Report this post
Well, I'd say from this that it's very much a light-hearted comic fantasy, rather than a more issue-driven, realistic book. The teacher is so over the top, in a Roald Dahl style way, that this can't be a real world story. The names also take it away from reality, into fantasy.
I do wonder why there is a teacher like this at a special school that's meant to be helping them get over their problems? It would make more sense if this were a normal school, and then they were taken away into a special school where people were empathetic. I mean, it makes me wonder how she was ever employed in the first place - and I think it also makes it too scary for this age group, if the teacher in the school that's meant to help is actually a horrible bully. Perhaps she could be toned down a bit. I don't know... I think that if it's a book about getting over phobias and so on, that the focus would normally be on that, rather than on an external threat like the bullying teacher. I mean, you wouldn't have to have a phobia of speaking in public to be too scared to answer this teacher's questions!
Juniper is a lovely, sweet character (and a great name that you could get away with). This: "It was Geography, it was Friday and it was the day my life nearly ended. " is a really good line, and I'd suggest you use it as the first line.
There are some great metaphors, like her mouth being like a watering can. Or a kettle?

I wonder if you've read 'Savvy' by Ingrid Law - it's for an older age group and the plot's quite different, but it's also about kids who are different, and mingles fantasy and reality very well.

Account Closed at 13:36 on 13 April 2011  Report this post
Hello, I just saw your discussion thread so I read this specifically with your question about names/genre in mind - and to me it works very well.

The behaviour of the teacher is so OTT that it clearly does belong in some alternate reality - it reminded me of Roald Dahl, and in particular Miss Trunchbull in Mathilda - he's a good example of an author who uses fantastical names to signify that we're in a slightly alternate reality, but this doesn't necessarily have to mean literal magic and fantasy. In some of his books it does, obviously, but in other books, as with "Mathilda", nothing happens which isn't strictly possible, but it's just that the moral behaviour of everyone concerned is so unlikely that it's very obviously divorced from reality, and he suspends the usual rules of society and narrative - in Mathilda she would clearly not be a child genius, but would have ended up in a foster home with some sort of personality disorder as a result of her parents' systematic neglect. Keeping the narrative in a fantastic universe allows Dahl to get away with showing the abuse but not the reality.

I do think this is a difficult trick to pull off, and you'd have to be careful to keep your narrative carefully poised in order for it to work. If it slides into gritty realism with a social agenda then you'd probably do better to abandon the fantasy element completely, rather than seeming like you're making a glib joke out of a real situation. However if you can keep it poised on the Dahl axis of fantasy-without-magic then I think the names are an asset.

I very much enjoyed it anyway and I think you have a great narrative "voice" in Juniper.


oh cross-posted with Leila - how interesting that we both mentioned Dahl!

Steerpike`s sister at 13:55 on 13 April 2011  Report this post
Agree with Flora, especially about the alternate reality thing.

Rach76 at 18:55 on 13 April 2011  Report this post
Hi guys,

Thanks so much for your posts and detailed comment.

Leila, it did occur to me that having a teacher like her in a school for difficult kids was a glaring error! I think the problem has been that I've wanted to create this light, comical story, as you say, in this strange school,but I've felt like a needed a reason for the kids to be somewhere other than a mainstream one. So, I came up with the idea of them being troubled etc. Though having a teacher like Miss A in a place like that is, as you suggest, very improbable and clearly demonic! Perhaps I don't need a reason?

Great idea about the opening line too - that's been moved already. :-)

Florapost - your point about alternate realities is perhaps what I have been searching for and trying to do - I think I have been polarising reality v fantasy - i.e magic,and forgetting that there is another place too, so thanks for that suggestion.

Hmm... I've probably not given myself the easiest of ideas, but I'll just keep writing....
Thanks again! :-)


Rach76 at 18:58 on 13 April 2011  Report this post
P.S - Leila, totally get what you mean about not needing a phobia to answer her questions - LOL! She does actually scare me too. May she needs to spit a bit less...;-)

Account Closed at 19:06 on 13 April 2011  Report this post
I think if it's fantasy then you can get away with the teacher being improbably awful - maybe if they are "troubled" children there is a sort of element of behaviour difficulties and therefore she justifies her behaviour by the need to be super-strict with these children in order to "rehabilitate" them?

Account Closed at 19:18 on 13 April 2011  Report this post
Actually I just googled Matilda and realised that not only did I spell the title wrong, but there is a more obviously fantastic element which I'd forgotten - which is that Matilda herself develops telekinetic powers. Clearly don't take my word on anything!

But it might be worth taking a look at Matilda if you haven't read it, if only to make sure Miss Trunchbull is sufficiently different from Miss Addlebrain.

Freebird at 13:17 on 14 April 2011  Report this post
I really enjoyed this - you have a light touch that is easy to read, and very engaging. It came across to me as an ordinary boarding school (not sure why boarding, just gave me that impression) but that's only because it's very early in the piece and there's no reason yet to assume that these are children with 'problems' (other than Miss Addlebrain!).

The names are brilliant - quirky and imaginative. It's obvious that you can write well - I look forward to seeing how this develops.

Steerpike`s sister at 10:43 on 15 April 2011  Report this post
I just wanted to add another general comment, to the effect that even though Roald Dahl is, naturally, genius, it's worth remembering that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example, was first published in 1964. That's nearly half a century ago now! (eek). What is being published now in children's fiction, from debut authors, is different to the kind of fiction that made RD's name. Yes, there are elements in his fiction that are eternally popular (humour, anarchy, evil adults vs. put-upon children) but it's important to look at the books that are being published today to see what the differences are, too. If I think of some of the most brilliant and popular children's novels of the 20th century, ones I grew up with, I can be sure they wouldn't get published today. Tom's Midnight Garden, the Moomin books - I have no doubt that if they turned up in the slush pile now publishers would object that they were too 'quiet', too wordy and the reading age was too high for the subject matter. This is why the Moomins, for example, are being re-packaged as picture books - as already happened to the Wombles and Paddington.
So alll this boils down to is, be careful about thinking of Dahl as a contemporary author, even though he is still widely read. Time flies and fashions in fiction change.

Rach76 at 13:07 on 15 April 2011  Report this post
Hi everyone,

Thanks for all of the posts...

FP - I do know Matilda and I have tried to make Miss A as physically different from Miss T as possible (in fact she is based on an old teacher of mine!) but the traits - nastiness, hatred of children are the same because they drive the plot. I will read it again though just to make sure they are as different as possible.

Freebird - thank you very much for your encouraging comments - you have spurred me on!

S's sister...Thanks for your valid point. As I have only just started writing - in fact this is my first attempt, I haven't really thought of all this in terms of the market yet; I have just been writing a story I found amusing (which in terms of salability is probably a total disaster!) But I feel I need to do it to see if I can follow it through and come up with something that is vaguely readable to someone, somewhere. Freebird, you have ticked that box, so I will stop now.;-)
I know exactly what you mean about the chasm between reading age and subject matter. Computer games have alot to answer for....


Midnight at 23:11 on 15 April 2011  Report this post
Hi Rachel,
I enjoyed this and I can see it appealing to children.
I'm sorry I haven't anything new to add.

Rach76 at 11:15 on 18 April 2011  Report this post
Hi Diane,

Thanks so much for the feedback - I really appreciate it.


ShellyH at 12:10 on 18 April 2011  Report this post
Hi Rachel,
I really enjoyed reading this. It flowed well, good characters and funny.

I think if you're aiming for fantasy or another reality (which I think would suit this better), then I don't think you need to make it a special school. It could be a normal school, but just with a different take on what we class as normal.

Good start though, look forward to reading more.


Rach76 at 12:35 on 18 April 2011  Report this post
Hi Shelly...

Thanks so much for your comments.

I think you are right - I have decided to focus on an alternate reality story as opposed to proper fantasy. And I've decided to forget all about the special school idea -it is, as you say, just a different sort of normal!

I suspect my challenge will be as Florapost mentioned, to keep it "poised on the axis of fantasy" but I'll just going and see what I come up with...

Thanks again!


Findy at 13:11 on 18 April 2011  Report this post
Hi Rachel

I liked this, enjoyed very much. Lovely name, Juniper Berry...I liked Shelly's suggestion about making it a different sort of normal.

Looking forward to reading more.


purplemurph at 16:56 on 19 April 2011  Report this post
Hi there Rachel

Sorry for late response. Been out of action for a little while.

Just wanted to say I love the energy and immediacy of your writing, and as one with personal experience, the accurate description of what it feels like to be shy and put on the spot by someone you're terrified of!

I like the name Juniper Berry, but personally, am not sure the name for 'Miss Addlebrain' suits the character - it feels a little too gentle for her, like she's a little 'dippy' or tipsy, rather than an aggressive megalomaniac. Unless this is something that changes later in the story? I know you need something that alliterates with Abyss, and definitely 3 syllables: sorry for not offering an alternative -trying to think - Adderbrain? Aggrabrain? Axelbrain? something a little more aggressive.
Anyway, that's just my feeling, obviously stick with 'Addlebrain' if it feels right for you.

I really like the disconcerting effect of her singing in mid-rant, really gives the scene an edginess in her unpredictability.

Looking forward to more.


Rach76 at 10:23 on 22 April 2011  Report this post
Hey there PM....

I think you are completely right! It is too gentle for her and makes her sound a bit ditzy as opposed to maniacal, which she is. Loving your suggestions - Adderbrain could work, but quite like Axelbrain too....

Glad you pick up on her unpredictability - that is what I was aiming for with the dancing. That, and the fact she is a former acclaimed ballet dancer who had to give up due to a terrible accident. Unfulfilled dreams = bitter and twisted old hag. Oops, I this is not some terrible irony and in fact a sick premonition about myself...eeek!!
Fingers crossed eh?

Thanks for your input!



I meant to insert the word hope in there...it might just make all the difference....

Rach76 at 10:25 on 22 April 2011  Report this post
Findy, thanks for your input too!


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