Now, you may remember that I wrote about the importance of creative writing and J’s experience at a 3-day workshop with Monsters Under the Bed (MUTB) earlier this year.
J enjoyed his experience at the EpicQuestINK workshop so much, that he was absolutely delighted to be invited back to attend another Imagination and Knowledge “INK” creative writing workshop with MUTB during the June School Holidays – the SurviveINK workshop!
The tagline for the SurviveINK camp was “With friends like these, who needs zombies?”, so we were prepared for him to have a zombie-themed writing workshop. J is quite familiar with the concept of zombies, having come across them during our weekly family jaunts into the world of Minecraft.
However we weren’t prepared for the scale of the SurviveINK holiday camp as presented by MUTB! It was a total immersive experience! I was so impressed by the commitment and dedication of the MUTB trainers in putting this together for the kids.
A week prior to the start of the workshop, J received an email warning him of a zombie-virus epidemic and advising him to prepare himself. This was a brilliant way of getting J to think about what items and skills he might need in order to survive without basic comforts and also how people might behave when faced with impending doom.
To get him hyped up even more, we received a link to this video on the eve of the workshop!
WOOHOOOOOO!!! What a way to get the adrenaline pumping! J could hardly get to sleep for the excitement of it all.
The next day, J, Little E and I (as well as Thumper, drowsing in his sling) headed to The Arts House.
We were greeted by a dude in SWAT gear and gas mask (“Sgt Leroy”), patrolling the hallway with a huge gun, whilst a nearby radio played a broadcast in the background, warning us that infected persons will be shot on sight. You can tell by the big grin on J’s face that he was ready for a real adventure!
At 10am, the doors burst open with a clang, and out stalked a lanky, long-haired titaness towering over everyone and wearing the most frightening stilettos I had ever seen. This was “Goth Leader” Xiangxiang, who seemed to be in charge of running the SurviveINK workshop this time.
“CHECK THEM ALL FOR BITES!” she shrieked, waving her gun in the air, “AND GET THE CLEAN ONES IN THE SAFEHOUSE!!”
The children immediately crowded around her with a million questions. “What’s going on?” “Can we go in yet?” “I have a plaster, can I still come in?”
“SHADDUPSHADDUPSHADDUP”, she yelled, glaring around her, “JUST SHADDUP AND GET IN THE SAFEHOUSE!”
Some of the more mild-tempered children were clearly very intimidated by her brusque manner and hid behind their mums. Not so much J and Little E who were getting more bloodthirsty by the second and asking me if they were going to shoot zombies now or later.
Safehouse rules and a creative brainstorm
Inside the hall, the children were divided into groups by age, and the various trainers introduced themselves and went through the SafeHouse rules before leading the kids through their first exercise of the day – a creative brainstorm called the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’. Each child had to come up with as many uses as possible for a bucket of ice should the zombies start to attack the safe house.
J immediately came up with a whole bunch of different ways to deal with zombies using a bucket of ice and he scribbled all of these down on his worksheet, ignoring grammar, punctuation and spelling in his haste to get as many ideas down in a short period of time. I was very surprised that he came up with more than ten ways to dispatch zombies using an ice bucket!
This was the first of several creative challenges given to the kids during the duration of the workshop.
At the end of each challenge, the kids were given points based on the quantity and complexity of their ideas, and they could use these points throughout the workshop to exchange for skill sets and equipment. This helped them to be more focussed when thinking of characters for their stories and what strengths and weaknesses their characters would have. It also ensured that they did not create superhuman characters with infinite resources which would make for less tension and conflict in their stories.
Points for weapons and skills!
At the end of the first day, the children were informed that Safehouse had managed to get into contact with the university laboratory which was responsible for ‘Project Icarus’, the source of the zombie virus. The trainers spoke over the speakerphone to the scientist who had barricaded herself in the lab as zombies hammered on her doors. She had developed a potential cure but hadn’t had time to test it yet! We listened in horror as we heard the zombies smash the laboratory doors down and attack the scientist whose conversation was cut off with a bloodcurdling scream. There was a hideous moan, followed by the wet sounds of chewing.
One of the trainers, who was playing the role of Lab Assistant, broke down in tears as the children looked on in concern. We were told to go and find a safe place to rest and reconvene in the morning.
Well, how’s that for a cliffhanger ending to the first day at the SurviveINK workshop?
J could not wait to return to find out what would happen next, and spent the afternoon discussing with Little E various methods of faking one’s death for a speakerphone conversation.
The next morning, when we arrived at the Arts House, we were congratulated by the gun and pistol wielding MUTB trainers for reaching the ‘Project Icarus Lab’. The MUTB trainers had smeared dirt on their faces and were bespattered with what looked like blood. Dishevelled and panting from exhaustion, they told all the wide-eyed children that they had cleared the whole area of all the zombies overnight but had realised their zombie-detection alarm was still going off. Was it malfunctioning?
The children were each assigned a face mask and latex gloves, and told to enter the Project Icarus lab to look for clues to the location of the zombie cure. They went into the room in batches according to their assigned groups.
When it was finally J’s turn, we entered the room to find that it had been transformed into the Project Icarus laboratory, with glass beakers, petri dishes and even a toy microscope! Chairs and tables were overturned and there were signs of a scuffle. Impressive!
Investigating the lab for clues
After searching around the room, J and his group mates found a bloodstained note as well as several bottles of suspicious looking liquids in various colours.
In their groups, they spent some time figuring out the code and decoding the note in order to find out which bottle contained the potential zombie cure. In the meantime, the kids began drafting their first ideas for their zombie-themed story.
J’s idea was to bake the antiviral medication into pies and launch them at the zombies who will inadvertently consume the medicine after receiving a pie-to-the-face. “Then they will be cured!” said J in triumph.
Decoding a puzzle!
During the core of the day, the trainers revealed to us that the experimental drug only had a 50% chance of working to cure an infected person and inoculate a non-infected person. If it didn’t work it would either speed up the zombification process, else turn a non-infected person into zombie straightaway.
Xiangxiang pointed out that the zombie-detection alarm was still going off so somebody in the room was infected with the zombie virus. At this, all the children in the room started getting very excited, each pointing at the various trainers, yelling at the top of their lungs and accusing them of being zombies.
“SHADDUPSHADDUPSHADDUP!”, hollered Xiangxiang, for what seemed to be the millionth time that day, “SHADDUP I NEED TO THINK!”
At this point, J turned to me and whispered, “Do you know who the zombie-in-hiding is? I think it is that shouty lady. Because she’s so angry and zombies are always angry.”
At the end of the second day of the workshop, Xiangxiang accused the Lab Assistant (who had been coughing and shuffling her feet and generally acting suspicious all day long) of being infected, forcing her to drink the experimental drug. Unfortunately, she turned into a zombie and had to be dispatched!
“WHOA!” gasped the room in unison.
Sgt Leroy, falling to his knees, pointed out that that zombie-detection alarm was still going off. So not only did the experimental cure turn out to be a complete dud, but Xiangxiang had wrongly accused the innocent Lab Assistant!
Ooooh, the plot thickens!
“SHADDUPSHADDUPSHADDUP ALL OF YOU GET OUT, JUST GET OUT AND LEAVE ME ALONE! I didn’t mean to kill her!” wailed Xiangxiang in despair, refusing to break character as all of us shuffled past her to leave the room.
Talk about Dramatic Endings!
Sorry no cure! (literally)
The last day of the workshop was much less exciting at the start. The children were encouraged to improve and fine tune their stories, writing out a complete final story draft under the tutelage of the trainers. The group leaders and trainers went from child to child, encouraging them and helping to iron out kinks in their plot lines whilst correcting their drafts for grammar and punctuation.
Each child was given a booklet for which to use to illustrate and copy out their completed story. This took up most of the time of the last day.
Finally, all the worksheets and booklets were collected by the trainers (so that the work could be organised neatly), and it was time for all of us to leave the room for a short break which the kids welcomed. The excuse given was that Sgt Leroy was working with another of the MUTB trainers to find a new cure, one which actually works!
When we returned, Sgt Leroy had built himself a barricade and was pacing around inside of it like a caged lion. It turned out that he’d discovered some hidden CCTV footage of Leader Xiangxiang revealing herself to have been bitten in the leg by a zombie, and conspiring with one of the other MUTB trainers to frame the Lab Assistant. So Sgt Leroy completely lost his marbles, destroying the zombie cure and executing everyone in the room one by one, to Dramatic Music!!
Everybody’s dead, Dave.
As the music stopped, all the MUTB trainers who had been playing dead on the ground got up for a curtain call, and we clapped and cheered for all of their hard work!
J was very excited to receive his mini book from his group leader, who posed with him for a photo. When I asked him how he found the workshop, he replied without hesitation, “IT WAS FUN! Much more fun than the EpicQuestINK!”
J with his group leader looking fierce
Thank you to Monsters Under the Bed for this super-exciting experience with SurviveINK! We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and we are looking forward to attending more creative writing workshops with MUTB!
Monsters Under the Bed are running more INK workshops during the September, November and December holidays this year, so if you’re interested, definitely sign up as spaces get snapped up really fast!
Date: 7 – 9 September 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House
Date: 23 – 25 November 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House
INK to the Void
Date: 14 – 16 December 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House
Monsters Under the Bed have also recently opened their first brick-and-mortar branch! You can now find their creative writing school at:
492 Changi Road, Singapore 419900