Making a Noise

If I came to your school for an author visit, one of the first things you would notice is I like to make a noise. When I visit schools I take along the gong I used for research when I was writing Samurai Kids 1:White Crane. Most of my presentations are in libraries. There’s something a bit radical about being able to make a big noise in the library!

I love to make a noise when I write too. My favourite words are onamotapoeias. An onamatopoeia is word that imitates the sound or noise it is describing. In the Samurai Kids series Sensei Ki-Yaga regularly bangs his gong to get the Kids’ attention so I needed lots of sound words for that. But the most fun I had with onamatopoeias was when I was writing Polar Boy. I knew one of the things that happened on the first page was that Iluak tripped over a pile of pots and pans and attracted the attention of a polar bear. It was a long way away… until it heard the noise.

The best way to find onamatopoeias is to listen to the sound you need. So I took some pots and pans from my kitchen and dropped them off the balcony. They made wonderful sounds. Crash. Bash. Clang. I thought that would make a great start to my novel. But then when I continued researching life above the Arctic Circle, I realised there was no metal there. My story is set 800 years ago, when pots and pans were made out of soapstone, a soft rock. So I took rocks from my garden and dropped them off the balcony. They made a very different sound.

Here is what I heard and how I used it in the first few lines of Polar Boy:


Klunk-tunk. Konk. Tunk.

There are no words in my language to escribe tripping over a fully laden sled and landing with a cooking pot on your head. But that’s the sound it makes. The noise skids across the night to touch the arctic sky.

The onamatopoeias I ultimately used are much more interesting than the first ones I found – because I made them up. Not only can you make up onamatopoeias but you can give them an unusual spelling. Recently I wrote a short story about a boy who lived with dingos. I called the boy Rlph becuase it sounds like a dingo yip and because it looks like the human name Ralph.

But perhaps the best thing about noise words is they are a great way to start a story. They are a real attention grabber. So if you ever get stuck trying to begin a story in class… use words to make a noise

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