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The Bear Who Sailed the Ocean on a Iceberg: a story starter

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Emily Critchley grew up in Essex and has lived in Brighton and London. She now lives in Hertfordshire. She studied Creative Writing at London Metropolitan University and at Birkbeck, University of London and now works as a secondary school librarian. Her debut YA novel was nominated for the Carnegie award and featured as The Sunday Times book of the week. The Bear who Sailed the Ocean on an Iceberg is her first middle grade novel. 

I first had the idea of writing The Bear Who Sailed the Ocean on an Iceberg when an image of a polar bear lying in a freezer in a garage jumped into my head. It seemed funny to me as the bear was completely at odds with the very ordinary environment around him. I wondered what the bear was doing there and who had found him. I then created my character, Patrick, a twelve-year-old boy who finds Monty the talking polar bear in the freezer in his garage when his mum sends him to put the Christmas decorations away.  

Patrick is an ordinary boy with problems at school and at home; he’s being bullied by three boys in his tutor group and his mum isn’t feeling well. The last thing Patrick needs is to have to find a way of concealing a large polar bear, and feeding Monty becomes a problem when Patrick’s pocket money only stretches to a few tins of sardines. 

I’ve always loved stories that involve an element of magic or strangeness in an otherwise ordinary world. 

What if you created an ordinary character in an ordinary world who stumbled across an extraordinary creature? 

What is strange or surprising about the creature? Can they talk? Are they friendly or hostile? What do they look like? Can you describe them? Perhaps your creature or animal can grant wishes like the sand fairy in Five Children and It. Or perhaps like Monty, my polar bear, they are far from home and need to get back before they are discovered. 

Now think about your human character.

  • Who are they?
  • Do they have family and friends?
  • What is going on in their life?
  • How do they react to finding the strange creature or animal?
  • Are they scared, excited, nervous, amused?
  • How do they show this in their body language? 

See if you can write an opening scene where your main character finds the strange creature or animal. Think about the setting.

  • Where does the scene take place and where does your character find the strange creature? A garage, a garden shed, cupboard or a wardrobe?
  • Perhaps the strange creature is found in an abandoned house or deep in the woods?
  • What is your main character doing there?
  • What is the environment like?
  • What season does your story take place in? 

Add in some dialogue between your character and the animal or creature. Try to hear their voices in your head like you are an actor taking on the roles of the two different characters as they talk to each other. Don’t worry too much at this stage about planning your story or knowing exactly what will happen. Just write the opening, get your characters talking to each other, and see where your story takes you. You might be surprised! 

Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyMCritchley and Instagram @emily.critchley and find out more at

The Bear Who Sailed the Ocean on an Iceberg is by Everything with Words and is available at