Teacher’s notes for Graffiti on the Fence

Before reading the book

  1. Predict what the story might be about by looking at the front cover only.
  • Now look at the back cover. Does this confirm any of your suggestions? Which ones?
  • Extend this activity by finding the cover rough at the bottom of this page.
  • What changes has the illustrator made?
  • How do these changes effect what you think about this character and the story?
  1. Read the blurb about the author in the back of the book.

Here is what Elaine Forrestal said about the writing of Graffiti on the Fence in a speech she made at the launch of the book in December 1999.

Before my first novel, The Watching Lake, was published Penguin sent me a copy of the Reader’s Report. The reader is that very powerful, independent consultant – the expert who reads your manuscript and tells the publisher what to do with it. Like ‘bin this one’. Or ‘this needs major surgery’! And occasionally, the one every author is hoping for, ‘yes! – this one’s a goer’!

The Watching Lake had already had two major rewrites when a fat envelope from Penguin arrived in the post. I looked at it with the usual ‘heart in the mouth’ feeling. What would it say? Would they tell me it still needed work? Would they say they couldn’t afford to invest any more time and energy in it? Would they suggest I send it elsewhere? Which would mean virtually starting all over again with a different publisher. I finally got the letter open. There was more work to be done, but yes! At last the reader was recommending that they publish! I was over the moon. And in that five page report, along with all the other comments, there is one little sentence that I have never forgotten.

It says: ‘(This book) may not attract a huge readership, but it is a book that should be published because, for the right reader, the world will never be quite the same place again after finishing it.’

I am always trying to write that sort of book for kids. A book that alters their view of the world in some way. A book that stays with them long after its covers have been closed.

I hope that Graffiti on the Fence is one of those books. Writing it has certainly been a very different experience for me. My other books have all come from very shaky beginnings. And only seen the light of day after several agonising rewrites. But this one seemed to be strong and robust right from the start. Everyone at Penguin loved it. The reader loved it. There were no major rewrites to be done. It did have to go through the usual rigorous editing process and things did get polished and tightened up a lot. But, looking back now, the book seems almost to have written itself. Or maybe it was the Witch who wrote it. Check out the dedication and see what you think.”

Elaine Forrestal

Analysis and application of knowledge

  1. Write a description of Hellz. What sort of character is he?
  • How does Lallie see him: (a) at the beginning of the novel? (b) at the end.
  1. Interview – in pairs:
  • One person pretends to be a character from the story, the other person interviews that character about the events that took place.
  • Sample questions:
    • How did you feel when …….. ?
    • What did the …….. look like?
    • How do you feel about ……..’s actions? etc.
  1. Map the story itself using a: story ladder, explosion chart, feelings web.
  • Graffiti is the language of concealment. There is fierce competition among the people who write graffiti to:
    • get their own tag into the most inaccessible places and
    • to make their tag recognisable to their own group, but NOT recognisable to the police or anyone who is likely to deal out punishment.
  • Is there a wall somewhere in your school that your class could get permission to decorate with graffiti?
  1. Debate the topic ‘Graffiti is not art, it is vandalism’: In your class; with another class; with another school.


  1. Carry out science experiments using crystals, eg. making rainbows; burning paper.
  2. Make plaster casts of each others shoeprints in the sandpit.
  3. Choose three things that you read about in Graffiti on the Fence that you would like to know more about.
  4. Read the extract from the poem Horatius, by Lord Macaulay. Do you think this is a modern poem? Pick out the words from this quote that give the best clues as to when it might have been written.
  5. Now read this condensed version of the poem. (Use your dictionary for words you don’t understand.) And retell the story of Horatius in your own words.
Horatius by Lord Macaulay

They held a council standing before the river gate;
Short time was there, ye well may guess, for musing or debate.
Out spake the Consul roundly: “The bridge must straight come down;
For, since Janiculum is lost, nought else can save the town.”

Just then a scout came flying, all wild in haste and fear:
“To arms! To arms! Sir Consul: Lars Porsena is here.”
On the low hills to westward the Consul fixed his eye,
And saw the swarthy storm of dust rise fast along the sky.

Far to left and far to right, in broken gleams of dark-blue light,
The long array of helmets bright, the long array of spears.
And darkly looked he at the wall, and darkly at the foe.
“Their van will be upon us before the bridge goes down;
And if they once may win the bridge, what hope to save the town?”

Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?”

“Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul, with all the speed you may;
I, with two more to help me, will hold the foe in play.
In yon straight path a thousand may well be stopped by three.
Now who will stand on either hand and hold the bridge with me?”

Then out spake Spurius Lartius: a Ramnian proud was he:
“Lo, I will stand on thy right hand and keep the bridge with thee.”
And out spake strong Herminius; of Titian blood was he:
“I will abide on thy left side, and keep the bridge with thee.”

“Horatius,” quoth the Consul, “As thou sayest, so let it be.”
And straight against that great array forth went the dauntless Three.

Meanwhile the Tuscan army, right glorious to behold,
Came flashing back the noonday light, rank behind rank, like surges bright
Of a broad sea of gold.
Four hundred trumpets sounded a peal of warlike glee,
As the great host with measured tread, and spears advanced and ensigns spread,
Rolled slowly towards the bridge’s head, where stood the dauntless Three.

The Three stood calm and silent, and looked upon the foes,
And a great shout of laughter from all the vanguard rose:
And forth three chiefs came spurring before that deep array;
To earth they sprang, their swords they drew,
And lifted high their shields and flew to win the narrow way.

Then, whirling up his broadsword with both hands to the height,
He rushed against Horatius, and smote with all his might.
With shield and blade Horatius right deftly turned the blow.
The blow, thought turned, came yet too nigh: it missed his helm, but gashed his thigh:
The Tuscans raised a joyful cry to see the red blood flow.

He reeled, and on Herminius he leaned one breathing-space;
Then, like a wild cat mad with wounds, sprang right at Astur’s face.
Through teeth, and skull, and helmet, so fierce a thrust he sped,
The good sword stood a hand-breadth out behind the Tuscan’s head.
On Astur’s throat Horatius right firmly pressed his heel,
And thrice and four times tugged amain, ere he wrenched out the steel.
“And see,” he cried, “the welcome, fair guests, that waits you here!
What noble Lucumo comes next to taste our roman cheer?”

But all Etruria’s noblest felt their hearts sink to see
On the earth the bloody corpse, in the path the dauntless Three.

Was none who would be foremost to lead such dire attack:
But those behind cried “Forward!” and those before cried “Back!”

But meanwhile axe and lever have manfully been plied;
And now the narrow bridge hangs tottering above the boiling tide.
“Come back, come back, Horatius!” Loud cried the Fathers all.
“Back, Lartius! Back, Herminius! Back, ere the ruin fall!”

Back darted Spurius Lartius; Herminius darted back:
And, as they passed, beneath their feet they felt the timbers crack.
But when they turned their faces, and on the farther shore
Saw brave Horatius stand alone, they would have crossed once more.

But with a crash like thunder fell every loosened beam,
And, like a dam, the mighty wreck lay right athwart the stream.

Alone stood brave Horatius, but constant still in mind;
Thrice thirty thousand foes before, and the broad flood behind.
“Down with him!” cried false Sextus, with a smile upon his face.
“Now yield thee,” cried Lars Porsena, “Now yield thee to our grace.”

Nought spake he to Lars Porsena. To Sextus nought spake he:
But he saw on Palatinus the white porch of his home;
And he spake to the noble river that rolls by the towers of Rome.

“Oh Tiber! father Tiber! To whom the Romans pray,
A Roman’s life, a Roman’s arms, take thou in charge this day!”
So he spake, and speaking sheathed the good sword by his side.
And with his harness on his back plunged headlong in the tide.

No sound of joy or sorrow was heard from either bank;
But friends and foes in dumb surprise, with parted lips and straining eyes,
Stood gazing where he sank;
And when above the surges they saw his crest appear,
All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry,
And even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer.

But fiercely ran the current, swollen by months of rain:
And fast his blood was flowing; and he was sore in pain,
And heavy with his armour, and spent with changing blows:
And oft they thought him sonking, but still again he rose.

But his limbs were borne up bravely by the brave heart within,
And our good father Tiber bare bravely up his chin.
“Curse on him!” quoth false Sextus; “Will not the villain drown?
But for this stay, ere close of day we should have sacked the town!”
“Heaven help him!” quoth Lars Porsena, “And bring him safe to shore;
For such a gallant feat of arms was never seen before.”

And now he feels the bottom; now on dry land he stands;
Now round him throng the Fathers to press his gory hands;

And wives still pray to Juno for boys with hearts as bold
As his who kept the bridge so well in the brave days of old.
Graffiti On The Fence - cover rough