It is a wild and stormy night when five British school children from Mordanger School arrive ahead of their classmates for a week-long field trip at “haunted” Old Harwick Hall. With the aid of flashes of lightning, the two girls Claudia and Pixie and three boys, Robbo, Ralph and Colin find a long-abandoned secret room containing a mysterious journal. On the cover, it reads, ‘ Richard Clayton Harwick – My Story. Read and Weep’. From the journal, the children uncover the story of a boy who runs away from the sinister influence of a loveless stepfather. Richard Clayton Harwick’s longhidden journal provides an inner tale that triggers off, one by one, each of the stories of
the listening children, all of whom also have “steps,” or step-parents, to share their own sagas. And what engrossing, heart-rending stories they are: of hurting but still humorous children picking their way through a minefield of embittered or uncommunicative or just plain immature parents, insecure or reluctant step parents and resentful step siblings. However, the lack of a principal plot is of no consequence as the novel main purpose is to serve as a forum for the various stories. “Step by Wicked Step” proves that all pain eventually heals and that we have the power to change things
for the better.
This novel is really five stories within a story that are induced by a story, like a nesting puzzle. So, we have six stories in the book. There may be a lack of a principal plot here but it is of no consequence as the novel’s main purpose is to serve as a forum for six various stories of Richard Clayton Harwick, Claudia, Colin, Ralph, Pixie and Robbo. In Step by Wicked Step, five boys and girls find themselves in an old house on a stormy night. In a hidden tower room they discover an old diary of Richard Clayton Harwick, who left behind a journal account of his wicked stepfather. “Read and Weep,’ says the spidery writing on the cover of the book.
After Richard Clayton Harwick’s father passes away, he was sent to Mordanger School for four long years. He wishes to burn Mordanger to ‘ashes’ as to him, ‘there’s no meaner place on earth’ than this boarding school. When he returns to Old Harwick Hall, he could not get along with his wicked and loveless stepfather, Reverend Coldstone. Being ‘robbed of all his precious tokens’ from home, Richard makes the decision to leave and become a cabin boy when ‘a great ship strains at the tide’. His decision has caused anguish in his mother and sister, who have spent a fortune seeking his return. He did not return to see his mother or sister until he read a square print from Riddle & Flook which requested him to claim his ownership to Old Harwick Hall. By then, Richard knows that his stepfather, mother and sister have passed on. Only then, he realises his decision to leave has changed the lives of his family members.
Harwick’s story prompts Claudia, Colin, Ralph, Pixie and Robbo to tell their own tales of stepfathers, stepmothers, and stepsiblings, who are in turn eccentric, beloved, unwelcome, and almost always misunderstood. Each vignette* is a wonderful study of human nature. As the lightning flashes, the children begin to relate their own tales of step parents, stories that are full of warmth and humour, yet with a fair share of sadness. At first it seems the children could have nothing in common. Sports-mad Robbo, quick-witted Ralph, sensible Claudia, fiery Pixie and dreamy Colin seem as different to each other as it is possible to be. Yet they soon find they have one thing in common, and that they are all the products of broken homes and they once have a turbulent relationship with a ‘step-’ or ‘steps-’ Below are the five stories in ‘steps by wicked steps’ spin off from Richard Clayton Harwick’s ‘My Story. Read and Weep’. As Ralph says, “Stories don’t have to be written,’ he reminded Claudia. ‘ This is the night for stories. Off you go,’ he reiterated.
*vignette – n. /vin-‘yet, v n-/ descriptive passage within ѐ a larger work
(French, “little vine”)
On a wild and stormy night, five students, Claudia, Colin, Ralph, Pixie and Robbo, are sent ahead on a school trip to Old Harwick Hall. Instead of taking the school bus with Miss O’Dell and their other friends, they have to ride on a minibus with Mr. Plumley, one of their accompanying teachers, to their destination. After arriving, they explore the building and find an old, hexagonal tower room with five beds in it. In the dark of the night, with no electricity due to the raging storm, Colin spots a door which leads to an old, abandoned room where they discover a diary of a young boy by the name of Richard Clayton Harwick. Prior to reading the diary, they wonder why they are put together in the minibus. They achieved the answer after eavesdropping on Miss O’Dell and Mr. Plumley’s conversation – on Miss O’Dell’s list, their names had ticks which indicate that they each had two different addresses on their permission slips, one for their mother’s home and one for their father’s home. Each child comes from a divorced family. Alas, Pixie reads Richard’s diary out loud for the other children to hear.
Richard Clayton Harwick’s father is ill and this worries everyone in Harwick Hall. Before his death, he tells Richard to take care of his mother and sister, Lilith and Charlotte Harwick. After that, Richard not only feels sad for his father’s death, but also because his father had only thought of his mother and sister instead of him until the end of his life. Later in the story, Lilith marries Reverend Coldstone, a priest who is cruel towards Richard but is very nice towards Charlotte. Richard is then sent to a boarding school called Mordanger School, where he is treated like a prisoner. He then decides to run away and sail all over the world. He comes back twice to Harwick Hall but never bothers to enter it or meet his mother and sister. He finally returns home after reading a print which states that solicitors have something to his advantage back home, discovering from a letter Charlotte had written before her death, that his family had been searching for him until the end of their lives and how Reverend Coldstone had turned out to be a very bad man. He then runs away forever, leaving his green diary in his room.
Chapter 3 – Claudia’s Story: Green Pyjamas
Claudia starts telling her story to the other children: Claudia’s parents quarrel a lot until her father decides to take his things and move away to his mother’s house. One night, there is a flood of phone calls, and for the first time, Claudia hears the name Stella, her dad’s new girlfriend. After that night, Claudia’s dad dare not visit nor come near the house anymore, but only talks to Claudia over the phone. On Boxing Day, Claudia meets Stella for the first time and thinks that Stella is a plain and mousy person. After a row with his mother, Claudia’s dad then moves into Stella’s house. Later, Stella gives Claudia a pair of beautiful green pyjamas as a late Christmas present even though Claudia is always rude and mean to her. One evening, Claudia’s dad and Stella holds a dinner party to celebrate his thirty-seventh birthday. During the dinner, Claudia’s dad’s friends ignores Stella as they think that by doing so they would be loyal to Claudia’s mum. Claudia felt sorry and went downstairs to thank her for the green pyjamas and thus making her point to the dinner guests that Stella is a wonderful person.
Chapter 5 – Ralph’s Story: A Tale of Three Stepmothers
Claudia Ralph has two brothers, two half-brothers, one half-sister, three stepbrothers, one stepsister,three stepmothers, one stepfather, two step-grandmothers and a step-grandfather. Living in a big family is no joke. After school on Mondays and Thursdays, he goes directly to Dad’s place. His mum or his step dad,Howard sends him. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he goes straight to his Mum’s place. At times,he will be lost not knowing where to go. The lunchboxes help. M for Mickey Mouse and Mum, D for Dumbo and Dad. If he is lost, he has to look at his lunch box to confirm his destination. Edward and George are his brothers. The boys liked Annabel, stepmother No. 1. The only problem was she never left the boys alone with their dad.Edward and George hated this. Dad and Annabel spent all their time kissing and cuddling. Annabel was always on a diet. She disapproved of coffee. So the boys had to drink Dandelion tea every morning. She loved to read out her star sign forecast in the mornings and again in the evenings. Sometimes, she even tried to look at Edward and George to tell their aura. However, the boys would deny anything she said.Yet, their dad would not feel embarrassed.One day, Brandy, Ralph’s cat was sent over as their Mum was varnishing the hall. The three boys took Brandy in a cage. Edward had made it from a broken milk bottle crate and bits of wire. Annabel was annoyed and blamed them to be cruel as Brandy did not have room to breathe. Dad distracted her by pointing out that they were out of bread. Annabel insisted in baking. The poor boys were starving to death.So, they went to the shops. They boys ate three large loaves and before they came home, they brushed away the crumbs. Dad was praising of how the dough had risen.When Annabel left it on the table, Brandy leapt up on the table and sniffed the dough. Then, Brandy lift edits paw and patted the dough. Next, Brandy curled himself comfortably into the dough. Annabel went mad.Dad tried to stick up for Brandy. The spell between Annabel and Dad was broken. In the end, Annabel ranoff with someone and Dad searched high and low to get the divorce papers signed.The boys did not miss her as she was more of dad’s girlfriend than a real stepmother.Dad then focused his attention on Janet, who was more keen on rules. However, Dad liked it. Edward and George did not mind as they were able to spend ample time with Dad. On the other hand, Janet was busy rushing her children to the doctors, dentist and school.
Janet’s own children, Tom, Joe and Doug and Ann moved in with the three boys.Tom and Ann could get along with Ralph but not Joe and Doug. Mum and Howard though Janet was wonderful. Janet could draw up proper schedule and Mum hardly bothered as she found Janet was easy to deal with. Due to the rules, Ralph knew he could pick up rules in no time if he was ever anywhere. Finally Janet left. She got fed up with Mum and Dad as they were taking advantage of her. Dad kept fixing up work trips on the days the boys were there. He told Janet that she had four children and another three would not make any difference.Mum started sneaking Victor’s romper suit hoping that Janet would come across them and get the stains out before sending them back. So, Janet left. The boys had a wonderful time after that. Unfortunately, it was only for a short period of time. Stepmother Number 3, Flora, came into the picture. Edward met herlying on Dad’s patio with hardly any clothes on. She had the cheek to tell Edward to cover up as she was enjoying the sun. George met Flora when they went shopping. Flora was dumping treats like strawberries,kiwi fruits, waffles, Belgian chocolates into the trolley. Dad was looking into the wallet, gloomily. Ralph went the next day. When he rang the bell, Flora opened and enquired. Ralph introduced himself. Flora blew her top as she did want to be a nanny. She took Ralph out for a Chinese Dinner and to watch a film. Then she met some friends and went to a coffee bar. At that time, Ralph informed his Dad of their whereabouts.Dad was furious and scolded Flora. Flora was cool and told him not to dump the children on her before checking her schedule. Ralph thought she was wonderful although she did all sorts of terrible things to him.Flora was pregnant and she ate only mint sauce sandwiches. Ralph was worried that his half sister or half brother would not be well taken care off by Flora. She did not know how and Ralph decided to help her out.The others usually teased Ralph. Most probably, Flora would settle in with this family.
Plot summary-A group of children are spending the night in the creepy Old Harwick Hall, as part of a school trip. They are placed into certain groups, and Claudia, Colin, Ralph, Pixie and Robbo find themselves together. None of the group members are really best friends, but throughout the night they discover a secret that the old mansion has kept hidden for years, and they suddenly find themselves coming closer together and discovering why they were put in a group with each other. They are all wondering why they are put together, when they discover that they each had two different addresses on their permission slips, one for their mother’s home and one for their father’s home. Each child comes from a divorced family. At least one of their parents has married again. Some children have to deal with either stepbrothers, stepsisters, or blood related siblings. They each in turn tell each other about how their parents broke up. It uncovers many mysterious questions.
This novel is a tale that is both funny and moving. Five children are stranded together for the night in a tower of creepy, dark old Harwick Hall. In that stormy night, the children uncover the story of Richard Clayton Harwick which is very disturbing. It is a tale of a boy who of many years ago learned what it was like to have a truly wicked stepfather.
Richard Clayton Harwick’s long hidden journal provides an inner tale that triggers off, one by one, each of the stories of the listening children. It turns out eventually that they all have step parents, some kind, some bad, some just plain wrong and so they tell each other their stories. After listening to Richard’s story, each of the five tells his or her own. Their stories are powerful and intensely moving tales of children struggling with change and shifting family conditions.
Claudia’s story shows things well on the way to a happy ending. Claudia feels disloyal to her mum whenever she has a good time with her father and his new girlfriend, Stella. Thus, she is unfriendly towards Stella. Finally, in front of her Dad’s friends who are rude to Stella, she compliments Stella and makes everyone notice the lady.
Colin’s story is moving. Colin’s seems the saddest. He had someone he thought of as his father and now he misses him so badly that it hurts. Colin’s mother leaves the only father Colin has known, a man she lived with for many years, and in her attempt to create a new life for herself does not see that Colin has been torn from a man he loves. Colin loves his stepfather, but hasn’t seen him for five years, and is obsessively determined to find him.
Ralph’s story, though merry, is as complicated as a maze. He has three stepmothers to deal with. All of them are different in their ways. In addition, he has a lot of stepbrothers, stepsisters, half brother and half sisters to accept in his life. Ralph cannot keep track of which parent’s house he should go to after school each day, so his parents develop a lunchbox system: the Dumbo lunchbox means Dad’s house after school; the Mickey Mouse one directs him to his mother’s.Towards the end, we can see that he is anxiously waiting for his little half sister or half brother to be born.
Pixie has to deal with two really irritating sisters. She hates to go over her dad’s house twice in a month. She feels that everyone is pretending to be in a happy family when thay are actually not. She has to deal with two really irritating stepsisters and father who pretends he doesn’t notice how difficult things are for her. Soon, Pixie discovers that her stepmother and stepsisters aren’t any happier about the situation than she is. She learns to adapt to the situation. One of her step sisters teaches her mathematics and in return she tells ghost stories.
Robbo and his sister, Callie find that their half sister, Dumpa is the problem. Both their Mum and stepfather, Roy keep on arguing. The arguments are mainly due to Callie. Callie never seems to see eye to eye with Roy. Both Mum and Roy are committed with each other just because of Dumpa, their three year old son. Eventually, Callie moves out to her Dad’s place and that solves the problem.
Each of their stories is different, but through the act of telling, and through the responses of the other children, each one learns more about his or her life.
Colin’s Story: The Bluebird of Happiness
Colin and his mother left his father when he was a few weeks’ old. His mother takes up with a person whom he thinks of as his father. However, his immature mother also leaves this stepdad after a while. Now he misses him so badly that it hurts.
Ralph’s Story: A Tale of Three Stepmothers
Ralph’s life, though merry, is as complicated as a maze as he has three stepmothers and many stepfamily
Claudia’s Story: Green Pyjamas
After Claudia’s parents’ divorce, Dad finds a girlfriend, Stella. Claudia feels disloyal to her mum whenever she has a good time with her father and his new girlfriend. Even though Stella tries her best to be accepted by Claudia and her daddy’s friends, she is being ignored. Finally, Claudia realises her rudeness and she comes out of her closet by wearing the green pyjamas given by Stella.
Pixie’s Story: The Pains in my Life
Pixie has to deal with two really irritating stepsisters and a father who pretends he doesn’t notice how difficult things are for her. One day her stepmother (Lucy) and Pixie have a fight. They pour out their frustrations. Only then they realise that it is all because of Pixie’s father who is “selfish’, ‘always pretending he didn’t notice things’, and leaving them for Lucy to sort out the mess.
Robbo’s Story: Dumpa’s the Problem
Robbo and his sister, Callie always think that the birth of their stepbrother, Dumpa has caused numerous problems between them and their step father, Roy. When the relationship between Robbo’s mother and Roy is on the rock, Robbo realises that Roy does not move on because Dumpa’s the problem. Finally, Robbo realises that his mother is always stuck in between when Callie and Roy quarrel. This has caused mum and
Robbo’s stepfather to be upset.
Name of character
Descriptions/ Attributes/ Personality
School pupil, sports-mad especially football
School pupil, quick-witted, hardworking and occasionally likes to intercept impolitely during a conversation
School pupil, longs to be reunited with his stepdad, dreamy as ‘he drifts through the hours of each school day as if his thoughts were hundreds of miles away’ and this ‘ drove his teachers to despair’
Steady, sensible, did not get along well with her stepmother at the beginning
Fiery, a good reader, selfish
Richard Clayton Harwick
Owner of Old Harwick Hall, lost his father at a very young age. His mother remarries the priest, Reverend Coldstone whose wrath Richard cannot stand. He runs away, without knowing that he has made a decision that will change three lives; his stepfather’s, mother’s and sister’s. When he inherits Old Harwick Hall, he has lost his three closest members of the family.
Richard’s wicked stepfather, strict and cold-hearted
A staff of the school who accompanies the children to Old Harwick Hall
Miss O’ Dell
The school teacher who picks five of the children on a trip aftera quick glance at her list.
Gardener at the Harwick’s household
Maid at the Harwick’s household
Clayton Harwick’s sister.
OTHER CHARACTERS IN THE VIGNETTES
1. Claudia’s Story : Green Pyjamas
· Dad’s girlfriend, Stella, who is a cook
2. Colin’s Story : The Bluebird ofHappiness
· Colin’s immature mother
· Colin’s endearing stepdad (Jack ) who calls him many nicknames.
3. Ralph’s Story : A Tale of ThreeStepmothers
· First stepmother, Annabelle
· Second stepmother, Janet
· Third stepmother, Flora
· Stepdad, Howard
4. Pixie’s Story : The Pains in myLife
· Pixie’s stepmother, Lucy
· Two stepsisters , Sophie and Hetty Payne
· Pixie’s dad, whose lackadaisical attitude towards his family makes things difficult for the family to come together as a happy one.
5. Robbo’s Story: Dumpa’s theProblem
· Roy ( a.k.a The Beard), Robbo’s step dad.
· Callie, Robbo’s sister who hates The Beard
· Dumpa, Robbo’s newly born step brother
· Robbo’s mum, Hope
The nucleus of moral values, “the family unit,” is being invaded by outsiders (‘step’ or ‘steps’) and this causes disharmony.
Dealing with adversities
Young children and adults may find difficulties dealing with frustrations, fears and sadness.
‘Life has dealt us one hard blow, there is no reason for us to be unhappy for ever’. For example, Claudia realises it is not fair to hate her new stepmother, Stella.
Think long enough before making a decision
Richard Harwick made a rash decision to run away and that had changed the lives of his stepfather, mother and sister.
Resentful step-siblings cause burden and hostility in a home.
Coping with change
All pain eventually heals and that we have the power to change things for the better.
Characters like Claudia and Pixie are brave as they confess to their own rotten behaviour.
Dealing with Separation and Divorce
It deals with a social phenomenon that many people are experiencing, the idea of a divorce
as somehow horrible. Separation and divorce, and the events leading up to them, interrupts the stability and predictability that children need.
1. It is important that children should tell their parents about their real feelings and vice versa.
2. One has to be brave when facing adversities.
3. We must not judge someone without knowing all the facts. We should weigh our pros or cons, and study the facts.
4. Adults or parents should be more thoughtful in making decision as it would affect the lives of their children.