As an author living in Lincolnshire, I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in World Book Day at Immingham’s Oasis Academy on Thursday, 5th March. When I arrived, I was greeted by the lovely Sally Broadley and Lorraine Glover who took me straight over to see the new library. The school have recently moved it to the ground floor for easy access for the pupils and it looked wonderful. I was thrilled to see an array of new books not to mention, sofa’s for the pupils to lounge on, but the best thing of all was the corner dedicated to ‘The Magic Trilogy’ and my new book Clump, A Changeling’s Story. I was a little overwhelmed but appreciative all the same. I felt truly blessed to be supported so strongly by the school.
I’d been invited to hold a creative workshop with three groups over the course of the morning. Last year, I held a similar workshop where the pupils learned how to use pictures and images to help them with their descriptive writing. I’m a great believer in using visuals to help stimulate the brain and personally think that using pictures helps writers to create scenes and viable characters when writing. You see, with pictures you can see beyond your own imagination, you’re tapping into someone else’s and therefore see colour, shapes and depth, through their eyes. At a glance you may witness a picture much stronger than your own mind’s eye could have conjured up or perhaps you just see things you would never have thought of yourself.
The pupils and staff of Immingham’s Oasis Academy with copies of ‘The Magic Trilogy’
For example when writing about a dragon you may have a basic image in your head but by using a picture you can see the length of the horns, how large the teeth really are and see those wide nostrils flare. You may also see scales running down the dragon’s back. Perhaps there are sharp horns on its head that you never thought about adding? Maybe there’s more than one dragon in the picture, is it part of a colony? Artists are superb at capturing these images on paper and are a useful tool which I find writers can use for inspiration or when suffering from writers block.
After having a meeting with Sally and Lorraine earlier in the month we decided it would be fun for the pupils to learn how to describe a witch. To make the lesson more interesting, I didn’t just want to use traditional witches, oh no, I looked much further afield to see what other countries classed as a witch. I certainly did my homework and found a very varied selection of creatures. These ranged from characters associated with Steampunk, a genre made popular since the mid-eighties, to tribal Indian witchdoctors. My aim was to show students that using pictures really can ignite your imagination and that as a writer you don’t always have to go with what is deemed as conventional.
I was quite excited when I arrived at the school. After last year’s success, I was rather looking forward to reading more creative writing by the pupils and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. At the beginning of the first lesson I explained what are thought to be the characteristics of a traditional witch. We usually identify a witch by her clothes, long, dark cloak, pointed hat and broomstick but I wanted to take the lesson one step further. First of all I passed around images of traditional witches. Some were stirring cauldrons; others looked quite mean whilst they crept into the darkness followed by a black cat. The students nodded when I showed them the pictures, but I could see that the spark I was looking for wasn’t there yet so I began passing alternatives. These were of Gothic witches, hideous, horned women and frightening tribal warriors.
The difference in the pupils demeanour was instantaneous. They began chatting excitedly; pointing out to one another factors which they thought made their witch look frightful. Some characters were dressed in black with long painted fingernails yet had beautiful faces. Others showed women in their Steampunk outfits with spell books glowing at their fingertips whilst a few looked demonic wearing skulls and horns.
I allowed each pupil to choose a picture which they felt interested them. I even threw in a few ghastly wizards and some Steampunk males dressed in gold painted armour and a string of gadgets dangling from their waists. This turned out to be very popular with the male pupils of the school. Once the students had chosen a picture, I then gave out worksheets which would help them describe their witch. I’d decided that this lesson would be more about describing the actual character and the worksheets would help them to think up appropriate words.
I made ten outlines to help create the witch, using my book Sinners of Magic to show the pupils how I created my own.
- Usually the first thing you may think about is your witch’s face. Is she repugnant/monstrous/ghastly or simply hideous or is she/he the most beautiful/handsome creature you have ever set eyes upon?
- How would you describe their features? World weary or wizened? Perhaps decayed or care-worn? Her skin could be wrinkled beyond recognition or she may suffer facial hair that’s as tough as a broom’s twigs. She could even suffer warts or have pockmarked skin.
Then again, is she beautiful, alluring, bewitching, graceful, dazzling, angelic?
- Now you can take into account things such as her eyes. What shape are they? Would you say they were like a cat’s, cunning and shrewd or perhaps they are like a snake’s – hooded and calculating? Her eyes may glow fiercely, look savage or show raw hunger. Do they flash with cruelty or shimmer with spite?
On the other hand, are they alluring, captivating, or do you see a flash of silver explode inside her iris?
Already we are building a picture that doesn’t look like the typical ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ and the character you are creating is no longer such a stereotype.
- Her hair – is it like straw or is it matted, dark and lice infested? Or is it sleek like satin, rich in colour, as black as coal, or does it shine like the sun?
- What about her nose? Will you go for the traditional hooked beak or will it be slightly bulbous or even resemble something huge like a vultures? If you’re going for beauty, is it small and petite or long and thin?
- Her lips – are they thin and bloodless or like slits, showing a row of rotten teeth? Does she have full red lips or a perfect Cupid’s bow?
- Her legs – Does she have legs that are spindly, is her back bent double? Are her legs long and shapely?
- How does she sound? Will it be a cackle? Or will her voice hiss? Some witches have a gravelly note whilst others simply rasp. Is it her voice that lures you to your death? Does it sound like angels are calling? Do you feel safe and warm when she speaks to you, giving a false sense of security?
- Her clothing- Is she dressed in dirty rags or wearing a gown that is fit for a queen?
- Where does she live? – In a hovel, a den, inside a tree, a palace or in the forest? All these things will have an impact on how your reader perceives your character and are very important.
Take a look at how I have described Lilura, the witch in my fist novel Sinners of Magic …
“Lilura was dressed in long, dark robes, which rested upon the straw-covered floor. The hem of her clothing was tatty with age, a string of dried dirt clinging to the bottom of her garment. She was old enough to be his great-grandmother, and her skin was dry and paper thin, wrinkled in some places and stretched to the point of splitting in others. Her face was haggard beyond any recognition, but her eyes were sharp and alive.”
I was thrilled to see the pupil’s were filled with enthusiasm. They only had twenty minutes to write their masterpiece and they were keen to get started. The writing got underway and there was a lot of scribbling going on. The end result was truly astounding. Many of the pupils were eager to read out their pieces of work to the rest of the class and I was stunned by the quality of the content. Their descriptive writing was pretty impressive and also very mature for their age. One young man even received a ‘Golden Ticket’ from a teacher because she was blown away by the standard of his writing.
This young man won a ‘Golden Ticket’ for his superb description of a witch – WTG!
Once the classes were finished I chatted to the teachers who were over the moon by what the students had achieved. To see them working so hard and achieve so much in such a short period of time made the whole day worthwhile for everyone.
A huge ‘Thank You’ to Sally Broadley and Lorraine Glover for inviting me to take part in World Book Day. I had a blast and I must add how they looked marvellous in their outfits dressed as Willy Wonker and Pippi Longstocking!
I get a real buzz working with young people and I know I’ve said it before and I will say it again …
If I can nurture just one child’s writing then I have made a difference.