When I went to school there was nothing on the curriculum called ‘creative writing’. English was usually about writing essays and the only excitement in a whole term was to perhaps see a film. I remember my class being taken down to the Science lab, (it had a projector screen in there) and we watched ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’. I’ve got to be honest … we were all absolutely bored out of our tiny minds.
I was fifteen, wanted to marry John Travolta and to look like Olivia Newton-John. My scribbles were about love and finding the right man who had to be rich and of course, resemble … John Travolta. I’m pleased to say that years later, my young and somewhat romantic notions from way back then are a far cry from what I write today.
That said, English has always been a huge part of my life and I understand that English Literature is a very important part of the curriculum. After all, if we didn’t read and study texts from the past, and only looked to the bestseller list, how would we lean about the evolution of writing?
Of course, teachers still need to find ways to engage their pupils and help keep lessons interesting. Fast forward to today’s schools and you find that lessons are far more relaxed. Of course, ‘the classics’ are still a vital part of learning, but teachers are also aware that a little fun in the mix can make lessons far more appealing to pupils.
The joy of being a fantasy writer means that I get to have a lot of fun. When I go into schools, my job is to ignite young minds with lots of different ideas and show them how to create interesting characters.
My visit to Barnes Wallis Academy, Tattershall, Lincolnshire:
My favourite workshop is usually visual images and I use Pinterest a lot to find wonderful and vibrant pictures. I start the workshop by handing out a chapter from one of my stories to each pupil with a specific picture. This will be an image I have actually used myself to create that particular chapter. I find that when the pupils see for themselves how I have created a story by using images, this then helps them to believe in the lesson all the more.
Of course, I like to get the teachers involved too if I can and more the merrier. The chapter I usually bring with me is four A4 sides so that’s quite a lot for one person to read out so I break it up. I get the teacher and the classroom assistants to read a page each (if they are willing). This not only stops me from ending up with a dry throat, but a different voice also changes the tone and narrative of the story.
Once my assistants have finished the chapter, I discuss how the story evolved and how I was able to not only set the scene but to make sure that the story moved forward. For example, here is the picture I used to create chapter 8 of Sinners of Magic:
In this particular chapter, I explain that one of my warriors meets the keeper of the hut. The keeper is a dwarf called Nekton and the Warrior Amadeus is made welcome. He stays the night, enjoys a hearty meal and good company before heading off to his bed for the night. Then, something awakens him and he looks out of the hut to see spies appearing from out of the trees. However, he is shocked to see only yellow eyes glowing in the darkness. He knocks over a lamp and Nekton jumps from his bed and Amadeus is forced to tell him what he has seen but the dwarf doesn’t believe him and so they venture outside to see who’s out there. They are attacked by King Forusian’s men, King of the Nonhawks. These deadly monsters are using a forbidden spell which makes them invisible except for their eyes. There’s a fight and both Nekton and Amadeus are kidnapped.
Once we have discussed the piece and the children have grasped how I have created a whole scene with one picture, it’s their turn to try and create a story of their very own.
I explain how they have to study the image and then write about what they think is happening inside the hut. I try to give them ideas: Is the hut a warm and welcoming place or are there demons/monsters/wolves or something ferocious waiting behind the door?
I walk around the class talking to each pupil until I find the trigger that makes them want to write. One of the pupils, a boy, said he had a giant ogre with a chicken with yellow eyes behind the door. Another claimed a giant spider with thick webs and dead flies was waiting to eat him.
Once the pupils become engrossed, I give them ten minutes to write their story before throwing a spanner in the works … Just as they start to get comfortable with where their story is going, I produced a selection of characters I want them to add to their writing. This idea always receives a mixed reception, that is, until the pupils see the pictures.
I show them images of fierce wolves, Elvin princesses, dragons, hobbits and witches. The pupils literally gasp with delight, eager to add these magical characters into their own stories. I let them choose which one they like the most and then once again, give them ten minutes to write about their character.
Just as the lesson draws to a close, I find we still have a couple of minutes to read out a few of the stories. I find that most of the pupils are keen to read out their work with lots of hands raised and smiling faces. When they read out loud, it was with confidence and I was really impressed by their description and use of language.
Thank you too Katherine Cocker-Goring for inviting me to Barnes Wallis Academy and to everyone who took part in the creative writing session, you all did great!