Monday, October 11, 2010

Inveralmond International Book Festival

I was very honoured today to read and be interviewed at the inaugural 'Inveralmond International Book Festival'. It was put on at Inveralmond Community High School by a third year class who writer, Mary Paulson-Ellis, and myself have been working with over the last three weeks, as part of Scottish Book Trust's 'Writers in Schools' programme.

Over the six sessions in Michael Stephenson's English class, we transformed the usual layout of the room into a writers' workshop. Everyone had their own notebook, quite unlike a jotter which might be examined by a teacher. Mary gave us a series of prompts to respond to in short bursts of writing - places in the school with particular atmosphere or smell or feeling; characters from memory and imagination. We built up a series of jottings. When we wrote, silence fell over a roomful of bent heads and scratching hands. The concentration was palpable.

It wasn't long before stories emerged quite naturally from the jottings. Then it was the whole school which transformed as corridors were tiptoed for the first time at night; zombies and demons invaded; the SAS had to be called in; the drama studio became a refuge for a solitary pupil who then discovered she was not alone; there was a school for shape-shifters... Stories demanded to be told.

And today, some of them were read, Mary and myself were interviewed by two pupils on behalf of the class, and we celebrated in style with drinks and snacks.

The idea was to give these pupils an opportunity to write, to play with words, to let stories arise naturally and then to capture them in black ink on white paper, whether complete or not, and celebrate them together. We adapted some of the ideas from an article in Writing in Education 49 (NAWE's magazine) by teaching consultant and writer Raymond Soltysek, which chimed with the playful and writerly approach we wanted to take. It worked! I think we left many of them unconvinced about a career as a writer (once I'd explained how royalties worked), but it would be lovely to think that this process of story-writing will leave a lasting legacy in their attitude to imaginative writing.

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