Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Loogabarooga Festival 2016

'Incredible Illustrations, Brilliant Books...'

The second Loogabarooga Festival did not disappoint. Over six days, there were theatre shows, talks, creative sessions, exhibitions, workshops, readings, films, book signings... Famous authors and illustrators flocked to Loughborough - like Michael Rosen, Julian Clary, David Roberts, Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre, Daisy Hirst, Andrew Everitt-Stewart, Emma Yarleti... I've probably missed a few. We even had Roald Dahl's BFG in the town centre!

And then there was me.

I offered to visit schools in the area, to talk about writing or hold a creative writing session. The Loogabarooga Festival team said 'yes please' (hooray!) and so I found myself last Monday ready to present three different sessions at two very different schools.

Limehurst Academy asked me to give an assembly-type talk and Q&A session to 120 Year 7's, followed by a creative writing session for one lucky class from the same year group.

At first the 120 pairs of eyes staring up at me was a bit daunting, but I recognised a few ex-Mountfields pupils among them as well as at least one member of staff who went to school with me in my own Limehurst Girls High School (as it was back in the 1970's) days, so I soon relaxed. In fact, I took a photo of me in my school uniform to show the current students...

I gave a short talk about how I got into writing and the long journey that StarMark had made before leading on to questions. Someone asked whether any of my books had been made into films - which was the perfect opportunity to show the book trailer for StarMark on the big screen... It looks even better sized up!

We finished with the three objects challenge - each of the six classes had a representative to choose three things from my story bag and I challenged them to go away and write up a short story including the items. We had some great mixes; it almost makes me want to have a go at another 'Challenge me' on the Scribbles... Here's what came out of the bag - if you're a writer yourself, why not pick one and have a go? You have 500 words...

For the workshop, I used my current favourite story starter - 'The antique glass bottle contained...' The students came up with (among other things) swords, lungs, bullets of mutating agent, secrets, and blue dragon smoke. We used huge sheets of brown sugar paper and lots of coloured pens to map out the stories and by the end of the session, everyone had at least made a start on writing their stories.

Feedback from the workshop was good, highlighting again how much the students enjoy actually being able to write a story, instead of learning about the individual component parts and never having an opportunity to put all that learning together. Interestingly, there were several comments about how inspiring and encouraging I was, which is somewhat humbling because I never set out with that in mind.

In the afternoon, I visited the Year 5's and 6's at Sacred Heart Catholic Voluntary Academy. These children had attended another Loogabarooga event in the morning with Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre - I was a little worried that after such literary celebrity, my own offering would fall a bit short.

We focused this time on Granny Rainbow and More Granny Rainbow, as the children had been introduced to the stories and I planned that they should write their own versions. Because Granny Rainbow is good at solving problems, the children came up with new characters, gave them a problem and decided how Granny Rainbow would solve it. At the end of the session the children had drawn their characters AND had the beginnings of their stories.

One young man deserves special mention for his story. I got the impression he doesn't always focus on the work in hand, but for some reason this task caught his imagination. He did everything that was asked of him and ended up having written a whole story where (I don't want to spoil his story, so forgive me if I'm a little vague here!) the character wanted to be different; Granny Rainbow made the change but - and this is the first time it's ever occurred to anyone to do this within the Granny Rainbow 'formula', including me - the character wasn't happy with the situation, decided they were happier before and asked Granny Rainbow to change them back! He was so proud of his work...and I felt a glow of pride for being the tool, if you like, that made it happen.

The younger children also had some very interesting questions. Like:

How much money do you get for each book? (Varies, but the kids were shocked it might only be 10% of cover price...)

How does it make you feel when you sell a book? (Good, but not as good as when someone tells me afterwards that they've loved the stories! That's payment beyond measure.)

Was there ever a time you thought you couldn't write for children? (Yes. I didn't write for a whole year. Then I came back fighting - and look where it's got me.)

What football team do you support? (Cue horrified gasps when I said I didn't. Not even Leicester City, our nearest team.)

I have agreed to revisit Sacred Heart in a couple of weeks' time to follow up and help the children with editing their stories. Can't wait to see them!

At the end of the afternoon, I was shattered, but happy-shattered from a rewarding day. Things to note for these kind of events in the future are probably to allow a bit more time between school changes, as I had no time for lunch (snatched a cereal bar in the car park) and was feeling a little jaded by half way through this afternoon session. Oh - and although high heels are great to make me feel a bit better when standing next to the Year 7's (I got a couple of 'Nice shoes, Miss!') they don't half kill your feet and ankles after a whole day wearing them!

If I'm honest, I think I prefer the interactive workshops over talks, but I can see how advantageous it is to do a presentation to larger groups and spread the experience of having an author come to visit the school. But at least I've proved to myself - and others - that I am capable of doing larger presentations, so who knows where it'll take me from here?

Loogabarooga 2017? I can but hope...

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