Saturday, 28 January 2017

Writing with Wolsey House

The last three days, I've been visiting Wolsey House Primary School in Leicester, working with Years 4, 5 & 6 to deliver some creative writing days.

It has been great. Each day, around 60 pupils in each year group have gathered round tables in the 'big' hall and we have had so much fun describing settings, making up characters, listening to Granny Rainbow stories and then - of course - writing stories.

I'm sure I've said before that children's imaginations never cease to amaze me, and I'll say it again, now! The children have worked so hard and been so enthusiastic, it's a real privilege to be with them.

Looks a bit formal, but it was the best way so everyone
could see and hear me at the front

Half of just one day's enthusiastic scribblers!

And the rest...

The staff at Wolsey made me feel very welcome and have helped me enormously with their feedback so far. Y'see, one thing I will have to crack in these sessions, especially when working with groups of this size, is how to get the children started on their stories. Not being a teacher, I'm not very good at providing the structure that some of the children need to get going. A framework, if you will, rather than expecting everyone to be able to free-write once the ideas have come. Some children CAN cope with it - taking ideas and putting them straight into a story - but others need a story opener or an outline to provide direction. Was also told I needed to use my 'teacher voice' as it was a bit hard to hear me at the back...

See - I keep on learning, and hopefully, improving!

The weirdest thing about Wolsey House was the physical building; I had a strong sense of deja vu, because a lot of the older parts of the school are based on an open plan, honeycomb design. Exactly the same as my own primary school, Holywell, when I was there! (The original floor plan of Holywell had to be rethought after a fire destroyed most of the classrooms. The current design maintains the overall honeycomb shape, but the rooms are now closed off and the open 'activity areas' I remember so well are broken down into smaller ones.)

I struggled a bit with the early starts - 6am alarm for a 7.15am pick up (The lovely Mrs D, a friend from my Guiding days, is giving me a lift each day). It's a long time since I worked more than one full time day at a time - almost eighteen years - so it's a bit of a shock to the system. I was glad of the lie-in this morning! It's probably a good job I have the weekend to break up the six day block.

Yes, six days. Didn't I say? I'm back there next week to work with Years 1, 2 & 3! Can't wait...

Monday, 23 January 2017

New Year, new writing

At our recent NIBS meeting, we took the theme of 'New'.

We didn't do New Year Resolutions, but we kicked off by writing down what we'd have if we could have one new thing for the house and one luxury for ourselves.

Mine were a new lounge carpet - it's so threadbare, you can see the plasticky backing and even when the cat walks over it, you get this funny crackling noise where the backing's exposed - and a housekeeper, so I don't have to worry about the ironing or cleaning or washing up or cooking, but could just get on with writing!

Next, we looked at new resources. I found a site called Reddit Writing Prompts, which has the wildest and wackiest selection of story-starters and prompts you ever did see. I think folk can join and send them in - there are hundreds! I picked a few and we had a go at writing something inpsired by them.

And finally...have you read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children? It's written by Ransom Riggs and I read it non-stop, in 24 hours. The reason we used this is because the book (and subsequent novels after) use some really weird and wonderful vintage photographs around which the story was shaped. I found the mix to be unusual and yet perfect for this story, so I did a bit of googling and found a few strange vintage pics of my own. (If you do this for yourself, be warned - there are some VERY strange and disconcerting photos out there. Especially when you take into account the Victorian thing of having family portraits taken with your dead relatives...Anyway, to continue).

We spent some time talking about the pictures, devising characters and what particular 'peculiarities' they would have, in the style of Ransom Riggs' characters. There were some interesting ideas, and we tried to put them together into little stories. Not sure we pulled it off as well as Ransom Riggs...

Have any of you tried anything new in your writing so far this year?

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Out of the habit!

Blogs have been few and far between in the last month or so - I seem to have gotten very much out of the habit. It does appear that, when my creative energy is sapped by illness, busyness, or other creative projects, writing kinda takes the back seat.

Although, strangely, the writing is what's making things busy so that I'm not writing or blogging!

Let me explain...

This week, I am holding a creative writing day at a primary school. I'll be using a plan I've used before, so there's just the photocopying to do and we're away on that one.

The week after that, I begin a six-day creative writing session with a primary school in Leicester, working across all year groups. And these groups are big - up to 90 pupils in a single year! I've had my work cut out to plan three different sessions to account for the differences in ages, because what I'd use for year 1 and 2 to encourage storytelling is very different to how I'd approach it for Year 6. It's taken a fair bit of time...

Then, the day after I finish with this school, I'm off to Stamford for an author visit, meeting the book club who enjoyed StarMark so much, then talking to (and hopefully inspiring) the whole of Year 7 about being a writer. I've a short presentation to piece together and details about book prices, because the school are kindly letting me take copies in to sell on the day. (Hooray! I already have two boxes of copies of StarMark in the spare room, ready. And I have Granny Rainbow in the shed, too.)

Oh - and just last week, I was asked about encouraging some Year 11's from a local secondary school with their creative writing, as they're taking their GCSE's this summer and need a bit of help. No pressure there, then! It will be interesting to do this one, as although Squidgeling T is currently in Year 11, he very rarely asks for advice on his English so I don't have much of an idea of the kind of creative writing questions that crop up in the exams. I shall look forward to this one.

Looking at that list, I'll have some cracking blogs to write in the near future! I'll certainly let you know how I get on.

Ta-ta for now though - catch you later in the week.

A previous visit to Holywell School...

Monday, 2 January 2017

2017 - the possibilities are endless

Happy New Year to readers of the Scribbles, wherever you may be!

There's always a strange feeling around New Year, isn't there? It's like a full stop in an otherwise unpunctuated page, a point where you pause, take a breath, turn back to look at what went before, then look ahead with a mixture of trepidation and excitement at what might be coming next.

So I'm sitting here now, looking back on an unforgettable trip to India; remembering a serious operation for Mr Squidge; how I learnt to sail; at my first novel published; at precious time spent with family and friends; at political upheaval, terrorist atrocities and untold human suffering; at the gift of parenthood to several who'd been waiting for SO long... Moments of pleasure and pain that have been and gone and I'm a different person because of them all.

And looking forward into 2017?

'New' is going to feature highly in the Squidge house this year, I think.

Mr Squidge is planning to build a garden room - supposedly a writing den for me, though I have the feeling that it'll be used by everybody apart from me if the stove, pool table, band rehearsals and parties planned for it are anything to go by! (It's not even built yet!). Mr Squidge and I are also contemplating the upheaval of a new kitchen after doing very little to the one we've had since we moved into our house 25 years ago. The lounge also needs a new carpet; it's threadbare in places.

There will be the new experience of having a child go to university, assuming everything works out the way Squideling J hopes it will.

I will have a new novel - Kingstone - mid-year. (Will there be another book besides? Not sure yet, as Crystal Keeper's Daughter stalled somewhat thanks to me falling ill back in September and the writing mojo's only just coming back with fuller health)

The rest is unknown. I have no idea whether the spaces in-between those events will be filled with laughter or tears, with success or failure, with beginnings or endings.

The possibilities are endless.

So look for possibilities in 2017. Seize them with both hands if you are able and make this year a year to remember, so that when we're sat here at the same time next year, we can look back on a year well lived and forward to one ripe with potential.