Monday, 9 March 2009

Entering the Lion's Den - Dianne Hofmeyr

I’m shamed into having to admit that I’ve done no school visits this year. Call it laziness, telling myself I’m too busy writing, lacking in competitive spirit, being too disorganised… whatever it is, I haven’t. Let’s face it, it requires an enormous amount of effort to tear one’s self away from what one likes doing best… playing with words, changing a sentence and then changing it back two seconds later to exactly what you had before. So to be organised enough to set out to visit a school, to find suitable/any clothes, to sort out travel etc requires enormous discipline.

And then there’s the moment of actually entering the lion’s den… that daunting, crowded space of bustling, noisy children when you’re used to spending hours of each day entirely alone in your head.

Damien’s blog struck a cord. So many of us have similar experiences – some great schools, wonderful book displays and an excited atmosphere, others where you come home flattened, having travelled halfway across the country, when you actually wouldn’t mind being Damien Hirst for a day… so you could pickle some teachers or children!

Last night as I read Damien’s suggestions and the positive comments, I was reminded of some experiences. The two girls who designed this Egyptian tile after a session, possibly won’t ever read Eye of the Moon but I sense from their work that for a moment they were transported with the eye of a jeweller or a fabric designer to something beyond the classroom.

And the time I was approached to do a workshop with a group of children with severe special needs, 11-13 year olds whose understanding was approximately equivalent of 0 – 4 years, some partially sighted, most with very little speech ability, where an autistic girl made no eye contact but worked untiringly to produce huge quantities of mosaic work on an Egyptian mural. Did I touch her? Or any of the others? I don’t know. They certainly won’t be reading my books. But at the end there was a tangible air of excitement as they hung the mural they’d made of Nut, the Star Goddess across the Library wall.

And then there was the visit in winter to the Library in Kwanokotula in South Africa where I discovered a group of street children escaping the cold. There weren’t any copies of my books in the library but I sat on the floor and we spontaneously shared and read whatever books we could find.

At the end of a school session, how many of us aren’t approached by a single shy child who hasn’t volunteered anything during the session but has stayed behind to mumble something almost incoherent. They might never become a writer or even an exceptional reader but they’ve been touched by something – there’s been a moment of creative thought that has taken them out of the ordinary. Maybe? I hope so. Enough reason perhaps to energise me out of my lethargy and send me back into the lion’s den.


LynnHC said...

Dianne, that was really thought-provoking. Touching the imagination of one child is enough - thanks for that reminder!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Lynn I love your meerkat! I wrote a picture book story called Amelia Meerkat, then just at the same time out came Emily Gravett's Meerkat Mail and how can you top that!!!