Thursday, 14 January 2010
Bonding with the Big Outdoors
OK, I know Creative Partners doesn’t pay the going Society of Authors’ rate for author visits but I’ve just accepted a job with them. Will you all forgive me? I’m not proud. Times is hard and the work will be fun and you will know by how that I simply can’t resist the temptation to do everything that has to do with writing that isn’t actually writing. (I did write three chapters in the last two days, honest!) Anyway, I thought you might be interested in the ‘enquiry question’ set by the school. A storyteller, a visual artist and I will be helping years 1 and 2 and their teachers to explore the question:
‘How can we use the outdoors to enable children (and adults they learn with) to better express and communicate ideas, thoughts and feelings and make connections?’
My first thoughts are about exploring what they mean by that question – especially ‘make connections’ – but come on, folks – what do you all think? How do you use the outdoors to better express etc etc? Do you? Don’t you? Are they barking up the wrong tree? (Ho, ho, ho!) Personally, I find a brisk walk of a morning an essential part of a writing day – it’s great mulling time. I don’t mean I thrash out ideas that way, though I have a friend who does, but it just allows my mind to go into freefall, wandering all over the place in a relaxed sort of way and I think that’s very helpful and fruitful. It’s also moderately helpful in the battle against writer’s bum! But how useful a brisk walk would be in a big group, I don’t know – and almost inevitably, we’ll be doing group activities. Of course, I’m already thinking along more structured lines – building willow story-sharing arbours, thinking outdoor theatre, planning story trails (there’s a lovely one all laminated and ready to use if you go to Hackfall Landscape Gardens up near Ripon – see my photos) – but how do we as writers use the outdoors? I’ll be fascinated to hear. For me, places are often the inspiration for a story or creep in there somewhere. A long time ago I visited Chastleton House in the Cotswolds and was inspired to write ‘The Ghost in the Gallery’, partly because of the astonishing interior but also because of the spooky, neglected topiary garden. Stockport’s amazing air-raid shelters tunnelled into the sandstone banks of the Mersey sneaked into ‘Piper’, Thurlestone Bay in Devon provided the beach in ‘Fur’ – but this isn’t really about helping me to better express and communicate – it’s more about ‘where do you get your ideas from?’
I am intrigued. Perhaps they have a gut feeling that these small children, living on a fairly grim estate, are creatures of the TV and the play station and need to be outdoors. I would agree – but whether to help their expression and communication, I don’t know. I am excited and challenged and eager to find out. I will be on a journey of discovery and I hope to let you know what I learn. Certainly Forest Schools of which there are now quite a few in the English state system, find that the amount of time and activity spent outdoors has hugely beneficial effects on children’s learning and well-being. I find it fascinating. The stereotypical view of the writer is of one beavering away in his or her study – an indoor person. But here we’re going to be exploring writerly stuff with the focus on the outdoors – which suits me perfectly in moderation. I just want to know what the rest of you are up to! Passionately embracing the snow and the ice as your lifeblood just now – or rejoicing in the cosiness of a job that can keep you in all day? And how would you answer that enquiry question?