I’m laughing this morning over Andrew’s 6 monthly skips! So that’s why our garage is stuffed to the gunnels! I’ve missed a trick there! I’m also taking a welcome break from the huge task of getting a house that has been ‘lived in’ (ehem) by 4 teenagers ready for the market. Anyone wanting a large family house in Warwick, step this way! It has new carpets throughout except, of course, in my study – another place stuffed to the gunnels and impossible to empty for the day. So my new study carpet is – guess where? In the garage!
Today, however, I really want to write about a school project that I’ve been engaged in intermittently all academic year. This was at Limehurst High School, a middle school in Loughborough which is definitely the pleasantest, happiest secondary school I have ever encountered and where it was a privilege to be the visiting author. There are times when I question the value of author visits. If it’s a case of the ‘author talk’ delivered to every class in the school, I wonder what lasting benefit there will be. I am far more excited by being invited in to run workshops or, as in this case, to be a partner in a long-term project.
The brief at Limehurst was to run a workshop with a small group of year 8s, teaching them the nuts and bolts of story writing so that they could teach a slightly larger group of year 7s, who would then write a story suitable to be turned into an animation for year 2s from a local primary school. Nothing too complicated then! As so often, I found myself deconstructing what I do myself (principally by instinct in my case) in order to make the vital elements clear enough for young people to absorb and cascade down to their juniors. Fortunately, I often write short stories, not simply novels, and I also have some very limited experience of writing animations – so I felt competent enough to know where to start. As so often, however, I learned as we went on. I was there as consultant when the years 8s taught the year 7s and was alongside them as they thrashed out their plots and wrote and edited their stories. I sometimes think I don’t know very much about creating story but as we worked, I appreciated that I really do know what I’m doing. I know where to cut and prune, I know what’s needed to lift a plot and to keep the pace. I know how to create the crisis and how to satisfactorily resolve. And I realised what a mammoth task the young people were facing – and yet again, how ludicrous it is that year 6s are expected to write short stories for their SATS in a mere 45 minutes. Grrrrrrr!
In the end, the year 7s had the barebones of two workable stories so we asked if they could animate both. Fortunately, the lovely Leo and Theo of Lunchbox Films were ready to give it a whirl and the school was confident they could provide funding – so the year 7s set out on the laborious task of animating their stories. A couple of weeks ago the big moment arrived. The year 2s from the local primary school arrived for the premiere – and so did I! You can see the results below. (Well - maybe not - I've tried to post the links and they're showing on the dashboard version but not on the blog - but here are none hot links if you're interested!
My next task is to see if my agent’s interested in submitting the original stories to publishers. I’ve edited them in conference with the young people and have kept as much of their original wording as I can. I was thrilled by how engaged they were with that process – but then, we were doing what I wish schools could do more. A real task for a real purpose. There were lots of really memorable moments but it all felt very worthwhile when one of the participants said, ‘I used to think I was no good at English but doing this project has made me realise that I really am.