Monday, 24 June 2019

Every Picture Tells a Story, by Saviour Pirotta

These last few months, I've been involved with after-school clubs in six Scarborough schools. Other artists are teaching children scriptwriting, performance poetry, interpretive dance and street art but my brief is 'storymaking'. That's creating stories to tell, whether it be in book form or performing to an audience.

Like most of us professional writers, the children found it difficult to come up with ideas from nothing, so I used one of my favourite techniques with them, one that I used myself as a child. My parents had a set of four framed prints in the hallway. They were given them, I think, by my Uncle Edward who travelled extensively around Italy. They showed the Italian lakes. My favourite one was a vista of Lake Como. It was devoid of people, showing only houses, the entrance to what I fervently believed was a palazzo and a church steeple. I would spend hours gazing at the scene, making up characters who lived in these sunlit abodes and connecting them with stories.

I would keep the project going for years, often revisiting the narrative months later, until every detail in the picture was part of the story. 

I still do this for my own books.  Every story I write has a central location, usually a building that acts as a backdrop to many of the scenes. In The Secret of the Oracle, it's the Oracle at Delphi. In The Pirates of Poseidon, the inspiration came from the temple of Athena Aphea on the island of Aegina. I couldn't visit Baghdad for The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad, so I found old artists' images of the city and visualised the rest from research.

For my after-school club project, I wanted to give the kids a sense of pride in their hometown. Scarborough is often dismissed as a faded seaside resort but it's full of hidden gems, from Italianate cliff-top gardens to reputedly haunted churches.  I took pictures of the locales and the children rose to the occasion. The stories we have created feature interesting characters inspired by our own landmarks. My favourite two are a girl who gets turned into a dragon while riding the ghost train on the seafront and a dead WW2 pilot who appears to warn Scarborians of the peril of plastic pollution. It's nice to share my solitary childhood game with so many eager participants. Long live imagination.

Saviour's latest book, The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad is published by Bloomsbury. His picture book The Unicorn Prince is illustrated by Jane Ray. Follow him on twitter @spirotta.


Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Saviour, Hearing other writers thoughts about their work with children is always interesting, espcially when it comes from your own way of dreaming up stories.

Scarborough Castle has the most marvellous headland location, doesn't it? Looking over those two long beaches and all the shipping going north or south . So much to dream about there.

Saviour Pirotta said...

The castle is a wonderful place, Penny. Last time I visited, the grounds were full of people having picnics. I stand at the railings and wonder who is on those passing ships.

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Moira Butterfield said...

That's really interesting about your childhood imaginings re: the painting, and a great idea for schools, too.

Saviour Pirotta said...

Thanks, Moira. I actually still remember the characters I imagined for the pictures.