School & Library Visits
The fine covering of snow was slowly melting in the early morning sun, throwing spray onto my windscreen as I drove up the M5 to Oldbury Library the morning. The windscreen wash ran out as I slid across the icy carpark. Luckily there was a big Sainsburys close by where gallon bottles of screen wash were for sale.
I had great sessions in Oldbury and had one of the longest sausages in the world for lunch. Many thanks to all the Library Girls!
I decided sausages might be a good discussion topic for my blog, do this evening I’m having another, in a Yorkshire pudding in Haworth, up on the wild, windy moor in Bronte country.
I’m here to open the new School Library to
Orris, both an honour and a pleasure. I drove across the moor inthe dark, all the time wanting to sing Kare Bush’s Heathcliffe song. Is hard to tellehst Howarth I’d like in the dark.
The picture is of some forsaken service area on the M6.
I had a lovely day at The Forest School in Snaresbrook in East London, right on the edge of Epping Forest, hence the name. The main hall, where I had a delicious breakfast and lunch was, apparently, a runner-up for the hall for Hogwarts in the films.
Years one and two helped me come up with such a good idea, I’ve filed it away under “hot”, so I’m not going to tell.
It was a bitterly cold day. I was doing my sessions in the pavilion, above the computer suite. The outside steps up to the balcony were a bit icy, so we had to take care.
Thanks to Justine Chan for looking after me and to everyone for making it such a great day for me.
On the way home, I stopped off for a bit of a session with my editor and to pick up scans of my latest book covers. I now have to get down and do the digital work on them and have a good, and quick, think about the backs.
I visited St Peter’s School in Waterlooville near Portsmouth on Monday and had a wonderful day.
The years one and two went off after my session and drew fantastically scary drawings of Pumpkin Men and Bogey Men after they had helped me invent a story about the Mushroom Man who pops out of horse pooh in the middle of the night!
Years Three and Four came up with an idea for Ricky Rocket’s first Day in the Gym and Years Five and Six decided that it was really Viking Vik that was the first person ever to score a goal at football!
Thanks for a great day!
I had a lot of fun and we came up with some great ideas for stories, including a Snake Man who has to be controlled by a specially adapted digger, Ricky Rocket on a trip to catch star fish and a fun story about a beleaguered young girl called lilly with eight brothers and horrible, insensitive parents, who were very Dalek-like!
The trip back was much nicer as the sun had come out, making the bracken covered valley glow.
I’ve had a very positive morning with my yr5 writing group at Whitchurch Primary School. I was acting as editor with my chosen group, working my way through 15 minute individual sessions – I even put my phone timer on!
Each child is a different stage, has different talents and they all see the world and work in quite different ways.
Two main themes kept recurring: The first was that punctuation does matter. We are writing stories to be read by others. Private diary entries can be written any old how. Stories, that are meant to be read by others need to be clear and readable.
The role of an editor is to be the reader’s champion and pull out of the writer what the reader wants to read. (I know this. My editor, Sarah, is working very hard on me at the moment! When she makes a great suggestion, I feel foolish for having not thought it myself. But in a way I have, I’ve just not made clear my intention. Sarah can see what I mean and wants to make sure the reader gets it too.)
So often, on typed and printed stories, I found myself getting confused by the lack of paragraphs. A new line for a new speaking character, is so helpful in decoding the text.
There is a technical problem with typing on a computer. If you don’t know about indents or extra space after paragraphs, the text can turn into a forbidding block of words that scares the reader. A double carriage return – that means pressing the enter key twice in new money – opens up the story and lets the text, and the reader breathe.
That one small change makes all the missing or incorrectly placed commas and full stops much more obvious.
The second theme was simplicity. In the thinking and planning stages, some of the children had wonderful ideas for lots of characters and scenes. But it is hard work handling a lot of characters. It’s best to pick the best goody and baddy and pitch them against each other. Sidekicks are great fun, but they are also more work and can often get in the way. Learn to handle two characters first, before trying to write the next Harry Potter on one side of A4.
It’s like learning to juggle. Get comfortable juggling two balls before you add another. Only add extra balls once you are comfortable with the new number.
Oh yeah – editing isn’t easy. It takes patience, guile, interest, vision, an ability to walk on eggshells, midwifery and nurturing skills and lots of tea and coffee. Good editors are worth their weight in gold. If you’ve got a good one, hang on to them.
We had a lot of fun dreaming up stories. Normally I might share them with you, but we came up with some really interesting ideas I might like to take a bit further.
The school had a nasty fire in 2005. This is the year Three clock that was saved and framed. Very Salvador Dali!
Thanks all for a great day and I’ll look forward to seeing the work you did after I left.
Driving back through the village, I went past the old National School, sporting a very grand sign on the outside. The National schools were run by the National Society for Promoting Religious Education which provided the first near universal elementary education in England.
The snow has melted and joined the pile of rain we had on Sunday, now coursing down the rivers from the Welsh mountains. This is the River Wye at Lower Lydbrook, where the road was almost flooding this morning.
I’ve finally managed to move all my domains over to a new ISP. I got so fed up with my old one. They kept slapping on extra fees for nonsense that you get free everywhere else.
It’s not easy – or rather they make it very difficult to move away from them. You really have to keep your wits about you.
Any way it’s all done. I visited Class 2 at Clearwell School this morning to talk to them about Ricky Rocket ready for their big Space theme. My website was up on the board, but not working. Having such a spidery site, it’s hard checking it all works, and no one has sent me link failure emails like they used to in the old days.
Once my site was special because it was the only one out there. No it is just another author site. If it doesn’t work there’ll be another somewhere. Makes you wonder if it is worth all the ridiculous amount of time and effort!
Having checked that it’s okay to post work done by year five of Whitchurch School, where I’m working on an extended writing project, I can now upload some of the drawing they did after I showed them how to draw Dark Claw.
I suppose it would be interesting to find a control group and get them to do a drawing from a finished version without me, and then get another group to draw with me and then see what the differences are. If I did two different drawings and swapped around, that would be fair. I guess I need a two form entry school to practice on!
Anyway these are lovely drawings. They now have sketchbooks, which they are filling up with ideas. Some are quite amazing. I’ll take some pics next week.
I spent the morning with my year five class at Whitchurch School, yesterday (notice that “my” class!). We tried to get this blog up on the whiteboard, but wordpress.com is blocked at county level – so is YouTube. Beth, the year five teacher, told me they can’t even access BBC wildlife videos.
We all know that there is a lot of unsavoury stuff out there on the internet, but at least the teachers should be trusted to choose appropriate sites to put up on the whiteboard. Block the sites, but at least give a password key for teachers to access the complete network.
Man’s ingenuity has created the greatest educational resource in the whole of history – so what does the educational establishment do? It bans access to it!
I know that children should be kept safe on the internet but to ban them from the source of knowledge… when you think about it, it is really quite scandalous.
I became an author in a haphazard way. I was an illustrator first, but was encouraged to write by my editors. It was a hit or miss process. I never wanted to question it incase I broke whatever it was that I’d got working.
Then came the National Literacy Strategy and people started to ask me awkward questions. “What does your story plan look like?” was the hardest one. I asked other authors what theirs looked like. They smiled and stared back at me with blank expressions. None of us knew what a story plan was or what it was supposed to look like!
Of course we all planned in our own ways. I don’t suppose any of us had been given formal story planning training, so we had developed our own systems. Mine was to keep writing and rewriting until the finished thing looked a bit like my original idea. Initially I poo-poohed the whole idea of planning, but as time went on, I discovered I was being asked to address myself to the issue, particularly for dyslexics and boys who were struggling with their writing.
It began to dawn on me that this group might be like me, more visually-minded, more right-brained. I started to looked into it a bit deeper. It was Anne Marley, the wonderful Head of Hampshire’s Children’s, Youth and Schools Library Service, who put me onto a book about mind-mapping by Tony Buzan. It quite blew me away. I realised I’d been doing something similar anyway, so I adapted Tony Buzans’ ideas for my needs. Then I became a bit right-brainist for a while!
Then, with more reading about discoveries in neuroscience, I realised the secret is to use both sides of the brain. The right is great for seeking patterns and creating plots. The left is best at sequencing the plots and turning it into language.
My story plans now come in two distinct phases, right-brain, radial thinking plans and left-brain, sequenced, linear plans with a beginning, middle and end. My sketchbooks are full of these plans.
Last week I was showing all my plans and plots and character sketches to the year five children at Whitchurch School. I’m currently working on a project with them.
Afterwards, Mrs Stevens, their teacher, said to me, “We do plans, and do you know what we do with them when they are finished?” I waited for the answer. “We put them in the bin!” Loud intake of breath from me! What does this say? It says that plans and plots are rubbish – so why bother in the first place.
This was a real eye-opening moment for both of us. We’ve got some lovely sketchbooks for the children to do their projects in now. I’ll be getting them started tomorrow. It will be fascinating to see how we get on now that all their planning, research and early drafts will all be in one book, a handy reference for the finished pieces of work we will be aiming towards. Oh yes? Did I mention, I’m not expecting them to write masterpieces in forty five minutes?