Saturday, 10 August 2013

Writing in Schools - Damian Harvey

I love visiting schools and libraries to share stories, talk about writing and of course promote what I'm doing in the hope that people will read and enjoy the stories that I write. The aim of my visits has always been to get children excited about books, stories and reading for pleasure... especially reading for pleasure. I received lots of enquiries asking if I would lead writing workshops, however, I was initially a little reluctant to do this - partly because I didn't feel that it was something that I could do and partly because I was a little concerned that I might not be able to produce enough at the end of the sessions to please the school.

Over the past three years or so I now feel confident in leading writing workshops and I love it - yes, it can be difficult at times but it's also fun and can be mutually rewarding. It's great when the children are able to complete their own story - even better when it gets made into a little book.

When I first started off I would prepare a few story starters, character sketches and the such. Preparation is the key to success I thought - but not for me. I like to take a more organic approach (chaotic you might say). Nowadays, I like to be able to go into a classroom with a completely blank sheet - flip chart or (dare I say it?) Interactive white board.

After a bit of an introduction and a warm up  - designed to get the class to relax and look forward to what we're about to do - I ask for character suggestions. Keep it simple I tell them. We can just start off with a boy or a girl - it doesn't have to be a flying boy that can turn into a carrot - it really doesn't have to be a talking chip and it certainly doesn't need to be a zombie... Yawn!.

Once we've got one or perhaps two characters for our story we add a little bit to them... Let's make this character sad... What's making him or it sad? But please... keep it simple for now. We can build on it later.

We go on in this way - adding a character, a problem, a bit of motivation (for the characters of course)... What is it they want to do? How can we make our character happy?

I keep the sessions light and humorous and try to ensure that everyone adds something to the story that we are (dare I say it?) planning!

Once we've done a little bit of planning, or rough note making, I like to get right on and do a bit of proper writing. We might not know where the story is going to end just yet, but why not write a bit of what we know. I encourage the class to suggest ways of starting our story... a bit of dialogue, a bit of description, a bit of onomatopoeia perhaps... And we're on our way.

It's amazing seeing the children's eyes light up as they see the story coming to life with words that they are suggesting. As the story process moves along ideas for the direction in which the story could go do spring to mind and while I occasionally, try to help move things along to a logical solution it's great when the children come up with it themselves. Sometimes I'm tempted to get my own notebook out and jot down a thing or two for my own use...

Single sessions with a class can produce some really interesting story ideas that they can then work with together after I've gone - but there are also occasions where I get to spend much longer with a group - a whole day or several days/sessions over a period of time.

Having the opportunity to work with other artists (or practitioners - not my favourite word) can also expand what we're doing and result in some really great work.

A school I was at recently produced a little novel - Ghoul School. While I was working with a class writing the story - other classes were working with their teachers to produce the artwork to go with it (not normal sized pieces of artwork, these were more like theatre sets - and very good they were too). The process was chaotic at times as both the writing and the illustrating were going on almost simultaneously. A few tweaks were needed in the story to make it all fit but all in all it was a great success... and at the end of it all the children had their own book to take home.

I no longer shy away from going into schools to lead writing workshop, in fact I love it, as I now know what I'm doing. I might not have it all planned out before I get there but I'm confident of my ability to get them all fired up and eager to take part. Writing really is fun... let's see get out there and see how much fun we can instil today.

Damian Harvey -

1 comment:

Heather Dyer said...

Nice tips, thanks. I'm shy of workshopping too, since I'm such a poor plotter but you make it sound easy.