Waking up in Amman, capital city of Jordan. Doing some talks and workshops at the International Community School of Amman tomorrow. Came a day early so that I could do a bit of exploring. Here goes… 🙂
“Better than Sir Tim Dyson vacuuming in front of you” Link
If you are looking for an author to visit your school, look no further than Authors Abroad and their stable of bushy-tailed children’s authors. I joined up just nine months ago but in that short time I have been hugely impressed by the enthusiasm and efficiency of this agency.
The ‘Abroad’ in Authors Abroad does not primarily mean overseas (although the agency does cater for schools all over the world), but rather ‘far and wide’ or ‘in circulation’ or at the very least ‘out of the house’. It’s fun to sit at a desk dreaming of knights and dragons, but it’s lonely as well, so what could be more fun than a day out in Weston-Super-Mare or Accrington? I’ll tell you what. A day out in a school in Weston-Super-Mare or Accrington, encouraging young uns to dream of knights and dragons, too.
One speciality of Authors Abroad are Able Writers Days in association with Brian Moses (writer, performance poet and progenitor of Able Writers Days everywhere). Brian’s big idea was to offer a whole day of workshops for children who are already demonstrating a knack for writing. One school hosts the gig and three or four other schools pile onboard, each sending a carful of their brightest and best scribblers.
Since last September, I have tutored Able Writers Days in primary schools all over the country. My favourite thing about the Able Writers Day is that I get to spend a whole day with the same students, rather than gadding about from class to class. This means the students have time to delve deep into the soil of storytelling, unearthing precious #writetip nuggets.
Write what you know. Show don’t tell. Chase your character up a tree and then throw stones at him. Good advice, all of it, but it needs time to percolate. Able Writers Days provide a synthesis of theory and practice designed to take your most gifted writers to the next level.
Here is the format of my Able Writers Day for Years 5 and 6. Note, this is only what I do. Other authors do different things.
Session 1 (9.30 – 10.45)
a) Write What You Know – an introduction to my books, and my life in West Africa
b) Premise – I describe the ingredients of a strong story premise, then everyone thinks of one
c) Character – how to come up with an interesting MC (main character) – students work in groups to develop a character, then present these characters to the class.
Session 2 (11.10 – 12.10)
a) Putting pen to paper: Each student writes the first paragraph of their story, introducing setting and character. Through sharing and peer criticism, students learn how to Show, not Tell.
b) Inciting Incidents – We watch a video montage of ‘inciting incidents’. Each student writes their second paragraph.
c) We talk about how to write suspense and action. “There is no terror in the bang of a gun, only in the anticipation of it” (Alfred Hitchcock).
Session 3 (1.00 – 2.10)
Stories are driven forward by either a problem to solve or a treasure to find. We talk about plotting, ‘story mountain’, setbacks and climax. Students work on their stories for an hour, during which time I aim to give individual comments/help to each student.
Session 4 (2.20 – 2.40)
a) Able Writers Award Ceremony – prizes for best premise, best character, best opening, best story
b) Ten Minutes of Q&A about storytelling and writing
c) Book sales, signing, photographs, goodbyes.
Ofsted have highly praised these Able Writers Days. The programme gives the children the opportunity to work with an established writer, builds links between local schools, and serves as an excellent professional development day for accompanying members of staff.
For more information about Able Writers Days, or to book an author, contact Keeley Ferguson at Authors Abroad.
Yesterday was World Book Day, and it was my favourite World Book Day EVER. I spent it with the fantastic staff and students of Mudeford Junior School in Dorset, who had all dressed up for the occasion. I was thrilled to get a photo taken with the fancy dress prizewinners – see how many book characters you recognize!
I enjoy visiting schools regularly to conduct creative writing workshops and Able Writers Days. Here is a link to the Stephen Davies School Visits webpage (with details of what these visits involve) and below is a list of the schools I will be visiting this term and next:
14 January Cinnamon Brow Primary School, Warrington
27 January Bournville Primary School, Weston Super-Mare
2 February Wyvern Primary School, Leicester
3 February Liverpool College Prep School
4 February Greenbank Primary School, Liverpool
5 February Lancaster Road Primary School, Morcambe
6 February Henry Cort School, Fareham
10 February Invicta Primary School, Blackheath
26 February Macaulay School, Lambeth
2 March Marlborough House School, Hawkhurst, Kent
5 March Mudeford Junior School, Christchurch
6 March Prendergast Vale School, Lewisham
9 March Burstow Primary School, Horley
11-12 March William Cobbett Junior School, Farnham
29 June Gloucester Road Primary School, Cheltenham
As you can see, there is still plenty of space on the itinerary. If you are a teacher or librarian and you would like me to visit your school, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Rutland is the smallest county in England. Not a great place in which to have a heart attack (hospital waiting times are relatively high). Not a great place in which to be snowed in (county council budgets don’t always extend to gritters). But a great place to go to school, if Oakham School is anything to go by. I spent a very enjoyable afternoon there last week – well worth the long train journey. I won’t say any more here because the talks have been well described on the school’s own website: Winter Author Events 2012. Many thanks to librarians, staff and students for their warm welcome.
It’s always nice to see a library at the heart of a school, and the Regis School library is the most central and accessible school library I’ve ever seen, situated in a sunny atrium just beyond Reception. It is a well-stocked, busy library with fantastic staff. I spent a very enjoyable morning visiting some Year 7 groups at the Regis School and talking with them about the essential ingredients of a good story. They have clearly followed up on this theme – here’s a pic of Mrs Coleman enacting them in a wonderfully dynamic way! Many thanks to all at the Regis School for their warm welcome.
I enjoyed visiting Henry Cort Community College last Friday and spending a morning with Year 8. Some fantastic thriller concepts came out of the workshops, some of which sent a chill down my spine! ‘Locked in a zoo’ and ‘Brother versus brother’ were just two that I remember out of many strong ideas. Well done to all who took part, and to librarian extraordinaire Margaret Taylor who organized the visit.
Hampshire’s ‘Meet the Author’ programme aims to support literacy and to inspire reading and writing by giving children the opportunity to meet authors.
My participation in the programme took place last Thursday, first at Berrywood Primary (with visiting pupils from Shambleshurt Primary) and then at the New Forest Academy (with visiting pupils from Blackfield Primary and Wildground Junior School).
In the morning we did silly actions to help us remember the ingredients of a good story. Then Jamie got dressed up as a Saharan camel herder and Anna from Hedge End told a story about a girl who turns things pink wherever she goes (including a classic scene where a strawberry truck collides with a Post Office van and turns the road pink).
In the afternoon we watched some book trailers and talked about what makes a strong concept for an adventure story. One lad suggested ‘donkey on a bus’ – I’m not sure that has the same visceral appeal of ‘snakes on a plane’ but I’d be intrigued to read the story! We looked at pictures of children around the world and chose the girl below to base a story on.
We used the picture as a launch pad for discussing (a) the character of the girl and (b) possible ‘what ifs’ that could kickstart a story.
When you write a story, don’t go straight into describing the action, but take time to think first about your main character. Who is she? What’s she like? Is she loud or quiet, kind or mean, confident or shy? What does she like doing, what does she find hard, what is she afraid of, what are her secrets? And most importantly of all, WHAT DOES SHE WANT MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD?
Don’t go for the obvious. If you’re writing a story about a beauty pageant entrant (like the girl above), throw in some completely unexpected aspects to the character. One student had the idea that this little girl could be a terrorist mastermind. Another suggested that she might be a boy in disguise. Be as strange as you like – just don’t be predictable.
One student suggested that the girl is being entered into beauty pageants by an evil aunt who then steals all the money she wins. The girl longs to escape and travel the world. What might happen if she finally plucked up the courage to do so…?
Many thanks to Hannah at SLS for organizing the Meet the Author events and to Colin Telford at Hayling Island Bookshop for selling lots of lovely books. His is a small independent shop but also one of the most prolific events organizers on the south coast of England. The table cloth he uses for the book signing table has on it the signatures of Terry Pratchett, Jacqueline Wilson, Anne Widdecombe, Ian Whybrow, Kate Mosse, Derek Landy, Chris Ryan, Darren Shan, Louis de Bernieres, Sandi Toksvig, Julian Fellowes, Sir Andrew Motion, Lord Robert Winston, Alan Titchmarsh, Claire Tomalin, Sir Patrick Moore, Sir David Attenborough and many many others.
The purpose of author events such as this is to inspire the next generation of readers and writers. If your school is interested in booking a visit, please see my school visits page.
Always be careful if you use the overhead racks on a train. That was the principal lesson I learned on Tuesday morning.
I was getting the train from Chichester to Northwood, a suburb to the north-west of London, to spend a day with students at St Helen’s Senior Girls’ School. My presentations and speaking notes were in my laptop bag on the luggage rack. As we waited at East Croydon station I glanced up at the rack and the bag was nowhere to be seen. I asked those sitting around me if they had seen anyone get off with it. They had. But by the time I got to the door it was already locked – and the train was pulling out of the station. Rassum frassum.
Thankfully, the book I am currently writing was well backed up, so my loss is annoying rather than catastrophic. I should have been more careful. Please, if you’re travelling on a train (perhaps especially in the London area), keep an eye on your valuables!
St Helen’s is a delightful school, and I found the students motivated and full of good ideas. I did some workshops with Year 9 students on the subject of Research. Their energy and imagination more than made up for my lack of glitzy powerpoint slides. Many thanks to Elizabeth Howard for arranging and hosting the visit, and for patiently enduring five workshops on the same topic. Thanks also to the students, who asked incredibly insightful questions and came up with some great ideas.
The workshops have been written up very comprehensively on the school blog by Emily and Richa: Year 9 Author Visit – Stephen Davies. Well done, girls!