School Visits in Saudi Arabia

I’ve just come back from ten days visiting schools in Saudi Arabia. Thanks to Authors Abroad for organizing the trip and to the three schools for their warm welcome: the King Faisal School, the American International School of Riyadh and the British International School of Al-Khobar.

Carsten Niebuhr
I was excited to visit Saudi Arabia, not least because I have a tenuous family connection with the country. In 1761 a young German cartographer called Carsten Niebuhr set off to Arabia as part of a six-man academic expedition organized by the King of Denmark. The trip was fraught with illness and quarrels (recounted in lurid detail in Thorkild Hansen’s book Arabia Felix), but it did prove to have some academic usefulness: Niebuhr’s transcription of the cuneiform inscriptions at Persepolis proved to be a key turning-point in the decipherment of cuneiform.

Carsten Niebuhr was the only member of the expedition to return to Europe alive. As his great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson, I am very glad he did.

Back to the twenty-first century…King Faisal School is a boys’ school in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter. During my visit the boys showed great imagination developing stories set in Riyadh and other Saudi settings. The day after I left they held a Young Author event, where students sold their own books in Arabic or English.

The American International School of Riyadh has a beautiful new campus on the north side of the city. I met lots of enthusiastic readers during a packed schedule of assemblies and workshops, and even managed a selfie with Readosaurus Rex, the pride and joy of the Elementary Library.

School starts and finishes early in Saudi Arabia, so I had plenty of time in the afternoons to lose at Risk to my host family and to explore downtown Riyadh: the beautifully preserved Al-Masmak Fortress, notorious ‘Justice’ Square and the dizzyingly tall Kingdom Tower. The black and white photograph below is from 1951 and shows a street of barbers and dentists in a street near Al-Swelem Gate (wince).

One night my hosts treated me to dinner at Nadj Village. We sat on plush Arabian carpet and feasted on camel meat and flavoured rice, surrounded by Arabian antiques. I thought of my seven-greats grandfather and imagined him enjoying just such a meal at the Ottoman court in Jeddah, in a pre-oil pre-Saud pre-warplane Arabia.

Arabia Felix indeed.

Able Writers Day pupil self-publishes debut

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I met Parris at a recent Able Writers Day. This Year 6 girl had a great imagination and a real feel for dialogue. Over the course of the day, she learned some techniques for building interesting characters and she applied them cleverly in her own work. By the end of the day, she had the makings of a brilliant short story, and won some ‘Goggle-Eyed Goats’ postcards for her trouble.

That was at least a month ago. This morning I got a message from Parris’s mum, to say that Parris was really inspired by the Able Writers Day and has just finished her first book, a gripping ‘memoir’. I am totally thrilled to hear this, and wish Parris all the best in her onward writing journey. It’s exciting when a young person gets fired up about any sort of creativity, especially story writing.

I read Parris’s book and enjoyed it so much, I gave it a five star review on Amazon. Here’s a link to Parris’s book and my review: From Parris to London

Able Writers Days are coordinated by Authors Abroad, in association with Brian Moses.

Able Writers Day

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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.

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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.

keeley@caboodlebooks.co.uk

Happy World Book Day

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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!

Author visits to schools in 2015

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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.

Stephen Davies school visits

Visit to St Helen’s Senior Girls’ School

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!

From a Future Famous Author

Dear Reader,

In ISD we have an ancient tradition called book month. In honour of that tradition we invited Mr. Stephen Davies to come and give us an author visit. In preparation for the author’s visit, our class read the book called “The Yellowcake Conspiracy.” It was fascinating to think that we would be meeting the very person who wrote that book. (It’s a very good book by the way, you should read it.) Let me tell you something beforehand. We have had a couple of author visits before so we weren’t expecting much, from our experiences they were never too interesting.

So as I was saying, He came to our class to talk to us and we were blown away. He was so easy going and entrancing that we didn’t even notice the time going by. We never wanted it to end. (Well, at least I didn’t, and I can vouch for my friends too. It’s the whole class.) He actually taught us some techniques, and we were stunned. This was the first time we actually thought of writing as a fun thing to do! Weird right? Just kidding. Anyways, he encouraged us to use our experiences to tell a story. He gave us some background info on some of his books. Imagine hearing how a character in a book you read was made. It was cool, and he answered all of our questions and doubts about his books and writing in general. I’m not going to tell you what else he did or specify, because you’ll just have to meet him yourself and find out.

He joked around and put us at ease. We could relax around him, and it made us happy. I think I can speak for my class in saying that it was productive and fun. He made writing seem natural and “cool”. We really wanted him to stay, but he left the day after he spoke to our class. I’m going to quote one of my friends on this. She said, “He was my best friend, I’m sad that he left!” (Just in case you were wondering, if she likes you, you’re her best friend.) I think many of us are thinking about writing as a hobby now. I certainly am.

Your Future Famous Author, and Student at ISD,

Mahima Kumar

Visiting the International School of Dakar

The International School of Dakar – what a great school! – even two days there has convinced me of what an interesting, diverse and caring community of people it is. The staff and students were a joy to spend time with.

I wish I had taken more photos, but here are a few snapshots:

Elections will take place in Senegal on 26 February and already the country is hurting. Today the police fired teargas and plastic bullets at protesters downtown (video link).