Patron of Reading – AKELEY WOOD SCHOOL January 2015 On Thursday morning I arrived (a little bit flustered and late due to some road works) for my Patron of Reading workshop at Akeley Wood School. I even got the right site, last time my sat nav and I got quite confused and lost in the woods. As I signed in I could hear chatting and laughing coming from behind a large oak door which turned to whispering as I approached. I love a locked door or even a closed door, the possibilities are endless and this was something I had on my mind as I pushed the door open and entered the sunlit room.
The room was full of excited eleven and twelve year olds who had been promised a morning of adventure and escape through the power of creative writing. No pressure then! I took out my bag of tricks and told the students how I became a writer which involved a lot of luck, an overflowing slush pile and a ridiculously long novel title. I always worry that there won’t be any questions when I do author days in schools, I’ve no idea why as most students have more questions than I have time to answer and this was certainly the case at Akeley Wood.
The highlight of the workshop was the offer of a tour of the school’s basements and cellars with the caretaker. We gathered at the top of the stairs waiting for him to unlock the great big door that led to the underbelly of the school.
I asked the children if any of them had ever been past this locked door, the answer was a gleeful no. Clearly they were as excited as me to find out what would be waiting down in the dark depths. The tunnels were endless, damp and dark – the perfect setting for a short story. The students lit up the corridors with their mobile phones and took many photos to help them later with their writing. We gathered in various rooms and listened to the knowledgeable caretaker share the history of the school.
All the students wanted to know if he had seen any ghosts, sadly the answer was no but that didn’t stop them especially one very bright student who waited until everyone’s backs were turned before scrawling on a dusty full length mirror.
She clued me in on the action and stood back and watched the reactions to the ghostly message. Another student banged a small plank of wood on the floor which set off a chain reaction of screams followed by relieved giggles. We sniffed the air, we listened to the wind, we felt the walls and air vents; overloaded with sensory detail we ventured back up into the light, some walking faster than others, happy to leave behind the eerie atmosphere down in the basement.
After teaching the students some of my secret writing tips and techniques we wandered over to the beautiful grand piano and looked at some photos I had set out of Victorian heirlooms, inventions and curios.
The Victorians are well known for their love of the unusual and curious and those photos were snapped up very quickly by the students. Using their chosen photograph we discussed how to set a story around an object using the tunnels and cellars as our setting.
I read them a short passage from my new novel The Boy who drew the Future focusing on chapters set in a workhouse tunnel in the present day and also back in 1865. This helped them see how to set a story in the same place connecting the past and the present via an object.
The pieces of writing the students created ranged massively in content, style and genre. What impressed me the most was their ability to use the techniques I’d taught them focusing on sensory detail to bring an inanimate object to life. Some of the cliff-hanger endings really did have us on the edges of our seats wanting more. I’m looking forward to our Literary Salon in the summer so that I can find out what happened to some of those poor souls stuck down in the cellars of Akeley Wood!
If you are considering a Patron of Reading for your school read this useful post -http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/issue/210/childrens-books/articles/why-your-school-needs-a-patron-of-reading Read more about the wonderful Patron of Reading scheme here – http://www.patronofreading.co.uk Other Patron of Reading blogs – http://www.patronofreading.co.uk/links