genre stuff

School Daze

I don’t like to comment on the day job – mainly because I like to keep it distant from the writing career – but I did something rather fun yesterday. Three of us from work went into a secondary school, to try and enthuse a Year 7 class (12 year olds, to American readers) about writing and reading. Quite a tough mission indeed, especially since I’ve never done anything like this before.

Our plan was basically to inspire them, and to get them engaging with stories. So with around 30 or so students, we set to work. The plan was to get them thinking about characters as the starting point – we discussed as a group our favourite characters from film or TV, as a bit of an ice breaker (I’m surprised how popular the Simpsons is after all these years).

Then, we split them into three groups, and each were shown a huge poster of a SF/F artwork that featured a character. They had to describe who they thought the person was from what they look liked, and to make up other stuff around that (what were their likes/dislikes, were they angry/kind etc.) writing it all down, then presenting it to the rest of the class. Next, back in groups, they built a story for their character, and came up with all sorts of whacky stuff which was again presented to the rest of the class. Finally, they ebbed away to write the first few paragraphs of that story, leaving me in a state of happy exhaustion, though a bit of a daze.

I’m pretty sure the whole morning (three hours of this) was a success. We took them through the whole process of thinking up a character and telling their story. That’s the basic tools for the job.

I was amazed by the imaginative power of some of these kids. They had no problem with thinking up bizarre concepts. They had a limitless imagination, and this was hugely pleasing, because adults can be quite jaded about all of this stuff. Many adults just don’t seem to be able to think of secondary world concepts and characters; as if there’s some mental barrier that stops them acknowledging otherness. I guess when you’re at an age where the world is approached with a fresh, open mind, it’s easier to accept the weird.

I was happy to help out with the school – it’s fundamentally great to enthuse younger readers about literature, and by the end, they were assiduously creating stories, so we couldn’t ask for more than that. Hopefully there will be some future SFF writers to come from this, you never know. Sometimes, at the business end of this industry, you forget just how useful it is – how utterly important it is – that people are simply excited about literature.

And what topped it all off was my first school lunch in over a decade. The rice pudding was a vast improvement on how I remembered these things to be.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.