Spent a lovely afternoon yesterday at Torquay Girls Grammar School at their Challenge Day. The challenge was to do some creative writing. The secondary school curriculum does not allow many opportunities for creative writing. It seems the years between primary and university concentrate on the mechanics of writing rather than story telling, secretarial as opposed to compositional.
When I was an early years teacher in London, my interest and passion was on giving the children in my class opportunities to be creative. To write for a purpose and for an audience. Erasers were banned and they were encouraged to write without worrying about spelling or editing. I wanted them to be storytellers. And in writing from the heart, they learnt to spell and to punctuate but not at the cost of losing creativity and the freedom to fill the page with words.
Yesterday, working alongside some fabulous English teachers, the girls were organised into groups of four and given an object to write about. I asked them not to edit, cross out, or worry about getting it right. There is no right; they all have an individual voice and individual experiences to bring to the table. Some started straight out of the blocks, writing quickly and furiously. Others looked blankly at their object and doodled. But after a few minutes, a wonderful hush spread across the classroom as the girl began to loosen up. You could see their shoulders relax and their pens fly across the page. After ten minutes or so, we stopped and they were encouraged to read their work to each other. Most of them were self-conscious but they gave it a go. And what wonderful pieces of writing! Unique and special. Some real talent to be nurtured.
But it was me that came away feeling inspired. I love working with young people, especially teenage girls. I can see myself in them and remember clearly how self-conscious I was, wanting to get it right, to be perfect. And I remember two special teachers who made a world of difference to me, who encouraged me to write and responded with enthusiasm to my efforts. I’ve never forgotten the impact they had on my writing journey and I was honoured to acknowledge them in The Generation Game. (And Philippa Smith, the main character in that novel, went to… Torquay Girls Grammar. Life imitating art…)
To top it off, today one of the students came into Waterstones in Newton Abbot where I was doing a book signing. It was great to see her and I hope she will go away and know that she is a writer too, with her own stories to tell.
As the motto of TGGS says, Dare to be Wise. In a culture that demands girls look and behave a certain way, it is a relief and an encouragement to know that there are some schools who want their students to be bold. Creative writing gives them an outlet to do that. Well done, girls! (And teachers.)