Last week I went back to my Primary School to talk to the children about writing. It was lovely to go back, to see the classroom where I was encouraged to write by Mrs Tan, a wonderful teacher who told the eight year old me that I had talent and should write more. She told me to be natural in writing, not to force a word into something just because I liked the sound of it but make sure that the words flowed naturally. She never patronised us young writers, but gave sound advice and trusted us to find our voice.
I tried to keep Mrs Tan in mind as I went into the hall to meet my audience – 60 fantastic children from Year 3. Following advice from the brilliant writer Wendy Meddour I asked them whether any of them were writers and what sort of stories they liked. We talked about how we all tell stories all the time – when we tell our friends what we got up to on our holidays we don’t just give them a list of activities, we tell a story, we make it exciting or funny, we set the scene. We are, I said, made of stories.
I read a little from Arthur and Me and then we did an impromptu ‘story building’ exercise, writing a story together. As I’d taken Kenny the chicken with me, and everyone loves Kenny, the story naturally revolved around chickens. The session turned into a riotous and hilarious stream of storytelling, the adventure becoming bigger and bigger with every idea the children had.
So what did I learn from my first ever schools visit?
Well, the biggest thing I learned is that children have not yet fallen prey to the ‘doubt filter’ that mars so many grown-ups’ attempts to finish a first draft. When we were building our story the children didn’t correct themselves, or question whether an idea was silly or wouldn’t work. They just kept adding to the story. When doing a first draft this can be a brilliant way to write (it’s why I think Nanowrimo, free writing without a filter, is a brilliant thing for writers to do). Too often I have my ‘doubt filter’ turned all the way up to 11. It’s paralysing.
So thank you to Year 3 of Plascrug School for that lesson in drafting. I’ve written up the story we built together to send back to them, and I’ll publish it here too, because the story the children built was a fabulous piece of storytelling from a wonderful bunch of children. Clearly Plascrug continues to be a place where storytelling and writing is valued and celebrated. It was a great place to start as a writer and I’ll always be grateful to my first writing teacher, a lovely lady called Mrs Tan.