Hi guys I am participating in the Jacques blog tour through Bonnier Publishing.
So here’s the Guest post from the author; Tanya Ravenswater.
Writing with children, learning from children about writing.
Over the years since becoming a parent myself, I’ve been involved in facilitating various creative writing projects with children, mainly in primary schools. The projects have ranged from one-off writing workshops to much longer ventures. We’ve put together scrapbooks, including samples of writing notes, both draft and more polished writing, for the school to keep. Arranging printed book collections of ‘best’ works has also helped the children to celebrate their writing with family, friends and community.
There have been challenging moments of course, but overall I’ve really enjoyed talking with and listening to so many young writers, sharing their pride in their own style and achievement. More often than not, I’ve come away from a session feeling that I’ve got just as much, if not more out of it than I put in. We’ve taught and learned from each other, relating as people who write, rather than within designated roles of Teacher and Pupil.
My first such project was actually with pre-schoolers. It all revolved around an old sweet tin filled with a motley collection of buttons. There were wooden duffle toggles, vintage brown leather cardigan buttons, gleaming metal, rainbowy and pearly ones, as well as others that seemed, superficially as least, quite dull and boring. A traditional ‘Button Box’ basically. Working with small groups and sometimes one-to-one at a desk in the corner of the open-plan pre-school work-and-play room, surrounded by the usual uproar and chaos of 3 plus year olds, I asked each child to choose a button that reminded them of themselves.
Fingers, some quick, others slower and tentative, reached into the tin, stirring and raking the treasure. Once chosen, each child drew the button on card in colour, giving them time to think about it. Everyone was asked then to say why they chose the button, to describe it and why they thought it was like them. If wished, they were given the choice to gather more than one that reminded them of their family or a particular friend.
Because of the varying range of ability, some were able to write a few words themselves, but in most cases I acted as scribe on their behalf, capturing their words. From my own children, I knew that the pre-school and early primary years age group is often underestimated. Very young people can have burgeoning, sparky imaginations. Being at the stage when their written language has to catch up, some can get quite frustrated, impatient to get across what’s on their minds. I’ve never had any reservations in acting as a scribe. While some may question whether such an experience is a true ‘writing’ project, I’ve always felt that each person’s creative ideas are the priority and that as early as possible you need to feed their confidence. We ended up bringing together a collection of button images with individual statements and a range of moods, from surprisingly dark and spiky to omnipotent, upbeat views of selves, huge and bright as suns and moons. It was a revelation to me and even more so to some of their parents!
Among one of the longer projects I’ve worked on involved running a series of weekly sessions meeting with a group of keen and able Year 5 and 6 writers. We subsequently produced and locally launched a printed anthology, illustrated by the writers and their peers with support of an arts specialist teacher. The title of the project and anthology was ‘Earth Cores’. We looked at ways of building up a piece of writing organically, in layers, using a series of nature-themed collections – including insects, leaves, shells – as focus and inspiration. As part of the same project, these older children helped support me and a Year 1 class and their teacher, passing on their tips about creative writing, acting as scribes, motivating their juniors to be inspired too and excited about having their words in ‘a proper book’.
What have I most learned from such young writers? What have they said helps their creativity? What do I think worked for them?
Children can be so interesting and a tonic to be with. Like the rest of us, they can also be irritable and uncooperative too! Their use of language can startle you because with any luck, they haven’t being taken over yet by any fixed ideology or imperative to be deeply ‘civilised’. They can be clear, unstintingly honest and direct. Their observations and use of images can be unpredictable, both disarmingly poignant and hilariously surprising.
While they may be vulnerable in some ways and sensitive to atmospheres and judgement, given the right conditions they can be more prepared to take creative risks than many adults and can be inventive, forthright about emotions and often so sane in their lack of pretensions.
I think that what has mattered most to the children I’ve worked with is approaching them with an honest and enthusiastic attitude, communicating trust and a consistent belief in their ability and intelligence. They enjoy inspiring conversations and being helped to express thoughts and feelings already buzzing round an object or a theme. Young people thrive on being listened to. They have sensitive radar for people who are condescending. They already know that you’re the adult and that in some respects you’ve been to a lot of places that they haven’t yet visited, but it means so much when you talk to them person-to-person and that you’re flexible about what’s happening. They don’t want you to second-guess them. Like older writers they want the right mental and physical space, a balance of talk and quiet, and freedom to relax and be themselves, to write about what most interests and inspires them without judgement or vague, undermining criticism. Specific feedback on their writing strengths and ideas for enhancing their work are appreciated. They want to be heard and be read and get comments about something you particularly got from their work, however small.
I think tangible objects, things they can hold and explore hands-on seems to help young writers, although you can never make assumptions and sometimes you just need to listen carefully and nudge them towards having the courage to write about a pressing magical invisible world they’ve been desperate to describe for a long time. They like it when you’re prepared to share your own work with them, your rough first thoughts stuff as well as refined final versions. Also, while you can talk about the differences between poems and prose with them – and at school they’ll be getting used gradually to ideas and examples of literary forms – I’ve tried to invite them as far as possible to simply write without being prescriptive. How do they want to give their ideas shape? Do they hear the words in their head as a kind of song, a conversation or a story? That frees them up to be themselves and reduces anxiety about having to fit their ideas into boxes.
Along the way, I’ve taken good enabling new writing courses (through Manchester Writing School at MMU) that have given me ideas and support for such work. I’ve had the fortune to work alongside some switched on teachers who believe in the importance of learning through the arts and who have valued my approach as writer as opposed to teacher. So saying, and I know that my own tutors would agree, learning from experience and from project participants themselves is the main way of developing yourself as a writer.
More about the Author: Tanya Ravenswater was born in County Down, Northern Ireland. She first graduated in modern languages from St Andrews University. She has worked as a nurse, in bereavement support and counselling education. With a love of words since childhood, inspired by Nature and fascinated by the diversity of inner worlds and relationships, Tanya writes fiction and poetry for adults and children. She has published a collection of short stories for women, and has also been short-listed and published in the Cheshire Prize anthologies. Her children’s poem, Badger, was the winner of the 2014-15 Cheshire Prize for Literature.
More about the publisher: Twenty7 is the new digital-first fiction imprint of Bonnier Publishing. The new imprint will focus on debut authors and international writers new to the UK markets, covering all commercial fiction genres but especially crime and women’s fiction. All books will be published as e-books in the first instance, with mass market paperbacks following within six months.
About Bonnier Zaffre: Bonnier Zaffre is a division of Bonnier Publishing, which encompasses the children’s imprints Hot Key Books and Piccadilly Press and adult fiction imprints Zaffre, Twenty7 and Totally Entwined Group (Totally Bound Publishing and Pride Publishing). Bonnier Zaffre combines brand new voices with established storytellers to bring a broad spectrum of high quality and innovative fiction to all ages.
About Bonnier Publishing: Bonnier Publishing is the fastest growing major publisher in the UK, with group sales of £115m. It has divisions in Australia, France and the USA with 460 employees worldwide. In the UK it comprises imprints Hot Key Books, Piccadilly Press, Zaffre, Twenty7, Manilla, Totally Entwined Group, IglooBooks, Autumn Publishing, Templar, Blink Publishing, Studio Press and Weldon Owen UK. Its overseas imprints are The Five Mile Press and Echo Publishing in Australia, Paris based publishers Piccolia and Elcy, little bee books in New York and Weldon Owen US in San Francisco. It is ultimately owned by Bonnier Books, which is a top 15 world publisher with revenue of £550m.
So that was it guys, I can say I really enjoyed this blog tour and you can find my review of Jacques here.