Thursday, 13 October 2011

Hazelwood School Story Circle

In the Story Circle
A visit to Hazelwood School 11 October 2012

"Thank you very much for an amazing workshop yesterday-so inspirational- not only for the children! This morning parents came up to me and thanked me for inviting you as their kids were full of writer's energy when they came home from school yesterday. Touch of your magic! I also encouraged children and year 6 teachers to write reviews and post them on the Mykindabook website."
Justyna Powrie - Head Of Literacy Hazelwood School

It's always a pleasure visiting young readers and writers to talk about the process of writing. On Tuesday I had a very special morning with the year six children of Hazelwood School, Palmers Green. The visit  was arranged by my neighbour Stephanie's daughter and grandaughter. They were visiting one Sunday just after Artichoke Hearts had been published, and Stephanie asked me if I would drop in to talk about my book. Stephanie is the kind of special grandmother (like Josie in Artichoke Hearts) who arranges these sort of interractions for her grandchildren. Stephanie's granddaughter Megan then read Artichoke Hearts and championed the book at Hazelwood school.

Megan has now moved on to Secondary School where I'm told that other children are choosing Artichoke Hearts as their "Booked Up" scheme book for year seven.

At Hazelwood I was greeted by The Head of Literacy Justyna Powrie who has a passion for encouraging children's creative writing. It seems that grandparents are very important inspirational characters in the lives of many young people. As part of the writing workshop children wrote character portraits of people who inspired them, and many of them chose their grandparents... 'because they have the time to listen to me'  'because they spoil us'... 'because my Granddad has the best stories ever!'

We talked about symbols like the Artichoke Heart charm and  the children picked their own symbols to capture the spirit of their inspirational characters. These included a paintrbrush, a butterfly, a woven basket (this from Justyna belonging to her grandmother in Poland) and a bow and arrow from Iran that's been owned by four generations of the same family and is now residing in a house in Palmer's Green. We talked about what histories the objects must have lived through and, if they could speak, what stories they would tell.

I also took in my story box, in which I place the ingredients of my stories, while they're in the mix. I asked some of the students to guess what the next story might be about. Among other things they picked out an intricate wooden carving of a jungle I bought in Kolkata two years ago and a pair of ornate slippers with bells on them. Both of these objects now firmly belong to the characters in my next book Jasmine Skies to be published by Macmillan in April 2012. 

As I walked out of the school I felt priveleged to have met this young group of creative writers and their teachers. I feel that being in contact with readers of the books that I'm writing is an essential part of my work; one aspect seems to feed the other in a circular journey.

Towards the exit of the school I noticed that a corner of the playground covered by an all weather canopy had been developed into a story circle with a throne like 'Story Chair' and benches in spirals laid out around it. It got me thinking what a gift it is when teachers are so passionate about their subject (like Pat Print in Artichoke Hearts and Justyna Powrie at Hazelwood school) that they inspire children to join the story circle.