Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The First First Story

FINALLY! We have begun!

We had an interesting mix at the upper school session today – from regulars who seem to have been there forever, to fresh faced mid-term admissions, to seemingly reluctant sixth formers. We are offering a Creative Writing AS this year, so some students have been added to the group to fill out their timetables. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I have informed them I expect full participation and attendance.

Kate started off with an activity I have seen done in the past. She gets everyone to tell the group their name and explain a little about where it came from or what it means. Some of the names have beautiful meanings, like one girl whose name meant ‘shooting star’. Some were quite funny – we have two girls called Paige, who discussed the symbolism of being a young slave. (Last year, one Paige wrote a poem about how much she despises her name, which is one of my favourites produced in that anthology.)

My name comes from ‘Song For Whoever’ by the Beautiful South. Mum and Dad had agreed to call me Jennifer, but when I was born, Mum didn't think I looked like a Jennifer. So Dad suggested they play ‘Song For Whoever’ and register me with the next name that was mentioned, convinced he had the Beautiful South tape in the right place and that the next name would be Jennifer. But it was Kathy. I just count myself lucky it wasn’t Deborah or Sue...

One or two of the girls were unsure where their names came from, so we talked about their meanings. But it is a lovely way to memorise the students’ names and get to know them a little bit.

I got a little worried when Kate started to pass around apples, and not just because the girl sat next to me was allergic. Kate encouraged us to look, touch and taste, and then asked us to think about some metaphors to describe the apple. Here’s what she asked us and what I answered:

If this apple were a month, what month would it be?
If this apple were weather, what weather would it be?
Where might this apple be found?
In a desolate back garden
What would it be wearing, or what would it look like?
An abandoned child in raggedy clothing
If this apple could speak, what would it say?
Pick me up!

She then asked us to think of similar metaphors to describe ourselves, which in my experience tends to lead to self-indulgence - I romanticise my identity, drawing on popular culture (something I am currently reading about in Hadley Freeman’s recent book, Be Awesome).

From these two pathways, we had to choose which to turn into a piece of writing.

I really struggled.

At first, I felt more drawn to writing about myself, but I tend to find that I produce better work if I go for the less obvious option. My instinct told me that I could combine the two pieces, perhaps making the apple a metaphor for myself...? But here, I knew I was overcomplicating things.

The students were a little giggly and reluctant at first. Kate said they could write anything, even just one sentence, so the more stubborn of our group took that literally. Others wrote more, but some produced immature pieces – immature in terms of clichéd form and style, not subject matter. In amongst pretty images were some beautiful words and phrases – I just know Kate will make something brilliant of them in no time!

This first session had a early nervousness to it that developed into laughter and will only get better. As we finished up, the girls chatted to me about what they had written, and I was honoured that they wanted me to read their work. It is lovely to be getting my hands dirty with them, especially as you realise how terrifying it can be to read something out to everyone, to share a little piece of yourself with the group. But as you share, they share, and together we will grow. It makes for a lovely atmosphere, a perfect end to a Tuesday. I know these girls have the raw talent to produce incredible writing, and I cannot wait to see it happen.

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