On Friday 13th June, University College London hosted One Day in the City, a day celebrating literature in London. Simultaneously, First Story and UCL welcomed four schools from London, Oxford and Nottingham into various museums across the university to experience creative writing workshops with some of First Story's best writers in residence.
We took eleven enthusiastic and talented young writers from years 7 and 8 on our school minibus, embarking on a journey (on a day riddled with superstition) that I was convinced could only go wrong. Fortunately, we were lucky to be driven by our fabulous caretaker; and the organisers at UCL were amazing - printing us a route map and providing us with suitable parking. And the pupils we took were brilliant - engaged and engaging, creating pieces of work that reflected their surroundings and experiences on the day.
When we arrived in London, we were greeted by helpers clad in yellow t-shirts, milling around and showing people where to go. Oxford Spires were guided by Laura, an MA student at UCL who was very friendly, but knew when to put her foot down (i.e. when we were trying to cross the road and the kids weren't paying attention).
All the guests gathered in a lecture theatre, where we were treated to a performance by Anthony Anaxagorou and Bridget Minamore. I have attended workshops and performances by Anthony in the past, and he is a inspiring and engaging young writer; and Bridget was a welcome breath of fresh air on that overly warm morning. Her poetry was sharp, funny and relevant, cutting right to what her audience were interested in.
The Oxford Spires students were treated to a workshop with Kate Kingsley, author of the Young, Loaded and Fabulous series, in the Grant Museum of Zoology - a space full of pickled animals and leering skeletons. I was so impressed that none of the young writers were scared of the items on display - including a jar full of moles and a stuffed cloned cat - but curiously explored and absorbed. Kate had us writing in different styles, thinking about the tone of our prose or poetry. We selected concepts from a bag, telling us to write in the style of someone who was trapped in the museum, or someone who owned the collection, or like we were in a detective novel. In a short space of time, the young writers had funny, scary and original pieces of prose to share with the group.
Then, Kate asked us to write as if we were one of the museum pieces, imagining we were an animal stuffed or pickled or displayed. Again, the minds of the students created hilarity and drama in a way that only young writers can produce.
At the end of the day, all four groups (each of which had been with a different author in a different part of the university) came back together and selected students shared their work. I was impressed by the variety and quality of work produced in just two hours - and, having been to so many events, I should be used to this by now.
Huge thanks is due to all the wonderful people at First Story (particularly Nikki), the invaluable helpers in yellow shirts, and the organisers of One Day in the City. My pupils came home buzzing, even after hours spent confined to the back of the minibus (being sporadically fed treats in the vain hope of keeping them quiet for a few minutes at a time).
Also, good luck to James Dawson, one of the First Story authors present, who is currently shortlisted for the Queen of Teen Award for great writing in young-adult fiction. Please vote for James here: http://www.queenofteen.co.uk/vote.html