Posts Tagged 'schools'

What happened to equal opportunity?

Brilliant articles here from Lucy Mangan and here from Michael Rosen, about inequality in the education system and the insidious, cynical and vicious way it is being perpetuated. Hurrah for these writers, articulating what I am simply too angry about to be able to articulate properly.

Go read. Get angry.

PSI book fair


I was last at Pechersk School International (PSI) In Kiev about twelve years ago, when I briefly taught English as a foreign language. I had a chance to go back last week, and it was great both to see how the school has grown and developed (it’s probably quadrupled in size), and to be there in a different capacity, as a visiting author for the school’s annual book fair.

It was fascinating to talk to such a wide range of age-groups (from five to eighteen) about all three of my books – in particular this was the first time I’d done Jack And The Dragon’s Tooth in a school and it was such a pleasure to see how much the children enjoyed it.

It’s also the first time I’ve had an audience familiar with the books’ settings in Kiev and Crimea, which lent a whole different slant to my talks and their questions: less time explaining what a trolleybus is, more time debating whether baba Yaga is ever a good witch, while because it’s an international school the themes in Dream Land of moving and settling in to a new country had a particular resonance for many of the children.

The classes came up with many wonderful observations and questions. After talking with them about the issues in Dream Land, I can say that if PSI grades six and seven were running Crimea, there would be far fewer political and social tensions there. I’d like to thank grade three for explaining so comprehensively and enthusiastically just why it is so great to read. The questions and comments from grades eleven and twelve made me think afresh about the links between fiction and journalism and what is suitable reading for children. Grade five thought up so many interesting ‘what might happen next’ scenarios for Riding Icarus I’m tempted to write the end of the book all over again, while grade four had some impressively disgusting suggestions for baba Yaga’s tea party menu. Grades two and one explained brilliantly all about fairytales and why Jack is a hero, and I think my absolute favourite question came from a perspicacious child in grade one, who asked “Why do you need an editor?” It’s such a good question I am saving it for another post.

Huge thanks to PSI pupils first of all, for being so enthusiastic and interested, interesting and inspiring; to the staff and particularly librarians Graham and Susan for organising the two days so efficiently and making me feel so welcome, and to Sean and Viktoria from Dinternal for providing books and making the initial link with PSI. I hope we’re going to continue working together, and not just on books; if our ideas work out, I’ll be posting more on that in future.

Writing yourself out of the doldrums

More thanks, this time to the children from Macclesfield Library reading group and Middlewich Primary School, who I met last week to talk about Riding Icarus. It’s so great to have an opportunity to meet such enthusiastic readers and many budding writers. As always, there were lots of wonderful questions; I think this time my favourite was “When you’re angry does your writing come out angry too, and when you’re happy do you write happy things?”

How much does what ends up on the page reflect what’s going on in real life?

If I’m in a really bad temper, I find it hard to write at all – unlike during my angsty scribbling teens, when the number of pages I wrote increased exponentially with the badness of my mood. Back then, I was writing to escape into an alternative world that was way more satisfying than my own.

These days, I like to think that what I write is less of an escape, and is more independent of how I’m actually feeling. Although a novel overall surely reflects the author’s overall worldview, when you’re in the middle of writing one you can’t write in a tragic scene every time he doesn’t call or the train is late, or alternatively decide that everyone’s going to live happily ever after on the final page just because you got invited to a party on Saturday (well you could, obviously, but I’m not sure the results would be worth reading).

A good writing day for me is one where I’ve got completely into the internal logic of the book and can see what the next development should be (happy or sad) and how I should write it irrespective of whether I think the real world that day is a good place to be or a miserable slough of despond.

So, I guess my answer would be: no; I can write a sad scene when I’m feeling bouncy (easy!), and a cheerful scene when I’m grumpy (though that’s harder). On a really good writing day, a cheerful scene I’ve just written might even spill out into real life and I’ll end up feeling that the world isn’t actually a slough of despond even though he didn’t call and the train was late; it’s full of sunshine and balloons.

Dreaming you’re in a book

Thanks to the children from Marlborough Primary and Tytherington High School in Cheshire for all the interest and participation during my visits this week to talk about Riding Icarus and Dream Land.

You were wonderful! It was great to see so much enthusiasm for books, and how many of you want to be writers. You asked so many fantastic questions it’s hard to single out one or two, but one I really liked was “Have you ever dreamed you were a character in one of your books?”

I use ideas and images from dreams a lot in my writing, but only once have I dreamed I was one of my own book characters. I dreamed I was Masha, the heroine of Riding Icarus and of a new, yet to be published novel known so far as It’s a Sweet Word, Kamchatka.

In my dream I was about thirteen years old and I was homeless. I was wearing a horrible grubby pale pink coat that wasn’t warm at all and that I’d never have chosen to wear; I think I was being chased, and that I asked some strangers to help me – all that part is a bit vague now but what I really remember from the dream was the feeling of being cold and dirty and having no clean clothes, nowhere to go. And knowing that I was totally alone. No one cared about me; if people saw me then they quickly looked away and pretended I wasn’t there at all. That terrible feeling of being small and unwanted stuck with me long after I woke up.

I’ve put that dreamed experience into It’s a Sweet Word, Kamchatka, along with some real things that have happened to me and to people I know, particularly homeless children in Ukraine that I met through journalism and charity work. In the book, Masha doesn’t stay living on the streets for too long, but the effect of the world’s indifference stays with her for far longer – as does the amazing kindness of some strangers.

Anyone here ever dreamed you’re a character in a book?


previous posts

A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland


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