Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Creative writing pupil resisted everything but temptation

People often ask me why I gave up workshopping in schools. The switch from live workshopping to distance learning from the safety of a home office was like leaving a war zone and finding myself in Switzerland. The final indignity took place in an inner city secondary school. You know how when things begin badly, they get worse...sometimes God throws the book at us so that we can learn lessons, the main one from this being never to run a writing workshop in a school again.

I was given the wrong directions to begin with and arrived late. The teacher who had sent them gave me a lecture on always taking my A-Z with me to places I'd never been before (even when the directions could have landed me in Berlin presumably). I was taken to the staff room, where the head was addressing the teachers. Some of the inmates had smeared excrement over the walls in the boys' loo and the cleaner had been sick.

The first writing workshop took place in an atrium with the perfect humidity for cucumbers. Some off-stage machinery noises meant I had to shout. Shouting in the round isn't a useful thing to do as the kids behind me couldn't hear above the machinery and the babble of their own voices as they chatted among themselves and hurled paper darts at one another, generally making the little chaps from South Park look like The Waltons. Empty paper littered the floor and the teacher agreed that the absence of desks hadn't helped and that the location was totally inappropriate.

For the second session, we moved to a classroom. The children began running around and screaming. One jumped out of the window and ran off. A couple of teenage girls sat on the window ledge and chatted. When I said not to write the title yet, they wrote the title. It was impossible to raise any enthusiasm to the sea of blank faces whose concept of 'the next sentence' probably meant three months for TWOCing a car.

Most appeared to be semi literate. Workbooks contained uncorrected spelling mistakes, some of them made by the teachers. 'Loose' instead of 'lose' was common, as was 'its' in place of 'it's'. 'We don't correct them all as we don't want them to lose confidence,' I was told. Shouldn't that have been loose confidence?

But joy of joys when some of the girls completed their short stories. The beautiful heroine, sweetness and light to the end, reached for a sword and hacked off the head of the baddy, releasing a stream of blood across the room. As most of the writers had used the same gory plot, I asked what was going on. 'It's taken from the video games we play.' A poster in the corridor advertising National Reading Week showed the school's chosen theme: Horror.

But it wasn't all gloom and doom. In one class I found some promising work probably because the Head was the teacher in charge and they were all terrified of her. A little boy, who hated writing, worked with me one-to-one and produced a wonderful story about the thing he cared for most - football. We were all staggered and I would have hugged him had I not risked arrest.

I lasted until the end of the third session of the six I'd agreed to run, when it culminated in a mass exodus through the window and the disappearance of my wallet from my bag. It was obvious who'd done it - a special needs pupil who shouldn't have been in my class and wasn't doing any creative writing - but they couldn't find anywhere else to put him. It had taken them months to coerce him back into school after a long absence. They weren't going to jeopardise their chances of rehabilitating him just because my credit cards had got in the way of temptation. Suddenly it was my fault.

The teacher went to find the child and as I left the classroom, a small 12-year-old girl skipped up to me, all smiles. 'Would you like to buy some drugs miss? Cocaine, heroin, whatever you want?'

'Excuse me?'

A little boy intervened. 'She's only joking,' he said, looking alarmed and pulled her away from me. I would like to believe he was telling the truth.

I found the teacher in the staff room chatting to a colleague. Had she found the child, I interrupted? Not yet, she would go and look for him in a minute. When I mentioned the word 'police', she shot out of the room like a human cannonball. I was persuaded not to contact them and my wallet was returned intact with no explanation or apology. I was ushered out of the school rather more quickly than I'd gone in.

A supply teacher said the children were lazy and idle and lacked motivation but the teacher who had given me the dodgy directions said, 'they are wonderful when they get used to you. They always play up with strangers.' Well, that's all right then,' I thought, went home and had a nice cup of tea.


Anonymous said...

Your post reminded me just why I gave up teaching to become an impoverished author.

Diane Paul said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Elizabeth. It was much appreciated...I thought it was just me who had these dreadful experiences.

Anonymous said...

Over the past few years, I’ve occasionally done workshops with kids in primary schools and, so far, I’ve found them hugely enjoyable and exciting to do. I’ve recently been accepted onto a scheme which sends freelance educational illustrators into primary and, gulp, secondary schools. I’ve got to tell you, Diane, your post has scared me to death!

Diane Paul said...

I agree about the primary schools, the kids are delightful. They're usually fine in the first year at secondary. I don't know what goes wrong, probably they morph into teenagers. However, don't let me scare you. I did some productive gigs too. It was just the last one that terrified the life out of me too. My account is not exaggerated, every word of it happened. Maybe it's made me a better person...you made me laugh anyway.