Story-Telling at Cardiff High School (November 2011)

I was back in Cardiff High School on Friday (4th Nov) on the kind invite of Samantha Williams (that’s Miss Williams to you) and her colleagues in the English Dept.

A 2 hour workshop with the Year 12 English Lang/Lit class on creative writing and story-telling. For those of us standing on the wrong side of 35 years of age, it should be pointed out that Year 12 is what we used to refer to as Lower 6th. In real terms, this meant standing in front of a class of twenty-six 16-17 year olds. A potential tough crowd you might think. That particular age group have been given something of a raw deal in the media of late. If you’re unfortunate enough to get your news from certain outlets you’d be forgiven for thinking that trying to engage with this particular demographic was akin to trying to take a zebra from a lion’s mouth (edit. really no idea where this analogy came from).

Of course, for the rest of us reasonable sorts, we know that nothing could be further from the truth. The simple fact of the matter is that not only were the kids (yes, they are still kids) entirely engaging, they also happened to be a thoroughly likeable bunch with a great deal of intelligence, creativity and, dare I say – thought.

We opened up with a quick brainstorm about how and where we get our ideas as writers. The class was a little quiet at first, a tad reluctant to offer an answer. Frankly, who could blame them – a strange man appearing in their class like the shopkeeper from Mr Ben asking them daft questions – why should they? The fact that they are of a generation that grew up without Mr Ben, incidentally, breaks my aging heart. But, slowly they got into the swing – hands crawling upwards, shyly spoken answers coming forth. Good answers as well – correct answers (in as much as there was no actual wrong answer). We moved onto a few written exercises around memory and current affairs – an opportunity to let the creative juices flow. And, as Yoda might have said: disappointed I was not.

The writing produced from fairly limited prompts, taking recent news stories that they’d all heard of:

  1. Be a character involved or caught up in a riot situation
  2. Be a character involved in a protest
  3. Imagine being an astronaut on the last stage of the imaginary trip to Mars

What materialised was really impressive – sketched out scenes vividly created through action and description. The variety of scenarios and sty

les provoked from a limited amount of information and guidance demonstrating just how rich and imaginative our minds can be when given the opportunity. From a shopkeeper crunching on broken glass, to a boy reluctantly dragged into trouble – the mixed emotions beautifully captured simply by seeing a bin on fire, through to tell-all wordplay – broken phones, imposing uniforms and clever internal monologue from stir-crazy spacemen all providing entertaining and truly original work that was a joy to be a part of.

Not a bad way to spend a Friday morning really.


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