A bright and crisp Saturday morning saw the arrival of teachers, head teachers, students and lecturers for the regional UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association) conference: Purpose and Pleasure in writing. Organized by Mary Anne Wolpert and Gabrielle Cliff-Hodges, our Cambridge UKLA representatives, the conference challenged participants to consider the philosophy behind expressive and transactional (sharing with an audience) writing. If any student in the audience had been sleep-deprived for the past 48 hours, panicking over the word count of their second essay, all traces of fatigue dissipated once the creative writing process began.
Simon Wrigley’s opening lecture introduced the notion of a National Writing Project, wherein pupils will be encouraged to approach writing as a highly creative and innovative process, accessing their own “voice” and identity and feeding this into the art they produce. Within minutes, we were all scribbling away, attempting a “floor plan exercise” in free writing. This involved the audience sketching a map of an emotionally significant space (whether a house, bedsit or a shed), drawing from emotionally charged experiences which would facilitate the writing process. We were then to share our work with our neigbours (which wasn’t nearly as daunting as I expected, but rather liberating). The only sounds that punctuated our turning of pages and frantic scrawl, was the occasional giggle (and sniffle!) at memories past. I was transported back to my rented flat on the beach, and the morning swims before 8.30 lectures in the University of Crete… the beauty of free writing is the lack of pressure; the lack of framework to which the child should adhere. Towards the end of the lecture, Simon Wrigley presented the audience with the illustrated “Rights of the Author” which included “the right to borrow from other authors”, “the right not to share”, and “the right to write whenever, and wherever I want” among others.
“You never finish a poem, you merely abandon it”
The workshop I chose to attend next was an antithesis to say the least! John Lynch presented the idea of encouraging pupils to base their poetry on a structured paradigm. Following a poem from the book of Taliesin, we each wrote and shared our own versions, not before reading examples composed by pupils. We were all struck by the beauty of their poems, and the power of the individual “I” that each young voice managed to convey. As the workshop drew to a close, I was convinced that structure can both encourage autonomous writers to use a first poem as a stepping stone to exercise their creative abilities, and less confident writers to access their individual voice, producing work of mature artistic calibre, as was evident from examples of their work. John Lynch used the poem by Taliesin within a lesson plan on David Almond’s “Skellig” and the idea of human flight. His pupils visited the Tate Britain and wrote about their impressions on “The lament for Ikarus”, which served to ignite their creative spark when composing their own poetry.
The final presentation was made by award-winning author Marcus Sedgwick, who spoke about his journey as an author; how inadequate planning forced him to abandon his last project having already reached 10,000 words, (and having exceeded his editor’s deadline by one month) and how, against all odds, he banished his inhibitions, finishing the book he had dreamt of writing for five years, but never dared to begin. His long awaited novel Midwinter Blood is inspired by Carl Larsson’s Midvinterblot, and follows the relationship of two characters, as they come to meet each other time and time again, in different spaciotemporal encounters. This rich tapestry woven by the author, serves as an intertextual counterpoint to Larsson’s mural (see caption below).
The audience fell silent as Marcus Sedgwick started to read (from his i-pad!) an especially poignant chapter from the novel. So enraptured we were, that we almost forgot to draw raffles to decide the winner of a picturebook and novel (all proceeds from the raffle sale funded the “Books for Africa” project). I wasn’t the lucky winner I’m afraid, though I count myself especially fortunate in attending such a varied and fruitful exchange of ideas. I left the conference site with Sedgwick’s final quote in my mind: “Find a job that you love, and you will never work another day in your life”.
I do believe I have.