You should write stories for children when you’re a grown up, you know'. I was 9 years old and sat in the car with my dad on a late summer’s evening, waiting for my mum to finish work. He’d just finished reading the latest story I’d written for my Year 5 creative writing homework. All your teachers say you're a brilliant writer. You should seriously think about it, he had said.
I don’t know what it was about writing at primary school in the late 80s and early 90s, but I remember an intense feeling of freedom. I had a sense that I could write about anything I wanted to, my writing belonged to me and I could really let my imagination go wild. I was a mad Enid Blyton fan, so many of my stories featured high adventure and mild peril! I remember my Year 6 teacher briefing us to write a story inspired by a book that we had recently read in our personal reading time. I mean, any book, not one that she had specifically told us to read. My story ended up being about smugglers, and I’m fairly sure I wrote it after school in our back garden!
This sense of freedom was soon squashed by the spoon-feeding grammar school I attended. We were taught how to write to get results and how to write to pass exams. I regurgitated theories, scholarly quotations and Shakespeare passages with ease but there was little room to flex my imagination. University was the final nail in the coffin. I could run off a solid 2.1 essay, sometimes even a first class one, but they all had the same format that I had been schooled in for years.
"I don’t know what it was about writing at primary school in the late 80s and early 90s, but I remember an intense feeling of freedom."
After university, I fell into children’s publishing. I found I could very effectively revise and edit other people’s stories for publication, but I couldn't summon up the courage to give writing a go myself. Then, a few years ago, I went through a phase of trying to write picture books. I gave up because of the sheer frustration I felt when writing. I found the whole process stressful and unenjoyable. I don’t know what to write about. How do I do it? Where do I even start? I longed for that feeling of freedom I had when writing as a child.
Almost two years ago, I started working as the editorial lead on Power English: Writing. As I always do when a new project comes along, I immersed myself in the research and pedagogy behind the approach. I’d lose track of time at the office, engrossed in reading manuscripts for the latest writing projects – graphic novels, ‘inspired by’ poetry, information texts, memoir. I delved deeper into the pedagogy and research, and began to see how important it is for children to know the purpose and audience for a piece of writing. I discovered how these twenty-first century children longed to have agency over their writing projects, so often bemoaning the fact that they felt their writing belonged to their teachers and not to them. So different from my own experiences of writing as a child. I found myself learning techniques to generate ideas for writing, and encountered planning grids and editing checklists. I even learned how to *dabble!
And so time went on, until one morning in late September 2018, I was giving my horse her breakfast and noticed a peach fuzz of winter fluff starting to cover her summer dapples. A fleeting thought … It’s like she’s standing at the edge of autumn. Park that for later, I thought. That evening, I sat down at my kitchen table with a pad of paper and a bright green sharpie and I wrote down those words. She stands at the edge of autumn. I spent the evening writing down lots of different words and phrases, until finally I had a fully formed free verse poem. I was so excited! I finally felt that freedom again! I had used the Power English: Writing techniques to write a (half decent!) poem about something that I really wanted to write about!
"Power English: Writing doesn’t just represent an approach to writing for children - it's for everyone! There is a writer in us all."
Then the other day, I took a photo of my horse happily munching grass in the early morning sunshine intended for a Facebook post. I’d wanted to caption it Can time just stop please? Instead, I sat with my horse and turned that caption into a poem. Ten minutes, sat in a field with my phone, and I had written another poem! What was happening to me?! Then it hit home. Power English: Writing doesn’t just represent an approach to writing for children - it’s for everyone! There is a writer in us all.
This is so important for teachers teaching children to write. To those of you in that position, please, write alongside your children. Celebrate with them. Commiserate with them. When you learn something new about the craft of writing – share it with your children. Share your vulnerability and show them that you go through exactly the same things that they do as young, apprentice writers. Share strategies that you use in your own writing not just to overcome problems, but also to add depth and meaning to your writing. How did you hook in your reader? What kind of ending did you use? Why did you choose this particular style of ending? What type of language did you use? Why? And so on. Share all of this and more with your children!
You should write stories for children when you’re a grown up, you know. So I am. Stories, poems, memoirs. At my kitchen table at home, at my desk at work, and sometimes just sat in a field with my pony. I carry a writing notebook, and I jot down words, phrases and ideas as I hear them or as they come to me. Power English: Writing has given me back that freedom I had as a child.
I am a writer.
Ode to G
She stands at the edge of autumn
Sun-kissed dapples make way for winter warmth
Her mistybreath swirls, dancing celebrating the morning.
She picks her way through the crowd, each step slow…
deliberate … until she reaches her target.
Wiry whiskers brush against my cheek.
'Good morning, old girl', I whisper.
The troops are alerted!
Her ears flash … a warning.
For no matter the season, she knows …
*dabbling: a process of playing around with drawings, words, phrases, thoughts and ideas on paper to develop an early writing idea.