No, nothing to do with crime or horror and everything to do with Story Structure.
This is what I am focussing on in this week’s workshop programme in Primary Schools.
As Autumn arrives, I am back in schools delivering Creative Writing workshops to children aged 9 – 11. A huge thanks to schools who are making the New Normal work for the benefit of the children and their parents and so that the children can experience a rich, cultural project.
When I work with children, my intention is to spark their imagination and develop the innate creativity which we are all born with. I enjoy sharing my love of writing and the creative tools I use in my own practice as an author. The workshops are designed to give the children skills and techniques which will kickstart a love of creative writing, reading and telling stories. It is an opportunity to liberate us all from the strictures of the curriculum, and deal with ideas and creativity.
It is human nature to tell each other stories; all cultures throughout the history of mankind have done so. And stories are everywhere we look; in our everyday lives we tell each other about what has happened during the day; or we tell about our past, or try to imagine what might happen tomorrow. Children bring joy, enthusiasm and imagination to the workshops, which inspires the adults around them to think differently about the world.
It has been almost a year since I have been able to visit schools and work with children and staff, and even longer since I worked face to face with adults.
The Junior Ambassadors Programme starts again this month and is now in its fourth year. I will be delivering 28 creative writing workshops about Cultural Diversity across seven schools in Tendring before Christmas. (Tendring District has a 97.5% white population with 98% of the population speaking English.) The children have a visit each week from an artist from a different culture; this year we have Anna Mudeka from Zimbabwe; a singer, dancer, storyteller and drummer. Indi Sandhu will teach the children (and staff) to dance Bollywood, and Simone Xue will tell the children about Chinese Culture and Chinese Calligraphy. There will also be a session with Refugee Action, Colchester which tells the children real stories of refugees on our own doorstep.
The writing workshops will cover story structure, from African Storytelling, poems inspired by Bollywood Dance and Characters inspired by Chinese Calligraphy. Finally, we will take a journey with a refugee and write letters home.
So this week, I am following the amazing Anna Mudeka into schools; she is a hard act to follow; her energy in dance, singing and drumming inspired the children and gave them an experience they would not have witnessed anywhere else.
The African story that Anna told the children – the story of the Mella and the Python Healer – uses a structure common to African storytelling, which also reflects tales from cultures around the world. We will use it as inspiration for our own stories, and work from the inside out – by recreating the story bones.
What are the story bones? It is what I call the frame or structure of a story. So, just as we are all totally different and unique individuals, we all share a common ‘frame.’ And so do stories; although all stories are very different, they hang on a recognised frame; stories generally have characters, in a setting, with a problem, which they must overcome to give us a resolution and (often in folk tales) a moral at the end – the lesson learned.
The children identified the moral of Anna’s story to be: ‘love is more powerful than fear; be brave, be kind and don’t give up.’
Stories are powerful things, and children ‘get it.’ They know how stories work and have abundant flow of imagination to tell their own stories.
As they progress through school, and with support and input from all of us, this generation of storytellers will continue to weave more stories which reflect their lives and the world around them.