On March 5th, World Book Day, the school hosted author and conservationist Chris Vick for a whole day of events. Chris writes books for young people about the sea, danger, and magic. He is the author of the popular YA novels ‘Kook’ and ‘Storm’, and his latest book ‘Girl, Boy, Sea’, which has been described by The Bookseller as ‘A storm, a shipwreck and a story of survival in a contemporary, timely adventure tinged with legend and fable’, is currently longlisted for the prestigious Carnegie award.
The day started with Head of English, Andrew Maund, interviewing Chris Vick in the Cathedral for Senior School assembly, and Chris’s inspirational passion for storytelling, books, reading and writing was evident from the start. He also commented that it was the ‘coolest’ venue by far that he had ever spoken in! He revealed that his favourite work of literature is Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and that what inspired him to become a writer most of all – more than writers, teachers, or family – were the books themselves that he read when growing up.
Most of our Sixth Form A level English students were then treated to a thought-provoking workshop with Chris Vick which focused on his journey to becoming a writer, what a story is and why stories matter. He gave a real insight into the craft of writing (and rewriting, and rewriting, because you never get it right the first time), and the journey that most of the books on our shelves will have undergone before final publication. Books are an evolution of writing and planning. For example, Roald Dahl’s first draft of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory originally had 15 children with golden tickets, rather than 5!
Writers face an enormous amount of failure before they get any success. He advised the Sixth Formers to write what you are passionate about and most importantly, to find your voice because this is the one thing that you have that nobody else has.
For Chris, however, the most important and rewarding element of such workshops is in helping pupils to write and share their own stories. He is most interested in talking to young writers about their work and sharing with them how we can create and tell stories, as clearly and effectively as possible. Students were asked to come up with: a character and setting, something the character wanted, something stopping them from getting it, how they overcome the problem and how it ends. He connected impressively with our students and his thoughtful responses to their written work gave them the confidence to participate and share their stories. We had characters with internal conflicts, historical contexts, sophisticated settings, the element of surprise, politics, and lots of death! The Sixth Form, who had started off appearing rather uncharacteristically shy, soon found their voices and were full of questions at the end. They also plied Chris Vick with cake!
The L4 and U4 WRAITH (Library book club members) have all been reading ‘Girl, Boy, Sea’ and were very excited to be able to have a special signing session with Chris at the short break, after which Chris Vick finally had time to eat his cake!
The day’s main event was a very engaging theatre talk for all of our L4 and U4 pupils. Chris talked about the writing process, the importance of stories and how they help us to make sense of the world. Stories are as old as any culture – it is said that there are only 7 different kinds of story and they all share key elements (such as a hero, a challenge/quest, a conflict, and a resolution), and although they may be ‘beautiful lies’ they are how we learn the truth. Through stories, we live vicariously through others’ experiences – facing monsters, facing our fears. “Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten” (Neil Gaiman)
Chris shared the journey of his story ‘Girl, Boy, Sea’, which was initially inspired by Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and how it all began in his mind with one image of a boy in a boat in the sea.
He spoke about how in books for older children the dragons change their shape; the monsters for Bill and Aya in ‘Girl, Boy, Sea are a bully, the elements, fear itself, and death. The quest is to survive and return home; the challenges are to do with working out who you are when everything from your familiar world is taken away, and how to learn when you are totally out of your depth. Our pupils were a fantastic audience and asked lots of excellent questions. Afterwards many of them enjoyed meeting Chris as he signed copies of ‘Girl, Boy, Sea’ for them.
“It was very interesting, and surprising to learn that he had not always been a writer” Will D L4
“It was fun. I really enjoyed the questions and the way that the talk was very interactive all the way through” – Hayden D’Adda L4
Chris was then whisked away by Caitlin R and Briony G for his next assignment: to join George C in Mr Pearson’s 3rd-floor eyrie for a special World Book Day recording of ‘The King’s Voice’. The group had prepared a great set of questions. Chris proved again to be a very fluent interviewee and the group felt he conveyed well what the process of actually writing a book is like. For example, he spoke about how surfing trips to Morocco doubled as research for Aya’s character, and how writing, when it works, is like the joy of being completely absorbed in a book that you can’t put down, but a thousand times better! Therefore, why would you want to do anything else?! When asked how he would advise pupils to select books for Reading for Pleasure Week, he said that the main thing is to just read what you want, not what you think you ought to read. You can listen to the full interview here.
The final event of the day was another writing workshop with a very special audience for Chris. The group was made up entirely up book lovers from our LR, UR and L6 WRAITH book clubs. They were a wonderfully attentive audience and made the most of having Chris here to give them advice and feedback. They found the workshop inspiring, motivating, and very encouraging, and again came up with some wonderful story scenarios (including one in a ‘stream of consciousness’ format!)
“I learnt a lot of new things about how to write, how to structure my writing and how to become a better writer. It was interesting to see the process of how he wrote his books” – Riya M LR
“It was really good and very useful; it’s given me loads of ideas. It particularly helped me to work out how best to plan and organise my writing” – Rowan D L6
Chris thoroughly enjoyed his day with us and he inspired so many different pupils across the year groups (and staff!). Every pupil in the school rarely receives the benefit of having an author in school, and it was very special that this was the case, particularly on World Book Day, and particularly within the context of the school’s first and very successful Reading for Pleasure Week.
Words by Annabel Jeffery, School Librarian