On Thursday 8th December, the English department took all the GCSE Language students to the British Library to take part in the ‘Write Here’ creative writing workshop. As part of their coursework, the students will all be producing a piece of imaginative writing, and what better way to prepare for that than learning storytelling at the country’s national library?
When we first told our students that they would be asked to come up with a piece of creative writing for their GCSE Language coursework, there were a few unmistakeably panicked looks in the room.
“I can’t do creative writing.”
“I’m really rubbish at ideas.”
“I hate writing stories.”
However, as the poet Maya Angelou once rather wisely said, ‘you can’t use up creativity: the more you use, the more you have’. The ‘Write Here’ workshop was created by the British Library precisely for the purpose of helping KS4 and KS5 students to produce their own imaginative work. For our students, it proved to be a valuable experience in thinking creatively, and improving their understanding of how many stories they actually know and are capable of telling. The students worked in groups, talking about the stories that they remember from their childhood, from movies and television, or from their own reading; they then took these apart, identifying all the elements of an exciting story – the hero, the villain, the crisis, the resolution. It was a pleasure for the English teachers to see our GCSE students (some of whom had been claiming only moments before that they were clean out of ideas) engaging enthusiastically in discussions about stories as eclectic in range as Macbeth, Picture Perfect, Nativity, Dr Strange, and The Odyssey. From this starting point, the students then used the objects in the British Library collection as prompts for writing their own stories.
After lunch, we then visited the Library’s ‘Treasures’ gallery, which houses one of the finest collection of rare and important texts in the country. We saw a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio – one of only 235 copies known to be in existence – and some beautiful hand-illustrated religious texts from the thirteenth century. The enthusiastic readers in our group were particularly thrilled to see Jane Austen’s little writing desk, scarcely larger than a modern hardback, which was a poignant reminder of the many challenges women face in finding opportunities to write. Mahatma Gandhi’s letter meanwhile, written on cheap, yellowing, prison-issue paper to the British authorities from his Indian jail, spoke powerfully about the importance of protest.
The students took a lot away from the day, both from the workshop and the exhibition. Perhaps most particularly, the group gained a greater understanding of their own potential as writers. Sketching out the rough beginnings of story ideas from treasured objects, or just from their own imagination – as well as seeing the scrawled and scribbled first drafts of famous texts by ‘real’ writers like Angela Carter, Charles Dickens and Wilfred Owen – reminded the students that creative writing is not about producing ‘perfect’ first time; and most importantly, it showed them that anyone with something to say can write.