Monday, 3 June 2013

The Grampian Children's Book Award and Writing with the Students at Mearns Academy

At the beginning of May I was invited to the Grampian Children's Book Award ceremony as 15 Days Without a Head was one of the shortlisted titles. The event, at Aberdeen University, was attended by around six hundred students, teachers and librarians from schools all over Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City and Moray. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness scooped the prize, but I had a great day and got to meet many enthusiastic readers and a few authors too!

Mark Lowery, Cathy MacPhail, Debbie Leslie,
some bald fella and Barry Hutchinson

The award was the start of a mini tour of the area for me …

taking in Ellon and Northfield, where
I met Frankie – Guardian of the Library!

Heading north up to Elgin and Speyside

Then back down to Torry.
On the final day of the tour, after sessions at Aboyne and Mackie, I found myself taking Laurence and Jay to Laurencekirk, and crossing the line …

After a quick introduction to my journey to becoming an author and the background to 15 Days, I started the group at Mearns Academy on a workshop I call "Crossing the Line." I've done this exercise with a number of groups and I'm always impressed by the ideas the students come up with – some very funny, others filled with real drama and emotion – and often find myself thinking: I wish I'd thought of that! This group were no exception and I was particularly struck by how much writing they achieved in the short time available.

Daniel, that bald bloke again, John, Connor and Scott
– in the library at Mearns.

A week or so after returning to the attic, I received an email from Mr Paterson, the librarian at Mearns, telling me that the group had finished off the workshop in their next English lesson. I was delighted when he sent me some pictures and few extracts of the students' work.

Chloe wrote a gripping piece set in the moments after her character had been forced to kill. The writing was full of vivid description with some lovely delicate touches – "His soft fur moved smoothly through my fingers".

Andrew's extract was from the point of view of soldier forced into his first kill, and the horror and shame he feels afterwards. His writing was urgent and hard, but there was some real empathy in the piece too. The soldier thinks of his victim: "He probably hadn't signed up for this either." A great piece of writing.

Some of the students' writing
on display in the library
Ryan's story had a fantastic opening line: "The eyes of the cartoon dog were burning holes in the side of my head as they watched me eat the dog food …" It was a good image, it made me smile. I was expecting a comic scenario, then found myself facing some real horror a paragraph later. Changing mood effectively like this is not an easy technique, but one Ryan handled very well. 

Millie has a good ear for authentic dialogue and her writing pulled me right into the action. The scene was set in the children's ward of a hospital and Millie managed to capture the essence of the location superbly – "most of the kids were full of energy, bouncing about and having fun with their friends. My little brother was in a room by himself. He looked helpless and lonely." A really poignant and heart-felt piece of writing.

Thanks again to all the students for their great work and to Mr Paterson and Mrs Donald for sharing the results with me. 

I had a great time at all the schools I visited in Scotland. Much appreciation to all the staff and students for making me so welcome. Special mentions to Marion, Katie, Fiona, Rosie and Neil, and my publisher Oxford University Press for their support. 


  1. Lucky you--and lucky them. Looks and sounds like an amazing tour. And you had your picture taken with Alice Cooper. Awesome!

    1. I had a great time in Scotland, Jane. Met some lovely folk and the weather and scenery was amazing. Frankie was kinda scary though …