Don's diary: Saturday morning blood and gore

July 25, 2003

Saturday, week 1

6.30am:

My alarm clock is going mad but why? It's Saturday morning, for goodness sake. Then I remember: I am teaching creative writing to a group of year-ten pupils at the University of East London. The classes are part of a widening participation scheme, meant to be an enjoyable taster of university. I roll over and have another ten minutes.

9.30am:

Nervously, I watch them pile off the buses. They are very noisy. School kids worry me: the fear of the unknown I suppose. But Maria, the schoolteacher with my group, assures me it will be fine. They walk into the classroom like condemned souls. I quickly establish they mostly hate books, writing and reading. And being here. But they do like horror and gore: my worst fears are confirmed. I blame too much vampire slaying on TV.

A warm-up activity gets them creating a story. It turns out quite bloody, but interesting. Break time comes and it's crisps and fizzy drinks all round.

11.00am:

They are livelier now as we fracture fairy tales. Reluctance at first, but they start to enjoy the freedom to change familiar stories. Maria tells me how stifled they are by the national curriculum. Next thing, hands are flying up: "Me next miss!" They all want to read out their efforts. I can hardly keep up. It's soon time to finish and they exit all smiles.

Saturday, week 2

9.30am:

We don't pick up from where we left off. It's all grim faces again, made worse by the late arrival of some whose bus broke down. Novels and narrative are on the agenda, so we begin with them recounting the morning's events. Some write eloquently. They have earned their crisps and pop.

11.00am:

We move on to short stories and novels. The word "book" causes panic, but I reassure them. Their task is to outline a plot and fill out a specific character. They write him as a tyrant, a leader, a tragic figure. Lots of blood and guts again. All very feasible though.

Saturday, week 3

9.30am:

We begin by watching film excerpts as script writing is today's focus. They enjoy this but groan when asked to plot a film and write sample dialogue. I give examples and explanations and some groups get started but others can't find a way in. One boy draws instead. Others are going into too much detail and getting confused.

12pm:

By the end we have some good results, mostly horror and murder again but it's a generational thing clearly.

Saturday, week 4

9.30am:

The final session, and I feel quite sad (though I'm looking forward to regaining Saturday mornings lie-ins). They look happy till I mention poetry; too much "like school". But some admit to an interest in it. Then they write about their worst journey ever and we cover travel writing briefly. Identifying the gender of writers from some extracts provokes a lively discussion, which is videoed for posterity by the university. Song lyrics do not inspire them but it's nearly time to go and they are getting fidgety.

12pm:

Maria and I round it all off, wondering if any seeds have been sown. School kids aren't so bad after all. Watch out Stephen King, your time could soon be up.

Ruth Cherrington lectures in media and cultural studies at the University of East London and the University of Warwick.

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