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Archive for the ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ Category

I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything since April. There was such a good response to the possibility of releasing all Rose Fyleman’s books that Ross has chucked everything else off the schedule and we’re going to do it!

(what? it’s not April Fool’s Day any more? damn…)

Lowdham Book Festival Programme

Life at Five Leaves has been very busy – lots of ebook production, more typesetting, designing the programme for Lowdham Book Festival, which I’m very pleased with. Recent book releases include Michael J Malone’s Blood Tears, typeset by yours truly, which sold out at the Bristol Crimefest bookshop on the second day of the festival, and 1948, a comic novel about the 1948 London Olympics, written in Pushkin sonnets by Andy Croft and illustrated by Martin Rowson, which was Nicholas Lezard’s book of the week in The Guardian.

Museum MadnessOn top of that, I worked with Mark Gwynne Jones and students at Springwell College towards what was an excellent performance at the Chesterfield Lyric Lounge. I was so proud of them, those who performed (Matthew, Ashley, Chloe L and Courtneyrose) and those who didn’t. The anthology of their work is fantastic, a lovely souvenir of an inspiring project. The best moment was when Matt and Ashley came up to me and said ‘Miss, we’ve asked Mrs McCabe if we can carry on writing poetry, and we’re going to do it at lunchtimes.’ Wow!

Here is some advice from Ashley about writing poetry:

Poems look hard, but they are easy if you put your mind onto paper. Never give up, if you make a mistake don’t let it stop you, keep writing and edit at the end. The mistakes give you more inspiration.

We asked the students to write some interesting text to include in the introduction – mainly to counteract the usual stuff from the councillors and such-like worthy people – and they came up with some excellent lines… such as the following from Imigen, Chloe L and Mollie:

Eurghhh! Don’t get me started on how boring we thought it would be. But when we did the first session we decided it was actually quite good. … It was fun!!!! We enjoyed!

I think if I’d been asked to contribute towards the introduction, I might have written something like:

Eurghhh! Don’t get me started on how much I didn’t want to work with schoolchildren! I almost didn’t turn up on my first day, I was so nervous. But every single moment of it has been fantastic. The students were funny, inspiring, clever and interesting, and I feel no shame about the tears of pride I shed on May 12th as I watched them perform their work.

So that’s a lesson learned for me too. I’m determined to take every opportunity I can in this wonderful weird writing game, because I never know in advance what’s going to work for me.

Lots of other exciting stuff has happened in the last couple of months. I’ll post about some of the highlights over the next few days…

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I went up to Springwell College again yesterday to work with the group of students I went to the museum with last week, and again I was awestruck by the brilliance of the kids, and didn’t want the session to end.

A pig butcher

A pig butcher. The kids think it's cute. I think it's creepy.

Before I burble a bit more about that, I must thank everyone who’s made it possible for me to work on this project. It was originally devised by Pamela Butler of the Chesterfield Borough Council Arts Development Project , who are providing half the funding. The aim was to engage young Chesterfield people with writing by inviting them to the museum storeroom to be inspired by the amazing collection of artefacts we have there. Pamela told me: “I think the storeroom is one of the most magical places I have ever seen and I feel it has such potential to excite and inspire young people – not least because you get to see all the things no one else does.” I would agree with that wholeheartedly. Writing East Midlands put up the rest of the money as part of the ongoing Lyric Lounge initiative, and Catherine Rogers kindly set up the opportunity for me to shadow Mark. Anne-Marie Knowles, the curator at Chesterfield Museum, has been full of enthusiasm and overflowing with knowledge, and very kindly put up with all my questions when I turned up early last week for the museum visit. So thank you all so much, and huge thanks to Mark Gwynne Jones, Mrs McCabe and Mrs F-J for letting me loose on the kids (or is it vice versa?).

Pattern for the White HorseSo, what we did yesterday was to play a guessing game. Mark put pictures up on the screen while one of the students sat with his/her back to it, and the rest of us had to make up riddles about the object until the student guessed what it was. This was excellent fun, particularly with the horse’s head. They came up with some fantastic lines – ‘blessed with a nose but cannot breathe’ and ‘lined with veins that carry no blood’ for example.

Is this really a TV?

'Miss! Is this really a TV?'

Mark scribbled the lines down on various white-boards we’d corralled together for the purpose (I swear one of them was alive) and then set the kids going, in pairs, writing poems starting ‘Upstairs in the Storeroom’. The horse was a popular theme – most of the poems started with the idea of a horse that dreams of being able to run free but is forced to stay still, shut away in a dark storeroom. I particularly liked a line which went something like ‘thoughts racing through a head of hollow wood’ – what a subtle and intelligent use of language. ‘Do you know about alliteration?’ I asked. ‘Yes, of course,’ was the answer. <big smiley face>

Another poem used repetition to great effect, and although almost all of the poems rhymed very few of the rhyming words felt forced. What a fantastic bunch of kids. Abso-bloody-lutely fantastic. I love them all!

Leech jar

Beautiful jar?

One artefact which the kids didn’t hear about while we were there was this rather lovely jar. Which, as it turns out, is that essential medicinal container, a leech jar! Yuckyuckyuck. And late in its life, apparently, someone decided to prettify it by painting an idyllic scene on the outside, but the holes in the lid give its original purpose away. I’m not sure I understand that, mind you. When my brother and I collected leeches at the local lake (back in the dawn of time when they were probably still in use for blood-letting) they quite happily crawled up the sides and across the underside of the top of the container we put them in. So I don’t think holes in the top of the jar are a good idea. But I’m not a doctor… Anyway, when I showed the picture to some of the kids and explained what it was all about, they were supremely unimpressed. I guess the idea of a doctor attaching leeches to you to suck your blood isn’t as horrifying to today’s youngsters. Maybe they think leeches are cute, like that creepy pig butcher.

Can’t wait for the next session! Merry Christmas to all involved with the project!

Previous ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts:
School Days
Behind the Scenes at the Museum

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