Benjamin Franklin, a no-nonsense fellow, once observed:
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
A blunt pronouncement, indeed! So when a friend proudly told me about her son Daniel’s love of writing as a member of his school’s Authors Club, I couldn’t resist inviting myself to meet him and his fellow writers (who are probably “doers,” too). Fortunately the school (Alvernia Preparatory School) agreed to have me. The Principal, Mrs. Sherol Dixon Lewis, welcomed me warmly to her bright office, filled with the paraphernalia of school activities. She confessed to having a touch of the Monday morning “blues” but declared herself ready to face the week. Whenever I am with teachers, I am always so impressed by their capacity for sheer hard work.
It was a humid Monday morning with a colourless sky, the dullest of days. After a brief stop at the preschoolers’ department (which has its own vegetable garden) I went upstairs to the school hall, where the Authors were gathered in anticipation.
The Authors were not shy, although one or two spoke very quietly at first. There were fifteen boys and girls, sitting in the school hall, most of them with their printed works in their hands. Their teacher is Ms. Paulette Kelly. She is clearly proud of her Authors. Their literary output had been boosted by a recent Authors’ Fair at the school, where the students actually produced and sold copies of their works – from creator to publisher to retailer in one fell swoop! Next, one anticipates an Alvernia Prep Authors Club Bestsellers List…
One by one, the Authors introduced themselves, and told me what they enjoy writing about. The group covered many genres. Mystery and adventure seemed to be favourites. There must be plenty of action, they all agreed. One Author was inspired by Japanese manga. Science fiction and fantasy were also popular. Author Danielle Howell expressed an interest in horror! One young man said he was sometimes inspired to write about “love.” Some of the Authors made quizzical faces at this. I explained that they could write about many kinds of love, not only romantic; the love between children and parents, for example. As my grandmother used to say, “Love makes the world go round.” It’s a powerful emotion – write about it, I suggested. The other Authors looked a little doubtful. I urged them to think outside their comfort zone, and write about topics they might not usually choose. Challenge yourself! I suggested.
It struck me that almost all the Authors were heavily influenced by television and film. The media in general plays a big role in their lives. One Author said the topic of broadcast media appealed to him, and I pointed out that the media is a great tool for telling stories (hopefully, true stories). A young journalist in the making, perhaps? We also talked about books that were made into movies (Harry Potter was, of course, a big favourite). I pointed out to them that when they are writing, they could see each stage of the story as a separate “scene.”
On the topic of horror, I told the Authors about a short story I am currently working on. I just cannot decide how it should end. Without giving too much of the story away, our hero is stuck in a car that has crashed in a remote area, and her leg is broken. She cannot move and has no cell phone connection. What happens next? Does she get out alive? Well, the imaginative Authors provided me with about a dozen possible endings. One young Author said, “Well, it could just be that she was rescued and lived happily ever after.” Yes, but… Or, maybe…
I think they got the point I made about conflict, too. A good story must include at least one, or your readers might doze off reading it. There is a problem that has to be resolved, or perhaps more than one; so the arc of the story undulates, up and down. The Authors agreed that things don’t have to be completely sorted out at the end of the story – it might end with a small question mark, or two alternatives. They certainly had a very good grounding in the skills of writing, explaining to me what a simile is, and the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Kudos to Ms. Kelly!
The time flew by. We had enormous fun, and never stopped talking – sometimes, several of us at once. Sparks were ignited. Author Daniel stood up straight and read from his book of short stories. Author Jae-Ann Gillespie read her story The National Festival with great enthusiasm. (Which school won the dance competition? I will give you one guess!)
My final exhortation to the Authors was “Read, read, read!” You cannot be a good writer unless you read (other good writers). That’s the bottom line.
After an extensive photo-op session we said our farewells, while a discussion developed about lunch (meat loaf or chicken?) After all, hungry Authors must be fed.
Huge thanks to Mrs. Dixon Lewis and Ms. Kelly. You are doing a marvellous job!
Informational note: Alvernia Preparatory School on Old Hope Road in Kingston currently has about 200 students. It is a Catholic institution founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany just over 75 years ago, adjoining St. Joseph’s Teachers’ College and the St. Francis Primary and Infant School, and just over the road from the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts (which annually provides drama teachers for the students).