How a pupil's poem inspired a novel
For me, one of the best things about being a teacher is finding out years later that the work I have done in the past with a pupil has not been forgotten about. Recently I had a wonderful moment that made me so proud of the job that I do and a reminded me of how we can help implement something great. Out of the blue I received an email from Anna Bowen at Bloomsbury publishers stating that one of their authors would like to use a poem written by a pupil of mine in their new novel.
I was amazed to find out the back story.
I had a wonderful moment that made me so proud of the job that I do and a reminded me of how we can help implement something great
I have organised several creative writing trips to Arvon writing centres over the years I have been at Lochend Community High School and very fortunate indeed that due to the incredible generosity of the John Thaw Foundation, a number of these trips have been paid for in their entirety. I always endeavoured to produce an anthology of the pupils’ work which I sent off to the trustees of the John Thaw Foundation so that they could see that their money had been well spent.
Obviously it had. Sheila Hancock, famous actress, writer and widow of the much respected and missed actor John Thaw, had read work that our pupils had written in 2008, and Gemma Currens' poem “Midnight’s Child” caught her attention. So much so that when Sheila came to write her first novel, Miss Carter’s War, she wanted to weave Gemma’s poem into the fabric of the narrative.
Gemma is now nineteen years old and a former pupil of Lochend. She is currently on a performing arts course at West College Scotland, but I managed to track her down to give her the good news and to get her permission for Bloomsbury to use her poem. Gemma was delighted and offered me some insights as to the poem, its inspiration and the thrill of being in Sheila Hancock’s novel.
How do you feel knowing that your poem is going to be published in Miss Carter’s War?
I am absolutely thrilled beyond belief. I couldn’t believe that years after I had written it someone had remembered it and that it had a profound impact on them.
How did the poem come about?
Well, one of the things that I loved about Arvon was the opportunity to work in complete peace and tranquillity. Des Dillon, one of our tutors for the course, encouraged us to use the peacefulness to stimulate our imagination, to view the mind as a blank canvas and to see what memories would be evoked or what imaginings would be stimulated. Like most young girls at that time I was reading quite a lot of vampire fiction and that seemed to give me the initial impetus. But I didn’t want to leave it as a piece of vampire-lit. I wanted to play around with the descriptions and the form so that a number of interpretations could be possible. It obviously worked!
Have you managed to keep writing since you were at school?
Well yes, but perhaps not quite as much as I'd like. On my course I have had the opportunity to write a number of monologues for performance. On top of this I have been really busy lately rehearsing to play the lead role in the National Youth Theatre production of Anna Karenina. This has inspired me no end though and I intend to get stuck in to more poetry soon.
I believe you have been invited down to London for the official book launch of Miss Carter’s War?
Yes I have and I can’t wait. Obviously I want to be an actor so it will be great to hopefully meet Sheila Hancock and hopefully I will be able to pick up a few tips. Perhaps I can share some poetry writing tips too!
"Midnight's Child" by Gemma Currens
Darkness covers the bay.
The stars are cold and clear.
The moon gazing down upon me.
A breath grazes my cheek
Grows to a sea breeze.
The rustling of the pine trees
The grass shimmers with moon rays,
But it ends now.
The first pink blood of the sun bleeds the
Birds start chirping
Night is over,
I take cover.
If you have any budding writers aged 14-17 in your classes, they might be interested in our Young Writers Conference - places are filling up fast so they need to be quick!
If you want to inspire poetry in the classroom, check out these blogs from teachers across the country who have taken lots of different routes into using language creatively.
The Arvon Foundation provides creative writing courses for all ages in a number of beautiful locations throughout the UK. Click here to find out about some more pupils' experiences at Arvon creative writing centres.