Written by Juliette Forrest
I’ve just finished as Writer in Residence at a primary school in Glasgow. I was there to assist a P7 class with their stories and encourage a culture of reading. The very first thing I wanted the children to know was that the room was a safe space where all thoughts and ideas were welcome. Nothing hinders creativity more than being hesitant to speak your mind. I also made it clear I wasn’t there to talk about grammar, punctuation or spelling, which although important, do nothing to feed the imagination.
Together, we invented dynamic characters, delving deep into their hopes and fears using a technique called ‘hot seating’ where one of the kids would sit in front of the class and the rest of the children asked any question they wanted to know about their character. We brought settings to life using the five senses, discussed techniques on how to make plots exciting, explored intriguing first sentences to hook the reader in and thought about how to end the stories in a memorable way, avoiding the dreaded ‘and then I woke up’ scenario. At the start of each session, I chatted about different genres of books and handed them out to those willing to give them a go. I saw kids enjoying novels they never normally would have looked twice at. We even wrote two children’s stories which were recorded for BBC Radio Scotland Learn. They learned from first-hand experience that stories can come alive through a variety of exciting mediums.
On my last visit, I asked what the kids had gained from our time together, curious as to what they would say. Amongst the flurry of answers, some of them piped up that their imaginations had grown. This was music to my ears. Imagination is what stays with us long after we’ve left school. Basic facts and knowledge are important building blocks, but the imagination helps us to navigate our way in the real world. Being able to think laterally means we can solve everyday problems without breaking into a sweat, and it paves the way for innovative ideas and inventions. Companies and industries come and go, but imagination is a transferable skill, which will always be in demand. In short, it’s the key to making our world a better place.
I still remember the first time I read The Enchanted Forest by Enid Blyton. There was something so exciting about different lands arriving at the top of the tree and the host of unforgettable characters that lived there. As a kid, I’d go walking in the local woods, desperate to find the Faraway Tree and always disappointed when I couldn’t. The book had switched a light on in my head and acted like rocket fuel for my imagination.
I will always write children’s novels that combine everyday life with magical elements. In The True Colours of Coral Glen I’ve also weaved in local myths and legends because they fascinated me as a kid. I love that children are still open to believing in magic and look at the world with wonder. If I could ignite the imagination of a child’s through my stories, just as The Enchanted Wood did for me, I’d be a very happy author, indeed.
Juliette Forrest’s first novel, Twister, was a Sunday Times Book of the Week, The Guardian’s ‘must-read’ kid’s book of the summer and won Calderdale Book of the Year 2019. Her second book, The True Colours of Coral Glen, releases on 4th July.
This is a guest post and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.