Wirdsmit – Orkney young writers

On Saturday I facilitated another young persons workshop for Wirdsmit. It was a frisky day with freezing wind from the north and hailstones gathering in the gutter. The miles dropped off the electric car quickly as I drove to Stromness, but there would be a tail wind back.
Our theme was ‘The Hidden Horror’ and I had developed some prompts from this gem of a website and this turned into a brilliant little session developing ideas for chilling stories. We began by choosing an everyday object and making a simple drawing on one side of a piece of paper. The object was labelled with various descriptions to give a feel for it. People chose a wide variety of things from lizards to backpacks, bags to trees, journals to hands and of course pumpkins! The next challenge was to draw the object again, exactly the same, but this time change the descriptions so they gave the object a different feel – using words that were sinister, or strange, or spooky. we then began to think of backstories for our objects.
We read some poems from Dragons, Dinosaurs and Monsters by John Foster and Korky Paul. This is a brilliant, spine tingling and funny collection with inventive colourful pictures, perfect for 4-10 year olds and gave some great visual prompts to the youngsters imaginations as well as introducing lots of rhymes and a sense of fun.
It was time to move from sinister descriptions onto the main challenge and writing down the fear….
Here’s the options I suggested:
A spooky poem with a simple rhyme and repeat first line ABA
A spooky poem with a rhyme ABAB
A spooky story using our object with the added challenge of making our character feel alone and that the ‘thing of horror’ remained out of sight.
There were loads of different responses from the youngsters from giant lizards marching through town, a beautifully scary forest, a shadow monster, Mr Cuddles (!) A Shore Street Mystery, a haunted oak tree and a feast of rhyming words.
On reflection the opening exercise based on an object worked really well and could have been expanded and developed into a story itself, but I wanted to give the option of going in different directions. It was simple enough for everyone to get involved and to take it where they wanted. There were some brilliant pieces written, and they steered away from the tendency of youngsters to crank up a high death count from zombie marauding into more subtle and chilling writing. The descriptive words we shared gave us a good bank to use whilst we were writing.
Plenty of biscuits and orange squash kept us in the present and we completed our session sharing our pieces and discussing plans for a thoroughly enjoyable halloween.

Halloween, Wirdsmit, Orkney, young writers, Gabrielle Barnby

Wirdsmit is funded by the George Mackay Brown Fellowship .
More information can be found about the group on facebook.

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Gabrielle Barnby