School Visits

Gorsey Bank Primary School, Wilmslow on 25th November 2010

In late November 2010 I visited Gorsey Bank Primary School in Wilmslow at the kind invitation of one of its Community Governors, Alison Newton, a near neighbour of mine in our Cumbrian hill village of Hutton Roof. On arrival I was greeted by head teacher, Susan Garrod and colleagues Shelly Welsh, Sarah Danvers, Beverley Mayers and Frances Naismith, and discovered to my pleasure that I was to join Susan Garrod and some lively pupils over lunch at the top table, who chatted animatedly about books and writing and other associated topics.

Over the course of the day I visited Years Five and Years Six and read from White Chin and we talked about the joys and difficulty of writing about animals and their senses and when you do sit down to write how you must remember to concentrate on their highly developed skills of sight, smell, touch, feel and hearing, which are far greater than we as humans can experience, so the writing exercise was to become a real challenge to the writer to get this sense of “animal” whatever animal chosen across to the reader.

Year Five did their exercise in the morning and some truly remarkable work came out of this and I liked the way that many pupils in Year Five had written themselves a plan before they started their essay, so it was possible to see where the story would develop later on. When I am writing a novel I always do a plan as well, so I can see roughly the direction it is going to go in. Good idea.

After lunch I joined Year Six and as well as talking about writing about animals and doing a writing exercise we also had a wonderful open two-way discussion about writing and why anyone would want to do it, and how you almost certainly won’t get rich from doing it, but how the reward of doing it, is the joy of creating a story that other people want to read. The interviewing techniques of Year Six are most impressive I must say and you asked some good and direct questions, such as why was I so stuck on still writing about cats and perhaps it was time for me to move on a little! As a result I have decided I should include a dog, a golden retriever called Clueless and all sorts of other things such as an imaginary friend in the new book, which I can now tell you is going to be called MAGNIFICAT, which I am currently writing, so you see, you really did help me with your advice and your counselling. THANK YOU!

When it came to your essays I am genuinely impressed at the quality of your writing and your imaginations from all classes, without exception. There is some remarkable writing in these essays. I couldn’t extract all of them as there were 111 essays in total, but I have taken bits from a fair few just to give you a cross section of what you can do, and if you don’t find your own essay here, please believe me there were some serious gems that I didn’t include as well as the ones I have. So herewith and enjoy reading them …

These are all from Year Five:

  • Wonderful dialogue between the hard men who are abandoning dog Alfie in the forest. The author makes use of all the dog’s senses
  • Great account of Syndey the rabbit being frightened of everything in her new world – real sense of fear
  • A horse’s worst nightmare leaves the reader wanting more and to know that poor Caramel will be ok
  • Strange haunting account of polar bear cubs on an ice float eating, but definitely not enjoying, the head of a strange long wiggly creature
  • Chubbles the penguin decides to go to America. Great dialogue here.
  • Hunt, the hunting fox, has a battle with a grass snake, which he is trying to kill in order to feed his young cubs
  • First person account of Whiskers, the rabbit – this contains wonderful realisation of vulnerability and fear. Great stuff.
  • The golden eagle has some soaring flights over the mountains in The Great Escape even though he lives in fear of being eaten
  • The sad tale of Chestnut the beautiful horse who got frightened and accidentally threw her owner Alice, and ran away and then couldn’t find her way home. But a year later she “has adapted to the wild very well, with Alice no longer on her mind…”
  • An orphaned fox makes his “catch of the day” in a remarkable manner – and what a catch!
  • A vibrant account of a hawk who mistakes a black adder for a mouse with dire consequences!
  • A wild horse and a wise owl liaise to prevent bulldozers destroying their woodland
  • Brilliant and gruesome description of kitten in a carrier falling from a travelling car and the carrier gets broken and the kitten calls for help again and again, but will any help be forthcoming?
  • The dream of poor abandoned Scruff who lives in a wood and just yearns to be loved and given a home and then a little girl comes along singing songs and when she sees him she puts her hand to his nose. He likes her smell. “Well you should be coming with me” she says. But will he and what will happen next?
  • A quirky story of Rosie the fox cub who is unlucky enough to encounter young girls Lucy and Megan, who attempt to train her. Likely to end in tears!
  • A fox called Crystal gets kidnapped by a kind woman but will she release Crystal back into the wild, or won’t she? What is the right thing to do?
  • A terrifying tale of a horse called Scamp who has awful flashbacks about his mother being killed and ends up being imprisoned in a cage and thinks that death would be better than this. “This wasn’t the end of Scamp or was it….?”
  • Fabulous atmosphere described in the forest where mouse JJ and the Killer Kestrel battle it out for supremacy against the backdrop of bulldozers and poachers
  • Chuffer the flying chicken who escaped ‘into the tall heroic trees’ – excellent use of that adjective!
  • Another story called The Great Escape (but this time about a rabbit rather than a Golden Eagle) where the rabbit scampers into the distant woods “where the sharp pointy trees pierced the low lying mist” – nice description
  • The amazing tale of a tame rabbit who escapes from his hutch but every time he gets frightened on his great journey he has to stop to eat some food (it’s true, that’s what they do!) and who just escapes being run over on the main road and finally makes it into the forest where he meets a wild white rabbit whereupon they immediately fall in love
  • Sad story about Dandy the Sad Squirwill (Squirrel??) who wakes up really happy then remembers her beautiful Mum and Dad who left her when she was only a baby. “A tear dribbled down her golden brown fur” and then she has to decide whether to try to be brave enough to risk rescuing her best friend Curly Cat from horrible hunters. “What do you think is going to happen next?”, the author asks us at the end.
  • A rabbit called Nev who falls out of a tree – great use of hearing, smell and taste in this piece of writing, well done
  • Gruff the wild rabbit – strong description of scenting blood, fear of attack, the power of fire and then the agony of being killed. The account is written retrospectively from beyond the grave! In an account of an eagle flying we get the real sensation of flight as he attacks and is attacked back by other birds and as he attempts to catch a pike in the river but is inadvertently prevented by a blackbird.
  • A hawk, twirling through clouds seeking food, sees a mouse and as he closes in on it, he can almost smell it
  • Great atmosphere created inside Nutmouse Hall with its creaky stairs. I felt I was really there!
  • Much tension as Brownie the rabbit, while trying to steal carrots from a kitchen, escapes being trapped by, on the one hand, the man who is draped with dead foxes, a badger and several rabbits and on the other, by his large scruffy scary dog.
  • Brilliant listing of the attributes of an adder that make him an invincible hunter
  • Butter, the strange bird, who is utterly compelled to seek himself out a friend. He eventually finds one with adorable eyes – but what on earth is it?
  • In The Golden Eagle we read “I am the speed of sound. I see all. I kill all. I smell all. I glide in the skies tilting my wings.”
  • The story of White Fang, the fox. We hear about his nocturnal activities and at last he meets his mate. Together “the two are glorious, but terribly lethal for other woodland creatures” – love “glorious” and “lethal” in this particular context, nice writing.
  • The owl that is deadly. A tale of an owl on a freezing cold night, so cold that there was snow in Manchester, discovering that as he manages to kill first a mole and then a fish, that he really is “a fighting machine”.
  • A hawk who gets attacked by crows and returns to his nest to find his family starving and close to death, so he goes out again determined to bring back food whatever it takes…a tale of grim determination
  • A fox who has to wait for the right moment to kill his chicken. He waits and waits and finally he “killed it and in a second he had ripped out its flesh like a knife through meat”.
  • The story of a rat who loses his home and after a lot of travail finds another rat who has a home and who agrees to help him. “I am very strong, helpful and I am kind. I can help you make your house bigger and then there will be enough room for both of us in here…”
  • “The squirrel woke up on crisp winter morning and scampered down out of his warm comfortable tree. As he trotted along a waving branch he could smell delicious fresh nuts…”
  • A rather sad story about Toffy a pet buzzard who gets shot by accident after eating a bluetit breakfast – and then to top it all he gets kidnapped and driven away in an unmarked van!
  • A story about Daisy and her pet puppy, called Bounty. They find a beautiful female dog with a broken leg – but everything get fixed at the vet and they live happily ever after.
  • Derik, the peregrine falcon, was flying with his family in formation. The year was 1941. They were attacked, as they flew, by an eagle who broke the family up as a result. Poachers then got involved and Derik’s wing was broken but a young girl helped it to mend with a splint and although injured his mum and dad came back to protect him from the eagle, who returned to hunt them all down.

And these from Year Six:

  • Extraordinary description of the smell of a BBQ “trapped under the forest canopy” and the silence of night-time as a nocturnal mole surfaces to survey his territory above ground.
  • A beautiful and menacing account of a brutal whale hunt as the men close in, very powerfully done
  • A hungry fox is foiled in his attempt to kill his rabbit supper
  • A powerful image or an older cat seeing a younger cat through the window. Is this a reflection, the cat wonders, or is it something else?
  • Life in the Dark – a haunting tale of a cat being tortured by a group of foxes and pleading for human intervention
  • A poetic description of the graceful passage of a beautiful swan as it swims across a lake
  • A wolf avoids a savage hail of bullets and escapes into a strange tunnel and….
  • An abandoned dog leaves his home and tries to live off a few worms
  • A young fox cub has a terrifying encounter with an angry mother bear
  • A farm dog has to face many challenges
  • A young trapped frog articulates his frustrations and decides “this is the day I shall escape” – it is a seminal moment
  • A wonderful description of the pleasure of riding
  • The rustling of leaves frightens a baby fox, he recognizes it as alien movement
  • Great dialogue in a highly descriptive account of a hidden owl
  • The moving life and adventures of fluffy, silky, furry, soft, golden Sam who comes 1st in athletics in spire of having his leg amputated!
  • Wonderful description of the sounds of a forest amplified by a peripatetic woodpecker!
  • Trees shimmering against the gloomy night sky – scattered footprints – white tail glowing – wind blowing up – yes yes yes, great atmosphere!
  • A magical combination of a lonely rabbit and a boy with a football. Good stuff.
  • Wonderful dialogue from pov of a young abandoned puppy in the middle of London – v. sad!
  • Terrifying tale of Timmy being terrorized by the mortifying and towering British Blue! (I’m not surprised he collapsed!)
  • The awful choice of which is worst. Being for sale in a pet shop or being sent to a slaughterhouse. The animals in this case were not at all sure which was the worst option.
  • A perfect description of why Max is fast, crazy, special, young, white, fluffy and above all different from all the other sheep!
  • An abandoned fox gets shot in the ear and needs help
  • A killer owl takes on another in a great river battle
  • A dog and a wolf become brief playmates until the snow melts away when everything changes.
  • A circular, not to say ingenious story of a magnificent monkey, now in New York, now in Africa.
  • Unbearably moving account of an orphaned cat whose mother is pushed off a cliff by a dog and killed when the kitten is tiny, but who learns to play and then hunt with her brother, until he is killed by a huge truck and she is left all alone.
  • A cow wins a squash game at Prestbury Squash Club against the World No. 8 and become World No 1 for 38 years until she gets beaten and breaks her ankle. She plays again but hits the ball so hard it breaks the World No 1’s teeth and the cow is sent to prison for 3 miserable years.
  • An Alsatian fells a criminal to the floor – bullets fly – the dog yelps and another police officer comes to the rescue.
  • The leaves were crisp, the air was cold and the ants were organizing themselves while the birds filled the air with song…
  • The lonely dark beach was silent, the migrating season was over. All the turtles had left but for one. He was injured…..
  • Wonderful build up and atmosphere surrounds Barry, the fox, who is about to have the double barrelled shotgun from Bob pointed at his rear end as he attacks Bob’s henhouse.
  • The amazing sense of smell possessed by Jeremy the squirrel helps him to find his poor wounded mother a great distance away.
  • A barn owl, with a certain amount of regret, swoops down on a little dormouse and gobbles him up – he has to – cause as he says “who know when I will get fed again?”
  • Loved “Definitely not generous” about Sid the squirrel and the poor dormouse family.
  • Beautifully crafted words describing the quivering figure emerging from the towering oak, a fox cub.
  • Wonderful writing: “Hoot! Hoot! There it was again. The mouse knew that tonight was going to be a hard, hard night. He cleaned his head with his miniature paws, weakly. Hid body was as skinny as a bare twig. Ka-kaa! then there was silence…”
  • Another brilliant piece of writing, this time about a spider: “The cat stood in awe as he gazed at the graceful creature. She appeared to be creating a sheet of dazzling silk in an unusual pattern. The silk glistened in the midday sun, sparkling in every corner. Yet she was so tiny. How could she produce such a masterpiece?”
  • An amazing first person account from an orange furred creature as he/she stalks a rabbit for his family
  • I love “My World” about an ant who longs to know from a fly what it really feels like to lift off the ground and become properly airborne. Great dialogue here and scorching imagination. Well done.

And sorry to any of you, whichever Year, if your writing was missed out! The favourite word for misspelling was nocturnal. I counted four different spellings for it. But actually the spelling was pretty good for most of you and I reckon the important thing is to get the story down and sort that out afterwards.

In all of this collected writing you displayed great imagination, and you found that thing of suspense that makes the reader want more. As well as all that you also made that extra effort to try to get into the head of an animal. Really well done all of you and do keep up this quality of writing and keep with the reading. Reading a lot helps you with your writing without your knowing it.

At the end of the school day I offered up my books for sale and many of you bought a copy, for which many thanks. I would love to hear from you with any thoughts you might have had now you have had time to read it.

I was really touched when, just before Christmas, I received an amazing handmade card with a Christmas tree and tinsel made by Year Five thanking me for coming and a handmade poster with a hand drawn cat and a snowman from Year Six saying you were enjoying reading the book and loved the bookmarks. Thank you.

I would love to say thank you to your kind headmistress Susan Garrod and to all your teachers. But especially, Years 5 & 6, can I now thank you for your special help and announce that it will be a privilege for me to acknowledge your contributions in my new book, MAGNIFICAT. Gorsey Bank Years 5 & 6 (November 2010) will get a special mention in the acknowledgements page when it is published in 2012.