Yesterday I visited my lovely Patron of Reading school, Didcot Girls’ in Oxfordshire. Normally I do writing workshops and talks there, like everywhere else, but this time I was there to do something different.
In June, my new book JELLY comes out, and for reasons that I’ll explain when I can announce it all properly, this book has a song – one that I wrote specially. I had so much fun writing in the voice of my character and setting it to music that I hesitantly suggested to DGS that I might run a songwriting workshop there, using books as a starting point. They took up my suggestion with enthusiasm! And with the super-librarian Leoni Barnes and Head of Music Sean Dingley on board, yesterday was so much fun!
I began by telling the girls (from Y7-10, who had volunteered for the workshop – we had to turn some eager volunteers down because we only had enough keyboards for 32 pupils!) all about the new book and the new song, which I played to them. I was very moved when they burst into spontaneous applause at the end! I talked about writing lyrics from a character’s point of view, and we discussed characters in books that have complex lives and perhaps have inner conflicts or dilemmas. I gave them a brief description of how many popular songs are structured: verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus – and then I set them free to create their own lyrics and set them to music.
Some students had come with pages of lyrics already written (!); some had not yet decided which character to explore; one or two of them changed their minds halfway through the workshop and had to start again! But by the end of the two-hour session (split over lunchtime, so there was a break in the middle – composing can be tiring!) almost everyone had a solid song structure in place, and many of the girls could play guitar or keyboard and had written down chords and melodies too.
They’re going to work on their songs for a presentation next Thursday, World Book Day, and unfortunately I can’t be there that day but the school’s Patron of Writing, Elaine Baker, is going to attend and listen to the songs (and raps!) and pick a winner. I’m hoping VERY much that someone will record the music on the day and send it to me! I had so much fun doing something so completely different from my usual school visits, and the students were BRILLIANT, so engaged and creative. Congratulations to everyone who came along; I loved working with you!
If any other schools would be interested in my running this kind of workshop with them, please do get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos all copyright Didcot Girls’ School; many thanks for the permission to use them.