Literary Events Co-ordinator at Bristol Grammar School Lucy Shepherd explains her role and demonstrates just why every school needs a Literary Events Co-ordinator.
What is the role of a Literary Events Co-ordinator?
To find every conceivable way of promoting reading across the school.
How is that done?
By regularly bringing in authors to talk about their work and the writing process; running a weekly Literary Events activity with pupils, involving them in planning and promoting events; keeping up with reviews/purchasing current, good fiction for the Library; shadowing the Carnegie (www.bgs-carnegie.co.uk); establishing a school book award; setting up short story competitions backed by a publisher (Puffin/Penguin); offering the Brian Jacques Literary Award for the greatest improvement in creative writing in the course of a year; creating a pupil book-reviewing panel; seeking the co-operation of as many school staff as possible, working across subject areas; taking Assemblies to promote events; bouncing into English classes to discuss and recommend good, current fiction; setting up work experience opportunities for pupils with publishers; liaising with publishers, writers, local journals, bookshops, reading groups, Bristol University, and the Bristol Festival of Ideas; and working alongside the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature. And more.
The role of Literary Events Co-ordinator at Bristol Grammar School evolved slowly, but now termly, well-supported ‘seasons’ of events are firmly embedded in the life of the School. After many years of being pro-active in pursuit of literary guests, the tables have been turned: it is now I who am approached to run events. We are unique (I think!) in being a school that organises such a high-profile, diverse and all-embracing range of literary events and activities in addition to all that our English department is already offering.
What are the benefits to the school?* It benefits the pupils by creating a frisson of excitement about books and reading that extends far beyond the classroom. Meeting writers has a galvanising effect on pupils:
‘Meeting authors and poets inspires me to write myself and has given me an invaluable insight into not only how the creative process works, but also how one would go about editing, publishing and marketing books. In addition, to hear the stories of authors’ own lives helps me to better understand them, and therefore their work…’(Imogen Parkes, U6)
* It offers another (complementary) side to literature than that received from the pedagogues.
* It provides the opportunity of a training in sound, light, music, planning, marketing, publicising, decision-making, designing, catering, running charity raffles etc for the large number of pupils who get involved.
* It draws in the whole school community, attracting the participation/involvement of different groups of staff and students – all have their role to play, be it crowd-management, helping with book sales or running prize-winning word searches based on the titles of the visiting author’s books.
* It benefits the writers, putting them in direct touch with their audience and increasing their book sales.
* It links the school with publishers bringing a greater understanding between the creators and consumers of books.
* It builds bridges with the public who flock in to see the likes of Jacqueline Wilson, Dick King-Smith, Allan Ahlberg, Chris Ryan, Kate Adie and John Hegley.
* It gives the opportunity for a party – with bands, food, socialising and hearing/meeting a favourite author!
What evidence is there to say that meeting writers improves reading habits and enhances writing skills?
Let others speak here to answer that question from a range of perspectives:‘I think it is so important for children to understand that authors are real people, not remote figures in ivory towers. Children can build a connection with an author and books become relevant to their lives. And once a child is hooked on reading for life the rewards are priceless.’ (Dame Jacqueline Wilson)
‘…I have never taught in a school with such a vibrant culture of reading, nor one where students have such an insight into the literary world and the way it functions. Throughout all years of the School there are many students working privately on novels and the writing of poetry in their own time (I’m in the fortunate position of having been shown a number of these). Writing is a career toward which many aspire, and even those students whose independent reading might falter during Years 10 and 11 continue to hold the activity itself in high regard…’ (David Briggs, Head of English at Bristol Grammar School)
‘Author events for children can make all the difference to a child’s reading habits. They can really change a reader from one that is constantly encouraged to read to one that picks up a book and needs no encouragement to explore the world of books at all.’ (Gill McLay, Director of Bath Festival of Children’s Literature)
How do you know whether you are succeeding in hooking pupils with the reading bait, which, in turn, will improve the quality of their writing?
You don’t! Unlike exam results, there is no tangible measure of your objective. Patience is vital. Liken the process to year-round seed-planting with no determinable germination time. The shoots are occasional, sometimes triggered by author visits:‘The first time I became aware of the work of the literary events team at BGS was when the worst of my bibliophobic sons came home clutching a funny story book and demanding to be bought the entire output of the same author.’ (Parent at BGS)
…and sometimes not, as in a bygone era I remember well when there were no literary events to act as a catalyst: I taught one pupil who spent most of my lessons either doodling or looking out of the window. No apparent sign of any pearls of wisdom taking root there, I thought. Many years later I spotted a photo of her in a Sunday newspaper with an article about her recently published book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I wrote to her. Joanne Rowling’s response to my letter appeared in the TES (July 1998) later that year where she wrote of me:‘…she allowed me a certain amount of leeway. She let me sit through her A-level English literature lessons drawing as long as I was listening and contributing. English was easily my best subject, but she wasn’t about to tell me how brilliant I was… she gave me a sharp appreciation of what’s good in writing and what makes a good book.’
So, the seed-planting bore a fruitful crop in that instance.
Why should every school invest in a Literary Events Co-ordinator?* Because it gives each pupil the very best chance of becoming an habitual reader which, in turn, unquestionably improves his/her writing ability and nurtures skills that last a lifetime.
* Because it gives the school Value Added with untold dividends paid back by those seeds of literary activity that settle in every corner of the school, often producing exciting and unexpected results.
* Because it’s innovative and creative!
* Because it concerns collaboration and co-operation at every level, both within and without the school.
* Because the possibilities are exciting! The ideas never-ending! Plans are now afoot at BGS for outreach work, for bringing in other schools, for running even bigger school events elsewhere…
And, as if all those arguments were not enough, for the simple reason that I am lonely in a class of one: the Lucy Shepherd Lonely Job Club Stand – no conferences, no courses, no career counselling. Maybe you’ll read this and help me to start a growing movement. Let me know. We could join forces!
Photographs by Graham Fellows.