Most writers live in hope that they will get a res-ponse from their readers. It happened to me last month when Class Three of Coads Green Primary School, Launceston, took exception to a travel piece I'd written for The Times about two days spent travelling up the Tamar Valley.
Essentially, the piece was a celebration of Cornwall and its individual history but I did make some passing references to Launceston, the old Cornish capital. I've often stopped in the border town and have always found it "grey and depressing".
The following Monday the headteacher of Coads Green, Denise Gladwell, circulated my article to the 28 pupils in her class in the hope of stimulating their persuasive writing skills. In teaching terms her idea was a great success - after a brief class discussion they sat down with pen, pencil and word processor and wrote passionately, and at length, about what I'd said.
Like skilful politicians, just about every child agreed with me that Launceston needed some money spent on it. No one was going to stand in the way of more inward investment! Many of them also drew my attention to the town's carnivals and fairs, which were obviously a favourite feature of Launceston life for these nine, 10 and 11-year-olds. But their letters became really interesting when they departed from the agreed common ground and developed their own individual arguments.
The counter blasts came roughly in four different batches: some pupils put the case for a positive re-evaluation of Launceston. Others questioned the writer's methodology. A third group preferred to question the writer's integrity - and found various ways to threaten me - while a fourth made direct personal appeals in the hope that I would try and be nicer in future.
Leslie Worsfold described the town centre lit up on Christmas Eve - "now that's not depressing" and Thomas Yardley pointed out: "I know the shops aren't as good as Plymouth but there is less exhaustion and more greenery in Launceston than there is in Plymouth." Feeling less tolerant of the foolish author, Laura Rowe listed "the Launceston Show, the carnival and all the fairs. There is also a gallery and boo to you if you missed them!" Most of the direct abuse came from the boys: "I think you should think before you write so don't write what you don't know," said Luke Daniels.
"You should apologise," wrote Michael George.
"I am ashamed you are making Launceston sound like a scruffy old townIwhere do you live?" said Ian Sanders.
"The way you describe Launceston is out of order," wrote David Bennett.
Sophie Brown, with some originality, thought that travel writers should keep their thoughts to themselves and Lisa Howard wrote in a very challenging way: "If you think Launceston needs more money put towards it, pay it yourself because we're not, anyway that's the least you can do!" Impressively, three nine-year-old girls tackled me over the methodology of travel writing. Sarah Bott asked how long I stayed in Launceston in order to decide it was depressing, Leah Pugsley asked whether I had consulted other people's opinions and seen all the town while Gemma Anders made the point that I might have been influenced by the weather. "Launceston might have looked grim but what does London look like when it is raining?" Finally, a number of children resorted to the personal appeal in the hope that I'd realise what an attack on Launceston meant to them. Julia Brent told me that her Grandma has only been to visit her once in Launceston and is now saying she won't go again after what I'd written. "How would you like it if someone said that about where you live?" Eleven-year-old Thomas Rattray pointed out that not many visitors would come if they read my article - "I think you should change it for the next time. " Aurora Spragg, nine, picked up on this point with some anxiety: "Why did you have to prevent people from coming to Launceston? If you make the businesses in Launceston go bankrupt we will have to go and live in Bodmin."
This economic worry was clearly something that had bothered a number of the children. Claire Butler wrote: "Please can you try not to say nasty things about places because if no one came to Launceston it would close downIDo you understand my problem and, if so, can you try to do something about it?" I'd worried Amber Campbell too: "Now people will not go to Launceston then all the shops will close and we will have to go to Bodmin or Bude to shop and have to pay for the petrol to get there. We rely on Launceston. What are you going to do about it?" All of which left me hoping that Class 3 had overestimated the power of the press. I have written to the school but I'm sure that if Launceston's income from tourism dips this summer I'll be hearing from Coads Green Primary again.
Dear Mr Mourby
I am unhappy about your latest article in The Times. Most people agree with me, you are literally putting Launceston down. We agree with you that Launceston needs more money spent on it for some more bins and a few more lights by WH Smith but I have a little moral for you: "Think before you write!"
I also have some questions for you:
Question 1: Where do you live?
Question 2: How many letters do you get a week?
Yours sincerely, Richard Spragg