Pencil in a date with publishing

Workshops are showing pupils how books are born. Raymond Ross reports

The story so far: there's a Cookie Monster who wants to destroy Healthy Land but, as all good stories involve conflict, our intrepid heroes - Angelica, Cherry, Toby, Bob and Josh - are going to try to stop him and save their broccoli trees, orange juice river, mushroom seats and banana boats.

Yes, Healthy Land is an edible country and it could exist behind any of the doors we might care to open at Broughton Primary in Edinburgh.

A group of P67 pupils have their characters established and have set the scene for the story they are writing together. Today, in their fourth writing workshop, they are working on plot structure, on leading the storyline towards conflict, crisis and resolution.

Ideas? Well, the Cookie Monster has this magic sugar which can turn all healthy foods into marshmallow, so there's trouble ahead.

But wait a minute. Suppose our Healthy Land heroes have magic raisins which can turn everything back into healthy food?

Agreed. But in all good stories there must be change. Things can't just be the same at the end as they were at the start.

Let's kill the Cookie Monster (a boy's suggestion, naturally). No. Does he have to be all bad? Can't he change?

Yeah. He becomes sorry for what he's done and turns into a TV chef called Jamie Olive (sic) and he makes everybody lots of juicy dishes using olives. And why not?

Putting the books together

These are the bare bones of just one of the stories all the P6 and P7 pupils are working on in groups, and the fledgling writers are clearly committed and excited, because they know that all their stories are going to be brought together in one volume and professionally published as a book.

They are taking part in a Pencilling Creative Ideas (PCI) workshop programme, which teaches about writing books from initial ideas through to a book launch which, in Broughton Primary's case, will take place at Edinburgh City Chambers.

"It's about understanding how books are put together, rather than about producing a great work of literature" says author and workshop leader Mary Thomson, who runs PCI.

"It's not about the pupils becoming the next JK Rowling but about raising their self-esteem, about them seeing that their talents are valued and about seeing books as a resource for life."

The process involves not only writing but also editing through peer assessment, so that the pupils learn how seeing the story from other perspectives can improve it.

They also discuss how best to illustrate their work with adult andor professional illustrators and they help work out the costs of the book, which will be published by Ms Thomson's non-profit- making company WhiteWater Publishing.

"Workshops include marketing and advertising, and proceeds from the sales of the book go back to the school," says Ms Thomson, who has extensive experience as a former business development adviser.

"The process is about creativity but, equally, it is about promoting entrepreneurial skills as pupils have to market and sell the book, as well as learning about problem-solving to do with practical issues such as size, format, ISBN numbers and barcode generation.

"Through this," she explains, "they are able to walk into a library or bookshop and know what went into the making of the books they see, rather than just looking at a wall of `things'."

To date, PCI has produced three children's books by pupils in Edinburgh schools and Ms Thomson is working on another two projects including a novel about slavery which is being written by Portobello High students.

"The Portobello book, due to be published in December, is a history department project which is designed to get the students to engage emotionally with the subject, to get them to identify with the experience of what it actually meant to be a slave," she says.

Her approach to the writing and publishing workshop programme is tailor- made for Curriculum for Excellence, she believes, because it is, by its very nature, cross-curricular while promoting the four competencies.

She has also been working at the Sciennes Primary in Edinburgh, where she got the feedback she was looking for when one pupil said: "I look at books differently now."

Budding authors get a kick out of going into print

David Borthwick, P67 composite class teacher at Broughton Primary, says: "Being published in book form is hugely important to the pupils and very motivating.

"The idea of seeing their names on the front cover and having a copy they can keep really appeals, as does the idea of a public book launch.

"They will all be published authors and that's great for their self- esteem. You can see each group bouncing ideas off each other and what's most pleasing is that they are working as teams, rather than a group being led by a dominant individual.

"I think the approach to structuring the stories - breaking them down into different elements to build from - helps the pupils put meat on the bones of the story.

"This is our focused writing time for this term and there are certainly elements from the PCI approach that I could apply to individual pupils' story-writing in the future.

"It's great to see the children involved in all aspects of writing and producing a book. I think it's a very worthwhile experience for them - and one they won't ever forget."

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