The 11-year-old novelists

29th October 2004 at 01:00
Rotherham special school pupils are helping a children's author to write his latest work, reports Simeon Brody

Pupils aged 11 to 15 have been contributing ideas, sharpening copy and suggesting new characters for Steve Alton's fifth book - a supernatural teenage love story set in a school.

The novelist sent a first draft of Personal Demons to pupils at Newman school in the summer term and has been thrilled with their help.

"They came up with a whole new scene which knocked the spots off what I'd done," said Mr Alton, 38.

Now Cambridge university researchers are creating a website to encourage pupils at other schools to contribute to the novel, too. Over the past six months Mr Alton has sent further drafts and ideas for scenes for the pupils at Newman, in Rotherham, to comment on.

Scenes changed by the pupils include one of the book's first paragraphs, which describes the hero's first meeting with the girl of his dreams. In Mr Alton's first draft, the characters simply bumped into each other and fell over.

But after suggestions from the Newman pupils, the collision now causes a school-wide chain reaction with many characters slipping on pencils and falling over each other.

It culminates in a pyramid of pupils and school equipment tumbling down the stairs just as the new headteacher enters the school for the first time.

The link between the author and the south Yorkshire school, primarily for pupils with physical disabilities, comes via Jack Todhunter, an English teacher at Newman who taught Mr Alton at a previous school.

The two kept in touch and Mr Todhunter suggested that the author involve his pupils in the writing of Personal Demons.

Pupils used improvised drama sessions and group and individual writing classes to come up with ideas for the novel.

"I've been teaching for 26 years and I've never known anything capture the imagination of my pupils like this," said Mr Todhunter. "This book is living in my corridors because they talk about it all the time."

Chris Badger, 12, said: "I was good at writing stories but now I'm even better. We've been coming up with all sorts of different ideas. He's been sending us scenes and we get to finish them off. I love writing."

The Cambridge university website is being developed by research associate Harriet Truscott. Pupils at key stage 3 level will be able to use the website to contribute ideas to Personal Demons in a similar way to the children at Newman school.

Contributions will receive feedback from students at the university and the best will be sent to Mr Alton.

To register interest in the scheme go to www.personaldemons.co.uk

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