On Tuesday 2nd July, I returned to my alma mater of 2007 – 2012, Windsor High School, to read from Bella and talk a little about my journey to becoming a published writer.
The reading was organised by my good friend, Aaishah, who is now an English Teacher at the school. Aaishah, along with library staff (many of whom I remember from my time at Windsor) and other members of the English department, worked hard to bring this event about, and I’m very grateful to them for their support – it was a fantastic evening!
The event was attended by an audience of keen and engaged pupils, most from the year groups 8 and 9, many of whom said they were writers and poets themselves. I was very impressed by their rapt attention, their thoughtful questions, and their enthusiasm to learn more about poetry and publication.
I began by explaining the mystery of Bella and the Wych Elm – I really wanted to express to the pupils how fascinating it is that our little hometown has its own murder mystery, as intriguing and enduring as the story of Jack the Ripper (which is taught in schools). I then read a small selection of poems, explaining a little about the inspiration behind each one and the work that went into them. I explained how poetic form can vary far beyond the traditional, by showing them ‘The Sentinel’, and the ‘Evidence’ and ‘Theory’ poems; I also wanted them to see how rhyme can break away from set patterns, by reading ‘Bella’s Shoes Lead Nowhere’ and ‘If I Was a Blackbird’ (unpublished).
After this small, 20-minute set, I opened the floor to questions, and was astounded by how enthusiastic the pupils were to learn more. I spoke a little bit about my own writing process (how I got my inspiration, how long it took me to write Bella), about my publication journey (how long it took me to get published, how I reached out to publishers), and about the poetry world in general.
Afterwards, I spoke to the pupils at length about their own ambitions in writing, and offered tips for how to pursue a writing career. It was interesting to see how some things haven’t changed since I was their age (fan-fiction writing, for example), but also how different things have become (the pupils use Twitter and Instagram to connect, and write on their smartphones). With their passion in writing, and their enthusiasm to learn, I am sure we’ll be seeing some of their names in longlists and shortlists before long!
Once more, many thanks go to Aaishah, Alison, Jess, and special love to Maria, without whom I may not be still writing today.