I don't usually stay up late, but I was at the most wonderful Leonard Cohen tribute concert here in Montreal last night, and then I had to get up crazy early this morning to get to Westwood Junior High School. It's in St-Lazare, Quebec, and because there's so much road work going on in and around Montreal, I gave myself 90 minutes to get there.
All this to say I'm the sort of person who requires a lot of sleep (how else do I manage to be so lively?!) and I didn't get nearly enough sleep.
BUT... the kids at Westwood Junior were better than a double espresso!
I worked with three grade eight classes, all of whom will be learning about World War II this term, and so their teachers, Mrs. Quinn, Mr. O'Rourke and Miss Roy, had asked me to talk not only about being a writer, but also about my novel What World Is Left, which is based on my mum's childhood experience in a Nazi concentration camp called Theresienstadt.
Maybe I'll start with a funny moment. The first two groups met me in the school library and Mrs. Quinn and Mr. O'Rourke appointed note takers. When I read an excerpt from the book that had to do with the beginnings of a romantic relationship between my narrator, Anneke, and an older boy named Franticek, I explained that in Theresienstadt it was not uncommon for the prisoners to have lovers. "Sex," I told the students, "was a way for people to feel alive." Well at that moment, Luca, who was acting as a note taker, called out, "Do I write that down?" (Thanks for cracking us up, Luca. And yes, definitely write that down!)
When I was talking about finding stories all around us, a student named Emily asked, "How do you run into people?" (No one ever asked me that before!) I told her my secret: that when you are really interested in people, stories come to you. I know it sounds weird, but try it out, you'll find that it really does happen.
Another student, Josh, stayed at recess to tell me about a fascinating wartime story from his own family. Josh's great-grandfather was a French Jew whose job was to rescue people caught in the mountains after avalanches. When he was imprisoned in France early in the war, Josh's great-grandfather was helped by the warden, a man he had saved after an avalanche. Josh's grandfather, who is still alive, was a baby when his parents travelled by foot, crossing from France to Spain. Josh, get going on that story. I think you should use an avalanche in the opening scene!
I finished my visit in Miss Roy's classroom, down the hall from the library. A former art teacher, Miss Roy asked her students to take notes in their sketch books. They use their sketch books every day for doodling and to work on Miss Roy's writing prompts. In this class, I met a student named Mateo, who according to Miss Roy, is always smiling. I think it would be fun to write a story about someone who CAN'T STOP SMILING. I wonder what kind of trouble perpetual smiling could lead to. (See, I'm playing the WHAT IF? game again.) I also chatted with a student named Summer (great name!) who struck me as a natural writer. Summer, remember what I told you my grandfather told me: "You need a little talent. But mostly you need to work really really hard."
I'm always telling students my motto NEVER GIVE UP. So imagine when, on my way to the bathroom I peered into the school's planning room area, and saw giant wall art that said... you guessed it... NEVER GIVE UP (see the photo below.)
Thanks to the students, their teachers, and lovely librarian Mrs. Wilkinson for having me at Westwood Junior today. I'll be back for Part 2 of my visit this Thursday. If any of you guys at Westwood want to show me the stories you are working on, or just chat about writing, bring your lunch to Mrs. Quinn's classroom and we can meet up there!
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I was one of the students you came to visit at Westwood! I thought you were an amazing person and visitor alike, and I loved your writing tips! Thank you for visiting I had a great time!
Georgia! Thanks for posting a comment. I noticed (from your excellent body language) that you were having fun! That gives a presenter more energy. So thanks to YOU!
It's Norah from Mrs. Roy's class (you commented on my body language!) and Katia from Mr. O'Rourke's class. We had a fabulouse time during your visit, although we're in seperate classes. We want to know what inspired you to start writing? Have you wanted to write since you were younger, or did someone inspire you? Thanks for visiting; and we hope to see you on Thursday!
Hi Norah and Katia! Thanks for your message. I love when there are messages on the blog. I think what inspired me to write was all the great storytellers in my family, especially my grandfather and my mum. They were both really funny and they had a great eye for details. I always wanted to write, but I also wanted to be a painter. My parents bought me an easel one year for my birthday and I discovered I wasn't very good at painting. One day, I hope to go back to it! See you two on Thursday. Looking forward already!
It's Sofia from Westwood in Mrs.Quinns class. I had an absolutely wonderful time listening to you! Thank you for all the tips, they will be very useful in the near future . I would like to thank you for coming and speaking to us and I hope to see you on Thursday!
Hi Monique it's Harkaran form ms. Roy's class at Westwood jr you should make a movie about that monkey man neclass you showed us that day.