April 11, 2017, by Words on Words

Student Placement: Shadow Writer and First Story

This blog post was written by Emily Talbut, a second year English with Creative Writing student.

Emily Talbut

Back in April of 1st year, all English students began to receive emails about potential placements available for us beginning in September. The one with First Story immediately caught my attention, and after a short online application and follow-up interview, I was successful in gaining a place!

First Story is a national literacy charity that works with published authors, connecting them with local schools in challenging areas to run weekly creative writing workshops. The end goal is to produce an anthology of work featuring all the students, who also contribute to designing the cover and choosing the name.

My role was Shadow Writer, going along to the workshops and assisting the lovely Paula Rawsthorne, who has won multiple awards for her two young-adult novels, The Truth About Celia Frost and Blood Tracks.

After an introductory email, my first workshop was scheduled for late October at Farnborough Academy, just a short bus ride away in Clifton. My nerves were immediately settled upon arrival by the librarian, Toni, who welcomed me to the school, before meeting a very enthusiastic and friendly Paula, always armed with her CD player and a piece of music to inspire the kids at the start of each session.

The sessions took place in the school library every Wednesday, and could last anywhere from an hour up to nearly two when the kids were feeling particularly creative! What started out as a small group of six or seven reluctant students, out of whom we struggled to wrangle a few sentences each week, quickly grew to incorporate a variety of students from all year groups who became eager to share their work with each other.

As their attention levels improved across the year, Paula encouraged me to start writing and sharing my own work as well, stimulating my imagination in new ways outside of my usual university seminars.

Over cups of squash and cornflake cakes we began writing about what we’d pack in a suitcase for life, imagined ourselves as an abandoned Christmas tree ornament petitioning for our place in the holiday festivities, and even wrote love letters to our favourite food or object – mine had to be cheesecake!

Suitcase for life

One particularly rewarding part of the placement was arranging, with the other shadow writers and First Story coordinators, an event to be held on University Park campus where all the participating schools in Nottingham would visit to partake in various creative writing workshops. They also had the chance to tour the campus, and I got to take the kids I knew around, watching their eyes widen as they realized that, yes, we have Starbucks on campus, whilst also marveling at the lake.

My role after each session was to type up all the work before sending it across to Paula, resulting in a document for each student to edit in the final few weeks, several of them notably stunned at just how much they’d produced.

With the anthology edited, covered and titled, all that remained was for one last session complete with crisps, cookies and party hats. It seemed so strange to say goodbye to them all – and not just because, after several requests, we were pulling Christmas crackers in March!

I’ve gained so much from my placement, last of all being a beautiful bouquet of flowers I have to somehow find a place for in my university house! I’d encourage any student interested in writing, teaching or community work to apply for the First Story placement next year, as I’m sure whichever school and writer you’re paired with will make for an extremely enjoyable year.

First Story event at the University of Nottingham

Emily Talbut

Posted in Placements and VolunteeringStudent Words