Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Borders Book Festival

I had a great time at the Borders Book Festival last week. There was a fantastic programme of author talks and events, including lots for children and families. I heard a range of different authors, and all were extremely stimulating and thought-provoking. I would never have expected the Napoleonic Wars to be interesting, but Peter Snow had me and hundreds of others enthralled by his account of it. It was a complete treat to listen to Michael Frayn talking about his plays, novels and non-fiction. The crime writer Ann Cleeves, who is best known for her Vera Stanhope books, was fascinating and very funny. Given my interest in children’s and young people’s literacy, I was particularly caught by what she had to say about her workshops in schools. They sound excellent. She uses scene-of-crime tape from a friend in the police force to mark out a mock murder site, whips up the students’ interest and then gets them writing their own crime stories. All brilliant, but some schools’ approaches to creative writing appal her. One English teacher particularly outraged her. She went round criticising students’ punctuation, and instructing them to write longer sentences. When Cleeves remonstrated, saying crime writing needs to be pacey, so short sentences are absolutely appropriate, the teacher responded that students had to demonstrate the ability to write with linked clauses. Not surprisingly, Cleeves despairs of an education system that places grammar ahead of creativity.