A closer look at what happens in my workshops


Generally I begin all of my workshop days by talking about my own writing and love of books, then reading the group some of my own work and telling them about the book I'm currently reading. From then on, the day takes one of various paths, depending on what the librarian / teacher would like to get from the day.

Book Award Days

This will typically involve 5 or 6 fiction titles that have been short-listed for a particular award. Each title will be explored during the day by using a Drama activity. Each exploration takes this form:

  1. Introduce the book and read an extract from the beginning
  2. Ask questions during & after the reading
  3. Set a Drama activity on the title - could be a paired script, a group improvisation, a set of freeze-frames to develop, etc
  4. Come back together as a group for volunteers to perform to the rest
  5. Raise further questions on the book between and after performances

During the course of a day like this, I build on their confidence and by the end of the day, I have always achieved my aim of having everyone perform at least once.

I have completed days like this for the Doncaster Book Award, The Carnegie Medal, The Kate Greenaway Medal, The Southwark Book Award and The Salford Children's Book Award. I've worked with groups from Y2 up to Y11 and with numbers from 10 up to 50. The ideal number is 25-30. I have also done these as Half-Days focussing on 3 main titles. Neighbouring schools will sometimes gather together their keen readers to form a group or pair up Y7 with Y6 feeders.

Themed Fiction Days

These workshops follow the pattern above, but instead of working with a short list, we work with a genre of fiction. E.g.:

  • Armthorpe School (Doncaster) - Summer School workshops on Spy books last year and Dragon stories this year
  • A Christmas holiday session on Dickens' Christmas Carol
  • A tie-in day to the launch of the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory film
  • A day working in tandem with author Robert Muchamore to explore and promote his Cherub series
  • Days driven by my choice or the librarian's choice of books to promote

Creative Writing Days

For these days, I work with 10-20 pupils aiming to develop ideas for prose fiction. The day has a structured pattern and uses picture prompts throughout. I always write with them and after every writing burst, we voluntarily share our work around the table. This is how it runs:

  1. A look at the language skills used in the opening of my own unpublished novel 'The Seven Ages of Jack'
  2. Warm-up exercise where the pupils write a dialogue based on a picture
  3. Pupils write a character profile for a lead character for their story
  4. Development of story ideas and crisis point for lead character
  5. Development of an opposition character for the story
  6. Sustained writing of the opening of our story where the lead character approaches the crisis point
  7. Description of place is explored, introducing the technique of funnelling and the character is set into this place in order to reflect on the crisis and move towards action
  8. Further development then takes place at the end of the day and the pupils are encouraged to continue their stories independently at home or in school.

I have done this kind of day with single year groups, Key Stage 3 groups and with Sixth Formers.

Combination Days

My specialisms are Creative Writing, Literature and Drama, so I will often combine two or three of the disciplines in the same workshop. For instance, I have run a workshop for North Doncaster Technology College for two summers where their Year 8 Literacy target group does a full week of activities including a visit to The Deep in Hull. I do a day called Into the Deep where we look at 2 seaside-related fiction titles, produce some Drama and also do some creative writing. Recently I did a Boys into Books session involving reluctant readers which combined all three disciplines.

Shakespeare for SATs

Workshops to explore the set scenes for the exams

Shorter Sessions

Full Day workshops give pupils the best chance to enjoy, learn and develop, but I have also delivered 2-hour or 3-hour sessions which have taken many forms. Here are some examples:

  1. Mini-versions of the days listed above
  2. Launch of library book boxes with Years 7, 8 & 9 at North Doncaster Technology College, pulling up volunteers to the stage for Drama presentations
  3. A 2-hour book promotion session with 60 Rishworth School Y7 pupils where different groups tackled a Drama task for 12 different titles and then performed their pieces.
  4. Hosting the Launch Event and the Final Event for the Doncaster Book Award
  5. Contributing workshops alongside poet Levi Tafari for a cluster of schools in St Helens shadowing the Carnegie Medal

Sixth Form

I have also worked with Years 12 & 13 on syllabus-related days or workshops for personal development:

  • Creative Writing Days - workshops to develop ideas and beginnings for Original Writing
  • Enrichment - a series of regular workshops on Novel Writing
  • Writers on the syllabus - exploration of writers such as Emily Dickinson

Overall, although many of my workshops follow established patterns, I'm always open to suggestions for new types of day and will always devise something new. For instance, for a Y8 Literacy Summer School for North Doncaster Technology College, I targeted Level 4 pupils with the rigours of speech marks usage in story-writing in order to push them towards Level 5. Transition, Literacy, Boys Into Books & Gifted & Talented are all target areas I have addressed in different ways.