There’s no irony intended in choosing that title. A while ago, I spent a whole day at a primary school, spending 35 minutes with classes from wee 3 year olds to 10 year olds. It was a day of entertainment, pleasure, hope and a confirmation that people aren’t monsters from the start – that’s something they obviously learn later. Admittedly, the story that one class produced relied for one of its possible resolutions on an exploding mum (literally exploding, not just with anger), but overall I was absorbed in and delighted by the way they all engaged so willingly in the things we did.
With all but two of the classes (oldest and youngest) I read them one of my Stanley stories then got them to write a story of their own, either as a whole class or in smaller groups. They listened, laughed and the rapt faces far outnumbered the yawns of those who obviously hadn’t had enough sleep or were bored witless. On each occasion, the transition from the silence as I read my stuff to the enthusiasm as they developed theirs was fast and smooth and the day rushed by, probably teaching me more than it taught them. I could pontificate about the innocence and generosity of children, their willingness to cooperate on things, the model they present of how creative social cohesion can be, but in some ways that detracts from the experience. It’s the old distinction between sensation and perception. The moment you become aware of the experience you’re having, you become detached from it a little – analysis takes the place of involvement. We were all living totally in the moment and in the creation of their fictions. So I thought I’d just let you know what ephemeral things the day produced.
My first question to the first class was ‘What do we need to start a story?’ The hands shot up, I chose one, a girl, who said ‘Once upon a time’. Incontestable. I then got suggestions about the characters in the story, locations and, by simply asking them questions, which were my only input, each class produced one or several stories. In this and my next blog, I’ll share with you just 4 of the 13 that they created between them.
The first was the one with the exploding mother. It also had a robot mother and a mother in prison. (Lest you think this was a worrying indication that all might not be well at home, they all came from different individuals and were obviously attempts to negotiate narrative hurdles rather than cries for help.) The problem was that Sam and Sally, who lived near a volcano, were bored with just wandering round its slopes and wanted to try the crater. When they asked if they could go, Mum (amazingly) said ‘OK’ so off they went. Inside they found a button. They pressed it, and the lava, smoke and ash started bubbling up, so they pressed it again and it stopped. They rushed home, told Mum about it. She went back with them and the button had vanished. Each time they went on their own, it was there, each time Mum came, it wasn’t. The explanation centred around an old man who lived nearby and had remote control things in his house. He’d built a robot replica of their mum, substituted it for her, imprisoned the real mum in a cage under the lava, etc., etc. In the end, Sam and Sally tricked him, got into his cottage, worked the remote so that it made the robot mum pick up the old man and start walking. She strode off into the distance and is probably still walking with him clutched tight in her metal arms. This meant Sam and Sally could raise the cage and save their mum.
And this blog’s long enough, so I’ll save the rest for the next one.