The job of an author is a varied one. Obviously, there is writing, whether it’s books, blogs or magazine articles, writing is the mainstay, and I love it. But, like many authors, I put a large emphasis on sharing the joy of reading and writing too. To this end – in just the last six months – I’ve visited Primary Schools, Secondary Schools, Colleges, Literary Festivals, Writing Retreats, Football Stadiums, Cricket Grounds, Libraries, Museums and Care Homes. Frankly, there’s nowhere I won’t go if the outcome is help develop the love of reading and writing for younger people.
In my efforts to make these visits, I work with Local Authorties, Regional Education Networks, Community Organisations in Professional Sport and nationwide charities who also help promote reading and writing and it is always a pleasure to work in partnership with people who share a similar vision to me, which is basically developing the skills and confidence of young people in all things Literacy.
One such organisation is the Patron of Reading initiative, which exists to link authors with schools who may desire to have visits by authors, but may wish to extend the usual single visit into a more longer term connection. I am delighted that via this outstanding organisation, I have been a Patron of Reading at Ansford Academy in Somerset since November last year.
I have so far made two visits to Ansford and look forward to many more, but already I am developing a fantastic link with the school, which I hope they feel is of benefit to them, too.
In my two visits to date, I’ve delivered a mixture of workshops, designed to inspire reluctant readers to want to embrace reading, something I feel is utterly essential for young people to maximise the potential they have to achieve academically. But I also want to inspire young people to write, and sometimes – whatever the educational establishment concerned – that can be a stiffer task.
One thing I learnt a long time ago, is that if we can manage to give young writers an audience to write for, then their writing will have a genuine purpose. This usually means that they will want to deliver their best work as it will be seen beyond the classroom. This, in turn, means better planning, better spelling, better use of vocabulary, better use of punctuation. But obviously, schools aren’t always able to provide that audience. Fortunately, as an author, I can.
On my last visit to Ansford, before Easter, I delivered two workshops. One was relating to a story within my novel ‘Champion of Champions’ and the other was based on using a collection of sporting memorabilia I have, all signed by leading World Class sports people, to inspire the pupils to write. If I say so myself, the sessions were fantastic and incredibly rewarding for me, mainly because of the engagement delivered by the pupils concerned, along with their quality of writing on the day.
Now, usually, I won’t get to complete the process of seeing the finished, edited product, because generally, I will only be at a given school for a day, but because of the genius of the Patron of Reading scheme, I will always be returning to the school at some point, so that a continuation in seeing what the pupils produce is always there. But that still doesn’t necessarily provide the audience I feel the writers sometime need. However, the work was so excellent on my last visit, that it was something I decided I should offer.
Working with the school’s excellent Librarian, Annie Beaton, I hatched a plan where we were able to announce that two of the stories written by the pupils would be selected by the school and published here on my website for the world to see, and I publish them below.
Both are written by members of the Year 8 cohort, so we are talking young people aged 13 maximum.
The two stories picked were based on the workshop I did about ‘Champion of Champions’. Prior to that, none of the pupils knew much about cycling and had certainly never heard of the one day classic, The Paris – Roubaix, also known as ‘The Hell of the North’, which one of the characters in my novel talks about in an inspirational story he tells within the book. Almost every version of this incredibly brutal race involves a crash, and in my workshop, the challenge I give the pupils is to write a story where they are taking part in the race, but have just experienced a crash. They then face one of life’s great dilemmas – to give up, or to get back on and try to win. Along with writing, I really want the pupils I work with to understand the resilience we all require in life, and there’s no better place to display that than in a story about sport.
Before I let the pupils loose with their creativity, I help them explore the detail of the race, from the conditions of the race, the tough challenge it sets professional cyclists, the terrain it covers, the competitiveness involved, even down to the monitoring of their heart rates by the cyclists themselves. I really want the pupils to live and breathe the demands of being a professional cyclist in this race, before we begin planning and writing their stories. This adds great authenticity to their work.
I then give them their first line which emphasises that their character has just crashed at some point in this most challenging and prestigious of races: “ I hit the ground and…..”
The two stories picked by the school are printed here, they are by Mitchell Belini and Neve Ableson. I think they are brilliant, and in particular, their use of description and detail regarding the race is superb. Well done Mitchell and Neve!
Please take a read of these excellent stories below, and if you enjoy and are minded to, please leave a comment at the end of this article. Thanks to the Patron of Reading scheme, I will be able to share these comments with Mitchell and Neve when I return to Ansford in the next month.
Many thanks in advance, Dave.
I hit the ground, and….. by Mitchell Belini, Ansford Academy.
“I hit the ground and it was the scariest moment of my life. I didn’t even know what happened until I got up, wiped my eyes and could see bodies on top of bodies and bicycle wheels flying – bike frames all smashed into pieces. I was going so well to start, I was even in the top group of racers. We were all going at it, all determined and sweating as if we were butter melting.
Where did it all go wrong?
I got up, didn’t even help the people who were hurt. The crowds were shouting, all going crazy for the racers they wanted to win. Stood on the side of the dusty, cobbled roads screaming for my team to bring me a bike. Finally they came, dropped me a bike and then told the doctor that my hand was smothered in blood. By this point I was already gone. I jumped on, put my feet on the pedals and got to it.
My eyes were stinging and blinded as the wind punched me in the face which allowed my glasses to fly off. I was frustrated about the crash and the time which flew by. But all I know now is that I am back in it to win it, the ‘HELL OF THE NORTH’. I checked my heart-rate, it was 155, I could still push it, maybe to 200 for two minutes at least. If I did I could catch-up, gain back my lead, maybe even win.
I was exhausted as the hot blazing sun was beating down on my sweaty back. All I know is that I
must be catching up. There are no longer any racers behind me which is a relief but I have still got to push on, push on to win!
There were red lights in front, flashing at me as if they were trying to tell me something. It was a car! It was the team in third, the racer was in front of the car giving it his best. There was a number of cars in front as well. In fact I could see first place, all worn out and drips of sweat just melting him to pieces. I look down at my heart rate and it’s 160, come on, push to 200!
I couldn’t feel my legs, I gained back all the strength I had and pushed on.
170! Keep going, keep going.
I kept pushing myself to the best I could go.
190, Come on! I kept on going exhausted but I will never give up.
200! Finally, now just get my head down and pace myself for two minutes.
The car was getting closer and closer, I could touch it now. Come on! One more minute. I passed the racer in third. This could give me a bronze, but I am determined to get a gold. 30 seconds left. I am now past second and even more exhausted than a cheetah chasing it’s prey. 15 seconds. Just keep at it, just one more push.
The crowd is cheering, never heard it so loud in my life. They’re all shouting my name. With a gold medal around my neck, shining in the spotlight, me smiling prouder than ever, this was one hell of a race! In fact it was one HELL OF THE NORTH!
I hit the ground, and….. by Neve Ableson, Ansford Academy.
“I hit the ground and I didn’t understand what had happened and where on earth I was at the time. My head felt all dizzy and my body all shocked, I didn’t really know what to do with myself.
When I hit the ground with two other people on the road by my side, I had thoughts going through my head like ‘What if my injury is very bad?’ or ‘What if I fall off my bike again, and make a fool of myself in front of everyone?’
There were bycicle wheels flying over my head and silver handlebars snapping off bikes, but my bike was still intact. My hands felt all numb and shaky, and my body felt all shocked and not ready to carry on, but I did. Of course I did! I wanted to win this race!
The race was one of the best opportunities of my whole career and I didn’t want to give up now. I could see the finish line from where I was. There wasn’t long to go, I checked my computer on the front of my handlebars and it said 161, which was my current heart rate. I was sweating hot, my face was red like a beetroot and my body was as hot as a pig.
I was almost at the halfway mark but I didn’t care how far was left, even though the doctor said I had a broken hand and a swollen ankle. I didn’t care if I was hurt, I wanted to finish and finish properly. I wanted to win this race and be a champion, not a sore loser. I wanted to win the race and do it with 100% effort.
I was trying and trying so hard. I had a sore ankle and hand but I didn’t care, I wanted that shiny trophy in my hands and to say ‘I WON THE RACE!’
There were loads of people behind me racing at full speed to the finish line. I felt like giving up and losing but I so wanted that shiny trophy so I carried on. I was in sight of the finish line so I went fast on my bike. I could have easily tumbled off again. I was in touching distance of the finish line and I was in 4th place.
I pushed myself so hard, getting my feet tangled in the pedals but I didn’t care how much it hurt at this minute because I wanted to win.
I overtook the people in front of me…I was in second place! I was moving my legs so fast because I wanted to be in first place. I was metres away from the finish line, and metres away from holding the shiny trophy in my arms. I was in touching distance of being in first place, all I had to do was overtake this man in front of me and I would have been first.
I was so close to winning but the man in front got there first. I was about 5 centimetres from being the Champion but I lost it fair and square. He was holding the trophy above his head and saying “I’m the winner!”
I said to myself ‘Maybe next time.’ but then I thought’ I bet I don’t win it because there are other people better than me.
Second place is good enough for me.’