The College's annual author festival provided, in the words of one visiting teacher, "an amazing and inspiring opportunity for young minds to engage with really first-class authors and communicators".
Over 300 Year 6 and 7 children (aged between 10 and 12) from schools ranging from Ashford in Kent (Ashford Friars) to Cuckfield in Sussex (Warden Park) visited Hurst on Tuesday 15th June to meet three inspirational authors who are also great communicators - Anne Fine, Beverley Naidoo and Christopher Lloyd. "It was" said Hurst Headmaster, Tim Manly, "a truly inspirational event. With all the distractions available to young people today, it was heartwarming to see so many excited faces as the children listened with rapt attention to these quite outstanding and inspirational writers. I know that many keen readers will have left with a determination to read even more and that many of those who have been, hitherto, a little reluctant will have glimpsed the exciting possibilities available within the world of books."
Each author spoke to a packed audience of pupils (and the members of staff who accompanied them) in sessions that ran simultaneously in three different location on Hurst's 140 acre country campus. All three authors generously agreed to run both morning and afternoon sessions with only a brief respite for lunch and each one put enormous energy into their fanatastically professional presentations.
Anne Fine's natural wit and charm shone through as she ranged across her life and works. She introduced her audience to a spectacular kaleidoscope of personalities and events that provided triggers for her plots and characters. She spoke of friends who appear in books ('heavily disguised, otherwise you end up with no friends'), her experiences with children ('from charmer to monster in one day at aged 13 but thankfully now older and back to charmer again'), about her campaigns (for example, with Philip Pullman, the successful campaign to prevent authors having to be police checked before they can enter schools) and much else. At the heart of everything she talked about lay, of course, the extraordinary range of books she has created for children of all ages and, specifically, the few she had selected to talk about to this audience. Her readings, accompanied by appropriate voices and supported by theatrical gestures, provoked laughter and rapt attention in equal measure. She informed and entertained and answered questions for nearly an hour prompting one visiting member of staff to report 'Fantastic! Anne was engaging, witty, simply terrific' one boy was heard to tell his friend "she's really great, I'm going to read all her books"! (editor's note, this may take him a while but one has to admire the scale of his ambition).
Perhaps, however, what Anne would consider her most important contribution of the day was her encouragement to those who wanted to write. "'Read, read, read; at your age the best preparation to write well is to read as much as you can". "What do you read" asked one young fan. "Anything and everything" was her disarmingly honest reply. The plot for one book, she revealed, was prompted by a passage in a religious tract that she had bought from a man in the street for whom she felt sorry. "Having bought it, she said, "I couldn't stop myself reading it" ...
Christopher Lloyd led his audiences through the history of earth (and beyond) via a series of literally world-changing events. Using a 24 hour clock as his measure of the span of world history, Christopher sped from the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago through the earliest signs of life on Earth 3.7 billion years ago to the present day when we can communicate instantly with almost anyone on the planet.
He used 20 objects to mark these seminal events, from a balloon (blown up by an unsuspecting member of the audience, only to find it pricked with a pin by Christopher) illustrating a rather small scale "big bang", a pair of fake plastic breasts to mark the ascendancy of the mammals over the reptiles and a pair of knitting needles which he employed to demonstrate how humans walk on two legs and use their hands for dexterous tasks. His audience was totally engaged throughout and - demonstrating an impressive level of knowledge for Year 6 and 7 pupils - answered many of the open questions with which Christopher peppered his talk.
Beverley Naidoo spoke with passion, compassion and gentle humour, enticing her audiences into the world of blind prejudice and powerful injustice that existed (long before they were born) in, for example, South Africa and Nigeria and exists still in many lands. A world where colour or ‘race’ or tribe or religion can dictate whether you are the oppressed or the oppressor.
Her context was her own early life as a white child in a white family living in South Africa. She grew up in a society governed by Apartheid (the government decided what ‘race’ you belonged to; she was classified 'european' whilst others were 'coloured' or 'black' or 'asian') and surrounded by generations brought up to think the same way. Beverley said that, as a child, she thought nothing of the fact that she had two "mothers" - her white mother who gave birth to her and her black "mother" who looked after her day by day far away from her own children whom she could only see once or twice a year. Her black mother learned by telegram that two of her young daughters had died from diptheria - a disease that all white ('european') children were immunised against. It was only later, as a young adult, that Beverley realised how her vision of life had been completely blinkered. She had accepted as ‘normal’ what was (as the United Nations would declare) a ‘crime against humanity’.
Her change of heart as a young adult led to her joining the resistance to apartheid. After the resistance was severely crushed by the regime in 1964, Beverley sought refuge in England in her early twenties, where she became a teacher. Later she was inspired to write stories set in South Africa that explored the impact of apartheid on the lives of children. She embarked on her first novel Journey to Jo'burg. On publication she sent two copies of the book to family members still living in South Africa, only for these to be the very first to be confiscated by the authorities, who promptly banned the book. She then brought her audience up to date, describing how high profile events here have helped to shape some of the themes of her later novels, for example Web of Lies which draws on the tragic death of 10 year old Damilola Taylor in 1990 in Peckham at the hands of a gang of teenagers. The audience were treated to Beverley reading extracts from some of her best known books including Journey to Jo'burg and The Other Side of Truth and the talks were followed by a lively and thoughtful question & answer session.
To learn more about Hurst's great guest authors, see below and click on the appropriate links.
Anne Fine - who has been writing since 1971. She has won many awards for her books including the 1990 Carnegie Medal and Guardian Fiction Award for Goggle Eyes, the 1993 Carnegie Medal and Whitbread children's Novel Award for Flower Babies and the 1996 Whitbread Children's Book Award for The Tulip Touch. Anne was Children's Laureate from 2001-2003 and in 2003 was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list. To find out more, download the special Internet Edition of Hurst News about Ann here.
Beverley Naidoo - whose novels are set in South Africa, the land of her birth, and England, the country that became her home in exile. Her writings are inspired by the personal challenges young people face because of the politics around them - for instance as a child in South Africa in Journey to Jo'burg (banned for years by the South African apartheid regime) and No Turning Back or as a refugee in London in The Other Side of Truth (which was awarded the Carnegie Medal). To find out more, download the special Internet Edition of Hurst News about Beverley here.
Christopher Lloyd - who after a successful career with the Sunday Times (not least as Innovations Editor and Technology Correspondent) and in the management of Times Newspapers became a full-time author and writer. His two books to date What on Earth Happened? and What on Earth Evolved? (in their original and their condensed editions What on Earth Happened in Brief and What on Earth Evolved in Brief) have received lavish praise from press and experts alike. To find out more, download the special Internet Edition of Hurst News about Christopher here.
To hear Christopher speaking about What on Earth Happened? click here
Christopher's next project is the What on Earth? Wallbook coming in September and, advises Christopher, it can be pre-ordered now from Amazon
It provides 13.7 billion years of science and history illustrated on a unique 2.3 metre-long timeline!
"Witness", writes Christopher, "the evolution of life on Earth on an exhilarating journey through millions of years from the earliest duplicating bacteria to the first two-legged humans. See how the natural world fares alongside the rise and fall of civilizations over the last few thousand years".
The What on Earth? Wallbook is, states Christopher,a comprehensive, visual voyage through the past that contains more than 1,000 hand-drawn illustrations, every major event in natural and human history, the rise and fall of civilizations, the top 100 battles and, on the reverse, the story of planet, life and people from the Big Bang to the present day.
19 May 2013