I will always remember reading ‘Skellig’ at a primary
school. There was one particular section of the story where Skellig requests
order numbers ‘27 and 53’ (spring rolls and pork char sui) from the local
Chinese takeaway. The way the food was described made every eight year old in
the room really want lunchtime to be that bit closer. When I told Skellig’s
author, David Almond about this, he divulged that the book is actually set in
Heaton and I realised that I had, at one point, lived just around the corner
from where the story took place.
As part of the Great North Greats exhibition at Gateshead
Stadium, David gave a number of talks to local primary school children about
the processes he goes through when writing his stories and poems. In 2014 David
was commissioned to create a poem that would be recited during the Great North
Run Million opening ceremony, a poem that would truly represent the people and
the culture of the North East. As a local boy, David had grown up in Felling
and regularly refers to the surrounding areas within his stories.
It became apparent that, as well as being a great writer,
David was in his element speaking with a younger audience. Throughout his
presentation he referred to his hometown and surrounding areas as being places
full of inspiration, a notion that these days seems under threat. By asking the
children, one by one, what their favourite place in the North East was, David
allowed them to reflect upon what their hometown meant to them and how, through
creative activities such as writing, they could demonstrate to others that the
North East is not just another part of ‘The North’.
David went on to discuss the processes that are involved
when writing a story. Again, he asked the children what they believed a story
should ‘look like’ and what the image of a ‘book’ meant to them. Many of the
children were surprised when David showed them his ‘sketch book’, full of colours,
quotations and corrections that, over time, become the stories that so many
people around the world have come to love. By demonstrating the way he forms
ideas and creates stories, David illustrated how writing isn’t just about
sitting down and typing, it’s about experiencing, exploring and observing.
Throughout the day, the interplay between David
and the schoolchildren made the talks he gave truly great experiences. Although
they were primarily targeted at school children, everyone in the room, child or
adult, gained an insight into the mind of a Great North Great.
Great North Greats, the exhibition is at Gateshead Stadium throughout June and July 2015 and is entirely free of charge.
Words by Alastair Reach.