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Writers Visits to Schools

What an amazing day I had at the St Duthac Book and Arts Festival on Friday. Due to them, I had my first in-person visit back into a primary school since the virus.

I have talked about how much I have missed the interaction you get with young readers before. The visit simply confirmed all that. Never mind how good a virtual workshop is, it just doesn’t come close to being in there with the pupils.

Blethering of things that seem unrelated to what you are doing at the time: are somehow stitched together in a child’s mind. Encouraging input and repetition from the bairns as we share a story is different in-person. The smiles and the laughter, the way they use the resources in their unique way, is enthralling. The oh so ancient sharing of tales between generations, a tradition that has followed us, humans, since the dawning of time.

I can admit it now that I became quite emotional when I entered the room and saw all these fresh faces full of smiles. It wasn’t their normal class teacher, rather one who had taught my own children that was taking the class. She is one of the biggest fans of my Broc books. It was truly a joyous event. Even now I feel quite overwhelmed looking back.

The other touching thing about it all was the book I choose to use. Not as you would expect my latest Grumpa but Broc ann an Cnoc. It is a far more suitable story for children in P1 and P2. My first ever book will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only because of the beautiful illustrations but for the reasons behind its development.

It was written as a simple story that both learners and fluent speakers could use with children. I wanted to focus on some of the important Gaelic structures that take time to stabilise within many a learner’s mind…that of ’s e and chan e. It was and still is very important that books are first written in Gaelic for Gaelic-speaking children and are not all translations from other languages.

My publisher then, Lisa Storey of Leabhraichean Beaga asked what sort of illustrations I would like. “Old fashioned,” I immediately said. “You know the style you remember as a child.” I am so glad I was given the freedom to choose. The Broc books have stood the test of time. They are still relevant and enjoyed twelve years after they were published.

Of course, that then gets me thinking. Should I refocus and look again at books for this age group? Can I come up with new characters and phrases that would help both the learner and the fluent speakers? Can I leave Grumpa and start afresh.

Now that would be a hard thing to do. I still have many stories I would like to explore with Grumpa. Could I find some other illustrator who could develop the new characters and visualise their story?

One thing I do know. Broc is here to stay. I have an arsenal of puppets I can now use with him including an albatross who masquerades as a seagull. Well, the children are all happy: it looks like the bird in the book so why shouldn’t they be. After all, what are imaginations for?

I don’t know when my next in-person school event will take place given what is happening again in the community. What I do know is that when we can go back to the classrooms, I will be first in line, just like the new pupils in P1, eager and full of hope.

It truly was a lovely start to my day and a very busy weekend. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be long before I can go back there or to some other school, pre-school, or library. It is not only the children who have missed out over all these months but the writers and workshop leaders too. No doubt the teachers have also had to develop more lessons as few visitors of the various disciplines have been able to enter the classroom.

So thank you St Duthac Book and Art Festival for allowing me an excuse to go in-person into a school again. And mòran taing to Gàidhlig P1 agus P2 aig Bun Sgoil Cnog na Creige.

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