Wigtown, a small town in the beautiful Dumfries and Galloway region, is a very special place. For 19 years it has been Scotland’s National Book Town and the town is a book lover’s heaven, with every other shop selling new or second-hand books. The town also hosts a book festival every autumn, the second largest in Scotland.
This year the organisers invited me to come to the festival and do a creative writing event, encouraging children to write their own adventures, inspired by the Lily series. The prospect was exciting, but nerve wracking, as it was going to be my first creative writing event.
On arrival, friendly local volunteers directed me to the festival office, where I was handed a lovely goodie bag and guest pass, both of which cheered me up no end.
The weekend got even better when I discovered the foodie delights of the Writers’ Retreat and the enormous and quirky bookshop downstairs. After browsing for a very long time, I discovered Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings Goes to School in the children’s section. This particular copy was inscribed: To Clive on his 10th birthday with best wishes from Auntie Win, 11th Oct 1955. The book had me at the inscription to be honest, but my main reason for purchasing it was that the Jennings books were childhood favourites and I wanted to see if they were as hilarious as I remembered. And I can now vouch that although the dialogue is hopelessly old-fashioned, with more ‘wizards’ than Harry Potter, Jennings’ exploits at boarding school are still genuinely funny.
But I wasn’t in Wigtown to buy old books and eat lobster and quiche in the Writers’ Retreat… I was there to work. So the following morning I arrived at the primary school in the pouring rain and sat outside in the car, trying not to panic.
What if nobody turned up? What if the kids didn’t want to take part in the activities I’d planned? What if my USB stick exploded????
Luckily, all my worries proved groundless, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with an imaginative, enthusiastic group of young writers. First, I talked about how inspirational islands have been to writers in the past; from RL Stephenson’s Treasure Island to Enid Blyton’s The Secret Island, authors have set adventure stories on islands, both real and imaginary.
After explaining my reasons for setting the Lily books on the Isles of Cumbrae and Arran, and chatting about story planning and structure, I suggested the children plan their own, island based stories, using the island outlines as mind maps.
Their ideas were so impressive: stories about shipwrecks, scuba divers, hostile tribesmen and undersea volcanoes. They drew and described their main characters, mainly brave, feisty girls, one called Olive because of her unusual green eyes.
One boy wanted his shipwrecked character to build a house from all the floating cargo, but decided it wasn’t realistic without tools, so drew a tumble down shelter for him instead.
It was lovely to see the boys and girls so engaged, and I really hope they turn their brilliant Inspiration Islands into stories. Thank you so much for having me, Wigtown Book Festival!