Just before Christmas, Philip Ardagh, one of my favourite children’s authors, came to the British Museum to run a writing workshop with families. As well as having an enormous beard, Philip writes hilarious and also very lovely books, including the Eddie Dickens Trilogy, a series of stories about a young boy called Eddie Dickens, who has to leave his parents (who are ill and smell like old hot water bottles) to go to live with his Mad Uncle Jack and his Even Madder Aunt Maud, who also happens to own a stuffed stoat called Malcolm. If you’ve not read them, I’d thoroughly recommend you do! He’s also written lots of other fiction and non-fiction, including the Grubtown Tales series, The Heiroglyphs Handbook and many more.
Anyway, back to the workshop – after some careful pondering (and beard-stroking), Philip chose a series of objects from our Museum handling collection, which we keep in a little room in the depths of the Museum basement. He wanted to choose things with a sense of mystery, and picked a lovely range of objects – from a two-faced puppet from Java and Roman coins, to a powder horn and a shield made form hippo skin. All the objects would act as a starting point for the introduction to a story.
We had around 70 people in the workshop, and they wrote some wonderful things. Here’s an excerpt from a story written by a girl called Sarah, about a puppet from Java:
Its face was wracked in a terrible grimace of what seemed to be a combination of fear and anger. Just looking at its amazingly lifelike face made me tense. My eyes were locked on those glittering eyes. I couldn’t move. A sound came from behind me. I tore my eyes away from the puppet and turned to look. It sounded like a quick intake of breath. Goosebumps rose up on my arms and my heart started to thud. Was I alone? Looking back at the puppet, I was sure its sprawled position had changed. I blinked. It moved again. The torch in my hand started to flicker. The puppet lifted its head and its eyes narrowed and its pupils flicked towards me. The torch went off…
It was fantastic to see how much children were inspired by working alongside a successful author – and Philip really did spend time with each child, helping them to develop their ideas. Using objects as the starting points for stories is hugely exciting, as there’s so much to think about: Who owned it? Where was it made? Where has it travelled to since? What was it used for? There are endless possibilities – all you need is imagination, and the children we worked with had imagination in bucketloads.
You can see all the children’s stories here.