On the 12th of December, last year I had the pleasure of running a workshop on Creating Characters at the Sydney Story Factory in Redfern. Over 20 kids, many with English as a second language, came along to the very cool Martian Embassy (the home of the Sydney Story Factory). Whenever I’m inside the building I feel like I’ve been swallowed by a large Martian whale, which is kind of cool because I’ve wanted to be swallowed by a whale ever since I saw Pinocchio.
The event was also a special early launch of my new novel, Bad Grammar, and I got to read some as we discussed creating characters to fit the Bad Grammar setting. The students were given the challenge of creating their own protagonist to attend the reform school, Bourkely Boys Grammar, and then they had to create a bizarre teacher who might teach there. The results were amazing. There were teachers from other planets, along with vampires and animal teachers. One of the boys created a protagonist who collected Barbie dolls. Everyone thought that was funny at first, until he explained it was because the character had lost his sister and the Barbie dolls reminded him of her ... even though I’m used to it, I still find myself amazed at the intelligence, emotional depth, and pure inventiveness that kids can come up with.
The other thing that was so inspiring to see was the level of respect the students had for each other. Sometimes in workshop environments, the kids get so excited about what they are creating that they find it hard to be quiet and focused when it comes to sharing. Not so here. The students listened carefully to each other, were patient, supportive and encouraging. Speaking with some of the teachers afterwards, they said this is quite typical with ESL students. It was beautiful to witness.
The Sydney Story Factory is a not-for-profit organisation providing workshops and creative space for all students, with a focus on disadvantaged areas. They are brilliant and very receptive to authors getting involved, so if you’re ever in the area, pop in and check it out: 176 Redfern Street, Redfern. Open Mon-Thu 10am-5pm, and Sunday 10am-3pm