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18 November 2023

Posted by Robyn O'Mahoney

Ali Sparkes

On Saturday 18 November, we were joined by children’s author, Ali Sparkes, for a special one-off session led by the Southampton-based novelist.

We started the day with a fill-in-the-blanks activity designed to get both the Junior and Young

Writers in the creative mindset. After giving it a go, the groups were keen to share their writing. The Juniors went down the route of familial dispute, bloody disagreements and irritated couples, and even a touch of the absurd with a fly dancing in a mouth. The Young Writers provided us with wet cats, spiders in underwear, waving eyebrows and telekinetic marmite-eating. The exercise showed the depth of the community’s social observation, which they used to produce some really fun, spot-on writing.

Ali then tasked assistant facilitator, Robyn, to draw a humanoid with large, ominous eyes. The activity was the starting point for descriptive writing, demonstrating how an idea springs from a particular language and how word choices sway narratives in certain directions.

Ali then presented the Juniors with a basic paragraph and asked them to re-work it with more

description and a stronger range of language choices. The original piece read: John woke up. He got out of bed. He went down stairs. He went into the kitchen and opened the

fridge. As a collective, the group then edited it to:

Devil-eyed Bob woke up to the sound of screaming babies, and the sensation of dripping blood on his face. Hungrily, he slithered out of his finest oak four-poster bed, with the grimy skull-patterned duvet which smelled of ashes and bananas and pickles. He fell down the creaky, dilapidated spiral stairs with spikes on every step, camouflaged by moss. Wincing, Devil-eyed Bob hobbled into the desolate kitchen with its dark, crimson walls covered in

knives, and opened the killer fridge which sucked him in and chomped him into little, weeny pieces.

After working together on the first activity, the Juniors were tasked with turning another basic

paragraph into a descriptive piece of flash fiction, using simple sentences as a springboard for

writing. We heard, among others, ‘she stumbled across the desolate clearing’, ‘bulging devil eyes’, and ‘a bright, pulsing energy’.

To finish up our time with the Juniors, we looked around the room to locate three things that could feature in our writing. The group could take their pieces in any direction or form of their choosing, as long as those three objects were included. For extra inspiration, Ali brought along a giant crystal, a tiny fox, a recorder, and a pair of giant underpants!

We bid farewell to the Juniors after a sharing that included diamond hunting, evil dolls, and talking foxes.

With our Young Writers, we took a different direction after the initial exercise, focussing on quick-fire writing challenges. We began with the prompt: ‘everyone turned to stare as the newcomer walked in’ and set six minutes on the clock for responding creatively.

Highlights from the exercise included: 

  • ‘The myths of time’

  • ‘Nobody would have guessed I was watching from the vents’ 

  • ‘Now they knew that he could come back from death’.

The group then organised their chairs into pairs to echo the setup of a bus and were given character profiles to adopt. Together, they wrote dialogue that would fit in a scene post-bus crash and then performed their pieces. There was an abundance of laughter and silliness, accents and actions.

To finish, we switched our attention to writing based on early experiences that have stuck with us, including encounters with spiders, falling over in Ikea and breaking ice on a lake. The idea was to call on memories and real events to write fiction; not just our own, but others too.

We closed the session with a Q&A with Ali before saying goodbye for another week.


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