To St Bonaventure’s School in Newham today, to speak to around forty Year 8 students. This was an absolute monster of a session: due to some administrative miscommunication I’d found out – yesterday – that instead of (as I’d thought) being booked for two hour-long talks with different groups, in fact I was going to be speaking to the one group for TWO HOURS.


Yikes. Frankly I can’t sit still and listen to one person talk for much more than one hour, let alone two, so the idea of expecting an audience to do so made me pretty nervous, you can imagine. Some kind of “interactive task” was called for – a workshop, in other words – and, as it happens, that’s something I’ve never done before, either! But with a two-hour slot to fill and forty students looking at me expectantly, there was nothing else for it but to screw up my courage and go for it.

And you know what? IT WAS AWESOME.

Hee hee hee!

As anyone who has read the note at the very end of Black Tat will know, the single best piece of writing advice I’ve come across so far is from an interview with brilliant thriller author Lee Child. His words have become something of a mantra for me over the years, and they go like this: “Write the exact book that you yourself would be thrilled to read.”

Keeping my own storytelling preferences under wraps to start with (so as not to prejudice their answers), I asked the young gentlemen of the group what I believe are a couple of the best questions a writer can ask themselves when they sit down to start a new project, namely: If you were to find a book in a bookshop or library that was the ultimate book — one that felt like it had everything you wanted in a story; one that was so exciting that once you started reading it you’d enjoy it so much you might forget to eat or sleep until you finished it — what would that book be like? What would the elements of it be?

Here we go...

And then (HEE HEE HEE!) I asked ’em to write some of it!

I gave them fifteen minutes – which seemed to me to be very stingy, but it had to be that way or I’d never have time to hear and respond to what each student had written. And the results, I have to tell you, were absolutely gobsmacking.

It wasn’t the technical standard of the students’ writing that impressed me most – though that, I have to say, was uniformly EXCELLENT. No: what struck me most powerfully was the variety of material they came up with. There were historical stories. There were political stories. There were murder mysteries, slice-of-life dramas, superheroes, sports stories, and more. And all of them were told with a combination of imaginative ambition yet grab-you-by-the-throat immediacy that I found HUGELY inspiring. In fact, after hearing what the students had produced, when the talk moved on to my own writing I felt like I had to work extra hard to give a good account of myself, in case I ended up being put in the shade – HEE HEE HEE!

If you’re reading this from St Bon’s, thank you. I got a massive kick out of listening to you, and I hope you got something out of listening to me.

Arms Again!


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