On July 1st, Catherine Johnson and I visited Cornelius Vermuyden School on Canvey Island to talk about The Daughters of Time Anthology and our stories, Return to Victoria (Emily Wilding Davison - my story) and The Lad That Stands Before You (Mary Seacole - Catherine's).
|Emma Wilding Davison|
I think Daughters of Time is a great book for schools - as one of the teachers said some of the boys didn't notice they were all women until it was pointed out - it's short and interesting and lends itself to all sorts of discussions and questions.
Books don't have to be gendered, nor should they be, but that's probably a different blog.
Gemma Holland, who was organising the excellent Pop Up events was at one of my sessions and thought that The Daughters of Time would be a very good book to include in the Pop Up programme. Coincidently, Catherine Johnson was visiting the very same school a few days after me and I mentioned that she was a Daughter of Time, too. Would we like to do a session together? Would we? Yes, we would.
The unique thing about Pop Up is that they supply the school with books, so the students have read your book and have done some work of their own. Both Catherine and I found this a transforming experience and we really enjoyed working together.
Catherine comments on:
...the wonderfulness of talking to a group of students who have actually read the work being discussed. The thing that made these sessions different and completely refreshing was working alongside another author ... having someone to bounce off, to share and explore ideas with alongside the students was brilliant and added, I think, an extra layer of depth to our talks. I wish all my author visits could be conducted like this.
Both our stories led on to wider discussion and because the students had read the stories and completed work based on them, we could have a proper debate. This was education in its truest sense. These children of 2014 were shocked that women could not vote and horrified by the treatment of suffragettes under the Cat and Mouse Act. We could have been there all day talking about whether Emily Wilding Davison meant to cash in the return stub of her train ticket or cash in her chips. I very much appreciated the contribution from one young man who knew his way around horses and who explained to us exactly what would happen if someone stepped out in front of a horse at full gallop. His expert knowledge brought the debate to a close.
Things were no less spirited when it came to Catherine's story. The students were equally shocked by the racism, endemic in the 19th Century, that prevented Mary Seacole, although eminently experienced and qualified, from serving as a nurse under Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War. They practically cheered when Catherine described how Seacole went anyway and set up her own hospital, The British Hotel, practically on the battlefield.
They were also taken aback to know that boys, the same age as those sitting in the audience, served as soldiers and that women sometimes went to war disguised.
|Susie King Taylor|
|Boy Soldiers - Crimea|
One reaction I will treasure is the surprised look on the last class of Year 7s when they heard women only achieved equal pay recently!
It was a fantastic day and one we will both remember. For it to be as good as this, a great deal of work had to be done, by the Pop Up team who made it possible, but also by Sue Goldsmith and the teachers at Cornelius Vermuyden School, who showed real commitment to the project, and not least by the students themselves who showed such great interest and such imaginative responses to the short stories in the anthology. Their creative work was really impressive.
|Figure of Mary Seacole - my particular favourite|
The final word goes to Cornelius Vermuyden School:
I just wanted to let you know that our Home Project event was brilliant and the presentation last night was lovely. The work the students had done was really stunning.
The students are still talking about both you and Catherine. It has really given the text meaning. My year 7s talk about you guys as if they've known you for years.
One student actually made Mary Seacole [see above]. Catherine had said that she used to be little known in history, she is very well known by our year 7.
Sue Goldsmith, English Department.
Catherine Johnson has just wonThe Young Quills Award for Historical Fiction for her novel, Sawbones.