Tristan Bancks Young Writers’ StorySchool

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Tristan Bancks has written some of my favourite books for middle primary students, tweens and teens, including ‘Two Wolves’ , ‘The Fall’ , ‘Detention’, the ‘Tom Weekly’ series and ‘Nit Boy’. His author visits are some of the most memorable I have hosted and they are always followed by a huge spike in borrowing of his books! His connection with students online and offline is authentic and his obvious passion for writing shines through when he talks about his craft and shares tips and techniques with young writers.

If you have read my book you will know that I am a huge advocate for author visits in schools and for some years now, Bancks has been pondering how to extend this and reach a wider audience:

“I’ve often wondered how to extend the tail of enthusiasm and to provide ongoing support for reading and writing programs. Since 2011 I’ve been jotting notes in my phone about an online video writing masterclass, a series of videos that teachers could roll out as and when they chose – like having an author in the classroom all year round.”

Tristan Bancks

With a background in film and television, Tristan has been putting these skills, and his writing skills to excellent use, developing his online version of an extended author visit and creating, Young Writers’ StorySchool. Late last year I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak at Young Writers’ StorySchool by Tristan Bancks and trial it with my Year Six students.

Tristan Bancks is a natural presenter and his obvious enthusiasm for teaching writing shines through the screen. My students were totally engaged in his chats in each module – which are short and snappy before students are set to work writing – which is of course the outcome we want!

I have asked Tristan to tell us more about the development of Young Writers’ Storyschool – I can see it’s going to be an incredibly useful tool for educators.  

What I’ve learnt from my first 1000 school author visits

It’s Friday afternoon, 2pm. It’s hot and rain pummels the high aluminium roof of the school hall. Two-hundred year 9 students stare at me. They don’t look as happy as they could be. I’ve already given three talks today to other groups. I can’t remember what I’ve said already. I’m so hot and the rain is so loud and all-consuming, I don’t even know who I am anymore. And something tells me they’re not going to find my witty anecdotes as funny as the carefree, fresh-faced year 7s did at 9am.

The teacher gives the students a stern warning about the many years of lunchtime detention they face should they not behave.

‘Now, would you you please welcome our author … Tristan Bancks!’
Scattered applause. She hands me the mic and runs.

I wave politely.

Don’t wave, I tell myself. What am I going to say that could possibly be interesting to fourteen year-olds at this time on a Friday?

I clear my throat and speak, loudly, into the mic to be heard over the rain.

‘Hi. Um … I’m working on this new book called The Fall. I was thinking maybe … I could read you the first chapter and you could tell me what you think of it?’

Poker faces.

‘You’ll probably hate it,’ I add, ‘because I’ve never read it to anyone before and I’m sort of struggling with it, but let’s see how we go.’

This is a terrible idea – reading work-in-progress for the first time to a surly crowd. I’m not even sure the chapter’s working for me yet, let alone them.

So, I dive in.

‘I woke to the sound of a voice pleading, high-pitched and urgent. I listened with my whole body…’

I read the whole chapter. It takes about seven minutes. For the entire time, they’re silent, expressionless. The rain intensifies. When I’m done, I look up, close the book and say, ‘So … that’s the first chapter.’

You know what they do? They clap. And a kid asks when the book comes out. And one of them says something like, ‘Can you get that book, Miss?’

Author visits to schools aren’t just useful for students. That reading changed my whole impression of my manuscript and gave me the confidence to know that if I could just make the other chapters as engaging as the opening, the book might have an audience.

I’ve had the opposite experience, too, when I thought something was a masterpiece and the audience disagreed. As they say, you win or you learn.

Kids and Teens as readers

The biggest takeaway for me, from visiting around 1000 schools over the past thirteen years, has been to trust child and teen readers, not to spoon-feed them. They’re too story-smart. They know narrative like they know their own breath. They have a clear idea of what they like and if you talk, or write, down to them, you do it at your peril.

I don’t, specifically, have the reader in mind when I’m writing. I tend to write what’s satisfying to me and what makes sense for the story. On some level, though, the process of regularly connecting with readers has given me a sense of what kids of certain ages respond to and I’m sure that plays a strong, sub-conscious role when I’m laying words on the page.

I like to blur the lines between writer and reader, to invite kids and teens into the process, whether it’s sharing details of what it takes to create a book, asking for feedback on work-in-progress, or actually publishing students’ work.

Three of the Tom Weekly books of short stories feature stories by young writers. Students have also contributed to other stories in that series and I have thanked them and their schools in the acknowledgements.

Nurturing Young Writers

After an author visits a school, there is, generally, a buzz. Certain kids decide that they want to be writers and start work on their novels. Others share funny anecdotes or discuss ideas from the talk with their parents.

There’s a rush on the author’s books in the library. Writers receive enthusiastic messages via email and social media from kids who want to be in their next book or perhaps they have a brilliant idea for what the author’s next book should be about. But this energy wanes over time and teachers can find themselves faced, once again, with needing to prod and cajole kids into reading and writing.

I’ve often wondered how to extend the tail of enthusiasm and to provide ongoing support for reading and writing programs. Since 2011 I’ve been jotting notes in my phone about an online video writing masterclass, a series of videos that teachers could roll out as and when they chose – like having an author in the classroom all year round.

In my own writing I use aural, visual, interactive, digital tools to feed story and character development, as well as analogue tools like getting outside and daily Anything Goes writing in a notepad. I know that these elements inspire honest, authentic writing in students, too.

StorySchool

So, I sat down and worked out my 24 key writing tools and I wrote 24 short video scripts, which I filmed with a crew, edited with an editor and had teachers’ notes and activity sheets produced by a teacher. It’s called Young Writers’ StorySchool and it’s the culmination of every school talk and workshop I’ve ever done and every book I’ve written. It is everything I know about writing and it uses the power of story – personal anecdotes and the stories in my books – to inspire students to write honest, detailed, authentic work.

What I have learned from my first 1000 school visits as an author is how vital students are to writers but, also, how important it is that writers give back to students, arming them with tools to tell their own stories. I hope to spend the rest of my life writing and I hope that, in some way, my work will influence the next generation of Australian stories. And that the next generation of Australian storytellers will continue to influence mine.

More from Tristan Bancks

‘Two Wolves’

‘The Fall’

‘Detention’

‘Tom Weekly’ series

‘Nit Boy’

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