Author Ali Sparkes Enthralls Y7 Students

Author Ali Sparkes Enthralls Y7 Students

At the start of February, and just after the launch of her latest book, “100 Summers”, author Ali Sparkes hosted a workshop for Year 7 students. Ali is passionate in wanting to encourage all young people to read and her interactive, funny and at times very honest workshop had students enthralled. Harriet, a Y11 student who is interested in writing herself, sat in on the workshop and wrote this report:

“Before she began, Ali held ‘audience promoters’ above her head, teaching students to laugh, clap and gasp at all the right moments: an activity in which they were completely engrossed. Ali then turned the clocks back – encouraging students to partake in what she called ‘audience training’, and ‘hypnotising’ them all with an optical illusion telling them they’d arrived in her 70’s childhood.

Ali read an extract from her new novel ‘100 summers’ that uncovers an old and inspiring secret hidden in the beautiful Candlesham Hall, where protagonist Dante (struggling with ADHD and dyslexia) wins a place at summer school for ‘special’ kids. Here, Dante discovers an old book, hidden by the house’s previous inhabitant Bea, who lived at Candlehsam 100 years ago and who’s left ciphers and clues all around the house for her reader to find. Pushing through his own struggles with reading, Dante explores the mysteries that Bea has hidden, finding out more about the circumstances in which they’re both trapped and realising that perhaps reading didn’t just have to be for ‘clever people’. The students worked through their own ciphers that Ali had made for them – one that comically said, “Buy Ali Sparkes’ Books”.

In a very honest look at her own learning struggles Ali told her audience that at age six she was “the worst at reading and writing in the whole school.” Her life was changed at her local library, by none other than Enid Blyton. She described her ‘breakthrough’ ignited by Blyton’s “Five Go To Smuggler’s Top”, that introduced her to Dahl and Philippa Pearce and turned her into a complete and utter ‘bookworm’ almost overnight.

When she moved to secondary school and was in Year 7, Ali wrote and illustrated her first book, heavily inspired by Enid Blyton. After sending it to Penguin Books, she told of the disappointment and defeat she felt from their letter of rejection. Ali talked about how important it was to stay resilient and optimistic – and explained the importance of rejection to improve. In her early career, Ali worked as a newspaper reporter and then became a broadcast journalist for the BBC, teaching her audience about the careers available for those with a love of English.

When the students asked Ali if she found writing difficult, she said no. She has always been hugely inspired, encouraged and supported by her family and teachers, who thought she was funny or liked the things she wrote. She said it wasn’t always easy, but it was always a joy, which meant it was never difficult. Her advice was to choose a job that “you love so much you just don’t care”. Ali has two sons (both of whom have ADHD and one also has dyslexia) whose story she wanted to share through Dante’s story.

As a child Ali had wanted to be in theatre, destined to be famous and loved. Today she says she doesn’t want to be famous anymore, but she wants her books to be famous instead. Always thinking of new ideas, she describes her thoughts as ‘circling like jets, waiting to land at Heathrow’.

Finally, Ali finished her workshop with the harsh reality of writing and revealed (even though she’s sold over a million books) that when she sells a £6.99 book, she gets about 50p. At the end of the workshop, Ali reversed the ‘Whirly Whirly’ – returning the room back to the 21st century, leaving everyone with new ideas and inspiration.

After her talk, Ali’s brilliant publisher Rose Drew announced that two copies of “100 Summers” would be donated to the school’s library, so that reading could be available to everybody. By the afternoon, both books were on loan with students eager to read more.

It was such a privilege to meet and write about Ali, who spoke with such charm, enthusiasm and comedy and who truly inspired all those who heard her.”

We would also like to thank Pickering Book Tree who made the visit possible.

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