Inspiring the Next Generation of Writers
On the 23rd of November, the Year 8 students at Malton School were given an opportunity to take part in a workshop with best-selling children’s and teen writer, Sally Nicholls. Sally has recently published her twenty fourth book “Yours from the Tower”, an epistolary novel (a novel written in a series of letters).
The following article is written by Harriet White, a Year 11 student at Malton. Harriet is herself considering a career in writing, either as an author or journalist, and so was keen to attend the workshop. She also had the opportunity to meet with Sally Nicholls beforehand and chat to her about her own career pathway. The whole experience has encouraged and inspired Harriet even more to pursue her own ambitions.
Sally began her talk by asking the children about a ‘sense of vocation’ and explained that she had always wanted to be a writer but had wondered if she was pursuing a career that so many wanted but so little could have (like an astronaut or a pop star). She told them of her scary experience at her university’s careers library in which she realised she had no desire to do anything but write. After studying philosophy and literature at university (which Sally described as “reading books and having arguments”) she began a masters in Writing for Young People and spent the year drafting her first novel ‘Ways to Live Forever’. At age 23, her book was published, and writing has been her career ever since.
Her most recent book ‘Yours from the Tower’ focuses on the stories of three girls, corresponding by letters after leaving boarding school. Set in 1896, the novel confronts the hardships girls and women faced and the pressures and expectations of the time. Sally spoke lots about how important women’s rights had been in influencing her writing and when a student asked why she chose to write about early feminism she responded by saying that after researching women’s suffrage she felt so completely fascinated and was empowered to continue sharing their stories. Sally read an enchanting extract from the book, a letter to a girl being thrust into the chaos of a London season, struggling to make the ‘right’ decisions.
In 2017, Sally published one of her most renowned novels ‘Things a Bright Girl Can Do’ that also delves into the ideas of suffrage and feminism. She discussed with the children the differences between suffragettes and suffragists and encouraged them all to consider their own rights. She said it was really important to her that this book (in particular) captured the same ‘cosy’ feeling that she associated with Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ and Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’. Sally told the room that if you were to take anything from her speech, she’d ask that it was to remember how powerful the ballot box was, and how much our vote matters.
The students were teeming with questions for Sally. When asked what had inspired her to be a writer she told them that she had always been in love with the art that was telling stories and reading books, which had led her to feel compelled to take up a career that she found so much joy in. She said that she encouraged the children to take her ideas and adapt them themselves as she once had. She described literature as a “conversation”- the communication and learning processes being essential.
The students were able to take a great deal from Sally’s novels and story, learning of life’s paths and the importance behind a career they could really love. To have been able to hear the extent of the reasoning behind her writing, and to understand the passion and genuine interest she felt in each novel made us a very fortunate audience!
We would also like to thank Kemps General Store who made this event possible and arranged for students to be able to purchase Sally’s latest novel at a discounted rate.