I like writing gritty teen fiction with a romantic thread. I don’t see myself as an author who writes murder/mysteries. However, last month I was approached by Mayville High School in Southsea to run murder/mystery workshops which was their Book Week theme.
I asked on Facebook for a reading list because I was intrigued to see what might come up for teens under such a heading. The ideas came in thick and fast including Anne Cassidy’s entire back list; When I was Joe, by Edge Author, Keren David; and the Crime Central blog. There was also the puzzled response, “Mystery I can understand but why would any school want to run a workshop on murder?” I must admit I’d been thinking the same thing.
Then I put up on Facebook, “I'm going to start by asking how many people have committed a murder.”
Interesting comments came back, “What if one of them says yes?” and, “Worse still, what if one them says they’re about to.”
Yeah, well, that’s Facebook for you... all cuddly and lots of fun.
A few days later I found myself in Baker Street and took some photos of the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b. I had by this time realised that Conan Doyle was at the heart of this workshop.
Mayville High School is situated right near the biggest Conan Doyle collection in a museum in the world – in Portsmouth. Doyle wrote the first two Holmes books in Portsmouth and he modelled 221b Baker Street on the Kings Road, Portsmouth. I realised finally this was the reason for their Book Week theme – and what a great idea.
The icing on the cake came when lovely Edge Author, Bryony Pearce, sent me a mass of stuff she had prepared on exactly the same subject. Many thanks Bryony!
So weighed down with books lists, Facebook quips, pages of notes, photos and a controversial question, I set off for Southsea to meet the kids.
The first group was a mixed Y7/8 group and when I asked if anyone had committed a murder, 10 hands shot up! All those quips on Facebook were coming true after all. What a nightmare! When challenged, the kids said things like, “I killed an ant,” and, “Does a teddy bear count.” These kids were really up for it – lucky me.
So we talked all round the subject of why murder, do you need a detective and what about the motives for murder? This last one was great because it allowed me to fool around. For example I pointed to a boy and said, “He is my brother.” Loud jeers from his classmates, which I ignored and continued with the fantasy ; “We have inherited a large amount of cash and a yacht from Daddy. I want it all. What do I do?” and then I stabbed him in the back (well, not literally, but you can see where I’m coming from.) The kids loved it.
Miriam’s Big Tip for a Successful School Visit: Catch them out; do something surprising/weird/ totally out of character.
Bryony had given me an excellent idea for some writing – get them to think of someone who would NEVER commit a murder. The kids came up with some great examples, including The Queen, Noo Noo ( who is apparently a TeleTubby) and Birdy ( I didn’t have a clue about this one – she’s an amazing 14 year old singer songwriter.) All the kids wrote at least half a page in 10 minutes and the next group, Y8/9 ( none of whom put their hands up to admit committing murder, incidentally) wrote even more in about 15 minutes. I heard the first line of everyone’s work and then two or three brave people read out their whole piece.
I had a great day – the kids loved it – oh – and no-one died.