Educating Maddy: Misha Herwin
There has been so much about lockdown that has been hard and horrible that it is sometimes difficult to think of what has been good. For me one bonus has been teaching Maddy, my eight year old granddaughter. As both parents were working from home and at the same time sharing child caring duties for Maddy and her four year old brother, Lucy had the inspired idea of asking if the grandparents would help with the home schooling.
With my teaching experience, plus being a writer of children’s books and plays as well as ones for adults, my brief was English and Creative Writing. With a timetable of three sessions a week, we began with story writing and a long saga about Bob the Wizard which took days to complete. At first, Maddy was really keen, but as time went on she began to flag and I realised what a difference being part of a class made. There was no other input, no stimulus or rivalry, there was only me and being Granny definitely had its disadvantages.
Keeping a granddaughter on task is a lot harder than doing the same with a class of thirty children. For a start she is a mistress of the art of diversion, instinctively understanding how hard it is to ignore, “Just let me tell you” or “I’ll get it to show you,” or “Granny, do you know what we did yesterday.” She would lose her pens, or need to go to the toilet, or fetch a drink, or stop what she was doing to interact with Ollie.
Once we’d got down to work, it was a question of resisting giving too much help. “I don’t know what to put,” would prompt me to jump in with “Why don’t you try…” and I’d have to bite my tongue to stop myself from writing the next sentence for her.
In spite of that, she wrote some great pieces. Her poem about the labyrinth was chilling in its description of “bone rattling despair” and her letter from the troll complaining about the Billy Goat’s Gruff was a mix of pathos and humour, especially when the troll insisted it was a vegetarian and so wouldn’t dream of snaffling a nice tender goat, or two. The stimulus for this came from the school website which was both a bane and a blessing. The trouble was the lack of consistency. At times the material was inspiring at others so dull that it was difficult enough for me to concentrate, let alone Maddy. But we battled through and on the worst days the promise of a story at the end of the lesson got us through the hour.
Thinking up a new story each day was a challenge. In the beginning, I told her stories I’d already written and when those came to an end we embarked on the Adventures of Poppy and Amelia−a tale of two Year 7 girls, who inadvertently become witches, and their best friend Mia. Mia is a reluctant vampire who longs to be human and to achieve that end is being inoculated against her vampiric tendencies by tiny nibbles of garlic paste sandwiches. While the basic idea was mine, over the months we’ve shaped the story together, with Maddy being especially good at adding dialogue.
Although Maddy says that writing is not her favourite and what she really likes is Art, today she suggested that we should put Poppy and Amelia into a book. We discussed the cover and possible titles and she’s decided that as co-author her picture will be at the back of the book.
So far, the ms exists only as the notes I’ve made at the end of each session, so I can keep track of characters and events, but watch this space. At the end of lockdown Poppy and Amelia, apprentice witches, may be coming to a bookshop near you, or at the very least they might make a digital appearance on Amazon.