Friday, 15 December 2017

My First Nativity - and the impact of modern technology

I've had a blast over the past few weeks doing the Key Stage 1 Nativity. It was a joint effort between two classes, and as much of the practice was done while the teachers were on PPA, I got to take the reins.

I've done plenty of Year 5 Family Assemblies, but there's a big difference between a class of ten year olds who can follow directions, and sixty little'uns who have the attention span of a goldfish. That's not an exaggeration - it's only natural. Kids in KS1 are constantly looking for anything and everything to entertain themselves if they are not the ones at the centre of your attention.

To sum up, it's been four weeks of singing, crowd control and shouting. The kids were great though, happy to run through scenes again and again - I think I was a bit obsessive about trying to make them sound natural. I kept having to remind myself of their age, and this is a primary school nativity and not the West End. But it worked, and the kids were amazing.

As the Director/Main Shouting Person, I got to sit on the floor at the front to prompt lines and songs - so I got the best seat in the house.

But there are few other things I do during family assemblies that worked well here. One is to put all of the backgrounds and music on a Powerpoint presentation.

When I first started the school, incidental music and backing tracks were all played via cassette.  Someone would have to man the 100 year old music station with a script in hand and a heart going like the clappers as they pressed pause and play. CDs made things a little easier, but not by much - someone still had to sit at the side of the stage and press a button.

But now, with a laptop and a bluetooth clicky-button remote thing, there's no need for anyone to sit at the music station -  I can cue music perfectly from anywhere. We've got an overhead projector, so that same remote can activate animated scene changes in the same Powerpoint. Add a few cordless microphones and a brand new sound system, and the voices of those six year olds belt out. Isn't technology fantastic?

However, advances in technology aren't always helpful. There was a time when half the parents would hold up camcorders for the nativity. Not any more, and not because they've been replaced by smartphones and tablets. They don't hold those up either. They can't - they're not allowed. At the start of the performance, our headteacher has to take a moment to ask parents, family and carers not to record and not to take photographs. And not just in our school - this is now standard in most schools. Thanks to Facebook and facial recognition software, it's something we have to take seriously.

What we can't do is apply this rule just to the classes that have those children, because that in itself identifies them. The only solution is to roll it out across the board and simply state that the school has several children who cannot go on social media under any circumstances - even in large group shots.

Thankfully, our parents are great - probably because rather than just state a blanket rule and get everyone's backs up, our Head give a clear explanation, and they got it. No moans and no complaints, and there was plenty of time after the nativity for photographs of individual children, all dressed up and on stage or in front of our tree. Still magic, and still a memento of a fantastic show.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

How long does it take to write a novel?

Next week, I'm going to start writing a new novel for MG readers. I'll give it a working title of "Gherkin" for now - it has something to do with the plot without giving anything away.

I usually write a first draft and let the story find itself. This time, I've planned first and have what I hope is a fairly solid synopsis. That took a few weeks - but most of that time was just thinking about the story while I'm walking the dog or lying awake in bed. Not exactly hard work. That starts when I write CHAPTER ONE.

And so, as soon as I finish the last of the Buttercup illustrations, that's exactly what I'm going to do and keep going until I hit THE END. I'll blog updates to keep track.

Also - this isn't a writing retreat thing. I'll still be at work, so fitting writing in and around normal life.