I’m sitting in the muffled quiet of a church waiting for the workshop session with Emily Barr to begin. It’s beautiful here, with high ceilings, original features and endless windows.
The door opens and about thirty children flood in and gather around the tables. Emily welcomes them with a question: ‘Who’s here because they do actually enjoy writing?’
Three quarters of the class raises their hands. Emily smiles broadly then begins with a warm-up exercise: ‘Write a story where every word starts with A, B, C and so on.’
‘Oh my God, this is so hard!’ someone exclaims.
‘I can’t spell “falafels,”‘ mutters the child next to me.
The children share their creations, which are chockfull of the best kind of nonsense and imaginative musings. Emily then instructs the children to write a story where we remain sympathetic to a protagonist who does something ‘bad’.
‘I can’t think of any bad things,’ says Josh.
‘Cameron. That’s terrible,’ someone whispers to the kid next to me.
The Countdown theme tune is sung and, with that, time is up. What follows is a barrage of hilarious, disturbing and astonishingly well-written extracts read out by the children. Highlights include ‘plunging a knife into her cold, dead body,’ a gripping account of a crime that is never stated, an attempted pig theft at Pets At Home involving a ‘beautiful pig mask,’ and a baking session that includes pouring cyanide into the cake mixture and ‘softly singing’ Happy Birthday at the oven.
Needless to say, Emily is very impressed, if a little disturbed.
The session wraps up with five minutes of questions. Emily encourages the budding writers with the advice that ‘a little bit of writing every day builds up.’ She also confirms that, yes, many writers do have another job, and discloses that her favourite book that she’s written so far is her most recent, The Truth and Lies of Ella Black.
Emily’s favourite YA reads include Nina is Not Ok by Shappi Khorsandi, as well as One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus.