Phil Earle’s afternoon creative writing workshop

Phil Earle visited the year 9 Scholars to talk to them about the creative writing process, focusing on how to draw readers in with an enticing prologue. As a writer, he claims your number one goal should be to make the book as ‘unputdownable’ as possible. In a modern world of competitive publishing, you have to ensure your story sucks readers in in seconds. It’s a fine art. You have to ‘give the reader enough without giving too much’, the first taste of the novel to set your mind spinning. Leave questions unanswered and weave a mystery within a few hundred words.

Earle knows from experience that grabbing the attention of the younger audience his books target can be difficult. For ten years he wrote draft after draft of books that, although he tried time and time again, the publishers just wouldn’t pick up. You can’t help but admire a sense of perseverance that strong, especially after having the work you poured your heart into rejected. But two years later, motivated by the birth of his own children and the heart-wrenching tales of young people he’d worked with in a children’s home, he leapt back into the game. The titular character of Being Billy is inspired by a real boy who lived a life so harsh that Earle had difficulty wrapping his mind around his hardships. The only way to do true justice to his experiences was to weave a novel about him.

One of the most important points of creative writing, according to Earle, is to share your work with other people. Only when you speak your ideas out loud and let them escape from inside your head can you truly tell how tangible they are. There is a cavalcade of genres in literature today, and each reader seeks out something different. Another mindset can give you whole new perspectives, and he believes creative writing groups can be invaluable.

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Writing hasn’t always been Earle’s passion: in fact he discovered books rather late in life. However, he has always held a love for drama, and feels it has helped him appreciate the human nature behind characters. When you act on stage, you become the character you represent. Writing is no different. To write the most believable characters, you have to become them; think their thoughts and pepper their personality throughout your work. However, it was when he picked up his first children’s book that a ‘fire was lit’ within him for the first time.

There was great engagement between the Year 9s and Earle, and he worked closely with them all. Each was given questions to answer, unknowns to fulfil. In the process of little over an hour, they had developed a unique character of their own, filled in a rich backstory, and written the first chapter of their lives. He talked in depth with everyone about their characters and helped them to spark a chain of ideas. The personalities crafted by the Year 9s impressed me, and I witnessed initial reluctance spiralling into a realm of creativity. True silence fell while they wrote their prologues, each one concentrating with iron resolve. In the end, one of his most powerful lessons was that ‘you should write the kind of book you would like to read: anything else is pointless’. It reminded me of the reasons I like to write, and how the most important goal of writing is to bring yourself enjoyment: I hope the Year 9s gained wisdom too.