Following in the footsteps of Bram Stoker

Thought I would share what I have been getting up to as a Writer in Residence at Slains Primary (courtesty of the Scottish Book Trust) – a remote school in rural Aberdeenshire, near Collieston Bay. Once a week, I’ve been travelling up to the North East of Scotland to stay in the same hotel, I’ll have you know, as Bram Stoker. I walk the same beach – Cruden Bay – pacing the sand, listening to the sea, while I contemplate each session with the pupils of Slains Primary.

The Residency is funded by the Scottish Book Trust via their Live Literature Scheme, which gives young writers the opportunity to be inspired, to encourage their creativity and literacy – to the benefit of all. The teacher, Conor Meehan, is so enthusiastic. He put in a bid for an Author in Residence, and has encouraged his pupils to thoroughly engage with what it means to be creative.

Our first session – I decided – would be given over to Cave Writing. Together we explored the creative possibilities offered by writing a story set in a cave. I partly chose this because my new YA title, out on November 21st, features my main characters, Mia and Hani, involved in an underground chase through a flooded cave system, beginning at Smoo Cave. Of course, the setting of Slains Primary, with its nearby cliffs and wild beaches, is ideal for imagining this. So, when I turned up at the school, Conor had the classroom in darkness, and I had to go down on hands and knees through a crawl entrance. As did the pupils after me. The classroom had become a cave. Brilliant atmosphere for our first session.

The following week, I concentrated on Mirrors. Of course, Conor had excelled himself again, with the classroom bedecked in mirrors and darkness. So many amazing ideas from the class. And Conor is the kind of teacher who lets them plan and idea storm on their wipe-clean desks. It was like watching Van Gogh at work, as some scratched away with their pens, others stared meaningfully into a mirror as if they had caught the tail-end of a vivid story. Next week, we’re climbing up to the black ruins of Slains Castle to write in one of its ruined rooms, the sea roaring in the distance. Bram Stoker himself was inspired by that very ruin, and I can see why.

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