Our youngest students were treated to a fascinating and insightful talk by author Sam Angus. She spoke about the history behind her novels, her own writing processes and enthused about being part of “a golden age” in young people’s fiction. Ffynone House Year 7 students listened avidly, asked questions and took away signed copies of her books.
Angus’ first novel, ‘Soldier Dog’, was short-listed for the Carnegie Prize and tells the story of a messenger dog in WWI. She had us all on the verge of tears as she related the true story of Airedale Jack. The dog was her inspiration for the novel; a terrier who carried a message back to his keeper despite being shot once in the muzzle in twice in the hind quarters by German machine gun fire. Her natural storytelling ability was obvious, and her audience was utterly captivated by the tale of this brave animal.
The author went on to explain the roots of her next two books, ‘Hero’ and ‘Captain’. We then learned more about her latest novel, ‘The House on Hummingbird Island’. After writing a trilogy about animals in war, Sam wanted to move on to something different and explained that an image of “a girl on a boat with a horse” had been “haunting her”.
It was so interesting to hear of her anxiety as she searched for a way to expand this image and to note how she had researched the working practises of other writers to help her to move forward. The students had studied extracts from this novel and were ready with plenty of questions about the setting, characters and subject-matter of the book.
Sam Angus’ description of the writing process was particularly intriguing. She advised the pupils to “hunt, look, collect and wait” for the story to come to them; “you must be watching and be ready to grab it when it appears!” The planning process was the most “challenging” stage for her as it requires a very rational approach and she does it in great detail to ensure her settings and characters are fully formed before she starts writing.
She explained that when she finally comes to write, she sits down with her “eyes closed and the story rushes out.” Angus touch-types and the story “lives” in her mind “like a 3D cinema” while she is typing. She then goes back and edits to add punctuation and improve the expression and vocabulary. She did confirm that “yes, as a writer, I think about every mark that goes on the page. If there is a clock on the shelf, it is there for a reason!”
Our thanks to Sarah from ‘Cover to Cover’ bookshop in Mumbles and MacMillan for organising the visit, and of course to Sam Angus for giving us her time and expertise.