Teenagers are fond of dystopian literature too. In a world run by adults whose values and actions are beyond embarrassing, dystopian fictions can seem uncomfortably close to reality – even though you may not yet be old enough to vote on them.
Unsurprisingly, some Year 9 students have been enjoying reading ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Brave New World’, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘1984’ and ‘Clockwork Orange’. Many of them are fans of ‘Game of Thrones’. And, on the back of this reading, viewing and discussion they have been devising dark futures and writing their own compelling episodes.
As part of NWP’s research, I have been privileged to follow some of these writers’ journeys. I am trying to trace some of the benefits to students of having a teacher who writes herself.
Jasmine is also conscious of the influence of reading in English, particularly Steinbeck’s description of the release in the dead face of Curley’s wife: “pain and fear replaced by ignorant serenity.”
Beth reads me her writing which has more than a few echoes of Atwood and Orwell. In this dystopia, the controlling humans number the mutants, ‘as if they were things’.
A disembodied human voice repeats a message over the tannoy. But the mutant-narrator despises her masters. She sneers at their values: “humans don’t kill other humans - unless they fail.” When she arrives at ‘the pain room’, the mutant-narrator decides to resist the humans, even though she knows, “If I was caught, I would be immediately put down.” At the critical moment, the narrative slows: “There was metal. A gun. And a command to shoot...”
In discussing her story, Beth tells me of the planning she did which then enabled her to ‘show not tell’. “I didn’t want to add too much information. She’s a Voler – from the word ‘volatile’ – but she’s not aware that her species has a name. ... I took that from racism – one race thinks they’re superior to another.” I am struck by Beth’s maturity in the way she conceives of her story and controls the narrative.
Whether or not the same writing freedoms will be so easily exercised in the future - during the utopian/dystopian GCSE years - remains to be seen. But the removal of the ‘hurdles’ of controlled conditions ‘coursework’ may help.
NWP outreach director