"Owl in the morning!" was her follow-up. (What a hoot, indeed!)
At a similar age, my son, Tom, deliberately reassembled coloured hoops in the wrong sequence and waited agog for his grandfather's mock-outrage. How we laughed!
Are these, perhaps, early manifestations of thinking which may later inform original, imaginative and creative writing?
Observing rules and breaking rules on purpose are both attributes of language proficiency, but also opportunities for bonding and re-negotiating authority and power relations. We can, of course, play hide and seek with our intentions. Early versions of the National Curriculum identified that learning the logic that two negatives made a positive was a stage (level 3?) before the more sophisticated, deliberate use of double negatives for emphasis, 'I didn't do nothing' (Level 5?). But distinguishing between error and intent involves entering into a relationship. 'Feature-spotting' from a distance - as in a test - may lead to misinterpretation.
The Arts Council's ' Rough Guide to Creative Learning, Tool 1: The strange, the Unfamiliar', (2009?) talks of the importance of striking ' a healthy balance between predictable routine, structure, the familiar, and the new, unfamiliar, risky or unknown.' Considering the new national curriculum's appetite for conventions, I'd say that if we're not to patronise able young minds, or stultify their ambition, there is a serious need to redress the balance by taking the unconventional seriously.
One creative writing exercise which plays with the normal, and happens to be used on Arvon poetry courses, involves mixing terms/words and their definitions. What sense might it make to say that love is 'an item of furniture with a raised flat surface', or that a table is 'a strong emotional attachment'? Such exercises test the elasticity of language and meaning; they arouse curiosity, engagement and inventiveness.
Other creative/fictive, exercises include
- making lies come true, investigating oxymorons (e.g. when is the sun cold? why is my end in my beginning?)
- extending metaphor (e.g. not daring to say boo to a gosling; if war was a person, what would it say?)
- inventing vocabulary (e.g. transposing compound words: fire-stoppers and gob-works; creating portmanteau terms- galumphing, slithy et al)
- exploring synaesthesia, paradox and conundrums (e.g. what is the colour of fear? what is the sound of silence?)
- adopting fresh perspectives (e.g. what would be the elephant's story of the ivory trade? what did the thunder say?)
- devising riddles (e.g. Kit Wright's celebrated 'Darkness runs through the wood'; Shelley's 'daughter of Earth and Water and nursling of the sky')
- re-allocating words to familiar sets of initials (e.g. Department of Curtains and Soft Furnishings; Death of Enthusiasm)
- re-presenting a known story/chapter/character by objects/props in a story-box, (see picture above)
And of course, these are not morally or culturally neutral activities - and they certainly have literary precedent. They expose where custom has become stale and brittle, where injustice is rife, and where new ways of looking and writing can bring hope, pleasure and insight. The unreliability of test results is mitigated when teachers honour the fresh intelligence of and the authentic perceptions of our Edies and our Toms.
As Margaret Meek once said memorably at a NATE event in the 1990s, "Children are nature's gift to correct culture's error."
Or maybe my friend Magnus had it right when he said that creativity might be "a journey from the known to the unknown".
If you're a teacher interested in writing and the teaching of writing, why not join a writing group? It's completely free. 3 new NWP groups start this term. If there is not one in your area, why not get a group of colleagues together and start one? You can contact NWP for support by leaving a message in the comment box.
NWP outreach director