Some of Rangitoto College’s oldest and youngest students have been learning from expert readers and writers in August, which is also the month of the annual Auckland Writers Festival.

Our Year 13 students had a fantastic opportunity this term to learn about the writer’s process through our Annual English Literature Day in August. During the first session of the day, the students were divided into two groups; Year 13 English Literature, International Baccalaureate, and Scholarship students attended a lecture by Dr Tom Bishop from the University of Auckland, who is one of the top Shakespeare scholars in New Zealand and Australia. He astounded the students with his knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. At the same time, Year 13 English Novel students attended a thought-provoking workshop by Ruby Porter, a published author and lecturer at the University of Auckland. The students were led through an interrogation of narrative perspectives in novels and were also invited to practise what they had learnt in a writing workshop. Many interesting settings and characters were created by the students!

After a catered morning tea that vanished remarkably quickly, the Year 13 English students all came together in the Auditorium to hear a fascinating lecture by Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh, a former Poet Laureate. They were also lucky enough to hear Dr Marsh read excerpts from her current work and the poem that she performed for Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II in London. Dr Marsh’s interesting anecdotes about her life and performance in London will, no doubt, stay with the students for years to come. The final activity for the Year 13 English students was a literature quiz created and marked by the English teachers. The enthusiasm of the students for this day was clear to see and it was a very enjoyable event for all.

A week later, some of our Year 9 Rangitoto College students and visiting Year 8 Murrays Bay Intermediate students had a real treat, when prize-winning author Anna Mackenzie visited the college to run writing workshops with them. A long-established New Zealand writer in the young adult field, Anna guided our students towards crafting gripping narratives peopled by well-rounded characters. She also offered some sage advice and tips on getting started and, even more importantly, getting finished. Our students’ imaginations were engaged by creative writing exercises and they all produced three story starts, one of which will be turned into a longer piece and published in an anthology.

Anna Mackenzie’s top three tips for writing stories:

  1. Hook your reader.
  2. Be mean to your characters; whatever they don’t want to happen, write that!
  3. Resolve the problems you’ve caused for your character in a way that satisfies your reader.

And a final bonus tip: hold your pen gently – it saves you from an aching hand!

In addition to this, several of our English classes visited the Auckland Writers’ Festival, so all-in-all, August was a real celebration of the written word.