James was a Year 6 pupil from a small school in Bristol. He adored writing, but was always terrified of showing his work to others – it turned out that he was ashamed of the state of his handwriting. So much so, in fact, that sometimes he would complete a piece of homework and, if he didn’t like its presentation, he wouldn’t hand it in to his teacher; he would instead risk getting into trouble for not doing it at all.
It was a shame, because James was an enthusiastic and gifted writer. One day, James wrote the opening to a story which was inspired by one of his favourite books – Holes, by Louis Sachar – and this time, he allowed his teacher to read it. He loved it, and asked James if he could share the work with others by publishing it online. He agreed, set it live, and then soon forgot all about it. Little did he know that his story was beginning to garner worldwide attention.
It started in the staff-room. James’ teacher, in fits of pride, showed the online post to his colleagues. They immediately set about writing a few notes of praise in the comments section underneath. Then the story took on a new life, moving to other schools – staff and students James had never met nor even heard of had found his story and were leaving their own comments.
“Wow! What an original piece of writing! I plan to share this with my students!”
wrote a teacher from one school.
“Loved the essay, just as I loved the book. My friends are now writing pieces based on Holes, thanks to you!”
wrote a pupil from yet another school.
Not that James had noticed any of this; that old story of his was done and dusted and far from his mind. It was not until his teacher projected the published work on to the board in class one morning and then scrolled down through all the comments that James finally understood what was happening. He was, to his own surprise, becoming famous.
James and his teacher watched every day as the view-counter on his work rose and rose and rose. First, 100 views. Then 250. Then 800. When the view-counter hit 1,000, James began to wonder if all this was genuine. Had 1,000 people really read his writing?
James told himself that he was not famous. Sure, a bunch of people had read his work, but what did that really amount to? It was a nice feeling, it made his teacher happy, and it made him happy, too… but it would soon pass.
And then three important things happened which made him change his tune:
1: James’ story received a comment from someone outside of the UK. And not just from outside of the UK, but from about as far as you can get from the UK: Australia.
“Well done, James … you used description well to build tension for the reader. Bravo.”
2: James’ story won a competition. The prize for first place was the opportunity to meet an author whose books James had been reading his whole life, books which James adored as much as he adored the man who had written them – Michael Morpurgo. As James stood beside his role model, waiting for a photo to be taken, he turned his gaze upwards to check that this really was the man everyone said he was. And he was. James confirmed it with his own eyes. He was standing hip-to-hip with him. The author even winked and said, “Well done, James.”
3: On a day trip with his school, James became detached from his group amongst the milling throngs of other pupils in a car park. As his teacher called his name, another teacher – whom James had never met before, from a wholly different school – stuck her head up above the melee of children as James heeded the call. “James? Did you just say James?” the other teacher shouted. “As in, the James? I’ve read his work!” James was ushered on to the minibus, his flushes of pride surpassed only by his teacher’s.
Sharing that first story online changed James’ life. After all the views and all the comments and the praise from writers he admired and the recognition of his name and his work in a Leeds car park filled with the chaos of a thousand children, James finally understood that which his teacher has been telling him all along. The handwriting didn’t matter. Others – pupils, teachers, even Michael Morpurgo! – had seen through it and discovered something he had never had the courage to acknowledge himself.
He was a good writer.
James now regularly shares his writing online. He has fans. People message him and ask when his next instalment will be out. He does his best to please his growing audience. At the time of writing, his Holes-inspired story has had dozens of comments and well over 5,500 views. All of his work combined has had nearly 12,000 views.
This is the story of one child, but it shows the potential in all children if they are given the right support at the right time. Sometimes, that can be all that’s needed. Just ask James – and, in fact, ask him now, because in a few years his fan-base will be so large you’ll never be able to get through to him.
To learn more about how sharing children’s writing can leave a lasting impact and raise school attainment rates, click here.