WRITER Catriona Lexy Campbell is holding a series of workshops in schools across the Uists and Barra this week as part of a project aimed at boosting young people’s writing skills by bringing arts practitioners into the classroom.
Catriona, who is also an actress, poet, dramatist and Associate Artist at Theatre gu Leor, is taking part in the islands-wide Gaelic education project known as Cèaird an Sgrìobhaiche, or The Writer’s Craft.
The project, which aims to bring writers and other artists into a close working partnership with teachers and school communities, is led by Gaelic educational resources organisation Stòrlann and also involves publisher Acair, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s multi-media unit and Gaelic arts agency Proiseact nan Ealan.
As part of Cèard an Sgrìobhaiche, writers like Catriona Lexy have been going into schools throughout the Western Isles and holding sessions with pupils — usually the upper primary classes in Gaelic Medium Education (GME) — and focusing on writing skills.
Uniquely, they have been using their own novels to do this. These books have all been published as part of the Sgrìob series, a sister project to Cèard an Sgrìobhaiche, and one that was run by Stòrlann and Acair in close collaboration.
Twelve new Gaelic novels for young people have been published under the Sgrìob banner. Two of these — Am Fuachd Gorm and Campa na Cloinne — are by Catriona Lexy and she will have them with her when she goes into the schools this week. A third book, due out soon, will complete her trilogy entitled An t-Ionnsachadh Bòidheach.
Hailing from Ness on the Isle of Lewis, Catriona Lexy already had a fair number of Gaelic novels and children’s books under her belt before Sgrìob, as well as a spell as writer-in-residence at Gaelic college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Skye in 2013.
What is new, though, is the way that she and other experienced writers are being brought into the classroom — their novels with them — in such a structured way in order to teach writing techniques and skills, as well as to inspire. Training has also been given to ensure that everything the Sgrìob writers teach in the classroom is in line with the curriculum.
The Cèaird an Sgrìobhaiche project is focusing on a number of areas, including creative writing, illustrated writing, writing for performance and writing for the curriculum.
All the topics for the writing workshops have been chosen by the host schools and are linked to pupils’ previous learning.
Catriona Lexy is holding workshops in Paible, North Uist; Daliburgh, South Uist; and Castlebay in Barra on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday respectively.
While her workshops are all on creative writing, they will each focus on a particular topic: history of the local area, crofting and natural disasters.
Previous creative writing workshops have been held in other areas by other writers including Chrisella Ross and Iain MacKinnon — himself a GME primary teacher in Stornoway — and have gone down well.
Iain delivered a workshop in Leverburgh Primary School, which was very well received by staff as well as pupils. They said: “The children enjoyed Iain’s sessions very much. He also read us the book he wrote himself and this really captured the children’s interest.”
Iain is one of four GME teachers who have had novels published through Sgrìob. Cathy Mary Macmillan, Elaine Ferguson and Fiona MacNab have also written Sgrìob books, with Fiona’s taking the ‘best book for teenagers’ award at the Royal National Mod in Oban.
Another Sgrìob writer, Martin McIntyre, won the Donald Meek Award for his novel.
There has been no single theme for Sgrìob books. There is a variety of styles and topics from a mix of already-published and new authors; the only stipulation being that the books must be interesting to young people.
Catriona Lexy has previously described the major themes of her work as being “inter-personal relationships, secrets and lies, and the supernatural”.
Her new books have a post-apocalyptic element, too, and like all the Sgrìob books, are readily available to teachers to use in the classroom later on, should they want to focus on particular extracts in addition to teaching reading for pleasure.
Stòrlann chief executive Donald Morrison said there was “a broad spectrum of writing styles” within the various Sgrìob books, which should also appeal to adult Gaelic learners.
Of Catriona Lexy’s involvement, he said: “We’re extremely pleased to be working with someone who has a very high profile among young people and there is also the added aspect of having someone who has actually written the book to be in schools.
“I think pupils always respond well to authors talking about their own writings. It’s a source of inspiration to see a young author like that come in and say ‘hey, you could also work towards writing your own book or your own stories’. It’s a springboard to writing and it should be an exciting and fun experience.”
He added: “For the books themselves, it’s a good example of collaborative work between two Gaelic organisations that gives pupils access to new and contemporary writing and it also gives new writers an opportunity to work towards being published in a supportive environment.”
New writers were mentored by Morag Stewart as they developed their novels, which were all designed and published by Acair.
The Sgrìob series has a similarity to another Acair project: their ‘Aiteal’ series of new Gaelic fiction for adults.
Acair manager Agnes Rennie said: “The Sgrìob series arose from an idea from Acair and developed into a commissioned series from Stòrlann. Its aims were two-fold: firstly, to publish a series of novels for young readers based on contemporary themes and, secondly, to encourage new and established Gaelic writers.
“The books that emerged, including Catriona Lexy’s gritty novels, are as good as similar books available in any language. The challenge for Acair now is to build on this experience, find ways to sustain the creativity of writers and ensure that books are relevant for young readers.”
The project is supported by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.