Inspiration on the Seventh Story

Teaching Inspiration on the Seventh Story


Yesterday I was honoured to have the chance to listen to the Illustrator and writer Shaun Tan at the Seven Stories  centre in Newcastle. I nearly didn’t make it due to a mix up with dates and then  a hurried journey on the same day up from Northampton. But I made it and bagged my front row seat.

Shaun was sitting on the arm of the story chair with his laptop and a projection of” Eric”  one of his only characters that actually has a given name . As people filed in I bagged a front row seat and along with a family next to me had the chance to say hi . Shaun had only arrived in UK that week and the previous night had done his masterclass in Edinburgh. He checked his phone and told us that at home it was midnight .He joked that he might just leave us to talk among ourselves while he caught up on sleep ( I suggested that the story chair looked pretty comfy).

Anyway I am waffling- you don’t need to know this stuff , so onwards.

Talking about creativity Shaun said that although he is a fairly disorganised person ( as many creatives are ) , he still has to be methodical to make the magic happen. I read an article a while ago about how Nick Cave goes to the office every day  and writes. I liked the way Shaun said that you need to trust in the wastage .There will be a lot of failures or pieces that for one reason or another do not work out , but this is an essential part of the creative process.


As a teacher I found this interesting in terms of thinking about how the children think about their work and the processes of redrafting and editing. Do I give them enough time for that process of wastage? Does every piece of work need to be pored over ? How do children learn to make the decisions over what is  good ?


Shaun explained how as a child he was encouraged by parents , teachers and his friends .When other kids saw his drawings, they would  praise him and it became a good way of making friends. This reminded me of two boys that I taught last year and how they  functioned within the class as the “ kid who was great at art” and the “kid who was great at inventing characters”.


Talking about how his teachers encouraged him ,he was grateful for teachers who allowed him to draw what he liked  (often violent war machines and sci fi inspired images).

 I must shamefully  admit that, as a teacher ,I have sometimes discouraged pupils from writing about guns and war scenes – Is that fair?  I was actually more worried about what others would say if they saw that in my children’s books than being offended by it myself. Shaun’s teachers   gave him the freedom to experiment .


In terms of telling a story, Shaun talked about how he was more interested  in the unexpected reactions of characters.  For example  Shaun in “the Lost Thing”   quite happily feeds the creature Christmas decorations  from the top of a step ladder.  In fact nobody  in the book reacts strongly to the thing.  As a writer he avoids emotional words and prefers to let the  reader draw their own interpretations of the  story.

Again this made me think . Do we expect children to use too many “wow words”  Do we teach children to over describe everything and  become writers who can paint a picture in the readers’ mind , but create  black and white images. I have no answers , but what Shaun talked about really got me thinking .

That is what I will take away from the event . Shaun gave us an insight into the way he creates his images and stories , but he left me with more questions than answers and that is just the way it should be .

I learnt a lot… ( and I was the primary school teacher!)






2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marjorie (PaperTigers)
    Aug 27, 2011 @ 00:38:07

    It was wonderful, wasn’t it? We were the family sitting next to you, and I would have said hello properly afterwards but a small person needed to get moving… Great to read you post. Yes, some really thought-provoking things to get our heads round.

  2. jen Kenny
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 20:03:38

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