Knowledge and skills
- Reading widely
- Discussing books
- Building on others’ ideas
Poet and writer Heather Harrison started to write stories early in life and continued throughout her career as a teacher. She talks to us about her inspiration for the retelling of the Lambton Worm.
What kinds of things do you like reading?
I read all sorts of stories: Scandinavian thrillers, Victorian classics by Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens. I re-read a Jane Austen at least once a year. And I love lots of children’s writers like Michael Morpurgo and David Almond. I like poetry by Benjamin Zephaniah and Carol Ann Duffy. I love historical fiction and I like to take a chance and choose a book off the library shelf by someone I don’t know just because the blurb on the back looks exciting.
Do you have a connection with the North East?
Yes. I was born in South Shields right on the mouth of the River Tyne and only a few miles away from Penshaw Hill and Lambton Castle.
When did you first hear the story of the Lambton Worm?
I’ve known the story since I was a little girl. It comes from an old local folk song, which we learned at school and when I was about nine my Dad and I hiked to Penshaw Hill and had a picnic there and he told me the story again.
Did you worry about telling such a gruesome tale to primary school children?
Not at all. All the traditional tales, from ‘Red Riding Hood’ to ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ have gruesome aspects. Children love to be tickled by fear. Viewing Doctor Who from behind the sofa or peeping behind fingers at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shows that that hasn’t changed.
When did you start to write stories?
I have always told and written stories. My first success was to read my story aloud to a visiting headmaster when I was eight. It was an adventure about a stolen oil painting.
What is your favourite thing to write about?
Mysteries. I am often struck by a question I don’t know the answer to: Why is there a secret door in this room in a National Trust house? Who scratched the graffiti dated 1596 on an old church wall and why? What lies behind a scrap of a letter blowing on the path signed, ‘Help me, Squire’? Then I like to invent a story to ‘discover’ the answer.
Where is your favourite place to write?
I like to write with a pen on lined paper at the kitchen table looking out at the garden. Then I go upstairs to the little bedroom that we call The Office to edit the story on the computer.
What are you going to write about next?
I am writing a funny story for grownups at the moment about a group of old school friends whose car is hijacked by bank robbers and how they use their old skills and talents to rescue themselves. My next children’s story might be set during the English Civil War – an exciting time that is not much written about.
Have you got any advice for young writers?
Let your imagination fly. Ask yourself questions and use the story to answer them. Create pictures in your head of the people, the places and the events of your story and use the best words to recreate those pictures in the heads of your readers. And keep them wanting to turn the page to find out what happens next, then give them the satisfaction of a good ending.