Very recently I visited Haggerston School in Hackney, because they’d come second in my Ask Nicola Morgan competition. (Congratulations to them!) I visit lots of schools and some of them stand out. Sometimes they stand out for all the wrong reasons and sometimes for sheer brilliance. Haggerston School came into that latter category. Their mission statement was about self-respect, aiming high and respecting others – not so unusual, perhaps, but what was unusual was that in the short time I was there, I saw that mission lived in action, over and over again. I saw it in the way I was greeted; in the way the teachers chose to come to my session, even though they didn’t have to; in the way all the students treated each other and the staff and students treated each other; in the way boys and girls interacted as humans, without gender stereotyping. I saw it in the fact that all the students attending my talk had volunteered to come, that they were from all year groups, that they asked questions from the heart. I saw it in the one-to-one session I had with one extraordinary young woman who wanted to ask me about her project, which she described with phenomenal articulacy and yet modesty, with genuine desire to know more, and with incredible thoughtfulness.
I also noticed the students’ reaction when I told them about the book I’m going to write next. As it happened, I had just come from an exciting meeting with the publisher of Positively Teenage, Hachette Children’s Group, and this was what we decided I’d do next. (It was their idea so I can’t claim the credit, but I’m delighted they thought of it.) I can’t tell you the topic or the title until the contract is signed, but I can tell you that the students thought it was a great idea. In fact, I chose to tell them about it because it was exactly what they were asking questions about. It is incredibly relevant to today’s teenagers.
As I came away from the school, buoyed up and buzzing, I thought: these students are inspirational. They are diverse, mutually respectful, interested, quietly confident, outward-looking, kind, tolerant, wanting to learn. Very different from the students in another school which stuck in my memory, where arrogance impeded listening and who wielded sharp knives of cynicism and intolerance which in the end only harmed themselves. The Haggerston students asked questions because they wanted to know; these other ones asked because they thought they already knew and they wanted to trip me up.
The experience with the impressive Haggerston students gave me an idea, inspired me.
The idea was that I’d work with them on my next book. They would be my consultants. In so many ways, they are experts as they are living the experiences I’ll be writing about from a psychological perspective. They would share their experiences and I would add the science. Together we can help the future readers of this book.
I’ve done this before, several times, but not recently. One of my novels, Deathwatch, was written with the input of the girls of The Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh, who also organised the whole launch. The Highwayman’s Footsteps was launched by Cramlington School in NE England. The Highwayman’s Curse was launched by (but not written with) a primary school in Dumfries and Galloway. My only televised launch! Sleepwalking was launched and promoted by Liberton high School in Edinburgh. In each case, I handed over responsibility for some part of the publication process to young people, because I trusted them and because I knew it would benefit them. It is always a lot of work for me but it’s always rewarding. I don’t do it to increase book sales, as I don’t think it does that (or, if it does, it’s a lot of work for the sake of a few pennies) – I do it because it’s emotionally rewarding for me and because I believe it enriches their lives, which is what I’m trying to do anyway. It keeps me connected to the people I write for and about.
So, I asked Haggerston School’s excellent librarian, Dr Carrie Parris, if they’d like to work with me and, after a very quick consultation with the relevant people at the school, it was agreed. Much excitement all round! I thought they’d do it if they could because, although it’s difficult for schools to find time in a crowded time-table, good schools know the importance of enrichment. They will make it happen somehow.
This will be the first time I’ve written a non-fiction book in collaboration with the young people for whom it’s intended. I can’t wait!
Soon, I’ll be able to tell you what the book is. All I can tell you now is that it’s scheduled for summer 2019 and I have to write it by Christmas this year. There’s a LOT of research to do and a massive amount of work.
Have a bitten off more than I can chew? No: I trust these young people and their wonderful adults to help me. I’ll keep you posted.
The new book will sit perfectly with Positively Teenage. It’s hard to imagine a better match. And there are two more ideas in the pipeline, too. Wish I could tell you now but nothing’s certain till the contract ink is dry!