On February 6th, 2018 I’ll be speaking at a Skolforum conference for English teachers at Näringslivets Hus in Stockholm.

My focus will be on non-traditional, more practical and enjoyable ways of teaching writing (which has also been the focus of my recent workshops for teachers through Natur och Kultur Publishers).

Due to its structural and linguistic complexity, creative writing is far more complex and demanding than non-fiction –– though unfortunately many teachers think this makes it both impossible and irresponsible to work with.  The truth is, though, that learning to write fiction is even more important than learning to write essays.  Through writing creatively, we lay the foundation for the future, not just mirroring the world but re-inventing it –– even though it may take generations for the world to catch up.

Hope to see you at Skolforum on the 6th of February.

Annonser

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, best known for his Botswana novels about The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, at The Junior Academy music school in Stockholm, Sweden, where McCall Smith was on tour with his Really Terribly Orchestra.

IMG_2573

I was familiar with McCall Smith’s Akimbo-books, which I’ve read to my kids, but as I prepared to conduct the two-hour interview and Q&A session,  I understood his authorship is far more complex.  McCall Smith has written more than a hundred works of fiction, librettos and scholarly titles – including multiple series and many stand-alone works.

He divulged a great deal of interesting information about his writing process, including the fact that for his Botswana books (The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series) the titles and covers are often set long before he’s finished writing, which can lead to awkward situations. He said he writes five books a year, with only a vague outline in his mind when he starts, and often works right up to the deadline.

 

 

Thanks everyone who attended and contributed to my recent lecture on teaching creative writing at Natur och Kultur publishers. Upwards of fifty teachers attended in person, while a dozen or so watched and chatted online from elsewhere in the country. Natur och Kultur themselves had about six people on hand –– working late to help students around the country by helping their teachers get new ideas.

My long-term goal is to improve the quality of English education in Sweden; working with creative structures is a vital part of that improvement.  If you were (or weren’t) in attendance and have questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at: kfrato@yahoo.com.

I’ll be finishing my Swedish lecture tour on Wednesday, May 10th at the Natur och Kultur building in Stockholm, talking about teaching creative writing at the high school level. The lecture starts at 5 p.m. (refreshments from 4 p.m.) and the sign up is here.

I’ll be discussing the benefits and challenges of using creative writing in the English curriculum, how to grade creative writing and the workshopping process, teaching the theory of what creative writing is, teaching narrative structure and mechanics, and finally describing the workshopping format and its dos and don’ts (extremely important for protecting students’ integrity, and where my Echo Main Issues books differ from others).

I’m planning to cover a lot of useful material during the evening.  Please bring your ideas and questions, and I hope to see you there!

Last fall I wrote approximately two dozen short stories and non-fiction texts for Swedish publisher Natur och Kultur’s Wings 9 middle school reader. This was the culmination of three years of work on the new three-book 2015-edition of the classic Wings series.

Working with the series has given me a fabulous opportunity to reach young readers through a wide variety of subject matter, formats, and genres.  One of my goals with the project has been to write texts that students will remember and grow from, and therefore I’ve striven for authentic psychological content in every piece, for instance portraying young people forced to make difficult decisions.

img_2228.jpg

Uhuru Park, Nairobi, Kenya, April 2017

Starting with Wings 8, I also replaced the old editions’ fake interviews with new, authentic ones.  For instance for Wings 8, I interviewed young people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Oakland, California, USA; for Wings 9 I interviewed young people in Nairobi, Kenya, (a Kenyan named Arthur and a Swede named Carolina), as well as two Syrian students who had come to Sweden as refugees.   My interviewees made complex observations about the world and their place in it –– commenting on topics such as identity, religion, war, racism, family, and life and death.

When the books went to press, I asked for review copies for each of my interviewees.  And while in Kenya a couple weeks ago, I was thrilled to be able to personally deliver copies of Wings 9 to my interviewees in Nairobi.  I appreciated getting the chance to work with these young people, and I expect that for years to come, everyone who reads the interview with them will benefits from their intelligent insights about the world.

There are still a few spots available in my two spring 2017 writing courses at Skrivarakademin in Stockholm.

Creative Writing and Narrative Theory, the entry-level course, runs on Mondays starting February 6th.  In this course I teach linguistic style, narrative mechanics, and simple narrative structures.

The Novel Workshop, for people working on longer projects, runs every other Thursday starting on February 9th.  This course works more in-depth with longer manuscripts, their structural strategies, linguistic elements, their psychology, etc.

Hope to see you there!

 

About a month ago I delivered the final re-writes of a new collection of stories for ninth-graders to the Swedish publishers Natur och Kultur. This is the third book in this particular series I’ve worked on, and it’s been a demanding but rewarding commission.

As I’ve said before, writing for young people in short formats is not the most glamorous work an author can do.  Nonetheless, young people need tightly crafted stories that will help them learn about the world and their role in it –– while at the same time helping them develop as readers and people.  I believe young people have an even greater need than adults for skilfully written stories, so to me the format is far less important than doing work with the potential to help shape the next generation of thinkers.

In addition, I’ve also had a great time working with my editors on the project.  While it’s true that authors and editors sometimes have opposing interests, while working on six books for this publisher, I’ve come to understand that the editorial discussions we’ve had over structure, linguistics, and subjects have always produced stronger books.

The book goes to press in the spring of 2017, and its title sounds to me like a science-fiction novel: Wings 9.

High school English teachers in Sweden sometimes ask me why they should buy the Echo books for their classes.  My answer is in two parts –– firstly, why we English teachers should invest in textbooks in general, and secondly why the ones I wrote might be a better investment than the others.

Firstly, why invest in textbooks at all?  It’s a fair question.  I myself taught for years without textbooks, and now that my students have English textbooks, we still don’t use them every lesson.  But I’ve grudgingly come to understand that the right books are worth requesting funds for from your department head or principal.

Why are high-quality textbooks worth purchasing?

Develop a common understanding: I support students’ freedom to choose novels to read (this increases their interest in reading them); however sometimes the whole class benefits from reading and discussing shorter texts together, to help develop a common understanding.

Help for both struggling and bored student: Both struggling and bored students benefit from having textbooks to turn to, struggling students because the book serves as an extra resource, bored students because the books serve as intellectual stimulation when they have already grasped concepts.

3  Students trying to catch up appreciate textbooks: For students trying to catch up with coursework, textbooks help.  It’s helpful to be able to refer them to a specific chapter or resource section first, and then answer any questions they might still have afterwards.

Textbooks are designed to fit course goals: Textbook authors and editors spend months, sometimes years, planning, writing, editing and fine-tuning texts and exercises to fit the national curriculum’s course goals –– which means that if we use textbooks (or parts of them) efficiently, we spend more time teaching, and less time scrambling to meet curriculum goals.

Why buy Echo: Main Issues, specifically? 

1  Designed and written for Gy11  My editor Åsa and I designed every aspect of the books with the current course goals in mind. (Other books still on the market were originally written for the old curriculum!).

2  Purpose-written texts.  I’ve designed the texts in each book to be psychologically engaging and offer a complete reading experience –– unlike the extracts or adaptations to be found in other books.  (Yes, I myself wrote all the texts in Echo Main Issues 5 & 6, as well as a few in Echo Vocational, even if they appear be be written by other people.)

3  Integrated linguistic exercises –– I wrote the exercises together with the texts, so they are fully integrated with one another.

4  Respectful writing workshops: Other books encourage students to criticize each other’s text in a peer-response process.  Unfortunately this leads to poor textual analysis –– and hurt feelings.  Echo: Main Issues follws the same guidelines I use with my college students: analysis of how a texts works for us, structurally and linguistically, without any value judgments or helpful suggestions. And the author remains silent and listens, in order to avoid unnecessary apologies, explanations, corrections, or arguments.  It’s a tried-and-true method, and very helpful.

4  Natur och Kultur’s democratic mission: Natur och Kultur Publishers is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to work for peace and democracy.  Thus the stories and other texts I wrote have a democratic purpose –– they deal with issues like bullying, football hooliganism, racism, poverty, gun violence, women’s rights, etc.

5  Professional experience. I bring professional experience to these books.  I’ve been publishing professionally since I was seventeen –– working for newspapers, magazines, as a translator and editor, and as a fiction and non-fiction author since 1987.  I also have a double-masters in English Literature and Education, and I’ve been teaching since the 1990s.  In addition to high-school English, I also teach creative writing at a college in Stockholm.  So for intance the reference sections of the books that deal with various types of texts and writing feedback –– these are issues I’ve been working with professionally for decades.

For this year’s short story workshop at Skrivarakademin, I’ll be placing a special emphasis on finding and adapting stories for short literary formats.  How do you quickly and convincingly transport the reader into the world of the story?  How can we quickly create a connection between readers and characters?  What common story structures sell well, and why?  And what effects do various stylistic tools have on the story?

I’m shifting the date of the workshop back one weekend from the advertised date.  If you have any questions, please contact me here.

 

This is my schedule for free lectures for teachers at Swedish schools ––  the topics are teaching the writing process through conversation theory, and how to work with creative writing in the classroom.  All workshops generously sponsored by Natur och Kultur publishers, Stockholm.  The schools listed are the ones who have signed up, and who we’ve been able to fit into my schedule (I teach at two different schools and can’t be away all the time).   I’m aware that some schools have requested a time but not yet received one.

If your school is not signed up but is still interested, please contact gunilla.hallin@nok.se. It might still be possible to find a time, but unfortunately there are no guarantees.

I look forward to working with you!

June

– Söderköping: Nyströmska gymnasium, June 8th

September

– Nässjö, Brinellgymnasiet: Sept. 5th

– Halmstad: Sturegymnasiet & Sannarpsgymnasiet, Sept. 21st

October

– Gothenburg: Göteborgs Folkhögskola & Schillerska Gymnasium, Oct. 4th

– Stockholm: Cybergymnasiet, October 6th

– Lidingö: Hersby gymnasium

– Stockholm: Fryshuset, Oct. 17th (preliminary)

– Mora: Mora Gymnasium, October 26th

November

– Stockholm: Thorildsplans gymnasium, Nov. 15th