This week, Raffles World Academy invited me to be a guest author at their annual Literary Soiree. I explained that I wouldn’t be a ‘real’ author until August, but they kindly agreed to take an ‘author in waiting’ instead. I’m glad they did, because I had a lovely evening – not solely because someone laid out an entire table of chocolate and rainbow-sprinkle cupcakes at the back of the room, although that was definitely a contributing factor.
As I told the young Raffles’ poets and storytellers, when I was at school we had sports days (far too many sports days), we had musical evenings, and we even had a theatre matinee or two, but not a single literary soiree. So, it was great to be invited to theirs, because, as Philip Pullman says, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
These students shared some wonderful stories. Shreya Venkataraghavan and Vanessa Ghisoni read their entries to this year’s Emirates Festival of Literature/Oxford University Press Short Story competition – ‘Between Hello and Goodbye’ – and it was intriguing to hear such different responses to the same title. Vanessa shared a tale of ‘boy meets girl’ and her language choices and story structure made it hard to believe she’s only in grade 6. Shreya had been inspired by the connections between her two homes, Dubai and India, and incorporated the words of the title into an evocative tale that made us feel as though we were experiencing the sights and sounds and smells of India along with her.
As someone whose early writing is best described as ‘a bit rubbish’, I was wowed by the talents of Vanessa, Shreya, Lucy, Alexis, Mathilda, Zoya, Myra, Owen and Maylis. They created a magical evening, helped by musical performances from Flavio, Nicholas, Yousif and Catrine Bollerslev.
Credit should also go to the evening’s young presenters, Jeremy Williams and Marah Ziad. A particular shout-out to the glamorous Maher, for managing to cross the stage in the highest heels I’ve ever seen, while I stumbled over the fairy lights in my ballet pumps. And a giant grin for Jeremy, who is the first person, ever, to refer to me as an ‘inspiration’!