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Teaching Myself a Lesson: Maz Evans on writing Who Let The Gods Out?

Posted on 29th January 2017 by Sally Campbell
Our Children's Book of the Month for February combines Greek mythology with the author's own sharp wit to create a high-octane adventure story that is absolutely perfect for that sometimes tricky 9-12 audience. Maz Evans’ Who Let The Gods Out? is a whirlwind of entombed demons and wild gods with feet of clay, written with all the gusto and energy that is spot-on for young minds. Although this is indeed her debut, Maz Evans has very much cut her teeth teaching the art of story to many, many others: for Waterstones, this spectacular new talent fills us in on how teaching writing transformed her own game.
They say that those who can’t, teach. Clearly “they” have never stood outside a classroom before 9am and sufficient caffeine, watching a valiant teacher battle whining about spelling tests, nit outbreaks, why Alfie wasn’t invited to Scarlet’s party – and that’s before they get anywhere near the kids. Teachers are heroes and I’ll hear no more about it.

However, I will confess that this idiom haunted me during my brief, and very happy, sojourn in teaching. Five years ago, I was fortunate enough to lecture in creative writing at Bournemouth University. With no prior teaching experience (despite my ‘alternative facts CV’), I was gifted the minds of 100 students and given six weeks to procure a piece of creative writing from them.
   
My course was compulsory – whether they wished to or not, these poor English and Media students were penned into my lecture hall like next Sunday’s roast dinner and forced to listen to my ideas on how to write.  And d’ya know – every single one of them did it. Very well, in fact.
 
This led me to my first essential truth about creativity: everyone has it.
 
On school visits, I always ask children if they consider themselves creative. Some do, some don’t. But as I point out to them, it is impossible to survive a day on planet Earth without being so. You have to solve problems, tell stories, persuade people to do things for you, even tell the odd lie … all acts of creativity.
 
As a direct result of my lecturing experiences, I developed Story Stew, my own creative writing programme for primary school children and their adults. Story Stew will be two years old this week and in that time, I have taught tens of thousands of people how to write a story. Not one has been unable to produce something in my classes. I wish I could ascribe this to my sheer brilliance – the truth is that we are all brimming with stories. We just need to know how to tell them.
 
But education should always be a two-way street. Whatever I have given in teaching, I have received tenfold in learning. On a tedious technical point, nothing hones your craft like marking 100 pieces of coursework and constantly reaffirming the need for conflict, plotting, subverting stereotypes etc. Working with other people’s creativity reflects an enormous light on your own. And wowsers, did this physician need to heal herself.
 
I think it is no coincidence that, having tried unsuccessfully to get Who Let the Gods Out? published prior to my teaching experience, it was picked up by Chicken House shortly afterwards. Teaching has been vital to my writing. In trying to help others tell their stories, my own have been massively enriched.
 
But there is also something intangibly magical and empowering about working with imaginations. Children have no barriers. You want to put a pig in space. Why not? Evil carrots are threatening national security? Watch out. The world needs to be saved by a child …?
 
From what I’ve seen? You bet it will be.
 
Maz Evans
 
@maryaliceevans | www.maz.world



   

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