The Circle Works began as a support project for teachers, so it’s not surprising that many of our friends share a deep interest in education and the wellbeing of children and young people. In the next few weeks we’ll be telling you about some of their recent writing.
The name Sean Taylor will be familiar to people who have visited The Circle Works. You will find many of his books for young children on the shelves here: the other day one mature professional person had trouble tearing herself away from ‘Who Ate Auntie Iris?’, the latest in a long line of witty picture books that entertain adults as much as kids. For slightly older children Sean has also written three collections about the life of a primary school class. The title of one alone, ‘Purple Class and the Half-Eaten Sweater’, reflects the way life in a primary classroom is sometimes hilarious and occasionally surreal: any reader who knows schools will recognise Sean as a writer who has really been there. The same is true of ‘A Waste of Good Paper’, his first novel for young adults, based on long experience as a visiting writer in schools for children with hard lives and, as a consequence, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Jason, a pupil at such a school, is encouraged by his teacher to write a private journal, but believes this will just be ‘A Waste of Good Paper’:
‘Pete’s an ALL RIGHT teacher. But even so it’s a DUMB IDEA he’s got about this book. Because the problem last year was to do with WHAT PEOPLE WERE SAYING ABOUT MY MUM. And what happens if they start dissing her again like that this year? Writing anything in this frigging journal book isn’t going to stop them doing that.’
Jason grudgingly overcomes his reservations and as it progresses the journal reveals not only life in a very special school, but even more importantly what it can be like to grow up in a family where drugs and violence are commonplace. Nevertheless there are many lighter moments on the way (including Sean’s trademark riddles) and the story ends in hope.
When Jason tells his mum he’s going to show the finished journal to Pete, she’s worried at first because of what it might reveal about her, but after some persuasion she relents.
‘Then she said it’s my book SO I CAN CHOOSE WHAT TO DO WITH IT.
And I told Pete just now that he can read it when I finish this page. And he said, “Thanks Jason.” And he said, “That’s great,” like he was surprised and also pleased.
And then he said to me, “How does it make you feel if someone else is going to read what you’ve written?” And I said to him, “ALL RIGHT.”’
‘A Waste of Good Paper’ faces up to the pain and complexity of many young lives (and in this, though written for a different audience, it has something in common with J K Rowling’s merciless first novel for adults, ‘A Casual Vacancy’). It’s a strong, multilayered story told in an authentic voice, and it’s a story we all need to hear.
Sean Taylor: A Waste of Good Paper (Frances Lincoln, 2012)