Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The Power of Print

A BBC B microcomputer  32 KB of RAM
The first computer printer to enter my life was a dot-matrix printer attached to a BBC computer in a primary school. When children entered my Reception class I used to sit down at the computer with them and get them to tell me stories about their lives, just a couple of sentences as a rule. Then I'd print the stories nice and big on a sheet of A4 paper and they'd draw a picture and I'd stick them all in a big book. Those books must have been read hundreds of times, each child reading their own story to anyone who would listen. From this simple activity they learnt a fundamental lesson. Writing was a way of communicating their thoughts and ideas to other people. Writing was important. THEIR writing was important.

Of course, the key thing here is turning the things children say into words on a page, and writing it by hand is almost as good.  But seeing the words in print does add something, and that was especially so when computers were new.

When I started writing my own stories I used a typewriter at first, before moving on to a word-processor which was like a typewriter with a two line LCD display and a floppy disc drive. That floppy disc meant that I could take bits and pieces that I'd written and print them out on the inkjet printers at work. I was amazed at how much more important my writing looked (to me at any rate) when it was printed out in Times New Roman 12 point.

When I wrote a whole novel and I was ready to send it off I wanted it to look important, and my neighbours let me print it out on their printer (I was still working on the word processor). I printed out a lot of drafts of that book on their printer—thanks Clare and David! I used to try different fonts, trying to see which was the most impressive. Years later I asked an editor if they minded which font a writer used. The answer, not surprisingly, was that it made no difference at all.

Still, children love to see their writing in print, and those simple stories we wrote at the computer were their introduction to publishing. As they got older we made a lot of books, among them little 8-page pamphlets, stories with a cover and a sentence on each page. I would photocopy these and make half a dozen books so children could sit round a table and read them together. This often confused them, and I had to take the to the office to show them how the photocopier worked. A few years later I was visiting a school, talking about the publishing process. I showed a group of children some copies of a book I'd written. One child put up her hand and asked me 'How long does it take you to make all those books? Do you have to colour in all the covers?'

I was able to set her mind at rest, but it goes to show, just because you tell a child something, it doesn't mean they understand.
(Or an adult, for that matter!)

No comments:

Post a Comment