28 Apr 2022

Writers Workshop with Hannah Bent

Students from the Elements course ‘Writer’s Block’ got the chance to meet the acclaimed writer (and former Islander of Nansen) Hannah Bent, author of When Things Are Alive They Hum on 27 April.

Set in Hong Kong, the book follows the life of two sisters, Marlowe and Harper. Marlowe is a college student studying a species of rare butterflies in the UK and Harper is a lady with Down Syndrome (or Up Syndrome as she likes to call it). The two sisters share a bond deeper than most, shaped by music, Harper’s Up Syndrome and their mother’s death.

The workshop explored important maxims and techniques in story-writing. At the start of the workshop, students were given a thought-provoking picture and asked to create a poem about it. Students were then invited to read out inspiring paragraphs from selected stories or short poems. Ms Bent also shared different writing techniques that authors use and how they progress their stories forward, making the plots gripping and fast-paced. They studied these techniques by looking at books such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s style in The Great Gatsby.

At the end of the workshop, participants had the opportunity to Ms Bent questions about her book When Things Are Alive They Hum, where she shared that the character of Harper was in fact inspired by her sister, Camilla Bent, who is a person with Down Syndrome. She also stated that it originally started as a book about butterflies, but as the story progressed, she realised that she was pouring her life into the bodies of Harper and Marlowe.

“We learned a lot about how to incorporate Ms. Bent’s teaching and tips into our own work. I also got to know about how it was more important to show what your character was doing, through their actions and words, rather than telling the reader outright,” said the participants.

Overall, students described that the workshop was imaginative, interesting and colourful, a very novel experience for the writers of Island School.

Article by Vijay Narayanan, Year 9