A class of Year 10 students had the privilege of attending a workshop given by the writer Tracy Chevalier. Chevalier was born in Washington. Following her graduation from Oberlin College, she moved to England, where she began working as an editorial assistant with Macmillan’s History of Art, then later joined St. James Press, serving as a reference book editor.

Her first novel, The Virgin Blue, was published in 1997. Her second novel, entitled Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999) was based on the famous painting by Vermeer and has been translated into thirty-eight languages. The novel has sold millions of copies worldwide. It won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award in 2000. In 2003, a film based on the novel was released, receiving three Academy Award nominations in 2004, along with ten BAFTAs and two Golden Globes.  Chevalier is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has an Honorary Doctorate from the University of East Anglia.

The workshop at Wey Valley Academy was inspiring and Chevalier initially showed the students a painting by Edward Hopper called Nighthawks . In this painting there is a potential narrative . Our guest speaker then asked the class ‘what makes an effective story – an opening, middle and end, the characterisation, feelings and emotions, dialogue , what are they saying in the picture’. She then asked the students to devise a sentence around the room to develop a story.

This was a segue to the next activity which was writing about four paintings and photographs. Chevalier then focused on the Vermeer painting again (the basis for her novel Girl with a Pearl Earring)and said that ‘this does not have closure – who is the model and why is she wearing inexpensive clothing but then paradoxically she is also wearing a pearl – who was Vermeer’. The class then started writing a creative narrative based on one of the pictures on the table. Chevalier said ‘write – do not think but start writing on your blank canvas of paper’.

At the end of the session the students read out their work and the quality of the prose was outstanding. One student said ‘I have found this workshop so innovative and engaging – I want to be a published writer so this session has stretched and challenged my imagination and ambition to achieve this’.  Mr Chutter, Head of Performing Arts and Teaching and Learning Challenge Lead, commented ‘this was such a creative experience today – the students were immersed in their writing. My thanks to Tracy Chevalier for visiting the school and we look forward to forging future links in the future’

To read the Dorset Echo article click here