English: First Year Pupils Explore Brave New Worlds
Rounding off a half-term's study of dystopian writing, a handful of prize-winning Bede's English students recently gathered to discuss fictional visions of the future, writing their own short stories and why we love to read about things going wrong.
Over the last few months, you may have noticed Bede's First Years carrying around blue workbooks bearing a rather ominous title: The Dark Future.
In a year not entirely without shocks, and certainly no dearth of alarmist journalism, the English department felt its students needed to dig deep into the darker side of human nature and explore the origins of dystopian - and, indeed, utopian - prose.
We've been as comprehensive as we can be, aiming to expose our students to some of the most thought-provoking and challenging writing in existence, taking in Dante's visions of Inferno, Shelley's Gothic masterpiece Frankenstein, Orwell's abiding study of political surveillance 1984 and Ray Bradbury's modern masterpiece Fahrenheit 451.
Following our study, we tasked our students with creating their own dystopian pieces, with class teachers nominating a handful of prize-winning writers.
With dozens of imaginative, finely-wrought pieces, creating a shortlist took far longer than expected. However, Jade Beeching, Felix Sesodia, Freya Palmer and Lola Britten-Hepper eventually emerged as worthy winners, each writer managing to conjure up a dark future in vivid and original detail. Excerpts from their work will be uploaded to the website soon.
With so much to mull over in these troubling texts, prize-winners and a few commended writers convened for a recorded discussion and debate on what the dystopian form meant to them.
As none of our studied writers shied away from the big questions about society and its future, neither did we.
Was technology and social media a cause for real concern? Is there really such a thing as a 'post-factual' society? And can writers really make us alter our perspective on the way we live today?
Big Brother is listening: students check out the recording suite
Our panel seemed in broad agreement about the undoubted value of dystopian texts, even if they offered a grotesque exaggeration of the lives we live today.
Knights pupil Joshua Prince-Smith, whose own dystopia cleverly explored governmental control, suggested that implication, above all else, was a key attribute of the most celebrated novels.
If prose becomes too obvious, he argued, it loses its power.
Meanwhile, George Lewis, of Deis House, spoke eloquently on the need for readers to encounter ideas which trouble and even alarm them. If we insist on happy endings, he considered, how will we see what is wrong with society?
Monty Lovegrove (Stud) and Daisy Noton (Bloomsbury) spoke further on their own writing, with their excellent pieces inspired by this term's reading of Bradbury. There was time for students to spend a little time exploring the tardis-like recording booth before we set about further discussion and a few readings.
Freya takes to the mic.
Bloomsbury's Freya Palmer gave an excerpt from her work, an inventive and arresting account of a public disinfecting booth, whilst Evan Nayler (Deis) shared part of his work, cleverly revealing a crisis of over-crowding through his account of a tube journey.
If you've ever listened back to a recording of your own voice, you'll know what an uncanny experience it can be. For all our writers, it prompted a fresh look at their own work, and - inevitably - a burst of last-minute perfectionism.
We hope you enjoy the recordings, which try to offer time and space to a handful of promising new Bede's voices.
Whether on page or stage, we are sure you'll encounter them again soon.