On Monday 5th March, guests gathered at Croydon High School to see Lisa Williamson honoured for winning the 2016/2017 GDST Book Award for her debut novel The Art of Being Normal.
The school welcomed 60 guests, including Mary Samson and Amy Icke from GDST’s Head Office, parents, staff and girls, as well as visiting librarians and pupils from Brighton & Hove, Bromley, Sutton and Sydenham High Schools.
Head, Emma Pattison, presented Lisa with an acrylic ‘trophy’ in the Croydon High colours designed by our own Jan Duyt, and a silver ivy leaf necklace.
Lisa’s story is one of empowerment; she grew up as a shy, ‘weird’ kid in Nottingham with unimpressive school reports. She ended up moving to London to study Performing Arts at Middlesex University, and then becoming an actress.
She worked for two years as an administrator at the Gender Identity Development Service, based at the world-famous Tavistock Centre in North London.
It was the young people who used the service who inspired Lisa to write a story from the point of view of a transgender teenager – The Art of Being Normal. Lisa is now a full-time writer; she has recently published All About Mia, a funny, life-affirming YA novel which looks at the agonies and joys of growing up, particularly as a middle child.
During the event, there was an intense question and answer session. Lisa’s advice to would-be authors? To read widely, and to just start writing – not to be afraid of that first word on a blank page. She stressed that writing is a skill that takes practice. She suggested keeping a diary (Lisa keeps one via email) as it is a good way of getting used to expressing oneself.
A notebook is a ‘must’ – jotting down ideas at unexpected moments. Her favourite books? As a child she loved Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood and Roald Dahl’s Matilda. More recently she has enjoyed David Levithan’s Every Day, and Juno Dawson’s novels.
A visiting librarian from one of our sister schools commented: “It was so lovely to meet Lisa; our girls left feeling inspired and very impressed by her and her work. I would be remiss not to mention our wonderful caterers. One of our visitors described the nibbles and refreshments as being in a league of their own, really classy!”
Croydon High’s girls benefited from an extra ‘dollop’ of Lisa – she spent the entire day at the school, from wowing the girls in assembly to running three, one-hour workshops for Year 8s.
Each workshop centred on creating memorable fictional characters, using unusual prompts. Girls produced some amazing writing in a relatively short time; these pieces will be developed into full-scale short stories during English lessons.
There were some ‘magic moments’ in the LRC when Lisa read passages from her own novels, highlighting her favourite characters.
Lisa made time during the day for book selling and signing, as well as chatting informally to girls about her writing life, and sharing favourite reads.