I was sorry to hear that Andrew Sheridan has been forced to retire due to a neck injury.
I’ll leave the on-the-pitch plaudits to people who know much more about the game than I do. But I’d like to add mine for something he did for me off the pitch.
I wanted to set the second book of my Rugby Academy series in Toulon. But I needed access to the stadium and to see RC Toulon training. I had met Andrew at a Manchester Literature Festival event two years before, when he was at Sale. We’d had a chat. About his song-writing and about reading. He was very approachable. So – knowing he had moved to Toulon – I got in touch and asked if he could show me round the Stade Mayol in Toulon.
It was speculative. Sheridan is a British and Irish Lion, a European and English champion. He’s played for England 40 times. He was – at the time – involved in a campaign to win the French Championship and a second successive Heineken Cup. And – more importantly – he has a young family to look after.
But a few weeks later I found myself in Toulon with the big man walking towards me outside the Stade Mayol. Yes, he said, he’d love to help.
Andrew Sheridan couldn’t have been more helpful. He showed me round the stadium, inside and out. Found me a place to sit and watch Toulon training, including the Armitage brothers and Jonny Wilkinson. It was a huge treat for a rugby fan. Let alone for a writer.
Then he sat with me and answered all my questions. About training. About Toulon. About rugby.
Invaluable. It’s access like that that makes or breaks a book.
Surface to Air isn’t out until February. But when it’s out I’ll be sending him several copies.
Thanks again Andrew. And good luck with your new career in the wine trade.
I am working with Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh on a very exciting WW1 project. I have been visiting the school to develop various literacy projects over the last year as their Patron of Reading. Projects to do with rugby, football and the RAF.
But this is the best project we’ve come up with so far. It’s called We Will Remember Them.
It started in the school tower. One of the history teachers has an archive of objects and documents to do it the school’s history. There is a lot of material about the school’s pupils who went on to fight in WW1. He was telling us about those pupils and how the names of many of them are on the school’s war memorial (above).
The idea developed quickly from there. It was impossible to resist. All those stories about boys who had walked the corridors of the school exactly 100 years ago and had gone on to fight and often die for their country.
This is what we are going to do:
* draw up 20 short pen portraits of those pupils from 100 years ago
* challenge today’s pupils – and teachers – to write a short story about one of those characters
* help the pupils to edit their stories
* publish the best stories in a book together, all proceeds going to an appropriate charity
We launch the We Will Remember Them writing competition just after Armistice Day 2014.
The RAF are about to go into action again. Attacking IS in Iraq.
The situation is making me think about the children of the RAF personnel involved.
I have been working on a project that involved me talking to RAF personnel and their families on the base at Cosford. Earlier this year I sat in the staffroom of Albrighton Primary School and interviewed pilots and other men and women who work for the RAF. I asked them about what it is like to be in the RAF and to be in a family with RAF links. I wanted their thoughts about how it made their children feel.
Then – after I talked to the parents – the children came in. We talked about what it was like when your dad or you mum is called away to fight in a war, as many dads and mums will be now.
One boy, age 9, said that he couldn’t cope when he dad was at war. He told me that his way of coping was to imagine that his dad was sitting on the sofa at home, not in a plane above the desert. And when he was at home he imagined his dad was at the bar on the base. He said it was impossible otherwise.
Other children told me equally moving and thought-provoking stories.
It’s hard to imagine what it is like to be in the situation of the adult or the child above. But I needed to. Talking to these very generous parent-child pairs helped me a lot.
The thing that stuck with me most was the answer a senior RAF officer gave to me when I asked him if he thought being in RAF made them different for everyone else. If was a naïve question, but I needed to ask it.
He replied that, yes, RAF personnel are different. Because they put themselves in harm’s way.
That phrase will never leave me. In harm’s way. I think it applies as much to the RAF personnel as to their children. That’s why I am thinking about them today.
I am thrilled to be able to say that I am working with the English RFU on a range of resources using the game of rugby union to promote reading for pleasure in schools and libraries. This is especially exciting now that the Rugby World Cup (taking place in England and Wales) is less than a year away.
This is what we’re doing:
ONE: a resource pack full of ideas for schools, libraries and homes with ideas for how we can engage children with reading for pleasure.
TWO: a set of fifteen classroom lesson plans helping children engage with writing and reading through rugby union and the forthcoming World Cup.
THREE: me touring all the thirteen Rugby World Cup host cities and places with my Rugby Reading Game during the summer holidays in 2015 along with a local rugby coach, so that we can give tips to parents on playing and reading about rugby.
FOUR: a series of thirteen training events delivering training to teachers, librarians and rugby people on how to use the Rugby World Cup to get children reading more. This is partnership with Barrington Stoke and Reading Matters.
FIVE: a live rugby adventure story that will be written – by me – during the Rugby World Cup, featuring the events of the tournament as they unfold.
I hope this sounds useful. There are still a few plans to sort out and a load of work to do. I’ll blog more about it in the future. But feel free to email me via my website if you want to be put on a newsletter.
In the meantime there is already some rugby literacy material available here, featuring news about my new children’s series, Rugby Academy.
Thanks for reading.
Just a note to alert you to another blog that I write. My publisher has set up a website to promote their WW1 related books, including my own Over the Line. The website is www.readingwar.co.uk.
I write a blog every fortnight about how the Great War is being commemorated a hundred years on and about Over the Line too.
There is an enormous array of literacy material on there to do with my book and others too. Good for teachers, etc.
Please have a look when you have a minute.