Allee Richards, Paper Fire Mentor


This week, the students of Paper Fire worked hard on scripting their radio plays, structuring their stories and including directions and sound effects. On hand to help were Express Media mentors. Mentors and volunteers are an integral part of our projects, providing support and encouragement to the students and sharing their knowledge of storytelling processes.

One of those mentors, Allee Richards, reflects on her experience here. 

I write. But I don’t say that, I say ‘I try to write.’ The latter is more truthful because I often find it hard to find a reason to write in the first place, to find inspiration. When I am inspired I struggle to sit still and concentrate long enough for words to make it onto a page. And if I ever make it that far, I will inevitably doubt what it is that I’ve written and probably compare it to my favourite authors’ work and cry.

For the past five weeks I have been an Express Media mentor for Paper Fire, assisting Grade 5-6 students from Footscray Primary School to write short radio scripts. Afterwards, mentors from SYN FM will assist the students to record and produce their own radio plays. It’s awesome.

The students don’t struggle like I do to come up with ideas. Two minutes after their recess break, when I assume their minds are preoccupied with games of chasey and playground politics, they can create a premise for a story about three, good-hearted brothers living in a village with their Jack Russell and an evil baker. When faced with a potential plot hole or prompted for more information, like ‘What made the baker evil? Why doesn’t she like the brothers?’, a student will pause just momentarily before answering ‘Because the baker is rich and greedy and the brothers give bread to the poor who can’t afford it, and the baker doesn’t want the poor to be helped.’ My main task has been to edit down the students’ content. They simply have too much to fit in to a ten minute script.

I’m jealous of how much the students have to write and of how easily it comes to them, but mostly I admire the students’ lack of self-doubt. They don’t compare every minute detail of their work to their peers and they don’t put themselves down for not being as smart or creative or hard-working as others. I could learn a lot from them. And I received what I think may be the best, and certainly is the most direct, writing advice from the class teacher, Andrew: ‘Don’t just sit and stare and hope, write something.’

Although I feel as though I am learning more from the students than they are from me, the Paper Fire project has reaffirmed to me the importance of 100 Story Building and other organisations that nurture education and creativity in young people. Kids are creative, have less inhibitions than adults and they’re eager to learn. These qualities make great workers. It’s important to harness and nurture those attributes, to cement them so they don’t evaporate into the self-conscious, self-doubting, less hard-working students I go to university with. I want to encourage the students to keep writing. Even if a story is never published and everyone who reads it thinks it’s terrible, writing is still a legitimate way to spend one’s time. I read a lot as a kid. I thought writers had supernatural-smarts. That they were god-like figures dropping novels from the sky. 100 Story Building encourages people to achieve their potential in creative ways; and that is the work of an author.

I am incredibly excited about the work we have (almost) produced. I hope you get a chance to listen to it, because the stories are really insane. In a good way.

About Allee:

Allee Richards finished an internship at Express Media over a year ago, she just still hangs around. She is a student of Creative Writing, Editing and Publishing at the University of Melbourne. She likes to read contemporary Australian journals.