Crossing the ‘Chalkline’ - Clongowes Wood College

Posted: 25th March 2017

Mr Shane Heslin’s English class have been reading Jane Mitchell’s novel ‘Chalkline’ and decided to invite the author, Jane Mitchell, to Clongowes to give them the inside story on her sensational novel. Much to their delight she said yes and ‘Clongowes Digest’ was fortunate to have Harry Browne (from Elements and no mean wordsmith himself) in the audience, from where he filed this report…

On Friday the 24th of March, Ms Jane Mitchell came to Clongowes to educate Mr Heslin’s 1st year English class on her novel, creative writing and the inescapable problem of child soldiers. The moment we walked through the door of Room 21 and everyone saw Ms Mitchell you could feel the sense of awe and excitement vibrating through the room. It was just fantastic!

The session started off with Ms Mitchell getting to know us and our hobbies. She then explained to us that writing and travelling are some of hers. She showed us some of her work from when she was in 1st year and her first ever book from when she was six or seven. She then explained to us how the seeds of her phenomenal book Chalkline were sown, born out of a love for a country she barely knew.

Chalkline is a story about Rafiq, a young boy who lives in a small, poor, rural village in the disputed land of Kashmir. Freedom fighters raid his village in search of new recruits. Tall for his age, he is the first to cross the ‘chalk line’ into a life of brutality and violence. He is shoved into the back of a truck and is taken away to a camp, high in the snow capped peaks of the Pir Panjals. While Rafiq is being trained to destroy lives, his sister Jameela is determined to get hers back – by finding Rafiq.

Ms Mitchell told us many things about her travels and about places where she had helped people to get on their feet. She told us stories of how she saw a bull sitting in the middle of a train station in India and of helping in a refugee camp in Calais, where more than seven thousand refugees lived in inhuman conditions until recently. All of these factors and experiences brought her to write the near perfect novel Chalkline and her brand new adrenaline pumping work, A Dangerous Crossing.

Ms Mitchell then told us the story of a real life child soldier, Ishmael Beah, whom she met and how he was brainwashed into raining havoc and destruction. She infused the characters in her book with these characteristics, giving a real life sense of ferocity and realism to the novel. From this unique experience we learnt many things from how tough life is for people just because they are born into a different environment to us and the importance of writing from the experiences you have had and incorporating them into your work.

When Ms Mitchell finished explaining the origins of her novel, we swamped her with questions like ‘Who is your favourite author?’, ‘How long did it take to write the book’ and ‘What was your favourite subject in school?’. The class was so engaged that we didn’t have time to get any creative writing done! However, the understanding she gave us into how an author researches and then gives a genuine insight into a real topic was fascinating.

From all of Mr Heslin’s English class, thank you very much Ms. Mitchell. We really appreciate it and we hope to see you again soon.

Harry Browne (Elements)

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