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Abu Dhabi students, teachers pen novel chapter-by-chapter during lockdown

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Abu Dhabi: Teachers and high-school students at an Abu Dhabi school have written a 17-chapter novel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘The City’, a mystery thriller, was written by six members of staff and 11 students as part of the British International School Abu Dhabi’s (BISAD) Virtual School Experience. Another student completed the artwork for the front cover design.

Initiated by Benjamin Stanier, secondary English teacher at the school, the novel took about six months to write and edit, with each participant writing a chapter each. “The book is now available on the school’s website, and several hard copies have been published for the authors, and to be kept at the school’s library. The whole thing started after a conversation with colleagues about how to tap into children’s creativity during the distance learning period, and the result has exceeded my expectations,” Stanier told Gulf News.

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17 chapters

‘The City’ boasts 45 pages and 17 chapters with 1,000-2,000 words each. It sees a London-based accountant, Heidi, called back in a mysterious note to New York, to save the city where she attended university and met her once-best friend.

“When we started, we just had the title — The City. Each member of the novel writing team was given one chapter to write. There was no brief, no plotline to follow, no set character list to include — all we had was a title. Therefore, the writing team took their turns, chapter-by-chapter, and developed the story in whichever direction they wanted. The rest of this book is the result,” Stanier explained.

Virtual social interaction

The initiative kicked off in June, with the youngest participant enrolled in Year 8 (Grade 7). Following writing and editing to tie up loose ends, the novel was completed in November 2020. “While we were isolated during the COVID-19 outbreak, the novel provided a chance for virtual social interaction, and acted like a morale booster. It was an escape during the lockdown,” Stanier said.

Christian Theobald, 17, a Grade 11 student who penned Chapter 8, agreed. “It was something you do in quarantine, and even though it lasted a short while, it was really exciting. We would wait in anticipation of the next chapter to see where the novel had ended up,” he said.

Theobald added that in his assigned chapter, he had introduced a character that had helped change up the structure of the novel. “I hope to study Literature at university, and if there was ever a chance to be part of such a project again, I would [definitely] do it. I myself write quite a bit, and have a few secret novels of mine that I haven’t yet shown anyone,” Theobald said.

Spark creativity

For Stanier, the most rewarding part was the ability to spark creativity and imagination in his students during a difficult time. “One can feel glum having to be at home the whole time, and this novel reignited much creativity. It helped transport the participants into the world of the novel. In fact, everyone enjoyed the process and its outcome so much that there are already asking calls for another such initiative,” Stanier said.

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