empowerment / inspiration / life stuff / writing

Starting secondary school – scare stories and survival…by Dawn McNiff

It’s nearly September and lots of 11 year olds will soon be starting secondary school…Three words which struck terror into my heart when I was 11, back in the 1980s.

Blimey. It really can be such a stressful moment – a time of huge change. Which is why I decided to set my latest novel for 9-11 year olds – How Not to Be Weird –  just as the main character, Woody, moves up to ‘big school.

Dawn at school in the 80s

Dawn at school in the 80s

Oh, it was forever ago, but I can still remember that pre-secondary-school August so vividly. I got myself in such a state about going up that I had constant tummy aches. I ended up in hospital with suspected appendicitis which turned about to be ‘abdominal migraines’ brought on by sheer dread.

I thought I’d be bog-washed like I’d seen on ‘Grange Hill’ (a telly programme set in a secondary school). I thought I’d have no friends and spend my lunchtimes hanging out with the dinner ladies. I thought I’d never survive my first week.

Poor old Woody – a sensitive, quiet boy – is a nervous wreck about starting secondary school too. He’s had enough of being bullied for being ‘weird’ by two mean girls at his primary school. He wants to start afresh at his new school, and make some new mates to go round with. He just wants to blend in…

Problem is his big, dopey dog, Gooner, and his loud, hippy mum have other ideas. Gooner gets out and follows him around town, embarrassing Woody half to death. His mum buys him ladies’ clothes in charity shops and does cringey stuff round the clock. It’s a nightmare.HNTBW cover Dawn McNiff

Woody decides on drastic action: he thinks that the only way forward is to get unweird and fast, so he makes up some strict ‘un-weirding rules. His survival strategy is to transform himself – to become a whole new boy.

It’s a plan with big holes in, and many a muddle follows…I won’t ruin it by spilling any spoilers and giving away what happens, but let’s just say Woody’s imaginings about secondary school might not have been quite right.

And, by the way, nor where mine. I DIDN’T get bog-washed at secondary school – not once. And I made some new friends whom I still have today, and not one of them is a dinner lady 🙂

Final thought: if you’re moving up this September, remember that EVERYONE is a bit scared, even the loud and cool-looking ones, and EVERYONE is looking to make new friends. You’re going to be fine…


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