As futurist Michio Kaku pointed out recently, many of the jobs we do now will in the future be done by robots. So, what skills can we guide our kids towards in order to futureproof them? STEM careers are generally going to be a good bet, especially in the R&D areas of each field, requiring a variety of different skill sets depending on the exact job, all linked by the requirement for creative thinking. Even stepping away from STEM, the creative industries apparently contributed £84.1 billion to the UK economy last year – around 5% of our overall economy according to a recent government report.
It was therefor hugely welcome last weekend when we took Ollie to see a talk by his hero Cressida Cowell, author and illustrator of the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ series, that she was driven by a desire to encourage creativity in children. She said she had started writing 18 years ago when she became a mother, and wanted to write books which would make children love reading as much as she had when she was a child. She enthused about how important the creative industries were, and how good at them we are here. Her talk was warm and witty, peppered with images of childhood adventures on the remote Scottish island her family called home each summer, with descriptions of wild cliffs where dragons must surely hide, and bizarre creatures hauled up from the depths of the surrounding sea.
One piece of advice she gave to the aspiring young authors in her audience was to start by drawing a map. Once you have a map, you have questions to be answered and ideas to be explored. She also explained how she started off by copying characters like Snoopy, how she was frustrated that she couldn’t get her pictures exactly the same because, “guess what” she exclaimed “I was only nine, and you are all only about nine too!”. She didn’t blow her own trumpet, yet we could all see that here she stood now, adored by her fans, with a shelf full of books and two films to her name. I was blown away by how generous she was with her time at the book signing that followed, even asking us if Ollie would like a photo with her (I hadn’t liked to ask, this was our first book signing and I didn’t know what the protocol was).
Today we took her advice, pulled out stacks of paper and some ink pens and spent an enjoyable morning drawing dragons and islands.
I tweeted a picture of Ollie drawing his dragon to Cressida, and within seconds she had sent back really thoughtful and encouraging replies, which Ollie shone to hear read out to him.
By the end of the morning we had a stack of maps, some characters and plots worked out for a book combining fantasy and science, and about a year’s worth of further work to be done (more if Ollie’s ambition is to be realised “once we finish the books, we can start work on the animation, and then the toys”). I don’t know if Ollie will really become an author, an illustrator, an animator, or any of his other current creative aspirations, but he’s 7 and he’s writing and drawing and making animations, so the answer to “can I be an author/animator…?” is always “definitely, because you already are!”.
Notes: We paid the bargain price of £5 each for Ollie and I to see Cressida Cowell talk for an hour at a children’s books event at NT Knowle park (plus it would have been normal entry fees for the venue, or free for NT members, which we are). If you have young ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ fans and get the chance to go to one of her talks or book signings I would highly recommend it. We used ink pens today at Ollie’s request. Ollie used a pen (a souvenir costing about £3 from Blists Hill Victorian village) and a pot of old fashioned ink (from a National Trust shop). Toby used his fountain pen. The ink pens had a lovely effect of slowing down what they were doing so they had to think calmly about what they were producing, and Ollie really enjoyed aging his pictures with ink splots and torn edges. However, small boys using pots of old fashioned ink is not for the faint hearted (or anyone with cream carpets) – you have been warned 😉