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Writers at school


Louise Abbott

Creative non-fiction


Louise Abbott

In books like The Heart of the Farrn, The French Shore, and The Coast Way; in films like The History of Nunavik, The Pinnacle and the Poet, The Empty Net, Crisscrossing Space and Time, and Giving Shelter; as well as in essays for various publications, Louise Abbott has documented the lives of rural Canadians and investigated environmental issues affecting them. In 2004 she was one of four authors selected for Quebec Reads, a distance-education pilot project. In 2005 she was one of seven authors and photographers chosen for Québec Roots, an innovative literacy-through-photography project. In 2008 she was one of three authors chosen for Voices from Quebec, an oral history of radio documentary project. In 2009 she began work on a photo book about the Cree of James Bay.

Suggested reading*

The Heart of the Farm
The Purple Iris
(short story in Voices on the Border)
The Coast Way

*These titles have been suggested by the author based on the activities that he/she proposes to students.
It is, however, up to teachers to verify whether the titles are appropriate for their groups (age and education level, specific context, etc.).
Teaching staff are invited to contact the author for clarification on this aspect and assistance in preparing their groups for his/her visit.

Proposed approach and type of activities

At a time when children have constant exposure to fast-paced, often violent television programs and video games, the author tries to encourage them to reflect on their own lives and communities and express their thoughts and feelings about them in text and images. She also introduces students to the work of Canadian writers, including English Québec writers, to reinforce the fact that stories can be set in a wide variety of locales and need not be “sensational” to touch readers. Depending on their age, she asks students to read excerpts from books aloud or she reads the excerpts herself and then hosts a discussion.

Because drawing is an important means of self-expression for the primary-level schoolchildren with whom she usually works, the author likes to incorporate this activity in her workshop by asking students to create an illustrated story on storyboard paper. If any child is reluctant to draw, however, she asks simply that he/she write.

Although she specializes in non-fiction, she always discusses fiction, too, because some children may be shy to write about themselves, parents, and friends, but they may feel comfortable writing about fictional characters based on people from their own lives or from their imagination. Because she is a documentary photographer and filmmaker as well as a writer, the author tries to use photographs and, if screening facilities are available, video excerpts in her workshop. If students are doing research on a particular subject and the teacher prefers that the artist use that subject as the basis for her workshop, she does so.

Examples of activities


  • Screen a short excerpt from a film directed by Louise Abbott on the Inuit of Nunavik in which an Inuit elder is seen telling a traditional story to the children gathered around him. This can lead to a discussion of storytelling, the role that it has always played in society, the different forms that it can take, and the basic elements of story structure.
  • Show the students a photograph taken by Louise Abbott of a traditional Newfoundland raconteur in costume. Like the film excerpt referred to above, this photograph can lead to a discussion of storytelling.
  • Show students a series of photographs taken by Louise Abbott and other photographers and ask them to describe what they see. This can lead to a discussion about the observations that writers must continually make and the care that they must take in choosing their words.
  • Read short excerpts from selected Canadian books (non-fiction and fiction) and then discuss the way in which writers approach their stories from the first-person or third-person perspective or a combination of perspectives.
  • Ask the children to write a character sketch of someone that they know well. Emphasize that they need not worry at this point about putting the details into any kind of order. (This exercise is modelled on the “freefall” technique of writing pioneered by novelist and short story writer W.O. Mitchell at the Banff Centre of the Arts.) Have at least some of the children read their character sketches aloud.
  • Ask the children to write a story using the character that they developed in their character sketch. For those who want to write fiction, suggest that they ask themselves the question “What if?” to stimulate their narrative. Give them some examples. Provide storyboard paper for those who would like to illustrate their story. (Children today have an impressive grasp of cinematic techniques, but you can always give a quick overview of the use of long shots, medium-distance shots, and close-ups.)
  • For longer-term writing projects, ask the children to produce a short book with their text or their text and drawings (or photographs, if the children are old enough and have access to a camera). This book can be stapled or spiral-bound.

Special conditions

The workshop requires photocopies of storyboard paper (2 or 3 pages per student) and access to a digital projector or a TV. The author prefers to avoid travelling from December to March, but is prepared to do so if the school can find no other suitable dates. Louise Abbott can provide photocopies of The Purple Iris.

For information

Louise Abbott
Téléphone : 819 876-5914
Courriel :

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