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Savoy Students Learn About the Magic of Writing
By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
01:12PM / Monday, November 13, 2023
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The students celebrated Lowe's birthday by gifting her a special spoon that Lowe said was too pretty to bake with.

English author Natasha Lowe now lives in Deerfield. She visited the school as part of a monthly reading program. 
SAVOY, Mass. — Emma L Miller Elementary School students had a sit-down with author Natasha Lowe who gave them a glimpse of the magic that goes into writing a book.
"Today we are going to talk about books and magic. I love magic," Lowe told the students last Tuesday. "We are going to talk about where ideas come from and how you take that idea and turn it into a story."
The Deerfield-based author, originally from London, penned "The Power of Poppy Pendle," which tells of a young girl born with magical powers who instead of wanting to hone her magic at a school for witchcraft, yearned to simply bake. This creates a conflict with her parents who want her to follow in the footsteps of her great aunt, a famous witch.
Lowe, who was at first afraid of spoiling the "The Power of Poppy Pendle," lit up when she realized the entire class had already read the book front to back in library.  
"Oh, then we have lots to talk about," Lowe said.
Before digging too deep into her first book, Lowe wanted to provide the students with an origin story of sorts. Before Poppy, there was a stone goose.
Lowe held up a picture of a goose statue her husband purchased at an auction. The ordinary but realistic-looking ornament would be placed in her garden. Lowe said her daughter, then 5, asked why this strange bird looked so real. 
So, Lowe told her a witch turned it into stone.
"And my daughter ran into that house because she was really scared. She locked herself in her bedroom because she was terrified this evil witch was going to come back and take her goose," she said. "I felt quite bad because I had upset my daughter … so I told her it wasn't an evil witch. It was a little girl, and she was just really sad … she was so sad and angry that she went around turning creatures to stone."
Her daughter asked why the girl was so sad.
"I said, 'Well, she didn't want to be a witch' and she thought about that for a minute," Lowe said.
Lowe said her daughter then asked what did this little girl want to be.
And the answer was clear.
"I said 'she wanted to be a baker'," Lowe said. "And that was the start of Poppy. I remember racing to my computer, and I started to write."
Although this was the moment that directly inspired Poppy, Lowe said a lifetime of experiences and a deep love for writing and baking formed the young witch's world.
She asked if the students had people in their lives who read to them adding that her parents and grandparents were always reading to her. She said these stories were incantations that fostered a deep love of storytelling.
She recalled the first book that enchanted her, "The Little White Horse" by Elisabeth Goudge
"It was really magical, and it had wonderful descriptions of food," she said. "…But I remember reading this book under the table in class and thinking I want to write just like this and I grew up to do exactly that."
Lowe said she did struggle and was never the fastest reader and did not spell with pinpoint accuracy. She said grammar was also an adversary when she first started writing. 
Lowe recalled the first story she wrote. The teacher called her up to the front of the class and told her it was terrible with spotty grammar. 
"She made me feel really bad and even if she didn't say, 'You will never be a writer,' that's how she made me feel," Lowe said. "And I remember going home and telling this to my mom. She said, 'Don't worry. It doesn't matter. If you have a passion, and you want to keep with it, and you love to write and tell stories, keep going.' So I did."
She told the students that they should not expect to be experts in anything immediately, especially writing. She said like becoming a better reader and writer, it took her time to perfect Poppy.
Lowe said "The Power of Poppy Pendle" wasn't the first book she wrote. She said the steps leading her to Poppy were probably six or seven rejected books high. These abandoned yet important stories, in terms of developing "The Powers of Poppy Pendle," now live in a drawer.
"Each time you write a book, you send it out, and it will come back. Often they don't want to publish it," Lowe said. "So that's why you have to have courage because you have to keep sending your work out, and you've got to be determined to keep at it. I don't look at those as failures. I feel like each book I wrote led me to the next book. So it is sort of like you have to fail to succeed. It's not really failure, it's just learning more about getting better."
She said she visited the school some 10 years ago with only "The Power of Poppy Pendle" in hand. Then, she didn't imagine that she would write more about Poppy but now she has written four more books — three of which explore characters in Poppy's past and present.  
Lowe said although there is a certain "magic" to writing, much of the alchemy behind storytelling is more conventional and maybe a tad less glamorous. She then asked the students to picture her office. Students imagined a big clean desk with only a whirring computer disrupting the silence.
Lowe held up a picture that was quite the opposite.
"My kitchen and I don't even have a fancy computer setup. And if I am in need of an idea, I will jump up and I will start to bake … I am like Poppy — extremely messy. So my laptop is always covered in butter and sugar," she said. "You don't even need a laptop. When I was your age, I would write stories just in my notebook … I think one of the most important things you need if you're going to be a writer isn't fancy equipment or a fancy office. It's courage, patience, and determination."
She said unlike other authors who plan their books out she prefers to "wing it," noting that she has far more fun writing when she can surprise herself.
"I don't know what's going to happen, and I love that because I'm surprised. So you know the scene in the book where Poppy turns her parents to stone? I did not know that was going to happen," she said. "And when it did I was like 'Oh wow, that's intense' and so I had to get up and take a walk … I love being surprised by my own writing."
But these surprises aren't completely pulled out of the ether and the real sorcery is finding inspiration from her own childhood and her own experiences.
She said as a girl she would spend quite a lot of time in the kitchen creating spells and potions. She remembered one day when she was sure she cracked a flying spell.
"I really really wanted to fly. I remember making my flying potion and then taking this broomstick down to the end of the garden," she said. "I used to think that if I rubbed this magic spell on the broomstick, and I said the right magic words the right way I would fly … Now I never did fly, but I can still remember what that might have felt like — the joy of the possibility of being able to fly. So all of that ends up in my books."
Something more tangible: she held up a photo of her gran's home in Barnoldswick, a borough of Pendle in Lancashire. She said she often visited her grandmother.
She said the little village was home to the Pendle Witch Trials and much like in Salem, alleged witches were executed for "practicing witchcraft." She went on to say the big stone house where her gran lived was home to one of the Pendle witches many many years ago.
She showed more photos of the village that influenced the fictional Pots Bottom and Pudding Lane where Poppy grew up. 
"Lots of things end up in your books. Like your passions and places and of course," she said.

Lowe brought signed copies of 'The Power of Poppy Pendle.'
Lowe said when inspiration hits, it often has a spellbinding effect. It doesn't take her long to speed through a first draft which she usually wraps up within four months. 
"Then I put it aside and do all those things I don't do while I am writing," she said. "I work so hard that I forget to make dinner, I forget to do laundry so there is a lot of pizza and the house is very messy —  well it is always really messy but it is extra messy when I am writing my first draft."
Then she moves on to the real spellcraft — revision which she said has become her favorite.
She read part of her first draft of Poppy and then asked the students to compare it to the final draft. Students noted Poppy had a different name and even within a few paragraphs students found it hard to recognize the witch.
Lowe said it took her over a year to revise "The Power of Poppy Pendle" but other books have taken even longer.
She took time at the end of the session to answer student questions that were brewing through the hour she was with the class. Many of the students pitched book ideas and asked Lowe to explore different characters in Poppy's world pleading that Lowe expand the universe they weren't quite ready to leave.
Lowe said "The Power of Poppy Pendle," "The Courage of Cat Campbell," "The Marvelous Magic of Miss Mabel" and "The Daring of Della Dupree" were somewhat closed off now that they were contained in a box set.
But she didn't rule out.
"I love it. Well, this is been so much fun for me, and I feel like I'm going back with more ideas because you guys have inspired me to go back into some thinking about the characters in different ways and new story ideas," she said. "Often when I'm chatting with kids. I get great ideas
Lowe's visit was part of Librarian Maggie Donahue's initiative to make reading more of a sensory experience for her students. Every month an activity coincides with the reading of a book. In the case of Poppy Pendle, students ate tea-time baked goods after Lowe's presentation.
Meeting the author was frosting on the cake.
"It brings the book even more to life because you get to find out even more and the back story," Donahue said. "I love that Natasha tells them that she was a bad speller and that you can become a published author. I think students need to know they can be whatever they want to be."
Lowe approved of Donahue's methods and she said it is always a treat meeting her readers.
"They pick up things that I am not always aware of as a writer and I am fascinated by it all. I am so impressed by what good listeners they are and what they pick up on," Lowe said. "…I hope they leave here with a love of literature, a love of books, a love of reading, and not to be afraid to try new things. You don't have to be perfect at something right away and it is important to do things because you love it." 
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