As a new academic year stretches out before you, the last thing you want to do is read about schools, right? You could be wrong! Remember the Harry Potter books? One of the reasons they are so popular is that they belong to not just one, but two very entertaining genres — fantasy, of course, and school stories. School stories have been a popular genre in England from Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s School Days, written in 1857 to Enid Blyton’s various series set in boarding schools. These stories are fun for readers like you because they let you read about characters your own age having adventures large and small, and grownups have always enjoyed them as a way to recapture the magic of their own school days. Another part of the appeal of a school story is that you have a ready-made cast of characters — teachers who are strict or cool, silly or smart, students who may be brilliant, brave, funny, cowardly or sneaky. A boarding school is a small, independent world where all sorts of stories can be set.
Frank Richards’ Billy Bunter stories were among the most popular English school stories. Billy Bunter is a fat, bespectacled, lazy, greedy boy — the opposite of everything a fine young gentleman is supposed to be. He is forever trying to borrow money from his schoolmates or steal food from the tuck shop, or from other boys. His laziness, greed and stupidity get him into all kinds of messes, and it is hard not to eventually feel sorry for the Fat Owl of the Remove.
PG Wodehouse wrote a number of school stories at the beginning of his career. As a schoolboy, I loved Wodehouse’s better known Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings Castle books, but I never really got into these books. Lately, I’ve been revisiting them. If you are at all familiar with Wodehouse (you could start by watching the TV series, Jeeves and Wooster starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry if you aren’t, but be sure to read the books too!), you will recognise some of his trademark witty descriptions and hilariously mangled quotations in stories like The Pothunters and The Head of Kay’s. By and large, Wodehouse’s schoolboy characters are more intelligent than his better known adult characters, but they get into equally complicated situations, and it is fun reading about them.
But why stop at reading stories about imaginary schools? Your own school could be a great setting for a story. Just look around and you’ll start seeing the curious characters around you — dotty teachers, weird classmates, maybe even one of the office staff. Use your imagination and try creating your own school stories! Add a little magic and who knows, you may have the next big hit on your hands.