Felicity Castagna‘s latest book, The Incredible Here and Now received the Prime Minister’s Literature Award (YA). Felicity spent several years as a high school English teacher before leaving to teach creative writing in universities, community organisations and schools. She is an experienced Extension 1 and 2 teacher as well as an experienced HSC marker who has marked both of these sections for the Board of Studies.
What were your writing ambitions during high school?
I always knew that I wanted to write and teach. I’m very lucky because I now get to do both! As a writer, I think I’ve had to work my way through all the different forms until I found the one that suited me. In high school I wrote a lot of poetry, I moved to fiction when I was in university because I realised that I needed more space to explore the kinds of ideas and issues I was interested in but that early practice as a poet has really shaped the way I put stories together with an emphasis on imagery and metaphor.
Is English Extension 2 just about producing quality writing?
Yes and no. As a professional writer I know that quality is the most important thing, but I also have to write in different ways for different audiences and contexts. Extension 2 is no different. Of course the markers are looking for quality writing and students want to use their time in the course to develop the skills that will make them into quality writers outside of the classroom, but at the same time students need to have an awareness of the outcomes and requirements that they have to meet. As a former marker of Extension 2 for the Board of Studies I did see a number of examples of quality writing that didn’t do very well because the students didn’t meet the outcomes or the requirements of the form they were writing in.
What advice would you give to parents who have teenagers doing HSC English Extension 2?
The earlier students start writing, the better off they will be, even if they haven’t done all of the research. The number one issue with students not doing well in this course is that they leave the writing to a very late stage so they don’t have enough time to polish it before they submit. Writing is really all about editing. It doesn’t matter if the first draft is bad or if the student doesn’t know every fact about the historical time period they are representing. It is only by writing that you work out what you really need to research and only by getting something down on the page that you’re ready to begin really shaping your story.
HSC students can join Felicity for Everything You Need to Succeed in HSC English Extension 2 on Sunday 30 November, 10am-4pm at the NSW Writers’ Centre.