Sacred Heart Preparatory (SHP) senior Axel de Vernou has spent seven semesters—three-and-a-half years total—enrolled in Creative Inquiry courses to develop as a writer. During that time, he has written and published two books and a screenplay.
It was English 1 as a freshman with teacher Jake Moffat, and a unit on short stories with favorite authors like Ray Bradbury and George Saunders, as well as Moffat’s “way that he approached every single one of them, and the mystery of trying to find out the theme behind a story,” that inspired de Vernou to first try writing.
“From there I decided I was going to write my own short story, and that I wanted to contribute my own pieces to the literary world,” said de Vernou.
Moffat, who is SHP’s English co-department head and a Creative Inquiry teacher, recalls with a laugh how “Axel rejected my suggestion” to try writing just one short story, and proceeded instead to write a full collection.
“Since then, he has found a home as a writer in Creative Inquiry. He is [also] editor-in-chief of the Heartbeat student paper… Axel has certainly written more as a Sacred Heart student than anyone I have taught in the past 21 years,” said Moffat.
His collection of 14 fictional short stories, titled Below the Dark Stilts,
was written over the course of two semesters during his sophomore year, and self-published on Amazon’s Direct Publishing platform the June before his junior year.
The stories range from the realistic fiction of Semipermeable, the most autobiographical of the stories, which takes place in a haunting chateau in France with a mysterious portal, to the title story in the collection, a science-fiction piece depicting a totalitarian world that “touches on themes that we know here on Earth,” like environmental degradation and social disparities.
While approached by a few different publishers after submitting the manuscript, de Vernou opted instead to self-publish to maintain control over every detail, down to creating the cover art pencil drawings, learning about layout using InDesign, and purchasing ISBN numbers.
His latest achievement is completing his first novel, also published through Amazon, titled There Were Twelve
, a multi-narrative novel that came out in January. “I started it in the fall when I had some extra time to just write, due to the pandemic—I latched onto this story and continued writing through winter break.”
But don’t let the reference to “extra time” deceive you—he has also found time to write a complete screenplay featuring original artwork, film and edit a 2-minute accompanying trailer, give a TEDx talk
last month, maintain a personal blog, and has been a student-athlete throughout his time at SHP, in both cross country and track and field.
And at the beginning of the pandemic, de Vernou launched the “Daily Drop
” feature on the Quad, an online hub that features creative work primarily by SHP students but also teachers’ writing and photography.
“I took on that role to specifically meet the need of creating community during online school. It’s been a lot of communication between teachers, students, and parents to create really engaging [daily] content—but now it produces itself.” The hub also shares other school media publications including online versions of the Heartbeat and the Prep Arts and Literary Magazine (PALM) that de Vernou also helps helm.
While contemplating his future and weighing a variety of colleges and programs, of one thing de Vernou is certain: writing is something he will continue doing throughout his studies. “I’m hoping to apply writing to any discipline in order to create social change, and impact our world for the better,” he says.