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Grimm & Co’s magical approach to helping children write stories

A scheme in Rotherham aims to boost Sats results and improve lives by harnessing children’s creativity

From the Guardian: Grimm & Co’s magical approach to helping children write stories- Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

At Grimm & Co, this children’s writing centre in the heart of Rotherham, the children’s willingness to write, their wide-eyed wonder as they move around the space and discuss and develop their ideas, is all the more welcome as many young people in the area have problems with confidence, self-esteem and imagination. Reluctant readers and writers abound. English is often an additional language.

Grimm & Co was created by academic Deborah Bullivant after consulting with children in Rotherham. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

It’s no mean feat to inspire a group of 30 10- and 11-year-olds to run across a room and start writing. But run they do. Propped against plaster pillars, perched on a leather sofa, laid on ornamental grass, stories pour out of these children.

This morning they have entered a magical apothecary (to gasps of wonder), passed through a secret doorway (more gasps), climbed a winding staircase and ended in a room laid out like an enchanted garden. With the help of volunteer story mentors they’ve imagined an eagle-winged mouse that smells of cheese and a semi-invisible blue bird with a monkey’s head and clown’s shoes. The main action takes place in a regenerating block of cheese. Somehow a shark has been introduced for the cliffhanger. Now it’s up to each child to decide how their story will end.

Pupils from East Dene primary school Grimm & Co, Rotherham. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

The force behind Grimm & Co is Deborah Bullivant, an academic tasked in 2011 with turning around consistently low key stage 2 literacy results among disadvantaged children in the area. Although much is being done to raise Rotherham’s profile, the local authority is 52nd in the government’s 2015 index of multiple deprivation, within the 16% most deprived districts in England, and literacy results at the end of primary school are consistently at least 5% below national benchmarks.

Top Five Tips for Creative Writing!

Guardian Live: How to write a London novel

From Islington to Earl’s Court, Peckham Rye to Ladbroke Grove, just about every area of London has a rich, historic literature of its own. Countless writers down the ages have sought to make some sense of this labyrinthine metropolis: Dickens wittily unravelled the social fabric of the Victorian era, Virginia Woolf perfected the modernist city symphony and Muriel Spark elevated the quirks of postwar working-class life to literary greatness. But the concept of the London novel is a strange and fluid thing, hard to define beyond its obvious geographical premise. So how might aspiring novelists set about penning a London masterpiece?

From the Guardian: Mapping the territory ... an aerial view of Central London at night. Photograph: JASON HAWKES / Barcroft Media

You must know London...

“You’ve got to know the city,” explained Self, who takes a rambling, psychogeographical approach to his work and clearly knows a thing or two about the capital. “The long view is essential for the city writer,” he said. “You must feel the shadow … feel your own evanescence.” Amid multiple tangents and digressions, he touched on the repeal of the Test Acts, the history of municipal socialism in the city and nigh on 40 years of “unrestrained neoliberal globalising bollocks”, demonstrating a little of his own broad knowledge. He’s an advocate of exploring the past and not getting overly bogged down in the the present day. “You can get a bit overexcited about the present, in my view,” he said.

... but use an outsider's perspective

Of course, knowing London doesn’t mean you have to have lived there all your life, nor does it necessarily require some kind of complete understanding. Kennedy seems in favour of an intimate, almost microcosmic line of action. “So much about London is about a very small view,” she said, explaining that it was the likes of Spark’s shabby and weird – but lovely – stories that initially attracted her to the city.

Like Spark, Kennedy is Scottish, and she appears to use her outsider’s vantage to observe and perceive things in a way that perhaps those who have long inhabited the city don’t. Whether coming at things from a “newly-arrived” or “here-forever” point of view, it stands to reason that a clear idea of what you want, or need, to say is integral. “What’s your focus?” Kennedy asked. “What kind of research are you doing? Is it present day? Is it past? What’s resonating? What isn’t resonating? It’s a research project like any other research project, but it will also reflect what you feel is important about the world.”

For Serious Sweet, she explained, she recorded instances of kindness between strangers. “London partly floats on those,” she said, “because it’s almost intolerable without [them]”.

Top tips for young writers – from past winners of the young writer award

Helen Simpson – winner in 1991 for Four Bare Legs in a Bed and Other Stories

‘Get used to your own company’ ... the writer Helen Simpson. Photograph: Linda Nylind/Guardian

1. Be brave, be honest and only write what you want to write, not what you think you ought to write.

2. Get used to your own company and to working on your own.

3. Keep at it!

Patrick French – winner in 1998 for Liberty or Death

‘Find a good editor’ ... the writer Patrick French. Photograph: Justine Stoddart/PR

1. Believe in your talent, if you have it.

2. Ignore the peripheral.

3. Find a good editor.

Ross Raisin – winner in 2009 for God’s Own Country

‘You are already a writer. It’s important not to forget that’ ... the writer Ross Raisin. Photograph: Angus Muir/PR

1. Make sure that you know why it is that you want to break into publication. And not to ask yourself this until after you have finished your book. Publication does not turn you, as if by magic, into a writer. You are already a writer. It’s important not to forget that.

2. Finish your book. This is the main piece of advice any author will give you. Whatever is your writing process, ensure that you have got to the very end of it – and are satisfied that you have honed each single word – before you begin to think about the whole other process of publication.

3. An agent who is prepared to represent you does not necessarily equate to the right agent. Even if only one shows any interest, the relationship has to be right for you, so make sure that you speak and meet with them until you are sure. And if you have an instinct that you do not fully trust their ability or desire to wholeheartedly invest their time and expertise in you and your book, then go back to point 1) and ask yourself again what it is that you are wanting to gain from publication.

Sarah Waters – winner in 2000 for Affinity

‘The best novels are written with passion, not calculation’ ... the writer Sarah Waters. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

1. While you’re writing, read like mad – but read analytically. You will never be able to put a book together without an understanding of how other books work. I suspect that this is more a matter of instinct than anything else – but you can nurture that instinct by looking at other texts and thinking, ‘What’s successful here? What’s failing? And why?’

2. Don’t write for the market. Clue yourself up about what’s out there and what sells – and then forget it. The best novels are written with passion, not calculation. Your writing has to come from your heart, not from your desire to the Next Big Thing.

3. When you submit to an agent, be professional about it. Do your research: there’s a lot of advice available online, for example, about writing synopses and covering letters. Approach agents whose lists are a good match with your work. And don’t be squeamish or apologetic! Agents need books to survive, as do publishers. There is no reason why they shouldn’t want yours.


Created with images by hazelw90 - "hot air balloon balloon colour"Photos in Grimm & Co’s magical approach to helping children write stories by David Sillitoe for the Guardian Central London at night photograph by JASON HAWKES / Barcroft Media Writer Sarah Waters photograph by Murdo Macleod; Writer Ross Raisin photograph by Angus Muir/PR; Writer Patrick French photograph by Justine Stoddart/PR; Writer Helen Simpson photograph by Linda Nylind/Guardian. Creative Writing video, Gregory Leadbetter, Birmingham City University.

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