More books and their creators in our communities; foster children’s creativity as readers, writers and illustrators. These aims united us – all published children’s authors and illustrators – to form CWISL (Children’s Writers and Illustrators in South London) in spring 2006. We chinked coffee cups at Ritzy Cinema’s café in Brixton, and embarked on building a bridge to our readership.
Our first event cemented our conviction. It was just a ‘book tent’ at Lambeth Country Fair – a display of our books from picture books to teen novels, a ‘read-a-story’ rug and cushions, a book Lucky Dip, an invitation to chat to local authors.
It’s a massive fair – bouncy castles, bird-of-prey displays, horse and livestock events, stalls galore, music groups and performers, a carnival mood overall. And for two days we had a stream of visitors wanting to know more, signing up to our mailing list. We made friends with local families, teachers, librarians, councillors, MPs, community organizations, bookshops and journalists. Families and teens shy of going into bookshops or libraries pored over the beautiful books and asked if they could sit on the rug and read them.
CWISL had taken off with gusto. We haven’t looked back, now known, as we’d hoped, for our writing workshops, book stalls, drop-in writing chats, library and school events, support of Chatterbooks and Teenage reading groups, for libraries overall.
What was abundantly clear was that – regardless of background, access to books, ability to read or write – every single child loves a story and story-making. So do their parents. If you are interested in children as creators in their own right, in effect saying, you’re a story-maker, I’m a story-maker. Here are my stories in these books. Tell me about yours – write or draw them for me, then the dialogue and the writing/drawing become indivisible from the youngster’s appetite for finding stories in books, for wanting to read. It is, quite simply, a powerful prompt – to literacy, to broadening horizons.
So when we conceived our own festival for children, it was to be a celebration of their story-making and inspiration – a creative writing festival – ShoutSouth!
We invited Dylan Calder to help, fresh from devising the StarLit literature festival for children in Shoreditch, and then just developing the marvellous Pop-up Festival. He embraced our ambition with enthusiasm, brought invaluable experience, made us think bigger and bolder.
We found keen partners in Mark Ellis of the Widening Participation/AimHigher programme at London South Bank University, in education services – Arabella Yapp in Lambeth, Kathy MacLean in Wandsworth – and in libraries – Abibat Olulude, Sandra Davidson in Lambeth, Elaine Walters in Southwark, Hilary Manning in Wandsworth. All brought a host of colleagues on board. Andrea Reece gave generous time to publicity.
ShoutSouth! 2010 was a spectacular success. For 3 days in early November, 240 children from 11 schools in Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth, joined 20 CWISL authors and illustrators at LSBU’s Elephant and Castle campus for a sequence of fun writing and illustration workshops. Children were selected by schools on enthusiasm, not proven talent; a high proportion was from the free school meals register.
LSBU generously gave 12 seminar rooms and 2 splendid lecture theatres. 20 Student Ambassadors moved the children around the campus and joined in their workshops. The university term was in full swing. Children felt the buzz, and loved it.
We mixed the 12 workshop groups vertically – Years 5, 6, 7, 8 children in each – and across schools and boroughs. Children steeped in postcode rivalries, initially reticent and self-conscious, relaxed, made new friends, and entered into the spirit.
The first 2 days they were brought by their schools. The final day, Saturday, was voluntary – our test to see if they came back under their own steam.
They did, over 70 per cent of them. Some trekked in alone, some with older siblings, parents, grandparents in tow. One Year 8 boy went first to Saturday football in the park, then raced in: ‘I just got to finish my story,’ he announced. So many, coming through a cold November Saturday to put themselves in a seminar room and finish a story or a picture, or both! You could have heard a pin drop.
As part of the hoped-for legacy, each school group had already visited their local library with us to hear about the coming festival and explore the books in the library. Librarians were ready to encourage getting a library card.
We published everyone’s work on the ShoutSouth! website. The children so inspired us that we launched our creative online magazine for them, ShoutAbout! It’s a permanent showcase for new writing and illustration sent in by children all over the country. We update 3 times a year, archiving previous issues for proud contributors and their fans.
Now we’re gearing up for the ShoutSouth! 2013 – to be held on June 13-15. Children from 9 schools across Lewisham, Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth will again meet 20 CWISL authors at LSBU for inspiration-filled story-making fun. With typical generosity LSBU has again given us a dedicated space including state of the art teaching rooms, a lecture theatre and concourse to make our own for the 3 days.
We’re applying for funding, yet braced to find that funders won’t share our vision.
We’re going to do it anyway, of course. Because we know the children love it. They have an explosion of confidence and pride – which is at the heart of everything.
Simply, they achieve, and they thrive. www.shoutsouth.org.uk”>