Igniting the spark

By Louisa Adjoa Parker, poet and Writer Co-Mentor on the Teachers as Writers project 

I often wonder how to identify the precise moment when a person’s interest in words begins – what sparks a passion for literature, be it for life, or just for a brief moment in time, a bright flare. I remember the moment my own love for words began. I have few memories of childhood, but I clearly remember the moment I learned to read, aged three years old. I was reading a picture book by Dick Bruno, and I read three words: I can read, and thought, So I can! Reading, and later writing stories and poems enabled me to escape into imaginary lives.

One of the greatest pleasures a writer can have is seeing a young person’s face light up with the knowledge that they can tell their own or others’ stories, and create something beautiful on a blank page. I believe that children are highly creative beings, but because this creativity is not fed in schools, they begin to lose touch with it as they get older. If you provide them with inspiration, and a few simple tools, they can write.

Working as a Writer Co-Mentor on the Teachers as Writers project was a rich, rewarding experience. It was interesting see how young people (from a primary and a secondary school) responded to the stimuli. When I met the teachers I’d been matched with, it was clear that we had lots in common, and they were keen to explore my suggested themes of identity, difference, belonging and home in the schemes of work we would be writing.

In my second co-teaching lesson with Jennie White, she showed me a draft of an anthology of the children’s work which was being produced, containing work written during the TaW project. I couldn’t stop reading these beautiful pieces which ranged from good to downright fantastic. The work reflected the unique voices of children who had been given the opportunity to think about their own lives, and create poetry. Jennie also showed me how one child wrote prior to our lessons – a few words – and how he was writing now – whole poems and pieces of prose.

I hadn’t planned to use much of my own work in the lessons, however, Joanne Brown suggested we use my story ‘Graveyard Boy’, about a young homeless man, as an example of how it is possible to take a real memory and fictionalise it. I explained to the students that this piece was based on someone I’d known, and that I had been homeless myself at one point. (I believe in the importance of being open and honest, and encouraging tolerance through literature.) This piece hasn’t been published yet, and needs work, but it was effective as a model for the young people to think about fictionalising their experiences, and developing character, setting, plot and dialogue.

I have enjoyed being a part of this, seeing young people engage with the written word and helping to ignite the sparks that might grow into flames.

Louisa Adjoa Parker

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