Category Archives: Education

Write Ideas Piece #2: Daughter of Reprisal

Today’s young writer is Niqi Simmons, who also participated in the Platform/Lift Write Ideas program.

Write Ideas group shot_low res

Niqi, age 15, attends Islington Arts and Media School, where he enjoys English, Spanish and P.E. He wants be a published author one day.  He has so many ideas, but this is the first novel he’s endeavored to put on paper. When he’s not writing, you can find him riding his bike or listening to music inspire. His other artistic endeavours include learning to play the acoustic guitar. He lives with three generations of women, and he’s the youngest and only male.


Chapter 1

Nicola stood in front of her wardrobe mirror, applying her make-up and adjusting her school uniform, symmetrically aligning her blouse with her jumper. She made sure she was attractive, yet decent, letting the hem of her skirt rest slightly above her knee like most other girls at school did. She wasn’t like most of the other popular girls in school but she tried her best to fit in. No need, seeing as she didn’t even hang out with them. She hated them. They were so loud and annoying. She wasn’t shy, but she tended to be the quiet one most of the time.

The weekend had just passed and she was making an extra effort to get back into the swing of the school routine. She recited her timetable as she didn’t want to feel unorganised for the day. Neither did she want to be late, but she was quite a fast walker anyway, and she lived very near to the school.

She saw her digital clock in the mirror: 8:35 am. She jumped and grabbed her pre-packed bag and ran downstairs.

“Bye mum!” Nicola exclaimed.

“Bye honey, have a good day at school!”

Her mum, Suzann, sat at the dining table with her head sinking into her palm. A bowl of cereal sat beside her getting soggy. Her voice was gravelly and dull. She wasn’t the bundle of joy she once was. Everything had started to change since Nicola began her teen years. But it was Nicola’s father, Adrian, who was at fault. How could he have managed his job, his marriage and his parenthood for so long and then switched all of a sudden?

Nicola’s best friends, Natalie, Lauren and Rebecca, awaited her outside the school gates.

“I think she’s going to be late today,” said Lauren.

“No she isn’t. I can see her running towards us,” said Rebecca.

Nicola skipped over to her friends like a fox. “Hey everybody.”

“Hey Nicola!” they said almost harmoniously.

“I hope I’m not late. Becky, do you have the time?”

Rebecca pushed up her sleeve and checked her watch for Nicola. “It’s 08:48; we have a couple minutes to get to registration.”

“Hey Natalie, are you in my class for maths?” asked Lauren.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Did we get any homework on Friday?”

“I don’t know I wasn’t in that day.”

“Oh faeces! We do,” Nicola interrupted. “We were supposed to complete the test paper we were given in class and I haven’t done it. Ms. Martin is gonna flip!”

“Haha. Chillax. She said she wasn’t gonna be in today because of some course thingy she had to do,” said Rebecca, putting Nicola’s worries at ease.

The four girls entered the classroom prior to the bell and sat in their usual seats at the back of the room. Their form tutor, Mr. Smith, sat idly at his desk playing eighties music from his laptop. Registration was only ten minutes long, so people would usually chat after Mr. Smith took the register, but today was different. Apart from the quiet whispering of a few students, the class was almost silent. An unfamiliar face sat at the desk nearest to Mr. Smith.

“Hey, check out the new guy,” whispered Lauren, whilst nudging Natalie and Rebecca.

“Wow, he’s so hot,” said Natalie. Nicola’s eyes were already fixated on the new guy, and she bit her bottom lip in awe.

“Okay class,” Mr. Smith began his intro. “We have a new student in our form and he’s a little shy, so I’d like you all to make him welcome. Everyone say hello to Doug.”

“Hey Doug,” they said in unison.

“I need someone to show Doug his way around the school for today. Who would like to volunteer?”

Out of several other hands, Nicola’s hand shot up like a bullet. Her friends looked at each other and giggled.

“Who’s that at the back? Nicola? Okay Nicola you’re going to be a guide for Doug today.”

“Yes sir,” she said.

She swung around on her chair and saw her friends trying to suppress their grins.

“Well you seem keen,” said Natalie.

“Love is in the air,” Lauren sang as she wiggled her eyebrows tauntingly.

“Oh shut up,” Nicola snapped in denial. “Everyone is looking at him, not just me.”

Everyone was looking at him and it made him feel a little uncomfortable and self-conscious. Just a little though.

“Okay guys and girls,” said Mr. Smith. “Make your way to lesson please, I’ll see you at PM registration, have a good day!”

Doug delayed putting on his coat and bag, so he could speak to Mr. Smith. Nicola waited outside for him. When he had finished talking to Mr. Smith, he headed for the door. Nicola peeked through the glass window in the door. Her heart skipped a beat every step closer he got to the door, but she took a deep breath and smiled. “Hey Doug,” she said, greeting him, as he stepped out of the classroom.

“Hey,” he replied timidly.

“My name’s Nicola. I suppose you haven’t got a timetable yet, so come to my lesson. I’ve got maths.”

“Urm… okay. I was just talking to sir about my timetable and getting it next week so… yeah.” Doug smiled sheepishly and followed Nicola to her class.

Maths was on the second floor of the other school block so she hurried there with Doug just on her tail. “Is this your classroom?” Doug asked.

“Yep,” she replied.

Although it would’ve been normal for Nicola to let Doug in first seeing as he was the new student, Doug pushed the door open from behind her and let her in instead.

“Ladies first,” he said.

“Aww thanks.” As she walked in, she looked back and smiled for a little bit longer than was considered usual. Some students, including her best friends, caught a glimpse of the romance and stifled a chuckle.

The cover teacher peered over her glasses. “Why are you late?” she questioned sternly in a strong European accent.

“Sorry miss. Mr. Smith said I have to take Doug here to my lessons, because he’s new and he doesn’t have a timetable.  I had to wait for a couple minutes whilst he talked to sir after registration.”

The teacher’s voice softened. ”Fair enough. Take a seat over there,” she said pointing to the two available seats on the other side of the classroom.

To keep reading, click here to download chapter 2, and be sure to leave a comment for Niqi below!

Write Ideas Piece #1: HOME

Today we’re bringing you the first of several pieces of  writing from teens who participated in the Write Ideas program. Click on the links for more about Write Ideas and Platform/Lift.

Morgan McManus-Lee, age 16, currently studies her GCSE’s at Highbury Fields School. She is really interested in poetry and magazines. She has an addiction to Vogue. She also enjoys drinking tea and buying shoes. She lives with her mum, dad and baby brother Silvans. She was the peer leader for the All Change Write Ideas project.


‘There’s no place like home’
What is home?
Is it somewhere you feel safe
Or loved
And somewhere that when you’re absent you’re truly missed?

I can’t find mine.
Can’t define it
Lost, lost, lost
What is home?

You tell me.

The pen is mightier than the mobile

This year, we have been working closely with the fantastic Platform youth hub in Islington, building an author-led creative writing programme for young people aged 13 to 19 called Write Ideas, which runs every Tuesday evening in term time. Two fabulous authors, Sarah Mussi and Sara Grant, have helped the young authors along their journey from first draft to publication.

To celebrate the culmination of this programme, we will be featuring three of the students’ pieces on the blog starting tomorrow. Today our blog is from Sarah Mussi, who spent a bit of time reflecting on the experience.

When teenage writers pick up a pen with the intention of becoming writers they certainly mean business. And if those teenagers come from Islington and know there is an author-led, community-based, publishing-industry-supported venture for them to take advantage of; hosted in a state of the art venue; then not rain nor snow nor GCSEs (even!) will stop them from attending.

Last week saw the culmination of just such a venture. On Tuesday night, two authors and the young writers’ group from the Write Ideas writing programme presented their writing to the world!   They performed at Platform on Hornsey Road as part of the Islington WORD13 festival, and I was there!

Yes, I was one of the very privileged authors who worked alongside this amazingly dedicated group of young writers, and I was thrilled to be present to applaud their projects at the Express Yourself event last week.

And what’s more, I was there at the beginning too!

I first met the young writers of Islington at the launch party. Along with Meg and Livs, from Hot Key Books; Sara Grant, a fellow author from CWISL (Children’s Writers & Illustrators in South London) and member of the Edge writers’ group; youth facilitators from Platform, stakeholders from the community and Key Coordinator of the Write Ideas & All Change Arts project, Rachel; with them all, I signed up for the journey.

From then on, fortified throughout by delicious (and amazingly huge) cup cakes (with marshmallows and sprinkly bits – O YAY!), we met – through wind and hail – every week for two months! We brainstormed ideas, crafted plots, drafted chapters; we edited and critiqued them. And we set about preparing a presentation of each piece for a culminating evening of celebrations.

And I can’t tell you what a BUZZ-ting and a WOW-ting it was! Stories of disappearances, of explosions, of teenage first love, of families in crisis, of home and of being lost – all came together in that evening of readings and questions and talks and reflections.

Working with such dynamic, enthusiastic and creative youngsters has reminded me exactly why I write for the Y.A. audience. They have an eye for detail, a natural feeling for suspense, a straightforward kind of genuineness, they have all the energy of being young plus the integrity of age: in fact they are totally awesome and fun and quirky too.

So fresh from working with them – and refreshed by their take on life, I think I better get back to my laptop and make sure I can write some thing BOOM and WOW and SO SICK too!

Because like they say, it’s totally worth switching off the mobile for!

Public/Private: how both sectors can learn from each other

Amy’s inspirational post yesterday describing her move into children’s publishing from the education sector has got us all thinking about the pros and cons of working in the public and private sectors and how they can learn from each other.

I have had the benefit of working for both sectors, moving from publishing to the amazing charity Booktrust and back again into publishing. The Bookstart Bear represents the perfect public/private partnership. Here he is carrying the Olympic torch!

Children’s publishers are a strange beast in the private sector. They produce wonderful, inspiring books to help children love books and reading and are well supported by teachers and librarians, but they are also a business with stakeholders who are looking for a return on their investments. The simple business of acquiring and selling rights in children’s books is not the most lucrative one and no-one who works in children’s publishing would say they are in it for the money, but it is nether-the-less a business run for profit which thrives on competition.

Charities on the other hand are not-for-profit, and generally run on a complicated mix of public and private sector money. Booktrust for example is funded by the government via the Arts Council and directly to run its book-gifting programmes including Bookstart, which prides itself on its public/private partnerships. Generally this means that publishers provide books at cost with some money for marketing with the government paying for the administration and distribution. The prizes normally rely on media sponsors and foundations such as the BBC, The Sunday Times, the Independent and the Roald Dahl Foundation.

This model is obviously vulnerable to changes in government (Bookstart was a project very dear to Gordon Brown’s heart) and sponsors – I saw Nestle, JLR, the Teenage Prize, Early Years Awards and Orange sponsorships all disappearing as priorities changed for the sponsors and foundations.

Back in December 2010 Booktrust was told from one day to the next that they would lose its £3 million funding of the schools programmes. With the power of Twitter, there was uproar from the public and authors rallied round to save us culminating in an amazing headline in the Observer on Boxing Day 2010 and rapid back-peddling from the government. Now Booktrust is campaigning to keep public money for their programmes with their Bookstart 20 campaign.

Now I have moved back into the private sector to join a brand new publisher – a very rare thing to find these days, but one full of passionate, experienced and knowledgeable people prepared to work differently to the rest of the industry, explore different models of funding by partnering with organisations like the Arts Council and most importantly work transparently, a very refreshing thing in the private sector.

So, over to you. Tell us about your experiences of working for the private and public sectors and how they can learn from each other.

Guest Blog by People Doing Things about Literacy

Hello from another newbie

It’s all dead exciting this, innit? What’s not to like about a brand new publishing company bringing lots of lovely new books into the world? But Hot Key aren’t the only ones doing exciting new things.

Award-winning children’s authors, Barry Hutchison (that’s me!) and Tommy Donbavand, have just launched a brand new online magazine designed to help boost literacy levels in children. Aimed at teachers, librarians, parents – in fact anyone with an interest in getting kids reading and writing – the magazine is crammed full of tricks and techniques to make literacy lessons the highlight of the week.

We’ve been running school events since about 2007 and between us visit around 300 schools a year doing talks and leading writing workshops. We never fail to be amazed by the response we get, particularly from teachers who always ask if they can “borrow” some of the techniques we use to get even reluctant pupils engaged in the writing lesson.

So that got us thinking – how could we share all those little tricks on a wider scale? How could we make it easier for teachers to get their pupils hooked on writing and reading? Start the Story is what we came up with.

It’s a bi-monthly digital magazine with accompanying pupil worksheets which are ready to be printed off and used in class. As well as lots of fun writing exercises, each issue includes a complete lesson plan, homework activities, author interviews, and recommended books for everyone from the most reluctant reader to the most advanced.

We’re also going to be launching some ongoing projects via the magazine – a campaign to get every school producing its own creative writing newsletter, for example – and schools will be able to share their “best practice” via the member’s area of the website.

I’m sure just like Hot Key, we have loads of ideas we want to roll out in the coming months, and the hard part is not blabbing about them all too soon. With literacy levels continuing to plummet, and fewer and fewer children reading for pleasure, we felt that we had to do something to help tackle the problem, so watch this space to discover all the things we’ve come up with.

Well, not THIS space. This space:

Huge thanks to Hot Key for letting us commandeer their blog for this post. If Start the Story sounds up your street, head along to the website to grab issue one right now, absolutely free!



Barry and Tommy