Thursday, 4 September 2014

Inkhead Interview - Back to School

September is all about back to school.  So I'm running a special feature on Inkhead.  If you don't know what it is, read on and find out more.

Louise Pearce is the founder of Inkhead which runs creative writing workshops for children aged 7 – 14. The main aim of these workshops is to inspire and encourage children to write fiction. Inkhead runs after school clubs during term time and workshops in half terms and the Summer holidays.

Louise and I met because I picked up one of her flyers at Carnegie Library and thought, “This is the perfect job for me. I wonder if they need tutors?.”

At the time I was unemployed and keeping several wolf packs at bay at my door.

A few emails later and an interview was arranged. It took place in a coffee shop at the bottom of Herne Hill. I've never been so camomile tea relaxed and caffeine nervous all at the same time. I needn't have worried. It transpired that Louise and I have a great deal in common.  Two of them being that we are both Africans by birth (she was born in Kenya) and our passion for wanting young people to realise their true potential is on a par.

A few weeks later I embarked on my first job with Inkhead. Even though I was an English teacher for 13 years I wasn't sure if I could do this kind of teaching. I needn't have worried. It was a case of this duck finding the right water temperature at last.

Louise – thank you for taking a chance on me. I'm having a supercalifragilisticexpieliadocious experience with Inkhead.

Interview Part I

When and where did you run your first Inkhead course?

I started in January 2006 and the first course I ran was in my house in Sydenham with three children – one of whom, Emmanuelle, came to the classes for the next 6 years. When she first started she hated writing and said it hurt her hand to write!
What inspired you to start Inkhead?

I was inspired by the tutors on my MA degree course at Goldsmiths who gave me so much encouragement. It was also wonderful to be with other writers and talk about the writing process. I thought that if I’d been given writing workshops (rather than being taught how to write) at school, I would have had more confidence in my ability to write. I always wanted to write but didn’t think I was clever enough!
Why the name Inkhead?

My son thought it up and it was just right.

How have the courses changed over the years?

Fundamentally, the courses haven’t changed that much but we have introduced more writing exercises and I have developed writing prompts – which are 5-minute bursts of writing in a particular way e.g. describe your best friend using words of one syllable. We are continually thinking of new ways to draw children in to writing – using illustrators, setting up a “crime scene”, and using actors – so the courses are always being adapted but the basics are the same. We show children how to build characters, plot a story, describe both characters and setting, use dialogue, add suspense, pace and timing etc.

Why do you use actors at some of your courses?

Because we set up a back story about the character the actor plays and the children can then interview them. They become engaged with the character who becomes very real to them. We had characters pretending to be aliens on one course – and one little boy, Patrick, became so engrossed in the story that he followed our “actor” around all day asking him questions about the planet he came from! The actor had by this time taken off his alien mask but that didn’t phase Patrick!

How has having illustrators added to the courses?

Having illustrators is really helpful for the children as it helps them to visualise the characters they are imagining. They really come to life in all our imaginations as they are being drawn.

How do you find your tutors?

Most of my tutors have come to me – through the inkhead website. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the people who inkhead attracts – they are all very creative, interesting people who are also loyal and committed to what we do. I think inkhead is lucky for them too – we’ve had Amy Sackville, who was working for inkhead when her debut novel, The Still Point, won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize in 2010 and Christie Watson, whose first novel, Tiny Sunbirds Far Away won the Costa Book Award in 2013. No pressure Rae!!!

It seems I have a great deal to live up to now that I've joined the Inkhead family.  I think I'm just about ready for it.

Look out for the second part of my Inkhead feature later this month.


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