Recently, I signed up to volunteer as a Story Mentor with the fabulous children’s creative writing and mentoring charity Little Green Pig. I heard about them after hopping along to author Nikki Sheehan’s book launch for Swan Boy and learning that Nikki has also worked with the charity.
LGP was founded in 2008, inspired by the 826 model for children’s writing centres in the USA. It is supported by London’s Ministry of Stories, fronted by the amazing Hoxton Street Monster Supplies (‘London’s oldest supplier of goods for the Living, Dead and Undead.’) What really appealed to me about working with LGP was their child-centred vision of believing in the power of the imagination and the transformative power in writing and sharing stories. I felt as though they were interested in making children’s voices heard, in a fun and inclusive environment, without the rules of the curriculum.
It was exactly the type of opportunity I’d been looking for, partly just because I wanted to volunteer in some way, especially with a group focusing on children and creativity, but also because, as a soon-to-launch debut children’s author who has never worked with children, I realized a massive need to engage with my audience locally and learn how to communicate effectively with them, work with them creatively and better understand what they need and want from their fiction.
I went along to a venue in Brighton for an information session, where I found kindness, respect and positivity in bucket loads, so I decided to continue with a training session. Cue a fun session featuring favourite words (that day I chose ‘debauchery’, I could never have just one!) and story making, which involved an initial collaborative focus and then volunteers acting out a story while an ‘adult’ scribed on a laptop – essential during story making, so that the children’s ideas are captured without disrupting the flow of their imaginations.
I discovered that LGP believe that all children can be writers, that they have the right to write and that through creative writing they can build skills and self-esteem. Every workshop and after school club is free, and the charity focuses most of its resources on working with children experiencing social or educational disadvantage.
Since training, I’ve worked three shifts so far as a story mentor at one story making workshop during the summer holidays and two after school club sessions in east Brighton. Working with the children has been fun, refreshing, inspiring and rewarding. I’ve learned about skills that can help refocus a child when they are struggling, games that promote fun and creativity and ways to get children writing and enjoying sharing their work with others. And I’ve absolutely adored talking to kids about the books they love.
There has also been another unexpected bonus: becoming a Story Mentor has already surprised me in terms of how enriched my own creative work can be through working with children. It has helped me free up creatively (e.g. by remembering the value of free writing and marvelling at the children’s mega-imaginations) and the ethos within LGP of respecting everyone and their work has meant I actually feel greater acceptance of my own. Being kind and encouraging to children – to everyone – telling them there are no rules and that it is ok to ‘make it up’ makes me feel less hard on myself and more able to be present with my words without feeling hindered by self-doubt.
After my first shift I went home to carry on with my editing. I had a deadline coming up. I felt acutely aware of every single word I wrote; its rhythm, weight, feel, and necessity – or not. I could imagine the children I had just been working with, all the age of my intended audience, hearing my words and losing interest if the excitement slackened. I now feel more inspired to read my work aloud, to make every word count, and I feel more engaged than ever with the world of reading and writing for children.
I hope to continue working with Little Green Pig for as long as I am able to, and perhaps one day to use the skills I learn to facilitate creative writing workshops of my own, as I’m sure that so many children could benefit from an opportunity like this. For my next shift, I’ll be helping out at an event for Street Stories, a project LGP produced for the Brighton Fringe together with Brighton Housing Trust, helping young writers create an innovative audio tour of Brighton by working with people who have experienced homelessness. I’m so excited to experience the tour with some of the children from LGP!