Oxford Walking Guide

IMG_6179 (1)

My next project is a walking guide to Oxford. So far I’ve researched about half the book – including the colleges, of course, but also exploring former industrial areas around the station, the suburb of Jericho (built in the early 19th century for workers at the local ironworks and Oxford University Press), and North Oxford, a late-19th-century middle-class neighbourhood with some gloriously quirky houses.

Watch this space for publication – maybe later in 2020?


London’s Oddities

oddities front

After a longer-than-expected timelapse, London’s Oddities finally arrived. The book has been really popular with everyone who has read it (or even looked at it) and it’s thrilling to see it in shops (especially gallery shops like the Royal Academy or Tate Modern) around London. Thank you for everyone who helped to make it happen – and I hope you all enjoy it!

If you would like to buy a copy, order it direct from the publisher here

London’s Oddities for Metro Publications

photo 4I am about to embark on a book about London’s oddities with Metro Publications. Not sure what an oddity is yet, but I’m drawing up mammoth list of things that might qualify.

I think it needs to be things that are odd to London (existing only in London), odd within their own right, or unique, and then, of course, there are things that are just… odd.

It’s a long-burn project, probably coming out in 2016, so these are very early days.

Picture This! with Dan Simpson and Beach Creative

photo 3Picture This! is a year-long programme of creative writing workshops for Herne Bay teenagers, made possible by a grant from the Clore Duffield Foundation. I was involved in part of it – a series of inspiring workshops by poet Dan Simpson at Herne Bay High that resulted in a Categorical Books publication of the poems. One series in particular, inspired by a poem by Sven Stears, had the pupils invent imaginary jobs, to surreal effect.

The anthology was launched at an event at Beach Creative in Herne Bay where Dan performed poems from his new book Applied Mathematics.

The book’s cover photograph and design are by Nancy Wilson.

Poetry Exchange

tpeFiona Lesley Bennett of the Map Consortium has set up a wonderful project called the Poetry Exchange.

The Poetry Exchange is a way of sharing our enjoyment of poetry by inviting people to nominate a poem that has been a friend to them. The person who suggested the poem then has a conversation with an actor about what the poem means to them – either one to one or as part of a larger audience – and in return they receive a unique recording of their chosen poem inspired by the conversation.

I nominated Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Song’, which has long been a favourite. The discussion took place at the Wise Words festival in Canterbury and I was thrilled with the recording by Jacqueline Kington and Michael Schaeffer.

You can hear some of the recordings or nominate your own poem by clicking here.

Kings Hill revisited

IMG_0820Kings Hill is built on the former West Malling airfield, which was the most important base for night fighters during World War II and was subsequently home to US forces, Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin, the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and much more. From the 1990s it was developed as a new town and in 2013 I was invited to help to gather material from local residents and schoolchildren for a series of text-based artworks by artist Richard Wolfströme that would commemorate the site’s history.

It was a long journey from talking to people and gathering their memories and dreams to the finished art. But at last the works are installed and it was wonderful to see them and to remember the many conversations and workshops that inspired them.

You can read more of the memories we collected and some of the poetry we generated by clicking here.


Brazil 2014 with Future Creative

IMG_0341Pupils at St Michael’s RC Primary School in Medway geared up for the World Cup by publishing a newspaper about Brazil and … football!

I worked with all the Year 4 classes, divided into five teams, to write about carnival, rain forests, Rio’s tourist sites, top teams and top players. Our newspaper was published just before the first kick-off and I don’t think anyone will have been too upset by England’s dismal performance as most pupils seemed to support Nigeria, Germany, Ghana, USA, Argentina or Brazil.

London’s Houses in full colour

photoI’m delighted with the new edition of London’s Houses, now published in full colour!

New entries for 2014 include Dorich House, designed by sculptor Dora Gordine (1895–1991) as a home for herself and her husband; JMW Turner’s house in Twickenham (where he lived with his dad); Grim’s Dyke in Harrow, home of librettist WS Gilbert; and Valentines House in Ilford, location for the Great British Bake-Off.

So far I’ve spotted it in the Tate, the V&A, and bookshops around London. Or you can order from Metro Publications. Enjoy!

Richard Rogers at the British Museum

photo 1I was lucky to get a preview of the new British Museum World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre as part of my role as editor on a book about the project published by the architects.

It’s an amazing building that stitches together new and old, in particular through facades clad in Portland stone pocked with the marks of fossils and frosted glass panels etched with the outline of parts of the Jurassic Coast. But what you may not appreciate from the street is that 68% of the building – housing storage as well as the sensitive equipment needed to explore and restore the museum’s collections – is underground.

If you are passing through Bloomsbury, watch out for the truck lift, which transports lorry-loads of items seven stories below ground and rises up again to ground level with surreal effect.

Pass the Passion with Future Creative

photoOver the past few months I have visited 30 out of the 52 schools in the Deal and Dover district! In each school I have talked to pupils about their hobbies, ambitions, aspirations – in short, their passions – and then encouraged them to write articles about them to be published in a newspaper.

We produced three newspapers, with ten schools in each. The young people wrote about becoming gymnasts, athletes or footballers, lawyers, scientists or writers, vets, engineers or palaeontologists. They were justifiably proud of seeing their names in print and of passing their passion on to inspire their readers.

The project was part of the Olympic legacy programme, Pass the Passion: Road to Rio.

Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy

SS_Cover_proofreadIt was great to see the Sensing Spaces exhibition after spending several months working on the catalogue. I feel as if most of my time for the past weeks has been spent listening to hours of tapes of conversations between the curator, Kate Goodwin, and the architects (Kengo Kuma, Grafton Architects, Li Xiaodong, Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Diébédo Francis Kéré, Eduardo Souto de Moura and Alvaro Siza) and trying to then make them make sense to a reader – as well as all the general editing, caption writing, and other things that go into making a publication.


ss1Having seen the exhibition and the fabulous finished catalogue, designed by Isabel Duarte and Simon Esterson of Esterson Associates, I can say it was all worthwhile. A really brave step by the Royal Academy and hopefully – given its appeal to a younger audience – the harbinger of more major architecture exhibitions in the future.


Catching Words with Discover

20131209_152933I’m very sad to have finished another term with three schools as part of the Catching Words project run by Discover Children’s Story Centre. This time I was working alongside a fantastic team of poets including Joseph Coelho, Adisa, Paul Lyalls and Joshua Seigal.

The project is for Year 2. In the first term each class has eight session with a poet, followed by eight with a storyteller in term two and a further eight sessions with a storywriter who helps them create a class story that is published as a book. The project has been incredibly successful, with children progressing far faster than expected. Most of the classes contain a high percentage of EAL children as well as children who struggle with literacy and it is wonderful to see them grow in confidence and ability to express themselves.

Altogether we worked in ten schools in East London as well as a similar number in Hertfordshire who got a single whole-day session rather than the full project.

My favourite session involved asking the children to draw and write about imaginary animals or monsters based on Edward Lear’s ‘The Quangle Wangle’s Hat’. The teacher said she had never seen the children so spellbound!

Cookery with Steve Weaver

cookeryI am currently involved in assisting at a series of workshops run by Steve Weaver of Chives Caterers. The project is part of Cyber Youth Connection (CYC) Medway, an initiative to give 11-19 year olds skills in cookery, music and motorbike mechanics (yes, really!) in collaboration with a similar initiative in northern France.

I’ve learned how to make twice-baked soufflés, how to crush garlic and how to break up dry spaghetti to put in minestrone, among a lot of other things. Steve’s menus are wonderfully ambitious, so for each session we make and eat a three-course meal including desserts such as chocolate éclairs and hot chocolate puddings.

And the kids love it too…

Poets of the Future with Joseph Coehlo

joe's book coverThis is a book of poetry produced from poems and stories that poet Joseph Coelho had helped a group of Year 5s produce in a school in Ramsgate. The project was organised by Future Creative.

One of the pupils told him: ‘I’ve never written as much as this before. So well done, Joe!’

Categorical Books put the book together from the writing and illustrations the children produced. An excellent use of pupil premium!

Songs and poems with Nine Below Zero

ghostThis was a wonderful project organised by Future Creative in Minterne Community Junior School in Sittingbourne.

Musician Dennis Greaves of blues band Nine Below Zero and I worked in all twelve classes – I went in first and encouraged the children to write poems on the themes of memory and identity and then Dennis followed and helped them transform the poems into lyrics and set them to music.

At the end we produced a book of poems and illustrations and a CD of the songs, called There’s a Ghost Under My Bed.

VickyDennis2013 023It was really interesting for both Dennis and I to observe each other’s creative process and to think about the difference between what makes a good poem and what makes a good song. The most successful poems for me were with a Year 4 class where we did cut up poetry – I gave the children an A4 page of words to do with the sea and they rearranged them as they wished.

Here is an example:

Calm clouds disappear
Shimmering waves whisper
Rippling pools roll
We walk on the golden sand
Violent cliffs towering up
We plunge into the deep
I shout to the dark
Rocks, sharp and solid
Alone under the pebbles crabs scuttle
Shimmering moon sings
Droplets surf among the tide
Sunrise, sunset over rain

Dennis and I were reunited for the retirement of headmaster Bill McGrory when Nine Below Zero performed and I read a poem I had written sourced from comments and memories by of pupils and staff. Here it is:

million dollar bill

The Daily Sunshine

daily sunshine_reviseThis was a project at Pent Valley Technology College for a transition summer school for Year 6s due to start the school in September.

I spent a day with the group finding out their interests and encouraging each of the pupils to write a review, news story, commentary or other article – the topics covered included games, cars, fashion, animal facts, football and more.

We then produced a newspaper which was given out to prospective Y6s at open day as well as to the pupils who had contributed.

It is amazing how much the pupils achieved in such a short time and we were all proud of their efforts. Thanks to Future Creative for their support!

Bastille Day 2013

french_flagI’ve just done a series of workshops in a London secondary school to celebrate Bastille Day, or le quatorze juillet. We based the workshops around a fantastic short film called ‘Le génie de la boite de raviolis’ from the BFI ciné-minis series which we encouraged the Y8 pupils to use as a starting point for thinking about their wishes for the future.

To their surprise, the pupils were able to understand the film with French subtitles (and a bit of help) as well as writing their wishes in French.

There are a lot more workshop possibilities using film and foreign languages and I would love to do more in the future.

Read all about it!

P1100520Pupils from Bromstone Primary School in Broadstairs have just published their first newspaper. The title is Manston Past & Present and the paper contains an interview with staff from Manston Airport about their new link up with Dutch airline KLM, an interview with WW2 bomber pilot Gerry Abrahams, interviews with pupils about their view on WW2, interviews with parents about their experiences of airports, stories about holiday dreams and disasters and much more.

For the project I worked with ten pupils from Y6 and film-maker Richard Fleury of Skeletope, and as well as the newspaper we produced a film. You can see the film by clicking here.

Organised by Future Creative, the project was great fun, as well as producing noticeable improvements in the pupils’ work as they prepare for secondary school. Headmaster Nigel Utton tweeted ‘Fantastic, loved the newspaper. So professional. Best ever use of pupil premium’ – and I’m inclined to agree.

Poetry for the Olympic Legacy List

TMitchell_130522_4784.163200The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is about to open – and alongside the adventure playground, flower meadow, riverscape and café you’ll find poetry from Carol Ann Duffy, Lemn Sissay, Jo Shapcott and others incised into walls, paving and benches. Among the ‘others’ are the young winners of the Children’s Legacy Poems competition.

I feel privileged to have worked with these young writers. Joseph Coelho and I spent May and June in schools in the five Olympic boroughs encouraging children to balance on crocodiles’ tails (or beams, if you must), run across swamps, hop over rocks in streams of molten lava and tiptoe past sleeping dragons in order to write adventure poems inspired by the Olympic Park. The schools submitted their entries and we chose thirteen winners, with the results published in a booklet produced by the Legacy List. Lines from the two outstanding poems will be reproduced in some form within the park.

Joining us on the judging panel was Jo Bell, Canal Laureate 2013. At the prizegiving she described poetry as holding a magnifying glass up to the world, or a holding of hands between writer and reader… ‘Poets notice things and try to say them in a way that makes others see the world differently.’

The project was organised by Discover and the Legacy List; the wonderful photographs were taken by Tim Mitchell.

Joseph, Jo and I all wrote our own Olympic Park Adventure poems, and here is mine.

Hide and seek in Tumbling Bay

One, two, three… and I was whooshing
down a blade of grass as broad as a dragon’s tail,

dodging through a forest of stalks
each as tall as the Great Scots Pine,

climbing a mesh of green laces
to the top of a swaying fern

then hooking my fingers round a frond
and dangling like an Olympic gymnast,

hand over hand, towards the trembling edge. I jumped…
and landed on a spot on the smooth red shell

of a ladybird’s wing, clinging to the rim
as we flew through the blue to the bell of a foxglove

that smelled like my grandmother’s hair.
We battled a bumblebee in a clash of antennae

then swooped away, trees and paths and river
like a map below us. I let go, dived downwards

to a trampoline of turf, rolling over and over
to escape the stomping feet of dinosaur children,

the rough pink cliff of a tongue, panting and wet.
Quick! Hide! Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred…

Storytelling for The Conservation Volunteers

P1070337It was a wild and stormy day in late March. Snow was blowing in across the North Sea and the early daffodils were shivering in the biting wind. At the Singleton Environment Centre families stomped up in boots and winter coats to take part in  the Spring at Singleton weekend…

And despite the bitter weather, we had a great time! I did a storytelling session where groups were invited to listen to me perform ‘Where stories come from’ and then to create their own story with the help of a basketful of wooden objects I brought in for the event.

By the end of the day my voice was giving out after leading half a dozen sessions to groups of between 5 and fifteen who all enthusiastically listened and then contributed ideas. We wrote out some of the stories and put them up on the wall to inspire future sessions. Here is one of them.

Tales of Mystery & Magic for The Ursuline Preparatory School

P1070334The Ursuline Preparatory School in Brentwood has just published a new book!

Called Tales of Mystery & Magic, it contains a story from each of the school’s nine classes (ranging from pre-Reception to Year 6) about an adventure that travels through space or time. Whether the subject is training for the Olympics in Ancient Greece, acting as skivvies for the school’s Victorian owners, playing an X-box game that gets out of hand or taking a magic bicycle ride with a talking owl, the stories tell of the children’s imaginations and skill as well as their exciting adventures.

The project began when English Coordinator Sarah Macdonald tracked me down through internet searches after seeing the book I helped produce for Sunnymede School. You can read a bit about that project here or see the book by clicking here.

For Ursuline, I delivered a half-day workshop to each class to inspire pupils and staff and provide tips on how to coordinate the writing process for a whole-class story. This included writing by adding to a blog, voting on a subject and then all contributing to it, writing individual sections of the story in groups and using drama and role-play to create a tale. As well as their writing, I also suggested that pupils each contribute at least one illustration.

You can imagine my excitement when six weeks later a box containing the stories and artwork arrived on my doorstep! The book was edited and designed by Categorical Books following rough layouts supplied by each class and copies were printed in time for Book Week at the beginning of March. We even scored a whole page in the local newspaper – you can see pictures here.

The project was so successful that I am hoping to offer the process as an opportunity to other schools – watch this space or get in touch for details.

Vicky made the whole process from the writing workshop to the book launch not only exciting but stress free too. The children thoroughly enjoyed working collaboratively as well as seeing their work in print. A very worthwhile project which I would definitely recommend. Sarah Macdonald, English Co-ordinator, Ursuline Preparatory School

We thought the book was absolutely fantastic! What an amazing keepsake for the girls to treasure. Thank you so much. Parent, Ursuline Preparatory School


Workshop for the Isle Writers

P1020182I was really pleased to be asked to deliver a workshop aimed at drawing in less experienced poets and writers for The Isle Writers, a Thanet-based writing group. To my amazement – and that of the organisers – thirty people turned up for a day called ‘Give it a Go!’ that included my own sessions on poetry as well as workshops on memoir and story-writing.

There were accomplished novelists who were novices at poetry as well as people who had been writing poetry but never made their work public and people new to writing. Everyone had produced at least one poem by the end of the hour, and several people told me that it was their first!

I hope to give another workshop for The Isle Writers in November. For details of the group, telephone 01843 865135 or 01843 869413.

The photograph is of my own poem for Margate, which was displayed for a year in a disused shop in Cliftonville.

Canterbury Valentine’s Trail with Prosper

MOiseax15I can’t resist posting this image of the Valentine’s Trail which I created with Pat Wilson Smith and Adam De Ville as part of the Prosper intitiative.

The wonderful life-size wooden people were designed by Pat Wilson Smith, and as you can see from the photograph, they certainly succeeded in attracting the attention of passers-by.

Each board had information about a local business and local initiative and each led the viewer on to another further along the trail.

We learned a lot from the experiment, and next time could certainly do it bigger and better. But rather than praising what we did do to the skies, here is feedback from one of the shopowners, which I hope speaks for itself:

“The general idea of setting up trails of this sort to guide some people off
their beaten track and their comfort zone is very good for the city centres
(a bit like ‘google something with your feet for a change’). Giving visitors
(and residents) a real authentic experience of a place and its unique
products and history in a broad sense is what will be the future of City
centres I believe, leaving the cheap and standardised shopping for on-line.”

Watch this space!

Karaoke poetry performance in Unexplored Territory

Chapel-Unexplored Territory–PosterAnother opportunity to hear my Karaoke Poetry as well as other readings from Unexplored Territory, edited by Maria C. McCarthy and published by Kent publisher Cultured Llama.

The book is anthology of poetry and fiction that includes such fabulous writers as June English, Maggie Harris, Mark Holihan, Luigi Marchini, Gillian Moyes, Bethany W. Pope and Fiona Sinclair among others.

The latest celebration of a wonderful publication is at The Chapel, 44/46 Albion Street, Broadstairs CT10 1LX, Saturday 16 March, 2pm to 4pm.

Readers from the book will be joined by musicians Bob Carling and Sienna Holihan. I’ll be there too, with my karaoke backing tracks, to read the first three poems in the Karaoke Poetry series.

All welcome, so please join us. Or if you can’t come along, the book is available from the Cultured Llama website.

Prosper Valentine’s Trail

prosper valentine's trailOur Prosper project has gone through many permutations since we started back in October. But our thoughts on a living tourist information station have now coalesced into the idea of an installation containing information that links community and commercial, history and stories, themed around a specific event.

It’s probably easier to see it in practice than explain it in writing, so why not come along to our Canterbury Valentine’s Trail on 9 February? For those of you unable to attend, it will consist of a series of life-sized wooden figures outside businesses with a link to Valentine’s Day, each of which gives information about both a current community project and the history of the part of Canterbury it’s located in. Each board directs you to the next one to form a trail, with the journey beginning and ending at the Beaney where you receive a small prize for solving a riddle. Enjoy!

You can find more information by clicking here, or on the Prosper website.

Lost the Plot with New Writing South

lost_the_plot_cover_front_onlyThis is a small book full of wonderful writing.

It’s part of a project called Writer Squads run by New Writing South, which places writers with groups of young people aged 13 to 17 to inspire and help develop their writing.

The book documents the results of Dean Atta‘s project with the Margate Writer Squad and features poetry and stories by Maddie Raven, Samuel Williams, Anna Harvey and Sofie Llugiqi.

The writing is fresh and original and it is obvious that the young people, inspired by Dean, have polished their work so there’s not a word out of place.

Categorical Books is very proud to have played a small part in the project’s development. The book is not for sale as the print run was minute, but hopefully the contents might help the young people and the project to find a wider audience.

Prosper with Canterbury Festival

prosper adam de ville vicky wilsonI am excited to be part of a team working on the Prosper initiative, a scheme to build cultural capacity in East Kent by offering support and investment to discover how working together and the power of the arts can enable East Kent and its people to thrive. It is backed and run by Workers of Art, The Map Consortium and the Canterbury Festival. There are about fifteen other investigations within Prosper, ranging from using virtual technology to explore Ramsgate Tunnels to producing a mobile museum to make public the Beaney’s stored collections.

For our investigation, I am working with artists I had never met before – Pat Wilson SmithAdam De Ville and Reece de Ville – to explore the possibilities of a living tourist information station that will give residents and visitors an alternative view of the city from that provided in the usual brochures and websites.

We will be holding a day of action to gather stories and information:
Bean Head cafe, Burgate, Canterbury
15 December, 11am to 3pm.
Please come and join us to tell us your Canterbury Tale!

Kings Hill Cultural Strategy with Richard Wolfströme and Future Creative

Kings Hill is built on the former West Malling airfield, which was the most important base for night fighters during World War II and was subsequently home to US forces, Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin, the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and much more. From the 1990s it was developed as a new town and plans are now underway to refurbish the former airfield control tower – a wonderful 1930s building with curved glazing and walls – for community and commercial use.

Artist Richard Wolfströme is creating a series of text-based works to be embedded into the paving around the site. And along with Future Creative practitioners Andy Evans, Lesley Finlay and Doug Noble, I am collecting stories to use as inspiration. We are talking to individuals, organising visits to schools, nurseries and youth clubs and are holding two community events (see poster). So far we have heard about ghosts and heroes, abandoned women and candlesmoke graffiti, lost German pilots and the perils of going over the top. Please get in touch if you have any stories or information to add! Or join us in the Kings Hill Community Centre on 5 or 10 December.

Catching Words with Discover

tim mitchell discover catching wordsI am really proud to be part of a team delivering Catching Words, a literacy intervention project for Year 2 pupils in East London and Hertfordshire run by the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford. The project involves a writer and storybuilder delivering eight weekly sessions a term across seven schools with the aim of improving children’s confidence and switching them on to writing. First term is poetry, for which Joe Coelho and I are sharing the schools between us. Second term is story writing with Malika Booker and Paul McVeigh, then in the third term the children write a group story which is published as a book with Vicky Martin and Zoey Cooper.

Most of the work is oral, consisting of sharing good poems and using various strategies to encourage the children to write their own. So far I have done one session in each of my three schools and the children are filling up their writing journals fast!

The photograph by Tim Mitchell is of one of Vicky Martin’s Term 3  sessions where children are encouraged to act out scenes and develop characters through shadow-puppet techniques. The training day, where Joe, Malika and Vicky shared the innovative strategies that had worked best in previous year, was awesome. It seems I am on as much of a creative learning journey as the children.

Unexplored Territory with Cultured Llama

Karaoke Poetry is about to be published for the first time! The first three poems are now available for public consumption in Unexplored Territory, edited by Maria C. McCarthy and published by Kent publisher Cultured Llama.

The book is anthology of poetry and fiction that includes such fabulous writers as June English, Maggie Harris, Mark Holihan, Luigi Marchini, Gillian Moyes, Bethany W. Pope and Fiona Sinclair among others.

The launch event is at the Beaney, 18 High Street, Canterbury CT1 2RA, Thursday 15 November, 6pm to 7.45pm.

All welcome, so please join us. Or if you can’t come along, the book is available from Amazon.

Wise Words with Canterbury Festival

wise words categorical books sarah salwayWise Words: The Canterbury Laureate Anthology 2011–2012 is the latest publication from Categorical Books.

The anthology charts the journey of the 2011-2012 Laureate Programme, part of which was a pilot collaboration between creative writing MA students at the University of Kent, teacher trainees from Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury Laureate Sarah Salway and the Canterbury Festival.

Teacher trainees and MA students worked in pairs with schools and community groups to deliver workshops aimed at producing creative writing and photography on the theme of Wise Words. The project had a strong intergenerational slant, pairing older members of photography, arts and dance groups with young people from a refugee centre and a special school. Along the way, wise words were collected from the public at events and though a website forum.

The book contains the inspirational writing and photographs produced in the course of the project by students and participants, as well as by Sarah Salway herself, alongside writing exercises and workshop guidelines.

Do come along to the launch on Saturday 13 October at the Canterbury Heritage Museum, Stour Street, CT1 2NR, 5.30–7.30pm. Or check out the book at Amazon.

Smoothie bar workshops for Future Creative

smoothie bar future creative transition to secondary schoolOver the summer I have delivered several workshops for Future Creative to ease the transition of Year 6 pupils to secondary school.

The workshops divided into two strands: one was a series of four weekly sessions aimed at students from several schools who needed help with reading to enable them to access the curriculum and the second was a two-week intensive introduction to a specific secondary school for pupils who might find the transition difficult. In both cases the aims were to make learning fun, to boost confidence and teamwork, and to develop literacy and other core skills.

For both sets of workshops I used making smoothies as a theme. We looked at recipe books, discussed healthy eating, formed our own smoothie-making company and finally tried out recipes and experimented with our own ideas. Then we gave our concoctions names and logos and drank the results!

I was impressed by the pupils’ hard work and enthusiasm and hope it has helped them to settle into their new schools. Favourite quote from one pupil:  ‘Of course we’re working hard! What’s the point of me giving up my holidays and you giving up yours if we aren’t going to put a bit of effort in?’

frog in love with Frances Knight

frog in love frances knight categorical booksWe are really pleased to announce that Categorical Books has designed its first CD package.

frog in love, by pianist Frances Knight, features double bassist Alex Keen, drummer Vince Clarke, Tony Coe on sax and clarinet, and Aidan Shepherd on accordian. It’s a mix of Frances’ own compositions, plus tracks by Coe and others and new interpretations of pop classics such as the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’.

Mischa Pearlman describes it as ‘an evocative and enchanting album… that’s touching, tender and thoughtful.’ We particularly like the title track, which has the same playful wit and charm as the character in Max Velthuijs’ children’s book series, which provided inspiration.

You can buy the album at www.francesknight.info or by clicking here. Highly recommended!

Launch of We come from… with Dean Atta

Dean Atta and Vicky WIlson We come from...We had a really great launch event for We come from… Write from the Heart 3 (edited by Dean Atta and Vicky Wilson) at Beaumont School in St Albans on 9 July.

The book contains some 60 poems by secondary school students who have English as an additional language and is now available to buy on Amazon. For more about the project, click here.

About fifteen of the young contributors read their poems and Dean  performed two of his own that are in the book.

Thanks to everyone who worked on the project – it has been a wonderful experience and a real cause for celebration.

Carole Connelly of the Herts BME Achievement Team and Suzanne Rider of Hertfordshire Music Service are hoping to get funding for future similar projects – watch this space!

Wise Words with Sarah Salway

wise words image future creative vicky wilson sarah salway canterbury festivalCanterbury Laureate Sarah Salway has launched a programme called ‘Wise Words‘, in conjunction with the Canterbury Festival. The project links four community groups in the under-18 age bracket with four in the over-60s bracket to produce intergenerational creative writing. I’m hoping to be involved in producing a publication of the results, but meanwhile there’s a public forum where you can post your own ‘wise words’ and read others’.

I’ve just posted mine – drawn in part from the responses of pupils to the Future Creative Pass the Passion project, which I’m sad to say has now finished. The idea was to use the Olympics as a stimulus to encourage pupils to think about their aspirations and to create messages for the future. Here are some of my favourites:

We hope the future will be chocolatey.
We hope you have cars that fly and a robot to clean your houses.
We hope you have a rocket that can mend holes in the ozone layer.
We hope you have books that create pictures from your imagination.
We hope you find a magic touch that cures all illness.
We hope you can regenerate the forests with your footsteps.
We hope you have an underground world to visit when you are bored or sad.
We hope you are careful where you step – the earth could be breaking.
We hope everything will be flowers and butterflies.
We hope you have dreams, and can make your dreams come true.
We hope everything will be… just charming!

Park Hill Sheffield in black and white

park hill sheffield keith collie jeremy till categorical booksCategorical Books is proud to announce our first 2012 architecture title: Park Hill Sheffield in black and white with photographs by Keith Collie.

Park Hill is a modernist social-housing scheme on a heroic scale completed in 1961 when Sheffield had near full employment. Since then Britain’s housing scene has been transformed, a change embodied in Park Hill, which is in the process of being stripped back to its frame and recast for largely private ownership.

Keith Collie’s dramatic and haunting photographs capture the formal beauty of this massive structure in ruins and the epic scale of the renovation. David Levitt provides the background to the current renovation project by developer Urban Splash, and Jeremy Till puts the story into the wider context of architecture and the welfare state.

You can buy the book from Amazon. Enjoy!

Performance of Karaoke Poetry with Maggie Harris and David Woolley

old look out gallery broadstairs maggie harrisI’m very excited to be trying out some of my new Karaoke Poetry series on Saturday 30 June at a reading hosted by the wonderful Maggie Harris. Also appearing is David Woolley, editor of the Bob Dylan 70th birthday tribute book of poetry, The Captain’s Tower. It seems particularly appropriate to be kicking off with ‘Like a rolling stone’, and even more so as Bob himself is appearing live at the Hop Farm later on the same evening.

I’ve bought a karaoke mike for the occasion, as well as downloading some karaoke backing tracks to introduce each poem. I’m not sure yet how or if it’s going to work, but I’m practising!

The reading is at The Old Lookout Gallery, Broadstairs Pier, at 6.30pm, and is the culmination of a week-long residency and exhibition by Maggie. Reading alongside Maggie Harris, David Woolley and myself are Mark Holihan and Write Women Poets.

Do come along if you can, and feel free to leave your comments!

The Old Lookout Gallery, Broadstairs Pier, Saturday 30 June, 6.30pm.

We come from… with Dean Atta

We come from edited Dean Atta and Vicky Wilson World Arts PlatformI was thrilled to receive the first copy of We come from... this morning. The book is a collection of poetry written by students from three Hertfordshire secondary schools in response to a series of workshops delivered by the wonderful performance poet Dean Atta. All the students have English as an additional language.

Dean and I organised the project together, chose which of the students’ poems we wanted to include, then I edited them and Categorical Books did the book’s design and production. The book looks great, and the poems within it are moving, funny, original and well worth reading.

The poems tackle three key themes – ‘We come from…’, ‘We care for…’ and ‘We stand for…’ – and are published alongside some of Dean’s inspirational writing on the same topics. In ‘We come from…’ the students evoke the key experiences that have shaped them (‘crime classics and Russian literature’, ‘beautiful Ząbkowice Śląskie and dull, noisy Hatfield’); in ‘We care for…’ they investigate their feelings for members of their families; in ‘We stand for…’ they describe the kind of society they wish to be part of.

The student comments we got from the evaluation forms testify to the project’s success: ‘Even with difficulties you can achieve whatever you want…’; ‘I can be confident in front of everyone…’; ‘I’m better at writing poems and more encouraged to read…’; ‘No matter where we come from, we can work together.’

I’m really looking forward to the launch at Beaumont School in St Albans on 9 July. And, of course, you can buy the book on Amazon or from bookshops: We come from… Write from the Heart 3, edited by Dean Atta and Vicky Wilson.

The project was supported by Hertfordshire BME Achievement Team, Hertfordshire Music Service and World Arts Platform. Many thanks and congratulations to everyone involved.

New writing: karaoke poetry

microphone karaokeUnder-employment has its upsides, and one of them for me has been the headspace and time to embark on some focused solo writing rather than responses to commissions, collaborations, workshops and other projects, wonderful though these have been.

The project is Karaoke Poetry, a sequence of poems based on memories linked to specific songs. So far I have used a different form for each poem… something about playing off popular and high culture, perhaps? So far there are three: a villanelle for Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, a pantoum for Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine on you Crazy Diamond’ and a sonnet for Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will survive’. Here is the first in the series:

space line

Like a rolling stone

How does it feel to be on your own?
The question floats above my right shoulder, midnight on Willesden High Road
and I’m hurrying home, hoping to shake off this complete unknown,

past the restaurant where I queue for take-away Masala Dosas,
past the deli where chatting women load up with baklava and okra,
How does it feel, how does it feel, to be on your own?

Footsteps slap the pavement behind me, voice is Irish but I know the line,
glance, nod, Dylan?, then suddenly he’s hunched in front of my gas fire,
holed socks planted on the patterned carpet, a mystery, a complete unknown,

smoking my cigarettes, drinking my wine, telling me how his family
couldn’t fit round the dinner table, laughter, talk and more talk… and me?
How does it feel to be on your own

night after night watching the mice play on the record deck,
smoking your cigarettes, drinking your wine, stuck
in this room you now call home, a street where you’re a complete unknown?

And me… I’m silenced by fear of the contagion of isolation,
of making the wrong moves, of not making it in this cold town,
of giving up and crawling home, of staying forever a complete unknown,
of never escaping how it feels, how it feels, to be on your own.

Prosper out of the storm

prosper out of the storm collaborationCollaboration seems to be the new buzzword, whether to enhance creativity and provide inspiration, to explore new possibilities and artforms or to find solutions and means of survival in difficult and philistine times.

Prosper Out of the Storm is a collaboration between Canterbury Festival, The Map Consortium and Workers of Art to foster creativity and innovation in East Kent – as well as to help find ways to keep the area’s artistic community afloat.

I’ve worked with all three founding organisations and am a great admirer of their ideas and input, so I’m really keen to see what their joint expertise can produce. Also, the idea feeds right into my own current preoccupations with ways of expanding the reach and ambition of my work and having fun doing so!

For more information and to sign up, go to www.prospertogether.co.uk. I’m looking forward to meeting you at a creative gathering soon!

This Is Brent

This Is Brent Brent Museum and Archives Vicky WilsonI’m really proud to be part of a new publication, This Is Brent. It’s the result of a project at Brent Museum and Archives during which a group of young people were invited to become cultural researchers, gathering information, taking photographs, conducting interviews and generally exploring the borough past and present.

The publication includes the poem ‘In Brent I’m on top of the World’, which I wrote while I was Poet in Residence at Willesden Green Library. Artist Alex McIntyre and I wanted to find ways of animating our exhibition space so we created a writing wall where the public and young people involved in the project could leave comments about their environment using prompts and questions we provided. The poem was formed by rearranging their comments, with sometimes surreal results. It’s called crowd-sourcing, I think!

It’s great to see it combined with the young people’s own discoveries. To see the whole book, click here, then click on the book cover to flick through. You can also find the poem in an easy-to-read version on the page about my collaborations with Alex by clicking here.

Creative Partnerships and the future of collaboration

Brent Museums and Archives Alex McIntyre Vicky WilsonCreative Partnerships was an Arts Council-funded scheme that placed artists in schools to boost pupils’ creativity. The idea was that by working with artists from any discipline, staff and pupils would experience at first hand the risk-taking, lateral thinking, communication skills, collaboration, flexibility and open-mindedness that are key to any creative endeavour – and are also the skills and mindsets needed to succeed in the modern world.

The scheme was axed in 2011 – despite research showing that it significantly raised pupils’ attainment and motivation and boosted staff skills and morale. It was also an economic lifeline for many an artist (including me!).

Personally, I found that working within the programme developed the same values within my own practice as we were trying to instil in the young people, in particular risk-taking and collaboration. Many of the projects I have embarked on since would never have happened without the confidence to ‘have a go’ that I learned through CP and the many creative people I met.

My former colleague, Martin Heaney, has just written about the CP legacy for Arts Professional, using my collaboration with Alex McIntyre at Brent as an example of its impact on artists who worked within the programme.

To read his conclusions, click here.

Touch Wood for The Conservation Volunteers

touch wood edited by Vicky WilsonCopies of Touch Wood: children’s poetry from the Kent Heritage Trees Project have arrived!

The project began with a series of workshops to support The Conservations Volunteers’ project to map and preserve Kent’s old, large or interesting trees at Reculver CE Primary School, Whitstable Junior School and Great Chart Primary school. The idea was to stimulate the children to write poems that explored the myths associated with trees and woodland and raise awareness of their importance. This was combined with an open call for submissions that went out to Kent primary schools and visitors to The Conservation Volunteers’ Singleton Environment Centre. It was then a question of selecting which poems to include in the book.

The poems and illustrations produced by the children showed a high level of craft, imagination and observation, as well as a commitment to preserving our woodlands. No matter what kind of exercises or source material I use with children I find myself constantly surprised by the sophistication and invention of the work they produce.

You can buy Touch Wood from Amazon.

Pass the Passion for Future Creative

vicky wilson olympic procession kent primary schoolPass the Passion is a workshop I’m delivering for Kent-based creative learning organisation Future Creative. A team of eight practitioners are visiting 48 schools in the Dover and Deal district, following the local Olympic torch as it moves from school to school and encouraging the pupils to think about their future lives and aspirations.

We are time travelling to 2032, interviewing and writing postcards from our future selves, devising a message of hope to send to the future and making time capsules, among other things. In each school I am asking the children to create a chant for our own Olympic Torch procession (as here, with Y5 pupils). ‘Everyone will be loved’, ‘That’s life in 2032’ and ‘We will all be something special’ are our choices so far.

All aboard! for Future Creative

pirate lessons and lesson plan KS1I have just delivered a wonderful Discovery Day in a school in Sheerness through Kent creative learning organisation Future Creative. The class was Y1 and the theme was pirates, as you might guess from the outfits!

We role-played life aboard a pirate ship, took a trip to some very mysterious islands, staged a treasure hunt, invented mythical creatures we might find on our journey and wrote a pirate song. Plus I told a couple of pirate-themed stories and we made our own pirate boats.

Bring on the rum!