Thursday, 25 November 2010

Fighting Words: the write to right.

The Sixth Fickling Lecture on Developments in Children’s Literature

  Fighting Words: the write to right

Thursday 18 November 2010 – Curtis Auditorium, Hershel Building, Newcastle University.

Fighting Words is the creative writing centre for children and young people opened in Dublin in 2009 by Roddy Doyle and Sean Love. The idea for the centre was inspired by 826 Valencia a creative writing centre in San Francisco founded by the American author, publisher and philanthropist Dave Eggers.

Fighting Words is the first European Member of the Once Upon a School movement established across deprived cities in America.

The deliberately misspelled slogan “The write to right” had the builders working on the exterior wanting to change the words and correct the spelling. “The write to right” has remained and this reinforces its invitation to children to: Write First, Worry Later.

It was a surprise when Roddy Doyle announced that he had never given a formal lecture before and that he would be reading from notes. This did not in any way distract from the message he put across to his audience.

What follows is taken from a few of my notes taken the time:

Roddy told of primary school children at Fighting Words, asked what was needed in a story, came up with ‘characters’ ‘things that are funny’ ‘full stops’. One 9 year waved her hand up and said ‘conflict and resolution’. It was obvious that it was bright bunch. After reflection Roddy found he was a bit depressed and that it was a pity that they knew the requirements for a story – before they had written anything.

As a 10 year old Roddy was asked to write a story. He was told by his teacher that what he was writing on his blotter was brilliant. Roddy reminded us that anything that isn’t brilliant in Ireland is disastrous. Nevertheless he never forgot being told he was brilliant.

Children need to be encouraged. Unfortunately the teaching of creative writing is not encouraging; although perhaps now it’s not encouraged in a more encouraging way. A child does not need to learn all the rules before beginning to write. If you give a child a ball he (or she) does not need to know the laws of association football before kicking it. Give the kid the ball the rules can come later. This football analogy applies to writing too. So give the kids the tools and let them get on with it.

Roddy explained how the Fighting Words centre operates. They have 400 volunteers and around 40 artists that are used to assist when a group of children attend. They sit on bean bags in front of a screen and are asked what they want to see in a story. A volunteer in front of the group puts up their suggestions on a screen, artists sketch their suggestions – sharks, three-eyed monsters whatever.

I hope these few notes give you a flavour of the lecture. I strongly recommend that you listen to it in full and the question and answer session at

Including the preamble and the introduction of Roddy Doyle by Kate Edwards the CEO of Seven Stories the recording lasts 1hr 35 minutes.

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