ShoutSouth! Festival 2013, South London

Here at Book Events for Children, we love the idea of Shout South! Festival 2013, which is a three-day creative-writing festival for school children in south London.  This event is organised by CWISL (Children’s Writers and Illustrators in South London). We spoke to Beverley Birch, author and CWISL founder about the history of the festival and what’s in store for participants in this year’s event.

Beverley in workshopHow did you come up with the idea for ShoutSouth! and what exactly does the festival involve?

It came from two strands of our thinking. Whenever we did events with our readers, we noticed how enthusiastic and talkative they became – even the shy ones – when we enquired about their own story ideas and talked to them about writing and illustration. Every child is a story-maker, in one form or another. And there was also a close connection between fostering this instinct in them, and encouraging a growing interest in stories in written form – in reading.

The second thing was that when we felt established enough as a group to embark on planning a festival, we wanted very much to do something that was entirely focussed on the young participants, rather than something where authors talk about their own books.  A creative writing festival seemed to be the perfect thing, preceded by the library visits where the link is made between children’s own writing and illustration and the treasure trove of stories in books which was to hand, if they looked.

At the festival, participants take a sequence of workshop over two days, and then on the third day, finish their stories.  Throughout they working with, and being mentored by, published children’s writers and illustrators.

The festival begins a wonderful story-telling session performed by Margaret Bateson-Hill. Last festival, it had 240 children, and the 40 or so adults spell-bound.

When you raised the idea of the festival, what was the initial reaction from schools, libraries and the local community?

Really enthusiastic from the start. We had no trouble finding schools eager to take part, either for the first SHOUTSOUTH! in 2010, or for this year’s. And librarians welcomed us readily for the pre-festival visits where participating children got to meet the authors, hear about the festival, and explore the library with us.

Margaret with girlsHow many authors are running the workshops this year and what will the sessions involve?

19 authors. The children are organised in four groups (named after the big cats (Panthers, Lions, Tigers, Leopards), and each group has a team of 3-4 authors who work with them throughout.  The workshops are: THE SPARK – RECYCLE REALITY: about where you get ideas; SPOT THE PLOT :  about developing your story-line, story arcs, and building tension and pace; MAD, MOODY, AND MURKY: about exploring words to create meaning and atmosphere: PICTURE THIS – about story-making through pictures.

An important aspect of the festival is that we mix the schools and the years up. So in all of the groups there will be children from schools in Lambeth, Wandsworth, Southwark and Lewisham, and from years 5, 6./7,and 8.

It’s great that you involve a visit to a local library as part of the festival experience. What was the feedback from local children after the 2010 festival about visiting the library and meeting ‘real’ authors?

We were struck with how many were amazed and excited by how many books there were and couldn’t believe they would be allowed to take them for free.  They behaved as if they were finding treasure – and many got their first library card then.

Although the Shout South! festival isn’t open to the public, CWISL have also created Shoutabout! online magazine, which is a forum for young writers. What prompted you to create this resource?

We just wanted  to record the children’s enthusiasm and inventiveness – provide a  showcase for their stories and pictures. Initially we were going to publish a print magazine. But then we had the idea of making a permanent platform not only to show the results of ShoutSouth!  but also to continue publishing children’s creative efforts. It’s really well established now – we receive submissions from children all over the country, and abroad.

Shoutsouth workshopFor you personally, what has been your favourite moment of the festival to date?

 There were so many good things happening there. But one thing that really sticks in my mind was on the final day – Saturday, when children weren’t brought by their schools, but came back voluntarily to finish their stories. In ShoutSouth! 2010, over 70 per cent did, some bringing parents or grandparents and siblings.  One eleven-year old boy raced in late, more than a little muddy, and announced to me as I took him to his workshop room – ‘I had to go to football, but now I just GOT to finish my story!’ – and he shot into the room, sat down, and began writing. Inside the room, you could have heard a pin drop, an author talking quietly to one child about their story, and the 25 or so other kids – a mix of years 5,6,7, and 8 – engrossed in capturing on paper wherever their imaginations had led them.

We appreciate that you’re still working on this year’s event but are there any thought about holding another ShoutSouth! event in the future?

We are going to make it a regular fixture. LSBU has been a generous partner in providing a wonderful venue and facilities on both occasions.  Hopefully they will continue feel this is something they wish to support.  Certainly CWISL plans to run ShoutSouth! into the future.  And we are talking to other partners about similar ventures elsewhere. We’ve seen how much children thrive and gain from the immersive experience, and being in partnership with real live published authors.

Please click on the links to find out more about ShoutSouth! Festival 2013, ShoutAbout! online magazine and CWISL (Children’s Writers and Illustrators in South London).

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