Larkmead School Literary Festival

If there was a taxonomy of literary festivals, it might look something like this: Glastonbury-style meccas (Hay, Cheltenham, Bath), industrial booksigning juggernauts (Oxford), aristocratic annual pilgrimages (Dartington, Fowey), small community celebrations (of which the recent Kennington Festival would be a good example) – and why not a literary festival in a school?

On Friday, we were very privileged to be involved in the first Larkmead School Literary Festival, which brought together an incredible array of literary, writing and artistic talent to Larkmead School, a secondary school here in Abingdon – and the result was as inspiring as it was fascinating in terms of the creative output of the students - and the response to the authors attending.

The event was the culmination of a year-long involvement of author Tim Pears, working with a number of year 12/13 pupils to produce an anthology of short stories, entitled “The Blender”. The project – made possible by the involvement of a charity I had hitherto been unaware of, First Story – funded Tim to be a de facto ‘writer in residence’ at the school. The festival took place over the course of a day, involving many of the school's students – with a special launch event in the evening with guest author Philip Pullman.

(Tim wrote an article about his experience at Larkmead for the Guardian recently, which is well worth reading here. First Story is an inspired idea, and it was good to have the opportunity to meet the driving force behind the charity, Katie Waldegrave, on the evening).
We provided a festival bookshop which operated throughout the day – which also meant we could sit in on some great talks and workshops run by some of the authors who attended. There were graphic novelists, local journalists, and students took part in workshops ranging from creative writing to bookmaking.

Local author Julie Hearn - on the Carnegie shortlist this year for Rowan The Strange - talked about her inspirations when writing Rowan. Here she explains how she used this frankly chilling 1940s photo of a child hop-picker in Kent (in gas mask) during research for the book:

She also talked about her use of words to conjure up a feeling of violence and menace when writing about Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, in The Merrybegot:

Katherine Langrish - author of the Troll Fell series and Dark Angels - put her storytelling background to good use, comparing stories of Elves in the 11th century with stories of aliens in the 21st.
She also had the students enact a Norwegian battle scene - which was raucous, violent - and a lot of fun...

Sally Nicholls - author of Ways To Live Forever and Season of Secrets - gave an amazing talk about her writing life which held the kids rapt. More than any other author I've ever listened to I think, Sally is someone who was born to write, who always wanted to be a writer, and exudes the kind of joy of being a writer that will have inspired many in the room to consider it as a career too.

There were also workshops by MG Harris, Natasha Narayan, Joanna Kenrick and David Melling amongst many others.

The evening saw the launch of the anthology - here's the moment all authors look forward to, the display of their own book for sale:

And here are some of the contributors (with Tim) with the book - they each read out an extract during the course of the evening:


Launching the anthology was author Philip Pullman, who had the chance to meet young fans and sign books before the start of the evening:

Philip made the comment that he had never heard of a school doing a literary event before - here's some examples of the creative output of pupils during the day.

It was pretty intense, tiring - but we were delighted to take part in something so eminently worthwhile. The local media got involved too. Copies of the extremely professionally produced paperback of The Blender are available from Mostly Books...and presumably all other good bookshops too...

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