Sunday August 18, 2019



our featured artist for april is: bobby

'Verse vs Verse' is a new and innovative reading and writing project for 500 children from primary schools in North and West London. Launched in September 2014, Verse vs Verse takes children on a 3-year journey of discovery. Over the three years, the participants will work with a variety of creative practitioners to bring stories to life and encourage creativity and engagement with reading and writing. Verse vs Verse is generously supported by John Lyons Charity.

This month we interviewed Eastside's writer Bobby - who worked on the project - about his experiences, and here's what he had to say about it… 


Q: Can you tell us a bit about your own creative writing?


Bobby: I started writing short stories when I was younger, around 18. I was first published when I was 20 in a magazine and when I was 25, two of my short stories were published in an anthology. I then moved on to writing novels “West of No East” in 2011, was my first published novel. I have now turned my attention to poetry and I am currently working on a new collection entitled “Glass Scissors”, which is out in October.


Q: What is the story behind the title ‘Glass Scissors’?


Bobby: You’ll have to read the book to find out!


Q: What about your teaching- when and how did you start to lead workshops?


Bobby: I was published by Wasafiri and they arranged for their writers to run creative writing workshops. I found out about Eastside through them, so most of my teaching has come through Eastside.


Q: How did you find working with Year 4’s? What was your biggest challenge and reward?


Bobby: I really enjoyed it. I am going to stick my neck out and say that Verse vs Verse has been my most enjoyable project. I think this has to do with the age of the students, at the age of 8 there is an amazing lack of fear. It has been great to see all the students engaging in each class. For example at Norbury there was one kid who didn’t speak any English, by the end of the project he wrote a short piece and performed it to the class in English. It was just a short piece but he was very proud. Hopefully I will see him next year and see how his English has improved.


Q: What was your stimulus for the creative writing? How did you tie your creative writing exercises to that book or theme?


Bobby: I worked with three different books across the schools. Varjak Paw by S.F. Said, George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl and The Angel of Nitshill Road by Anne Fine. I felt that Varkjak Paw was a great book – partly because I am a cat person and partly because the class were so into the text (they had studied it last term with the drama facilitator as well). The class really enjoyed it and really enjoyed immersing themselves in the text. The texts all had different curriculum links – The Angel of Nitshill Road is about bullying, Varjak Paw is fantasy / animals and George's Marvellous Medicine links with language and science. We did a lot of role playing with The Angel of Nitshill Road and we played around a lot with language and making up words with George’s Marvellous Medicine. For all of the classes we worked on short stories and the structure of these, as well as character development and scene setting.


Q: What was your favourite activity that you did with the students and why?


Bobby: My favourite activity was a warm up about Dreams. I got the students to talk about dreams they had the night before. Kids love to talk about their dreams and they always mushroom as the kids start to interpret their dreams. It is a great way to get the children to open up and generate ideas as they will always embellish their dreams and in essence that is them creating a story. This process of creating stories from dreams can be built upon.


Q: What was the final piece you created with your students?


Bobby: The main task for each class was to produce a short story (a selection of them can be found of the Verse vs Verse blog). Many of the stories produced were a continuation of the texts with some interesting new characters. I found I took the same approach as I would with any age, exploring the character and plots are good seeds to plant at an early age.


Q: Did you work well with the teachers and do you think they learnt something from your sessions?


Bobby: It might be a bit cheeky to say that the teachers learnt something from me with all their experience! But I think I might have approached things in a different way. I used the iPad - sparingly - but I used it as a tool in the sessions (Bobby used a translation app to make sure all students could engage in the session even those with no English, he also used a cat app as a playful warm up game for the Varjak Paw class). I also interacted with students through music and physical action it is a great way to get them up on their feet and in mind set that they are doing something different – although I am aware that teachers do this too. What I enjoyed was the fact that students are not inhibited you don’t have to get them to open up. I think I got on well with all the teachers and I learnt from their different classroom management styles.


Q: Why do you think it is important to get children engaged with writing at a young age?


Bobby: All people can write if they have basic literacy skills, therefore everyone is a writer. I think our definition of creative writing has changed so much! Creative writing is now used much more to develop literacy. In the last 10-20 years what we have called a writer has grown, with the emergence of life writing to blogging to tweeting. The traditional view of creative writing only being fiction is outmoded, we have to readdress the underlying aims and how we allow young people to develop to be the type of writers they want to be. Creative writing doesn’t mean that every young person has to enjoy writing fiction; they could be analytical writers etc. I think the Verse vs Verse project is a great opportunity to do some research about the student’s engagement and achievement over the three years. It is also a great chance to identify those students with a real flare for creative writing and follow their progress into secondary school. I can still remember the instances that switched me on to creative writing – I had a really engaging English teacher - these things stick. This project is a great opportunity for creativity and with 8 year olds you can almost see what they can become and I sometimes feel like you can achieve more, because you don’t have to win them round. I enjoy the fact that 8 year olds embrace their creativity and imagination, something gets lost with teenagers and sometimes it can be 70% battle and 30% development. But saying that – that 30% development with teenagers can really have an impact and you can get great work!


I feel that with the Verse vs Verse students they all wanted to read, they all wanted to perform their work and it was really interesting to see – many students could do very well if they have the desire to continue creative writing in secondary school. In the wider scheme of things it is important to engage children with creative writing as it promotes reading and that is essential to reach a higher reading age, and achieve some of the government’s targets for literacy.


Q: One of the aims of the VvV project is to inspire creative and enjoyable approaches to literacy, how do you think you achieved this with your groups?


Bobby: Well, one example would be at Trent, when some of the students had finished but others needed more time, I set them at task of chain writing. In groups they had to write a sentence and pass it on. The students loved it and carried on the task, not wanting to stop! They were really engaged – this could have been because they were totally free to take the story wherever they wanted and they were working together. Everybody taking part in the game was equal and they worked well together to produce some really funny things. Lots of the students loved the drama activities we did and you could do a lot with combining drama and creative writing – writing a play for example. What I really like to encourage students to do in my sessions is to read out/perform their work to the class. It gives them a chance to be proud of their work and to share it. Some kids are great performers and it gives their teachers a chance to see something different in their students.


Q: These students will be on this project for 3 years, do you have any advice to pass on to them?


Bobby: Keep writing. When you discover your passions follow them. This doesn’t have to be for writing. I know people in their 30s and they still haven’t discovered what they want to do. If you find your passion early on, hold on to it, you will be able to find a job or way of living that lets you keep up these passions. You don’t have to work against your will or in something you don’t enjoy. 


Please visit our Verse vs Verse page to find out more. 

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