Thursday, 14 February 2019

Visiting Narnia at Quarry Mount Primary School

Sheila Chapman writes:
Imagine being abe to visit another world.  “Go to an optician's and put on special glasses.”  “Step into a painting.”  Just two of the ideas from members of year 5 at Quarry Mount primary school when replying to the challenge set them by James Nash, the local writer and poet commissioned by Headingley LitFest to run a series of workshops on writing and performing original poetry.

James Nash with headteacher Rebecca Pettman
The celebration assembly was a delightful end to the half term and included recognition for Attendances Winners, Rainbow Points winners and Homework Champions as well as the finale to the poetry work based on this half term's work on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.  Each year group bases homework on a theme from literature, and in this half term classes  considered The Gruffalo, Jungle Book, Harry Potter, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Lightning Thief as well as the visit to Narnia. Wow.  And even better that this visit was in warm sunshine rather than the more appropriate wintry snow that has greeted our visits to Quarry Mount in previous years!

So the entire school heard 26 budding poets from Ms Blackstone's year 5 class read out either their whole poem or a favourite line.  No fluffs, no hesitation, seemingly no nerves.  Fantastic, considering an audience of 200 included all pupils, all staff, parents and other visitors. “When you're rising ten years old this is a tremendous opportunity to develop performance skills at the end of the workshops that help with self-confidence, co-operation with peers and cross-curricular writing that brings the curriculum to life.”  Helen Smith also added with pride that some of the pupils with special needs had memorised their lines and performed their work flawlessly.

Rebecca Pettman, the (relatively) new headteacher, was most enthusiastic about the value of the work to individual students: “This was a fantastic opportunity for the children - to work with a poet, with someone from a creative background who  they might not often have the opportunity to meet. This is especially important for our children who are from a range of cultures and who live in an area of high deprivation and may not often have access to such a person.

More than half of this class speak English as a second language and it is vital for them to develop confidence in their abilities to write and read their own words.  Performance is an essential life skill too; we are so grateful to James for the calm and gentle way he encourages original writing and instils the self-belief that they all have an inner poet. Thank you.”

Thanks to Rachel Harkess, LitFest volunteer, who supports the classroom work.  And once again, thanks to the Inner North West area management committee who funded the work.

The children should have the last words:

I walked the highest mountain
Red as a ruby
Beautiful singing like harmonising from birds
I can see sun and seagulls
The waterfall is coming
The dragon is my friend
A secret place where no one will go
A giant castle filled with sweets

The best bit? 
“Spending time with a real poet.”
“Getting feedback from others in my class.”
“Showing me how to make more of my ideas.”

Contact details for James Nash:

A Bit of an Ice Breaker out now on Amazon kindle.
My new collection from Valley Press.
Some Things Matter:63 sonnets 

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Volunteer for the Leeds Lit Fest?

Headingley LitFest is one of the groups represented in the team behind the brand-new Leeds Lit Fest which begins 6 March 2019. Here's a message asking for volunteers:

We're inviting you to come along to a briefing which will take place on Monday 25th February, 6pm for a 6.15pm start at the Leeds Library. Please note that the Library is NOT Central Library but the subscription Library that is on Commercial St next to Paperchase:

The full Lit Fest programme can be found here: It would be a good idea just to have a look and familiarise yourself with what's in the programme and what events you might be interested in helping out at.

If any of you are on social media, please follow us @LeedsLit and help us spread the word and if there's anything else you can do to promote the festival to family, friends and colleagues that would be really appreciated.

We are also looking specifically for photographers to document the festival so if you have any expertise in that direction please let me know.

If you can come along to the briefing night then please email

Best wishes and we hope to meet you soon.

Wild Weather Indeed!

Gail Alvarez writes:
The poetry assembly at Spring Bank primary school on Friday 8th February was aptly themed on Wild Weather.  Which, as parents of year 3 blew in on Storm Erik, was a curtain-raiser for the tales to come of gales, tornadoes, blizzards, flooding, rain and much else besides. 

Luke Wrankmore, James Nash, Sarah Hawes
A burst of sunshine illuminated the packed  hall where the entire school was assembled to hear the youngsters perform their own original poetry.  Thirty parents, fifteen staff and all your peers from reception up to year 6 form an intimidating audience when you are only rising seven.  And rising in confidence too under the calm support of LitFest-commissioned local writer and poet James Nash, supported by LitFest volunteer Rachel Harkess. 

James introduced their work and got them reading out favourite lines or sometimes the whole poem, nerves banished and pride in their achievements clear on their faces.  Imagine being asked to imagine yourself as the weather, with opportunities to create or destroy, to entertain or spoil.  We had humour, pathos, violence, caring, disaster and luck. 

“Their confidence has grown, sometimes amazingly so, over the project,” said Luke Wrankmore, year 3 teacher who always enjoys working with James.  He had had parents coming in to tell him of youngsters talking excitedly about their work at home, growing interest in writing and increasing confidence in reading aloud to them.  And this was clearly confirmed by the many parents in the audience.  “Much more enthusiastic about his writing.”  “So pleased with his confidence in reading his own work out to me.”  “She has been writing her own poetry in bed.”  “For the first time he has learned the whole thing off by heart so he can recite in a language he didn't speak before we came here last September.”

Sarah Hawes, new headteacher at the school, was really delighted with how the youngsters performed.  Although she has worked with authors and poets before, she had really appreciated the difference these poetry workshops made as they led to other skills encompassed by reading aloud to a large audience. “I am so impressed with the improvements in language used, the collaboration with other children in the class and the different dynamic in their work together.”  

She felt that “Poetry is often under-rated and yet this project has been able to contribute to our school community, with year 2 looking on in anticipation of being able to do the same next year.”

And what did they like about the project?  The usual comments about getting to know how to write better, how to perform their original words, enjoying learning and using new vocabulary as well as being proud to share with classmates.  “I don't know if I've ever met a poet before!” kind of sums up the novelty of the encounter deepening the learning.

Final word to one youngster, when asked if he had enjoyed the work. “Yeah!!” with such emphasis  that he and his body language couldn't speak more clearly.

Grateful thanks once again to the Inner North West Area Management Committee for granting us the funding to support this work.