At Write Club we find that most of the time our teen writers want to come up with their own ideas and that they’re much more passionate about those ideas (and take them much further) than any that come from writing prompts and exercises. I find it much more beneficial to give a writer 5 minutes of quiet time to think of an idea than to give them a bunch of prompts.


Prompts have their uses. Some writers love prompts. And sometimes you’re just feeling a bit stuck with a project and you want something new and low-stakes to tinker with. Sometimes you’re too tired from a whole day at school to think of an idea. Sometimes you want a springboard to launch an idea you already have. I’ve written whole novels in response to prompts. So we always have a few prompts at the ready for anyone who wants one.

Where do we find these prompts? Well, one brilliant source that I like to use, is the last line of chapter 1 of the nearest novel to hand. 95% of the time, it’s a cracker.

Why is that? It’s because the end of chapter 1 is very often a springboard into the story. We all know that the ‘inciting incident’ – the event that sets the story in motion – has to happen close to the start of the book. In children’s/YA books especially, this can very often be in chapter 1, because kids do not have time to hang around and wait for it.

The last line will often be something like a cliffhanger or a hook or something intriguing or mysterious, something that makes you want to read on. They make excellent prompts.

I usually provide 2 or 3 of them to choose from, and the writer can use them however they like. They can turn it into a story, poem, play, song lyrics… They can quote it directly, reword it, or just use it as inspiration for a place or character.

They also have the added benefit of maybe encouraging your writers to go and read that book, so I always make sure they know which book the line came from.

Try it, grab a few books and check out the last line of chapter 1. I guarantee you’ll find several that will make good prompts. And in the meantime, here are some good ones I’ve found recently.


A whoop-whoop sound startles us, and blue lights flash in the rearview mirror. (The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas)

I had the strangest feeling something or someone was waiting for me, right here at Knockmore. (Knock Back by Pauline Burgess)

I got all the answers wrong. (Not my Problem by Ciara Smyth)

I know this is going to sound strange, but would you mind being my girlfriend for the next five minutes? (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan)

You see, the what ifs are as boundless as the stars. (Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner)

His name was P.T. Barnum, and he’d been looking for a mermaid. (The Mermaid by Christina Henry)

It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see. (Turtles all the way down by John Green)

Four hands were immediately laid upon me, and I was borne upstairs. (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)

Covered in blood, with his neck bent at a horribly wrong angle and his eyes wide open, staring at nothing. (Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M McManus)


And then the first drops of rain began to fall. (The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait)

I’m still spitting up bits of sausage when I hear the loud rap at the door. (Taking Flight by Sheena Wilkinson)

But the noise is everywhere. (Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? by Holly Bourne)

All he’s heard are the rumours, stories, the speculation, and the swiftly lost words of whispered secrets, about the island where people have started to live forever. (Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick)

Her second birth was the day the Watcher took her as its host. (Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia)

One more’ll make no difference. (The Watch House by Bernie McGill)


In other news, my new YA novel, Little Bang, was published this month by Walker Books and we had a fabulous launch party at The Crescent Arts Centre. You can find out more about the novel here!


Seriously, I am such a Christmas fan my husband has literally banned me from singing Christmas Carols before 1st December (counting the days…!) 

All memes for this post will be Elf-themed.

My top 3 things about Christmas are:

1. Christmas Carols

2. The Christmas Tree (and singing “Oh, Christmas Tree” all the way home from buying the Christmas Tree, obvs)

3. Book shopping!

I love choosing books for people (it was my favourite thing about working in the public library), so I was well up for Sarah Webb’s annual Book Elves shenanigans.

Told you

Every year the Book Elves spend a week recommending children’s books in all genres and for all ages. You can even ask them for a personal recommedation for someone you know! Just search for the #BookElves2023 on Twitter or Instagram to find loads of brilliant suggestions if you’re stuck for what to buy someone! And if you like what we do, why not sign up to be a Book Elf next year?

(And yeah, it’s for children’s books, but I just want to point out that I buy my husband picture books all the time and he loves them. I did a whole thread about it here.)

Technically, also an elf

The display tables at Waterstones are great, but also don’t forget local writers! We have a great YA scene in NI at the moment (#NIYA) and #DiscoverIrishKidsBooks will lead you to many Irish gems.

Enjoy your shopping, and Merry Christmas from the Book Elves!


If you’re looking for amazing books for children and young adults, the Carnegie Medal judges have done the work for you and published this year’s nomination lists!

I’m very proud to say there are no less than 14 Irish books on these lists! So what better time to mention that award winning Irish author, reviewer, bookseller and all round powerhouse, Sarah Webb, is spearheading a campaign to promote books by Irish writers and illustrators.

#DiscoverIrishKidsBooks came about when Sarah “increasingly realised that the Irish children’s top ten bestseller list rarely features ANY Irish books.”

“There are around 350 published Irish children’s authors and illustrators, including those living and working in Ireland. That’s a lot of children’s authors and illustrators! We have our own Laureate na nÓg, Patricia Forde who writes in both Irish and English. 24% of book sales in Ireland are children’s books.

But there is a problem. When asked, many children living in Ireland cannot name any children’s authors who are Irish or living in Ireland.

Very few children’s authors and illustrators based in Ireland are appearing at book and arts festivals in Ireland, or in the Irish media. (It’s certainly not 24% of the event programming.)

From March to the start of August 2023 – twenty weeks – only ten books by Irish children’s authors or illustrators charted in the top ten children’s books. There were 123 Irish authors  in the adult original fiction chart in the corresponding twenty weeks.”

“Sarah hopes to fix this situation by bringing Irish children’s books and their authors and illustrators to the attention of young readers and their grown ups. She has brought together a crack team of children’s book experts to help.”

And she wants your help! The #DiscoverIrishKidsBooks website has resources and tips that teachers, librarians, authors, parents, journalists, booksellers, publishers and festivals can use to raise awareness of Irish books for young people. You can make a big difference in very simple ways. Is your library highlighting Irish writing? Is your school inviting Irish authors? Is your local bookshop/giftshop/museum/airport stocking Irish books? If not, could you bring the campaign to their attention? Are your relatives asking what the kids want for Christmas? Could you suggest some great quality Irish books instead of the usual celebrity-authored stuff on the shelves in Tesco? There are lots of tips on the website for how to Be An Irish Children’s Book Champion.

Why is it important? Because “you have to see it to be it.” Children need to see that people just like them can be writers, illustrators and creatives of all kinds. And they need to see characters like them, in towns like theirs, in the books they read to know that their own stories are worth telling.

If you’ve ever been in a creative writing class with kids, you’ll have had the experience of watching almost every writer (no matter their nationality, ethnicity, or any disability) sit down and write a story about an able-bodied, white, American kid (or maybe an English one, but very rarely Northern Irish ones). Because that’s who they see in books. They think that’s who books are about. They think those are the stories worthy of being published.

I couldn’t have named an Irish children’s writer when I was young. I’d certainly never met one, I’d never read anything set in Northern Ireland, and I was 35 before it occured to me to write something set in the places I knew best. I’d love that to be different for kids today.

So please have a look at the brilliant website Sarah Webb and her crack team of book experts has set up and follow their progress on socials. The campaign is just getting started and we’d love you to be a part of it!


A new term, a new opportunity to write! There IS a budding novelist in your school. There’s also a poet, a playwright, a journalist, a diarist. There is someone using writing to process their feelings and understand the world. There is someone hiding their writing because they’re shy and they don’t know anyone else who writes. Do they have a writing club to go to?

If not, why not help them start one up? It’s easier than you’d think and there’s lots of advice here.

And a beautiful article here about teaching creative writing:

“When the writers start sharing their work out loud, those stereotypes shatter. Then students become people with their own stories, who so badly want to be heard and understood. I’m always surprised at people’s complexity. And willingness to be vulnerable, in hopes of being heard. I’m grateful for the opportunity to cross the threshold of the classroom — a field of possibility — to encounter it.”

(To be clear, the article is about writing workshops, where actual teaching happens. I REALLY don’t think you need to be a writer to lead a writing group, and I don’t think you need to teach young writers in your group, you just have to be there to create that space in which they can write, listen to their words and tell them what you loved about them. But the article is really insightful about how much that can mean for a young person and has lots of tips and tricks for working with them.)

“Teaching writing requires showing unabashed love, giving ready praise, sharing your appreciation of precision and specificity. Be unafraid to tell young people what you think is wonderful about their ideas and work, and what could be stronger. Just be gentle and do it with respect for whatever limits they’re working within.”

And if you already have a group, check these out:

BBC radio’s Two Minute Tales writing competition is back. The theme is What Happened This Winter and there are three age categories from 5-16, and this year there’s also an Irish Language category for ages 5-11! Send in your 300 word short stories by 7th November and they could be read on the radio in the week before Christmas, and maybe even turned into an animation for the website!

Following on from the success of their first Zine on the theme of Belfast, Fighting Words NI are publishing a new one. This time the theme is Happiness and entries should be in by 20th November. It’s open to anyone aged 8-18 and you can submit any form of writing.

They also have a page of free resources including video workshops and podcasts on writing.

And their teen writing group Write Club is open to all teen writers, with meetings happening in person in East Belfast, or on zoom.

Speaking of which, we’ve had lots of publications from Write Club members recently, including this one by 15 year old Kaila in the Afterpast Review, a feminist literary magazine dedicated to uplifting underrepresented voices (and open to submissions so check it out). Kaila’s story is beautiful, have a read with your coffee break! 



We made it! Well done everyone on getting through exams and another school year. I hope everyone gets lots of time this summer to lie on the grass in the sun with a notebook and do some writing.

This is my idea of summer

And if you want some inspiration, check out the new Fighting Words NI podcast! It’s on YouTube or Spotify. The first three episodes are up and feature me interviewing three of our Write Club members. Predictably, I was bricking it at the prospect of hosting my first ever podcast but the TikTok generation took it all in their stride and delivered three incredibly professional interviews. Honestly, I wanted to take notes, their advice and tips were so wise and inspirational. Please pass the link on to your young writers, I think they’ll enjoy hearing from writers their own age on things like self publishing, writers block, planning your novel, book recommendations, and being in a writing club.

And if they need a project over the summer, Paper Lanterns are running a short story competition! There are 2 age categories and prize money. The theme is ‘Glow’ and the deadline is 1st August so that should keep everyone busy through July!

Have a great summer everyone, and happy writing!


If your creative writing club has a budget, I’d really recommend a subscription to Paper Lanterns Journal of writing for and by teens. They run great writing competitions and teens can submit stories, poems, articles and book reviews. Several of the kids in our club have been published by them and it’s always such a rush and an encouragement to see their work in print!

This is our Kaila, who’s now reviewing for them (I’m told you get free books!)

I don’t think anyone should be pushed to submit their writing anywhere if they don’t want to. Everyone writes for their own reasons, and these might be nothing to do with being read or published, it might just be for their own amusement, catharsis, a way to explore their thoughts and feelings. (This is arguably a much healthier attitude, as any writer who’s just had a look at their book on Goodreads might tell you!) But if they are keen to see their work in print, then Paper Lanterns is a great outlet.

And you don’t have to be a subscriber to submit!

At the moment they’re running a personal essay competition, and it can be about ANYTHING! While themed writing can sometimes provide a great jumping off point, I think it can also be good to give writers free reign so this is very exciting.

The deadline is 31st March and the wordcount is 800-1200 words.

“What interests you? This is the writing we’re looking for. For example, you could discuss your love for arts, sports, activism, or anything else you feel strongly about. Basically, if you feel passionate enough to write about it, we want to read it! Don’t be afraid to use the first person either.”

They’re also on the lookout for articles on YA Literature.

“We are also looking for essays and articles discussing themes in teen and YA literature. This could be an interview with an author or literary organisation, a review of a literary event, etc. We are open to essays and ideas on film, theatre, as well as art. Other ideas include events or protests you have taken part in, your hobbies, causes you are passionate about, or series you love.”

Submission details here. Get writing!



(Not that you needed an excuse!)

Quick update to let you know that the BBC Two Minute Tales Competition has extended their deadline so there’s still a few days to get your entries in!

The competition is for writers aged 5 to 16 for a 300 word story on the theme of ‘A Winter Adventure’ and entries close at 8pm on Wednesday 16th November 2022. Check it out here. There’s also a helfpul Creative Writing Kit on the website!

Winners and shortlisters will be read by an actor on Radio Ulster the day before Christmas Eve! And winners will have their story professionally animated on the website!

And for the older writers…

Children’s publishing programme, Pathways Northern Ireland is looking for aspiring LGBTQI+ creatives aged 16-26 and living in NI who are interested in the business of children’s publishing. 

“More queer-inclusive children’s books would support young people as they explore and discover who they are, and would help build empathy and understanding in families, schools and communities. Through this programme, you will learn all about the business of children’s publishing directly from experts and professionals working in publishing today.

The programme will cover how to commission new writing and illustration, how to edit, design and print books, and how to promote and sell them through bookshops, online and to schools and libraries. By the end of the programme you will set up and launch your very own LGBTQI+ community publishing enterprise!”


Good luck and happy writing!


Some writing opportunities for young (or not so young) writers!

Start 360 are running a competition for 16-21 year olds. It’s for poems or stories, there are cash prizes, and it’s judged by Wendy Erskine. Wendy is a brilliant, published short story writer from Belfast, so this is a great opportunity to have her read your work! The closing date is 31st October.


And it’s that time of year again… NaNoWriMo is upon us! That’s National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated, and it’s basically Holy Month for writers. The idea is that you write a whole novel (or whatever goal you want to set) during the month of November, and you can find out all about it here.

I love NaNo because:

  • It’s a great way to stay motivated for a whole month
  • They have a big website with loads of resources, writing advice, stats and graphs you can geek out over to log your progress, forums to chat to other NaNo-ers, prompt generators, writing sprint challenges, and other tools to help you reach your goal (there’s a link to the Young Writers NaNo on the main site for under 18s)
  • It’s a great way to learn the discipline of sitting down to write regularly
  • It’s a good way to get stuck into a big project you’ve been scared of starting
  • It’s all free and there’s a huge international community of people of all ages who do it every year
  • Because you have to focus on getting words on the page fast, there’s no room for your inner critic to start putting doubts in your head. You can’t stop to fix broken paragraphs, polish rough sentences, spend three days renaming your main character, mend plot holes or obsess over alliteration. No room for perfectionism, you have to be utterly ruthless. Keep moving, leave the dying behind, keep a picture of Katniss on your desk.

You don’t even have to get involved in the website and forums if that’s not your thing. I always just do it along with my own critique group. We each set a goal for November and then we check in on Facebook (because we’re old) every day to say how we’re getting on. It creates a nice feeling of solidarity in what can otherwise be a lonely activity.

This year I noticed that on the website there’s a planning workbook (download here: NaNo Prep 101 Course Editable 2021) to help you plan your novel in advance! It looks very thorough and contains loads of practical tips and useful information about things like character development, story structure and developing your ideas. I think it would be really useful to any writer or writing group even if you’re not doing NaNo. You could download it and use the exercises in it with your group at any time.

There’s also a ‘For Educators’ section full of resources. So do check out the website, there’s bound to be something your group can use.

In other news, one of my teen writers got sick of waiting for her school to set up a creative writing group so she’s only gone and started one herself! I am mega-impressed by this. Honestly, my young writers inspire me every single week in so many ways. I think I might change my title from ‘Teen Writing Group Leader’ to ‘Teen Writing Group Fangirl.’ They’re amazing!


January is all very well but September has always felt like a much more exciting New Year to me. Probably because of the stationery. So what better reason to buy some super sharp new pencils and… start a Creative Writing Club?

If your school doesn’t have one already, there are SO many good reasons for starting one.

  1. It’s hugely beneficial educationally and psychologically to be creative. You’ll be giving your students such an important gift.
  2. It’s also an amazingly relaxing, heart-warming, and bonding experience just to sit in a room with a bunch of people quietly putting their thoughts on paper. And when they share those thoughts with you it’s honestly such a privilege and a joy.
  3. It’s SO much fun! Teenagers have incredible imaginations and ideas. My group inspire me constantly by coming up with stuff I could never have thought of. My mind is regularly blown.
  4. You get tea and cake!
  5. You get to hang out in the library after school like the cool kids in The Breakfast Club.
  6. It doesn’t cost a thing!
  7. It’s super easy!

Happy New Year to all the Writing Clubs! (Or if your NY resolution is to start a writing club, Hooray and Welcome!)

I kinda love New Year because I love making resolutions, decisions, new timetables, schedules and stupidly ambitious plans. It doesn’t even bother me that I know by now that most of these will last about five minutes. Because I also know that even if I completely fail to achieve them, I’ll still end up achieving more than I would have done if I’d made no resolutions at all, and I consider that a brilliant result.

Astronomically incorrect but whatevs

Most of my resolutions revolve around writing, even if it’s just ‘eat and sleep more healthily so I have more mental energy for writing’ which is top of my list for this year.

For me, character is everything in a story, and I generally find that when I’m stuck with my plot, it’s because I don’t know my characters well enough yet. Plot comes from character. People want/hate/fear something and that leads them to do something, and that’s all plot is.

So when my young writers are stuck on plot, I always tell them to try going back to their characters and finding out more about them. Character interviews are really helpful when you’re first getting to know a new character, and there’s one here you can use, but when you get deeper into the plot it’s helpful to start really interogating a character’s motives.

I find these 6 Questions To Ask Your Charactersreally useful for that. And you should use them for all the most important characters in your story, not just the main character.

Exciting news! The BBC Radio “Two Minute Tales” Christmas Competition is back!

This competition has become so popular it’s now in its third year and I’ll be judging it again with novelist, playwright, and BBC National Short Story Award winner, Lucy Caldwell.

There are three age categories covering ages 5-16 and you have to write a Christmas themed story in just 300 words. Finalists will be performed by a professional actor on the radio and winners will have their stories animated on the BBC Radio website!

The website also has a brilliant Creative Writing Kit, including games and activities to help you come up with ideas and write your stories so do check that out (in fact, it’s fun and useful even if you’re not entering this competition).

Remember, 300 words is not a lot of words but that doesn’t make it any easier! A short story still has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, just like a novel, so make sure every single one of your words is working hard for you. Be ruthless and cut any that aren’t!

The closing date is 12th November

So do pass this on to your young writers, and for more writing advice on super-short stories check out:

This post on last year’s Two Minute Tales Competition

This video on how to write Flash Fiction



September already! How did that happen?

Luckily the tireless folks at Fighting Words have spent the summer dreaming up new opportunities for young writers! This is definitely one to pass on to your writing clubs and English students:

Journalism Club is a free 12-week course for teens with mentoring from professional writers, editors and publishers. This will be such a great experience. Fighting Words workshops are always brilliant, they’re a hugely supportive and friendly bunch and I know the kids who’ve done their playwriting programs have really loved it and ended up putting on amazing plays with professional actors in the Lyric!

So if you know any aspiring journos, send them this way! Who knows where it could lead?

And if your kids prefer prose, poetry or plays, Fighting Words’ Write Club is continuing via Zoom and all teens are welcome. As well as our fortnightly creative writing sessions, we’ve been doing virtual ‘field trips’ to the Dublin Write Club for Q&A sessions with professional writers including Roddy Doyle, which has been such a treat! And being on Zoom means geography is no barrier so do spread the word to all your young writers (or indeed any adults who’d like to volunteer to work with Fighting Words)!




I think all the NI schools are wrapping up now so I’d just like to say a massive well done to everyone for getting through this absolute melter of a year!

I do hope your writing groups have provided some relief/entertainment/therapy/comradeship and above all inspiration through all that’s happened. My Fellowship is coming to an end and I’m so glad I set this up online because I’ve loved hearing what you’re up to via Twitter and it’s been a joy to be able to connect and share here when we’ve had to be so distant.

Just updating with a link to a writing tips YouTube channel – Writing with Jenna Moreci. I was told about this by a teen in my writing group who’s found it really helpful.

Jenna Moreci is an American YA dark fantasy and sci-fi writer and she makes short (and hilarious) videos about loads of different aspects of writing. They’re really very funny and entertaining as well as informative. (Some adult language and content so this is maybe for older teens, or if in doubt check them out yourself first).


These are great tea-break fodder and might be good for your writing group to use over the summer to keep them inspired! Check them out!



Just to let you know there are more Tiny Masterclasses up on the Seamus Heaney Centre site (including one by me!)

Thanks to some wonderful Creative Writing students at QUB, we’ve got 5 minute videos on Point of View, Food Writing, using Memory to start a story, using Sound Maps for inspiration, and Writing Flash Fiction. I’d never even heard of a Sound Map but it’s a fascinating way to look at the world (or listen to the world)!

So if you’d like some bite-sized writing prompts for your young writers, look no further, check them out here!


This is an exercise for writers who feel completely paralysed by the prospect of a blank page. Blank pages can be scary for any writer. They’re so pristine, so empty! And you’re thinking What if I spoil this lovely clean page with my silly rubbish? What if I can’t think of anything to write at all?

You might also have lots of great ideas but the idea of putting them into words is scary. What if I spell everything wrong? What if I can’t think of the right words?

But you can make your brain feel safer by breaking the task down into very small chunks and this is one way to do that. It’s a bit like the Snowflake Method but it has emojis and is therefore way more fun:

It’s World Book Day! And a much quieter one than last year but that’s OK, we can read quietly.

We can also write! Fighting Words NI have been busy bees this year, creating videos of creative writing workshops for schools to use (more on that later), and I’ve asked the writing students at the Seamus Heaney Centre QUB to contribute five-minute ‘Tiny Masterclasses’ of their own favourite writing tips, tricks and exercises for young writers, schools and homeschoolers to use.

As you may have heard, there are two kinds of writer in this world: planners and pantsers.

Planners like to plan out their story in advance, down to outlining every scene before they put pen to paper.

JK’s plan for Order of the Phoenix

Pantsers like to hit the page running, with maybe only the vaguest idea of where this story is going and write ‘by the seat of their pants’.

Continue reading “The Snowflake Method (since it’s snowing)”

Great news for these dark winter days! No, not the vaccine (TBF, that’s pretty cool too), but our new online Write Club!

I was disappointed not to get to go out and visit as many writing groups as I would have liked last year (stoopid covid!) but I’ve been lucky enough to be working with Fighting Words NI instead so I have got to hang out with some teen writers, which has been brilliant. And now we’ve moved our fantastic teen writing group, Write Club, online!

You may know that November is National Novel Writing Month (or #NaNoWriMo). NaNoWriMo began back in 1999 as a challenge to write a novel (or 50K words) in a month. Today thousands of people around the world sign up for the challenge each year.  It’s free, and there are forums, support groups, apps to record your wordcount, places to discuss your progress and keep you accountable, hashtags and a big website full of advice with a section specially for young writers.

This might sound like a huge task but the idea is not to produce War and Peace in a month, it’s just to bash out a messy first draft, or most of one, that you will edit later, and it’s a way to do it along with a bunch of other writers who you can moan and celebrate with and who will motivate you to keep going. The time pressure can actually be a great way to silence that inner critic, since you won’t have time to listen to them, you just have to get words on the page.

Two treats in fact! Two fab new writing opportunities for young people.

Fighting Words are a powerhouse when it comes to encouraging creativity, and they are once again running their scriptwriting program, The Right Twig. This is a series of workshops where 8 young people (14-18) get to each write a short radio play over the course of 7 sessions that will then be broadcast with real actors, directors, and sound designers!

They’ve done a couple of these workshop series already, but for the stage. They were put on at the Lyric with professional actors and I was honestly stunned at the quality of the short plays they produced. It’s an absolutely brilliant program where professional writers help the kids, who are total beginners, to develop an idea from scratch and write a whole play. I can’t recommend this highly enough, the kids get so much out of it.

Before we all go off for the summer, I’m so excited to post this interview I did with NI teen writer Dara McAnulty!

Dara is 16, and his first book Diary of a Young Naturalist, which was published in May this year, is about conservation, activism, writing, being autistic, being bullied, his school, his family and most of all, his deep love of the natural world.

When I started this year as Children’s Writing Fellow I had no idea what to expect. But I bet none of us expected to be ending the year like this!

It’s been an absolutely mad year but also really wonderful and I just want to say thank you so much to all the schools who’ve contacted me and used the blog. The thought that there are new creative writing groups being set up around NI makes me so happy! I hope they run for years and give lots and lots of young people opportunities to be creative, and all the benefits that creativity brings.

I did a BA in English and Creative Writing at Queens University Belfast and I loved it. But I did it as an adult because when I left school I’d never even heard of a degree in Creative Writing. There wasn’t a course in Belfast, as far as I was aware, and no one told me anything about it at school.

These days loads of universities offer creative writing, including QUB (hurrah!) so today on the blog I’ve got Glenn Patterson, author of many many wonderful books, and Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queens, who has kindly agreed to answer some questions that might help you make your decision. Thanks Glenn!

Glenn is a man who knows how to do an Author Photo

Why should I study creative writing at university?

It might sound like an odd thing to say, but first and foremost studying creative writing will make you a better reader. By thinking about – and talking about – your own writing, and the writing of fellow students, you will have a new understanding of how other, published works came into being: the decisions their writers made along the way. It will, undoubtedly, make you a better writer too, or help you to see how to become the best writer you can be. But being a good reader – someone, that is, who is alive to language, its uses and abuses – strikes me as no small benefit in a world where you are constantly assailed by text of one kind or another.

Hope everyone had a relaxing half-term. If we couldn’t go anywhere, at least the weather was nice. We’ve all been missing out on lots of things lately. I was really looking forward to going to the West Cork Literary Festival in July, where I was going to be interviewed by a specially trained team of teen interviewers! Luckily the clever folks at Graffiti Theatre managed to do the whole thing online instead.

The kids had training sessions with Graffiti Theatre and YA writer Cethan Leahy and then they Zoom interviewed 3 YA writers:

Juno Dawson

I’m delighted to be involved in another exciting writing opportunity for secondary-age students in NI, and I’m particularly thrilled about this one because it’s for essay writing!

Which you don’t see a lot of outside the classroom. I was always one of those odd kids who actually loved writing essays as much as I loved writing fiction. The general consensus about doing English Lit in school is that everyone loves books until you start making them write essays about them, and I completely agree, that can be off-putting, especially when it feels like the whole point of the essay is just to test what you know and it has to fit into a certain easy-to-mark structure that doesn’t allow any room for creativity. Continue reading “Essay Writing Competition: Discuss.”

At Christmas I got to be a judge for BBC NI’s Two Minute Tales competition. Kids wrote Christmas themed stories that could be read aloud in 2 minutes and the winners were read on the radio and animated on the website.

It was so much fun to read the stories (there is some serious writing talent in NI). We did the final judging in the BBC offices and they’d dressed the room up for Christmas! (Note the awesome TV fire. Don’t know why I bothered tiling my fireplace TBH.)

Today on The Blank Page we’ve got special guest, Shirley-Anne McMillan to tell your young writers how to make their own Zines! She’s even made a video!

Zines are basically mini books you can make yourself, on any topic at all. I’ve never made one but it looks like so much fun I might give it a go.

Shirley is a YA writer from Co. Down and I’ve LOVED every one of her books. She likes to tackle big issues like LGBTQ+ rights, social injustice, teen pregnancy, living in care, and she’s as much of an activist in real life as she is in her books so she’s the perfect person to give us some tips on how to use Zines as a way to respond to injustice and maybe even change the world.

Next up in my series of special guests on The Blank Page is the multi-talented Myra Zepf! Myra writes for children and teenagers, in English and Irish. Her latest picture book has been adapted into a beautiful dance performed at the Ulster Folk Museum and her verse novel for teenagers is up for the Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award.

She was the first Children’s Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland and with 5 (!) teenagers at home, she’s the perfect person to share her advice for young (or young at heart) writers in these strange days we find ourselves in. I think (after I deliver my parents’ shopping) I’ll be taking her advice today myself!

Thanks for being here (in a virtual, socially-distant way) Myra!


I’m sure that in the worry and uncertainty of the last couple of weeks, afterschool clubs are the last thing on anyone’s mind! But since the schools are closing and students are looking at weeks of working at home, I’ve made a list of some online resources that might entertain, help them feel less isolated, and allow creativity to continue to flourish. And being creative might even help those who are feeling anxious about what’s going on to express and deal with those feelings.

And it’s all a matter of perspective. We can believe we’re prisoners in our own homes or we can pretend we’re JD Salinger, shunning the press and writing our next classic novel!

Continue reading “Self-Isolating or Reclusive Genius?”

Today I’m thrilled to welcome local writer Jo Zebedee to The Blank Page! Jo is a Sci-Fi and Fantasy author and knows much more about these genres than I do, so if you have any young writers who are into Sci-Fi/Fantasy, you could pass on these tips to them and introduce them to a local writer at the same time. Thanks Jo for sharing your expertise!


For older writers (or group leaders) who’d like to do some serious study into story theory, I highly recommend KM Weiland’s site Helping Writers Become Authors. It’s absolutely chokka with useful information about how novels are structured and how character arcs work.

It’s quite in-depth and might be too complex for younger or less serious writers but something that I thought would be useful to any young writer was her list of the different types of characters in a story.

I’m very excited because today on The Blank Page I have a special guest post by a special guest author!

Caroline Busher is the Irish Times best-selling author of “The Ghosts of Magnificent Children” and “The Girl Who Ate The Stars” (Poolbeg Press). She’s also done a lot of work with young readers and writers with dyslexia.

Welcome, Caroline! I do my best to make my writing club a welcoming and inclusive space but I admit I don’t know a lot about things like dyslexia that might make participation more difficult for some kids, and I imagine many writing group leaders might be in the same boat. So I thought I’d ask Caroline to give us some of her expert advice and she kindly sent me the following guest post (thanks Caroline!)


As it’s WORLD BOOK DAY (!!!) I’ve been writing articles for a couple of newspapers about encouraging kids to read, which basically means me banging on about getting parents to read. (If you treat reading like it’s ‘Kids Stuff’ or ‘Homework’ or ‘A Less Valuable Use of Your Time Than Facebook’, then your kids will see it that way too.)

It occured to me that we could say the same about writing and creativity in general. I was also inspired by this blog post by the wonderful NI children’s writer, Sheena Wilkinson.

This exercise is based on the notion of the ‘Elevator Pitch’ and it’s just a way to get the imagination going.

The Elevator Pitch is based on the idea that if you ever happened to get in a lift with a top publisher/director/agent, you could tell them the idea for your brilliant book/film/play in the time it takes to get to their floor.

The lift scenario is quite unlikely (agents probably take the stairs for exactly this reason) but every writer is supposed to have their elevator pitch ready to go at all times.

I think it’s a little odd that script-writing doesn’t come up much in the curriculum. I suppose technically Shakespeare plays are scripts but it never felt like they were being studied as scripts, and they certainly weren’t related to creative writing in my experience.

But when you think about it, scripts are maybe the form of writing most familiar to kids. They probably have a lot more exposure to TV and Movies than novels or poetry.

Hope you had a great half term!

This is a quick poetry writing exercise I found on Ted Talks. It’s an 18 minute video in which he explains the three steps for writing a 2-line poem. The audience write along with him and produce their 2-line poem (I did it myself, it was fun) so I played it for my writers and invited them to write along.

About half of them decided to give it a go, others were working on their own stuff. Of the half that started, a few dropped out along the way, one turned hers into a piece of prose instead, and just one completed a poem. She then turned it into a longer poem.

As I keep saying, you really don’t have to be a writer or teacher yourself to run a writing club for young writers. All you need to be is a facilitator. An enthusiastic cheerleader willing to listen and applaud.

The time and space and attention you provide are the important things and that’s all your young writers really need, so never be put off by worrying that you don’t know enough about writing or teaching writing. You don’t need to.

Continue reading “8 Ways To Make Your Story Boring”

When I studied creative writing at Queens we were visited by my favourite writer, Marilynne Robinson, who also teaches at the Iowa University’s Writers Workshop. The IWW have produced 17 Pulitzer Prize winners and 6 recent US Poet Laureates, among many other honours.

Robinson said she is asked by every university she visits, “What’s the IWW’s secret, why are you so successful?” And she always answers, “We don’t grade.” And, without exception, their faces fall.

Blackout Poetry is so simple and so much fun and you can end up with really beautiful results. It’s also great for helping nervous or blocked writers get going. In fact writers often use it as a way to kick start their creativity.

It’s also known as Found Poetry or Erasure Poetry and the basic premise is that you start with a page of text, then you black-out the words you don’t want, leaving a poem on the page.

Obviously you don’t want to be taking sharpies to the library books, so you can photocopy a few pages in advance for the kids to work on.

Today I have a poem for you, but before that I want to give you an update on how the Blank Page project is progressing.

January has been a crazy month, but a good one. The response to the blog has been incredible. The fantastic people at the school library service helped to get the word out to all the schools during the first week of January and within about ten days all 25 of my resource packs were spoken for! There are brand new creative writing groups being set up all over the country as we speak and I can’t tell you how thrilled that makes me!

The other piece of good news is that I might be able to rustle up some more packs! I managed to get some of the resources cheaper than expected, and then the ever-wonderful David at No Alibis bookshop gave me a hefty discount on the books just because he likes to support all literary endeavour especially encouraging young readers and writers, and my saint of a husband did all my website stuff (isn’t it good!), saving me hiring a tech-expert, so there is some funding left over. So if any more schools would like a pack for their writing club, do get in touch. And if you’re using the blog for tips and resources, remember to subscribe for notifications of new posts.

Continue reading “Portable Poetry”

Dialogue is one of those marmite things that you either love writing or hate writing. I’ve noticed that writers who love writing dialogue (e.g. me) tend to write a bit like scriptwriters. I often write the first draft of scenes in pure dialogue, and I can reach the end of the scene without ever deciding if these characters are indoors or outdoors, under the sea or on the moon, wearing wetsuits or PJs.

I hate writing physical description of places, people or actions and I usually have to go back when I’ve finished the scene and fill all that in. I like spoken words and the stuff going on inside the character’s head, but not so much the external world.

I mentioned in an earlier post that there are probably writing forms that your young writers have never heard of, but which might be the key to unlocking their writing. Conversely, there might be genres of storytelling which your young writers are familiar with that you’ve never heard of or thought of as stories.

We’re so used to rolling our eyes at ‘screen time’ that I think we tend to pit it in direct opposition to all that’s good and holy, (i.e. page time).

But TV, movies, comics, video games and D&D are all forms of storytelling. If you actually play any of those fantasy computer games, you quickly realise they have more complicated world buildings and casts than Lord of the Rings. And story structure is surprisingly universal across all these forms of storytelling so you can learn a lot from all of them.