Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and that there were lots of New Year’s resolutions along the lines of ‘Will start a creative writing club in school.’

Today I have another quick conversation starter based on the opening lines of books. But first, now that we’re all settled back into the new term (no? Still eating chocolate Santas in your PJs? Is that just me?) can I let everyone know that I have some shiny (and free) resource packs to send out to schools for their writing groups!


These have some helpful books and tools for young people writing stories, Flash Fiction and Postcard Stories. They are funded by the Arts Council NI and I have 25 packs to give away so let me know if you’d like one.

I’d also love to come and meet your writers. So if you’re starting up a writing club or you already have one and would like a free visit from over-enthusiastic YA author to chat to your kids about writing, listen to their stories, give them feedback, answer any questions they have etc, then please do get in contact with me. Or if you’d just like a resources pack, that’s fine too.

Unfortunately, unlike Santa, I won’t be able to get around every school in NI so I’ll see how many requests I get and try to spread the visits and resources around the country as much as possible. This is all free, thanks to Arts Council NI and QUB funding, so big big thank you to them.

And if you’re interested in using the blog for tips and advice, remember, you can subscribe in the sidebar to get notifications when new posts go up.

So, First Lines…

In our group we have a whole hour just for writing, but that can be quite a long time for the younger members so I’ll sometimes make it shorter by doing a little 10 minute thing at the start. Maybe give them a poem or story I thought was good (they love reading anything written by someone their own age especially), or an article about writing, or Top Tips from a writer etc. These aren’t structured exercises and I don’t demand that they do anything specific, I just let them look at them and if it starts a conversation, great.

Something I did recently was to get them to think about first lines. The first line of a story is pretty important because it has to suck you in.

But instead of lecturing them about that, I put my stack of YA novels (and some adult and classics) in the middle of the table, told them to pick 4 they hadn’t read, look at the first line of each and pick their favourite.

I thought it was interesting that while we were doing this someone said they were having trouble choosing between two books and someone else said, in the weary voice of someone who’s endured 11 years of education already, ‘Just pick the one you could write a story about because that’s where this is going.’

It’s like you’re trying to sneak vegetables into their food. They are onto you and they know all your tricks. This is why I don’t do ‘writing exercises’. It really doesn’t matter how fun or exciting the exercise is; if it smells like education, you’re done for. You could take them to Disneyland, they’d just stand there yawning and waiting for the handout to fill in.

I assured her that this was not a writing exercise, that I don’t really do writing exercises (they’re as boring for me as they are for you, kids!) and no one was going to be made to write anything, this was just about picking our favourite first lines.

Reassured, we all chose our favourite first line, read it aloud to the group and said why we liked it. This provoked a bit of discussion about first lines and then we all went and wrote whatever we liked, as always. Hopefully with better first lines than ever! (And the writer who looked completely depressed by the idea of being ‘made’ to write something, became completely engrossed in writing a beautiful story that was all her own and read it to the group at the end.)

You could suggest a few minutes before the end that they look at their own first sentence and make sure it’s killer.

This is just a really simple conversation generator that might even sneak in some writing skills, or encourage them to read one of the books.

Hope this is helpful, and do get in touch if you’re interested in the resources/visits, and do use the comments section to ask questions or share ideas from your own writing groups. I bet that collectively, we have a massive pool of knowledge and wisdom that can inspire writing groups all over the country and beyond! *resists Buzz Lightyear meme*



2 thoughts on “First Lines and Free Loot! (how’s that for alliteration?)

  1. Hi Kelly,
    Loving your blog! I’m new to this ‘teaching creative writing’ business, and I’m finding your ideas s-o-o-o-o-o-o helpful. I’d love to get hold of one of your resources packs, or get you down for a visit. But we’re over in North West England, so I don’t suppose either of those is going to be possible. Do you know of anyone doing anything similar over this way? We’re working with kids from 5 – 16 (not all together) and it’s loads of fun, but they work at such a cracking pace, we need all the ideas we can get!

    • Hi Phil, this is great to hear! Yeah, I’m focusing on Northern Ireland since it’s a NI-based and funded position I’m afraid but I liked the idea of doing it as a blog because it means that anyone anywhere can use it and it’ll exist after my time as CWF is finished, so I hope it’ll be helpful to you and I’d love to hear how your group is doing and if you’ve any ideas to pass on!
      But I’m a firm believer that you really don’t need to provide anything more than a regular time and space, the kids will bring the rest. My group runs with no budget whatsoever! And you don’t have to be a teacher or an expert, just a really enthusiastic cheerleader! The resource packs are just for a bit of extra inspiration but if you want to email me through the contact page I can tell you exactly what’s in them and maybe you could put something together yourself.
      I would say don’t exhaust yourself (and drain away your enthusiasm) by trying to come up with activities and exercises every week. Give them pens and paper and let them decide what to write and you’ll be amazed by how little input they need (or want) from you. I find they always come up with better work that they’re more passionate about if it’s stuff they thought up by themselves rather than in response to exercises or tasks. It’s maybe different with younger kids who might need more direction, but certainly for the older ones, I usually just give them free reign and they love it.
      I’ll be posting loads more this year so do check in and see if there’s anything helpful for you, and good luck with your group!

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