Kelly's main objective with the Fellowship has been to address the increasing lack of opportunities to be creative in young people’s academic lives, and encourage schools to set up creative writing groups.
She has set up a website called The Blank Page to share her own experience, advice, tips and tricks with teachers and librarians running creative writing groups in post-primary schools. She has also put together resource packs to help new groups get started, with books on writing craft, Flash Fiction prompt books, Postcard-story kits, pencils and notebooks.
Speaking of the Fellowship, Kellly said;
''I’m thrilled with the response to the project, and its reach. There are now many new writing groups being set up all over Northern Ireland. These will hopefully still be running long after my term, and the website can continue to be used by schools in years to come. I was also pleased to receive messages from schools in England and Wales who are using the website for their creative writing groups, which was an unexpected bonus.
Thanks to the Fellowship award I’ve been able to offer the schools free author visits for their creative writing groups, and I hope to be visiting several schools this term to meet their young writers.''
Kelly has spoken about her schools project at various schools and libraries, and events including the Belfast Harbour Commissioner’s Teenage Author event with BookTrust, the Kids Lit Quiz at Wellington College, and a forthcoming panel with Children's Books Ireland. In April 2020, Kelly will be on a panel with the UK Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell.
Alongside all this, she has been judging BBC Radio’s Two Minute Tales competition for 5-13 year old writers, and the Caterpillar’s Short Story Competition. She has been working with Belfast Met’s supported learning classes to help their teens with special needs engage with books and the library.
Our Children's Writing Fellow Kelly McCaughrain invites us into her writing room (not technically a room) for birdsong and tea, and shares the joys of being an introvert during lockdown.
Where are we?
My back garden. I can’t even claim that this is anything to do with lockdown because this is where I’d be anyway. I have some sort of neurological inability to concentrate indoors. In winter my writing often involves hot water bottles (I have a special granny-type one for my feet), blankets and many layers of clothing. In summer I get burnt to a crisp. I have a perfectly nice spare room but I just can’t write in there. It makes me feel claustrophobic and uncomfortably aware of myself. Ironically, when I’m outside, the world disappears. I’m very grateful to have a garden, especially during a lockdown. It’s on a slope so the patio at the top has a view of trees and hills and it’s sunny. I don’t mind isolation but being stuck indoors would probably kill me.
What are you working on?
I’m writing a novel for teenagers. There’s a lot about social media in it, which is weird when we’re all conducting our lives via social media now. I quite like social media but I hate Skype/Zoom calls which I now have to do every week. If this goes on much longer I will revert to letter-writing.
What’s that over there?
That line of trees at the bottom of the garden is the Comber Greenway, which is busier than ever these days. If I sit at the end of the garden I can listen to people walk by chatting about social distancing (it is ALL anyone talks about).
What’s that sound?
I think birdsong is one of life’s reset buttons and the garden is filled with it at the moment. We have a wildlife pond and the birds like to splash about in it but apart from them and the odd lawn mower it’s very quiet. The lack of traffic makes a huge difference. I’m going to miss that when this is over.
How does isolation help or hinder you?
Isolation is the one thing about all this that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. To be fair, I’m very lucky because I can work from home and have no children to home-school, but I like not having to go anywhere or meet anyone. And it definitely helps me write because I’m much more relaxed and less distracted when I don’t have to deal with other people. I’m setting myself deadlines and trying to get as much creative work done as possible because I know it won’t last. It’s like, for a short time (maybe the first and last time), the world has been redesigned to suit introverts and I feel bad about enjoying it when other people are finding it so tough. I feel like one of those women who felt guilty because they enjoyed World War II so much.
Time for a break…?
The thing about sitting in the garden is you spot things that need doing so when I take a break it’s usually to dig up dandelions or pot up seedlings or water the veg. Or I watch the tadpoles getting fat in the pond. And I drink tea. Lots and lots of tea.
What are you reading/watching/listening to these days?
I’m reading War and Peace! This is not an attempt to look pretentious, I just promised someone three years ago that I’d read War and Peace and I still hadn’t got round to it so I thought, if I can’t do it now, it’s never going to happen. I imagined it would be hard going but it’s surprisingly page-turner-y. It’s like Jane Austen except Napoleon keeps showing up and disrupting the balls.
Even if I wasn’t a gardener I’d watch Gardener’s World every week. It’s a very soothing show. Nothing bad ever happens on Gardener’s World. And I’ve been listening to The Times Literary Supplement podcast while sewing for the ‘NI Scrubs’ group, who are volunteers making scrubs for healthcare workers (if you can sew, check them out). We’re also binge-watching Catastrophe, which is the best sit-com I’ve seen in ages. Sharon Horgan (who co-wrote and stars in it) is hilarious.
What might you revisit in times of crisis or uncertainty?
Wendell Berry is always a font of sanity. And I can get lost in anything by Virginia Woolf. I read a lot of kids books too (obviously) and I find them very reassuring. I’d like to say something wise about them transporting me back to a childhood place of safety or something, but I think it’s probably just because they’re fun.
Best advice for writers?
I’m not sure I’m qualified to give anyone advice but the advice my very wise husband gives me daily is: Work when you can, forgive yourself when you can’t.