I think it’s safe to say that yesterday was one of the most rewarding days I’ve had as a writer. When I first picked up the pen in any serious kind of fashion, the last thing I ever considered (beyond getting a mega-bucks advance from Random House or Penguin), was that I might be able to use my position to help out kids less fortunate than I was.
Arriving in Kilmarnock early yesterday evening (thank you Scotrail – for once you were a friend, not a foe), I wasn’t sure why to expect. All I knew of The SKY Project before hand, was that SKY stood for Stuff for Kids and Youth, and that they fed into the local community of Shortlees, to give opportunities and developmental help to the significantly disadvantaged kids growing up there.
“Significantly disadvantaged” is the key phrase here, because Shortlees is an area of Kilmarnock with heavy levels of poverty. It’s one of the worst in Scotland, in fact, sitting in the top 5% on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.
None of this is of course the kids fault, or indeed their problem. I believe kids should be allowed to be kids (and adults come to mention it), because in a child there are no prejudices or clouds of what cannot be done—it’s all what can be done, what can be explored and what can we do next?
Kids should therefore be given opportunities, not have doors closed on them because of their background. They should be free to explore these doors as much as they want and be included in the decisions that will shape their futures. Not all kids go that way, of course, and as we know some kids choose to mess their lives up anyway, but too many kids don’t even get that chance—it’s already messed up for them.
Last night, in one group of 8 kids from Shortlees, all packed with life and hope and the vitality that being a kid brings, I saw two potential writers, a footballer, a comedian, and a computer whizz kid. Some haven’t yet discovered their talent or direction, but that’s fine, because they’re kids. If they get the chances in life, though, they’ll find themselves.
That’s where SKY comes in, to try and fill some of what is missing from their lives, that a lot of kids just take for granted. The kids of Shortlees and areas like it, are prevented from great things because of adult problems and failures. The parents can’t (or won’t) help because of the poverty trap, and the politicians, however much they say they want to make a difference, can’t help either through egotism or the bureaucracy of a system that puts the kids’ needs at the bottom of the priority list.
The aim of The SKY Project is to “include the excluded” and I think that’s one of the most important things the project can do. Nobody likes being left out, and kids should be at the centre of it all, enabled and confident about the future, not scared of it because of the mess the grown ups have left for them in their wake.
So last night was my chance to do my little bit. I arrived shortly after 5pm, and after introductions and coffee with the staff for the evening: Liz, Rebecca, and Sarah—the kids, who had been gathering outside, were let in right on half past five.
They all trooped in, eight in total, and gathered in the main room around me. Apparently they were nervous about meeting me, which was a coincidence because I’d already tweeted earlier that day about being nervous about doing the event. It was my first time, after all, but I needn’t have worried at all.
The kids all took a moment to work around the room introducing themselves before handing over to me. I told them where I was from and about my writing, and then opened the floor to questions. All arms shot up immediately, and I got hit with my questions. Some were about my actually writing—how long had I been doing it, what kind of books did I write, etc.—and others were really cool, my favourite question being: “are you a pal of Robert Burns?”
Following on from that, my book SILLY POEMS FOR WEE PEOPLE, worked its way around the room while the pizza, crisps, and juice were dished out. Everyone got tucked in and was ready to get started on the first game of the night.
I spoke to the kids a little about what writing poetry was about and tried to take away any apprehensions they might have had; it was all about their imaginations and nothing else. I asked them to write riddles about an item that meant something to them or was their favourite, and to write down a description of it without actually saying what it was. A kind of “What am I?” game.
The result was fantastic. They all turned out brilliant descriptions of footballs, flowers and paintbrushes, to lights, their school and a one girl’s Grandmother. They were now all official poets!
We had time for another game, this time a new one for me, Surrealist Conditionals, or as I renamed it, the “If and When Game”. Basically, they all partnered off and one person wrote and “If…” statement and the other a “When…” statement. It didn’t make much sense to begin with, but when put together the results were either hilarious or got them thinking as they tried to picture the juxtapositions.
Both games got the kids engaged and using their creativity, and they seemed (I hope) to really enjoy themselves. They were both games they can play back home too or with friends, so hopefully they’ll carry them on. I’ll be putting a page together of all their poetic work and posting it onto the blog as soon as I can.
I had my photo taken with all the kids and then all too soon, the evening was over. The kids all trooped home, and after thanking the staff, I was dropped off at the trai station by Sarah Hall, the project manager, and made my way back to Leith.
I’d like to say a massive thank you to all the kids for inviting me and for making me feel so welcome. Also, thanks to Sarah for pitching the idea in the first place, and to Liz and Rebecca for making sure it all went so smoothly.
And I have to say a massive thank you to Elspeth Murray, who gave me the ideas and the confidence to be able to go through with the event relatively worry-free. Her valuable advice was, well, utterly priceless, and I’m happily in her debt for that!
The 3 Ebook Deal and Free Poetry
Visit my website at www.colingalbraith.co.uk and either sign up to the mailing list or ‘LIKE’ my Facebook page, as it will mean you’ll be entitled to a free copy of each of my next three novels. Get in quick though, as the window to register closes at 23:59pm 31st December!
Alternatively, just scan the QR code to the right or text 3BOOKS to 88802 or failing that, you can go direct to the 3 Ebook Deal web page!
The window to sign up for the 3 Ebook Deal will close on 31st December, 2011 at 23:59 so make sure you get in there today! It only takes a couple of minutes to sign up to qualify for 3 hot thriller novels to be released in 2012!
You’ll also find some great deals over at my poetry place www.chasstramash.com: all poetry ebooks are available for free download, 86p on the Kindle, and £3 (25% off!) for print copies.
Peace and out!