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Love poems, strange tales, and microscopes: creative writing with First Story

HelenBiggs29 March 2017

One of the annual highlights of SCAR’s outreach work is our participation in First Story’s Creative Writing Day, which this year saw almost 100 pupils from six London schools descend upon UCL’s museums and library collections to attend workshops run by professional writers.

In late February, poet Miriam Nash ran a session for 17 students from St Mary’s and St John’s CE School, exploring how books interact with our five senses, and inspiring participants to create new pieces of writing based on their interactions with rare books and manuscripts from Special Collections.

Miriam Nash discussing the poem "Books" by Erica Jong

Miriam Nash discussing the poem “Books” by Erica Jong

While the books on offer included Hooke’s Micrographia and an emblem book formerly owned by Ben Jonson, it was the 1493 Liber chronicarum which really caught the visitors’ attention. Better known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, the encyclopaedia-like book mingles legend, religion and fact to present a historical narrative which is very different from any that we’re familiar with today. This led students to pose the philosophical question: was the writer of the Nuremberg Chronicle lying, if he really believed the myths he wrote about were true?

Learning about the strange creatures described in the Nuremberg Chronicles

Learning about the strange creatures described in the Nuremberg Chronicles

Attitudes on the day ranged from quietly interested to loudly enthused, with students enjoying both the chance to see these rare items up close and to write and share their own work. Or, as one attendee put it,

It was very entertaining and areas of my brain I never knew existed before were unlocked today! I loved it!”

It was easy to be impressed with what the pupils produced: stories about strange creatures with feet for heads, poetry offering soberingly mature love advice, and writing that went into microscopic details.  While the day may have aimed to motivate young people with objects they had never seen before, the talent and intelligence of these young authors was in itself inspiring to the library staff in attendance.

First Story works to nurture the creative writing skills of young people by linking schools in low-income areas with professional writers, to help pupils discover and foster their talents.