Sunday 21 February 2016

Rehan Alam, Georgia Rose and Rae Gee - February Brilliant Books at the Free School!

Four sessions have come and gone since the last blog so here's a bumper edition.

Week 3 

Personal Development Specialist Rehan Alam visited the group. 

An inspirational personal development specialist, Rehan talked about his favourite book - "The Lord of the Rings" - and cleverly mixed some of the mythos, the characters and the plot into a series of inspiring messages for the pupils to digest. 

An entertaining speaker, and passionate reader, Rehan works with schools and businesses in a training and motivational capacity and the pupils were highly entertained by his delivery.

If you've not read Lord Of The Rings, then you are missing a treat. Classic example where a film simply doesn't do the book justice - LOTR is a feast for the imagination - and I had several conversations with the pupils about this - after all, this is what Brilliant Books is all about.

Week 4 was me - but you've seen my graphic novel/comic skit before so moving swiftly on, on Week 5, we welcomed the brilliant Georgia Rose coming all the way up from the Beautiful South - those Tolkein-lauded shires of Cambridgeshire.

For new readers, Georgia is the author of popular romance/suspense novels "The Grayson Trilogy", a prize winning short story writer, and, more importantly, a big friend of Brilliant Books. 

Georgia spoke about writing, being an author and what it takes to be a writer - the sacrifices, the pain and the rewards! 

This group contains more readers than we usually see, but quite a few pupils struggle with writing - not English per se, but writing. So Georgia inspired them with tales of the writer's life and then, in session two, supported them with their stories.

Then, the team led a session on Metaphors, Similes and Allegories which produced quite a few interesting examples!

Georgia is a prodigious reader and advocate of children's literature and imparts a passion for reading wherever she goes. 

We'll look forward to seeing her when the next Brilliant Books session comes on stream later this year.

Week 6 saw the return of the Queen of Steampunk herself, Rae Gee.

Rae writes Steampunk - a popular genre whose luminaries include the stellar Alan Moore (writer of Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and Kim Newman who wrote massive bestseller Anno Dracula.

This is Rae's second visit and she read from HG Wells "The Time Machine." 

Wells was Victorian England's biggest fiction writer and, along with Jules Verne, is credited with being Steampunk's biggest inspiration. I know this, because Rae informed the group of the same. Rae brought in some superb materials, including this magnificent book full of Steampunkian designs, particularly a mechanical elephant here.

The group then worked on their short stories and were filmed reading extracts - an activity some clearly enjoy!

Activities in this blog are all
supported by the Big Lottery Fund
Rae and Georgia are featured authors in the Access All Areas anthology which supports Brilliant Books along with such popular names as Brenda Perlin, Sally-Anne Wilkinson, Clare Stevens, Katie Oliver, Lorraine Devon Wilke, Annie Lyons, Lynne Morley, Phil Pidluznyj and yours truly, Mark Barry.

Next week, popular Valentine Nkoyo returns for a second shift at the Free School and for Week 8 music critic and reviewer Dom Gourlay brings Nottingham's finest electro-pop combo, the up-and-coming April Towers to bring down the curtain on this year's Brilliant Books at Nottingham Free School.

Until then - get your kids off those consoles and behind the pages of a good book! See you Wednesday.



Georgia Rose Author Page

Rae Gee Author Page

Sunday 17 January 2016

Brilliant Books: Session II at Nottingham Free School

Welcome back to the second tranche of Brilliant Books from Nottingham Free School. This session, we have 29 schoolchildren, our largest group so far. 

Taken from a student's latest notebook for the upcoming

For those of you who have just joined us, Brilliant Books is a role modelling programme aimed at inspiring reluctant readers to get passionate about books again. You will find tons of information throughout this blog.

We bring in successful people from all areas of life (politics, business, arts) who credit a passion for books as being a big part of their success and they speak to schoolchildren, most of whom are at risk of leaving reading behind in favour of, for example, console games. 

The hosts inspire the schoolchildren with a presentation and then we split the group into small teams. Then, the children write a piece of creative writing which is eventually published in an anthology they can keep forever - and, critically, use for their University applications.

It's an eight week programme funded by the National Lottery delivered by Empleo Community Interest Company and feedback and results have been excellent.

Week one was delivered by Phil Pidluznyj, who is one of three directors of Empleo and is as passionate about books as you can imagine. 

Phil is on the right, with the guitar. Photo taken, due to a
camera malfunction this week, from the final session
of Brilliant Books 1, featuring music journalist Dom Gourlay

A lifetime of helping unemployed people return to work is combined with a thirty year career in music - he is the lead singer of emerging band New Apostles. He is also the Lead Tutor and co-designer of this Brilliant Books project.

He opened this tranche by reading from Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham, a classic sci-fi tale. 

Phil credits this book with inspiring a lifetime's love of books. Like many pupils at school, Phil was struggling to engage with the chosen texts. A teacher noticed this and gave him a personal copy of the Bradbury classic. He read it voraciously and the rest is history.

It is interesting that the opening chapter that Phil read takes place in a hospital ward in a seemingly abandoned hospital. It is also clear that the world had changed while the patient, in his bed, alone and confused, tries to work out what is going on in the world outside.

Astute students of modern culture will recognise this from a more modern sci-fi piece, the incredibly popular zombie comic and TV show, "The Walking Dead". Many of the school children recognised it immediately.

A US collector recently paid $10,000 for a first edition of
this 2002 comic. (I have held one in my hands - Ed!)

In part II, the groups split up and we had an entertaining introduction session - which, with 29 people plus three tutors to introduce - took most of the remaining session, but it was a great and exciting start to Brilliant Books.

Week Two was led by Hannah Bingham

Hannah works for the Skills Funding Agency, a government body who co-ordinate training and apprenticeships around the United Kingdom. She is the Employer Services and Delivery Advisor for the East Midlands SFA.

Hannah talked about her job and her history and also her aspirations.

She is exactly the type of young professional who can inspire young people, as she is a prodigous and vociferous reader who has read all her life and she told the schoolchildren that without reading, her success in the professions would have been much less likely.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole was Hannah's chosen book and she read from the opening chapters - where Adrian seems to spend much of his time describing a boil on his face! 

Many of the children had not heard of the book - Hannah donated her copy and Phil bought several for the young people to read - an offer gratefully accepted. One pupil actually wanted Hannah to continue reading!

It's a terrific book - perhaps one of the first of the new wave of the genre now labelled YA Fiction (Young Adult) and Hannah delivered it superbly.

Inspired, the young people broke off into groups and we worked on character - looking at character generation, characteristics and motivations. Then, the pupils took turns to present their work. This was another terrific session - from some quite reluctant writers too.

I'd like to thank Phil for his terrific reading (as befitting a lead singer!) which set the tone for the coming session and Hannah for her terrific enthusiasm (and her Kardashian suggestion - my understanding of the world was amplified twofold after that session!)

Next week, I'm back on Graphic Novels and in Week Four, Rehan Alam joins us - he's a successful motivational speaker and personal developer. Looking forward to that one. 

See you in two weeks.


Brilliant Books is funded by the Big Lottery Fund - we are grateful for the help and support they provide and without it, BB and many, many other projects would not continue.

Thursday 12 November 2015

A Christmas Goodbye To Brilliant Books

In the last fortnight, we've seen two brilliant hosts come to Brilliant Books at Nottingham Free School. 

Firstly, we had ex professional footballer Tony Lormor

who is one of the core hosts of the programme and a valued member of the team. A Newcastle lad, he played for twelve teams in a career lasting twenty years, including spells at Notts and Mansfield, and then, when it was all over, recovered from a career ending knee injury - and cancer - to reach the North Pole last year.

Despite a promising start to his education, and a passion for reading, Tony rejected education to concentrate on football at Newcastle United and when it was all over, he found himself depressed, ill, unemployed and/or working in a range of dead end, short-term jobs, before starting a new life helping young footballers (and Brilliant Books pupils) believe in themselves AND the power of education .

The pupils listened intently and asked loads of questions. There will be more than one of the pupils who got the message here. Well done, Tony - great stuff and see you next time.

On Monday, we saw the return of top Drowned In Sound music journalist, Dom Gourlay.

Dom travels about watching gigs, interviewing top bands, attending festivals and generally living his passion and, like Tony, is a regular member of the Brilliant Books gang.

This tranche of Brilliant Books is funded by the Big Lottery

He read from Nick Kent's "The Dark Stuff", specifically a chapter on Kurt Cobain whose tragic demise spawned a host of literary assessments and speculations. 

It was fascinating to me that noone in the audience of 12-13 year olds had ever heard of Nirvana and/or Kurt Cobain, so we played this...

And looked for the classic "Nevermind" cover. 

I spoke to one young man on my work table who said that the BBC never play rock music or guitar based music and so it was understandable and it was then I realised why programmes like Brilliant Books are absolutely necessary, because if the mainstream only plays what it THINKS the people want, then how will the people ever know what is out there - whole chunks of history are erased. 

Here's (possibly) the finest Beatles recording.

Dom  usually brings a band with him but this time, Phil brought his guitar along and the kids were encouraged to write song lyrics to a tune of his creation.

Everyone was treated to the memorable sight of Phil performing a rap about Justin Bieber written by the "Three Amigos". I'm not sure that will ever happen again!

Music, books, art - this is all about giving the pupils confidence and one of my favourite moments came right at the end. I felt that one young man, who had attended all eight sessions, but had said very little, was one of those the gang had failed to convince, but suddenly, when asked to write these lyrics, came up with a superb paean to Remembrance Day - which will be published in the soon-to-be-titled anthology.

After, we also took videos of some of the children reading their stories. Bear in mind that these pupils are reluctant readers and writers, we were astonished how many wanted to speak publicly and to the camera. Here's a selection.




So that's it for Brilliant Books this term. Shellie, Phil and me are back on January 6th with a whole new battery of hosts and a new group of pupils. 

Thank you to Mr Cleveley and Mrs Inglis for their terrific support but most of all, thank you to the pupils who have made it all such terrific fun.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Valentine Nkoyo and Farah Khan are Back...On Brilliant Books!

Old friends of ours and part of the Brilliant Books "house" team, Valentine and Farah delighted the children of the Free School as we move towards half term and the conclusion of the first tranche of the Brilliant Books visit.

First Valentine.

Valentine's visit coincided with Black History month. For those of you who have recenty joined us, Valentine is from the Masai, a tribe from Kenya, who are governed by a strict, ancient patriarchal code. Her early life was spent fetching water from the well (a seven mile round trip), cooking for her brothers and looking after the family's livestock. Discontented with this, and full of desire to better herself, Valentine, who was prevented by tribal strictures from speaking to her father directly, and not content that her five brothers were all at school while she was ignored, wrote a poem.

It is WELL worth a watch. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when we all watched it. After hearing the poem underneath an ancient tree, her father wept. In order to send her to school, Valentine's father sold his prize bull. There, she read Alice In Wonderland and was instantly hooked on reading. 

She read the instructions on canned goods, sacks of grain, old leaflets, manuals, anything she could get her hands on. She read by candlelight in the tribal huts and by the dying of the light after the day's chores were completed. 

Naturally, the group was spellbound by this and by the tale of how Valentine left for Great Britain, to study Business at Nottingham University. Recently, she passed her MBA - and only a decade ago, she could barely speak a word of English. She is a famed - and passionate - advocate against FGM (still a major problem in some British cities) and regularly speaks at conferences about this. 

The kids asked all sorts of questions - this is the most vocal, inquisitive, lively group we've had so far - and Valentine answered them all and we were all spellbound by her journey.

 Mr Cleveley, who co-ordinates for us at the school, said that the kids got a huge amount out of this session and bear in mind, there are people here who have never read a book outside the classroom. 

We will be buying the school many copies of Alice In Wonderland as a tribute to Valentine.  Thank you, V - you were much appreciated :-)

Then, on Wednesday this week, Farah Khan returned. She's one of my favourite hosts. Lively, funny and a superb presenter, Farah is the Student Liaison officer for Nottingham City Council. 

What Farah doesn't know about community development you can write on a matchbox cover. She talked about how she ensures the safety of incoming students (over 60,ooo come to Nottingham from all over the world), how she talks about community responsibility, from being a good neighbour in areas like Lenton (which is about 60% student), recycling, bin management and how students and the local community relate. 

I wanted to ask a question about Student Wednesday Nights in town, but the kids beat me to it with a torrent of questions. 

The book she chose was seventies cult classic The Westing Game...

Farah read a short piece - and here she is, on video.

Though reluctant to read - and in some cases, reluctant to write - the youngsters are prolific communicators, racing to ask questions of our hosts and Farah was not spared.

I really enjoyed this session and I know the kids did too. Thank you, Farah - look forward to seeing you back in action at the next school.

This course was funded, as all our programmes in schools are, by the Big Lottery Fund

If you want to get involved - and there are stories Phil and me could tell you privately about young people and books which would make your hair curl - then you can do so in the following ways.

1) Share this blog far and wide on Twitter and FB

2) Come to our Benefit Night in Nottingham on November 13th and meet the regulars, with all proceeds to Brilliant Books.

3) If you cannot make it, then consider purchasing this little beauty - an Absent Ticket Book - containing eleven quality writers all mad passionate about intervening with #reluctantreaders and making them fall in love with reading again.

You can find the purchase details here - and also the details of the benefit night on the 13th.

It's not just writers - three guitar bands appear (and there's a discipline that needs a boost too in the modern era), including Phil's band, New Apostles.

Thank you for reading, everyone and remember - a society that doesn't read is a poorer society than one that does.