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.


Thursday, 8 October 2015

Kevin Price and Kathy McArdle join us for...Brilliant Books!

Last week, the Brilliant Books gang met Kevin Price, willwriter, legal expert and Nottingham-based community activist.

Kevin is a leading member of the Bulwell Town Team: a community-drawn committee working with the City Council to empower local people. They are currently looking at entrepreneurial projects for young people and are part of the North Notts Creative Forum, encouraging local people (in an area off high unemployment) to "create" art, writing, sculpture etc. 

Dickensian moral fable "Great Expectations" was Kevin's chosen book, a more traditional offering after last weeks graphic hi jinks.

Kevin created a fine presentation, including the video from the original David Lean film, the meeting between Magwich and Pip in the cemetery where the latter's parents were buried.

Then, the kids got together to look at character for their upcoming short stories. Working in small groups, the stories came thick and fast.

These two young lads are team writing a zombie/apocalypse type story each week, which will be featured in the anthology. 

The young people are beginning to settle down after three weeks. Some are natural readers. Some natural writers. Others remain to be convinced of both, but that's what Brilliant Books is about. We hope to inspire them and that's why the project needs eight weeks per group. 

Of course, on every course we deliver (for adults as well as children) we offer the chance to read to the group. If anyone did become an author (there is promise here, and on the previous group), then the ability to read work in public is a critical skill. Not everyone enjoys performance and we don't push, but during Brilliant Books, some have discovered a nascent ability to do this. This adds another dimension - reading, writing, performance - all connected to the love of books.

Thank you, Kevin, for inspiring a terrific session.


This week, Kathy McArdle, the Chief Executive of Nottingham's Creative Quarter was our Host. We were privileged to get her as the NCQ is one of Nottingham's busiest, most thriving organisations, dedicated to ensuring the City wins it's bid to become a World City of Literature. Here she is with some of the girls in the group.

Kathy is a brilliant activities facilitator - we've been to several of her workshops - and she got straight down to business, reading from Louisa. M. Alcott's classic sisterhood drama, Little Women.

Because Kathy can facilitate (and this being a feisty group), the questions came thick and fast.

Again, the pupils sat down to do some work on their short stories (after a healthy fruit break) and Kathy worked with a group of four.

on dialogue

before they were asked to perform their dialogues to the rest of the group. Here's Paige and Jess...

All in all this was an excellent session. Thank you to Kathy McArdle for Hosting here.


The Brilliant Books team donated a series of Dickens books to the school this week - the collection is building nicely!!

Next week, top Nottingham community developer and University liaison officer Farah Khan is back - those with good memories will know that Farah joined us last year for one of Brilliant Books' best sessions and she will always be welcome back.

Thanks for reading...

The Brilliant Books Team

Brilliant Books is funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Welcome Back to...Brilliant Books!

Welcome back to Brilliant Books. 

For those of you who don't know the Brilliant Books project, if you fancy a "brilliant" explanation of what Brilliant Books does, you will find loads of information on this blog.

It is currently funded by an award from the Big Lottery Fund

If you are busy, here's Brilliant Books in a hundred words. 

Essentially, Brilliant Books go into schools with successful people in tow; people who credit their success in careers etc because they read fiction as children and continue to read.

In two hours, they give an inspirational talk, then help us work with up to twenty children, in small groups, mostly reluctant readers, each writing a short story. 

Finally, after eight weeks, the stories are collected in an anthology which is presented to the kids in front of their peers, so they essentially become published authors at between 10 and 14.

The team have moved on to a new school after two terms at Seely. 

We are now based at

Nottingham Free School

Working with 12 and 13 year olds at Secondary level. this presents the BB team with a different challenge. We've met the group and delivered two sessions so far.

The first session was delivered by Michelle Place

who read from rascally rabbit tearjerker Watership Down. 

Michelle started off in Nursery Nursing and is now Business Partner for Workforce Development at City Care, a supportive social enterprise connected to the NHS. 

Michelle is passionate about reading and talked about her love of fantasy novels of all types. She read an extract from the book - an original copy! - and then settled down to work with the children in small groups.

Phil set an exercise connected to Watership Down, which is a novel with a subtext of displacement and departure. Entitled Leaving Home, the team worked with seventeen young people on written exercises (1)

It was interesting that Watership Down could be seen as a metaphor for the European Refugee/Migrant Crisis, particularly those leaving war torn Syria and Afghanistan


This Monday, in a change to the advertised programme, Mark Barry took over and delivered a talk on Comics and Graphic Novels. 

Mark is a writer, publisher and (mostly) a professional bid writer, downloading funds from government and other bodies for projects like Brilliant Books.

Mark talked about his educational difficulties (he was almost unteachable due to what is now recognised as ADHD, and then seriously bullied in one of Nottingham's most notorious schools), and credited exposure to superhero comics (such as Batman, Avengers, X-Men) as the first time he was able to sit and concentrate. 

Mark blossomed due to comics and to novels by authors such as Stephen King and James Herbert and then became a novelist, with one of his books selling several thousand copies and others attracting considerable respect.

He admitted to the chlidren - a mixed ability group with a varied, sometimes reluctant attitude to reading - that without comics, it is extremely unlikely that he would have written those books. 

In the break he displayed and discussed his comic collection and answered questions, but his main emphasis was all about how reading comics led to his success.

First appearance of Elektra: Assassin

The school are very keen on uniform and all the pupils, of whatever stream, dress in blazers and ties. 

Mark also discussed the work of some of his Indie author network - themselves success stories due to reading including top Indie romance novelist Georgia Rose ( a big supporter of BB), the Queen of Steampunk Rae Gee (ditto) and noted faction writer Brenda Perlin, whose anthology "LA PunkRocker" reached #1 in the US Punk charts.
This is the type of success network the kids need to be exposed to. And that's what Brilliant Books does.

It's been a good start so far and next week, we welcome Kevin Price, a legal expert and a massive Dickens reader...

...reading from classic Dickensian comedy of ambition and intrigue Great Expectations.

Thanks for reading.

The Brilliant Books team.

Phil Pidluznyj - Chief Facilitator
Shellie Eyre - Support Tutor
Mark Barry - Logistics and Resources

1) We were unable to take photos of children for these sessions as official parental permission had not been granted for many.

2) The funding for Brilliant Books comes from the Big Lottery Fund.  Forty eight percent of your £2 ticket goes toward good causes - projects like this - AND they pay the core costs which are absolutely necessary to run projects.