Stephen talked about his Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, Pigeon English, to 230 Year 10 pupils at the Macmillan Academy in Middlesbrough on Thursday (12 November). The author talked about how the book was shaped by his own experience of growing up on a council estate in Luton and the issues facing young people today.
One of the aims of the National Literacy Trust Hub in Middlesbrough is to improve the literacy of teenage boys and Stephen gave his top tips for creative writing, advising pupils to ‘believe in their own unique voice and ideas’. After Stephen read aloud from his bestselling book, Pigeon English, pupils asked him questions about why he wanted to become an author, where he got his ideas from and how he researched the slang words which feature in his book.
On Friday (13 November) Stephen visited HMP Holme House prison to talk to a group of 10 prisoners about Pigeon English and discuss the benefits of reading and writing for enjoyment. Stephen talked about how reading and writing opened his eyes to a new world beyond his upbringing and his motivation for writing the book. He also recommended books and gave advice to prisoners on how submit their work to publishers. Prisoners exchanged their experiences on how reading has helped them develop a more positive outlook on life and explore new opportunities available to them.
The campaign is part of the National Literacy Trust Hub in Middlesbrough, which works with Middlesbrough Council and a range of local public, private, and voluntary sector partners to create long-term change in parts of the town where low levels of literacy are entrenched, intergenerational, and seriously impacting on people’s lives.
During his visit, which was made possible by the support of the Booker Prize Foundation, Stephen found out more about how the Hub is extending the reach of literacy support in the area and raising awareness of the importance of literacy skills through the Middlesbrough Reading Campaign.
Stephen Kelman said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Middlesbrough. The staff at Macmillan Academy were incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic about the Middlesbrough Reading Campaign and the students were a delight: attentive, engaged and full of insightful questions and curiosity about the job of an author. I left with a renewed sense of awe and gratitude for the wonderful job our educators are doing in raising a generation of children who, if the pupils of Macmillan are anything to go by, are brimming with potential.
“My session with the guys at HMP Holme House was instructional and entertaining. We spoke at length and with great candour about the life which is possible after prison thanks to the educational and transformational opportunities which can accrue from reading. Inmates clearly believed in the supreme value of literacy for leading a fulfilling life. I am so impressed by the staff here who are working wonders in fostering a sense of what is possible in inmates.”
Andrea Scarborough, Prison Librarian at HMP Holme House Prison said: “I was so pleased with how the visit went. Stephen managed to really engage with the group. Not only did they listen and were interested in him but he got them to talk quite openly about themselves, which doesn’t happen very often.”
David Reed, Literacy Lead at Macmillan Academy said “As students listened to Stephen’s journey from an inner-city council estate to a best-selling author, they were inspired to believe that they too have the potential to become writers. I was most impressed with how Stephen talked about giving a voice to areas of society normally marginalised such as gang culture, drugs and the challenges of migrating to a new unfamiliar country.”
Allison Potter, Manager of the National Literacy Trust Hub in Middlesbrough, said:
“Stephen Kelman’s visit was a fantastic opportunity for his young readers to gain a valuable insight into his sources of inspiration and writing process. Hopefully Stephen will inspire pupils to read more for enjoyment and motivate budding authors to write their own stories. Stephen’s visit is helping to highlight the importance of the work being done through the Middlesbrough Reading Campaign to raise literacy levels across the town.”