A new generation of Wexford writers took their first steps towards becoming bestselling authors at the town library last week. The children, from Wexford's Educate Together Primary School, were attending the library's new 'Fighting Words' programme, a creative writing initiative which encourages young people to embrace their natural storytelling skills.
First brought to Ireland by Roddy Doyle a decade ago, the 'Fighting Words' programme was initially available only in Dublin. But it has gradually begun to roll out nationwide and Wexford is the latest town to get its own weekly classes.
'Often the challenge is finding somewhere you can actually do it and that's where the library here has been the perfect match,' said Roddy. 'Everybody in Wexford knows where it is and it has people who are very happy to have us here. It's working very well.'
Available to primary schools throughout the county, this particular programme is for children aged 8-12 and runs every Friday morning. Attendance is free and interested schools are requested to contact the library to book a place. During the classes children are mentored by a creative-writing tutor and end the day with a published story of their own work to take home.
Caroline Busher is reader in-residence at Wexford Library and she is enthusiastic about the benefits of Fighting Words, 'We want to make it as successful and as open to as many children across the county as we can do. It's a brilliant initiative, every child goes home with a published book at the end of it, they go away feeling like an author. The stories are illustrated too, it's wonderful.'
And Roddy believes the children of today are as enthusiastic about reading and writing as any of their predecessors. 'To my mind there are probably more children's books on the shelves than ever before, one reason for that is because children read. And a lot of children love writing, they just love it, and if they're given the freedom to write what they want to and don't have to bring it in on Monday and worry about a mark, it's a freedom they love,' he said.
Staff Officer at Wexford Library, Imelda Carroll, agrees: 'It's true what Roddy was saying, you notice it in the library; there's no problem with children reading. It does fall off a little bit in the young adult years, but then there's a lot more pressure on them during those years as well. It's just fantastic when you see them come back.'
Adding that a Fighting Words programme for teenagers may come to Wexford at a later date, Roddy addressed what he says is a misconception regarding young adults in Ireland. 'With teenagers their habit of reading a book cover-to-cover might fade away, but it's extraordinary when you have a conversation with a teenager and discover how much they actually know. They're reading differently now, in a way that people of my generation don't understand.'
Ultimately the aim of Roddy, Imelda and all those at both Fighting Words and Wexford Library is to nurture the creative sides of Irish children and to give them a gift they can utilise for years to come.
'If you're a reader as a child you're a reader for life,' Caroline says. 'It's the greatest gift you can give a child.'