Monmouth Literary Festival Review

August 22, 2014

Students from three schools united through their love of reading organised a week-long event which has “raised the bar for literary festivals”

Pupils of Monmouth School, Haberdashers’ Monmouth School for Girls and Monmouth Comprehensive School collaborated to invite a diverse group of poets and authors to perform, speak and sign books in various venues throughout the town.

The inaugural Monmouth Literary Festival, held between June 23 and 27, gave more than 1,000 children from ten schools the chance to get involved and discover new writing as well as classic works.

To celebrate the centenary of Dylan Thomas, poetry was the theme for this year’s event. But some exciting new fiction writers were also included in a programme designed to appeal to a wide audience.

HMSG student Imogen, 17, was one of 14 pupils on the organising committee.

She said: “We started meeting in September – I didn’t even feel like it was going to be real.

“We had big ideas. We wanted something which all three schools could collaborate on; something which would make people more aware of poetry and literature and find a fun way to do that.

“We’re hoping next year will bring all the schools even closer together.

“We brainstormed for about three months and picked the best ideas and the authors who would have the biggest impact on the people of Monmouth.

“I’m so grateful to all of the teachers and staff who have helped us – they’ve torn their hair out to help everything come together.”

Writers appearing during the festival included Philip Wells, CJ Daugherty, Dr Leo Aylen, M R Hall, Sam Hay, Cat Weatherill and Rhian Edwards.

Imogen added: “Last week we didn’t even think we would reach our goal. This week has been surreal.

“All the authors were approached by us.

“Some were so good and have given their all.

“It’s so important for young people to be able to escape through literature.”

Texas-born CJ Daugherty, former reporter, spy website copywriter and author of the Night School series, thrilled her young crowd with stories of covering gruesome crime scenes and “hanging out” with government spies.

She said of the event: “It’s brilliant – I’ve never been to a festival organised by kids before.

“It’s really impressive and raises the bar for literary festivals.

“It’s so good for a writer to come to things like this.

“With all three schools coming together I’ve reached so many kids at one time.”

She told the students of the many ways they could forge careers in writing, and talked about her relatively new career as a novelist.

“When you write fiction you use the same part of your brain as you do when you’re dreaming,” she said.

“So if you like dreaming you will love writing fiction – I don’t like dreaming sometimes because you have no control of where you’re going.”

Proving poetry can be cool, Philip Wells wowed children with his witty verses, and was impressed with the team of student volunteers on hand to help visitors.

The travelling poet is currently in the middle of the mammoth challenge he set himself to walk 1,000 miles barefoot from St Michael’s Mount to Anglesey to raise money and awareness for the billion poverty-stricken children around the world.

He has covered more than 650 miles so far in his Barefoot Billion journey.

The sore writer had been walking for nine hours before arriving at Monmouth Comprehensive School to deliver an inspirational talk to 450 pupils.

He said: “The festival is really exciting. I love the way the volunteers are really proud of what they’ve done – full marks for that, amazing work.

“It’s absolutely miraculous.

“It’s the sort of thing you hope for in young people.”

Students took part in poetry writing workshops during the week, using Monmouth as their inspiration.

And on Friday, pupils surprised members of the public with impromptu pop-up poetry performances outside the Shire Hall in town, inside Waitrose and at Coffee#1.

Macie, Dani, Annie and Zara, all in Year 9 represented HMSG on their public stage.

And Juliette, 17, from Monmouth Comprehensive, popped up to perform poetry with Adam, 12, Harry, 12, and Jack, 12, all from Monmouth School.

She said: “It’s one of those experiences you don’t know is going to be so enthralling and exciting until you start talking.”

The festival proved a great hit with the pupils, getting children of all ages fired up about reading and writing.

Year 7 pupil at HMSG, Rachel, 12, said: “I have seen an author, a storyteller as well as a poet now, and I find that having such variety has made the festival very dynamic. Next year, I would absolutely love to be a volunteer because it seems fun to help people of all ages and meet different characters.”

Deputy Head at Monmouth Comprehensive School, Andy Williams, was involved with the festival from the beginning.

He said: “It was so rewarding for me to see the students from each of the schools in different venues sharing learning experiences.

“I would like to see a management committee set up as soon as possible to start evaluating this year and plan for next. This is really authentic learning – planning, doing and reviewing a community event with huge potential.

“It is so important for our children to be introduced to literature as it broadens their horizons, engages their imagination, informs and feeds and enriches their language structure, their communication skills and of course the number one factor in developing independent learners.”

And Amanda Poyner, Head of Sixth Form at HMSG, added: “We certainly feel the students have succeeded in their initial aims of schools working in partnership and raising the profile of reading and literature.

“We look forward to developing the festival further and hope to include a wider range of public events in coming years.”