Primary page content

Global Call to Action (GCTA) for Heritage Language (HL) Education


Why not a peaceful world? – Sobhia Anfal Boularas, Peace School, UK


Launched officially on 21st February 2024 for International Mother Language Day (UNESCO), this Global Call to Action has been made by the Global Heritage Language Think Tank, of which Dr Jim Anderson is a member.  It recognises the greater awareness of multilingualism across the world and how heritage languages represent a precious but largely neglected resource in society and in particular within our education system. In a world which is more interconnected and interdependent than ever linguistic skills and intercultural agility are crucially important and an essential means of building social cohesion.

Let us remember that the UK is a multilingual country where an estimated 300 languages are spoken. In fact, over 20% of children come from homes where another language is spoken. It is estimated that some 60 languages are being taught in over 3000 community-led settings, also known as complementary or supplementary schools, attended by many thousands of children who have the potential to reap the recognised benefits associated with bilingualism (cognitive, social, cultural, and vocational). Far from being divisive socially the heritage language learning undertaken in these community settings, provided largely by volunteers, enables young people to develop confidence in their bi/multilingual identities. It also means that as active citizens they can play an important mediating role in local and global communities.

Over the years the Department of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths has played a leading role in promoting an integrated and inclusive approach to language education and in providing professional development courses to support foreign and heritage language learning as well as English as an Additional Language. Through the university’s Centre for Language, Culture and Leaning innovative research has been carried out in relation to multilingual policy, identity and faith, the arts and creativity, digital storytelling and pedagogy. The Critical Connections: Multilingual Digital Storytelling Project (2012-ongoing) is one example of work which has brought together students, teachers and researchers of heritage as well as foreign languages nationally and internationally. Prioritising student agency and voice it has enabled young people to move across curriculum areas, to bridge learning in and beyond the classroom and to draw, critically and creatively on multiple resources for meaning making: Further innovative research can be accessed within the multilingualism strand of CLCL:

Members of the Centre for Language, Culture and Leaning fully endorse the view expressed in Global Call to Action that ‘education must become a fundamental element in official language education policies in societies across the world’. It also pledges its full support to achieving this.

Information about the Global Call to Action for Heritage Language Education

GCTA HLE – v.01 – EN (1)

The Global Call to Action for Heritage Language Education

HLE website


Home, heritage, Community Languages Advisory Group


Blog by Dr Jim Anderson, Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths

Four key ways we can free our creative voices.

It’s a vital point about creativity: how can we unleash it? Furthermore, how can writers free themselves up so that they feel free to express themselves vividly and imaginatively? These were the central questions — amongst many others — that we explored at our conference, hosted by the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning and MA Creative Writing and Education, on Saturday 16th December at Goldsmiths. It was a lovely, intimate conference full of fascinating sessions and talks, attended by students from the college and also the general public.

The Booker-nominated author Rachel Seiffert gave a highly informative keynote focusing upon the theme, using the structure of poem to inspire delegates to write their own poetry, she was followed by a number of workshops run by alumni and current students on the MA Creative Writing and Education looking at the theme. The day was topped off by another keynote from the Young Adult Children’s author, Victoria Bolavino, talking about how she wrote her novel Not Good for Maidens.

Using Robert Boice’s article Writing Blocks and Tacit Knowledge (1993) as an inspiration, I’ve attempted to draw together the key lessons of the conference into four key lessons.

  1. Engage in exercises with activate ‘automaticity’. This strange word tries to capture the activities which free us from our inner critics, such as freewriting, drawing without rules, leaving a voice note on your phone etc. Throughout the conference, activities like freewriting were widely encouraged. Freewriting is all about writing whatever you want to write within a time constraint, usually just a few minutes. Rachel talked about how difficult some school pupils found freewriting at school, and how they needed lots of practice and encouragement before they could do it, whereas adults often can do it relatively easily. She suggested a way around this was for students to use sentence starters, or existing linguistic structures which they already knew. She quoted a poem which everyone imitated the structure of, and this worked very well. In his workshop, teacher-writer-poet Sam Butler encouraged all of us to freewrite all the activities in a day we enjoy doing as a starter for his exploration on how we can find the butterfly moments within our lives. In her workshop on identity teacher & novelist Desiri Okobia encouraged ‘diagrarting’ (Gilbert 2022), a form of freewriting and drawing, as a way of charting one’s multiple identities. She also encouraged freewriting as a way of fostering creativity. Top tip: use existing structures such as lists, or certain phrases to get the creative juices flowing.
  2. Develop a routine. This was a theme of that many of the talks focused upon. Victoria Bolavino in her lecture really encouraged everyone to develop the routine of regularly re-reading their work and thinking about how they might be engaging their readership better. Her talk really drilled down into the nitty gritty of redrafting. Not an easy process! She suggested that writers re-reading their work needed to repeatedly return to the concepts of character, setting and structure to make sure that all these elements were singing in their work. She illustrated some examples from her own novel, Not Good for Maidens, and showing us how the writing developed. It was very helpful to listen to her talk about her routine of doing this. Top tip: find a notebook and start writing your observations of the world, and/or carve a short space of time 3 or 4 times a week to write for 10-20 minutes.
  3. Work with a community of writers who are kind and responsive. This was another theme that came through in the conference. Nick Bailey shared a powerful short story of his about a teenage boy who suffers a sexual assault. Nick put the other attendees at the workshop in a circle, and fostered a collegiate spirit as everyone thought carefully about the issues the story raised, and then wrote their own responses to it. Autumn Sharkey led a fascinating workshop where everyone wrote about their most embarrassing/shameful moments/thoughts and deliberately did not share them with anyone else. This weirdly fostered a sense of community amongst all of us, even though everything written was private and was destroyed either by painting over it, or ripping it up. Top tip: team up with other writers and encourage each other: form a writers’ group, share your work, motivate each other.
  4. Use cognitive prompts. These are engaging activities which get the creative juices following. There were plenty of these in the conference! Siamak Khezrian, writer/teacher, used his story about a couple deciding whether to take in two refugees from different backgrounds and countries, as a prompt to get us thinking about the wider political issues of the day. This then led on to him encouraging us to write about moral dilemmas and issues in contemporary society which troubled us. Writer, teacher and poet, Aimee Skelton, asked everyone to consider the etymology of words as a source of inspiration for creative writing. Top tip: use recycled bits of paper, leaflets, newspapers etc as inspiration, cut them up, arrange them into poems, use them as prompts for stories.

Delegates’ feedback

In delegates’ evaluation of the conference, here are some of things they learnt and enjoyed:

The introduction of the concept ‘automacity’ was hugely liberating for me. I tend to overthink themes and ideas I want to write about, which ultimately slows the creative process. Automacity as a tool/technique really has the potential to change the rhythm of the entire writing process for me. I found so much of the day incredibly stimulating. Thank you!

The Freeing Creative Voice workshop was superb! I have learnt so many useful exercises to help free up my creative voice and to further develop my skills. In the past, I had lost confidence in my writing ability and this workshop helped me to reignite it again. All in all i had a fantastic experience and I’m very happy to have attended.

I learned about approaching vulnerability in writing, how to deal with it with care.

I learned about approaching vulnerability in writing, how to deal with it with care.

I loved the range of exercises , the enthusiasm of the teachers and just how all the exercises helped silence the noise inside that can interfere with the process of writing.

As a current student, it’s delightful to foresee myself by learning from previous students on this programme(MACWE). In addition, it’s good to learn more ways of free writing exercises outside of the class.

How to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, the importance and impact of specificity and the transformational power of metamorphosis.

I learnt lots of different approaches to my own creativity, felt amazing to try some new angles on places to write from.

The techniques and the pleasure of writing freely.

I really enjoyed the variety of workshops and activities used. I learned about some new activities and some adaptations of exercises I am familiar with. Really nice, warm, welcoming space.

I enjoyed the morning session writing the poem using the prompt ‘And now I am’, as I found it grounding. I enjoyed looking at what was produced. I learned a way to help shy or reluctant learners share by getting them to read the aspects of a piece of writing that most stood out for them and how this encourages connection. Also enjoyed the exercise that focused on writing down stuff and destroying it and the link to what’s hidden deep in our minds.

Excercises can help stimulate ideas and give structure to writing but also that freewriting is also a wonderful to get started with things. In some of the sessions we were asked to write which I found daunting and would have ordinarily avoided, but it was great to be put on the spot and I was pleasantly surprised by what I produced!

The videos

You can watch my introduction and Rachel Seiffert’s keynote workshop here:


You can watch Autumn Sharkey’s workshop here:

You can watch Aimee Skelton’s workshop on creative writing, etymology and the underworld here:


You can watch Nick Bailey’s workshop here where he shares a short story which provokes an interesting discussion and creative responses about issues connected with consent, trauma and identity:

You can watch Victoria Bolavino’s workshop here:


Boice, R. (1993). Writing Blocks and Tacit Knowledge. The Journal of Higher Education (Columbus), 64(1), 19.

Gilbert, F. (2022). Diagrarting: Theorising and practising new ways of writing and drawing. New Writing (Clevedon, England), 19(2), 153-182.


Special thanks to Carrie Sweeney (MA in Creative Writing and Education) and Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley (MA in Creative Writing and Education) for helping to organise the conference. Thanks also Carrie for monitoring the online side of the conference during the day. Thanks to Professor Vicky Macleroy for being so supportive in so many ways.

How can we harness the power of creativity? A report from the Creative Power Conference

Last Friday, December 9th 2022, the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning and the MA in Creative Writing and Education hosted a conference on ‘creative power’, which explored the value of creativity, its impact and how it might be harnessed and generated in the world. Professor Vicky Macleroy introduced the conference, and explained how it was children’s books that really inspired her to read and sent her imagination soaring. After a brief explanation of the schedule of the conference by myself, performance artist and alumni of the MA in Creative Writing and Education, Sally Horowitz, acted out a washed up writer in a bar, searching for inspiration; this writer though found inspiration in people’s suggestions for being creative which the bar tender (played by me) had collected in written form and put in one of her wine glasses. You can see the introductions by Vicky and Sally’s performance here:



This wonderful performance was followed by a keynote speech by the incredible children’s author and illustrator, Guy Parker Rees, who gave such a refreshing, light-hearted and profoundly serious talk. He said that everyone can draw in their own way and we can all use drawing to unlock our creativity. His talk can be seen here:

Guy had talked quite a bit about the therapeutic power of art to heal childhood traumas and understand them. Moreover, he had suggested that psychotherapy provides a useful framework for understanding how art works both for artists and for its receivers: its readers, its appreciators, its devotees. Dr Eric Harper and Rozin Anwar, both psychotherapists, explored these themes in even more depths. Rozin talked about the ways in which life is full of knots that can be untied and explored in part by the psychotherapeutic practice. Eric put great emphasis upon psychotherapists providing a safe space for people to speak their desires, their fantasies, their darkest and most optimistic visions. You can see their talk here:

Alumni of the course Danja Sanovic, an experienced teacher and rather wonderful writer, had us all in stitches with her fantastic impersonation of a strict, narrow-minded English teacher teaching GCSE English, and the creative writing component of the exam. Through this powerful role play, she showed how restricting the ‘recipe’ approach to teaching creative writing can be, and generated much laughter by showing her deliberately bad examples of creative writing, which illustrate many of the issues that children exhibit in their creative writing when forced to write to strict models. A current student on the course, script writer Emilia Amodio, then illustrated how collage can offer a great way of inspiring the uninspired to be creative. It was a perfect antidote to Danja’s satire; we all got cutting and sticking to produce our own collages. She generated the same spirit as Guy in encouraging playfulness within certain constraints. Here are Danja and Emilia’s talks:

There was a break for lunch, and then alumni of the MA in Creative Writing and Education, teacher & author, Seb Duncan showed us how Google’s Streetview can be used to inspire and guide writers to write meaningfully about place. Taking James Joyce’s Ulysses (the Wandering Rocks section in particular) as a starting point, he cleverly related Joyce’s writing about Dublin in this experimental novel to using Streetview. It’s an ingenious, sophisticated talk, and well worth watching carefully. Here it is:

Alumni of the MA in Creative Writing and Education, teacher & auteur, Rhys Byrom, then showed us how the classic structures of stories can be ‘hacked’ (in a techy sense) to create new forms. Drawing upon the ideas about story structure from Kurt Vonnegut, he showed how classic story structures can be used and subverted to create new enlightened, non-patriarchal, non-hegemonic narratives. Here is his talk:

A current student on the MA in Creative Writing and Education, Syeda Salmah, then showed us how certain techniques such as freewriting and ‘diagrarting’ (a mixture of using drawing, writing and dialogue) can be used to investigate your memories. Her work showed how she was able to explore her own East London, British-Bengali heritage and her parents’ experiences through the use of fiction and non-fiction. It’s another innovative, ground-breaking talk:

Much of the work of the conference delegates is in two anthologies: Diversity and Inspiration, and Creative Power. The editors of the former anthology, Deborah Friedland and Gabe Troiano, discussed the work in it, reading some moving extracts about creativity in it.

The conference closed with a fantastic spoken word performance from Christian Foley who rapped the key concepts of it in dazzling style. The cover illustrator of the aforementioned anthologies, Georgia Cowley, then showed us her illustration of the whole conference. You can see her explanations (and Christian’s rap) in this video here:

Her incredible illustration of the whole conference is here (the video contains a full explanation of what’s in it):

But even though that was the end of the official conference, the literary celebrations continued with Autumn Sharkey and Sally Horowitz hosting a fun-packed ‘Literary Cabaret’; this is a concept of their own making and is truly a marvellous creation. I attended with a number of other MA Creative Writing and Education and PGCE students; we played some brilliant games such as ‘pin the poem’ (very similar to pin the donkey); musical writing (musical chairs with creative writing thrown in); spin the bottle and read with a particular emotion (furious, angry, seductive, exhausted etc). It was such fun! Such larks! It was also really creative; it super-charged our imaginative energies, and it was lovely to share all of our writing through these crazy games. Autumn and Sally were lovely hosts, offering us both a safe and challenging space to be creative in.

So to sum up, what were the ideas, concepts, strategies and suggestions from the conference which showed us all how to harness the power of our creativity. I would suggest they were:

  1. Find your inner child; learn to play again, to set yourself free by drawing (Guy Parker Rees), collaging (Emilia Amodio) and role-playing (Sally Horowitz).
  2. Generate flow by regularly freewriting and diagrarting (Syeda)
  3. Use modern technologies such as Google streetview to stimulate and enliven (Seb)
  4. Use ancient ideas such as Aristotle story structure ideas to shape stories (Rhys)
  5. Be mindful to step out of hegemonic, colonised ways of thinking (Guy, Rhys, Syeda, Emilia)
  6. Learn about the therapeutic and healing power of art and dialogue, and create space spaces for expression of feelings and opinions to untie the knots of trauma (Eric and Rozin)



Curriculum and Pedagogy: Approaches to internationalising UK universities through culturally responsive multilingual classrooms

Globalisation has become the central issue of our time and defined the world we inherited. Such processes have been taking place for a long time, but have been accelerated and intensified in the past few decades by the increasing digitalisation; the accelerating cross-border financial flows and human traffic, the integrating trading and economic activity, and increasing use of common currencies and languages across different nations. The impact that these changes are having on universities is profound and, within universities, the key strategic responses to globalisation have come to be known as internationalisation. Therefore, it can be understood that the concepts of globalisation and internationalisation have attained household status in many fields of human endeavour, especially in higher education (Maringe & Foskett, 2010). Or in other words, the reciprocity that exists between these two concepts. For example, the intensification of student mobility that may result from an institutional strategy to increase overseas student recruitment contributes to the further intensification of globalisation. Similarly, intensifying curriculum internationalisation processes will result in making the university educational product more attractive and therefore help to increase student mobility in recruitment markets. As a result, over the past 10 or 12 years, the term internationalisation has gone from nowhere to be everywhere across UK universities, which hastened the publication of The Internationalisation of Higher Education Whitepaper in 2016.

However, there are reportedly disadvantages and low attainments among international students. This is worsening in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the intense UK-China relations. Chinese international students in particular have encountered ever increasing racial profiling in UK universities. There is limited research on how neoliberal discourse in education has impacted on the identities of  international students and how attainments of international students are affected by internationalisation, marketisation, and racialisation (neo-racism or cultural discrimination) in UK HE (Smith, 2020). Research on UK BAME domiciled students identified ethnic inequalities in UK elite university admissions, widening student attainment gaps, and racial privilege (see Alexander & Arday, 2015; Sian, 2019). This focus however does not capture the experiences of racialised international students. Studies of international students focus on their intercultural challenges but overlook the wider political issues associated with marketisation and racialisation. Culture shocks and alienation are revealed in experiences of Chinese international students (Gu, 2009). To cope, some adopt various learning modes (Wu, 2015). Many ‘cuddle for warmth’ with each other and foster ‘Chinese schools’ within UK HE (Yu & Moskal, 2019). This is driven by both growing Chinese nationalism and the ‘re-learning’ of cultural roots in foreign and alienating context (Gu & Schwersfurth, 2015). The literature on diversity and inclusion strategies in UK HE argues that the pursuit of economic efficiency creates institutional constraints on teachers to develop inclusive pedagogies (Hockings, 2010). This in turn often reinforces the culture shocks and alienation experienced by International students.

It is within the above context, the proposed project aims to make a wholistic study of the curriculum design and the pedagogy implemented, examining both attainments and changing identities of university (Chinese) international students in the processes of market driven learning experience within the context of HE reforms across the UK and China, the increasingly tense UK-China relations, and the Covid-19 pandemic. The project employs questionnaire surveys, interviews, and focus groups for its inquiry with attempt to support UK-HE policymakers in their efforts to provide an equal and inclusive HE and inform culturally responsive multilingual classrooms.

Blog by Yangguang Chen 


How is pacifism and war resistance in World War I and II represented in UK children’s literature?

Conference paper for IBBY Congress, 2022: Dr Julia Hope and Rosemary Rich

As an “insider” research team, being the descendants of a conscientious objector in World War II, this paper brings together our respective fields of historical memory studies and literary theory to consider children’s literature about pacifism and war resistance.  Over the ages, a multitude of children’s books about war have offered many different angles on the adventure, hardships, and suffering involved.  Such stories have become increasingly popular since the turn of the century, offering a progressively more realistic treatment, with wars in living memory providing the largest corpus, although recent conflicts around the world are also coming into focus.  However, little has been written that confronts themes of pacifism and war resistance for children, especially concerning conscientious objection.

With a particular focus on World War I and II, we explore through critical content analysis (Johnson et al., 2017) how this contentious area is dealt with in four recently published middle grade/young adult texts recently published in the UK. Two books chosen focus on World War I: “Remembrance” by Theresa Breslin (2002) and “Across the Divide” by Anne Booth (2018); and two on World War II: “Run Rabbit Run” by Barbara Mitchelhill (2015) and “In the Mouth of the Wolf” by Michael Morpurgo (2018).

Using this framework we ask the following questions: Whose story is told? From whose point of view? How is pacifism and war resistance presented and explained to children and young people?  How do wartime attitudes compare with those of the present day?  How is the story resolved and what might this suggest about author standpoint?

These controversial issues would seem to be a necessary part of the wide-ranging tapestry of children’s literature that demonstrates the power of stories, within the theme of empathy and memory in storytelling, with a particular focus on moral values, peace and human rights.

Blog by Julia Hope

Applying RefugeeCrit to Recent Middle Grade/Young Adult Children’s Literature About Refugees

Dr Julia Hope has just completed a chapter for the Routledge Handbook of Refugee Narratives entitled: “Applying RefugeeCrit to Recent Middle Grade/Young Adult Children’s Literature About Refugees” and to be published imminently.

This chapter considers that since the millennium there have been a plethora of texts about the refugee experience for children and young people across the Western world.  Although not a homogeneous category, literature of this kind can follow an almost formulaic representation of the refugee experience, with a recent trend towards increasingly grim and explicit depictions of the suffering of refugee children, especially when trapped in refugee camps.

There is an emergent field of academic study that questioning the motivations of authors, the messages of such stories, and the images of refugees proffered by the books.  I examine in depth two middle grade/young adult texts, “The Bone Sparrow” by Zara Fraillion (2016) and “Boy, Everywhere” by A. M. Dassu (2020), both of which have received considerable public acclaim.  However, RefugeeCrit suggests that narratives can depict refugee children as victims of politically sanitised global disasters, without background explanation of the causes, and in need of “white saviours” with “helping hands” to bring them to safety.  Nevertheless, this framework is helpful in critiquing these texts, but can prove challenging when authoring this literature, and when recommending quality refugee narratives for middle grade/young adult readers.


Blog by Julia Hope

Sustaining multilingualism and social and emotional well-being among multilingual families during the pandemic

In our second webinar of the virtual events series ‘Re-imagining language education during and after Covid-19: opportunities, challenges and possible futures’ we attend to the lived experiences of multilingual families during the pandemic. We show how the digital mediation of communication has shifted language use in transnational families (in some cases towards the majority language for home schooling purposes, in other cases in support of the heritage language, celebrating the oft-ignored role of grandparents in heritage language maintenance), expanded possibilities for interaction between extended family networks and facilitated the creation of new “brave spaces” (Mahera Ruby) to express uncomfortable feelings associated with, for example, grief and financial instability.

Our four invited panellists Dr Mahera Ruby (Personal growth and family coach, founder of ‘Blooming Parenting’); Busra Akgun-Ezin (PhD candidate, Goldsmiths, University of London); Dr Sara Young (Lecturer, UCL/Institute of Education) and Linda North (parent and teacher assistant at the Czech School without Borders London) share personal and community experiences on these and other topical questions raised by the audience:

  • How has communication adapted and changed within multilingual families during the pandemic?
  • What role can language play in sustaining social and emotional resilience during times when we are told to keep apart in order to stay safe?
  • What new possibilities for language learning and interaction within families might the digital mediation of communication open and how might these be sustained?

The webinar is organised and moderated by Dr Froso Argyri and Dr Vally Lytra.

Watch the webinar and join the conversation.


About ‘Re-imagining language education during and after Covid-19: opportunities, challenges and possible futures’: We are a group of researchers based at the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, at Goldsmiths and UCL BiLingo. We are passionate about multilingualism and language education and want to share our passion with language educators from formal and non-formal educational settings, parents, researchers, policy makers and other interested parties. The pandemic has brought about unprecedented change and we wish to collectively reflect on how it has affected language education in the UK and beyond.

Group members: Dr Froso Argyri (UCL BiLingo), Dr Jim Andrerson (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Vally Lytra (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Merle Mahon (UCL BiLingo), Dr Vicky Macleroy (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith (UCL BiLingo and hld) and Dr Cristina Ros i Solé (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths).

Blog by Dr Vally Lytra

Mark Kirkbride on Learning to Write by Doing It!

Inspire Conference 2021

Mark Kirkbride delivered an important online workshop as part of the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning’s Inspire conference, which was organised by Dr Francis Gilbert (Head of MA Creative Writing and Education) and Dr Vicky Macleroy (Head of MA Children’s Literature). Here you can read a summation and reflection of his important work.

This is an unedited video of Mark Kirkbride’s talk at the Inspire Conference 2021.

Mark Kirkbride: Learning to write by doing it!

The timeline of my experience of the ‘Inspire: Exciting Ways of Being Creative’ conference begins at 9:30am on Thursday when I get to attend the introductions from Dr Vicky Macleroy, Dr Francis Gilbert and Carinya Sharples, then promptly have to log off to give an online workshop elsewhere.

In my lunch break, I catch Jake Smith’s presentation on ‘Re-writing Narrative’, championing nonlinear narrative, and wish I could adopt a nonlinear approach myself because by then it’s time to switch platforms and deliver another workshop. That finishes at 4:30pm, by which time the first day of the conference has already ended. I’ve missed so many great sessions with fascinating topics but at least I’ll be able to catch up via the videos and while I wish I could have been present for the whole day, the dipping in and out has certainly had an energising effect on the external workshops.

The second day starts with Camilla Chester’s presentation on ‘What Makes A Successful Author Visit?’ As well as being informative, it’s also hugely entertaining, with the highs – effectively being treated like a rock star – sounding like they make up for the lows.

At 9:30am it’s time for my presentation on ‘Promoting Active Learning’, exploring the dilemma inherent in teaching creative writing that knowledge acquired second-hand doesn’t have the same impact as discoveries made for oneself, and setting out to demonstrate that if as much learning as possible is embedded in prompts and exercises, that sense of discovery can still be retained. I illustrate what I mean by running through how I would teach characterisation for beginners. We each construct a character from two or three traits, together with a flaw, then describe that character as if to a friend. The workshop is even more interactive than I’d hoped with some really astute comments in group chat and complex characters emerging. For example,

Bill enjoys the company of others but often overshares his thoughts.

Sadly people avoid him. He has no idea this is happening.

Next we convey our characters’ qualities without describing them at all. Instead, we dramatize them, using action and dialogue, and more work comes through in chat, including

 I rap my knuckles against the reception desk as they continue to sift

through my belongings, removing a laptop, pens and a six-pack of

Dr Pepper. The sign next to me says, ‘Please keep noise to a

minimum on arrival.’ I rap a little harder, the micro-rebellion

thrilling me.

       The tiny red-head manager pulls one final item from my case.

       ‘Oh, come on, I’m not allowed biscuits?’ The words slingshot out,

high-pitched and pink-cheeked.

In just this mini-scene, one really gets a sense of a fully-formed person acting and speaking for themselves.

The half an hour goes quickly, so I race to the conclusion. While new writers might think, perfectly reasonably, that adding more and more layers of detail to the description of a character will bring that person to life more vividly for the reader, they demonstrate, to themselves, that characters live or die on the page by what they do and say. The trial and error involved in writers working in isolation and figuring things out for themselves is designed into the workshop, so that they have a sense of making their own discoveries. Loading prompts and exercises with key knowledge, so that the lightbulb moments happen during the writing, enables new writers to become active participants in their learning, thereby increasing engagement.

The half an hour comes to an end and it’s time for me to introduce Emily Davison’s presentation on ‘Using social media and fairy stories to inspire creative writing’. I at least get to enjoy all of that before having to rush off again, this time to take a family member to a hospital appointment, a trip that takes longer than expected, meaning I once again miss a lot of the day but at least get back in time for the Plenary. It’s a privilege to witness the progress of Emma Brankin’s drama pupil and be there for the launch of Niall Bourke’s book.

Somewhere between work and life, we reflect.


Mark Kirkbride is the author of two novels and a novella published by Omnium Gatherum in LA. His most recent novel was a semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Awards 2019. His short stories have appeared in Under the Bed, Sci Phi Journal, Disclaimer Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine and So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. He teaches creative writing and writing for wellbeing and is currently an Arts Facilitator for OPEN Ealing arts centre and a Creative Workshop Tutor for the University for the Creative Arts.

Blog by Mark Kirkbride


Niall Bourke on Inspiring Creative Writing in Schools


Niall Bourke delivered an important keynote address as part of the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning’s Inspire conference, which was organised by Dr Francis Gilbert (Head of MA Creative Writing and Education) and Dr Vicky Macleroy (Head of MA Children’s Literature). Here you can read a summation and reflection of his important work.

Below is an unedited video of the introduction to Niall’s keynote address for the Inspire Conference, 2021. Please note Dr Vicky Macleroy, Dr Francis Gilbert and Carinya Sharples introduce this talk.

Niall addressed these key questions: What does it mean to write creatively? What are the barriers to facilitating creative writing practices in the current educational landscape? How might we overcome them? Why should we bother? Can writing creatively be means to a wider academic end? Does this matter? Should we, as educators, try to justify creative writing as having tangible benefits for students? Can we afford not to? Is it important that educators make time to be creative themselves?

His keynote address sought to answer these questions and more, while also providing practical ideas, exemplars and resources to help educators of all persuasions facilitate creative writing exercises with their students.

You can find his PowerPoint here and his notes here. Please note you will need a OneDrive account to open these documents.

Niall’s reflections

It wasn’t long ago that I was a Goldsmith MA student myself, so it was a great pleasure and a privilege for me to deliver this keynote speech for the Inspire Creativity conference.

My focus was to look at some of the barriers to fostering creativity (and particularly in the domain of creative writing) in the current educational landscape, and then offer ideas, resources and suggestions as to how educators can foster creativity in students. Although I stressed that, in general, educators should resist pseudo-justifications encouraging creativity (i.e. – being creative is almost always a valuable process in and of itself and regardless of outcome), being the Head of an English department myself I was particularly keen to be pragmatic when acknowledging the pressures teachers are under. Therefore, I sought to suggest creative exercises which, while excellent in their own right, can also be used to develop understanding of some of the core threshold concepts of English Literature and Language curriculums. Through a series of short activities, I looked at how educators can encourage ‘low-stakes’ creative exercises, and then go on to foster creative response from students by using high quality style-models. The extracts used on the day included the Lyrics of Barrie Louis Polisar’s ‘All I Want Is You’, Leone Ross’s ‘The Woman Who Lived in A Restaurant’ (from her collection ‘Come Let Us Sing Anyway’ – Peepal Tree Press, 2017), John McGregor’s ‘The First Punch’ (first published in Granta Magazine) and ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’, by William Carlos Williams. It was a lot of fun!


Niall has taught English for sixteen years (in Ireland, New Zealand and the UK) and is currently Head of English at St Michael’s College, in Bermondsey. He completed the Teacher/Writer MA (as it was called then) at Goldsmiths in 2015. His writing has been published widely in magazines and journals, in both the UK and Ireland, and his poems and short stories have been listed for numerous awards, including twice for the The Costa Short Story Award, The ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, The Mairtín Crawford Short Story Prize, The Hennesy New Irish Writing Award and the Fitzcarraldo Novel Prize. In 2017 he was selected for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series. His debut poetry collection Did You Put The Weasels Out? was published in April 2018 and was longlisted as one of The Poetry Schools’ books of the year. In April 2021 Tramp Press  publishied his debut novel, Line. In 2020, The Arts Council Awarded him a grant to develop a ‘Choose Your Own Poetry Adventure’ collection called The Erection Specialists, which will be published by Broken Sleep Books in 2022. He is represented by Brian Langan at Storyline Literary Agency. He blogs on his website about both creative writing and education.

Twitter: @supersplurk

Niall Bourke


Wild Writing


Helen Moore delivered an important online workshop as part of the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning’s Inspire conference, which was organised by Dr Francis Gilbert (Head of MA Creative Writing and Education) and Dr Vicky Macleroy (Head of MA Children’s Literature). Here you can read their summation and reflection of  her important work.

Wild Writing: co-creative practices & inspirations

It’s a truism that teaching and learning go hand-in-hand. And yet participating in the conference and contributing my insights to an audience of writers and teachers was far richer than I’d anticipated, particularly given its virtual nature. And although I’d always prefer an onsite setting to explore ‘wild writing’, I was delighted to sense that my attempts to convey it online were successful, both in describing it and through a short workshop, with participants sharing what I sensed to be deeply felt experience of wildish places.

But to start at the beginning, what is ‘wild writing’ and how is it ‘co-creative’?

Acknowledging that there are doubtless many definitions, I understand ‘wild writing’ as part of my own ecopoetic practice, stemming primarily from a desire to respond to the social and ecological crises that we collectively face. I believe wild writing encourages an ‘untaming’ of its practitioners, and builds resilience and wellbeing, allowing us to get in touch with our ‘humanimal’ nature and offering us the opportunity to progress the development of the ‘deep ecological self’ advocated by the ecophilospher Arne Naess.

At this point I shared some examples of my own ‘wild writing’, and I’ll include a poem here – ‘Green Drift’, from my debut ecopoetry collection, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins, (Shearsman Books, 2012).

Green Drift (by Helen Moore)

“There is no force in the world but love.” – Rilke

Crawling into bed like a peasant,

with mud-grained feet, soil under the nails

of my toes – but too tired to care –

the heaviness of the day’s exertions draws


my body downward – each muscle and bone

finding its bliss – and I close my eyes

on a green panorama, shades of every

nuance, the contours of leaves in high


definition.  A film encoded on the visual cortex,

I observe again those lanceolate shapes, the forage silk

which slipped between our fingers and thumbs

(still redolent with that Ramson scent),


the mounding herbage that we plucked,

backs bent as in a Van Gogh study.

Behind my eyelids, vernal waves rise and fall,

hymn of this community to which my senses flock –


ancient rite of magnetic birds, Dionysus riding me,

greens rushing on the inside of my eyelids,

mosaics of foliage, fingers ablaze with Nettle stings,

soles still alive to the narrow woodland path,


its vertebrae of roots, pad of compressed earth.

High on Spring, I’m a biophile

and incurable; nor would I care for any cure –

would only be a node in Great Mother’s body


where, drifting into the canopy of sleep, I see foliar veins

close-up – illumined as if by angels –

feel the breathing of stomata.  Then, like a drunken Bee,

I surrender to this divine inebriation.


So how does wild writing happen?

Given that it’s a practice emerging from the wilder aspects of our consciousness, there is a strong need to carve out space in our busy schedules/timetables to get away from the digital world to nourish our creativity and deepen our connection with the other-than-human natural world. But we don’t need to seek out places that might typically be defined as ‘wild’. The wild is everywhere, even in our local park/garden/school playing fields.

It’s also about holding an intention, what does life want to show me today? In approaching it this way, we can experience magical encounters that lift our spirits/bring joy/inspire. It’s important to see the time we give it as ‘sacred’; time for nurturing soul and the ensouled world, and ideally we cross a threshold (which might be a garden or park gate, a path to a beach or forest) in order to mark the transition into it. Whilst in this space, we avoid conversations with other humans and open ourselves to the other-than-human world.

We begin by walking, slowing our pace, letting our mental chatter subside in order to open ourselves. We let our bodies soften, our senses receive information such as the breeze on our skin, scents in the air, taste, sounds near and far, and visual aspects such as colours, shapes, patterns. At the same time, we watch what is at the edge of our consciousness, breathing it in and out, honouring any uncomfortable feelings, breathing them in and out. We avoid getting attached to any of those thoughts, or letting ourselves build them into narratives, and instead keep returning our attention to the present moment.

We also practise the Five Ways of Knowing, which Bill Plotkin advocates. These are sensing (with all five senses), feeling, intuiting, imagining and thinking. Practising and valuing these additional ways of knowing helps to balance out the dominant rational mind and allows us to become more receptive to the multiple wild voices and natural sign languages that are usually so ignored in our culture – in fact, the American ecopsychologist, Theodore Roszak, talks about us having become deaf and mute towards the other-than-human world.

We also connect with the elements, the weather, darkness/light, rhythms of growth, abundance and decay, and notice what these may mirror within us. Observing dead wood riddled with insect holes and fungus, we may see what needs to fall from our own lives, what needs to be composted, as we embrace a deeper understanding of impermanence.

Through these acts of paying deep attention, and then finding language, imagery and form to reflect our experiences, we are engaging in wild writing. However, often that process of finding language is tentative, provisional. Our experiences may be difficult to communicate, and so we simply ‘splurge’, forgetting grammar, spelling, punctuation. Sometimes the seed of a poem or story is found later in just a few words of that splurge, a phrase that has a certain ‘energy’ that we want to explore further.

Wild writing fundamentally requires us to practise non-judgement – at least in the initial phase, when we allow everything in. Later we can practise the discernment of the editorial eye, but for now we are open to including all of our experience. Which connects with the co-creative aspect of this methodology.

What is co-creation?

In our culture we’re conditioned to think of the act of creation as happening almost in a vacuum. We’ve come to think of the creative ‘genius’ working in isolation. Often it’s a white, male figure, possibly inspired by a female muse. However, everything happens as a co-creation in Nature. A tree does not grow on its own, but responds to light, soil, water, weather, insects. It interacts with other trees through mycorrhizal relationships. Trees are also home to birds, creatures, insects, all of whom may have a symbiotic relationship with the tree. A bird might find its home in the tree’s branches, eat its berries, benefitting from this food source, and then pooping out the seeds, thereby disseminating them.

This shows that co-creation is at the heart of all experience. All beings are infinitely connected through the web of life, the ecosystems and communities we inhabit. Our co-creation as humans is with other writers and teachers who inspire us, and with the other-than-human as an interspecies experience. It may also involve consciously working with the Universe, the Divine, Spirit, Oneness, however we may call it.

This co-creation can come about through inspiration, and of course the word ‘inspire’ was key in the context of the conference. ‘Inspire’ connects us with the breath, the air we share with all beings. It is the insights, ideas, sudden intuitions which we ‘breathe in’. And as educators then ‘breathe into’ others when we inspire them.

At this point I invited people to prepare for the wild writing workshop section of my contribution to the conference, with an attunement to our wilder selves through the body and breath. I’m sharing my notes here in case they may be useful for others to adapt for their own purposes:


o Getting comfortable, close eyes, feet on floor, align spine etc

o Noticing breath’s journey in & out of body

o Breath can be shallow, deep, irregular

o What does it mean to be at home with our breathing/to inhabit our breath?

o Air penetrates deep into our lungs through this act of respiration, reaching the minute balloon-shaped air sacs that could be leaves at the end of the respiratory tree’s branches.

o Their function is to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules to and from the bloodstream.

o Of all the elements we’re able to survive the least amount of time without it

o We share the air, as we do water, with all human and other-than-human beings. Here we are inescapably experiencing this miraculous existence together inside a delicate pocket – Earth’s atmosphere, a phenomenon I explore in this section of my poem:

READ EXTRACT: ‘From the Pocket’s Circumference’ (ECOZOA, Permanent Publications, 2015)

“… here’s the rub – don’t we all live together in the same pocket? From outer space we see the pale cloud, and here and there the holes. If Earth were a fist balled up and thrust in a pocket, the atmosphere would be as thin as that cotton fabric. Our lungs know this. Drawing 20,000 breaths per day, these twin inflatable pockets point up towards the element on which they depend.”


Walking into a forest/woodland you know. Air filled with sounds of birds. The Spring sunshine is gently warming the air and your face. Sap is rising. Season when our ancestors would have celebrated the Earth’s awakening. Birth. Regeneration. As you walk, perhaps you’re starting to breathe in the scents of blossom, new leaves, Wild Garlic?

Talk about Japanese Forest Bathing – Shin-rin-yoku. As we walk in woodland, we’re breathing more oxygen-rich air. Also we’re benefitting from the forest’s natural aromatherapy. Inhaling the aromatic compounds released by trees and plants, called phytoncides. These have natural antibacterial and antifungal properties, and studies show that they support the white blood cells in our immune systems. Take time to be in this space etc.

Finally, I invited people to plunge into some splurging, and gave them five minutes. After that, I asked them to look at their writing and circle any parts that had interest/energy, which might serve for further development.

In the final minutes of the session, people typed into the chat some wonderfully rich snippets, read out some sections of their writings and asked questions. I’m hugely grateful for everyone’s engagement, and I’m open to ongoing dialogue with anyone who may want to know more.


Helen Moore is a British ecopoet, socially engaged artist, writer and Nature educator. She has published three ecopoetry collections, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins (Shearsman Books, 2012), ECOZOA (Permanent Publications, 2015), acclaimed by John Kinsella as ‘a milestone in the journey of ecopoetics’, and The Mother Country (Awen Publications, 2019) exploring aspects of British colonial history. Helen offers an online mentoring programme, Wild Ways to Writing, and works with students internationally. In 2020 her work was nominated for the Forward and Pushcart Prizes and received grants from the Royal Literary Fund and Arts Council England. She’s currently collaborating with Cape Farewell in Dorset on RiverRun, a project working with scientists and farmers in Dorset to examine pollution in Poole Bay and its river-systems.

Blog by Helen Moore