Rosanna Cooney gives her thoughts on the Creative Writing organisation Fighting Words, site and insists on using that confusing headline.
It is a rousing blend of WWII rhetoric and literary activism that captions both this article and the entrance of Fighting Words, the much lauded creative writing centre in Dublin’s north inner city. Set up in 2009 by the former head of Amnesty international, Sean Love and author Roddy Doyle, the organisation was founded on the same principle as the hugely successful 826 Valencia in San Francisco, established by American author Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). 826 started as a specialist buccaneer shop, publishing house and writing centre, all working out of the same room. A mix as potentially bizarre as that `Eurocycles Eurobaby’ shop in town, it has, however, produced Mcsweeney’s Quarterly, published child authors and dressed bespoke pirates.
With the likes of Eggers and Doyle in the mix, Fighting Words was always going to be an upstart with an advantage. Running seven workshops weekly for schoolchildren and additional ones for adult groups such as Focus Ireland, the centre has become a powerhouse of creativity and one that is in constant demand. Workshops are booked up a year in advance with schools from all over the country traveling to its inner city premises. Over 40,000 kids have passed through the centre’s doors and plans to expand within Ireland are already in motion.
The centre’s original intention to focus on creative fiction writing has developed a broader interpretation to include summer camps for graphic novels, comedy writing and journalism. Volunteering with Fighting Words, I began to see a pattern. It is the younger children in fighting words who are confident and vocal in the unique brilliance of their ideas; stories of drug dealing cats and talking toast abound. But in the the older children a reluctance is apparent, wanting to know whether it is okay to write in blue pen or whether black is better, they puzzle the tiniest details so wary are they of ‘getting it wrong’. It is this insistence of wrong and right that governs our education system and is re-enforced by examination formats. However, the ethos of Fighting Words is entirely different: it is a space for each child to receive concentrated attention where spelling and syntax are irrelevant. Fighting Words provides a counter-balance to the institutionalisation and stomping out of creativity in our schools. “We build self-esteem and confidence, giving children the belief that they can write. It’s always about the process and never the end product” says Sara Bennett, one of the four paid staff at the centre. Everyone else involved, including the thousands of children who come, do so for free. This is a centre exclusively for creative expression and rightly there is no fiscal value attached to the programmes. Of the 500 volunteers on the Fighting Words register who function as mentors for the children some are authors themselves but there are poets, teachers and students also on board. One of the motivations of the centre’s establishment was the poor reflection in the country’s education system of Ireland’s remarkable literary history. Fighting Words encourages this national literary passion and right now they are looking for artists and illustrators in particular.
The centre removes the fear from writing, the fear that we are not bright enough or smart enough, that our ideas are not worth expressing. It provides a place where kids can see their idea become a story which is then printed and given to them at the end of their workshop. Fighting words is as powerful as its name suggests in the work they do for the future of Irish writing.
If you are interested in getting involved with Fighting Words look up their website www.fightingwords.ie or give Sara Bennett a call on; 01 894 4576
Regardless you should check out their facebook page for weekly news heads and stories that are so politically incorrect they could only come from children, or the creatively uninhibited.
it is a space for each child to receive concentrated attention where spelling and syntax are irrelevant.