MCBF Launch, Monday 20th February, 11am, New Charter Academy
Words and photograph by Claudia Conerney
Finally, after months of planning and preparation, the Manchester Children’s Book Festival gets off to a flying start this morning at the state-of-the-art New Charter Academy in Ashton-Under-Lyne.
The event begins with a bustling press conference at 11am where we receive a warm welcome from the staff and pupils. Christine Amyes, Executive Director for People at New Charter Housing Trust is brimming with excitement; “We’re incredibly proud that the Manchester Metropolitan University has chosen the Academy school we sponsor to host this year’s Manchester Children’s Book Festival launch. Our involvement with the Academy is to help create better opportunities for pupils and our communities and we hope the book festival and the visit from Carol Ann Duffy will encourage children and their parents to enjoy reading”.
A vision that is certainly shared by the book festival’s directors, Kaye Tew and James Draper, who both believe that the legacy of the festival will be in the inspiration it provides to pupils, teachers and the Manchester community to produce the literary pioneers of the future. It seems fitting, then, that an ambitious enterprise such as this is taking place in a building of the future.
It becomes all too apparent that this endeavour is already underway at the New Charter Academy, when I happen upon an impressive group of budding journalists grilling the poet laureate about her work and inspiration. No stranger to media interviews, Carol Ann Duffy finds herself under the microscope with a plethora of enquiries, while the many seasoned members of the press are given a run for their money as they turn their dictaphones on and listen attentively.
Asked which writers she draws her inspiration from, Carol Ann reflects on a career that has spanned several decades, naming Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas among her favourite writers, but ultimately concludes that it was, surprise surprise, her English teacher who gave her the motivation to become a writer. This is certainly music to English teacher Jennifer Lindsay’s ears who looks on proudly as her impressive charges delve deeper. “When I look back at my career it was reading books that gave me the life I now have,” Carol Ann adds. “Books provide imaginary worlds that allow you to go beyond yourself and open up new possibilities. We have a real energy in Manchester that is certainly exhibited today in the enthusiasm demonstrated by the New Charter Academy’s pupils and this must be encouraged and preserved”.
At midday hoards of excited children from the Academy and six local primary schools file into the cavernous auditorium where they are greeted by a symphony of alliteration, metaphor, music and rhyme as Carol Ann reads from The Princess Blankets, accompanied by her friend and musician, John Sampson, on an unusual array of ancient instruments from around the world. The synthesis of poetry, humour and music are rewarded in equal measure by the enthusiastic sounds of laughter and applause. It is clear that the children appreciate just what a rare treat this is.
As the day draws to a close, I manage to steal one or two of the pupils and teachers away from Carol Ann to capture their reflections on the launch.
Paul Jacques, Director of the New Charter Academy, believes that “developing children’s interest in reading and also a love for words and literacy, plays an integral part in their education and understanding of the world. I think that it is fantastic to be able to offer local children the opportunity to hear the Poet Laureate perform her work. We are very honoured as an academy to be hosting this important event”.
Year 10 pupil, Lucy Delaney thinks that it is “important to meet a famous poet like Carol Ann Duffy because it gives us the opportunity to find out how she got where she is today and it also inspires us to be successful.”
Ann Giles, who has become one of the festival’s most prolific bloggers, aka Bookwitch, has the final word; “I think that the Manchester Children’s Book Festival is highly significant because it will help to put Manchester on the literary map. Manchester is perhaps better known for its cultural heritage in music and art, its literary heritage, however, must not be forgotten. It’s fantastic that everyone involved has taken the trouble to come here today to ensure its future legacy.”
It has certainly been a privilege to be here today among such esteemed and inspiring company. The Manchester Children’s Book Festival runs from June 28th to July 8th and will see around 75 events take place across Manchester from creative writing workshops, author visits to CPD events targeting teachers and professionals. For further details, please check out the website www.mcbf.org.uk