By George Norris
The Manchester Children’s Book Festival is back and better than ever.
The festival, brainchild of Poet Laureate Carol Anne Duffy, has a rich history of involving some of the best authors in children’s literature. This year is no different, with David Almond, Michael Morpugo and Cathy Cassidy, to name but a few, all taking part.
Ahead of this summer’s activities, Manchester Writing School’s visiting fellow Sherry Ashworth has spent a week in Dubai as part of the collaboration between Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature. I caught up with Sherry to discuss, among other things, her time in Dubai, lazy Western stereotypes, the use of creative writing as a tool to cross cultures and break boundaries and yes, camels.
You have been representing MMU and Manchester Children’s Book Festival out in Dubai, how was your experience?
Sherry: Well, let’s get the facts straight. I was at the festival prologue, not the festival itself. I can tell you that the festival, even though we were only at the beginning of it, was awesome! And we did have lots of conversations with the festival organisers, swapping stories about organising festivals. It was very interesting to converse with colleagues who were doing similar things.
What was the highlight of your time over in Dubai?
Sherry: Well it’s difficult because there was two sides to it really, the professional side and the personal side. The whole trip in general was a highlight. I visited Dubai Gem Private School out there and it was interesting to visit a secondary school in Dubai. I didn’t know what it would be like. I found that most of the teachers were Indian because Dubai has a very high Indian population. The kids were all different races from all over the world. Dubai is such a crossing place for different sorts of people, you’d be amazed. It is an Arab state but it is such a rich melting pot at the same time. For example, the writing workshops I did with aspiring writers was brilliant, they were such fantastic writers. Again, they were all nationalities. The highlight, from a personal point of view was riding into the desert on the back of a camel!
You mentioned your work at the Dubai Gem Private School. Could you explain what you have been doing at the school?
Sherry: I went there to give a creative writing workshop to Year 9 and 10 students. They did some fantastic writing. They were great; it was a lovely visit.
You have been in India over the last year too, does this mark a wider international collaboration being undertaken by the Manchester Children’s Book Festival?
Sherry: I certainly hope so, I’m the foot solider not the boss. I think MMU linking up with other countries is one of the most exciting things to happen because traditionally MMU has a history of giving opportunities to non-standard students. To extend that brief now to other countries is exciting. The world is changing isn’t it? The writing school now does online teaching so we’re talking to the world already, which is brilliant. The future of this planet has to be international otherwise there is no future. MMU is doing some important work.
Has your visit been a success?
Sherry: Absolutely, in every single way it’s possible to be successful.
This trip has been a trailblazer for this summer’s Manchester Children’s Book festival. Are you looking forward to the festival?
Sherry: Very much so, we have some fantastic big-name authors. It’s shaping up to be every bit as good as or even better than previous years. There is a great deal going on. I am also looking forward to the launch of Crimelines, the new anthology of short crime stories for teenagers of which one of them is mine.
Is there anything you would like to add about your experience in Dubai?
Sherry: I would just like to say Dubai is a very exciting and energetic place. The stereotypes we have of it in England simply do not hold water. It’s very international, the people there are very open-minded, much more than you might think, and the possibilities of collaboration the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival and the work we do at MMU are really exciting. Creative Writing is a worldwide language; it is an agent for change.
Manchester Children’s Book Festival runs from 26th June to the 6th July. To find out more visit http://www.mcbf.org.uk/
Sherry Ashworth is a visiting fellow at Manchester Writing School. She is an author writing both Adult and Children’s fiction. Sherry also runs her own publishing company, The Hidden Gem Press. Visit www.sherryashworth.com