This month Megan Wynne is celebrating ten years of running her creative writing school in Skerries. It began with three students around a kitchen table in the Skerries bookshop. Now one hundred students attend classes in Skerries, Malahide and Blackrock every week. Students regularly win national writing awards and excel at English in school. So how did it all come about?
In 2007 Paddy MacNeill had recently taken over the Skerries Bookshop. He and Megan got chatting (naturally enough, as she is book mad) and she told him she was looking for a venue in which to teach creative writing. Megan had been teaching in secondary and primary schools for over a decade. Several years previously Megan had turned her hand to full time writing. Megan knew she had found her ‘thing’ but it didn’t pay many bills so the idea came to her to combine her passion for writing with teaching. Paddy showed her the upstairs of the bookshop, which was full of old books and cobwebs, and agreed to clear it up. Megan borrowed wooden chairs from her parents and an old kitchen table from friends. From the vantage point of the upstairs window, students spied on people walking along Strand Street and make up stories about them. Many Skerries residents have had entire worlds created around them. Students wrote about secret worlds behind the bookshop shelves and being trapped over night in the upstairs room.
From the start Megan held classes for adults and children. Many adult creative writing classes were already available in Ireland, so that was not ground breaking, however teaching children the tools of writing fiction – a topic usually reserved for adults – was something new. In doing so Megan discovered something very interesting. Children aged between eight and twelve are brilliant at writing stories. Their imaginations have no boundaries. They are able to grasp concepts, such as showing not telling and character development, quicker than most adults. Megan was amazed by how much the children learned. Children LOVE to create characters and new worlds. Gifted children as well as children with dyslexia and other learning difficulties excelled in these classes because the focus is on fun and they can write about whatever they want: unicorns, bombs, animals, war, friendship, loss or anything at all. Most importantly the children are given the opportunity to express themselves and be heard when they read their work aloud in class.
Without realizing it, Megan had stumbled upon a niche in the market. Leaving certificate students are expected to produce an imaginative, and complete short story, however there is a problem with this: English teachers study literature in college. They are not taught how to write a story. Likewise primary school teachers, learn many vital skills but unless one of them happens to be a writer, few are equipped to teach creative writing. Therefore most children go through the entire educational system in Ireland without learning how to write a story.
That’s where Megan’s classes come in. Children learn how to create characters, write dialogue and descriptive pieces, begin, end and plot a story. When she first began teaching creative writing, she never envisaged students returning term after term and year after year, but that’s what happened. Within a year or two the bookshop became too small and she moved her classes to Skerries Mills. She’s been teaching afterschool classes, workshops and summer camps there ever since and the results have been extraordinary.
In 2013 a student won the annual Listowel Writers’ Week Competition for young writers. There was great excitement when Hannah Rudden from Rush claimed her prize. Hannah went on to win it again for a second time the following year, and after that a string of students won competitions in Ireland and the UK. Students have been successful in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre Awards 2017, the Sunday Times Goose Bumps Story Writing Competition 2016, RTE Guide / Puffin Ireland Short Story Competition for Youth 2015, Young Cúirt New Writing Prize 2015, Listowel Writers’ Week Short Story Competition for Youth (under 12 & under 9) 2016, 2015, 2014 & 2013, The Dalkey Festival Four Forty Competition for children aged 9 -11 years 2013. And one student from Blackrock (Grace Coleville aged 10) has published two novels on Amazon.
At the end of her first year of classes, Megan stapled together five children’s stories into a booklet. She held a small launch in the bookshop where the authors signed their books for family and friends. When the children opened the book for the first time and Megan saw their amazement and delight, she decided to produce a book again the following year. Now it has become a Christmas tradition. To date Megan has published nine collections of her students’ stories, which she sells in aid of charity. This year she will publish their tenth collection, “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover.” It goes on sale in mid December in the Skerries bookshops and the profits are going to Focus Ireland, to help the homeless.
When Megan is asked, “What is the secret behind your success?” She says, “I inspire and build confidence in children.”