Award-winning author Alex Wheatle was in the West Midlands visiting pupils at Yardleys secondary school in Birmingham.
He spoke to nearly 200 pupils, aged 12-13, about growing up in challenging circumstances and how he coped by writing poetry and song lyrics and even turned his hand to DJing in his teenager years in Brixton, South London.
Alex found that by writing about characters in similar situations, he was able to deal with his emotions and express his frustrations.
He grew up in a children’s home, which he says was violent and traumatic. In his adult life he spent time in prison for his part in the Brixton riots in 1981. While serving his sentence, a cellmate gave him a book to read, which Alex told pupils helped to save his life.
Alex also held interactive workshops with students, giving them a chance to write their own stories and come up with plot themes and characters based on their own experiences.
Thanks to BookTrust, each pupil also got their very own free copy of his ‘Liccle Bit’ book, a YA novel and the first book in his Crongton series, about a teenage boy who gets caught up in gang culture on an inner-city estate.
In discussing why books and reading are so important Alex said: “Children and young adults can find it hard to express their emotions and sometimes struggle to show vulnerability because it may not be considered cool but books, poetry and written word make it easier to do that. I was delighted at the students response to my life story presentation and creative writing workshops and my dearest wish is that they believe that reading books can change lives.
Pupils Imaan Mazar and Amina Younis said: “We really loved hearing about Alex’s story and learning about different cultures. He talked to us and told us that no matter your background, culture or the hard things you’ve been through in your life that anything is possible and inspiration can come from anywhere.”
Eddie Halliday, Asst Head, Yardleys secondary school, said: “The morning was fantastic with an entire year group sat in rapt awe and the workshops took this to a different level with our pupils loving hearing the stories behind the books. They left deep in discussion about how wonderful it was cluthing their signed copies. As an inner-city school, we strive to get our pupils to love reading and this was a massive step towards that.”
Director of Children’s Books, BookTrust, Jill Coleman, said: “Alex is a hugely talented writer and the students were energized and motivated by his visit.”
Alex Wheatle concluded: “For me it's crucial for young people to have their own books, something they can treasure and read. Reading leads to empathy and an understanding of so many other things. This is especially important for young vulnerable people who might not necessarily have a bookshelf in their home”.