Fighting Words is a creative writing centre based in the north inner city. The centre offers free creative writing workshops and courses to students of all ages. Mice Hell explores the project’s core ethos that “creative writing is an essential part of every child’s education.
Why did you choose the name ‘Fighting words’ for the project and what does it mean?
The name was chosen by Roddy Doyle. We were registering with the companies office for charity status and realised we needed a name – immediately. Roddy said “Fighting Words” pretty much off the top of his head. It could easily have been a temporary name, just to tide us over, but we soon realised it was perfect. It captures the essence of what we are about, using a well- known Dublin expression in the process. Interestingly, Dave Eggers, founder of 826 Valencia, said he loves the name, but that they could never have used it in the US, as the term “fighting words” constitutes hate speech per the US Constitution.
Fighting Words was inspired by the 826 Valencia project in San Francisco. The basis of that project is that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. How is that?
Strong writing skills are definitely important, but the essence of Fighting Words is really more about facilitating the opportunity and mentoring for as many children as possible to engage creatively with writing – in whatever genre – and see what doors it opens up for them. What we do is certainly of benefit to straightforward writing and academic skills, but even more significantly it leads to greater self-confidence, self-esteem, empowerment, independence of thought, critical thinking, etc.
The operation of the centre relies heavily on volunteers. Who are the volunteers, ie their backgrounds, what brings them to the project? And how would one go about volunteering?
We have over 400 volunteer tutors. Since we opened, we have never had a problem with recruiting volunteers – though you can never take it for granted and it is always a work in progress. We put a lot of thought and effort into trying to ensure our volunteers get as much enjoyment and fulfillment as possible out of their time with us. We can guarantee it is fun and there is no minimum commitment. We interview between 10-15 new applicants every week, which keeps the numbers constantly renewed. People from every background, young and old, volunteer with us. Basically anyone who enjoys working creatively with children and adults and is a good listener will enjoy volunteering with us. No special qualifications or skills required. Obviously, since we work with children and vulnerable adults, we have a system in place involving an interview, reference checking, Garda vetting and we provide training.
In previous issues of rabble we have addressed the representation of the working class youth voices in the media, the way they are often portrayed as voiceless and framed as anti-social. Do you feel that Fighting Words is addressing this by helping young people find their voice? No doubt we are, but it happens naturally and organically. We are very much here for working class youth but not exclusively so. We are here for all youth on an equal basis. The children and teenagers who come here are from every background, as are the volunteers. There is a natural diversity that works very well.
How influential is class in Ireland in allowing access the full potential of the education system and the opportunities it offers?
There are lots of issues in Irish education about ensuring full equal access to the entire education system, but they are not the essence of what drives Fighting Words. We believe creative writing is an essential part of every child’s education, and we are doing our bit to provide that opportunity to as many children as possible, on an equal basis. We are not part of the formal education system – though we would like to see some adaptation of what we do incorporated into the formal education system – and given that our main interlocutors are primary and secondary school teachers, we believe they would probably also like to see that happen.
You have quite a list of publications including a graphic anthology, Jam by Newpark Comprehensive School; and. Are there many budding graphic novelists under your wing?
We have published four anthologies of short stories by Transition Year students: Fighting Tuesdays by Larkin Community College, Dublin 1; Lost in Transition by Scoil Chaitríona, Glasnevin; Fighting Words by Coláiste Dhúlaigh, Coolock; and Yet to be Told by Mount Carmel Secondary School, Dublin 1. In 2012, we also published A Window on the Lane – poems and short stories inspired by the works in Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, by Transition Year students from Mercy College, Coolock.
There is colossal interest in graphic fiction, from children of all ages. Always the first of our summer camps to book out. Many of our volunteer tutors are visual artists and graphic artists and animators. It was some of them who originally proposed seeing what the interest would be. We work in all forms of creative writing, in all genres. Since 2009, we have offered workshops covering short fiction, prose, playwriting, screenplay writing, animation, songwriting, poetry, memoir, radio drama,television drama, journalism….and volunteer tutors come from all of these backgrounds.