Secondary English

Hear from a Librarian about Bali Rai

Last academic year, our school took part in an after school book club at the British Library.  Its purpose was to kindle a love of reading for a selection of year 7 and 8 students who were struggling due to either lack of ability or interest. The author working with the group throughout the year was Bali Rai.

Bali spoke to the group a lot about the writing process; how his ideas came from what he saw happening around him and from people that he knew. He convinced them the topics that affect them every day are valid subjects for fiction.

Throughout the sessions Bali read a lot of his work to us including an extract from Kiss of Death. This led us onto an interesting discussion about the weight of family expectations. Stories such as this engage right from the off with their energetic storylines, relatable characters, urban setting and colloquial language. They were also perfect for inspiring the students to get writing themselves.

The students were encouraged to share their own ideas right from the start.  Quite a few of them struggled with articulating these so we did a lot of collage work and discussion in small groups. I was continually amazed at the depth of their imagination and the well-thought out storylines they appeared to be carrying around with them.

This was one of the most successful (and simplest!) methods for stimulating creative writing – and one that the students all enjoyed.

  • Provide students with a large pile of newspapers and magazines. Give them ample time to scan through several titles each and to cut out any images, headlines or even whole stories that capture their interest. This in itself can prompt a lot of discussion particularly when dealing with current news stories.
  • Students are provided with large sheets of paper with which to stick on the images. They then annotate these, explaining their reason for selecting each item.
  • In pairs or small groups they can then talk through their choices. More reluctant students may respond better with direct questioning. Their reasoning behind the choice of a particular image or story is often surprising and can stimulate a lot of further discussion.
  • The storyboards then form the basis for the students’ own piece of creative writing.

We found in most cases students were surprisingly adept at creating links between the different items. Frequently the various discussions leading up to this point had already provided them with the germ of a story.

This in conjunction with working with authors such as Bali Rai and reading their contemporary urban-set tales of young people gave the students the confidence to take aspects of their own everyday lives and use them to build up their own stories.


Sarah Chapman is the librarian at Regent High School in London.

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