Fighting words: a story in every child

Fighting Words is growing up. 5th birthday in January and now able to stand on one foot for 10 seconds. Without swaying.

Photograph: Alan Betson

Photograph: Alan Betson


This year’s Irish Times supplement of new writing by children and young adults is the fourth edition, and, once again, the imagination and craftsmanship on display is breathtaking. It is important to emphasise that this is just a small selection taken from many hundreds of equally brilliant submissions. We would love to include them all. Last year’s edition received the National Newspapers of Ireland award for best educational initiative, and the Business to Arts award for creativity in the community. So, you’d like to think we must be doing something right.

Dr. Michael Smurfit points out in his recent autobiography that Ireland has for decades punched above its weight in the arts. He’s right, of course – but as a country we don’t always get there by the most obvious route. When we set up Fighting Words we were looking to address the absence of outlets for children and teenagers in Dublin to engage with creative writing, and the lack of space for creative writing in the school curriculum. We thought it was daft, in a country that prides itself in being a land of writers, that there was so little opportunity for writing.

We are now open a little over five years, and, in that time, we have hosted over 45,000 children and teenagers. They don’t only come from Dublin - they come from every corner of Ireland. We are constantly booked out, oversubscribed and, if we had the capacity and resources, we would host five times that number every day such is the demand. We work through all forms of creative writing and related arts, and the interest is colossal across the whole island. We have 500 volunteer tutors and mentors, and they are the lifeblood of what Fighting Words is about.

If you are interested to help us reach more children, please talk to us. We are immensely grateful to the Irish Times for its vision and generosity in providing such a prestigious platform for young writers.

Roddy Doyle & Seán Love

The Fighting Words editorial committee who chose the stories for this selection:
Alan Bennett, Laura Cassidy, Roddy Doyle, Catherine Dunne, Joanne Hayden, Helen Seymour, Gerard Smyth and Alex Tierney.

Behan Square,
Russell St.
Dublin 1.


Sheila OSheila O’Flanagan, author

When you first walk into a Fighting Words session you see a group of children who may not be entirely sure why they are there. Although they have a story to tell, they’re not sure that it’s worth the telling. But almost as soon as the session begins you are in the centre of a maelstrom of creativity, of ideas, of encouragement and of self-expression. The team at Fighting Words knows how to release the stories within, helps children find their own narrative voice and opens up a million fictional words. It’s a workout for the imagination. It’s absolutely brilliant!

Lynn Scarff, Science Gallery

Science Gallery had an opportunity to partner with Fighting Words on a creative project during the development of our ILLUSION exhibition in 2013. The young writers and animators involved got to meet with scientists connected to Science Gallery, which provided some creative ideas for the group. They developed a fantastic animation “The Battle of Ravenwind” with Brown Bag Films. What was apparent through the whole process is the absolute focus Fighting Words places on being true to the creative direction of the participants and giving them the support and tools to tell their stories. This to me was incredibly powerful. I have always believed storytelling is a skill to be nurtured and Fighting Words does this so well and gently that the final projects from the participants zing with a real sense of their genuine creative journey.

Mark LittleMark Little,

“The greatest skill you can teach in an age of information overload is the ability to find narrative where others see chaos. Fighting Words is teaching a generation drowning in data the eternal value of storytelling, in so many wonderfully eclectic forms”.

Cathal Gaffney, Brown Bag Films

Fighting Words is a unique creative environment that puts kids right at the forefront of activities. The centre is all about facilitating kids’ abundant creativity, drawing out their imagination and showing them just how accessible and enjoyable writing is. By allowing children to drive the creative process, Fighting Words really inspires their confidence. This all makes for a truly inspirational project, and the energy and enthusiasm it generates should be bottled.

ALAN GILSENANAlan Gilsenan, writer, director and film-maker

Sometimes the cliché is irresistible. But there is something undeniably special about Fighting Words. For it has a powerful hold over anyone who walks through its doors. Something about all those young writers, of course. All those wild, unfettered spirits. For beyond those magical doors, everyone is free to be who they want to be, and Fighting Words is free to them. Free to write, to imagine, to dream. Even to be heard, if only by yourself. But there’s something in the place too. In its very DNA. The people, the few staff and the many volunteers. The clear purpose and decent heart. And then we’re reminded why we got into all this in the first place. mAnd, suddenly, we find that we, too, are young again.

Gerard Smyth, poet

Fighting Words initiatives, such as the one with the National Print Museum that produced Lightbulbs – a collection of poems written, designed and hand-printed by students – is as stimulating for the mentoring writers and artists as for the students themselves. In the case of Lightbulbs it was, for me, impressive to witness their engagement with the process in both the writing workshop as they faced and overcame the challenge of the blank page; and to see the commitment with which they physically created the book that would carry their words. Their contagious enthusiasm, and their delight in their achievement, was reward for the time shared with them in Fighting Words in the making of this special publication.

Shimmy MarcusShimmy Marcus, The Factory Actors Studio

Fighting Words gives young writers a platform from which they can not only express themselves, but be heard. From script to screen their voices resonate with passion, heart, and most importantly, with something to say. They deserve a much wider audience. The Dept of Education should let Fighting Words design the new Junior Cert!

Paul Murray, writer

Discovering how to speak in a voice that feels true to you is one of the most important lessons anyone can learn. It’s a lesson that Fighting Words has been teaching, and making fun with, for 5 years. By awakening students to their own powers and helping them to take control of their own stories, they are passing on a gift that will last a lifetime.

Hilary FanninHillary Fannin, Irish Times columnist

Two years now, maybe three since I started volunteering. Time accelerates here, it’s the endless newness and sense of possibility when you sit down with a young writer and say “write, just write, it’s fine, it’s allowed” So far, besides volunteering in Write Club - a forum where young novelists, poets and short story writers come to work on their manuscripts - I’ve also assisted at the birth of about 16 short plays. All of the plays have been showcased on the stage of the Peacock Theatre thanks to our collaboration with the Abbey Theatre’s education department. The two groups of young playwrights that we have worked with, on, usually, rainy Sunday mornings, over a period of many months, have created outstanding, individual pieces of work. I have no doubt but that some of these novice writers will be the theatre makers of the future. For myself, I feel privileged to be part of it all, to share in that sense of renewal, to pick up on some of that energy and will. Fighting Words has become part of who I am as a writer, it’s as simple as that.

Gordon Snell, writer

When the banana fell in love with the laptop, anything could happen. That was one weird storyline I watched a primary school class creating at a Fighting Words session. It’s exciting to see young imaginations sparking - and Maeve Binchy was just as enthusiastic, when she introduced a collection of stories by older students and wrote of the “fluency and clear voice that comes across from these young people... There is a touching eagerness about the writing which makes it totally authentic.”

Fiach MacconghailFiach MacConghail, Abbey Theatre

Working with young writers and encouraging them to engage and write for theatre is an enormously exciting prospect. The point of giving young writers a professional reading of their work is not only so they can make the transition from page to stage but also so they experience the essentially collaborative nature of the theatre. As one of the young writers put it, with typical attention to clarity, I didn’t feel like a fifteen year old who had no idea what he was doing, by the end of it I felt like what I hope it feels like to be a playwright. And it works both ways, as all the directors and actors involved have been delighted by the quality of the writing they’ve worked on. For us at the Abbey, it has become an annual privilege engaging with Fighting Words.

Sorcha Heron, digital editor Newstalk

Working in radio, telling stories is our bread and butter. Volunteering with Fighting Words opened me up to the world of storytelling in unimaginable ways. And that’s the crux of what makes all their projects so successful – imagination. At Fighting Words there are no limits put on the children and young people regarding what makes a ‘good’ story or the medium through which it can be told. When I took part in the Curious Broadcast ‘Megaphone Madness’ radio programme the level of creativity was boundless – alien invasions on the news; reports on SNAs; the ‘Scream Your Face Off’ phone-in show – and all came from the hearts and minds of a group of 9-12 year-olds!

Helen ShawHelen Shaw, Athena Media

Writing for radio is a particular art. The words need to flow, to become aural experiences. They need to be spoken. Fighting Words has always had an open door for any creative use of words and ideas. I started volunteering five years ago when the centre began and I loved doing the primary school workshops but didn’t really have the time in the week to commit and be of much use but when the call came to do radio and journalism workshops during weekends and holidays it was a perfect fit. I got involved with radio workshops with six to ten year olds and then ran teenage and adult workshops where people wrote and recorded their own stories. Some have gone on to make radio projects but others just loved the freedom of writing for the voice. Fighting Words is about creative thinking for all ages and all formats and being involved in it has provoked us to articulate radio story-telling and to share the joy of a story well told.

For more, purchase a copy of today's Irish Times.

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