Broadcaster & playwright Ian McMillan says creativity for children is crucial to “creating better human beings” in 10th annual Fickling Lecture

The broadcaster, playwright and poet, Ian McMillan, is set to celebrate creativity and the “power of words” to help children and young people find their way as he delivers the tenth annual Fickling Lecture, named in honour of renowned children’s publisher, David Fickling, and in partnership with Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books. McMillan will also share how a love of classic weekly British comics instilled in him a rebellious streak that set him on course to becoming one of the UK’s best loved poets and performers.

Working with excluded teenagers at a Pupil Referral unit in Doncaster was inspiring, says McMillan: “We developed performance poetry, and I could see them become more confident and articulate in front of me, becoming creators as well as observers. That’s the thing about creativity, it’s at the heart of us all, it helps as learn and, crucially, become better human beings.” McMillan believes schools are key to this, and that cuts can only harm younger generations’ development. “Schools have a responsibility to bring creativity into the classroom, but they are constantly challenged by this appalling government, with ever tougher cuts. Sir Alec Clegg, sadly neglected now, said “all children are creative” - I agree, but they have to have the opportunity. I’m lucky enough to be invited to schools that are genuinely creative, but I would love to be invited to the schools that are struggling – and there are more all the time.”

McMillan, also styled as the ‘poet in residence’ at his beloved Barnsley FC, will follow in the footsteps of past speakers including Philip Pullman, Andrew Motion and Sarah Brown when he speaks at Newcastle University on Tuesday 17th February. The annual Fickling Lecture gives speakers a platform to consider the exceptional contribution children’s literature makes to British culture and is co-sponsored by the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University, Seven Stories, National centre for children’s books, and INSIGHTS, the University’s public lecture series.

The poet’s love of words was demonstrably instilled at a young age, with inspiration from Low Valley School and Darfield Library (what he calls “the progressive West Riding County Council”), Biggles and the weekly comics that were a staple of children’s entertainment  1960s and 1970s. “I won a Biggles novel at Sunday School and ended up reading every book in the series, plus spin-offs like Gimlet and Worral. From that I got into The Famous Five and The Secret Seven – I’d write obsessive parodies or homages to my favourites, my first steps towards being a writer. My rebellious streak might be traced back to the comics my mother would bring home from Jack Brooks’s newsagents in Great Houghton in a brown paper parcel every fortnight – the Beano, Hotspur, Buster, as well as The Broons and Oor Wullie annuals every Christmas from my Scottish relatives.”

For young creatives out there, McMillan has the following tips: “Have a go - there’s no wrong way to ‘do’ poetry. Listen to people, always carry a notepad and read as much as you can. If you aren’t a great reader, then improve your reading skills. The more you do it the better you will be – you can’t really get it wrong.”

The Fickling Lecture is held at Newcastle University’s Herschel Building on Tuesday 17th February at 5.00pm. It is a free event with spaces allocated on a first come, first served basis.

For more information, images or to request an interview with Ian McMillan, please contact Liz Hyder at Riot Communications on liz@riotcommunications.com or 07939 372 865

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Notes to Editors

About The Fickling Lecture

The Fickling Lecture was set up in 2005 to consider the exceptional contribution children’s literature makes to British culture. The Fickling Lecture is an annual event co-sponsored by the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University, Seven Stories, national centre for children’s books, and INSIGHTS, the University’s public lecture series. Previous Fickling lecturers are, in order, Philip Pullman, Andrew Motion, James Naughtie, Sandi Toksvig, Nick Hornby, Roddy Doyle, Sharmi Chakrabarti, Sarah Brown and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

About David Fickling Books (DFB)

Renowned for its editorial excellence, DFB has an unique reputation within the industry for spotting new talent. David Fickling has won the Branford Boase Award – an annual prize that recognises the author and editor of an outstanding debut novel for children – an unprecedented three times, and is the publisher responsible for nurturing some of the most extraordinary talent in children’s literature today, from Philip Pullman and Malorie Blackman to Jacqueline Wilson, John Boyne and Mark Haddon.

Previously an imprint at both Random House and Scholastic, David Fickling Books announced its independence in July 2013. Specialising in books for children and young adults that transcend conventional category limits, the company has published a wide range of best-selling and critically acclaimed titles in its first years as an independent including  The Murdstone Trilogy by Carnegie Medal-winning Mal Peet, The Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall and Close to the Wind by Jon Walter.

Based in Oxford, David Fickling Books operates alongside its sister company, The Phoenix, the publisher of a weekly story comic of the same name, to form an unique story-house in the heart of the city.

About The Phoenix

The Phoenix is a 32-page weekly comic for boys and girls aged 6-12. Every issue is packed with serialised adventure stories, non-fiction and puzzles from some of the best story creators in the UK. Plus it has no adverts. The Phoenix enjoys the support of many of Britain’s best-loved children’s writers, including Phillip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson. The Phoenix is passionate about improving literacy among children and encouraging reading for pleasure and is committed to establishing comics at the heart of children’s literature.

About Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books

Seven Stories is the National Centre for Children’s Books – the only place in Britain dedicated to saving, celebrating and sharing our rich literary heritage for children. Seven Stories’ home is a carefully converted listed warehouse in Newcastle upon Tyne in Northeast England. The centre opened in 2005 and visitors can explore seven floors of galleries, creative spaces, a specialist children’s bookshop and a café. Everything Seven Stories does inspires children and grown-ups to be curious, imaginative and creative.  It encourages people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to enjoy a lifetime of reading for pleasure through inventive and immersive exhibitions and lively events and learning programmes.

Seven Stories is a charity, all the money earned and raised is used to safeguard the magic of children’s books for future generations to enjoy. www.sevenstories.org.uk