LONDON, Nov 19 (Reuters Life!) - British author Nick Hornby has helped to start a creative writing centre for children in east London behind the facade of a novelty shop for kids.
Just beyond a row of old-fashioned shelves bearing jars of Human Snot, Zombie Mints and other much-needed supplies for feeding active imaginations at Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, lies the real purpose of the shop: a place dedicated to helping children discover the magic of writing for themselves.
The centre, called the Ministry of Stories, was inspired by the success of American novelist Dave Egger's 826 Valencia creative writing school for kids in San Francisco, which masqueraded as a supply shop for pirates when it opened because zoning restrictions limited the space to retail use.
Ministry co-founders Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne, were so taken with the Eggers idea that they applied for permission to convert what had been an office space in London's Hoxton neighbourhood into a writing centre for 11 to 18 year-olds using the same concept as a guideline.
Hornby has written about how grim and dull the experience of writing can be, but the excitement of the children on a visit to the Ministry from St Monica's primary school just down the road was palpable at Friday's opening.
The author of "Fever Pitch", "High Fidelity" and most recently "Juliet, Naked", said he wished there had been centres like this when he started writing to help remove the self-doubt that plagues writers when they are on their own.
"I'd love the kids who come here to get some sense of confidence and feedback and encouragement and the stuff that certainly wasn't around when I was starting out," he said.
Hornby was introduced to Macnab, who has a background in arts education, and Payne, a playwright, by a mutual friend in the spring. Together, they gathered volunteers to help raise funds and build the centre.
Hornby did not write as a child, calling his school "incredibly" uncreative.
The one thing Hornby wasn't was a reluctant reader and it is reading that he credits with his becoming a writer. But he said that he read out of necessity more than anything else.
"I read and enjoyed reading, but it's because there was nothing else to do -- almost literally. If I wasn't playing football and I wasn't watching TV, then I was reading. And the TV was an hour a day. Not because my mum said so, but because that was all that was on," he explained.
The centre will offer one-to-one experiences for kids and the chance to try different kinds of writing, whether it be a film script or a hip-hop song, he said.
Hornby has written in a wide a range of forms. He has produced novels, essays and film scripts. He was nominated for an Academy Award for "An Education" and most recently he collaborated with American musician Ben Folds, writing the lyrics to Folds's music for the album "Lonely Avenue".
He said he really enjoyed the experience, calling it a technical exercise in which he had certain rules to follow.
"It was writing. I mean, it didn't feel incredibly different from any other form of writing. You've still got the blank piece of paper that you've got to fill," he said. "It's just something else you have to think about in a slightly different way."
The writer said he was not focused on producing the next generation of writers as much as he was on improving literacy.
"This is because 80 percent of the prisoners in this country have the writing skills of an 11-year-old. If you're unemployed at the age of 30 it's likely because you have very low literacy skills. And we have to challenge that," he said.
The idea of the project is that everyone is capable of writing at some level and the centre would open up the possibility to children of making writing a career, he said.
At the same time, Hornby said not everyone reached their goal of writing a novel or memoir.
"Writing, music, anything at all, lots of people have the capability (to do them)," he said. "But how many people start a novel, but don't finish it?"