Aonghas regularly runs writers' workshops in universities, colleges and schools, with people of all ages.

Here is his introduction to the book Out of my Mouth - New Writing from schools in Dumfries and Galloway.


Introduction from Out of my Mouth

I wasn’t altogether joking when I said that I applied for the Dumfries and Galloway Schools residency not to get the job but to congratulate the authority on creating such an imaginative opportunity, for the appointed writer and the selected schools. I believe not only that the arts should be central to the education of our children, but that the involvement of arts practitioners in that education should also be crucial.

I am convinced that encouraging young people to tap into their own creativity can open the doors of possibility, enabling them to access the wider world with greater confidence, while reinforcing a sense that they and their own experiences matter. Some don’t need such encouragement, and they are a pleasure to work with, but there is a tremendous satisfaction in seeing those who hadn’t considered themselves creative discovering that they also have something of value to say.

My year in Dumfries and Galloway provided a rich variety of experience; urban and rural, upland and coastal; I had the privilege of working with a range of classes from Advanced Higher to Learning Support, and everywhere, I met with positive responses to the invitation to be creative.

The basic technical work on structure – rhyme/not rhyme, simile/metaphor/personification, etc.  – having been done by teachers, I work to a simple formula, of emphasising the importance of observation (what is seen, heard, felt, etc.) and memory. There may be a jogging of memory towards emotional experiences (fears, firsts, etc.); if seasonal themes are favoured, a fresh approach is fostered, avoiding the predictable. Where possible, I try to find the theme in a spark I can work on myself. All drafts, from the first sketch to most developed, are retained, and ‘used in evidence’ to reinforce my assertion that making a creative work is a process – that even after a lifetime of practice, I don’t expect to get it right first time, and that the final draft may not even be good.

When approaching any poem, we look for a sense of the poet’s voice, of the words coming unselfconsciously from the heart, as well, obviously, as a spark of originality. What gave me most pleasure during my year in Dumfries and Galloway schools was the way so many of those I worked with provided exactly those qualities. And it’s not an easy thing to do. Their willingness to have a go produced a torrent of creativity – poems, songs, stories, and drama. What appears in this anthology is only a sample of what the young writers were capable of: we could have included many more.

Some of those included here will go on to be published writers, with their own novels, poetry collections, articles or whatever. Others may never write another word. What matters now is that they get a buzz out of having done it at all. Their work is here on merit: it moves us, has the ‘wow’ factor, or makes us laugh.

None of it would have happened though, were it not supported effectively at every level. For that I am grateful to CREATE staff whose role as strategist, minder, factotum and occasional chauffeur, made my engagement with the schools so much easier. At the schools level, teacher commitment was also a key to the success of the project. A couple of moments may stand as representative: a head of school remarking, approvingly, on the sight of a bunch of 4th Year boys in the library, working on their poems right up till the end of the last period of the last day before the holidays.

For me, the whole experience was a kind of holiday, bringing to mind the words of a wee Scotsman who used to proclaim from his soapbox on Speakers’ Corner (in London’s Hyde Park) that he’d “never worked a day in my life! I’ve always enjoyed myself.” I never discovered what he actually did for a living. This anthology is my evidence that the year in those schools I visited offered much to enjoy, though it’s also proof that a lot of productive work was done. My warmest thanks to those who engaged so enthusiastically in that work. Let’s hope now their endeavours gain the recognition they deserve.

Aonghas MacNeacail
Writers Fellow
Creative Education Arts Team (CREATE), 2007.