One woman and her (literary) baby

21st August 1998 at 01:00
Kate Jones's mission is to get children to fall in love with writing and thereby improve all their school work. To that end she launched her own magazine, made up mainly of contributions from her target audience. Sally Ballard reports.

The handshake says it all. It is strong, determined and enthusiastic. Kate Jones has produced the country's only nationally distributed magazine written for children largely by children. It is glossy, it is bright and in three years Young Writer has reached the four corners of the globe, has a circulation of 10,000, a readership of thousands more and a successful Web site.

Young Writer has come a long way since feisty Kate Jones first strode up to author and poet Michael Rosen at a literary festival to ask him to appear in the magazine. Rosen, along with Terry Pratchett and Anne Fine, whom she had also approached, agreed, together with several other children's favourites. Malorie Blackman is the magazine's next guest author.

Since Young Writer's launch in September 1995 there has been a lot of striding and approaching - to school inspectors, county English advisers, heads of schools, teachers, literacy consultants and librarians. To all, Kate sings the praises and promotes the qualities of the magazine in which she so passionately believes.

It is, she says, a magazine which has as much going for teachers as it does for children. "At primary level you have teachers who teach across the board. They look at the criteria for the national literacy hour and go white round the gills. My magazine has a lot of ideas to help them. If you are a mathematician and are worried about English, then look for shapes and patterns. If you have kids who are keen on history, then look at the changes of words and language over time."

At Kate Jones's Hereford home, a one-time Georgian rectory tucked in the shadow of Weobley church spire, the day is hot, the grass so green, as we sit in the shade of the weeping willow.

Kate was brought up in Kenya and Oxfordshire, the daughter of political historian Richard Frost, who worked for the British Council. "I have been writing since I was very little. My father adored language - he used to read to me when I was small. All my life I have been surrounded by language," says Kate, who went on to read English at Oxford.

Four years in management for the airline BEA, two years travelling Europe and America, nine years teaching in Suffolk and London schools as well as home tutoring special needs children and running adult creative writing classes gave her the credentials for launching her literary baby, Young Writer.

"I had wanted to produce a magazine like this for years, but couldn't fund it. Then when my father died, he left me some money. Because of our shared love of language, there was nothing else I would rather spend the money on.

"I have always believed in what children write. When I was teaching I would feel privileged to read what the children had written. I think we should take children seriously. To help develop children there has to be some purpose to what they are doing. If you teach them to enjoy and love language and writing, if you get kids hooked, they will want to write their history essays with polish, their scientific projects with meticulous elegance. If you love something, you want to do it better."

Yet it has been - and still is - a financial struggle for Kate, who is scouring the country for sponsorship. Design and publishing costs run to Pounds 8,000 each issue.

"We will take no advertising," she says. Income is from sales through newsagents and book clubs or by subscription. Issues are produced for the start of each term. A lottery grant of Pounds 5,000 last year stipulated that four issues of Young Writer be given free to all libraries and school inspectors nationwide.

"We keep the year's subscription of Pounds 6.50 deliberately low so that the magazine would be accessible to the children who could least afford it. "

When it started, Young Writer was a one-woman effort, put together on a farmhouse table, surrounded by carrier bags and boxes of children's contributions. Nowadays, there's a designer, clerical assistant, marketing assistant and arts consultant, all of whom are deeply involved in the educational and literary world.

The magazine, aimed at ages six to 16, has a set format of guest author interview by pupils; pages of children's self-generated work; technical pages looking at topics such as sentence structure, tightening up work, or writing from different points of view; a writing activity page; quiz page; poetry pages that look at and experiment with poetic forms; an Open to Question page on issues such as political correctness in writing, bullying and colour. There are also competitions and details of local arts festivals.

"For each piece of children's writing I add a comment - it is there to help the writer, to help the reader and partly for teacher training as an example of subjective response. I am there for the children. I am there for the teachers to use. I don't want teachers to think I am telling them what to do. I am an access point and a platform for children who want to share a hobby.

"If you play football, you can join your local team. I want Young Writer to be for children to share reading and writing. I get boys writing poems, boys who know their mates would think they are naff to write poems. But here is an outlet for them. I try to show careers that use a skill with words - advertising, people who write political speeches, etc. You don't have to be a novelist to write words. And if you can get kids to fall in love with writing, then the job of the teacher will be easier right across the board."

A series of books by Kate Jones to help teachers with the literacy hour will be available next term. She is also available for Inset training and consultancy.For more information about 'Young Writer', contact Kate Jones, Glebe House, Weobley, Hereford HR4 8SD. Tel or fax: 01544 318901; e-mail:; Web site: www. mystworld.comyoungwriter

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