David Lewis is a Literacy Champion in Scarborough, part of Our Stories on the North Yorkshire Coast. Alongside his friend Wanda Maciuszko, David has been a Literacy Champion since 2018. David is a non-fiction writer himself, and has used this opportunity to give back to the literary world by inspiring children to create their own stories. We interviewed him to find out more about his creative endeavours...
Tell me how you first heard of Our Stories?
Wanda (who I work with closely as a Literacy Champion) and I first heard of the campaign through Liz Dyer. We met Liz through working together on plans for the Children’s Literature Festival here.
As soon as we met Liz, with all her enthusiasm and shared passion for literacy, we instantly knew we wanted to get involved. She has commitment and enthusiasm in buckets, especially when it comes to boosting attainment and reading for pleasure, and her passion rubbed off on us.
What made you get involved?
We are both honoured to bear the Literacy Champion title, and aside from Liz, we got involved because we both had a background interest in improving literacy in our beautiful town of Scarborough and its surrounds.
We were looking for a viable organisation to support through the use of our Morris Minor police panda car called 'Stan' (more about that later!), and the National Literacy Trust felt like a perfect fit.
I felt as though I had a bit of a vested interest in improving literacy as I am also a full time non-fiction writer, with six published books.
It’s a really great feeling to be able to promote the work of the charity and give something back to the literary world - I now appear in all my books and lectures as a 'Literacy Champion' I assure you!
What kind of things have you done so far in your role as a Literacy Champion?
Unlike other Literacy Champions here, I didn’t have many strong ties with local community groups, as I had spent most of my working life in London and the south. So I had to be creative in the way I engaged young people.
I mentor various younger and older emerging writers, some of whom have particular challenges to overcome, but I really needed to work as part of a wider team. I have already mentioned ‘Stan’ (who Wanda and I lease from the International Police Association) and we decided to use him to encourage local young people to explore and develop their story writing skills.
Together, Wanda and I organise events, asking children to write stories based around Stan’s adventures as a police car. The best stories are then included as part of the Mog Tales project* – the first edition of which was published on the 20th October and we managed to sell enough for a second print run!
The challenge has proved so popular, that we’re already planning Mog Tales 2; ‘Stan Helps the Beach Patrol, with Mog Tales 3 arriving in time for the Children's Literature Festival.
Speaking of which, we are currently looking for a wonderful new sponsor to help up us keep the literary tales of ‘Stan’ alive as we need urgent support in funding the lease. We can promise great publicity and some very useful contacts across the country.
Wow! This all sounds great, and it’s amazing that so many young people are creating their own stories. What were your favourite childhood books?
My very first book and my favourite as a young child, was A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I still treasure the copy that was given to me by my mother. I also loved Stevenson’s poem My Shadow. Later on, it was definitely Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows. As I got a little older, my favourite book became The 39 Steps by John Buchan, and it remained a favourite through to adulthood. I must have read that book a thousand times and although very dated now, it still stirs me to boy's own style adventures!
Can you talk about why you think it’s important for care givers to share stories with their children?
I think is essential to encourage parents and guardians to read to, and with, their children. By improving literacy, we help to improve aspiration; increased aspiration reduces poverty, reduced poverty leads to a reduction in crime, the fear of crime, and anti-social behaviour; and this is the justification and raison d'etre behind our own project with ‘Stan’.
In Scarborough, and in the wider region, there is a big need to improve literacy levels, because although this is actually a peaceful area of the country, the fear of crime is high. I personally believe this is driven by local socio-economic issues and a very small number of repeat offenders of petty crime who distort crime figures.
So you think it’s pretty important then! Can we take it as read that you shared stories with your own children when they were younger?
Yes – I most certainly did! My favourite children's book now is definitely Cops and Robbers by the Ahlbergs, which I read to my own three children incessantly. I created suitable voices for each character, and they found it hilarious – in fact, they now read this story in the same way to their own children.
Roald Dahl deserves a mention here too, we all loved him. Families should really know how much fun it is to occasionally switch off the TV, put aside the Xbox, and spend time reading together; it can be incredibly life enhancing for all of us.
What would you say to anyone who is thinking about becoming a Literacy Champion?
I’d tell them to go ahead and do it now!
I love being a Literacy Champion because it gives a really engaging edge to my own writing ambitions; I’ve already mentioned that I am a non-fiction writer, but I see my principal role as encouraging and supporting new and emerging writers. I am the current chair of the International Police Association's Global Writer's Forum, where I promote writing for social engagement purposes, including improved literacy with disadvantaged communities. I also spend time speaking to local groups to encourage reading and writing.
I think being a writer, and promoting literacy, comes hand-in-hand. But I’ve also come to realise that there are lots of ways you can integrate literacy into everyday life, so being a Literacy Champion is a role that anyone can do. Every person will be able to bring their own experiences and flare to help engage children and young people in their local area.
*Mog Tales 1; ‘Stan Goes to Scalby Fair’ features 15 stories written by children in Scarborough about the police car and can be purchased for £4 (plus p &p if by post) from ‘Gallery 6’, Victoria Road, Scarborough, or direct from the publisher; Bryn Stowe Publications, 3, Hay Lane Terrace, Cloughton YO13 0AJ.