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Page last updated at 14:37 GMT, Friday, 19 November 2010
Ministry of Stories opens behind monster shop facade

Nick Hornby and children from St Monica's RC Primary School at the launch of the Ministry of Stories literacy project
Nick Hornby hopes monsters and storytelling will inspire young writers

By Andrew Hosken
Today programme

A shop selling tins of the heebie-jeebies and canned human snot is not going to appeal to anyone unless it really is what it claims to be, a supplies store for monsters in east London.

But behind the creepy facade is an initiative designed to re-awaken children's imaginations and get them writing their own stories.

Rather than jam made from brains, the tins contain original stories by best-selling author Nick Hornby and others.

Tin of the Heebie-Jeebies
A range of products for monsters are on sale at the Ministry's Hoxton shop

Supported by the Arts Council, the Ministry of Stories in Hoxton could be the start of something big, and not just in east London.

Authors including Hornby, Zadie Smith and David Nicholls are throwing their support behind the reading club.

Not only have they contributed stories, but the writers have also volunteered to participate in children's workshops.

The project has its roots across the Atlantic where the author David Eggers established 826 Valencia, an after-school writing club for children.

Eggers, best know for his book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, has helped establish eight clubs across the US that help children with their creative writing.

Nick Hornby, who helped Eggers with his fundraising, visited the Ministry of Stories this week and spoke to the Today programme.

He thought local volunteers could benefit as much from the scheme as children and authors.

Children at a Ministry of Stories workshop
The Ministry of Stories aims to unlock children's vivid imaginations

"I think there are lots of people generally, not just authors, who want to make some sort of difference in some small way and don't know how to go about it practically," he said.

"We have lots and lots of ideas about how we can use an authors' time, although it's not going to suit every single writer.

"Lots of authors are also parents. I'm dealing with young children every day of my life. I know they are resistant to reading so I'm not unaware of the difficulties."

The directors of the scheme are arts entrepreneurs Lucy McNab and Ben Payne, and a local pool of talented writers and artists known as Initially is helping supply volunteers.

But the Ministry of Stories wants to hear from anyone who is keen to help.

The ability to read and write is a basic qualification, as is having bags of enthusiasm.

Many local teachers believe the project adds to what happens in the classroom.

Local children who popped in to the ministry to put together a story about the Queen and a sentient microwave oven called Bob were definitely inspired.

Ministry of Stories workshop
Not all monsters are scary at the Ministry of Stories

"It is great to see the children enthused and all excited and sharing their ideas brilliantly," said their teacher Louise Sted.

"Some of these kids don't really enjoy writing, but you really wouldn't guess that."

The invaluable thing, she said was that the children were not simply being sat down and asked to write a story.

"It's getting them sparked and getting them enthusiastic," she said.

The children seemed to agree.

"I like writing my own stories, but sometimes I find it a bit hard, because I have loads of good ideas but I find it hard to put it down on paper," said one pupil.

The government also seems impressed and Downing Street is hosting a party next week for Hornby and friends.

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