Why we need to develop creative intelligence in education

Originally posted on Ross Mountney's Notebook:

I had a surprise visit from friend and artist Bob and Roberta Smith the other day.

The artwork of Bob and Roberta Smith

We were connected in our childhoods but rarely get to meet these days living in different places.

It’s a shame because we have a common quest; our desire to get people to understand the importance of creativity in education.

People often respond to that idea with the question ‘What use is painting pictures in the world of employment?’ as if that were the only interpretation of creativity. It also misses the point; creativity isn’t restricted to painting and drawing, for goodness sake!

Creativity is primarily about thinkingcreative thinking. Intelligent creative thinking.

Intelligent creative thinking is what enables us to lead our lives on a day to day basis.

Intelligent creative thinking enables us to find solutions, solve problems, rise to challenges and develop as people.

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Creative Child Poverty

I read about child poverty every time I see a headline and it never fails to worry me. However, there is a different type of poverty that is rife and I feel that it is going to get worse as it seems that if something does not make a profit, it is worthless these days. I am, off course, referring to creativity.

I will be honest; if it was not for creative activities a huge part of my life would be colourless. Creativity keeps me going; it gives me hope and satisfaction and it keeps me company when I feel lonely or even isolated. It wakes me up at 5.30 a.m. every morning and makes me get out of bed whatever the weather. I honestly do not know what I would do without it.

This is not about me though; it is about our children – the children of our country – the children of our world. In other words, it is about tomorrow’s scientists, entrepreneurs, captains of industry, actors and writers. All of these professions need creativity and yet it seems to be so lowly valued.

cartoon children

I’m not an expert, and this is just my opinion, but as I read about hundreds of thousands of teenagers having to resit their English GCSE, sometimes more than once, I have to wonder what is going wrong. When I read a school librarian’s blog and she states that primary school timetables are often so tight that certain classes do not have 20 minutes to spare to visit the school library, I realise what it is. Many of these children are victims of creative poverty.

It may be that their parents before them have suffered the same and so they grow up in homes that are starved of creative thinking. When the children get to school the teachers are as heavily corseted as a Victorian lady with prescribed aims and objectives that they don’t have the freedom to promote creative thinking.

If only primary schools could be allowed to nurture a passion in children for reading and writing by encouraging creativity all the way through the timetable, instead of worrying about constantly ticking boxes.

If only teachers could be allowed to be truly creative and be permitted to engage this passion, I feel it would pay off at a later date with the children.

If only…


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Why we need to get kids into Shakespeare in Primary School

We at Loony Literature headed up to Hull Truck Theatre last week to see the RSC perform The Famous Victories of Henry V – this is a play, for kids, that brings together all the exciting moments of three plays – Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V.

We need more of this

Basically, we need more of this – it is that simple. We have mentioned before that some teenagers can spend more than three years getting a GSCE grade C in English Language which includes a Shakespeare play. This is because they study it for two years at school but if do not get a C or above, they have to do it again.

We have also said to anyone who will listen that kids need to be introduced in a fun manner to Shakespeare in primary school not in secondary school. By the time they study a play at secondary school they need to be relaxed about The Bard. The Famous Victories of Henry V by the RSC was everything and more than we could have wished for.

Simon Yadoo as Sir John Falstaff in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

Simon Yadoo as Sir John Falstaff in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

The cast was made up of young actors apart from the extra talented  Simon Yadoo who played Falstaff/Henry V. The energy of the players was electric as the young actors went among the audience before the play started making sure that they knew what the plot was.

The name of the game at this event was audience participation – those actors worked that audience as if they were back in Elizabethan England. There were props handed out to some of the children and they had to give them to certain characters during the play.

The audience were taught a song about Falstaff’s wine which everyone sang with vigour while waving their arms about. This was obviously a winner as a group of girls sang it loudly in the lavatory after the performance.

A young boy of about eight sat behind us and he had to stand up and shout. He was truly earnest and we were certain that that little boy would never forget that moment all his life. His eyes showed that.

We want them to laugh until their sides ache

The RSC have also taken this production into some schools and we need more of this for our country’s children. Shakespeare is meant to be performed; this is the second item that we need for kids. We need them to experience crafted actors, like Martin Bassindale who played Henry V, bringing the characters to life. We want them to laugh until their sides ache like they did at this production when Mistress Quickly, played by Daniel Abbott, shook his bosom at them.

Dale Mathurin as John, Martin Bassindale as Prince Hall, Daniel Abbott as Mistress Quickly and Nicholas Gerard-Martin as Dericke in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

Dale Mathurin as John, Martin Bassindale as Prince Hall, Daniel Abbott as Mistress Quickly and Nicholas Gerard-Martin as Dericke in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

When kids have experienced this they will begin to understand what the Bard is all about. One teacher said that before the RSC visited their school, they used to have the ‘collective groan’ when Shakespeare was mentioned but now there was excitement in the air.

Schools need to go to more theatre trips and more theatre companies need to be working with them, hand in hand. We don’t only want the kids of our country being introduced to Shakespeare in this manner, we want them to see Frankenstein making his monster and Dr Jekyll transforming into Mr Hyde.

We have a world famous literary heritage

As with everything, a major problem is budget. We are not experts on these matters but surely putting money into the problem when kids are in primary school would balance out all those English GSCEs that teenagers are resitting around the country. We are talking hundreds of thousands of resits here, not a mere few.

We have a world famous literary heritage and it is only when we make our kids proud of it will the level of GCSE resits drop.


Filed under Education, Exciting Excursions, Help Your Child To Be Sucessful, Inspiration and Us, Shakespeare Diary, theatre in education

Writing – Make your romance specific

Fancy writing a romance but all you keep coming up with is boy works in office and meets girl? You could try the following exercise to make your romance specific. Take a famous couple from history and write about them. The best way to do this is to research them first so that you know who they are, how they met and what happened to them.


You have to fill in the details

If at this point, you think that you would just be writing a piece of history, what you have to remember is that with most peoples’ relationships we only have the bare bones of it no matter how famous they were. This means that when important things happened between them, you have to imagine what went on and fill in the details.

Mary Shelley

For instance, you could write about Mary Shelley and her husband, Percy. Mary is the mother of science fiction because she wrote ‘Frankenstein’ and Shelley is one of our most loved poets. He was also a member of the aristocracy. When we read about their courtship and their life together, it is far more interesting than many novels. Even though we have lots of information on them and their travels we have to fill in what happened when they were alone together and that is where the fiction writer’s imagination comes to life. We have to become Mary when she met Percy and ran away with him. In other words, you can take your own personal feelings and fuse it with historical fact to reach authenticity with your writing.

Happy Writing.

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Writing – What to do when you’re sick to death of your manuscript

One of the many things that writers have in common is that when they have been working on a manuscript for a while, they get to the stage that just looking at it sends them checking their emails, reading the daily horoscope or making yet another cup of coffee. Sounds familiar? If it doesn’t, this is not for you and what is more, I don’t like you either. (Only joking.)

Girl with typewriter

I really don’t think anything can truly relieve the weary author of manuscriptitis and what is more doctors are truly useless if you approach them with it – I know, I have tried. However, I have three tips that might take a little of the pain away.

Visiting doctor

Put a miserly timer on how long you will work on it. This truly does help. If you think that you will spend all Saturday afternoon editing away, you may find that a huge amount of that time is spent staring at it, looking on Amazon or sending very long emails to your friends. However, if you give yourself one hour a day and when your time is up, you are not allowed to do any more – you will work for an hour. It is amazing how much you can get done in one hour that does not have self-imposed interruptions.

An old clock

Work out exactly what you are going to do before your hour starts. If you are really sick of your manuscript, you can waste an hour wondering what your next step should be. Making a checklist at this stage is vital. So for instance, instead of reading your manuscript yet again and generally just looking over it, you will be looking for something specific. This means that you have one hour only to check that you have enough conflict in each scene or whatever you wish to grind away at. You won’t get through the whole manuscript in one hour but what you do get through will be purely focussed and you can continue with that task in your hourly allotment until you have completed it. Continue in this way working through your checklist.

old manuscript

Work from a printed up copy. There are two reasons why this works. One is that your mind sees it as a change from peering at the computer screen and so welcomes it. It also flings mistakes at you that, for some reason, do not seem so apparent on the screen. This are not just clumsy typos either, you will probably be able to see where you have been telling instead of showing and also how you can elaborate on the senses of your character.

Hope this helps. Happy writing.


Filed under Creative Writing, Inspiration and Us

Writing – Making sure That Your Pongs Stand Out

When we write narrative, it is important that we embrace all the senses. Smell often gets overlooked because it is easy to forget that as our characters go about their adventures that certain whiffs will travel up their snitches whether they like it or not. To get you started, I want you to think about how when we go into public lavatories, we sometimes wrinkle our noses up because someone has been in before us and left a pungent smell or has not flushed properly. Yes, even modern tales have smells in them.

Public Urinals

If you are writing a historical piece, you have won the Lottery because in the Middle Ages virtually everywhere carried an unpleasant odour. Think about it, it must have been totally pongy because most rubbish ended up in the streets. If we drop something down the sides of a bin and it is not noticed, it smells dreadfully within days, multiply that reek by about fifty and you may be near the mark.

Also, if a butcher killed an animal and sold the meat, he would not discreetly and hygienically get rid of the guts, he would fling it out in the street. Over weeks and months of that practise, the smell must have been putrid.

As for the lavatories, well we know that the town council in London passed a law to try to clean up the streets. This was to have public conveniences built over the river Fleet. This meant that people travelling under the bridge, for instance the boatman, had a constant eyeful of bare buttocks and if they were unlucky much more.


Cor Blimey! I bet there was a whiff under that lot.

Back in the 14th century folks built loos in strange places and it often landed them in court. In 1321, Thomas Wytte and William Hockele were up before the bench for building a toilet in Ebbgate Lane which was supposed to be a public right of way. Apparently, the lavatories projected from the walls of houses so that human waste fell onto the heads of the people who were innocently walking along that stretch of public highway. Mind you, the fact that they were using loos meant that they were the sophisticates of the day, not everyone bothered with them. In fact, many shared rooms with animals and behaved like them.

So get sniffing up while you write, it may produce some results that make you proud.

Happy writing.

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Finding Inspiration – Cox and Box – Mrs Bouncer’s Legacy

Loony Literature headed for Scarborough yesterday in an attempt to find inspiration for both actors, directors and writers alike. Did we find it? We certainly did in a performance of ‘Cox and Box, Mrs Bouncer’s Legacy’ at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. In order for you to see how this play is inspirational, we need to explain a little bit about it.

1866 Cox and Box

If we travel back in time to 1866, we find a one act comic opera called Cox and Box by Arthur Sullivan. The basic premise of the plot being that a cheeky landlord lets the same room out to two lodgers. He is able to do this because one works during the day and one works during the night. When one of them has a day off, they clash and tempers flare.

The creators of Cox and Box – Mrs Bouncer’s Legacy adapted the first act and added a sequel to it. In other words, they have used an old piece as a springboard to create something else. Cox is an apprentice hatter who works by day and Box is a printer who works by night. The landlord this time however, is a landlady who is a chap in drag. Both Cox and Box also cross dress as they are played by two females.

Cox and Box, Mrs Bouncer's Legacy

The first act is particularly interesting for anyone who acts or wants to act. It is played out very much as it would have been when it was originally performed. A piano player is on the side of the stage and the blocking works in sequence with the music. This is a must see for would be actors and hopeful directors alike. It is very different from modern theatre and is also helpful if you want to put plays on for children.

The second act is what arose after Chris Monks and Richard Atkinson were inspired by the original one act script. It is set 150 years later in the same room. A recently elected government has repatriated all migrant workers. Twin sisters, Urszula and Krystyna are secretly sharing a room – the very same one – in a run down Bed and Breakfast where their landlord is a member of the UZIP party.

The upshot of this is that if you are seeking inspiration for a play you could find something old and add a modern satirical part to it and hey presto – you could have a show.

When we see the second act, we realise how talented the performers are as they change roles so a huge cheer for Lara Stubbs, Emilia Williams and Darren Southworth.

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Who’s Not In School?

Who’s Not in School is a new picture book written by Ross Mountney, illustrated by James Robinson and published by Bird’s Nest Books. The picture book is unusual as it is about Home Education and as far as I am aware there are not many other picture books which cover this subject, if any.

Who's Not In School

Ross is to Home Education what Mrs Beeton was to household management and has published two other books on the subject, ‘Learning Without School’ and ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. The illustrator, James Robinson is a talented eighteen year old who was Home Educated and it is the first book out with new publishers, Bird’s Nest Books.

Home Education is one of those subjects which tends to cause prejudice through ignorance and it is a shame became families all over the world are successfully educating their children themselves. Luckily, Ross is flying the flag for the subject and making sure that folks know the truth about it. Her memoir, A Funny Kind of Education is a charming, page turner that is not out of place besides other life adventure books like Peter Mayle’s, A Year in Provence. Anyone reading that will soon see the merits of Home Education and be enchanted at the same time.

A Funny Kind of Education

Who’s Not At School is Ross’s latest book to help the world understand that children do not have to go to school to be educated. It’s out today, May 27th 2015 and if you are interested you should have a peek.  Just follow the link.


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Writing Historical Fiction – Don’t Drop A Bloomer

If the weather and the government are getting up your pip then you should cheer yourself up with a bit of historical writing. It is pure escapism as you forget the world you live in and adventure into another time. However, beware of making historical bloomers – a typical one is having women wearing knickers too early on.

Fancy a pair of these?

Fancy a pair of these?

Strange though it may seem, up until the late 19th century women did not wear knickers. Yes, knickers are yet another invention of the Victorian era. Of course, they were not called knickers back then but drawers. For a Victorian woman, the drawers would have consisted of two separate knee length legs drawn together with a waistband. This means that her nether regions were left uncovered which is rather bizarre as we tend to think of knickers as a garment which cover those parts which we do not mention.

Initially, the drawers were regarded with hostility. They were viewed as nothing more than an imitation of men’s underclothing. This in itself was offensive to female respectability and virtue. To truly understand this we have to imagine that opinions often came from what the Bible suggested and wearing clothes of the opposite sex was frowned upon.

We also need to understand that the drawers were simply seen as an extra layer and that was associated with prostitution. A prostitute would wear an extra garment so that she could add to her client’s titillation as she had more layers to remove.

On top of that, women in European countries had started wearing drawers. The fact that French women wore them added more resistance against wearing them as the Victorian women thought the French woman was rather fast. If there was one thing a respectable Victorian lady did not want to be viewed as was racy.

Happy writing.


Filed under Creative Writing, History, The Peculiar Past

Help Your Child To Be Successful – A Simple Way To Introduce Shakespeare Early

If you live in some parts of the world, Britain, for instance, your child will have to study Shakespeare to get an English GCSE. It is often problematic, so much so that students resitting the course still cannot engage with the Bard. It is taking some students three years or longer to get a C for English and it upsets me. Three years normally gets you a degree. I’m not saying that is just due to Shakespeare because I know that it is not but it is a part of it.

I’ve said this before and I will not stop saying it, it’s because the groundwork needs to be done when they are little. If your eyes are bulging at this point, I don’t mean that you should get a four year old to deconstruct Hamlet, I mean drip feed it in a fun and exciting fashion.

Start off with Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Puck is often represented as a child – this will instantly allow recognition.
  • Puck can do magic. Small children often feel powerless in a world where they really don’t have much say. They will want to creatively engage with Puck because they can imagine being able to change things.
  • Puck is mischievous – think  Just William and Horrid Henry.

4 fun ways to introduce your child to Puck, a Shakespearean character:

Through drawing

Do your own version.

Do your own version.

Set up your drawing or art equipment and then show your child the above drawing of Puck by Victorian artist Arthur Rackham. Explain that Puck is a sprite that is in a play for stage called A Midsummer Night’s Dream by a very famous man called William Shakespeare. Don’t forget to mention that he lived about five hundred years ago.

Tell them that Puck is also called Robin Goodfellow and plays naughty tricks in people’s houses and in the woods. Explain that he is also a shapeshifter and transforms himself. Invite your child to draw or paint their own version of him. When they have finished ask them why they have done it like that. How do they view Puck?

Through movement and dance

Make sure that your child is in comfortable clothes and that you have cleared a floor space. Watch this short video of Puck dancing. Ask your child why Puck moves like that in the video – is he trying to send us a secret message without words? Invite your child to copy some of the movements. When you have done that, talk about how they think Puck might move and help them to make up their own dance. You could then film it.

Through drama

Use this quotation from Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Act III – scene 1 – lines 100 – 106 (Arden)

Through bog, through bush, through brake, through briar;

Sometime a horse I’ll be, sometime a hound,

A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;

And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,

Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.


Talk about it being in a woodland setting so they would have to act out wading through a bog making sure that they did not sink, fighting scratchy bushes etc… Once they have mastered the landscape, they can imagine that they are Puck and they have to transform themselves into different creatures – what would they be like? How would a hog get through a bog for instance? Again, you could film the end product on your phone.

Through making up a story

It’s important to remember that before children can write stories by themselves, they need to be able to create them; doing this regularly will help your child to be successful at English. Ask your child what they would do if they could be Puck for an afternoon. What would they transform themselves into? Would they play cheeky tricks on others or would they help somebody?

Once you find out what they would really love to do, turn it into a simple story.

  • The beginning is when they find out that they can be Puck for an afternoon.
  • The middle would be the one thing which they would do.
  • The end is the outcome of what they do.

When the story has been worked out, if the child is too young to write – do it for them. There is nothing that will give a child the desire to write more than seeing their own words down on the page.

I hope this helps. Remember even four year olds can be introduced to Shakespeare if it is done simply and gently.

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