Discovering home, heritage and history at Seven Stories

In this guest post, Dr Lucy Pearson, Lecturer in Children’s Literature at Newcastle University’s School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics and Gavin Hetherington, a BA English Literature with Creative Writing student, reflect on the third year students’ visit to Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books in October.

Dr Lucy Pearson

My third-year module ‘Home, Heritage, History’ asks students to think about these three themes in the children’s books of the twentieth century, and to think about how English Literature might use archives and museums. This module evolved from my close working relationship with Seven Stories – I’m taking full advantage of having a heritage organisation devoted exclusively to children’s literature right on our doorstep! One of the highlights of my teaching year is the module field trip to Seven Stories, and this year’s trip was extra special.

The team at Seven Stories stayed on after hours to give my students exclusive access to the Seven Stories Visitor Centre in the Ouseburn Valley. The Collections Team brought along some archive material for students to have a closer look at: we explored some of Helen Craig’s original artwork for Angelina Ballerina, looked at some of Robert Westall’s correspondence and his manuscript drafts of The Machine Gunners, and investigated the creation of Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Borrowers through correspondence, artwork, and drafts. Mary Norton’s letter to her illustrator Diana Stanley in which she writes about the horror of the blank page when starting a new work struck a chord with us all! It’s a special feeling to handle the original material and see authors’ false starts, crossings out and uncertainties.

Dr Jessica Medhurst gave the students a guided tour. Image: Newcastle University
Dr Jessica Medhurst gave the students a guided tour. Image: Newcastle University

Students also had a chance to explore the galleries and think about how Seven Stories shares our heritage of children’s literature with the public. This was especially exciting this year because our KTP Research Associate Jessica Medhurst came along to give students a tour of Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories and talk about the ideas behind the exhibition. Jessica has been working closely with the Seven Stories exhibitions team and conducting research to support their development of the exhibition, so she knows everything there is to know about the Morpurgo exhibition. The exhibition theme of storytelling was especially interesting to members of the group who are also creative writers: student Gavin Hetherington gives his account below.

In the Rhyme Around the World exhibition, Storycatcher Lawrence gave students a taste of the experience regular visitors to Seven Stories can enjoy – and they had some fun exploring the interactive aspects of the exhibition!

Interacting with the exhibitions. Image: Newcastle University

We finished the evening with a quiz, where students showed an expert knowledge of children’s books (and a healthy competitive streak!)

If you’re envious of the students’ exclusive access to Seven Stories, it’s not too late to sign up for our Being Human event on 24th November, which will offer all the fun the students enjoyed plus a little bit more.

Gavin Hetherington

As a creative writer, visiting Seven Stories was not only educational, but also inspirational. The biggest part of this children’s literature archive is that they have acquired original materials from iconic authors in order to preserve and protect them from being shipped elsewhere. In doing so, this material is available to be admired, ensuring that visitors can always walk away with something from the experience.

Students exploring the Michael Morpurgo exhibition. Image: Newcastle University
Students exploring the Michael Morpurgo exhibition. Image: Newcastle University

To go from Michael Morpurgo’s ‘Dreamtime’ in his exhibition, to the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ – a short walk away – shows how deeply connected every part of his writing process is, from his creative ideas whilst walking through the pastoral, to the illustrators that have collaborated on his work, boasting watercolour paintings that reflect some part of his stories. We are submerged in his mind and are able to interact with the pieces that make up his imagination, and it spills over into the visitors’ reality. Morpurgo himself, in a very cosy setting of a shed and a recording of the famed author speaking directly to us, said that we should ‘fill our heads with this world of which you are a part’ and that, for us creative writers, it is not ‘magic’ that conjured the words we seek to write, but ourselves, as we write the story we truly believe in, from our minds to the paper before us.

I could not help but be fascinated as Morpurgo himself comes to life, as do the other writers who have created such timeless children’s stories, with the manuscript of The Borrowers and the facsimile of Tom’s Midnight Garden. These personal objects reveal the process of their writing, that the finished product we all cherish began in a way that the creative writer can relate, and thus helps us to aspire to be like them. The exhibits in Seven Stories humanises the writers, shows us the processes of their hard work and how they each used their own modes of magic to bring their stories to life.

Building a new city with Newcastle City Futures

What will Newcastle and Seven Stories look like in 2065?

This October, Newcastle City Futures took over Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books for a weekend of Big Draw Festival activities which encouraged children and families to design and build their future city…

Over 500 people visited Seven Stories over the course of our Big Draw weekend. 2016’s STEAM Powered Big Draw Festival aims to inspire illustrators everywhere to explore creative innovation, enterprise, digital technologies and the arts through drawing.

This seemed like a perfect theme for Seven Stories to connect with the Newcastle City Futures Urban Living Partnership, a project led by Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones at Newcastle University. Newcastle City Futures aims to get people and organisations in Newcastle Gateshead talking and thinking about the future needs of the city, and working together to foster innovation.

Now, I think the views of the children and families visiting Seven Stories are pretty important here. After all, they’re the ones who’ll be living and working in Newcastle in fifty years’ time!

So what will Newcastle and Seven Stories look like in 2065? Here’s what Seven Stories’ visitors think…


Building Newcastle Gateshead
Newcastle Gateshead in 2065. Image: Newcastle University
Newcastle Gateshead in 2065. Image: Newcastle University

Over the course of the weekend, children and families added to our large map of Newcastle and Gateshead to create their vision of Newcastle in 2065.

And their creativity was amazing! Visitors built homes, cultural, sports and science venues, businesses, hotels, transport systems, power stations and several bridges. In fact, the children organically created pretty much everything you’d need in a future city.

I was pleased to see they thought the Angel of the North would still be there, and Seven Stories too!


The house of the future…?
The house of the future. Image: Newcastle University
The house of the future. Image: Newcastle University

Children drew on (and played in!) our large 3D house of the future. What does this tell us? Perhaps that houses in the future will be more colourful and allow for personalisation. We’ll continue to build in green technologies, and graffiti won’t be going away any time soon…!


The streets of 2065
Designing a new Northumberland Street. Image: Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books
Designing a new Northumberland Street. Image: Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books

Dr Emine Thompson and students from Northumbria University came in to run a ‘Your City, You Design It!’ workshop. We looked at the streets of Newcastle in 3D and then participants designed a new Northumberland Street using SketchUp. It’s going to look pretty different in 2065…


A big jigsaw for the Big Draw
Drawing on RFID jigsaw pieces
We drew on RFID enabled wooden jigsaw pieces and recorded messages about the future of the city. Image: Newcastle University.

Zander Wilson of Open Lab at Newcastle University provided a fun jigsaw activity. The children coloured in wooden RFID enabled jigsaw pieces, before recording a message about their hopes for the future of the city. Zander will be combining these to make a digital jigsaw – I’m excited to see the finished result!


The future of Seven Stories
A new plan for Seven Stories. Image: Newcastle University
A new plan for Seven Stories. Image: Newcastle University

Our last two activities of the weekend were all about planning the future of Seven Stories. Throughout the weekend, children could draw a new blueprint for our galleries, and Teresa Strachan and the YES Planning students at Newcastle University came to deliver a drop-in workshop all about urban planning. Here’s a plan one of the children came up with!


The children came up with so many interesting ideas about what Newcastle Gateshead will be like in 2065 – I’m looking forward to seeing what changes the future holds!

Apply for the Seven Stories Northern Bridge Partnership PhD Award

This autumn, we’re delighted to offer a new fully-funded PhD opportunity: the Seven Stories Northern Bridge Partnership Award!

Northern Bridge is the AHRC-funded Doctoral Training Partnership between Newcastle University, Durham University and Queen’s University Belfast. Northern Bridge offers funded PhD studentships, with support for placements and training, to outstanding applicants through a competitive scheme.

Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books is a Strategic Partner to Northern Bridge. When Northern Bridge suggested that we could issue a targeted Partnership Award call in this year’s application round, we jumped at the chance…

What are the benefits?

For applicants: well, for starters, it’s a fully-funded PhD opportunity and Northern Bridge’s focus on academic excellence means that these studentships are very highly regarded.

You’ll have the opportunity to study Seven Stories’ amazing children’s literature collection in depth through your PhD research. This could also lead to placement opportunities with us through Northern Bridge: perhaps your work will feed into a Seven Stories exhibition, or you could help us with collection management tasks, or maybe you could deliver a public event?

For Seven Stories: Seven Stories encourage research on our collection. Academic research really helps to unlock the archive and we love the new ideas that researchers come up with.

For Northern Bridge: By launching the Partnership Awards this year, Northern Bridge are exploring a new way of involving Strategic Partners within the Doctoral Training Partnerships – and we’re excited to be trailblazing with them!

Collections. Image: Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books. Photography by Damien Wootten.
Image: Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books. Photography by Damien Wootten.
So how will it work?

Step 1: Working with Northern Bridge, Seven Stories have developed a call for applications for the Partnership Award. We’re particularly interested in receiving applications in the following areas: Makers of children’s literature: children’s book history 1750-2000, New adults: the growth of teenage literature, and Children on stage: twentieth century children’s theatre. But if you want to look at Seven Stories’ collections from another angle, we’d still be very interested in hearing from you. Take a look…

Step 2: The application period is now live! Students who are planning to apply for the Seven Stories Partnership Award are encouraged to outline their proposed research project and email this with a CV to sarah.rylance@ncl.ac.uk to register their interest by 18 November 2016.

Step 3: Next, students will work with Seven Stories and their proposed academic supervisor to develop their research proposals. Newcastle University will also be holding a Children’s Literature Unit Postgraduate Open Day on 3 November where you can discuss your application!

Step 4: The completed applications will go into the 2017 Northern Bridge Studentship competition and will be assessed alongside all other Northern Bridge submissions. The outcome of the studentship competition will be announced in March 2017.

Step 5: Successful applicants will start their Partnership Award PhD in autumn 2017.

So now I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that we get some great applications!

For more information about Northern Bridge and the Seven Stories Partnership Award, visit the Northern Bridge website.

Q&A with Seven Stories’ Santander University Intern

This summer, Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books has hosted a Santander University SME Internship. This Santander programme works with Newcastle University’s Careers Service and other universities around the UK to fund student and graduate internships with small to medium-sized enterprises.

I asked our Santander University Intern, Hannah, to tell us more about her time at Seven Stories.

Hi Hannah! Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi, I’m Hannah, I study English Literature with Creative Writing at Newcastle University. I’m going into my third (and final!) year.

Why did you approach Seven Stories about undertaking a placement?

I have visited Seven Stories many times and I am particularly passionate about children’s literature. I wanted to see how it works from behind the scenes, to get some experience and to see what it would be like to work there.

How did you secure the Santander University Internship?

I emailed Seven Stories to see whether I could do a few weeks’ work experience there. I was ecstatic when they said yes! A few weeks later I found out that I could do it as a Santander University Internship and be paid for it!

So what have you been up to during your internship at Seven Stories?

I started off with two weeks at the Visitor Centre. I spent a lot of time in the Studio helping children make kites, finger puppets, masks and paper boats! I got to chat with children and their families about their favourite books and characters, it was so much fun to get excited about Roald Dahl and J.K Rowling with them.

When things were quieter I surveyed people about their experience of Seven Stories and helped to tidy up the galleries. I got to help out with the Storycatchers’ activities too, including the Daydreamer performanceLittle Gallery Explorers and Sensory Stories. It was great seeing how Seven Stories aims to give the best experience to all of their visitors and that they genuinely care about being an inclusive organisation.

The highlight of my time at the Visitor Centre was getting to be Mog the Forgetful Cat! It was hilarious trying to climb into the suit, and seeing the children so excited to meet the ‘real’ Mog was so entertaining. It’s an experience I’ll never forget!

Hannah as Mog!
Hannah as Mog! Image: Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books

I also had the fantastic opportunity to spend two weeks in the Seven Stories archives with the Collection team. On my first day there I let it slip that Michael Morpugo is one of my favourite authors. Next thing I knew I had been given a box of his letters to sort through!

There were letters from Philip Pullman, Anne Fine, Philippa Pearce and all sorts of other famous and exciting people. It was fascinating to learn more about Morpurgo as a person and I was inspired by the way he has used his influence as a popular children’s writer to actually make a difference in children’s lives, both through campaigning and through the charity ‘Farms for City Children’.

What have you learnt from your Santander University Internship?

I’ve learnt how a museum or organisation such as Seven Stories actually works. I hadn’t considered before that there were so many different tasks involved in the running of the museum, and thus so many varied career opportunities.

It also taught me that I really thrive off working with people. I absolutely loved exploring the archives and the things I got to look at blew me away, but I did miss the interaction with the families that I had at the Visitor Centre.

I also learnt that I’m not as bad at origami as I thought!

What impact will your Seven Stories placement have on your studies at Newcastle University?

My time at Seven Stories has helped reawaken the magic of books for me. Sometimes when you’re studying literature you forget what an incredible experience reading is, it sometimes gets lost in all the analysis.

Spending time listening to children chat about their favourite books has also helped me better understand what children want to read. As I study Creative Writing, I’m hoping to write a children’s fantasy story for my dissertation. I have been thinking a lot about the lack of protagonists in this genre with a disability and this is something I wish to examine through the story and the essay that accompanies it.

I have now seen the immense wealth of unique material that the archive offers for research purposes, and can see how examining items from the Collection would bring a new dimension to my writing.

Do you think we should offer a Santander University Internship again in the future?

Definitely! The Internship itself was absolutely incredible and the financial support from Santander made it possible for me to do a longer placement. I have learnt so much and had an amazing time, so I’d definitely recommend it being offered again!

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Just thank you so much for this opportunity; I can’t describe just how brilliant it’s been.