Author Interviews

Are you a monster? Lucy Macnab speaks to World of Books about the Charity – Ministry of Stories

The Ministry of Stories is a creative writing and mentoring centre for young people in East London. By using storytelling to inspire young people aged 8-18, the company believes that writing can unleash imaginations and build up confidence, self-respect and communication.

Nick Hornby, Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne co-founded the Ministry of Stories in 2010, and are now supported by Meera Syal, David Nicholls and Zadie Smith (among others). Welcoming all forms of writing, from screen-writing, song-writing, blogging, journalism and copy-writing, the company is located in the most deprived boroughs of the country, facing huge challenges for literacy. In its first year alone, over 3000 young people took part in its volunteer-led workshops and writing projects. The charity runs free writing workshops and mentoring for young people in East London. Supported by trained volunteers, including writers, teachers, local people and artists, the Ministry of Stories’ work is designed to fire young people’s imaginations and to make writing fun. The charity has just launched their Hoxton Street Monster Supply Shop – “Purveyor of Quality Goods for Monsters of Every Kind”. The shop sells everything your little monsters could want, whether this is a limited edition range of Tinned Fear, or The Awfully Bad Guide to Monster Housekeeping. Through this world of imagination, all proceeds made go towards the cost of The Ministry of Stories and the admirable programmes it runs.

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

Hello everyone at the Ministry of Stories! And Lucy Macnab who is answering our questions today,

Firstly World of Books would like to say a huge thank you for taking the time to be interviewed by us, we really admire the work you are doing and, as we’re self-confessed bookworms too, we can’t wait to give anything that gets written by your little monsters a read!

Q: We’ll start with a question for the founders of the charity- Nick Hornby, Lucy Macnab and Ben Payne. What gave you all the idea for the Ministry of Stories? Had you all worked together before?

The Ministry of Stories has been inspired by 826 Valencia, the young people’s creative writing centre and pirate supplies store founded by Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari. When I met [Ministry co-director] Ben Payne, we began talking pretty quickly about how we could go about starting something similar here in London. Nick had also been wondering how to go about getting something off the ground. We applied for some seed funding from the Arts Council and the JJ Charitable Trust, and about that time Dave Eggers came to town to do a book reading – the surge of people wanting to help us make it happen, as well as the confirmation of our funding and meeting Nick, helped make it a reality.

Q: World of Books is rather excited about your new shop! What can you tell us about it? And what three top buys do you recommend for all those little monsters out there?

We’re glad to hear that you humans have a taste for the monstrous! Hoxton Street Monster Supplies was established in 1818, though the exact details of why, and by whom, have tragically been lost to history. In 2010, after closing for a much-needed refurbishment, we re-opened our doors and last Hallowe’en we launched our online store, We pride ourselves on being London’s, and quite possibly the world’s, only purveyor of quality goods for monsters of every kind. Many of our customers have been coming to us for centuries. Indeed, some have been coming for considerably longer. Whether you’re a Vampire, Werewolf, Sasquatch or some Thing else entirely, we have everything you need.

This season we would definitely recommend trying Creeping Dread from our range of Tinned Fear or, if you’re a little younger, perhaps a milder form of fear, such as The Chills. Prepared by the most terrifyingly talented authors around such as Charlie Higson – (check out the World of Books interview with Charlie here) and Jeremy Strong, these tins are marvellous for younger monsters. We would also urge you to try our Cubed Earwax, a delicious treat, and the new January stock is tastier than ever. The other essential for any monster household is The Awfully Bad Guide to Monster Housekeeping, four little books with frighteningly good advice, illustrations and activities.

Q: As you’ve already mentioned, the charity and shop was inspired by the model of 826 Valencia, which was founded ten years ago in San Francisco by Dave Eggers. Eggers hoped that there were writers and mentors in his local community who would be willing to volunteer their time to work with young people in the local area. Because the space he found was in a retail zone, Eggers had the brilliant brainwave of building a wooden ship’s interior, and opening the premises as a pirate’s supply store. There are now seven other similar centres across the USA with different shop themes, and all supporting their own writing programmes. How much response has the Ministry of Stories received since its beginning in 2010? Are there aims to have as many branches across the UK as Egger’s work in America?

We have been very inspired by Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari’s project in Valencia, and the other centres around the US – they do incredible work. When we opened the Ministry of Stories in November 2010, there was an amazing response from volunteers, teachers, young people and their parents, wanting to be part of something similar here in London. A year on, we’ve put down some roots here in Hoxton, building great relationships in the neighbourhood. We’ve also had a lot of interest from people around the UK who have been inspired by what we’re doing. It’s early in our story, but we certainly hope to see other Ministries of Stories in the UK in the future.

Q: What value does the charity place on a good book?

The highest value! Reading and writing are closely connected, as any writer will tell you. This year we’re looking forward to working more with our local library, and on projects with young people that respond creatively to reading great books.

Ministry of Stories Poster

Ministry of Stories Poster

Q: Now, we ask this question a lot, but it’s rare we have actually had the opportunity to talk to people who work with aspiring young authors on a day-to-day basis. What three crucial pieces of advice would the Ministry of Stories’ published authors give to writers who are just beginning to find their feet?

The Ministry of Stories is about all kinds of writing, from scripts to storyboards, from poetry to puzzles. We always start our workshops with three golden rules – Respect, Courage and Imagination. Take your ideas seriously and treat them with respect, have the courage to follow an idea in an ambitious direction and give your imagination free rein. You never know where it will take you.

Q: If an adult wanted to get involved, how would they go about doing so?

Very easily. Visit our website and decide whether you could become a member of our 159 Club for those who are as passionate about getting young people writing as we are. By giving £10.60 a month to support our workshops and programmes, you could make a huge difference, click here.

We’re also looking for volunteer writing mentors for our weekday daytime workshops, and you can sign up for this through our website too here.

Q: Now, it’s got to be asked, how do you qualify as a ‘monster’?

Well, that is different for every type of monster, of course. Readers of Frankenstein, Dracula and Moby Dick will have a more sophisticated understanding. If you’re unsure whether you might be a monster, we recommend a visit to our shop, where staff will be happy to advise.

Q: So, lastly, World of Books admires your work to promote literacy with young people, because we also place a high value on books and the learning they enable. Here at World of Books we’re dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public, and, like the Ministry of Stories, we believe books should be passed on for others to enjoy and be inspired by. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, does the team at the Ministry of Stories believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?

– Your mission sounds important and exciting. More books for more readers is always a good thing. Books for Victory!

Are you inspired to help more young people get involved with reading and writing projects at the Ministry of Stories? There are lots of ways you can help. Make sure you check out the Ministry of Stories website to find out about giving your time or a regular donation. And whilst you’re there, visit their store for some monster-sized treats!

Fancy catching up on any of the authors we mentioned in this interview? Why not check out the World of Books.

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