Start the Story Interview with Barry Hutchison (co-creator with Tommy Donbavand of Start the Story)

What prompted you to start an independent magazine to aid literacy?

We both do a lot of work in schools running writing workshops and we have a lot of fun doing it. Sometimes the kids get stuck right into it from the start, and sometimes you have to work a bit harder and think creatively to get them engaged, so we’ve both developed lots of tricks over the past few years to get even the most reluctant pupils writing creatively.
Often teachers approach us at the end of our workshops asking if they can “borrow” some of the ideas we used, and we’re always happy for them to do so. It got us thinking, though – is there a way to share the exercises we’ve developed and techniques we’ve learned with a wider audience? Can we make it easier for teachers, librarians – even parents – on a much wider scale to get kids excited about literacy? Start the Story is what we came up with.


Start the Story is an excellent idea – how long have you been developing it (and what took you so long)?

We’ve been developing the content for years without actually realising it. We’ve been running school events since about 2007, and everything we’ve come up with during those visits has been filed away in our heads to be pulled out when needed.
The idea for the magazine itself only really came about in the past few months, and as soon as we hit on the idea we swung into action. I think from initial idea to the first issue coming out was about three weeks. We were so excited about the potential it had to help gets kids reading and writing that we put aside all our other work (sorry, publishers) and focused 100% on getting issue one done.


Why do you think that literacy in the UK is suffering?

There’s no one single reason, and that’s what makes it so hard to combat. From the point of view of reading for pleasure, there are so many other demands on kids’ time these days, from video games to 24 hour cartoon channels, plus Facebook, YouTube and a million and one other things.
Parents are more pushed for time, so they’re reading less with their children, and that has a massive knock-on effect in terms of the literacy skills of those kids. We’re looking at ways to combat that with “Parent Sheets” schools can send home with kids encouraging them to read and talk about reading at home.
If the input isn’t coming from home, it’s very difficult for teachers and librarians to turn the tide. Librarians are great at keeping up to date with new books, but a lot of teachers find it more difficult, which is why we recommend a wide range of books for all interests and abilities in every issue of the magazine.
I also think teachers themselves have so much more put on them now than they ever used to. What’s expected of them seems to change every few weeks, and from speaking to hundreds of them over the past few years the general consensus is they have less and less time to actually teach.
That’s where we thought we could make the biggest difference, by supplying ready-made lesson plans, plus lots of exercises which can be easily adapted to any age group. We also provide five pupil worksheets with every issue, ready to print off and use in lessons.


Did you consider working in conjunction with existing literacy groups (for example The National Literacy Trust or the UK Literacy Association)?

At the moment, the whole thing is very much a work in progress, and we haven’t ruled anything out. Our big rush was to get issue one out before schools broke up for the summer, and now our focus is on making issue two even bigger and better than the first one. Once that’s out of the way we’re going to step back and catch our breath a bit, and see what connections can be made with other groups and organisations.
Part of the appeal for me, though, is being able to come at the problem from a unique angle – we’re not teachers, we’re not part of a government body or a literacy charity or whatever. We’re just two authors who love reading and writing, and who want to help other people learn to love it, too.


At the moment it is a two author publication – are you considering taking on partners (including authors, teachers or librarians)?

We had a couple of teachers helping advise us on the first issue, and lots of others have pledged their support. We’ve also had authors and illustrators offering to help us out, and the response overall has been great (particularly from librarians, who seem to “get it” best of all).
By and large, though, it’s just the two of us, but we’re definitely looking to grow and we’re probably going to need all the help we can get! So if you’re interested in helping out in any way, we’d love to hear from you.


Will you accept article submissions or ideas from outside professionals?

This is definitely something we’re planning to do down the line, but we want to be in a position to be able to pay people what they deserve. At the moment we’re both doing this off our own backs and taking care of costs ourselves, so by necessity we’re writing all the articles. If we start getting a reasonable number of subscribers, though, then we can start accepting – and paying for – submissions from other people.


Why should librarians, teachers and parents subscribe to Start the Story?

We’re not very good at the hard sell, so all I’ll say is this: We can make it easier for you to get the children in your care excited about reading and writing. The magazine can save you huge amounts of time and effort, and can make literacy lessons fun for teachers and pupils alike.
Schools are also free to distribute it to all staff and classes, and we even supply a print-friendly version of every issue ready to print off on desktop printers.
Oh, and if you’re one of the first 100 subscribers you’ll be entered into a competition to win £100 of free books plus a virtual author visit from one of us!


How can we go about subscribing?

It couldn’t be simpler – head along to and click the big yellow “SUBSCRIBE NOW!” button at the top.


Thank you for an amazing resource!

4 Thoughts on “Start the Story Interview with Barry Hutchison (co-creator with Tommy Donbavand of Start the Story)

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