Today I am talking to another local author - Stephen, a veteran primary school teacher so obviously I couldn't resist a bit of teacher talk. His background in primary school education is obviously a bit different but it is interesting how he notices patterns that we then see in secondary schools.
I used to always write as a teenager and throughout adulthood shifting through different genres so I do feel very inspired by Stephen to continue working on your craft and to invite feedback from a writing group - watch this space!
Stephen's website: https://stephenfitzsimons.com/
Stephen's Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stephen_fitzsimons_author/
The All Good Bookshop: https://allgoodbookshop.co.uk/events (on the events page, so much interesting stuff going on!)
pod instagram: https://www.instagram.com/anybodyeverybodytottenham/
pod website : https://www.anybodyeverybodytottenham.com/
pod twitter: https://twitter.com/AnybodyBody
If you fancy supporting my hobby - buy me a coffee :)
Hi, I'm Jamila and anybody everybody Tottenham is a bi monthly podcast, introducing the good people of Tottenham to you. In today's episode, I'm talking to Stephen Fitzsimon, another local author, but this time a little bit more targeted at children and children's literature, and poetry, etc. And we're talking about his previous career in primary school teaching and the teaching of reading and writing, also, about his transitioning then into his life as a full time writer, and as well about the opening of our very own local independent bookshop. So that should be another interesting one.
So today on the pod, I've got Stephen, and I'm gonna let you introduce yourself, because you are a man of many talents.
So let's see. So I've was a teacher for 28 years in a primary classroom. And I've just left the classroom and trying something new. I don't know what yet, but I'm looking for something new. And I also self published a poetry book and two children's books. And I also host a spoken word night in the All Good Bookshop the last Thursday of every month, and I'm also involved in many writing projects in the Blue House yard, Wood green. I think that's about all I can think of at the moment.
Okay, so let's start with your connection to Tottenham. So you said you're a primary school teacher, were you or are you still teaching in Tottenham all the time? Or how have you ended up here?
I think I haven't actually taught in Tottenham, I taught in Walthamstow. Not Walthamsto w Waltham Forrest. (Okay.) Waltham Forrest, and in Leyton, and in Chingford mount, and then, for years, loads of years, almost 30 years, but I wound up in this area in Haringey, because I had a friend who lived here, and I used to come and visit and hang out and go to a bar. And I liked the area. So I decided to move from where was Wood Street, Walthamstow, and I've been here for about 26 years. Okay, so I've been here quite a long time. So
So you liked it and moved here? How has the area changed over the time that you've been here?
Well, I think when I first got here, it was a bit rundown, then it went through a phase of them putting new bus stops up the high street and revitalizing the pavements and doing things like that. And then it went, gone a bit down again. And and at the moment, you've seen that transition, I think, because a lot of the key big stores like Marks and Spencers and so on have vanished in Wood Green, and now you've got these small pop up shops. But I will say certain parts are getting more middle class, certainly in South Tottenham around Turnpike Lane that area, because it's quite close to Hornsey and Crouch End. So I would say some of the schools are becoming a bit more middle class as well. So the people who were, the communities that were here a long time, are gradually being pushed out.
So you said you've been a primary school teacher and at the moment, you're kind of trying something new. Was it just this school year that you, that you've gone completely rogue and freelance or?
this summer! Yes, just in July. Yes. So it's very recent, I mean, I'm in the mode at the moment of very excited that New Beginnings but also slightly petrified what might happen or what might go wrong,
but to be honest you know the cynical part of me looking at teacher retention, etc, is they will always need you and you know, like worst case scenario, you do some supply. Isn't it?
Well, there is plenty of work out there (exactly). I've had a look at tutoring then and supply and there's lots of calls for people. And there's lots of calls for teachers in London as well. There's a massive shortage I would say of teachers in London.
Let's talk about your creative side then. So how does this all develop? Because it didn't just come now
Well, I would say it started, my writing side started when I was in year six at primary, I was, was quite a reluctant reader. I wasn't a massive reader. And my spelling was atrocious. Almost every word in anything I wrote was underlined in red, because I spelt it wrong. And I had a primary teacher called Mr. Patchett. And Mr. Patchett said to my mother, "oh, he needs to be reading more, it'll help with his spelling." So I got told by my mother, and I wasn't gonna argue with my mother. So I went in the next day, and had a look on the bookshelf. And I wasn't sure. And I just fumbled around and picked up a book. And I still remember it by CS Lewis, called the Otterbury Incident. And it was about these two gangs of boys just after the World War, World War Two, playing on the rubble, and that, and having mock war fights. And in celebration, they rushed back to school, one boy kicks off a football, it smashes the head teacher's window, and he has to pay for it. And he hasn't got the money. So the gangs rally round to try and raise the money for the window. That's all I'm giving away from that. But that book I absolutely loved. And I loved it so much. I read it four times in a row, and then started reading other things. And then I became a reading nut I would just read everything - the back of the cereal packets, signs on windows, I also got a paper around, and I was the worst paper person going because especially on Sundays, because it had all the supplements. And I would read everything before I delivered it. So the papers were usually late, going through people's doors, and people stood at their door wondering where their newspaper was. And at that same time, we didn't have the national curriculum. So we just learned English and maths in the morning. And in the afternoon, we got to choose what to do. And I chose to write stories. And I had a friend who would illustrate them for me. And they were stories mainly about Snoopy and Woodstock, the Peanuts characters, fighting Aliens, as well, because I was into aliens. And I just wrote those. And that, and that's when my passion for writing really took off. And I just kept writing and writing and writing until I was about 25. And then as I started my teaching degree, and just didn't have time for writing, and I stopped. About 10/12 years ago, I was really into my work, working all the hours. And I just decided. Something happened. And then I just reevaluated what was important. And my wife, Jenny said to me, "and what do you really want to do?" And I said: "I always wanted to do writing." And and she found out about a local bookshop called the big green bookshop, which was in Wood Green had a writing group and she suggested I'd go along. So I thought "okay, I'll go along.2 But before I went, I thought, "Oh, I better take something I've written." So I was wondering the park, and this idea for a book popped into my head. That was sort of milliang around. And it was wishbone billy. I liked the sound of that. And I had an idea, I wanted it to be about a boy who really hated his parents because I liked Matilda by Roald Dahl. And, and I was a big Roald Dahl fan. And I liked that. But the bad parents in that and I liked the twits as well, because they were really bad. And I've wanted to take it even further, how bad the parents were. So I just went along to the writing group each week and reading different chapters from this book I was writing and I was just carried on from there regularly attending the writing.
Do you feel like being a teacher that you've got an insight in what children like like? Did you get some feedback over the years where you feel like - kids really like play with words and sounds? Or they do like the bad characters you know, and
I think they quite like misbehaving adults. And exaggerated characters, characters that are larger than life and doing things that wouldn't really happen in life but seem possible maybe and they like being on the side of a child who's having a difficult time as well. And really emphasize with children who are going through a bad patch, or emphasize with a character, who have everything's against them, and you are rooting for that character to overcome difficulties.
And you know, you said you basically developed your love for writing from having the space of not having a national curriculum. So with your teacher hat on, how are you finding the changes in the primary school curriculum? Is there still this the freedom for kids to develop that or
I think there's still freedom to develop creative writing, I do feel maybe there's too much emphasis on the grammar and all the grammar rules, so that the freedom to just be creative and go for it has been pared down a bit. And it's slightly going towards ticking off a list of the oh, this piece of work, it's got to have this this this this. Style and creativity is no longer - it used to be - part of the national curriculum. But that's all got pared down. And what's been pared up is spelling, handwriting and grammar rules. But I still think there's a lot of space there to explore, it depends on the teacher. If the teacher is good, then they will find some way to make it exciting.
you have done some author visits as well. How have you found that?
Well, that was great. Yes, it's, it's quite interesting going in as a visitor, and not as a teacher to schools, you get treated very well. And it's great just talking about writing for the whole day, and encouraging children to write because it's, I think there's a real sense amongst some children that they can't do it. They say, "Oh, no, I can't write or I'm no good at writing." And I think, you know, and that could be just year four children or year three children. And I think "you already believe in that.Where have we as educators gone wrong? To that you believe that, you can't do this thing you are so early on your writing path" and trying to turn that around, and I think is key and in some cases, that's what happens with an author visit, it turns it around, or you get people who didn't want to read before or write before suddenly want to read. I've had one person that I did an author visit on, that I got, they got in contact with me and said, "Oh, since your visit to the school, they've been reading copiously." So it can have that influence on children.
So a little bit like how it was for you, because you said you didn't enjoy reading and your writing wasn't great, either. Do you also do writing workshops or mainly author visits where you read and then discuss
on my author visits, I read, discuss and write (Okay), as well. So I do talks on writing and get the children writing something. Usually, based on different ideas,
do you ever think though, children's literature is much more an oral thing as well? Isn't it because a lot of of those books are being read to the children? And then because you're also moved into spoken word and poetry? Do you think this was like a natural development from especially you going to writing group you would have also always read your work out loud,
Partly, I never considered spoken word to be honest. It came about because I was back down to lockdown really, because during lockdown, I just couldn't concentrate. I was tired. I found myself tired, couldn't read much, which was unusual for me. So I started reading short stories and short pieces instead. And I wasn't really writing much I had a bit more time but I just couldn't find the focus to write. And then after a while, I just said Come on, you got to do some writing. So I started writing prose poetry. And after, after I wrote quite a few of them and shared them at the writing group. Someone said to me, "oh, you should do a spoken word night go along to a spoken word night" And I thought "Oh, that sounds interesting." And then I thought about it. And then I, well, rather than me going to a spoken word night, why don't I set up a spoken word night and I can also help the All Good Bookshop where I work on Fridays. I could set one up, and it'd be nice to have - why can't an area like WoodGreen we get bid for reputation you know Wood Green, Tottenham? Why can't an area like WoodGreen, Tottenham have its spoken word night.
Yeah. Especially we had the young poet, didn't we from Tottenham who won? Lastyear? (Yes.) Yeah. So you mentioned now the big green bookshop - closed, I think he moved to the seaside. And now there is a new one, the all good bookshop. And it's quite an interesting setup, because it's like the coop kind of thing from what I understand. Can you tell us a little bit about the inception of the All Good Bookshop?
Yeah, so when there was the big green bookshop, it was run by two co owners, Tim and Simon. And Simon moved to Hastings, and took the online presence with him. And we - there was a group of us who really liked the big green bookshop and we were like, oh, we need an independent bookshop in the area. So a group got together. And they approached Tim and said, Would you manage a bookshop if we set one up, and it was thought a cooperative model would be the best approach. And people raised money by 100 pound shares, to gather enough money to open a bookshop. And with those 100 pounds shares, you get 10% off the price of books for life. So the All Good Bookshop came about in Turnpike Lane, it's meant to be a community bookshop. So all the profits are going back into the bookshop, it's got space to hold community groups. There's two reading groups that go on there, the writing group that goes on there, yoga lessons go on there. And some theatrical groups meet there. And I think there's a cycling network group that meets there, has meetings and then there is music. So it's a real hub of community based things. And yeah, it's I think it's fantastic to have an independent bookshop, because you get much more personal service. You go in and you've got time to have a chat to you, and find out what sort of thing you like and suggest books that you might read, which I don't think in the larger stores you get any more the quite as much personal service.
I think the biggest problem though - your competition is not other bookshops. It's Amazon, and even I'm guilty. You know, I keep thinking because I do want to support bookshops, but at the same time, I also like not having a physical book. So you know, I've got Kindle and I have audiobooks.
You got to be a book fanatic like me, you see you have your Kindle, and your audio books, and you have your shelves for books as well. And you have hundreds of to be read piles. On each one
I do have like and that tends to be paper books. That's the thing book shops have to be more because is it will it stay?Is it viable?
We don't know yet because it opened, that premise, premises opened just before lockdown. And they did okay during lockdown because they did door - did local delivery. So that was okay. But now it's the real. Now we're out of lockdown, now we're finding out whether or not that's the case. Yes, definitely Amazon is the main competition to even places like wh Smiths and Waterstones because they can discount so much on the price of books. And if you've got physical premises, you've got to factor in the cost of that.
Did you say you're still running the writing group or?
I still attend the writing group, but I don't run it. Someone called Chris Brosnahan runs that and he's also behind the Haringey Arts Festival. He's the one pushing that. So he he's a real, real local force of energy. And he runs that writing group and gives very precise feedback. And I've occasionally stepped in and took over when he hasn't been able to make it. And it's really, really good writing group with very precise feedback, very nurturing as well. So if you're a beginner writer, they recognize that fact. They're not straight in the jugular saying, no, no, this is no good. But it's like gentle feedback. And if they know you are more experienced and can take it, they will give you very, very precise feedback. And it does have quite a few successful writers in it, as well. There's Steven Cox, who's who's got a sci fi novel. Well, there's an author of another book called Hope, nicely's Guide to Life. And her book is, it was in the times, I think, Times bestseller lists. But it's not just professional writers. It's also people who just do it for fun. And you also get people who just wanted to come along and listen. So it's really good.
When is it? Which day?
So the writing group happens every two weeks in the bookshop. And then in between that, the other alternate two weeks, it's online. And, and the online version gets people from all over the world come and listen,
which day of the week is it?
Wednesday, it's Wednesday. In the bookshop. It's seven o'clock and online it's eight o'clock.
So Steven, are you ready for top tips?
Okay, my top tips for the local area are the places I like to go. One is a bar, a pub in West Green road called tru craft it has loads of craft beers. And I think it also does the best pizzas in the area. So tru craft, I highly recommend, I should mention the Blue House yard because it's got an another bar that does craft beer called ludos. And it's also got boutiques shops, and it's just a great quiet place to sit down and write or read and hang out. Another great place down green lanes is bruhaha great bar restaurant. And it does a fantastic cocktail
Does it do Japanese food or am I imagining this?
Yes, it does do Japanese food as well. So that's well worth a visit as well. And it's quite a cool chilled out place. You can just sit there you can have a noisy part of the place and have a big old time. Or you can find a quiet place in brouhaha and just sit and chat. And they've just opened up a terrace area. So that's that's quite nice.
Okay, so you are all about the bars. About the drinking?
Well, I do not mind writing in in pubs and bars, because I find in my writing routine. If I leave the house, I'll go into writing mode and cafes I find a bit too noisy. But bars during the day are quite quiet places. And you can go in and see quite a lot of people on laptops and tapping away and just chilling out. And of course you can get coffee now in these places. So and I love coffee.
How is your writing routine? Like do you give yourself like a time limit where you say like, Okay, I've got two hours where I have to write something? Or are you more spontaneous? Are you like, Okay, today I'm gonna go.
I used to be very strict. When I was teaching three days a week, then on Thursday and Friday, I would go out about 10 in the morning to a local bar pub. And I'll sit there for about six hours. (oh my god) And I'll be typing away. And I'll stop for a bit a bit of lunch. But I'll be tapping away until about two or three o'clock. And then I head home. Now I snatch time now. So when I do when if I do go out to a bar cafe, then I sit down. And yes, it's usually about two, three hours. And I sit down. And I just first of all, I just watch people and let my brain switch off because it's quite difficult to go from all the things that happen in your life in the day to straight into the imagined nation and creative well, and then I just sit down and I start writing. It starts off a bit shaky but then I get into the flow of things and then two, three hours just sales by
so you're sure this is your top tips. You don't want to add more non drinking related?
Like I like to mention Downhills Park. I really love that area. I really liked that park. It's great. Great because all the squirrels and animals and a nice green open space, and it's quite a quiet Park, it's not really busy busy. So I enjoy that. I also like Lordship Rec, of course because of the cycle track there. That's absolutely fantastic for children. And it's such a huge space as well. So I do like going, Oh, of course, I should mention ally pally because it sits on the hill overlooking the area, doesn't it? And that's absolutely fantastic. Now it's got a theatre too, and (oh, okay, I didn't even realize) They, after years, they rediscovered a theatre in there that they forgot about, and they renovated it with some national lottery money. And now, there's a theatre there. So you've got a theater, an ice rink, conference hall, and music concerts go on there. And it's a really good space. And it has one of the best views of London from up there, you can see the whole of London on a clear day. So it's really good if you want to just hang out and look at London from a distance
from a distance only. Yeah. So for booking you people would go on your website, which I'm going to link in, and then they can book you for an author visit and read a little bit more about you. You're also on Instagram, and you were saying you're also on probably Facebook, but I think you've got your I think you've got Twitter, linked in as well on.
Yeah, I'm all over the place on social media. Not Tik Tok, though not.
Not yet. Not. Yet. Growth Mindset.
Yeah, I am on Instagram. And I am on Twitter. I'm on Facebook. And I do have a website and a blog. And my website does have poetry and and extracts from my books. And anything else, I think, Oh, yes, it also has got writing tips. And I also have a podcast as
well. Yeah. You said I couldn't. You didn't You didn't link it on your website.
It's called Word doodler. And it's a podcast about writing aimed at children. (So nice. )Yeah. So it talks about writing, gives writing tips, discusses books as well. And I also read some of my daft poetry or stories out on it. Because I thought there's loads of podcasts about writing but none, very few seem to be aimed at children. They it's usually stories being read to children, but not people talking about writing. And I thought, well, if there was someone as keen, as me wanting to write, you know, I would have loved a podcast about writing.
Would you say you aim it at primary school age, because that's the kids, you know, or older?
Well, the books it mentions are both primary and secondary. So there's a big, so it's across that whole broad range, I would say, probably, yeah, five to 16.
And I was gonna ask you if there's something you're working on at the moment, and what is it? Is it another book or more poetry or everything?
Well, at the moment, I'm editing a collection of 100 prose poems that I've written. And also, I've just, I've mapped out a novel aimed at adults. And I've read one chapter of that to my writing group, and they said, it's very new gamer Nish. So that's a good c ompliment. And i am also submitting a novel to different literary agents. That's aimed at betweenies these 11 to 13 year olds, because I think that's an area that's often forgotten about, and that's all about the daughter of a c list celebrity. And it's got my usual, usual humor
Is it a bad parent again?
there is a parent in there. And it's the father is a C list celebrity, and he's trying to get back on television. And it's and he drags his bored daughter into all his Harebrained Schemes to get on TV
Thank you very much for this interview. I hope you have a lovely day and I wish you all the best. So I can see a teacher succeed outside to give us all hope.
Well, I'm still looking for tutoring. I'm doing tutoring in the meantime, because I couldn't completely leave it.
Okay, so thank you very much have a lovely afternoon thank you. I hope you enjoyed it. And I will link as I said Stephens website and some of his socials in there but also the all good bookshops website so you can get an idea and I need to check as well when that reading group is online or writing group is online, so I can listen a little bit and maybe get inspired I hope you enjoyed today's episode, learned something new, and let that Tottenham love grow. Take care. And until next time, bye ye
Transcribed by https://otter.ai