Report – Creative Keynote, Joseph Coelho

Posted on: Wednesday 06 July 2022 10:39pm by Lorna Partington Walsh


  • Creativity flourishes when freedom meets structure.
  • Children need permission to play with words without fear of breaking so-called ‘rules’.
  • Wait for no one! If you want to create something, do it. Everyone has the means to succeed in this digital age.

This session began with the double-act of Ollie Ball and Jacob Pasquill, who are TikTokers with an ability to make everyone laugh. They talked about the power of social media, which has changed their lives and allowed them to share themselves with the world. They then introduced the new Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Joseph Coelho.

Joseph treated the audience to an interactive writing exercise using one word to create a poem (the secret is to have a long title for the poem!). He showed the audience how accessible poetry can be. He believes that poetry is a unit that can be found in all written art forms, including plays, prose, short stories and novels. Poerty is everywhere, and it was everywhere when he was growing up, and one of the first poems he memorised was a humourous poem on his grandma’s toilet wall! As a child, he was encouraged to play with words, and this grew into a lifelong love of poetry. He was also inspired by a poet who visited his school when he was in sixth form and he saw a positive role model to emulate.

‘Creativity flourishes when freedom meets structure,’ Joseph said. He illustrated this by involving the audience in creating a poem about the Sun, using his MORERAPS poem as inspiration, a poem he wrote to engage children in the devices of poetry (metaphor, onomatopoeia, rhyme, emotion, repetition, alliteration, personification and simile).

His path to the position of Children’s Laureate has been long, but Joseph was positive about all the years he spent trying to get published and playing to school audiences. He learned that creativity can be too stifled by the ‘rules’ that are taught about language in school and has made it his mission to free children from the tyranny of the ‘correct way’ to write. He believes creativity is about ownership, and he has helped children write in all sorts of creative ways (e.g., writing with icing on biscuits so they can ‘eat their words’ or writing on lab coats, so they can wear their words). What’s important, he said, is valuing kids’ work and promoting accessibility.

During the times when he struggled to be published and be seen, he realised it wasn’t about him. His work was about connection. About public service. He advised any writer who’s struggling to reflect on who they are writing for and why, and cling to that. Ultimately, his years plying his trade taught him what kids want and how to fill the gaps for them. His advice was WAIT FOR NO ONE. These days, you do not need permission to start making the content you want and sharing it; and he believes he is the Laureate today because, as a kid, he learned it was okay to play with words.

In the Q&A, we learned that Joseph has a three-pronged plan for his two-year tenure as Laureate:

  1. To get the nation and generations writing poetry together via writing prompts
  2. To promote new poets so that children have visible role models
  3. To celebrate libraries

His final tip to writers was ‘tell the voice in your head to shut up’ when it’s telling them to quit. It is important that writers ‘take themselves out of the writing and do it for the rest of us’!

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Lorna Partington Walsh

About the author

Lorna Partington Walsh

Editor and Writer

Lorna Partington is an editor, writer and creative writing tutor based in Sheffield. Her professional association with The Children's Media Conference goes back several years, and she is pleased to return in 2022 to coordinate the Conference blog. Read more