Natalie Cotterill from Lichfield is currently the official Young Poet Laureate for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. Natalie, 16, loved doing the Summer Reading Challenge herself as a child, and hit the headlines when she wrote a poem inspired by this year's Mythical Maze theme. Natalie chatted to us about writing poetry, and why she wanted to encourage children in her community to do the Challenge.
I have always liked to challenge myself and I used to find it very rewarding when I got Summer Reading Challenge stickers, a medal and a certificate; I had that sense of achievement, of having completed something. I also really enjoyed that it gave me something to do during the summer and something to aim for.
I think it is really important to encourage children to read and to do the Summer Reading Challenge. I read a huge amount as a child and it definitely helped my grammar and spelling. I prefer reading a book or a poem to playing on my phone etc because I don't feel so limited - there's a whole new world inside a book. I have learned a lot through reading - how to be empathetic, what different cultures are like and also a lot of history - so I think reading is extremely beneficial. Also, if I'm having one of those days when I'm feeling down or lonely for whatever reason, I'll read, because you're never lonely when you've got a book. So I guess that I see books as a source of comfort too. I feel I'm more imaginative having read a lot, which has obviously helped me to write poetry!
I enjoy writing poetry because it gives me a sense of freedom - I can write about whatever I want. There are no rules to poetry - you can write however you like, with rhyme and rhythm or with neither. I've found that when I've been feeling upset or annoyed that I can relieve those emotions by writing. I like the feeling of finishing a piece of work and feeling as though I have achieved something - even if it's a piece that may never be read by anyone else.
To me, libraries are really important to local communities because they are places where people can go and study on their own or in groups; where people can relax and learn together. At libraries you can attend workshops or events: they bring people together. Having the library there means that there is always a book available to you.
Advice to young writers
To any children and young people who are interested in creative writing and poetry, I'd say just try it. You don't have to be amazing at something to enjoy it. Writing has no boundaries and it's good to be creative. Go to a workshop, visit your library and read different types of books; poetry and plays, different genres.
If it's your first piece (especially if it's a poem) stick to it and finish it. No matter how bad you may think it is, finish it. If you stay motivated then you'll write more and improve. I can't even remember what my first poem was about, but I know it wasn't very good at all. All I remember is that I finished it and I fell in love with writing from then on.
Staffordshire Stories by Natalie Cotterill
Places of worship, deep in the rock,
A hostile mermaid, scaring visitors off,
Old gypsy ghosts predicting deaths
and chains around trees putting minds at rest.
Haunted theme parks, graveyards, canals
murders and curses scare those around.
Big black dogs cause troubled minds,
down in the pits, ghosts haunted mines.
Witch's curses cause endless woe,
not knowing if someone is friend or foe.
A Wandering Jew and an evil eye,
that lonely villager with something to hide.
Underground tunnels, sealing fate,
meeting strange figures when out late.
Unlucky charms dug up from the ground,
secrets hidden, not wanting to be found.
Landlords followed by invisible hands,
going downstairs to find things changed around.
Poems tell stories of fairies on hills
helping the villagers out of goodwill.
A woman saw her son who died in the war.
Hearing strange footsteps across the floor,
icy sensations and objects moved,
then odd musty smells left in the room.
However, not all ghosts are known to be bad;
some often lend a helping hand.
They move the living out of forthcoming danger
whenever they know that it's coming near.
So many different stories there are,
all in one county - that's not very far.
Strange things happen in the comfort of home,
I wonder, do you have a ghost of your own?
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