Northern Ireland news

New writing fellow aims to make literature accessible to children

The Burpee Bears was published in September.

An award-winning artist who collaborated this year with Joe Wicks on his first children’s book is to become Northern Ireland’s new children’s writing fellow.

Paul Howard, who has accepted the position based at the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, said he wants to use his experience to make literature accessible to young people across Northern Ireland.

Howard, who lives in Belfast, is best known for illustrating Jill Tomlinson’s classic The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark and, more recently, The Burpee Bears, a new picture book series from fitness guru Joe Wicks.

Howard said: “As an illustrator, primarily, I aim to bring a new dimension to the role through promoting visual literacy as an alternative, accessible gateway for students and children of all literacy levels to engage in, building enough confidence in them to read and create their own stories.

“The fellowship will also enable me to use the opportunity to take my story-building workshops to schools, which, for whatever reason, have never experienced an author or illustrator visit before, endeavour to seek creative inspiration outside of the classroom and shine a light on the incredibly rich heritage of children’s literature we have in this corner of the country.”

He added: “I’m truly honoured to be appointed our new children’s writing fellow, adding to the amazing achievements of my previous fellows, Myra Zepf and Kelly McCaughrain.”

After gaining a degree in graphic design and illustration in 1989, Howard worked at the Natural History Museum before becoming a full-time illustrator. His work has since won acclaim from the publishing industry and children across the world.

During his 30-year career he has collaborated with some of the best known names in children’s literature, such as Allan Ahlberg, Michael Rosen, Geraldine McCaughrean, Anne Fine, Trish Cooke, Martin Waddell and John Boyne.

He has won prizes including a Blue Peter Award for The Bravest Ever Bear and The Primary English Award for The Year in the City.

Howard has lived in Belfast for over 20 years with his wife and their three children.

Seamus Heaney’s daughter, Catherine Heaney, said: “With his decades of experience as an author and illustrator of children’s books, Paul knows exactly how to connect with young people in the classroom and beyond, firing their imaginations and encouraging them in their own reading and writing.

“We look forward to seeing him build on the incredible work done by his predecessors, Myra Zepf and Kelly McCaughrain, and wish him every success in the role.”

Professor Glenn Patterson, director of the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Paul is a respected and award-winning children’s author and illustrator. It is not just children of school age who will benefit from this appointment: our own students will learn much from, and be inspired by, his vast creative knowledge and wealth of experience.”

Paul McVeigh, acting head of literature at the Arts Council for Northern Ireland, added: “In his role, Paul will be working with children of all ages and stages of reading to explore the joy of books, as well as encouraging them to embark on their own storytelling adventures through illustration and words.”

Howard will take up his post in January 2022.

The fellowship was created as part of Queen’s University and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s joint 10-year Seamus Heaney legacy project supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies.

Howard will be based at the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s for two years, working with students and engaged in outreach activities.

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