Al Dapre – a writer’s view of Get Write in! (2017)



A large part of my childhood was spent in children’s homes and foster care. Thinking back, the adults I remember most were the ones who offered me consistency, gentle guidance and a chance to express myself creatively. Self-expression is so important because care institutions – however well-meaning – can at times be soulless rule-driven places. Some days I felt the walls close in so I withdrew into my imagination or took comfort in children’s stories. Books were always a reliable refuge; small doors into big worlds full of comforting themes and nurturing narratives. 

Children, regardless of circumstance, often look for stability. They value love and caring support. I remember being driven in a minibus away from my primary school and watching my pals  with their parents. Holding hands. Happy. Carefree. Parenthood, to me, is a wonderful life-affirming opportunity. A privilege too. I always wanted a family of my own. Becoming a father gave me a real purpose in life. Hopefully, I will inspire my child to find her feet in the world. To then take a big run up – and fly. As high and as far as she wants to go.

GetWriteIn! (2017) had high hopes too. It was an inspirational creative writing competition that sought to inspire looked after or care experienced children to write. It hoped to bring out their creative voice, and get them writing from their imagination or personal experience [on the theme of ‘Random Moments’].

An online post by Raymond Soltysek brought the competition to my attention. As soon as I read about its child-centred intentions I was motivated to write the organisers at CELCIS a note of support. I was delighted that such a valuable initiative was available. I loved writing as a child – still do – and it would have been a dream to enter something specifically tailored for someone like me. 

Before long, the team at CELCIS invited me to attend the Get Write In! Winners’ Event. The stories presented that day were poignant, funny and thought provoking. As I read through an accompanying booklet, I was moved to tears by the power and honesty of each child’s story. These were truly unique voices – freed from labels –  speaking passionately about random moments from their lives and imaginations. I sat alongside my wife and daughter and thought about my journey. My family. A wave of happiness flowed over me. Lucky man.

A short while after the Winners’ Event, I was invited by CELCIS, to run a creative writing session for some of the competition finalists. Supported by NATE & SATE, it was full of upbeat practical activities based on my zany Porridge the Tartan Cat books. The children who took part were quiet at first, but soon began to express themselves creatively. There was a lot of joining in, shouting out, silly wordplay and quirky problem solving. The bright, colourful location in Glasgow’s city centre really added to the upbeat atmosphere. The young writers who took part left with big smiles, happy to be valued for their considerable writing talents.

Looking back, I believe the GetWriteIn! (2017) competition was successful because it bypassed stereotypes, and reached out to a section of society that isn’t often heard. It offered care experienced children an opportunity to say something personal.  I have a deep admiration for every young writer who took part. It takes courage to say something from the heart, in public.

I hope the prize winners will continue to write. Writing for pleasure is an important thing. Writing for other people can be a challenge. And I’m so glad the children were up for it, because what they wrote was inspiring. 

For everyone.

About the ‘Porridge the Tartan Cat’ series:


In this funny, furry new series for young readers, Porridge PURRfectly CAT-a-logs the family’s hilarious adventures from a cat’s-eye perspective.

With wacky twists, zany wordplay and MOGnificent illustrations in every chapter, readers won’t even want to paws for breath.

Book Summary of my latest book: Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Unfair Funfair

In Unfair Funfair, sneaky Fangfair owner Fangus McFungus turns Roaring Ross into a Scarewolf to help him stink out Tattiebogle town & steal stuff while everyone is asleep. But Porridge has plans to save the day and turn Fangus into a silly Scaredy-Cat! Me-howl!

Reviewers have picked up on the engaging wordplay, positive energy and zany humour (see reviews below). 


Here are some links to my website: bionewsreviewsinterviews). Also my Live Lit profile which sets out my published books, writing background & experience to date.

Get Write In! competition

NATE and SATE sponsored the Get Write In! creative writing competition for looked after children.  SATE National coordinator Raymond Soltysek chaired the judges, which included Scottish Makar Jackie Kay.  A record of a wonderful evening can be found at HERE .

Peter Thomas, chair of NATE, reflects on the event:


It was a pleasure to represent the National Association for the Teaching of English at an inspiring event in Edinburgh’s beautiful Our Dynamic Earth centre on 15th August. The event was the Awards evening, where the winners of the Get Write IN! competition were announced. This creative writing competition was organized by CELCIS (Centre for Excellence for Looked-after Children in Scotland) based at the University of Strathclyde with the help of Raymond Soltysek, Chair of SATE (Scottish Association for the Teaching of English).

All contributors in the junior and senior sections were children in home or foster care, and the Dynamic Earth Hall was filled with them and their very proud carers. Volunteers in superhero dress provided stimulating games and challenges at tables around the hall, and there was a fine buffet and musical accompaniment to make the occasion special.

Jackie Kay, Scotland’s national poet was the star of the presentation, and well suited for the role. She spoke movingly and wittily about her young experience in care, and her struggle to become a writer. There could be no better role model for the youngsters in the room – especially as she read a poem called Care Leaver written for the event. Raymond Soltysek provided an eloquent reinforcement of Jackie’s description of writing as a form of self-defining and discovery, and the message from these two was a ringing endorsement of creative writing for all children, as well as those present on the evening. It was good, also, to have the event supported by the Mark McDonald, Scotland’s Minister for Childcare and Early Years. I had to reflect, regretfully, that England cannot boast such a splendid competition, or such government support.

The winner of the junior section was Joseph Ness and the winner of the senior section was William Cathie, both of whom wrote movingly about the impact of significant events in their lives. Both winners’ work was read out by Jackie Kay, and all the finalists had their work published in a booklet – a sign of success and approval that was well received by entrants and their carers.

The whole evening was a highpoint in a city in the middle of its annual Festival – a testament to the quality of care in Scotland, to the power of creative writing as an extension and development of self, and to the commitment of CELCIS and the University of Strathclyde to the motivation and celebration of young people’s achievement.