How We Started a School Creative Writing Magazine

‘The Doon Review’ started as part of an affirmative action plan to get the young students at Doon academy using their imagination and having some fun with creative writing.

Doon Academy had award-winning authors Moira McPartlin and Laura Lam appear at the school to deliver creative writing workshops (you can read about Laura's visit here). The budding young writers certainly found it useful getting advice from full-time authors. Our kids are also encouraged to attend the Banana Lunch club on Tuesday afternoons with Miss Davidson. It’s here that ideas and feedback are shared and elaborated on.

By starting a magazine for budding writers and artists, we could provide a nice outlet for the students, a place where they could create fantastical worlds

Dalmellington is a small, provincial town tucked away in nethermost Ayrshire. Once a thriving mining village, The Chalmeston open cast has since ceased operation, leaving the town with little industrial output. There remains some beautiful scenery in Dalmellington and Galloway Forest was given its coveted Dark Sky status, but for teenagers living in a small town, life can be tough and inspiration hard to come by.

I had hoped that, by starting a magazine for budding writers and artists, we could provide a nice outlet for the students, a place where they could create fantastical worlds, escape to foreign mindscapes or be any character they wanted to be.

The response to the first submission call was surprising. In fact, I even had to reject a few stories - mainly because I was printing the magazine off at home and needed to save on ink and paper (I plan to use those stories in future issues). While we do mostly receive fiction, I have started soliciting particular students to produce opinion columns, photo-journalism reportage and other non-fiction pieces on local subjects. Issue Three will be another big leap for the publication in terms of style and content.  

There are plans to get staff on board too, guest columns and interviews with established writers, conducted by the students themselves

We have published two issues so far and the kids seem to find it a worthwhile endeavor. It’s funny, a few of the more accomplished submissions we’ve had come in are from reluctant writers. There is a story appearing in Issue Three by a student who doesn’t read a lot and professes to have no creative impulses, but I kept challenging him to write a story that reflected his own life situation. It was obvious this student was intelligent and capable of introspection and expressing himself creatively, it was just a case of giving him a nudge in the right direction. After much goading, the final result was incredible, truly one of the most vivid and well-written pieces I’ve encountered.

There are plans to get staff on board too, as well as guest columns and interviews with established writers, conducted by the students themselves. The magazine is free so we’ll probably keep its availability exclusively to the library.

Cover of an issue of the Doon Review
I print off 25 copies of each issue and place one copy in each of the SMT and principle teachers' cubbyholes. The rest sit on display in the library. I lay out the whole magazine on a Microsoft Word template and use A5 glossy paper and card - the professional finished product is surprisingly simple to achieve. It’s a time-consuming process but a real labour of love. It’s worth the extra time spent just to see the kids' faces when they read their story in an attractive-looking, sleek publication.

Senior staff have been delighted with the impact of the magazine, commenting on how well the pupils respond to seeing their own work in a professionally printed magazine. Headteacher Kenneth Reilly is a huge fan of the magazine and had this to say: 'The Doon Review is a shining example that illustrates one of our school mottos: Doon Academy is a small school that thinks big!  Our pupils live in a  remote rural location but The Review shows the transformative powers of the imagination through creative writing that is at once highly localised in sensibility but truly universal in scope. It’s brilliant to have a library assistant who is also a writer—a great example that helps our pupils exercise their creative minds.'

Our pupils have also really enjoyed seeing their work in print:

Lita McIntosh - 'I think it’s a really good thing. Seeing your name in print is a big confidence boost and a real motivation to get writing!'

Alena Barr ­ - 'Seeing my story in print is a big deal. It’s my first published story.'

Other contributors include Ben Willis, Colin McDonald, Jonah McFarlane, Beth Sustr, Emma Blaine and Lauren Ferguson. You can read samples of their work below!

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Chris Kelso

Chris Kelso is a writer, editor and assistant librarian at Doon Academy. His novels include 'The Black Dog Eats the City', 'The Dissolving Zinc Theatre' and 'Unger House Radicals' - amongst others. As well as the Doon Review, he edits the US culture and literary magazine Imperial Youth Review. His books are available from Waterstones, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.  You can find out more about Chris at his website. His new novel Unger House Radicals is an intriguing piece of existential horror and is available for pre-order in limited edition hardback now!