Binned drafts, rejection letters and chronic financial insecurity – the trials and tribulations of an aspiring writer are many.

But a trailblazing skills and literacy project is making publication a reality in super-quick time for budding authors, whether they are in schools or prisons.

White Water Writers (WWW) works with individuals around the UK, bringing them together in teams to brainstorm, compose and produce a full-length novel – complete with blurb and cover art – in the space of only a week.

Participants then experience the satisfaction of seeing their text for sale or review on Amazon, and also receive royalty cheques.

Hundreds of micro-publishing efforts involving pupils and offenders have already been supported. Now, with early data suggesting the project helps boost core literacy, a big push is under way to spread the benefits in Scotland.

Dr Yvonne Skipper, Senior Lecturer in Psychology (Education) at Glasgow University and one of those at the helm of WWW, said the approach was inspired by coding techniques.

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“It was initially developed by Joe Reddington, who is a colleague and a computer programmer,” she said. “And when people are writing code, there’s just a line of code and everybody just typing into the code at the same time. So he said, ‘I wonder if you could write a book like that?’

“He got some students together and it kind of worked. The same scene was written a few times. I think someone might have died twice because, you know, the structure wasn’t there yet and it was very much, ‘let’s all jump in’.”

The WWW process is rooted in allowing writers to take charge as quickly as possible, with each participant having responsibility for a particular character and then working together to produce the novel.

“We don’t always give them a brief,” Dr Skipper explained. “Sometimes we leave it completely free.

“No adult is allowed to do any editing of the book. It’s all the writers’ own work. We have the process set up. So, we know how to help them to design characters, how to help them to structure the writing, how to help them with the proof reading. But it’s very much that the facilitator says, ‘we’re going to do this now’, and then the kids just do it. By the end of the week, they’re just self-organising and it’s their job to be finding plotholes and so on.”

Data from schools in England shows children who took part got higher predicted grades. Dr Skipper said: “Predicted grades tend to be stable, so the fact that these have gone up is an indication that longer term performance in English did improve.”

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The WWW initiative is set to expand north of the Border. Pupils at Glasgow’s Hillhead High and Whitehill Secondary have already produced books, with plans in place for sessions at St Paul’s and Lochend high schools, also in the city, as well as Cardinal Newman High in Bellshill.

WWW leaders are also reaching out to young and adult offenders. Sarah Hartley, operational lead for creative arts, enrichment and families at custodial education provider Novus, said: “We’ve been successfully delivering the White Water Writers project in a number of the prisons we work in for nearly three and a half years.

“The project improves literacy, builds confidence and helps in the development of the core interpersonal skills that employers look for, as well as supporting family engagement, all of which help to support resettlement and rehabilitation.”

Covid-related lockdowns created huge practical challenges. However, project leaders have been able to adapt the initiative so it can be delivered remotely through distance learning in cells.

Ms Hartley said: “Two books have been created throughout the pandemic, with contributions of stories from a number of prisons, including HMP Barlinnie.

“A number of establishments, including those for young people, are currently running their own bespoke in-cell project."

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She added: “It was incredible to see the way in which our learners and colleagues were able to adapt the project despite the challenges, meaning we were able to continue to deliver vital opportunities for learning and rehabilitation.”


Ten pupils in S2 at Hillhead High, in Glasgow, took part in the White Water Writers project. They co-produced a novel called The Meltdown, which explores the theme of climate change and was handed out to delegates at the COP26 summit.

Skye McEachran, one of the authors, said: “It is the first time I have written anything as substantial and the first time I have written a novel. This was a fun and interesting experience. I created the character of Alex and did his character sketch. I really hope that this book can help people who are struggling with climate change.”

Susie Southern, head of English and literacy, added: “This particular group of pupils were full of vision, but were perhaps quiet and apprehensive to share their fantastic ideas in class.

“This project allowed them to express their creativity in a safe and exciting way and has provided a much-needed boost to their confidence. It also allowed pupils who may struggle to work successfully in groups to be part of a team and achieve something fantastic.”