Author inspires students with passionate talk

Author Alex Wheatle with student library assistants Thomas Nichol and Amy Langdown.
Author Alex Wheatle with student library assistants Thomas Nichol and Amy Langdown.

An award-winning author has been inspiring the latest bunch of writers.

Alex Wheatle, who grew up in a children’s home after being abandoned by his parents at the age of three, gave an insight into his career to 250 Year 9 students at Cramlington Learning Village.

At the age of 14, Alex was recruited by a South London crime lord and by the age of 18 he was serving an 18-month jail sentence for his part in the 1981 Brixton riots.

In prison he shared a cell with a one-eyed middle-aged Rastafarian who helped change his life by convincing Alex that reading and an education would provide him with a future.

He continued reading after his release, writing song lyrics and poetry until a friend – who had shared with him the hardship of the children’s home – convinced him to write a book.

Alex, who was awarded an MBE in 2008 for services to literature, said: “My grammar was terrible and it was really difficult to learn it in my 30s.”

His works include Brixton Rock, Liccle Bit, Crongton Knights and his latest novel, Straight Outta Crongton.

Alex said: “I use my life story as an example, how it was informed by somebody mentoring me to read and educate myself.

“Hopefully the students take on board that reading really can change lives.

“I’ve been presented with the opportunity to talk to impressionable minds so I should try to tell them the value of good reading. It’s so important. It’s up to us, the writers, to provide them something to engage in.”

Cramlington Learning Village librarian Eileen Armstrong said: “The idea that young people spend all their time playing video games and not reading is a myth.

“You could have heard a pin drop as our Year 9 students listened to his story. They will never forget it.”

Student library assistant, 14-year-old Amy Langdown – who last year received a Northern Writers’ award – said: “Even if you don’t want to be a writer you can do something.

“His message was that everyone has a talent at something. You just need to find what it is.”

Alex’s mentor is now 87, a retired cabinet maker living in Jamaica.

Alex, once known as the Brixton Bard, is writing his latest novel.