Guest Blog: Ryan Van Winkle

Over the past several months, Ryan Van Winkle, our Citizen Schools Writer in Residence, has been working alongside a range of young people and students. Workshops have taken place online and in the classrooms at St. Thomas of Aquin’s RC High School in Tollcross, and here he shares some of his reflections on the project so far.

Ryan standing by a table of collaged images

When faced with a vast blank page, an empty and accusatory blank page, it is easy to forget that the reason I fell in love with writing is simply because it is fun. Sure, it can get serious, sometimes painful, but the act of putting something on paper is always a joy. Working with young people is a reminder of this and I have been privileged, thanks to the Citizen Project, to get a front-row seat to young people’s creative processes. I've been able to share their excitement and surprise at bringing new writing into the world and, sometimes, creating whole worlds themselves. I’m glad to share some of that work with you here.

In my school and online workshops with young people we’ve made hundreds of stories and poems,  a bunch of ’zines, two planets, a civilization of aliens, postcards, monuments, and badges, lots and lots of badges.

Each session has been unique and, I hope, has given young people a chance to explore a myriad of creative outlets. For those a little shy about writing their own thoughts and experiences, we used the collage method, lots of old books, about-to-be-recycled magazines, a laminator, and a badge-maker to create small poetic artworks like the below.


A blue badge with fish that says 'Schooldays Recalled'




With The Citizen Collective and the Advanced Higher students we make a handful of scrappy, hilarious and quickly produced ’zines getting them into students hands in under two hours. Check out some of these amazing pages...


Front cover of zine with images and text in black and whiteImageFront cover of zine with images and text in black and white


We made the ’zines fast, but we took our time in creating two new planets from scratch with a couple of classes. Planet Dave and Bojo Bangers are the names the students gave their planets and they’ve populated them with weird, wild creatures and landmarks like The Slushy Ocean, Rainbow Grass Plains, Rambo (the very small yet infinitely powerful sausage dog), RoboRillas (robot gorillas), the Mist Zone filled with living noodles and walking cheese sticks, The Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Rock Formation (think of a talking Stonehenge with The Rock’s visage on the stones), Mercury Waterfalls and a Golden Lake. It sounds beautiful and terrifying and the student writing from these sessions has been literally out of this world. Here's a couple of postcards they sent back to earth from their imaginary outposts...

Postcards from another planet

To mother dearest 

I have arrived on Planet Dave and I must say this planet is a tad CRAY-CRAY!!! I was shocked to uncover the mysterious tendencies of this planet. First of all, I think we should address the obvious. You were in fact correct I have not brought enough pairs of socks, and the pairs I did bring were consumed by the noodle mist. Yes, you read that right there is a noodle mist not only a noodle mist but walking cheddar cheese sticks.

Anyway, let’s talk about what I’ve done so far… I’ve had Sunday lunch with the “Rock” look a like. Quite literally. I even got a lesson in welsh from the planet I then went for a wander to the Footy Zone where I got chased by the football. And to top it all off for dinner I ate a mariachi blob fish.

Anyway, talk soon babes.



Dear my friend,

The planet that I’m on right now is a very exciting place to visit.  There are lots of fun things to do. There are trees made of garlic bread and chicken wings. I ate some of the trees and they tasted very delicious better than KFC – can you imagine! There are also robot gorillas which I was getting chased by just a few minutes ago. They were very fast but I was faster, maybe because I was fuelled by the power of alien chicken wings Then I went to the slushie ocean where I tried to drink because it was my favourite flavour, blueberry, when I fell in and nearly drowned. Thankfully, I’m okay now but I stink of blueberries! See you when I get back, you still owe me 20 quid, 



I’ve also relished getting to know the students in The Citizen Collective who meet weekly online and always create stunning new works. Since they’re electing to take part in after-school writing activities they really remind me of my days as a fledgling writer. How I could sit for hours with just my imagination and invent superheroes or dream up fan-fiction where my favourite cartoon characters would meet in my hometown and whisk me away on an adventure. I can remember whole weekends where imagination was my only escape from the torturous loop of adult errands. As my parents browsed potted plants, I’d be plotting my horror story about a demon possessed weed whacker let loose in the Garden Centre.

Ryan and the Collective posing with their zines


Their enthusiasm and fun we’ve been having in these sessions are reminiscent of those days and, I think, have been captured in the above “Kicking the Bucket List” ’zine and in this ‘exquisite corpse’ style poem they created titled: “A Mortician Visits a Zoo.”

A Mortician Visits A Zoo

Butterflies flutter around his fingers like dead people never do
A mourner and a poet, here for the chimpanzee enclosure – ticket for two?
And I wonder how I will break it to the elephant handler, how much the coffin will cost.
Or maybe they’re all used to it here. The enclosures seem expensive enough.
And the government is only so generous. And the jackpot is only so big. 
The zookeepers don’t seem like gambling folk but handle lions like kittens.

What do they do to their manes when they die? Do the predators rot with makeup on?
Is there a specific brand of shampoo? 
Anti-dandruff, moisturising, top-of-the line – only the best for the city’s finest! (RIP)

I feel as the penguins march solemnly everyday, great coffin bearers they would make.
The image comes easily: rockhopper penguins dancing across the ice, Happy Feet celebrating the lives of their dead. They must know they’ll be going next.

Maybe this ignorance is bliss, but don’t tell that to the ice-slapping, mane-scratching, dung-heaving inhabitants of the zoo. Not that they’d understand anyway. 
It is curious in their gift shop with all the stuffed animals, as if they paid for the finest preservatives to snuggle on into the afterlife.

Animals don’t need embalming yet their heads have hung above fireplaces for centuries. At least we hide our coffins under the ground. 
Is it shame or is it sorrow that makes us bury our dead? 
The animals don’t bother, they continue the circle. Are they behind us or ahead?

What’s Next?

You’ll be able to see some of this work brought to life and even take part in a workshop or two during our Festival in August. We can’t reveal all the details yet, but there will be lots of ways to enjoy and get inspired by these talented, energetic, playful young creatives.


Citizen is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and through the PLACE Programme (funded by the Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council, and the Edinburgh Festivals, and supported and administered by Creative Scotland).

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