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Nick Hornby opens Ministry of Stories
Children will be lured in by 'monster supply shop' – and volunteer teachers including Zadie Smith and Roddy Doyle

Since 2002, Dave Eggers, the American author best known for his novel A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, has been reinventing himself as something of a literacy guru for children. As part of his 826 Valencia children's writing project, he has opened after-school clubs across America where kids can turn up to develop their creative writing.

The only property Eggers could find to house the first club was a San Francisco shop that reminded him of a pirate ship, so he decided to set up a pirate supply store. Parrots and peg legs helped entice the local kids in to develop their writing skills in informal workshops, and the San Francisco store was followed by a Superhero Supply Store in Brooklyn, New York, selling capes and tins of "anti-matter". Next, Seattle opened the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company. There are now eight of these initiatives, for children aged six and up, all of them linked through the Once Upon a School website. Roddy Doyle has done something similar in Ireland, and he's had more than 11,000 children through his doors in just 17 months.

Now the bestselling novelist Nick Hornby wants to do the same thing for Britain. Tomorrow, Hornby, along with art entrepreneurs Ben Payne and Lucy Macnab, is going open his new Ministry of Stories – plus the world's first supply store for monsters.

The author hopes that a fantastical shopfront will lure children into something rather less fantastical, if no less fun: literacy lessons. In the shop, Hornby will sell "fang floss" and "human snot", while round the back novelists including Zadie Smith, Roddy Doyle and Michael Morpurgo might, on the right day, be found teaching children aged from eight to 18 to learn to write a little like they do.

If all of this volunteering sounds a bit like that "big society" thing, then you are not alone. In fact, Downing Street is so impressed with the venture that next week it is throwing Hornby and co a party in No 10.

Hornby's Ministry of Stories will open tomorrow in a patch of real estate in Hoxton, east London, and is funded by the Arts Council.

The author used his blog last month to issue an appeal for help to make the project a reality. "We need everything, including money, of course," he wrote, pointing readers towards a request sent out in the name of the Ministry of Stories.

It called for help to transform the "bland carcass" of a premises in north London into a supply shop for monsters "with a Ministry of Stories secreted behind its humble facade".

"We are working with a great team of designers, but we need people power to make it happen in time," it said.

"We are going to be holding working parties and need volunteers to come along and help paint, build, arrange, clean and hold things steady whilst someone drills – you get the picture. If you can make any of the following times, please just turn up and lend a hand."

Readers were given times when they could turn up to help as volunteers, while the blog also made it clear that the ministry was launching a drive for donations.

A list of requested items included cleaning, office and stereo equipment, children's books as well as a "large car/van and driver for IKEA trip". A separate Ministry of Stories Facebook page said that the project was designed "to inspire a nation of storytellers" in Britain.

It added that its "new home" in London would be offering free workshops and one-to-one mentoring to "both inspire and be inspired by" young people.

"We think writing should be unrestricted by rules and regulations. In fact, we think you get the best results by keeping it seriously playful," it said.

"It's not just about stories either: we get excited by all forms of writing, from song lyrics to play scripts, screenplays to journalism, blogging to games, and poems to graphic novels. You'll be able to find the Ministry of Stories through a secret door inside the first shop in the world to supply the daily needs of monsters of all shapes and sizes."

The Guardian