Category Archives: Literature

My Space Chase is on the launchpad

In 1969 Apollo 11 took astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. To celebrate their achievement this summer the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge is called The Space Chase and this storyteller is on the launchpad and ready for his latest mission.

Space is not new territory for the Summer Reading Challenge. Many moons ago I worked with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to devise a piece about reading in a year when the theme was to do with a Space Hop. Back then I mainly worked in east London and west London seemed a million light years away. Today I am pitching to a galaxy of library authorities from Plymouth and Devon to Glasgow and Fife.

This summer I am offering two projects to libraries.

This year I am working with the Roald Dahl Company to present The Enormous Crocodile. The story may be fairly tenuously tied to the theme but I’m sure children everywhere will enjoy finding out how the enormous crocodile became the first reptile in space and I see this summer’s reading challenge as a brilliant opportunity to share this marvellous story.

I am pleased to announce another brand new storytelling presentation developed with the kind permission of Walker Books and in collaboration with poet, author and eater of cake, Dom Conlon. If You Believe… will be a trio of stories told over 45 minutes and suitable for 3-11 year olds including Jonathan Emmett’s Bringing Down the Moon, Simon James’ The Boy from Mars and a specially commissioned story by Dom Conlon The Cow that Jumped over the Moon (working title). In Bringing Down the Moon a Mole attempts to pull down the lovely moon but soon finds out its not as near as it looks. In The Boy from Mars when Stanley’s Mum goes away a not so very well behaved Martian but will Stanley return before his Mum gets home? and when it came to approaching someone to write a story about space, I’m really excited that Dom Conlon, author of Astro Poetica and I will eat the Moon! agreed to work with me; I’m sure he’ll deliver a tale which is out of this world!

So there you have it; four stellar stories for children and families which means another summer of library storytelling is guaranteed to be a blast.

It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for storytelling kind (well maybe)!!

The Enormous Crocodile with the Roald Dahl Company

In September I was invited to meet with the Roald Dahl Company in central London to discuss the work I had been doing with “The Twits” over the past two years.  They wanted to know more about my version of the story and we discussed access and how storytelling could help Dahl’s work reach more people.  To walk into Roald Dahl HQ and to talk about stories was one of the biggest thrills of my life.  I had been worried about the meeting having had some issues with the licence earlier in the year but from that very first meeting Roald Dahl team have been very supportive.  In late September a producer from the company came along to watch me perform in north London.  This presentation became the basis for discussing a new project for next year.

“I’ve got clever plans and special tricks.”

I am pleased to announce that in 2019 with the support of The Roald Dahl Company I’ll be telling Roald Dahl’s “The Enormous Crocodile”.  This is a tremendous opportunity to tell a popular, short story by perhaps this country’s most celebrated author and to engage and inspire a very young audience (probably four year olds rather than the six year olds who loved The Twits, Hundred Mile an Hour Dog and The Chamber of Mischief) in stories and reading.  It’ll also be a chance for professional reflection and development as I see inside and learn from a very respected, high calibre creative organisation.  In the coming weeks I’ll be allowed access to some of the Company’s resources as we work up this story and revise my presentation of The Twits.  For the first time since my last theatrical bow in 2007 I’ll be part of a larger creative team which includes Joseph Attenborough as composer, Dan White as artist and excitingly, Amy Hodge who will act as dramaturg, director and co-conspirator.  I can’t wait to get started!

I’ll be launching the story in March and will announce more dates for both The Enormous Crocodile and The Twits in the coming weeks.  If you know a potential venue please tell them about the project.  I’m hoping that libraries and literature festivals will want me to visit to tell this story but I’m also interested in talking to reception class teachers, primary schools and primary academy trusts who feel their schools could be venues for larger multi school presentations and public showings as I try to find new ways of making this story accessible to the most possible people.

I hope this is a story gets everybody excited and that 2019 can be the year of the crocodile!

Postcard from Belton’s Big Book Festival and Loogabarooga 2018

I’d like to start this postcard by apologising for its tardiness; I’ve been meaning to write this down for a while but it’s been a pretty hectic month.
This postcard is from mid October and begins at Belton’s Big Book Festival at Belton House in Grantham, Lincolnshire. To understand how I became involved you have to go back four years to West Berkshire and my work with the wonderful Ann Doody, Rosemary Woodman and the school’s libraries service there. Four years is a long time but I remember the day quite clearly because of a catalogue of unfortunate events. We were due to present Private Peaceful and should all have been very straight forward but I inexplicably missed a train, the taxi almost drove away with my work bag and an accident on the M4 meant we had an epic drive between presentations. It was also the first time I was introduced to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups for whom I went on to write a piece about Dragons.  I worked with West Berkshire SLS again but sadly cuts to services meant that the school libraries service closed within 18 months of my first visit.  I’ll always be indebted to Ann and Rosemary for supporting my work when I needed it most.
Earlier this year I was contacted by Ann again. Now living in Lincolnshire, Ann was working with the Federation of Children’s Book Groups in Lincolnshire, helping to set up a literature festival in Grantham at the National Trust’s Belton House and she’d got in touch to see if I’d like to be involved. Well I don’t mind admitting that this was an extremely exciting invitation. Not just because it would be a chance to catch up with Ann again but because 10 years ago my father had suggested I do something at a National Trust property; a conversation which asi remember it has become a catalyst for telling my first and all subsequent stories. A decade on this would be a chance to fulfill a long held ambition.
The day was brilliant. Belton House in the early autumn sunshine is a spectacular setting and it was lovely to catch up with Ann and Chris Routh (chair of the FCBG who I worked with in West Berks). I had really good turnouts for Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief and The Twits and met lots of people who were enthusiastic about stories, storytelling and books.  Of course disaster was only very narrowly averted. When I set up for The Twits I realised that I’d left Mrs Twit’s walking stick, which I use quite a lot in my telling of the story, at home. Then I had a moment of inspiration.  With a few minutes still to go before the scheduled start and with the audience queuing at the door I legged it to the National Trust’s shop where thankfully they were prepared to lend me a walking stick for the afternoon. Phew!
The next day I was back in the Midlands to be a part of Loogabarooga 2018 (apparently that’s how Loughborough is pronounced in Australia!). Engineering work meant that it was quicker and cheaper to get a bus. Unfortunately the bus stop was outside the university leaving me a fair hike into town admittedly in glorious sunshine.  Loughborough is the home of Ladybird Books and the festival celebrates all things illustration and cartoons so Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief was a natural fit for presentation in their Festival Den although this turned out to be a rather an intimate marquee for my rather powerful water pistols!
The wonderful thing about festivals is that you meet all kinds of people. At Belton I chatted all things babies and houses with illustrator Frank Preston Gannon and at Loogabarooga I was scheduled between Beano cartoonist Laura Howell and author Claire Elsom. It’s very easy to feel inspired when get to rub shoulders with heavyweight talent.
Anyway, it was all done in the blink of an eye and I was back on the train. In years gone by I might have mourned such a successful weekend but these days whilst my work brings me a huge amount of satisfaction I am grounded by my daughter.  It was however an extraordinary weekend which will live long in my memory.  I think the whole thing was best summed up by something I saw writer/illustrator Chloe Inkpen doing. As I was passing her book signing she was posing for a photograph with a young fan but she wasn’t smiling she was beaming.  She was completely right to do so. You see, if at moments like these when all is right with the world we can’t reflect positively on what we’ve achieved and if we can’t savour and enjoy being at the very top of our game then I think that would be very sad.  I look forward to more weekends like this one soon.

Let me shout from the rooftops “I do school visits!”

I have been working as a performance storyteller for almost ten years but before that I was an actor.  I did a few bits and pieces in theatres and went to Edinburgh a couple of times but generally speaking my work was doing Theatre in Education and Children’s Theatre in schools.  Theatre in Education wasn’t quite what I’d anticipated during my classical drama training but perhaps I went to my first TIE audition thinking of it as a way of getting paid for what I’d trained to do whilst waiting for my “big break”.  The way it worked was that after an intense rehearsal period the cast piled into a van and toured the schools of Britain with either an agenda lead piece of theatre or something more light hearted (ie a panto).  The shows were generally pretty short to fit into the school timetable and were often followed up by workshops lead by the actor-facilitators.  Now, you must remember that at this point I am not a lot older than the “children” I am working with, I have no formal teacher training and I can be an impulsive hothead so facilitating felt like being thrown in at the deep end.  It was steep learning curve.  Sometimes we were offering children their first theatrical experience, sometimes we were enhancing their curriculum.  Sometimes the children liked you, sometimes it was very intimidating.  The production values could vary from a enormous rotating sets to a bit of curtain hanged on some plumbing pipe but the creative energy of some of the companies I was fortunate enough to work with is incredible.  I learned a huge amount about working with young people from Chris Geelan at The Young Shakespeare Company, Bill Davies at Blunderbus and Adrian New at Stopwatch Theatre to name a few and 6 days a week on the road soon became a way of life that I am still passionate about today.

After I met Lauren my life had to change and I stopped the acting but I continued to pick up facilitation work with people like Bromley Mytime and Eastside Educational Arts Trust and I continued to learn from people like Naomi Cortes at Almeida Projects and the brilliant Alison Banham at Act on Info.  16 years later I am a far more confident drama facilitator and have developed my own style of workshop which incorporates storytelling, drama games and role play.  The themes of the sessions have varied from the Aztecs and Evolution to Shakespeare and School Transition but I try to approach every session the same way; enthusiasm, loads of games and fun.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, it turns out that when you do 100-150 library presentations a year people forget that you offer school visits.  What once represented 80% of my work now accounts for 35% and in spite of the fact I advertise on websites like findaschoolworkshop.com and schoolworkshops.com I still get asked if I do school work.  I have dropped the ball on what once was my bread and butter and now I’m running to get back into the game.

So let me shout it from the rooftops “I do primary school visits!”.  I offer my assemblies, class group workshops and event day bookings (National Storytelling Week, World Book Month, school fetes, Well Being Days, school library openings etc).  In schools I have worked one to one with children or with as many as 500 children in a sitting!  I have been to schools for an hour I have done residencies.  I can offer traditional tales and published stories including Roald Dahl and Dennis the Menace and I can be as interactive as you like depending on the needs of the group.  I have never written a book but I can guarantee that primary school children will enjoy my sessions and be inspired by my sessions (they may even learn something about writing stories!).

“The whole day was great from start to finish. Working with you has been a pleasure and we were really grateful for how flexible and accommodating you were with both your time and the topics you covered. Speaking to children from across the school after the event itself they thoroughly enjoyed it and are already asking when you will be coming back”.

Literacy coordinator, Wyvil Primary School, May 2018

Schools and school visits have been a big part of my professional life and as the nation goes back to school full of hopes and ambitions for the year ahead it’s my hope that it won’t be long before I’m off to do my first school visits of the new academic year.

For more information about my work please review my FAQs or to make an enquiry contact me.

 

My adventure with Dennis continues! #dennis2018

In March 1951 Dennis the Menace and his dog Gnasher made their first appearance in The Beano.  Dennis, the trouble making school boy who terrorised his arch enemy Walter, proved popular with readers and soon became the Beano’s most famous character and their longest running comic strip.  As the world has changed so too has Dennis and as he approaches 70 years old Dennis, with his trademark black spiky hair and red and black striped jumper, is now more than a comic book hero, he’s a British institution.

In the summer of 2018 Dennis and his Beanotown friends supported The Summer Reading Challenge; a national reading scheme encouraging children to read in the school holidays and I presented Nigel Auchterlounie’s “Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief”.  To date (this blog was written in August 2018) my retelling of the story has been heard by almost 3000 children in public libraries across England.  The response from audiences and librarians has been overwhelming:

“Fantastic, lively, creative and entertaining storytelling.  Brilliant way of encouraging children to get interested in books.” Audience member, Nottingham City Libraries

“It was excellent.  A good balance of performance storytelling, great support for reading and literacy skills development…  The high level of participative activity ensures sustained engagement and enjoyment.”  Librarian, Derby City Libraries

Children have really enjoyed hearing about Dennis, joining his adventures and tackling the challenges of the Chamber of Mischief.  They have left our sessions buzzing about reading and the potential of books.  The response in cyberspace has been equally positive with lots of parents, grandparents and libraries taking to social media to share photographs and feedback using the #dennis2018.  It may have been a long, hot summer but Dennis has made it very enjoyable.

Now, with the kind support of Bonnier Publishing, I am pleased to announce that this storytelling session is to be made available for school assemblies and events.  For the next ten months teachers will be able to introduce the zaniness of Beanotown to their classes as Dennis helps us encourage and inspire a love of reading.

Nigel Auchterlounie’s “Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief” is published by Studio Press and is available through all good bookshops and public libraries.  If you are interested in my retelling of the story I will be visiting Bolton Libraries and participating in the Loogabarooga Festival in Loughborough during October.  If you’d like Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief to visit your school or event contact me.

A storyteller in search of a story

Aspects of this blog are superseded by A Twit Update and My adventure with Dennis continues!

So this week it has been confirmed that I can no longer offer Roald Dahl’s “The Twits”.  It’s a sad day but not totally unexpected.  Over the last two years I have presented this marvellous tale on almost 200 occasions across England and then in Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.  It been the most wonderful period and I’ll always be thankful for the opportunities my brief association with the Roald Dahl Estate created.  I will miss sharing what I consider to be a terrific story.

Knowing when to archive a story is as much a part of the creative process as developing the project in the first place.  Telling stories is a lot of fun but the bottom line is that a storyteller is a small business and once a client has seen your entire repertoire the opportunity for a future booking is greatly reduced.  Changing up material helps a storyteller’s repertoire remain fresh and the teller themselves remain energised but it can mean making some tough decisions about old or “well loved” material.

Over the years I have mothballed many projects for many different reasons.  Some decisions were forced upon me because of licencing issues (Private Peaceful and The Twits).  Some stories were very enjoyable to deliver but I found that my style had evolved in a different direction (The Mad Hatters Tea Party!, Dracula and the Unlucky Mummy).  Some stories were shelved because of a lack of demand or, in very rare cases, because what I did with them wasn’t very good.  In some cases when it hasn’t worked or I have been sick to the back teeth of a story I’ve managed to salvage something by finding it a new lease of life.  I don’t mind admitting that I didn’t like Anansi the Spider and the Stories of the World until I significantly altered the way I was telling it so that I was more comfortable with the material and it now sits amongst my favourite projects.  Generally though, if no one’s laughing anymore and the applause is polite rather than enthusiastic it’s probably time to let a story go.  After almost 200 presentations, as much as I love telling The Twits, I think the project has reached and exceeded its end point.

So what next?

My current project Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief will occupy me into the autumn but I am already aware that Beano Studios have another party interested in the book so I have no plans to make it available for schools presentations.  Instead I have been working up two new projects; Band of Brothers: the story of three Lions, which explores The Great War through the stories of three young men who fought it and It’s all Greek to Me!, in which I delve into some of the stories of Greek Mythology’s heroes.  I’m also toying with the idea of bringing Beowulf Sleeps back into my repertoire.  This was a project I did for a school three years ago.  I didn’t take it further at the time because it was at odds with the way I was then telling stories.  This autumn, as I move in a more traditional storytelling direction, I feel that it would sit nicely within my revamped repertoire.  I will of course continue to offer my usual array of folk and fairy tales, myths, legends and Shakespeare but beyond that I am really looking for the next challenge.  What that will be is a mystery right now but I hope that a famous author or publisher will have taken notice of what I do and offer me a title I simply can’t refuse but I’m not holding my breath!  In the meantime I can look forward to Mr Twit’s farewell party to be hosted on Saturday the 20th October 2018 as I take part in one final reading festival in Grantham being hosted by The National Trust.  When one door closes…

Postcard from the Wee Write! Festival 2018

I love Scotland.  I don’t really know why.  Perhaps it’s because we went there a lot on our family holidays or because of the happy times spent at Edinburgh Festivals in the early noughties.  Maybe it’s the accent or simply because I don’t have to spell out my surname to Scottish people but I have always had a soft spot for the place.  Anyway, the last time I worked in Scotland was on a schools tour almost fifteen years ago.  I have been trying to find a way of working there again ever since.  Earlier in 2018 I thought I’d cracked it; I booked dates for the summer in Moray, Angus, Fife and Dumfries and Galloway but the plan was scuppered because of my family commitments.  Then came The Beast from the East hit Britain.  It caused chaos and lead to the postponement of the Wee Write! Festival.  Determined to do something for young Glaswegians the organisers managed to pull together a wonderful programme of activity in just a few weeks.  I hadn’t been originally invited to participate but when I was contacted I didn’t think twice – I was Ton my way to Scotland!

“You take the high road and I’ll take every form of transport known to man, and I’ll be in Scotland before yee (maybe)!”

The thing about living in London and working in Glasgow is it’s a very long way and travelling on a Sunday is not easy.  So my day begins at 3.45am (you haven’t misread that) as my alarm goes and I hop in the shower having spent the night sleeping on Verity’s play mat in the living room.  I creep out of the house, terrified of waking her particularly as we’ve been camping this week and her sleep is all over the place from spending the night in our van.  By 4.10am I’m at the tube station.  I have used the night tube once before but never in the very depths of the night.  As a train geek this is brilliant fun and I’m excited to see that a service runs every 10 minutes through the night.  When the tube arrives it’s pretty empty but it soon fills up with people heading home from their nights out or, like me, to the airport.  When I reach Victoria I stroll along Buckingham Palace Road arriving just before 5am.  I try to talk my way onto an earlier bus but I’ve got no chance – all the buses from Victoria Coach Station have been fully booked from 3am because there’s no other way of reaching Luton at this time in the morning.  No worries, I wander back to Greggs for a sausage roll (yes, Greggs is open before 5am in Victoria Coach Station!).

At this stage I am not worried at all.  I have selected a bus which will get me to Luton in good time for my flight.  I had foolishly bought a rail ticket only to discover that I’d miss check in by a minute if I used it so as the bus gets underway I’m feeling pretty smug.  I read my book in the dawn light as we loll through the empty London streets.  Looking out the window the dew in Hyde Park gives the grass a very eerie appearance.  Everything is going fine until the bus suddenly stops.  The driver informs us that a joy rider has crashed a car and abandoned it in the middle of the road.  There is nothing on the road and the bus is still stuck.  The minutes are now ebbing away as the Police arrive and inspect the vehicle.  I know that they are working as fast as they can but as they check the vehicle over I am wishing they’d just find the hand brake and clear the road.  The bus finally gets through and we arrive at Luton Airport ten minutes late.  I have just enough time to check my bag before jogging through security and onto the the plane.  An hour later I am reunited with my bag and am queuing for a transfer into the city of Glasgow.

I have only been to Glasgow a couple of times but the central area has never struck me as being that big (it is however very hilly particularly if you misread the google map and go up the same hill twice!).  I finally find the Mitchell Library.  The Mitchell Library is one of the largest libraries I have ever been in and it has a beautiful early 20th century exterior.  Today its grandness is somewhat overshadowed by the fairly busy dual carriageway it sits next to but as I go inside and see the gathering crowds it is clear that the Mitchell Library is a much loved community asset.  Having said my hellos I make myself scarce for a while.  I take a turn along Bath Street and Sauciehall Street toward Buchanan Street stopping off to see the Duke of Wellington’s traffic cone hat before heading out onto the river Clyde and meandering via BBC Scotland back to the library.  It still pretty early and the city has a very relaxed feel about it; the city is awash with colour with everybody wearing either Celtic green or Race for Life Pink.  When I get back to the library the place is buzzing and there’s a very friendly atmosphere; there’s cartoonists leading master classes, toddler story times, a science workshop and people hanging out in the cafe space.  The children seem to be having a high old time.  In the foyer as I listen to the Seussical Musical it’s easy to forget that I am here to work.

Finally my moment arrives and I’m ushered into in the 400 seat Mitchell Theatre.  This venue has seen some seriously big names play on it.  I am doing a demanding double bill of “The Twits” and “The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog”.  The presentations go down well.  The audience seem to enjoy “The Twits” but it’s trickier to tell with Streaker.  It’s quite quiet in the auditorium for both stories as the crowd give very little away.  I worry that my brand of chaos seems to be getting lost in the vast auditorium and that I’m not getting up my usual momentum but there are still queues at the end of each session for photographs and lots of positive feedback.

Then as quickly as it all began my participation in the festival is over.  By 4.30pm I’m back on the street and after another couple of hours in Glasgow city centre its back to the bus stop and off to the airport only to find my flight has been delayed (it’s now nearly midnight and I’m still not quite home).  There are signs all over the city reminding its inhabitants that “People make Glasgow” well I will certainly remember the people who made my Wee Write! Festival so memorable and I am very grateful to the organisers for their hospitality and the audiences for supporting my work.  Its been a crazy day but it was a pleasure to have been part of a very special event in a very special city.

The Hundred mile an hour Dog is up and running! #100mphdog

The summer holidays are here and my retelling of Jeremy Strong’s “The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog” is up and running.  Literally.  Although I have been working with mainly school groups I have already met over 1200 children and families.  This is all the more staggering when I think that I still have 70 presentations to do.

This is a story about pace told at pace which presents me with a variety of challenges.  Firstly there’s loads to remember; over the course of the story I introduce lots of different characters including Streaker the Super Dog.  There are elements of participation, water pistols (of course) and every time I tell it, the story just seems to get faster and faster.  At points it  feels like a ginormous tongue twister which falls out of my mouth three times a day.  Its great for my articulation but with names like Tina, Trevor and Streaker being regularly repeated its more than a mouthful.  It isn’t just a verbal challenge.  At 36 I am not getting any younger and in the 30+ degree heat we’ve been experiencing in the south east of England I am sweating up a storm as I tell the tale.

Sometimes I think maybe its too fast but then this isn’t the book, its a story.  In Jeremy’s book he throws in loads of lovely jokes, witty observations and one liners which in a 40 minute presentation I simply do not have time to deliver.  This story is a bit like a situation comedy; that much of the humour comes from things getting worse and worse for the characters involved.  Its in all this mania that I find my task for even when the story seems to be out of control I have to be master of its rhythms for there to be any kind of momentum.  As crazy as what I’m doing might seem, most of the time I’ve got these rhythms on a tight leash and as a result when I do slow down, pauses have real impact and key bits of narrative can be easily stressed.

For all the challenges I am really enjoying myself and when I get the rhythms right the story feels right.  So what would I say to you about my retelling of “The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog”?  Well in a nut shell its big, its brash and its a lot of fun that I can’t wait to share this summer.  Follow my summer on social media; search for the hashtag #100mphdog.

Postcard from Swansea

So for the third time in as many months I’m away from home for work.  This time I’m in south Wales to tell The Twits.  As I write this it is almost 2am on Monday morning and I have recently arrived at my waterfront Premier Inn (the room is reminiscent of the rooms in Sheffield, Hemel Hempstead, Poole and just about every other Premier Inn I’ve ever stayed in!).  The original plan had been that Lauren, VBz and I would come down together but a combination of circumstances (those being that I worked on Saturday and am working in Horsham on Wednesday and that our camper van is in the garage being serviced) has meant that I am here alone although the cot in the corner of the room is already a constant reminder of the family I left in London.

It’s not my first visit to Swansea; I worked down here a couple of years ago when I was telling Terry Deary’s “The War Game”.  I only did a day with the library service on that occasion but I have such fond memories of the library staff and the children we worked with that when the opportunity to return came up I jumped at it.  Over two days I will work with Swansea Libraries and the Literacy Trust to deliver stories to five local primary schools.

The reason I’m so late is that I got the last train out of London.  This was an interesting experience in itself.  It took four and a half hours, which when I think about it means that had the van not been in the garage I could probably have actually driven here quicker.  The people on the train were an eclectic bunch; the last train from London it turns out is also the last train from Bristol and Cardiff.  What started out as a regular inter city service becomes the slow stopping service for revellers.  Fall Down Drunk fell on in Cardiff and fell off in Neath.  Then there were the colour runners still covered in powder paint and the anarchist sporting a pair of garish yellow tartan bermuda shorts.  By the time I got off the train it was spitting with rain.  I dashed past the bars and clubs of Wind Street over the sail bridge and into the hotel.

Anyway it’s getting late.  Time to get some sleep and dream of what might be tomorrow…

Monday afternoon

Today was a lovely day.

I met with Carole Billingham from Swansea Libraries and Irene Picton from the Literacy Trust just before 8.30am.  Carole is our host and chauffeur for the next couple of days.  This makes a huge difference because not only does she understand the geography of Swansea so we won’t get lost but she also knows the schools we’re working with and the children recognise her during our visits.  Like me, Irene is London based and is running the Young Readers Programme in towns and cities across the country.  The programme is a brilliant initiative to encourage reading for pleasure rather than as just as a means for academia.  At the beginning of each session Irene speaks to the group about their participation in the project and the children’s responses show that it’s been making a difference to their exposure to literature.

I have now told The Twits well over 150 times at schools, libraries and festivals across England and Wales (as well as Swansea I was in Conwy last July) as well as in Germany and the UAE but I never fail to find delight in telling it or seeing children finding the story for the first time.  The three schools we visit are outwardly very different but at each we quickly discover a shared love of stories and an enthusiasm for the project.  The feedback from the groups to my story is positive and enthusiastic (after the final presentation 50 children stay behind to watch me pack my suitcase!).  I feel like the children I have met valued the work we have done but what’d be really wonderful is if as a result of the intervention today any of the children were inspired to visit the library or read the story for themselves.  Unfortunately if this happens then I’ll only hear about it on the grapevine because my time in Swansea has flown by and all too soon I’ll be heading back to London.

So far Swansea hasn’t disappointed; the people are as warm as the glorious weather.  I look forward to seeing what day two holds for us but for now though, it a lovely evening and I’m starving.

Tuesday evening – on a train back to London

Last night I had a wander into Swansea.  I walked from the hotel over the Sail Bridge, past The Dylan Thomas Centre up to Swansea Castle before heading through town and down onto the beach.  It has always struck me as very appropriate that the Civic Centre which houses the library overlooks the coastline.  I’m sure Wales’ great writers and poets of the past would’ve found inspiration by gazing out the library window onto such an impressive vista.  Stood on the beach looking out toward Mumbles or Port Talbot with the hills and town behind you it is simply awesome.  After filling my boots with the scenery I headed back to Wind Street for dinner (that’s wind like curl although in a Welsh accent you’d be forgiven for thinking this street of many pubs, clubs and bars was aptly called Wine Street!).

Unfortunately the wifi in my hotel room wasn’t working so I went to the hotel reception to do some work.  It turned out that the receptionist’s sister went to one of the schools we’d visited.  Talk about a small world!

Today we visited two more schools and once again the children we met really responded to my storytelling.  What’s been fascinating has been the way in which five very different groups of children and five different schools engage with the same story.  Live presentation is often a unique experience for all concerned; sometimes a group of children will sit very quietly and listen very politely and sometimes you are thrown into the chaos of school life and end up chasing a child around the building with a water pistol!

So my flying visit to south Wales is over.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it which is good because I’ll be back next week to work with a sixth primary school we couldn’t squeeze in this week.  Two days isn’t a very long time; it’s certainly not long enough to improve my Welsh pronunciation which is still woeful but I do feel I’ve made an impact.  As I ride the train back to the big smoke I find myself in reflective mood.  My involvement in the Literacy Trust’s Young Reader’s Programme although its been brief has highlighted a few things:

  1. Public libraries do wonderful and important work in their communities which is all too easily overlooked.
  2. The Literacy Trust’s programmes, with the support of businesses like Boots and WH Smith, really do inspire young readers.
  3. In spite of everything modern life may throw at children, they still value books and stories.
  4. Wales is fab-a-lous!

Postcard from Guernsey #gsylitfest 2017

For the second time in a month I am en route to a literature festival.  This time its a little closer to home but certainly no less exciting.  I am going to be part of Guernsey Literary Festival.

Three weeks ago I was in an expo center in Sharjah telling stories to children and families.  The whole thing came about quite suddenly and was over almost as quickly.  My trip to Guernsey has been scheduled for over six months.  It all started last summer when seeing the success and popularity of my retelling of “The Twits” I contacted various literature festivals about what I was doing and Guernsey got in touch.  My sessions on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon will be the culmination of months of planning and I’m happy to say that Lauren and VB are travelling with me – the Kirk’s are on tour!

The following was written at the time and updated after leaving the festival.

Thursday evening

Lauren and I are sitting in the dark in a Premier Inn on the outskirts of Poole Harbour.  No, there hasn’t been a power failure, VB is asleep.

Its been a very long day.  We left Walthamstow in our camper van at midday and made our way down to Poole arriving just before 8pm.  We got the van last year and had a few weekends away in him (his name is Bertie) before Verity was born.  Bertie’s very comfortable even if it was a bit of a squeeze to get the pram, my work paraphernalia and everything we need for what will be camping trip inside.  Also what I find is that if you drive him too quickly the steering wheel shakes so I tend to cruise along – it takes longer but that’s part of the fun.

Progress out of London was pretty painless.  That’s great because VB had her second round of jabs this morning and we weren’t sure how she’d respond (the Nurse said she was a very brave girl).  Lunch was at Fleet Services and tea (we say tea in Lancashire) was a Fish and Chip shop on Bournemouth beach.  This was Verity’s first time on a beach and her first time in a fish and chip shop.  Tomorrow will be her first time on a ferry.  I’m sure if she could talk to us she’d tell us that she’s just as excited as we are as we head to the Channel Islands.

The ferry is just after midday tomorrow and the journey time is about three hours.  When we get to Guernsey we’ll have to find the campsite and then I need to be at the Castle Cornet for 5.45pm for a session of spooky stories and then to judge a fancy dress competition(!).  The weather forecast is reasonable so fingers crossed for smooth sailing.

Friday night

From sitting in a hotel room in the dark to sitting in a tent in the dark (this time it’s because we’ve only got one torch).

Today was rollercoaster-esque – calm at points, crazy at others.

Our journey to Guernsey was pretty straight forward.  We reached the ferry terminal in good time and the ferry actually departed early!  Unlike the cross channel ferries I remember from my childhood, we had allocated seats.  Verity was very patient and the other passengers took it in turns to coo over her during the three hour crossing.  I find my daughter completely amazing and it was lovely to stand on the viewing deck and point out Brownsea Island and the Isle of Purbeck as we left Poole harbour.  So what that she’s three months old and asleep as I did it, this was a special moment that I shared with just her.

Arriving in Guernsey we clear customs (after declaring my daughter’s bum as an offensive weapon) and it should have been straight forward to find the campsite but the road we needed was closed and typically I hadn’t printed off a map.  We eventually found ourselves (Guernsey’s not that big) but the lost time meant I was now under pressure to get the tent up and get back to Castle Cornet for my event.

Now when I say tent I should mention that our awning is so big that you could probably park our campervan in it and still have space.  Nothing makes me more stressed than putting up tents and by the time we arrive at the Fauxquets campsite Verity’s grouchy which means I won’t even have Lauren’s help to do it.  Somehow I get the tent up but not before throwing my toys and tent poles out of the pram in a manner that would make my daughter proud.  Then there’s just enough time to turn around and head back into town for my event.

Driving back into town is a lot easier than driving out was but Guernsey’s roads are narrow and I’m glad I don’t have to do any 3 point turns or that I meet any large vehicles coming the other way.  Back in town we unload for the short walk into Castle Cornet only to discover I have parked on the wrong pier!  With only 25 minutes before I am due to start I have parked the van a lot further than a pram will be able to travel at speed.  Lauren waves me off and I leg it to the castle.

When I reach the castle I am greeted by a labyrinth of passageways which in my haste all seem exactly the same.  This castle was built to confuse invaders and as the minutes tick down I am totally baffled.  With 6 minutes to spare I find the South Battery where there is a marquee set up for the festival and the Museums at Night festivities.  Better still a friendly technician gives me a headset microphone.

The event is well received by a good sized crowd even if I am a bit flustered at the start.  I tell four spooky stories in my half hour slot covering hauntings, misadventure and witchcraft, and I leave the stage to generous applause.  Sunday’s event is a sell out and if the audience is anything like this evening’s it will be a fantastic afternoon.  After staging some photos in the castle grounds I track Lauren and VBz down at the van (Lauren couldn’t get the pram into the castle because it’s basically a vast network of ancient staircases) so has spent our hour apart food shopping.

I would like to break from my narrative about my time at #gsylitfest to mention that my wife is a hero.  She has the misfortune of being married to a workaholic who spends most of his life with the head in the clouds and barely a toe in reality.  She is my rock and my ship’s rudder and since Verity was born has been just brilliant.

Compliments paid and family reunited we leave St Peters Port and head back to the campsite for a noodle stir fry and to make a plan for tomorrow.

Saturday afternoon

Today I don’t have an event but there are still things to do and after a slow start including some tent maintenance and washing up from last night we head into St Peters Port.

I visited St Peters Port five years ago when I was freelancing for the Schools Shakespeare Festival.  It is a very picturesque place and today it is basked in sunshine.  We have a wander around the shops to buy some camping supplies and take the photos of the imposing Castle Cornet I forgot to take yesterday.  As we go we stop off at the Market Square which is easily recognised because of the series of inflatable marquees there.  There is a lot of festival activity here and volunteers in their recognisable black t-shirts are busy handing out brochures.  I meet Mandi at the ticket desk.  This is really putting a face to a name because she has been responsible for booking our accommodation and ferries and has been my point of contact with the festival up to now.  She shows me the Inner Street Market where I’ll be working tomorrow and we chat about Guernsey for a while.  It’s a lovely day so we head off to Cobo Bay but we’ll have to return tonight to touch base with the Tea Party organising team who will be decorating the space.

Saturday evening

We spend the afternoon at Cobo Bay on the western side of the island.  It is a long sweeping sandy beach broken occasionally by rugged rocks that jut out into the turquoise waters.  The weather is absolutely incredible and as I type it’s too easy to forget that this is actually a work blog rather than an advert for Guernsey’s tourist board.

Back in town I meet the team organising tomorrow’s event.  The event is scheduled for the Inner Street Market.  At one time it must have been a covered market but today it’s more of an arcade with HMV and the Co-op occupying the units at either end of what is a long rectangular space.  This is where I’ll be telling The Twits tomorrow afternoon to an audience of 100 children and their parents.

The premise of the event is very exciting.  The space is to be transformed into a magical world of Roald Dahl (the props, and scenic backdrops being prepared look fantastic).  Mrs Twit and Willy Wonka will welcome the guests and once I’m finished the Oompa Loompas will shepherd them onto the next activity.  In essence my presentation will become a part of a much larger interactive experience.  Having done something similar last year with “The Wind in the Willows”, I’m impressed by the vision and ambition of the project but I won’t lie, I’m glad I’m not the one who has to pull it off.  Between now and three o’clock tomorrow the organisers are going to put in a lot of work.

For the Kirk family it’s been a long old day and so after a dash round the shop we head back to our campsite – tomorrow Daddy has to work.

Sunday evening

It’s been another glorious day on the sunny island of Guernsey.

The day starts in relaxed fashion.  Living as we do in east London it’s great to wake up to the sound of birds and be surrounded by fields and Fauxquets is the perfect getaway from the stresses of modern life.  It’s a well-equipped, well-kept place and the owners are lovely.  Once we mobilise we drive around the island before heading into town to Candie Gardens for a picnic lunch.  After lunch I grabbed my gear from the van and go over to the venue.

Today was seafront Sunday in St Peters Port and the road along a section of the harbour has been transformed into a street café cum artisan’s market for the day.  The locals and tourists are out in force.  There is an enormous cruise ship in today and I hear tourists from France, Germany, Japan and America as I pass through on my way to work.

Something miraculous has happened in the market square and the Inner Market has become the Dahl wonderland described to me yesterday.  There is Pin the Tail on Fantastic Mr Fox, George is demonstrating Science experiments, drawing with Matilda and Miss Honey as well as a Wonkavision photo booth and much more.  It’s all very impressive and my hat goes off to the team that made it all happen overnight – a vision is one thing but the skills to execute that vision are invaluable.

Again I break from my narrative to recognise the contribution of the volunteers who make Guernsey Literary Festival what it is – a lot of the organisation and the preparation is done enthusiastically and passionately out of sheer goodwill so that people like me can waltz in, do our bit and waltz off again afterwards.  During our short stay here the island there’s been loads going on; wherever we’ve gone on this sunshine island we’ve found a friendly, welcoming atmosphere which is both infectious and humbling.

I set up for my event being sure to load extra water pistols for this extra special occasion and then the guests arrive in their costumes for the tea party.  My particular favourite costumes are a pair of Roly Poly birds who put my little puppet to shame.

The event goes well – as ever I’m super hyped to be in front of an audience and I tell the story perhaps a little faster than normal partly because I am aware that the tea party itself is waiting.  At the end I am given another generous round of applause and the audience is whisked away by a colourful band of Dahl characters.  Again we manage to get a few pictures with the event photographer (when I met him on Friday I thought he was familiar – it turns out he was featured in the ferry company magazine this month!).  This done I say my thank you’s and goodbyes and Lauren, VB and I leave town.  Lauren and VB were present for the story.  It’s the first time in close to five years that Lauren has actually seen me working and obviously its VBs first time.  They leave after 15 minutes because it wouldn’t do for the storyteller’s daughter to scream the house down; I think she enjoyed it though.

So we head to Jerbourg Point for beautiful views of the Channel Islands.  My contribution to the festival was actually only 55 minutes but I have enjoyed myself immensely and so have my family.  The last few days will live long in the collective memory and as we watch the cruise ship heading out of the harbour it will soon be our turn to follow but one thing’s sure, I hope I’ll be back again soon.

Post script – Monday evening

We’re on the dock awaiting our ferry but I thought I’d slip a bit more into this blog which I might otherwise forget.  After a lovely afternoon out on the north coast we came into town in the afternoon and I slipped away from Lauren and Verity and managed to catch the last 10 minutes of Chris Riddell’s presentation at the library – if I was only going to see one event it had to be this one.  Chris Riddell is an illustrator and author of Goth Girl and until June is the Children’s Laureate, a title previously held by among others Julia Donaldson, Michael Rosen and Malorie Blackman.  He had already visited a couple of schools and worked with over 500 children.  When I arrived he was discussing his books and showing some of his wonderful illustrations.  As someone who works in libraries a lot it was heartening to see that he makes himself so accessible (let’s be honest, Guernsey is off the beaten track) and that the final festival event was being held in the library.  The young people he spoke to were entranced by his work and his craft and the queue for book signings snaked out of the room afterwards.  For me the turnout confirms that so long as we have great storytellers there is a bright future for libraries.  It was a perfect way for my experience of the Guernsey Literary Festival to come to finish.