Category Archives: Libraries

Making secret plans and clever tricks a reality – my week with the Roald Dahl Company

Back in September 2018 I was invited to the central London offices of The Roald Dahl Company to discuss my work with “The Twits”.  Then, after seeing me in action, the company agreed that they would permit me to tell Roald Dahl’s “The Enormous Crocodile”.

“The Enormous Crocodile” is a brilliantly brutal story which is perhaps pitched toward a slightly younger age group than “The Twits”.  It’s all about a greedy crocodile who decides to leave the big, brown, muddy river hoping to find fat, juicy little children to eat.  As he heads to town he meets other jungle creatures who are appalled by his secret plans and clever tricks and set out to stop him.  Once he reaches the town the crocodile takes on all manner of disguises as he tries to fool the children he meets into becoming his lunch but in the end Trunky the Elephant delivers the crocodile’s just desserts as he throws him into the hot, hot sun where the crocodile sizzles up like a sausage.    

I got started on the project in the autumn knowing that I wanted to launch the story around World Book Day and that we were trying to moving house.  Roald Dahl is a master storyteller and my first draft of “The Enormous Crocodile” wrote itself with very little manipulation on my part.  The story’s quite short with quite a simple structure.  Like “The Twits” I feel there are two distinct halves to it; the walk through the jungle and the four clever tricks.  This and the fact the crocodile meets so many different animals would become the biggest challenges to the eventual presentation of the story.

By January I had a draft of the story and a completion date – two days before the start of rehearsals!  So it fell out like this; the Tuesday before we were due to start rehearsing I was in Derby to visit a school and go over the music with Joey, returning to London on Wednesday.  The Thursday was Verity’s birthday (aptly spent at London Zoo) and on the Friday before the Tuesday we moved house.  My first day of rehearsals was my first commute from Sussex and a journey that the previous week had taken 30 minutes took 3 hours because of rail problems.  After a chaotic week I made it to Roald Dahl HQ and entered the wonderful world of Roald Dahl.

Since meeting The Roald Dahl Company, they have been tremendously supportive of my work and offered not just their rehearsal room but paired me with professional director and dramaturg Amy Hodge (literally just back from opening a play at the Manchester Exchange Theatre and scheduled to work with The National Theatre later in the year).  I’m happy to admit that after 10 years of working more or less alone I was a bit nervous about how things might go but I needn’t have worried; in our time together Amy showed herself to be one of the singly most incredible theatre practitioners I have ever met; her input would be as an outside eye, sounding boarding, co-conspirator and confidant and it was such a privilege to breathe air with her for a few days.

So rehearsals started on the Tuesday morning and we had two days (about 12 hours) to create a presentation of the story using the contents of my suitcase.  It was a blissfully creative process, sharing ideas, problem solving and picking apart this much loved tale to produce something highly visual and interactive.  I have already highlighted the major challenges of the piece; it’s a story of two halves with multiple conversing characters.  It was agreed that the two halves of the story would look different.  The first half would be me on my own and the second half would include the audience more.  Amy helped me to re-evaluate my method of storytelling and out of it came a very simple puppetry which means I can bring several characters alive simultaneously without the need for constantly throwing hats on and off.  The end result is clear, playful storytelling.

After two very exciting days we reconvened in Wembley to do a pilot presentation to a public audience.  Unlike the pilot I did for Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief last year, this one was very successful.  The audience were attentive, they laughed in the right places and at the end there were no negative comments.

It was a fantastic week and whilst I am very excited to have had this opportunity I can’t help but feel a little daunted at the task of trying to get the story seen by as many children as possible.  Great storytelling demands to be seen and this really is great storytelling.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be able to quietly consolidate the story before a series of public events and festivals later in the year and by then I am sure I will feel much more confident about the story’s future.

So there you have it, how in a very short space of time secret plans and clever tricks have become a reality of real quality.  I’m eternally grateful to The Roald Dahl Company, Amy Hodge, Joseph Attenborough and Dan White for this wonderful image.  “I love it when a plan comes together” and I look forward to seeing how this plan develops in the coming weeks and months.

The Enormous Crocodile is available to schools, libraries and literature festivals nationwide.  For more information contact me.

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!

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…

My work with EYFS (Early Years and Foundation Stage)

Telling stories to under fives is so very very important.  If we can convince a child early on that stories are magical then perhaps we make them a reader and maybe we change their future.  That isn’t to say it’s easy.  After I quit my day job and decided that I was going to tell stories for a living I was prepared to do pretty much any job that came my way and when local nursery school invited me to do 30 minutes with them every fortnight I jumped at the opportunity.  Now, I have worked with all kinds of different challenging behaviours, children with profound complex needs and even teenagers but these sessions with 0-3 year olds were some of the toughest I have EVER run.  Having been a father to Verity for almost 16 months I laugh about it now but back then I dreaded these sessions because I felt out of my depth and simply didn’t know what to do.  Spin forward to today and working with under fives is my bread and butter.  I work fairly regularly in EYFS (Early Years and Foundation Stage) settings and have even run staff training with nursery workers and sessions with new parents around telling stories.  I have developed a really solid set of traditional folk tales which go down really well in schools and I am making tentative steps into running under fives drop in sessions for libraries too.

So what’s changed in 10 years?  Well, being a Daddy probably helps- fatherhood has taught me many things including patience, understanding and being more adaptable– but mainly its about recognising the different ways that children learn and play.  When doing drop in sessions and nursery sessions I have a set format for delivery so if I am doing a regular set the audience know what to expect.  I will vary the pace of a session by incorporating different activities, games, songs and rhymes as well as stories.  I pack my storytelling with movement and the opportunities for the children to participate through repetition and instead of just using words I’ll use sounds, songs and rhymes to make the narrative more accessible and fun.  My acting career is a distant memory but I still sometimes deliver in role to enhance the experience and bring a different dimension to the sessions.

“Younger children’s attention span is not the same as older children. John knew exactly how to engage very young audience whilst telling the story and most children enjoyed being involved in the story. What impressed me most during story telling was that one baby about 7 months old was so mesmerised by John’s storytelling and her eyes were glued to him the whole time!” (Librarian, Northamptonshire, June 2018)

Once upon a time I was terrified by the thought of telling a story to a room of babies.  My confidence has grown because I have gained experience from working in the environment and learning from talented early years professionals and the children themselves.  There’s one word that sums up telling stories to Early Years and Foundations Stage children: joyful.

Working with Rebecca Hutchins #dennis2018

You’ll remember from a very similarly titled blog about my relationship with Dan McGarry, that I met Dan through his wife Gemma, a friend from a past theatre production.  Well to explain how I know Rebecca Hutchins I must first take you back to Bromley and the summer of 2008.

In those days I was still a council temp moonlighting as a drama facilitator.  Through an organisation called Bromley Mytime I became involved in a secondary school transition project in which I ran drama workshops on a double decker bus.  Every day I would work with different groups of 11 year olds and we’d play games around the idea of using public transport safely.  There were a lot of people involved; the Police, the Bus Company and some young volunteers.  One of them was Paul Valentine, then an enthusiastic twenty something.  Paul and I stayed loosely in touch and he assisted me on some workshops before he went off to drama college.  Spin forward a decade and the producer of the same production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland I met Gemma through recommends me and Mr Barry Evans to stage Wind in the Willows for a Cambridge University.  Its quite an undertaking with both Barry and me calling in favours from old friends to make up the cast.  Remembering Paul I rope him in as Badger and he recommends Rebecca.

Rebecca Hutchins is one half of Cat and Hutch, a children’s theatre company that use fantastic puppets to tell stories.  Watching her during the Wind in the Willows project, I was struck by her ability to work with the very youngest children (not all actors can do this so naturally) and also by her enthusiasm.  I asked her to get involved in delivering storytelling sessions for me and it turns out she is great and has had some really positive feedback from schools.  Up to this point I had only ever approached Rebecca about term time projects but due to unprecedented demand she has agreed to deliver Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief during the summer.

When I first set out to present a Beano story I had an ambitious dream that I would create a presentation which would be toured by three people; Dennis, Minnie and Gnasher if you like.  Bringing Rebecca on board we are indeed triumvirate of storytellers and we are working with some 34 library authorities between June (next week – eek!) and October – as well as libraries I’ve been visiting for five years there are a number of new ones on the list and in some instances it’ll be Dan or Rebecca who have to impress the new authority rather than me.  I am utterly thrilled that this year particularly we have a lady as part of the team and a very talented one at that who’ll no doubt bring a different dynamic to the story.  I am also pleased to be able to continue to offer younger storytellers a platform to hone their skill.

Rebecca Hutchins will be presenting Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief

@ Weymouth Library on 10th August 2018

@ Camden Libraries on 16th August 2018

@ Luton Libraries on 23rd August 2018

(Check the calendar for other dates)

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.

My #librariesweek

Its National Libraries Week in the United Kingdom, a celebration of everything that’s great and glorious about public libraries and what they offer.  There have been countless events, talks and activities being hosted the length and breadth of the country and library authorities seem to have gone all out to demonstrate their value within the communities they serve.

I have got involved too as the #100mphdog has become the 100 mile dog with visits to Stoke on Trent, Bolton and Nottinghamshire as well as spending some time as a visitor to Telford Libraries ahead of my appearance at the Wellington Arts Festival 2017 (one of the largest free literary festivals in Britain).

As I type this its just gone 7am on Saturday morning and I’m en route to Bolton.  Tomorrow my day will be taken up with getting to and from Mansfield.  This morning the train is pretty busy and I’ve got a carton of orange juice, my lap top and a load of football fans for company.  I may be working all weekend away from Lauren and Verity but it’ll be worth it; Bolton are one of my favourite authorities to work with and the library team in Nottinghamshire are a lot of fun.  This weekend we’re not only celebrating #librariesweek but the Summer Reading Challenge as children and their families collect their certificates at ceremonies laid on by the library and I provide the entertainment.  I did a celebration event a few weeks back in Bromley and was struck by how much meeting the mayor meant to the children and their families.

I have probably said it in this blog before but its a real privilege to share stories in wonderful library spaces.  In recent weeks we have begun taking Verity along to rhyme time sessions and borrowing books with her.  She enjoys being in the library and literally eats books.  This year I celebrated 5 years of work with libraries.  What started with a handful of London’s libraries has expanded beyond my wildest expectations but I still love visiting new libraries and communities.  Whenever I work with a library they give me a platform to tell a story; it might entertain, inspire or challenge a young person and that’s brilliant on so many levels.  There’s a lot of satisfaction in knowing that the library believe in you and these days its affirming to see familiar faces in library audiences.  In Stoke on Trent we did two presentations; at Hanley and Stoke libraries.  I have been telling Jeremy Strong’s “The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog” since June; sometimes its the 5mph dog but so far this week its been the 110mph Dog.  One teacher even remarked that it had been worth filling in the risk assessment to see it!

Next week it won’t be libraries week and all the verve and vibrancy that has crammed my social media timelines will subside but library life will continue and it won’t be long before there’s another big event and libraries will pull out all the stops again.  As for myself I will be working hard to ensure that I can work with libraries in the very near future and that the events I offer continue to be of a standard and quality that these fine institutions deserve.

 

2017:the summer that zipped by at 100mph

So the six week holidays are coming to an end and another Summer Reading Challenge is drawing to its conclusion.  Once again thousands of young people have participated as readers and volunteers in libraries across Britain and once again I have played my small part in launching, enhancing and celebrating the challenge through storytelling.

This year my major project was Jeremy Strong’s “The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog”, a silly story about one boy’s efforts to train his chaotic pet.  I first presented the story in libraries in June and by the end of the summer between myself and Dan McGarry will have presented it over 80 times to just over 2500 people.  I have also been presenting Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.

I have had a very good summer and a lot of people have said a lot of very nice things about my work (I’ve met lots of lovely people, worked in a couple of new areas and for the first time I have been receiving reviews on Facebook).  This has been very flattering but I feel it’s really me that needs to thank people for their contributions to what must be classed as a successful project.

Lauren and Verity – I love you both and I’m looking forward to a family holiday; you deserve it.

Jeremy Strong and David Higham Associates – the author of this fantastically silly story and his agents has been a very active supporters of the project and their encouragement and flexibility has been important.

Dan McGarry – I can’t take credit for all the presentations.  In Northamptonshire sessions were delivered at all but two libraries and Dan brought his unique twist to the presentation of the story.

Joseph Attenborough – this is the fourth project where Joey supplied an original soundtrack for me to work with.  Whilst some would say music is unnecessary I say the music is a vital contribution, setting the tone of the story and the atmosphere at key moments.

Dan White – another valued contributor, Dan’s image of Streaker at full speed has appeared in libraries across the country (at one stage it dominated my twitter timeline almostly entirely!) and has really helped to attract an audience to the project.

The Libraries – we can have the best project ever but without library staff support nobody would come.  This year more than any other it has become clear just how crucial good library staff and their relationship with service users is in building a suitable audience for events.  I have discussed advertising in this blog before and once again word of mouth proved the best way of drawing a crowd.

The service users – my style of storytelling relies upon interaction and participation (if you come to my event I’m going to spray you with water and stick a silly wig on your head).  It has been brilliant to see young people at my events up and down the country willing to get involved in my madness with good humour.  It has also been great to see so many people who I met in 2016 whilst doing Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” returning to hear about Streaker.  As one storyteller said to me, this is the ultimate compliment.

One of the privileges and pleasures of this year’s Reading Challenge for me has been talking to people about stories and books and recommending new and old stories to children.  It is quite easy to become consumed by the logistics of delivering events at multiple venues (believe me, it’s a mammoth task) and lose sight of what it’s all about; the pleasure of reading.

I’m not going to lie, there have been mornings when my body has told me that I’m no longer in my twenties and there have been late nights when I have felt desperately guilty for leaving Lauren literally holding the baby but I have enjoyed it and have already started work on next year’s challenge.

For now though I’m preparing for the new school year.  I do have some more reading challenge dates into the autumn and then some more public appearances into the winter including a couple of small festivals.  Keep an eye on my website and I’ll look forward to continuing to share my work and any developments with you here soon.   For now though, Streaker and I are off to pick out a sun lounger on a Spanish beach!