Category Archives: Entertainment

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 life on the radio

So after my appearance on BBC Radio Kent I was asked by the show to create a short feature on my working day, storytelling and national storytelling week. So on Friday 1st February 2019 I took my stories and a mobile phone voice recording app to Park Way Primary School in Maidstone where I was given the opportunity by the school to talk to some of the children and their teacher about stories, storytelling and their importance. The piece was broadcast the same evening after the host had interviewed no less than Michael Rosen(!).

I’m very pleased with the piece we’ve made for several reasons..

  • I was able to articulate why I believe National Storytelling Week is not only important to storytellers but why it should be important to all of us.
  • The teacher and children I interviewed cut to the absolute heart of why stories are wonderful and why storytelling has a place in all schools.
  • From the piece you get a real sense of how I work and why I love it.

It may be short but to create this piece of audio took a lot of work as I became storyteller/journalist for the day and I am indebted to the children and staff who participated and to Dominic King at BBC Radio Kent who edited it.

I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.

John Kirk is a storyteller working in schools, museums, libraries and at events across the UK. For more information explore this website or get in contact.

Celebrating National Storytelling Week with BBC Radio Kent

Tune into Dominic King’s arts show on BBC Radio Kent on Monday 28th January 2019 at 8pm to hear me in conversation with Dominic about stories, storytelling and all things National Storytelling Week or find the interview for 30 days afterwards on the BBC website.

It’s very exciting to have been invited to take part in the programme but it’s even more exciting to think that I’ll be able to share a story with you.

Have a great National Storytelling Week!

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)!!

Partying into 2019!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a peaceful festive period and that the post Christmas blues haven’t set in just yet. This Christmas I had a run of children’s birthday parties. They were all so much fun and I’m just bursting with excitement to tell you more about them..

I started with a 1st birthday party in a play cafe in Islington. It was a bit of a tight fit but with shuffling tables (and parents) about we managed to create an adhoc performance space where I led a song, rhyme and storytime similar to the work I do for nurseries and libraries. I did a 30 minute set and tacted on some of my favourite global folk tales (Indian and Turkish) due to the wide age range at the party. Here’s the host feedback:

“I was a bit apprehensive as I had not seen John live however he was brilliant! and most of all the kids loved it just as much as the parents.”

Whilst the first party was fairly straight forward the second party was an absolutely bespoke project as I retold Chris Van Allsburg’s Polar Express for a book loving six year old in Greenwich. For reasons to do with preparation time and the difficulties I can have getting performance rights I decided quite early on that this would be a narrative storytelling (an abridged but interactive version of a far more elaborate story). Rather than just more drama roleplay activities, as it was a party I interspersed the storytelling elements with traditional party games like Follow my Leader, Blind Man’s Buff and Pass the Parcel. Here’s the hosts feedback:

“John managed to take a story we’ve read 1000 times and turn it in to a new and exciting adventure for my son and 20 of is friends. He held the audience of 3-6 year olds throughout and was energetic, innovative and entertaining throughout”.

For the last party I did something really quite exciting and at the same time really quite terrifying; I presented a who dunnit? for nine year olds. The party was held in a Pizzeria in Chingford and the eight guests were seated at a table. I shared a scenario about a missing birthday cake and then cast the guests as characters in the story. And do you know what? The children really got into it. They enjoyed playing the game of detectives and just as importantly I didn’t get thrown out of the restaurant for being a rabble rousing nuisance!

So three parties in two weeks. A very special first birthday, a retelling a family’s favourite story and a risky concept in a restaurant. Each had its challenges but they were a lot of fun and now the parties are over I want to do them all over again.

If you know somebody celebrating a birthday or are looking for party entertainment at affordable rates contact me to discuss how a storyteller can help deliver a unique and memorable event.

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…