Tag Archives: #100mphdog

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.

Which stories shaped you?

I live in London.  I went to drama college there have a family there and love its bright lights and history.  I wasn’t raised in London though.  I am from Lancashire and it’s there that my cultural vocabulary was shaped.  It was in the north west that I was inspired to set out on a creative journey which means that when I head north these days I have a small rucksack for my clothes and two suitcases of props, wigs and hats (this week I have been working in libraries and schools in Chorley, Blackburn and Huddersfield).

It was recently pointed out that I have been living outside the north west for longer than it was ever my home.  Still my affection for north grows with every visit.  I am always struck by the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the landscape, the changes and developments in places like Manchester and Liverpool and, as a working storyteller, the wonderful folklore.

In this blog I wanted to reflect not on my favourite stories but on the stories and the moments that have shaped my creative journey from Chorley to London and back again.  Some of the moments I’ll describe weren’t witnessed by many or indeed any people but they are nonetheless significant to me.  Saying this the more I think the more I think I’ve done a lot of stuff and if I were to repeat this exercise next week my list might be entirely different.  I set out to shortlist 5 moments but have settled with six (its my blog and I’ll cry if I want to).  I am going to bypass the various stories I told as an actor and the various books I have read which helped form my views and character and focus on the stories that saw me to where I am today (although To Kill a Mockingbird, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Cooking with Elvis and We need to talk about Kevin all might have been mentioned)

1. The Hobbit – my Dad, my bedroom.  Some of my fondest memories are sitting on my bed with my Dad reading us stories.  Hearing stories like the Hobbit really enlivened my imagination and left me with a lifelong love of fantasy worlds.

2. The Suicide – Bolton Octagon.  I must have been in my mid teens when we went to The Bolton Octagon to see Nicolai Erdman’s The Suicide.  The entire experience blew me away.  The Octagon is an incredible space and the play was like nothing I had ever seen before (although having seen it again recently at the National perhaps it was the stage design rather than the story that truly grabbed me).  By this stage I wasn’t reading a lot on my own so it was at the theatre that I was exposed to stories.

3. History GCSE school.  The way I have always viewed history, rightly or wrongly, is as an enormous story.  Like any good story if you like it you remember it and I loved hearing about the Great War.  Like any story though a good storyteller makes all the difference and our history teacher was very good at telling the story of the war.  When I first started writing history workshops it was these lessons which I thought about.  To date it’s this inspiration that has seen me write history workshops for several of London’s local heritage museums.

4. Of Mice and Men – Chorley Little Theatre.  Whilst at sixth form college I got to know Hywel Evans.  Hywel is phenomenon.  He has had a massive bearing on my life – I probably wouldn’t have gone to Drama College if it hadn’t been for him.  He was and still is a creative dynamo and has gone on to be successful in everything he has chosen to do.  Together with Ben Hilton we established Low Fat Productions and put on shows for money including Of Mice and Men.  We got the local theatre and people paid to come and see us.  I remember that I was supposed to be the producer but I was completely hopeless at it.  The experience of working with Hywel and Ben taught me that sometimes to be creative you had to be proactive and if you are proactive enough you could make money.  When I think back about what we did as 16 and 17 year olds I find it incredible.

5. Solo story – Rose Bruford College.  During the Brecht term at college we were divided into groups and prepared plays by Bertolt Brecht for in-house presentation.  Our group were doing St Joan of the Stockyards (which looking back was probably the high point of my entire acting career) but at the same time we had other classes; voice, movement and a thing called solo story.  The idea of solo story was to tell a story to an audience.  It was a massive challenge because to this point we had always worked on ensemble pieces of theatre.  We were essentially left to our own devices as we developed a script and made up a short presentation of a story.  I told a story about watching my beloved Wimbledon Football Club play an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford.  It was probably the first time I had ever told a story solo in front of an audience.  It was nerve wracking but some of the techniques I used in that project I still use to this day.

6. The Unlucky Mummy – all over the place.  In 2012 I was approached about delivering a story in a museum setting about Egypt and when I found the legend of the Unlucky Mummy the project turned out to be a gift.  I created an interactive slapstick piece which could be enjoyed by family audiences.  After the initial delivery I offered it for free to the libraries in north east London.  Impressed by what they saw I was invited back to do Dracula and recommended to the CityRead 2014 for Private Peaceful.  One thing lead to another and The Twits, #Shakespeare400 and The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog have followed it all started though with a newspaper mummy wrapped in toilet roll in a spray painted show box.

So you see you can take the boy out of Lancashire but the north runs in his blood.  I hope that as Verity grows up I’ll be able to share some of the best bits of the north of england with her so whilst she maybe a Londoner her father’s roots will be part of her identity too.

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!

#100mphdog @Library_Plus Northamptonshire

This summer storytellers John Kirk and Dan McGarry are presenting Jeremy Strong’s The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog in Northamptonshire libraries.

Streaker is a mixed up kind of a dog.  She’s part greyhound, part Ferrari and unless Trevor and Tina can train her before the end of the holidays arch pain Charlie Smugg is going to throw them both into a bath full of frog spawn!  Come along and see if Trevor and Tina can avoid their early bath in an action packed story that just gets sillier and sillier.

 

On the 18th August see John Kirk at..

10am Rushden Library, 12.30pm Raunds Library, 2.30pm Higham Ferrers Library

On the 21st August see Dan McGarry at..

10.30am Wellingborough Library, 2.15pm Irthlingborough Library, 4pm Wollaston Library

On the 25th August see John Kirk at..

11.30am Long Buckby Library, 2pm Brackley Library, 4pm Middleton Cheney Library

 

On the 1st September see John Kirk at..

10am Desborough Library, 1pm Oundle Library, 3.30pm Thrapston Library

On the 4th September see Dan McGarry at..

10am Hunsbury Library, 12.30pm Duston Library, 3pm St James Library

This presentation lasts 40 minutes and is suitable for families with children age 6+.

#100mphdog

NB: John will also visit Nottingham City (17th and 22nd Aug) and Barking and Dagenham Libraries (31st Aug) during the summer holidays with this presentation.

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.

#100mphdog

Things are coming together nicely for the summer tour of Jeremy Strong’s “The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog” and today I thought I’d share the poster image.

We are doing 99 presentations of  the story (I say we because these days its a team effort; Joseph Attenborough has agreed to create the soundtrack, the poster image for the project was created by Dan White and Dan McGarry is doing some presentations for me this summer so that I can have some time with my new family).  The dates are now up on the website so have a nose through and see if we’ll be passing your neck of the woods.

To keep in touch with what we get up to I’ll be using the hashtag #100mphdog on social media between June and October 2017.  I look forward to seeing you this summer!