Tag Archives: children storyteller

#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.

Guernsey Literary Festival 2017 #gsylitfest

Next weekend we’re heading to Guernsey Literary Festival, I’m on the same bill as Claire Balding and after my week in Sharjah I’m dead excited!  I’ll be at Castle Cornet on Friday night telling Spooky Tales and then Mr Twit will be causing chaos at the Inner Street Tea Party on Sunday afternoon.  If you are on the island come and say hello to us.

Postcard from Sharjah #scrf17 #discoverbeyond

Its been a funny old month.  After the madness of March I found myself writing a short story for Kent Wildlife Trust and presenting it at their Paint the Town Green celebration event.  The next thing I knew I was telling folk tales in a 15th Century Guildhall as part of the Get Creative Weekend.  A couple of days later and I visited Norwich’s state of the art Theatre Royal to do The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party! before travelling to Sharjah in The United Arab Emirates to take part in their Children’s Reading Festival.

The whole thing came about just after Verity was born.  I opened my inbox and there it was; an invitation to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (although I’ll confess to never having heard of the place).  Nine weeks and a seven and half hour flight later I enter Dubai’s airport – gateway to the Gulf and beyond – shining out in marble and chrome (and that’s just the baggage hall!).  From there we were whisked off to Sharjah’s Hilton Hotel and as I’m sat in the lobby staring up at a crystal chandelier I am still pinching myself – is this all a dream?  Then I step outside the lobby into temperatures of 31-36oC – no, this is really happening.

The following was written after each day but is published as one blog.

Day One

The first thing to note is the calibre of the other people I am staying with in the hotel.  Breakfast is with Sheena Dempsey and Swapna Haddow who when I ask about their work slide Dave Pigeon across the table.  I have a flick through and am instantly grabbed by the presentation of the book – it just looks fun.

Arriving at the Expo Center I am met by a security cordon.  There’s royalty attending the opening of the festival and the organisers aren’t taking any chances.  Today I’m telling Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” and the look on the security guards face as he opens my suitcase is priceless (for a moment I think Mrs Twit’s walking stick is about to be confiscated).

The Expo Center is vast and I am immediately lost.  There seem to be an unending array of events, activities and people preparing for their day.  The children’s area is made to look like a little village with lots of shops, a library and a police station.  I am working in shop 2 (Knowledge) along with Beth Creagan and Mark Greenwood who are attending the festival from Australia.  They both make me feel very welcome in my home for the day and I am able to attend bits of their workshops (Beth does a fantastic string storytelling activity which I’ll be stealing in the future).

My workshops, morning and afternoon, were well received but it is all a steep learning curve here in Sharjah.  I am always pretty dynamic when I tell stories but in front of a largely arabic speaking audience I have to become even more demonstrative and am already wondering how my proposed Shakespeare session will go down on Friday night.

The day ends as it began – at my laptop in my air conditioned hotel room after a lovely dinner with author Tamsyn Murray and illustrator Sara Mellin (the brains behind The Pound Shop).  It may only be day one but there is a nice atmosphere being developed amongst the workshop facilitators.  Tomorrow the Mad Hatter comes to the Emirates…

Day Two

I open my curtains to another day of sun but the superb mosque on the other side of the lagoon reminds me this isn’t La La Land.

Its an earlier start for day two at the Expo Center.  Today I am in Shop 5 (Ideas).  Its further away from the main exhibition space which means its a bit quieter.  Not that that matters because today I’m doing The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party!  Rather than wait in my room for the audience to be brought in, I follow the usher into the hall and lead my audience in a conga line back to our space.  The first presentation is manic; the children are young and have only a little English so when I start climbing on tables to spray them with water they are beside themselves (although I’m not sure the teachers appreciate the early shower!).  It’s funny but for a hot country people don’t like to get wet.

Once I’m finished I flit between workshops helping out where I can (drawing with children who have learning difficulties and pretending to be a rabbit in a book workshop).  I do this because the other workshop leaders have been at my session to support me, joining in so that the children have somebody to copy.  It seems like a really simple thing but its tough work when your audience/participants don’t really understand what’s going on.  The support of the other facilitators is invaluable to the success of the sessions.

By 11am (that’s 8am in the UK) I am on my way back to the hotel and half my day is done.

After a dip in the pool and exchanging messages with home (I miss Lauren and VB and am looking forward to seeing them in a few days time) I’m back in the Expo Center.  My afternoon time slot is quite close to prayer time so numbers in the hall are thin but with my colourful jacket and another game of Follow my Leader I am soon the Pied Piper leading the children toward my session.  Over the next 30 minutes lots of children and families brave the water and stick their heads in on what I’m doing.  It seems that The Mad Hatter is visual enough and interactive to hit the right notes for this event.  With this in mind and with concerns about my Shakespeare presentation I take the decision to host a tea party again tomorrow evening!

When I finish my session I go out into the Expo to look at what other people are doing.  There are flight simulators, Lego building, book and toy stores, jugglers, acrobats, marching bands and much much more – you couldn’t possibly see it all.

Generally speaking today was a better day than yesterday; I feel much more comfortable in the environment and have a better understanding of what I have to do to be successful at what is a very vibrant, interactive event.  I am only scheduled to do three more presentations so fingers crossed I can put my knowledge into practice when I return tomorrow evening but first a trip to Dubai.

Day Three

Friday is prayer day in Sharjah which means the festival opens at 4pm giving us enough time to visit Dubai.  The hotel shuttle bus drops us near the metro from where we go to the Dubai Mall to see the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world).  From the viewing levels you can see that Dubai has just about every type of tall building ever imagined and that the growing city is surrounded by sand.  Its a bit mind boggling to consider what man has achieved in a very short space of time and in such harsh landscape.

Day three represents the halfway point in my trip.  I still can’t believe that this is really happening and I count myself very lucky to have this opportunity to be a part of what is a tremendously prestigious event.  I remember being asked to participate in Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest and then the CityRead 2014.  At the time these were big, big deals for me after years of hard work but being in Sharjah this week is incredible.  The facilities are amazing but its the people who make it.  The people here are really friendly and couldn’t do enough to help you.  Often what they lack in the way of English comprehension they make up for in sheer enthusiasm for life.  The other facilitators too, are very supportive and ultra talented.  I’m rubbing shoulders with some very inspiring people.

I think that I’m relaxing into a routine of workshops and 5 star hotel life but I can’t wait to see Lauren and VB on Saturday.  I had a dig in my bag and found one of VBz rattles and a book of nursery rhymes (*sigh*).

then came Friday night…

Please remember I am writing all this in real time.  It’s 10.15pm local time and I am euphoric – you could say I’m as high as a kite sailing from the top of the tallest building in the world!  Its the weekend in Sharjah and tonight the Expo Center was crawling with children and families.  Tonight was the reason I agreed to come to the Gulf, tonight justified leaving my family and flying half way around the world, tonight was the reason I do my job, tonight was f**pping amazing!

Let me try to describe how it went down; this was a perfect storm of an adrenline pumped storyteller, lots of excitable children, water and anarchy.  We ran and danced and conga lined through the festival; we caused chaos and they loved it.  At one stage in my presentation they were three deep at the door, with faces pressed up against the windows and when we finished it took 10 minutes for the families to get all the photos they wanted with me.  The children loved taking part and it really felt like we provided something that was genuinely fun that will inspire the learning of English.  In short a job well done.  I hope that tomorrow, my final day in Sharjah, will be just as memorable.

Day Four

Saturday morning.  My final day in Sharjah.  Last night I slept with the curtains open and was woken by the sunrise.  It was a bit misty but still rather lovely.

My penultimate presentation done I’d like to mention the drivers, volunteers, security, cameramen and cleaners who really make this festival tick.  They have always been so friendly and supportive and its from them that I have learned about the UAE (for instance did you know that water is more expensive than petrol out here?).  The room ushers have done a particularly wonderful job in helping to muster audiences and set up rooms.  I will miss them a lot when I am gone.

It’s now after midnight.  My final presentation went well and I have waved farewell to the expo center for the final time.  In some ways its a case of just about getting the ropes then having to leave.  I know its for the best though, in 25 hours time I’ll be back in blighty with Lauren and VB and this evening just showing somebody a picture of VBz almost had me in tears.  Saying this hindsight is an amazing thing; if I knew before all that I know now eh?  On Monday I’ll be with Merton Libraries telling Shakespeare’s tales and all this will seem even more bizarre and dream like than it does to have lived it.

The ladies at the expo gave me a little parting gift (a model camel) and Katrina Germein kindly gave VB one of her books.  Sara, Tamsyn and me went to the waterfront for a Lebanese meal before walking back around the lagoon.  I have said my goodbyes to the Aussies who are flying home early tomorrow and its almost time for me to think about packing my bags.

All things considered it been a positive week.  I have done what I came here for and leave satisfied.  At times it has been tough but there have been real highs and I’ve met some fantastic people who I hope I can keep in touch with for the future.  Will I be back in the Gulf anytime soon?  Well as they say in this neck of the woods, enshallah!!

#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!

Mad March is over for another year

Every year March is my busiest month.This year I was working with two other storytellers but still found myself working all across the country (Birmingham, Manchester, South Yorkshire to name but a few destinations).

I’m really enjoying working with audiences at the moment and before we March into April (see what I did?) I thought I’d share some of the feedback I’ve received from schools.

It was wonderful to see the students captivated by the tale (The Twits), listening to every word and suspending disbelief for the duration of the event. The fact that so many students and staff have since commented on how much they enjoyed themselves, is confirmation of the success of each session and their value in terms of exposing the children to the power of storytelling.

Librarian, William Hulme’s Grammar School, March 2017

 

The children took a lot from the session and they were enthralled when John was acting out scenes from Shakespeare on his own. The children were still talking about it when we returned after the weekend.

Teacher, St Augustines, March 2017

 

From the moment the children entered the hall you had their attention and kept it for a full 45 minutes – unheard of with 5 – 7 year olds! 

Teacher, St James’ Primary School Colchester, March 2017

The second two of these three schools also told me that their children had been spotted using ideas and games from my workshops in their classroom learning and their play.  What a result!

Its a privilege to work in any school but I have been very lucky to work in some really lovely, supportive schools and with some really great teachers and children so far this year.  Its nice to review this feedback and to look at the pictures I’ve been sent (I’ve shared a few new ones here).  However, whilst there may be room for a short break with the family before I start my April sessions I won’t allow space for complacency.

 

Can I tell you a story? Advertising storytelling sessions

I love my job.  I love it because everyday is different and I get to meet literally hundreds of interesting people and visit loads of new and interesting places.  I love it because I work with teachers and library staff to create memorable experiences for young people and in doing so challenge myself and those around me to engage creatively.  I love it because of the responses I get from the children and young people I come into contact with.  I love the moment I hit the brief or when an entire room is really (and I mean truly) listening to, participating in or simply enjoying a story or just the little moments along the way; a thank you or just a smile.  I love my job.  I’m not very good at advertising that fact.

In the main storytelling is a pretty solitary business.  We are like snow leopards, rarely meeting other storytellers unless its at some kind of an event.  What other storytellers contact me most regularly about is work and how to get it.  Whilst I don’t have a magic formula here’s my tuppence worth…

Many years ago I was taught the following mantra about classroom management which goes like this: get them in, get on with them, get on with it.  Here I have adapted the mantra for those looking to sell storytelling projects to potential clients.

Get them in – imagine this as the starting point, the hook, the pitch – call it what you will, the objective is buy in and if you master selling yourself you’ll work.

Get on with them – once you’re in its important to have rapport not just with the group you are working with also with staff.

Get on with it – this is your pay off.  Be it fine art or morris dancing,  if you do whatever it is you do really well you’ve given yourself the best chance of a repeat booking or recommendation.

So how can we promote and achieve buy in to what we are doing?

Leaflets and cold calling

I don’t like leafleting or cold calling.  I think its time consuming and ineffective and I’ll tell you why….  Have you ever consider what it must be like to be a takeaway leaflet?  There you are all fresh from the printers crammed with promises of all the latest tasty deals.  What happens to you?  you are stuffed through someone’s door and promptly put in a recycling bin.  Why does this happen?  because the recipient doesn’t want any Chinese food.

Unsolicited leaflet advertising will only be so effective unless you can afford to bombard what you are doing into the intended target’s consciousness (sending multiple leaflets with the same or similar messages) or you can guarantee your recipient is going to be interested.  To ensure that you’ll need to speak to the right person.  Cold calling schools means speaking to school secretaries; the gatekeepers beyond whom maybe work.  You can save time and pay an agency to provide you with this kind of contact information without having to talk to school secretaries but what if they still don’t want what you are selling?

Making a website

The advantage as I see it of a website is that you are in control of its content and therefore your message.  As a storyteller I am able to display photographs to give site visitors a sense of colour and fun, testimonials that give my work credibility and I can outline projects and answer questions so that potential clients are able to make informed decisions about booking.  This is passive marketing.  I am adopting a policy of “If you can’t find the work, let the work find you”.

The problem is the amount of traffic my website receives.  You spend time developing what you think is a flashy looking website but keyword searches consistently take potential traffic elsewhere.  Search engine optimisation (SEO) is big business and you can pay web designers to boost your web search rankings but there are things even storytellers can do to become a top search result.

Paid listings – advertising will provide you with prominent links to your website and increase your traffic (search engine advertising, specialist advertising).  The problem is if your advertise too broadly some of your newfound traffic may just be lost (using keywords, “children story”, someone looking for a book rather than a storyteller might click on your advertising link).

Free listings – putting your listing into free advertising spaces may yield success.  The following is an example of a free link to my website which was created by another storyteller relating to storytellers working in London.

Find a storyteller in London: a list of storytellers

Keywords and content – if you hit upon a unique phrase or keyword traffic will be directed from a search engine to your website.  Equally filling your site with unique and interesting content may lead to more traffic (I get traffic to my website because of blogs and videos about Tim the Ostler.  Unfortunately these people tend to be studying Alfred Noyes poetry rather than looking for a workshop).

Active social media – An active social media presence will mean people are regularly reminded of the work that you do.  Likes, shares, retweets and follows all help to get the word out there (so when you’ve finished reading this, do me a favour and subscribe to my Youtube channel!).  Some people link their social media to their website content making this process less time consuming.

This leads me to what I believe to be the most powerful form of advertising…

Word of mouth recommendations

A person who watched what you do and how you do it makes a recommendation explaining what made you special and so a chain begins.  Word of mouth recommendations are like gold dust and fortunately in spite of the fact that at times I can be a tongue tied bumbler I’ve received a few over the years.

Reading back over what I’ve written it sounds like marketing a story successfully you’d have about as much chance as a salmon heading up a bear infested river but that’s not at all true.  Some of the best storytellers I ever met don’t have websites or even bother with marketing.  So what am I saying about selling stories?  That there’s no point?  Leaflets and websites are merely a glossy platform for promoting your creative ideas.  To achieve the buy in the interactions with potential clients should be as unique as the story that might be told.  Its about opening a dialogue about creativity; offering imaginative formats and fantastic content all mixed up with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and honesty as in the end no one’s booking a manicured sound byte.  If we place the emphasis on enjoying the experience of working with storytellers the rest will follow because the unique selling point of John Kirk – Storyteller is John Kirk.

 

Merry Christmas! A preview of 2017…

 2016 has been another breakthrough year for me with more presentations in more places to more people than ever before.  My year was dominated by #thetwits2016 and #shakespeare400 (see the report before it goes) but I’ll really remember it for all the people I’ve met and the response they had to what I do.

 

Next year will be a huge year both personally and professionally…

My offer for 2017 includes:
In 2017 I will be presenting Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” at literary events including the Guernsey Literary Festival and I’ll be celebrating World Book Day at North Swindon Library.
 
 

In March and April I’ll be telling tales from Shakespeare as part of Shakespeare Week and St George’s Day celebrations.

May-October 2017 – NEW!! Jeremy Strong’s “One Hundred Mile an Hour Dog”.

To coincide with the Summer Reading Challenge 2017 I will be presenting Jeremy Strong’s “One Hundred Mile an Hour Dog”.  Can Trevor train Streaker the Dog before the end of holidays or will he lose his nasty bet with Charlie Smugg? We’ll find out this summer.  I will also revive Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” as part of my summer offering.
 

My spooky tales sessions will return in time for Halloween.

I’ll be celebrating Christmas by telling traditional pantomime stories.

 

Fairy, folk and traditional tales will remain at the heart of my work but there will be bespoke projects along the way.  2017 will be the 100th anniversary of Rugby League star Jack Harrison’s death during The Great War and my retelling of Tom Palmer’s “The Last Try” will hopefully appear at commemoration events in the Spring.  I’m also looking forward to presenting stories at birthday parties throughout the year.

I’ll do my best to keep my blog and expanding photo gallery up to date so that I can share the highs and lows with you but you can help me too; if any of the above sounds exciting then share it with people you think might be interested, keep an eye on my calendar and come along to events.

All that remains for me to say is a big thank you to my beautiful wife for tolerating another year of chaos (although next year’s definitely going to trump this one for excitement) and my parents who continue to support my lunacy.

Have a very merry Christmas and I hope to see you in 2017.

John xxx

 

Seasonal offering 2016

gingerbread-man-4Tis the season to be jolly (almost) and this year (once again) I have decided to expand my repertoire of seasonal traditional tales.  This is something of a side step away from my usual offering of A Christmas Carol which after three years I am taking a break from presenting.  Here are the tales I have selected for my seasonal offering:

Cinderella

Dick Whittington

Jack and the Beanstalk

The Snow Queen

The Elves and the Shoemaker

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

This represents a mix of offbeat European folk tales and popular British panto stories for schools and families this Christmas time.

For more information about booking contact me.

Spooky stories in Redbridge

cvtnkikwyaeyapSo for the past 3 months I have been trying to prepare a spooky story session for an old mansion house in East London.  Great, you might think but its never as simple as that.

Over the years I have told a variety of stories in a plethora of settings but I rarely tell scary stories because a) nobody ever asks b) I personally dislike being scared c) its a minefield.  I used to tell Dracula and The Unlucky Mummy which were about ghosts but weren’t scary and many moons ago we made a gothic horror beach hut – those were the days!

tomb-robberTo prepare the session I spent a bit of time reading through potential material.  To make the task slightly more tricky the brief was that the stories should in some way feature a house.  Now, if you look on paranormal websites and read through folklore there are hundreds of ghostly goings on said to be happening up and down the country in stately homes and houses but many tend to be unexplained.  “A blue lady haunts the top corridor” needs the how or why to become a great story.  I also pondered the ghost story’s relationship with the ghost.  Is it enough to say “this place is haunted because…” or do we need to encounter the ghost during the story and learn how it makes things go bump in the night?  I plumped for the latter because it’s more frightening.

DraculaThen there is the thorny question of how suitable ghost stories are for young children.  I have used this blog to talk about suitability and innocence in the past but in my view a truly scary, spooky or unnerving story must risk something and I didn’t want to shy away from death, murder, ghosts and evil too much for the sake of being overly sensitive.  In the end what’s scary is subjective and what one person finds traumatic may barely register with another.  As one parent said to me, her children would struggle to sleep if they watched “Horrid Henry”!

So the challenge was set – a session for 4+ containing spooky stories set around houses.  This is how I dealt with it.  I’ll happily confess to telling stories I find in books or hear and love; none of the ideas below are original.

The Tale of the Skull House – a story about a woman who haunts a new house after her family refuse to move her skull in with them.

The Ghost Hotel – a short tale about some tourists who visit a hotel and its owner only to discover it was demolished years before.

cvh7blbwcaagudu-1The Seven Swans – a folk tale about a hunter who wounds and captures a swan princess before meeting his grizzly end in a lake.

The Talking Skull – a personal favourite because of its macabre humour, this story deals with the peasant who ignores a talking skull’s advice to stay quiet.

The Boy Who Vanished – a family lose their child when a fateful prophecy is fulfilled.  This one has a happy ending!

The Monster and the School Teacher  a variation of a Devil Tale in which the School Master outwits Satan.

The White Doe – again a personal favourite about love, witchcraft and the Lancashire moors.

I also told a story The Son Returned but scrapped it because it dealt with murder a little too directly and whilst I could disguise the death in The Seven Swans and The Talking Skull with metaphors and talking around them, this proved more difficult in a story where a man returns to his family home hours after being killed.

So there it is, a set for Halloween.  It was a lot of fun to do and the response from parents on the sessions was positive.  This was a lovely opportunity for me to do something different and I always like a challenge but I doubt that I’d be asked to tell Spooky Stories in a school setting!  I hope this project becomes something I can hone year on year but it may also be something that is never repeated (like a gothic horror beach hut).  Bizarrely I hope that I failed to scare anybody significantly and that dressed as I was in my cape, I provided enough atmosphere for to be suitably chilling without any real nightmares!