Tag Archives: childrens storyteller

Jeremy Strong, Nigel Auchterlounie and me

I have been very lucky to work with some top writers who also turned out to be very decent and supportive people.  They championed me and my work without ever seeing what I had done with their stories.  So this week I decided to share video of The Hundred Mile and Hour Dog with Jeremy Strong and Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief with Nigel Auchterlounie.  This was a bit daunting because whilst I am confident in my own work the last thing you want is for somebody to say they hate what you do and you should stop.
I needn’t have worried.  They both loved what they saw:
“Don’t miss John Kirk’s genius storytelling. He’s brilliant!  John Kirk brings stories to life in an amazing way and encourages children’s reading, writing and listening skills”.

Jeremy Strong

“That was excellent John. Thanks so much for showing me and thanks so much for doing it in the first place!  You had me laughing within the first couple of minutes.  Well done! I loved it!”
Nigel Auchterlounie
It was a great thrill to have the opportunity to tell these stories but I’m even more thrilled that having shared footage of my retellings both authors took the time to watch the films and comment on it.  I’m also glad because whenever I have told the stories I have seen myself as an advocate of the author; a sort of unofficial cheerleader for the books trying to encourage young readers to engage with their titles.
As a storyteller you come to appreciate that some words go further and mean more than others and after a lot of work and a lot of miles travelled these words mean an awful lot to 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.

Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief #dennis2018

I am pleased to announce that I will be telling Nigel Auchterlounie’s Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief this summer.  This isn’t just exciting because it’s Dennis the Menace but because it’s a brand new title being released by Beano Studios and Templar Books in May 2018 and they are entrusting it to me.

Below is a list of presentations which includes libraries and literature festivals.  The eagle eyed will notice that this year I’ll be doing a full week in London with further dates in the East Midlands and more work than ever in the North West.

I am also pleased to announce that Joseph Attenborough will be creating another original composition for the story and I’ll be sharing a poster for the summer created by Dan White on this website soon.

We are still three months away from the first date and there is still a lot of work to be done but I’m hoping that we can deliver something very special for the summer.  To keep up to date on how I get on use the hashtag #dennis2018 when searching for the project.

The Big Malarkey in Hull –  24/6/18

Manchester Libraries – 27-28/6/18

Oldham Libraries – 4/7/18

Sefton Libraries – 5-6/7/18

Wirral Libraries – 9/7/18

St Helens Libraries – 10/7/18

Brentwood Children’s Literary Festival 2018 – 24/7/18

Thurrock Libraries – 25/7/18

Southend Libraries – 25/7/18

Derby City Libraries – 31/7/18

Redbridge Libraries – 2/8/18

Westminster Libraries – 3/8/18

Hackney Libraries – 7/8/18

Brent Libraries – 8-9/8/18

Kensington Libraries – 10/8/18

Cheshire East Libraries – 13-14/8/18

Cheshire West Libraries – 15-16/8/18

Rutland Libraries – 21/8/18

Nottingham City Libraries – 22/8/18

Luton Libraries – 23/8/18

Bexley Libraries – 28/8/18

Trafford Libraries – 15/9/18

Bolton Libraries – 6/10/18

Postcard from Swansea

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

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

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

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

Monday afternoon

Today was a lovely day.

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

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

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

Tuesday evening – on a train back to London

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

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

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

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

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

Postcard from Guernsey #gsylitfest 2017

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

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

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

Thursday evening

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

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

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

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

Friday night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday afternoon

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

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

Saturday evening

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

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

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

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

Sunday evening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post script – Monday evening

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

My Guernsey Literary Festival (in Pictures) #gsylitfest

Chris George, one of the event photographers at #gsylitfest, was kind enough to share some images with me and I think they are brilliant.

You can see more of Chris’s work on his website.

#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!

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!

It not (quite) all about Roald Dahl …

Twits islingtonThis summer has been terrific.  As discussed at length in this blog I have been more or less everywhere and few places besides but there is a down side to being Mr Twit.  Now before I go any further I don’t want anybody to think that I’m complaining because I’m honestly not.  I have loved every second of presenting “The Twits”, I’ve met lovely people and the story has opened doors that I thought would remain forever locked but the truth is, there’s more to me than a single 40 minute story.

Having presented “The Twits” almost 130 times and having received pretty much universally positive feedback I have had days when I feel like a sort unofficial Roald Dahl cheerleader.   I used to get a similar feeling when I was presenting Michael Morpurgo’s “Private Peaceful” as part of Cityread 2014.  When you live with a story day in and day out it can take over your life and its easy to forget that you do do others too.

War GameLast week I was invited to take part in Norfolk Libraries’ storytelling festival.  When they contacted me I assumed it was because, like so many other authorities, they’d heard about and wanted me to tell “The Twits” but they didn’t, they wanted me to tell folk tales.  Now to some people folk tales may sound dull but I love them and devised (and continue to research) a tour of Britain where the route is dictated by the folk tale (ie a tale might start in one part of the country and finish in another allowing me to tell a story from another region).  For someone who loves travel, myth and mystery this was a liberating process and it exposed me and my audiences to stories from Norfolk, London, Warwickshire, Wales, Northern Ireland and my homeland, Lancashire.  It also gave me a brand new 45-50 minute presentation which I’m sure will evolve with time.

I have also been approached about a session of spooky Halloween tales and am having a lot of fun reading about ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night.  This only came about because of Dracula which like many of the stories in my established repertoire hasn’t had an airing for a good long while.

SHAKES RBKTAs summer gives way to autumn “The Twits” are taking a well earned rest as I am now involved in library presentations for #Shakespeare400, a national celebration of the life and work of William Shakespeare for which I am presenting All the World’s a Stage!  a 45 minute retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V and A Mid Summer Night’s Dream.  Like #nfkstorytfest and “The Twits”, taking part in a prestigious Arts Council England project has brought me in contact with new audiences, opened doors and created opportunities.

The bottom line is that when I look at the feedback I receive, people use words like spellbound, captivated, engaged and entertained.  Everyday I thank my lucky stars that I have wonderful stories to tell and that people still want to hear me tell them but those words are used to describe all my projects not just the ones with famous titles.