Tag Archives: Roald Dahl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Space Chase is on the launchpad

In 1969 Apollo 11 took astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. To celebrate their achievement this summer the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge is called The Space Chase and this storyteller is on the launchpad and ready for his latest mission.

Space is not new territory for the Summer Reading Challenge. Many moons ago I worked with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to devise a piece about reading in a year when the theme was to do with a Space Hop. Back then I mainly worked in east London and west London seemed a million light years away. Today I am pitching to a galaxy of library authorities from Plymouth and Devon to Glasgow and Fife.

This summer I am offering two projects to libraries.

This year I am working with the Roald Dahl Company to present The Enormous Crocodile. The story may be fairly tenuously tied to the theme but I’m sure children everywhere will enjoy finding out how the enormous crocodile became the first reptile in space and I see this summer’s reading challenge as a brilliant opportunity to share this marvellous story.

I am pleased to announce another brand new storytelling presentation developed with the kind permission of Walker Books and in collaboration with poet, author and eater of cake, Dom Conlon. If You Believe… will be a trio of stories told over 45 minutes and suitable for 3-11 year olds including Jonathan Emmett’s Bringing Down the Moon, Simon James’ The Boy from Mars and a specially commissioned story by Dom Conlon The Cow that Jumped over the Moon (working title). In Bringing Down the Moon a Mole attempts to pull down the lovely moon but soon finds out its not as near as it looks. In The Boy from Mars when Stanley’s Mum goes away a not so very well behaved Martian but will Stanley return before his Mum gets home? and when it came to approaching someone to write a story about space, I’m really excited that Dom Conlon, author of Astro Poetica and I will eat the Moon! agreed to work with me; I’m sure he’ll deliver a tale which is out of this world!

So there you have it; four stellar stories for children and families which means another summer of library storytelling is guaranteed to be a blast.

It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for storytelling kind (well maybe)!!

The Enormous Crocodile with the Roald Dahl Company

In September I was invited to meet with the Roald Dahl Company in central London to discuss the work I had been doing with “The Twits” over the past two years.  They wanted to know more about my version of the story and we discussed access and how storytelling could help Dahl’s work reach more people.  To walk into Roald Dahl HQ and to talk about stories was one of the biggest thrills of my life.  I had been worried about the meeting having had some issues with the licence earlier in the year but from that very first meeting Roald Dahl team have been very supportive.  In late September a producer from the company came along to watch me perform in north London.  This presentation became the basis for discussing a new project for next year.

“I’ve got clever plans and special tricks.”

I am pleased to announce that in 2019 with the support of The Roald Dahl Company I’ll be telling Roald Dahl’s “The Enormous Crocodile”.  This is a tremendous opportunity to tell a popular, short story by perhaps this country’s most celebrated author and to engage and inspire a very young audience (probably four year olds rather than the six year olds who loved The Twits, Hundred Mile an Hour Dog and The Chamber of Mischief) in stories and reading.  It’ll also be a chance for professional reflection and development as I see inside and learn from a very respected, high calibre creative organisation.  In the coming weeks I’ll be allowed access to some of the Company’s resources as we work up this story and revise my presentation of The Twits.  For the first time since my last theatrical bow in 2007 I’ll be part of a larger creative team which includes Joseph Attenborough as composer, Dan White as artist and excitingly, Amy Hodge who will act as dramaturg, director and co-conspirator.  I can’t wait to get started!

I’ll be launching the story in March and will announce more dates for both The Enormous Crocodile and The Twits in the coming weeks.  If you know a potential venue please tell them about the project.  I’m hoping that libraries and literature festivals will want me to visit to tell this story but I’m also interested in talking to reception class teachers, primary schools and primary academy trusts who feel their schools could be venues for larger multi school presentations and public showings as I try to find new ways of making this story accessible to the most possible people.

I hope this is a story gets everybody excited and that 2019 can be the year of the crocodile!

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.

Do Mr and Mrs Twit love each other?

After telling children Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” I enjoy posing the following question about the story:

Do Mr and Mrs Twit love each other?

The children are never in doubt; Mr and Mrs Twit do not love each other.  If you push them on this opinion they say things like “because they are nasty to each other” and “because they play tricks on each other”.  I understand the basis of this argument but happen to believe the Twits actually love each other.  Let me explain why..

In many of my most popular storytelling sessions (Roald Dahl’s The Twits, Jeremy Strong’s The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog and Nigel Auchterlounie’s  Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief) I use water pistols to spray the audience.  I don’t mean that I use them to gently flutter a few droplets of water in the vague direction of the audience I mean I use water pistols to quite literally drench the audience.  When outraged children ask me why I do this I point out (and they agree) that they enjoyed getting wet.  You see it’s all about the context of the soaking; if I walked up to a stranger in the street and threw a bucket of water over their head they’d be justifiably irked.  My audiences are rarely upset at getting wet.  This is partly because I’ll have forewarned them that water will be a part of the presentation but mostly because the soaking I dish out makes some degree of sense in the context of the story.

What’s this got to do with Mr and Mrs Twit?

Mr and Mrs Twit are vile, disgusting, revolting people.  Mr Twit has a filthy beard, Mrs Twit has a glass eye and they both have a wicked sense of humour.  In the first part of the story we learn how Mrs Twit put a glass eyeball in Mr Twit’s drink and worms and his spaghetti and that in return Mr Twit put a frog in Mrs Twit’s bed and made his wife believe that she was shrinking.  You could say that these cruel tricks demonstrate that they detest each other.  I say it shows why they are compatible.  Yes, the jokes are extreme but rather than causing the victim to run away they provoke a sort of brinksmanship as Mr and Mrs Twit try to better the previous plot.  You might say that this to do with a desire for revenge or that the Twits are trying to kill each other but I’m not convinced.  Their treatment of the monkeys and the birds show that Mr and Mrs Twit are capable of much darker, much more devious deeds and that if they wanted to kill they’d have done it already as murder is clearly within their power.  Then there’s the fact that despite their revolting trickery they are willing to work together with a common awful purpose at the drop of a hat.  Like my audiences who enjoy getting squirted with a water pistol in the context of a storytelling session I believe the Twits thoroughly enjoying playing tricks on each other.  It may seem bizarre but Mr and Mrs Twit seem prepared to be the butt of the other’s cruelty in the context of their own private game so much so that it’s difficult to say when the mark is overstepped (does Mr Twit go too far when he has his second nasty idea?).  In my view the reason the Twits keep coming back for more is that they don’t just love each other they depend on each other.  I therefore wonder if Mr and Mrs Twit find some perverse satisfaction in the fact they share the same grizzly fate?

When I approached the story I wanted to make the complexity of Mr and Mrs Twit’s twisted relationship as clear as possible.  As well as revelling in the Twit’s tricks, in my retelling composer Joseph Attenborough reflects  their shared joy of being utterly horrible by devising a series of snatches of laughter; Mr Twit, Mrs Twit and finally both the Twits laughing.  It’s the briefest of acknowledgements but it is there and now you know to look out for it hopefully you’ll hear it the next time I tell the tale.

My licence to tell Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” in primary schools, libraries and at events was recently reviewed and extended.  To find out more about this and other projects contact me.

 

The genius of Justin’s House

Since Verity was born what appears on our television has changed dramatically.  Where in the old days we might have found time to watch a drama series these days we watch Cbeebies.

Verity may only be 17 months old but she has her favourite programmes.  Her absolute favourite is In the Night Garden.  From the moment it goes on she is captivated.  She’ll talk to the characters and dance along with Upsy Daisy and Maka Paka.  We recently took her to the stage show and I’ll admit to having wept with pure joy at seeing how much she enjoyed herself.  After the show she got to meet her hero, Iggle Piggle.  She was enraptured.

She is also into Justin’s HouseJustin’s House, for those of you who aren’t seasoned watchers of children’s television is stars Justin Fletcher (aka Mr Tumble).  It’s set in a house in Justin Town where he and his friends, Robert the Robot and the Little Monster, enjoy singing and dancing and have all kinds of fun.

The two shows I have mentioned share a number of features.  Firstly they are uber colourful.  Then there’s the fact the episodes are structured so that if you watched the series you’d become familiar with the routine.  Both programmes have very catchy music with songs being used to introduce characters, deepening the sense of familiarity.  Finally episode plots tend to be very gentle, warm and simple.  They talk about feelings, friendship and fun.  They are definitely not the stuff of Albert Square!

Where Justin’s House is different to In the Night Garden is that Justin Fletcher has devised a slapstick stage show.  Slapstick is visual, physical comedy relying on well-rehearsed routines and sequences for laughs.  It’s easy to dismiss slapstick as an easy or base art form but children really enjoy watching people fall over, bump into each other or getting a pie in the face.  My earliest storytelling sessions were far more theatrical in their nature and my versions of The Unlucky Mummy and Dracula were crammed with slapstick gags which were always very popular with audiences.  Even now I use a lot of water pistols in my work because, in the end, who doesn’t think it’s a little bit funny to see someone get squirted in the ear?

The slapstick in Justin’s House is very slick and perfectly pitched but for me the genius of the show is to put it in front of a live audience.  The audience act like a character, joining in with songs, answering questions and responding to the unfolding story.  The audience’s role is recognised by the director who regularly cuts to the audience so the viewer can see facial expressions.  Justin also acknowledges the audience.  In the song Justin’s House, he sings about the audience saying “you’re funny and sunny, put a smile on my face, you’re brilliant, you really are great!”.  He’s right to be grateful because without the audience the whole programme would have a very different rhythm and feel quite flat or awkward.

So what can a storyteller learn from Justin Fletcher?

Be colourful – when selecting props and visual aids make sure they are bright and colourful.  I use a lot of wigs, hats and props in my storytellings and use voices and physical motifs to enhance my stories.

Have a structure – children find security in familiarity whether it be a daily routine or a storytelling.  If you are running regular sessions a format will help your group become more comfortable and more willing participants.  When I run a session as a one off I’ll explain the rules of the session before I start in order to hype them up and manage expectations; so sometimes when I do global tale sessions the children get to vote on the stories they’ll hear or if I want volunteers they’ll understand how they are going to be selected.

Use music and song – consider enhancing your set with sound.  If you can, find ways of getting the children involved in creating the sound (maybe a sing-a-long).  I don’t play any instrument to a particular standard but will incorporate recorded music, live sound effects and singing where it’s appropriate.  Sometimes creating a sound effect can be just as intriguing for an audience the story!

Consider your content – I do a lot of work for 6+ year olds.  Stories like Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief or The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog invariably include a lot of participation and a water pistol (see above).  My sessions for under-fives are much more gentle.

Get on with and enrapture your audience – in every storytelling session rapport and communion with the audience is crucial.  If you can create a lively positive environment then hopefully everybody will have a good time!  It’s easier to work with a crowd than against them.

Undoubtedly Justin Fletcher is an excellent professional who has developed very strong formats and material and clearly understands how to entertain children.  You can argue the rights and wrongs of watching television but it’d be an error to write children’s television off for it’s content and delivery – these are well made, clever productions that anybody who might like to work with children can learn from watching.  Besides if Iggle Piggle and Justin Fletcher offer Verity some light hearted fun and it makes her happy then that makes me happy too.

A “Twit” update

Just a quick update.

A couple of months ago I posted this – A storyteller in search of a story in which I explained that I had lost the right to tell The Twits and that October would see Mr Twit’s last outing.  Well that’s no longer true.  You see Mr Twit has been reprieved by the Roald Dahl Estate and I am taking bookings for the next academic year.  This is quite obviously fantastic and quite unexpected news.  Over the coming months I will still be shaking up my repertoire and if you are a published author, writer’s agent or international publishing house I am still very much in the market for my next challenge but for now the urgency to do so isn’t quite so great.  Thanks to everybody who sent messages of support, they were all read and appreciated.

Now back to Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief

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…

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.