Tag Archives: Sussex

I accidentally wrote a modern Fairy Tale for a festival and then ended up on the radio twice in one day!

On 26th May 2020 Southwark Libraries Festival of Words opens and features a very special story I wrote that seems to be resonating with people across the South East.

When the lockdown was announced Southwark Libraries approached me about contributing a story to their festival of words. I was more than happy to do this and decided to record my version of “Rapunzel”. Having recorded it I saw a parallel between Rapunzel’s situation and thousands of children living in flats during the national lockdown. I wrote “The Girl in the Playground” in a single sitting. As well as submitting it to the festival I decided to share it with Dominic King at BBC Radio Kent (I performed an extract from Rapunzel on his show last year). The next thing I know he has included it in his show. Encouraged by this I decided to contact my local radio station and before I knew it I was live on BBC Radio Sussex’s breakfast show being interviewed!

A lot has been said about the impact of the national lockdown on the economy and the adult world but beyond education not a lot is said about children. I have been blogging about how my daughter and I have enjoyed our time together but sadly this won’t have been the case for some families.

The lockdown will pass. We will get through this. There is always hope.

Southwark Libraries Festival of Words runs from 26th May – 12th June 2020

John Kirk is a professional storyteller working in schools and libraries, at events and festivals. For more information about my work please use my contact form to get in touch.

I’m telling Roald Dahl’s “The Twits”on the internet and now I need your help…

I have been granted a licence to stream Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” on the internet. I have been telling “The Twits” since 2016 and have told it live on over 250 occasions but now I hope to be able to share this fabulous story using the digital platform Zoom.

Now I need your help….

I want to work with libraries, bookshops, schools and charities. If you are reading this and think you know an organisation who may like to be a part of a Zoom based storytelling session then please put them in touch with me. Netflix and The Roald Dahl Company have granted me a unique opportunity to share a fabulous story with families and young people. The more people who read and share this message the more likely it is that this story will find its way into people’s homes and lives in the coming months.

Thank you for supporting my work.

John Kirk is a professional storyteller telling stories in schools and libraries and at events and festivals.  For more information or to make an enquiry, complete a contact form.

Finding inspiration in a lockdown

Six weeks ago I was in Yorkshire touring regional libraries with “The Enormous Crocodile” and “The Twits”. Six weeks later with all my dates either cancelled or postponed I am at home and work is at the check out of major supermarket. If I had told you this story a year ago you’d have said it would be improbable or incredible but then the truth is often stranger than fiction. At times I have found this situation very difficult to cope with and in so many ways thoroughly demotivating but when you have a toddler and bills to pay you can’t afford to wallow so I have had to find inspiration in some new and unexpected places.

Spending time with Verity

I have relished looking after my daughter. With time on my hands I have been able to plan science experiments, craft activities, garden and indoor games. I have already blogged about how our stories have inspired our play but as this unprecedented period extends, everyday brings the renewed challenge of keeping us both interested. As the videos below indicate, we have been getting creative…

Talking to Peers

Storytellers Andy Copps and Hannah Brailsford have been running meet ups on Tuesdays where storytellers can come together and talk. These sessions have been attended by some tremendously talented folk from all around the world. There is relief in knowing that this situation is effecting everybody and I have found energy in sharing views and ideas.

Discovering Zoom

Unless you count scrubbing dates out of my diary, I hadn’t done a lot of storytelling work since March. Having found YouTube quite frustrating Zoom has been a revelation and in the past few weeks I have lead three sessions for under 7s. Like most storytellers you’ll ask, I miss a live audience but working through Zoom does have some advantages as I can now be in Manchester and Swansea simultaneously. In a couple of weeks I will be leading a workshop for a group of wheelchair users in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow from the comfort of my living room – this workshop wouldn’t have happened without the lock down. Its a steep learning curve as we overcome the restrictions of working in front of a computer screen and cope with Zoom bombing.

Set up for The Gingerbread Man…
… an engrossed audience.

The lockdown itself

I was asked to record a story for Southwark Libraries Festival of Words. I opted for the story of Rapunzel. Once I started thinking about the story (a little girl locked in a tower by a wicked witch waits for a Prince to save her) I started thinking about the national predicament and how the story might be updated for the lock down. I have written a story about the lock down but putting a child at it’s centre. A little girl school closes and she is forced to stay in her flat for reasons she doesn’t really understand. From her window she can see a playground and one day she sees another little girl on the swings. A friendship develops but she can’t go outside to ask the mystery child her name. When they finally meet it turns out that the girl in the playground is called Hope. For Rapunzel see the girl in the flat, for the Wicked Witch see the Lockdown and for the Prince see Hope. Had it not been for the situation I would never have written the story which whilst based on a very simple idea is already resonating a week before the festival opens.

So you see inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes (and often when you least expect it). As we take the first tentative steps towards a brave new world I’m going to keep trying to find creative ways to thrive because never was it truer to say, necessity is the mother of invention.

John Kirk is a professional storyteller telling stories in schools and libraries and at events and festivals.  For more information or to make an enquiry, complete a contact form.

Playing stories during the Coronavirus lock down

This blog sees me return to an old topic. Using stories as the basis of play with children. In the past I have spoken about how Verity and I have used stories like The Gingerbread Man and Goldilocks as the inspiration for our play but now we find ourselves in the midst of a national lock down I am finding that I have to be even more creative to keep both of us stimulated.

Here are a couple of ideas that we have tried so far. In each case our activity was accompanied by either reading, listening to or watching a video of the story that would be the basis of our play. I felt this was important context otherwise she wouldn’t understand that the game she was enjoying was anything to do with a book. In some cases the game we played was very vaguely connected to the story (maybe a theme or a picture) but I tried to make it as fun as possible during what must be a very confusing time for my toddler.

The Three Little Pigs – this is a game we play all the time. Verity has a Wendy House which she enjoys playing with. I simply stand at the door and pretend to be the Big Bad Wolf so that she can tell me that she won’t be letting me inside (not that I would fit!). The story of the Three Little Pigs is very simple and Verity has remembered the phrasing of the story from a very young age. We have played this game in play tents, soft play centres, her Wendy House and even Dens that we have built together – she never gets tired of saying “No Big Bad Wolf, not by the hairs on my chinny, chinny chin, I will not let you in!”

Stick Man – as the end of last year I was asked to use Julia Donaldson’s “Stick Man” as the basis for a day of play at a nursery. Verity and I chose some sticks and stuck eyes on them. We then used the sticks like dolls or action figures to explore the garden and the house – she loves it when Stick Man tries to climb the slide and keeps slipping down it!

Stick Man playing fetch with a puppet dog in our garden.

Elmer the Elephant – this is a brilliant kiddie craft project. For it you will need a plastic milk bottle, some card and coloured paper, glue and googly eyes. Cut the top off the milk bottle and trim the handle so that it is an appropriate length for your elephant’s trunk. Attach ear shaped pieces of card to the sides of the bottle before covering the bottle and the card in coloured paper and positioning the googly eyes. It is dead simple but a lovely activity that we were able to do together and the result is fantastic.

Verity and Elmer

Pirates of the Caribbean / Peter Pan – the other day we had a vacuum delivered. I decided to turn the box into a Pirate Ship complete with wheel and anchor. Verity put on her Pirate costume and I laid out the fabric I use to make seaside landscapes. We then put on Hans Zimmer and used some soft balls to have a canon battle then took some beads into the garden where we buried our treasure in the flower bed.

Pirate Verity sailing round the kitchen in search of adventure.

A few weeks ago I did a training course for Hammersmith and Fulham Libraries based upon the song Five Little Men in a Flying Saucer. During the session I asked the participants to decorate a washing peg so that it looked like a person.

Ten Little Men in a training session

My idea was that decorating cloths pegs was an affordable, accessible and relatively sustainable creative activity for a library authority to incorporate into a storytelling session. It also left me with a mass of unused cloths pegs.

Humpty Dumpty – this is a classic diorama using pens, paints and a boiled egg.

Verity loves her nursery rhymes so I had the idea of creating a wall out of food box, using an egg for Humpty Dumpty and a couple of cloths pegs for the soldiers and the kings men.

All the King’s soldiers (and Verity) couldn’t put Humpty together again!

Now you could say that this wasn’t a terribly inclusive activity for a toddler. Well we actually doubled up everything (so Verity had her own cloths pegs and eggs and she decorated the wall). She was so taken with the result that three days later and despite having dropped him on the floor, she will not allow anybody to eat Humpty Dumpty!

These are just a few ideas for games and activities inspired by books and facilitated through necessity during a public health lock down. Some of them I dreamt up myself but most I credit to the internet. I am very lucky; I have a lot of resources available to me that I don’t have to go out and buy. I have an eager audience to try ideas on (saying this Verity doesn’t care if an idea flops because she is still spending time with Daddy). We also have a lot of space to do things. I share these ideas to inspire you to think about how we can make stories a part of our children’s play so that books and reading remain present in our children’s lives even when libraries, schools and nurseries are closed. In the coming weeks Verity will be receiving her first copy of Storytime Magazine which I am sure she will devour because she loves good stories. It’s my job as her parent to feed her enthusiasm for stories not only by reading to her but by keeping our activities as fresh as possible and making sure this lock down, however long it may last, is as fun as possible for both of us.

John Kirk is a professional storyteller telling stories in schools and libraries and at events and festivals.  For more information or to make an enquiry, complete a contact form.

Are you an April Fool?

Traditionally the 1st April would be a day to trick people with tall tales and fabricated facts but living as we do in such unprecedented times where truth is questioned daily and almost anything is possible April Fools Day may have lost some of its edge. Now I love barely believable tales. There are some truly wonderful myths and legends out there and one of the great privileges of being a storyteller is introducing new audiences to fantastic stories. In an effort to restore a little of the spirit of the day I have made a family friendly quiz to intrigue, entertain and get you thinking.  What follows is a mix of folklore and facts.  Without using an internet search engine for help, can you work out which of the following statements I looked up and which I made up?

  1. In the 13th Century a crocodile escaped from the menagerie of Richard I and caused damage to the Essex village of Wormingford.
  2. The Panama hat originates in Ecuador.
  3. Anthropologists believe that the Yeti and Bigfoot are related and that at some time close to the end of the last Ice Age would have walked from North America to the Himalayas.
  4. In the 18th Century Mary Toft became famous after giving birth to a rabbit.
  5. The Dahu is a French mountain goat with shorter legs on one side of its body than the other (meaning its great at standing on steep slopes but can only walk in one direction).
  6. Atlantis is at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean close to the island of Madeira.
  7. Flora Sandes won several medals fighting with the Serbian Army during The Great War after she was rejected by the British when she volunteered to be a Nurse.
  8. The passengers on the world’s first hot air balloon flight were a sheep, a duck and a chicken.
  9. In the early 19th Century a man in Hammersmith was sentenced to death for shooting a bricklayer after mistaking him for the ghost he was hunting.
  10. The British Museum’s “Unlucky Mummy” is responsible for the sinking of the Titanic.

At this point you are expecting me to reveal which of the statements I made up.  Well I’ll tell you that I only made up two of them but I’m not going to tell you which ones.  If you’re still curious why not spend some time looking them up yourselves? I hope you enjoy exploring these stories – happy April Fools Day!

John Kirk is a professional storyteller telling stories in schools and libraries and at events and festivals.  For more information or to make an enquiry, complete a contact form.

Suggestions for musical instruments to use whilst storytelling

I find that musical instruments have an enormous value in helping me to tell my stories. I was recently asked if I would put together a list of the musical instruments I would recommend for school children to compliment their storytelling work. The following is based upon my experience and my personal kit. Some storytellers play guitars or accordions (I dabble with a concertina) but as I tell a multitude of different stories often at quite a high tempo and because I’m not very musical, the instruments I prefer are easy to use, durable and adaptable. My list is by no means exhaustive but some of the instruments I’ll talk about are invaluable to my work.

Generally I like the instrument I use to become a part of the story rather than just something I stop and play. When I use a kazoo to represent a wasp or a fly I float around the audience landing on children’s heads and when I am narrating a tiger I use the low purring of my vibroslap to inform the rhythm of my stride and help the audience imagine a wild animal stalking it’s meal. Perhaps my finest hour came when in “Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief”I used a duck whistle to represent, well, a duck!

When I am preparing to tell a story I look for opportunities to use musical instruments to enhance the storytelling. In Jonathan Emmett’s “Bringing Down the Moon” the Mole tries to pull the moon out of the sky. First he jumps up and grab the moon. As well as getting the audience to jump, I bash on a hand drum to represent Mole’s heavy landings. Then Mole gets a long stick and tries to poke down the moon. For this I use a long handled tambourine and perform a swishing action with the audience. Finally Mole throws acorns into the sky as he tries to knock down the moon. I use a wooden block and a beater, holding the block in front of me as I perform a throwing action with the beater.

I use instruments to punctuate and define moments in a story. In a folk tale like Anansi the Spider when Anansi completes Nyame’s difficult challenges and when Jack steals the harp and the hen from the giant I use a small set of cymbals to highlight these triumphs (I suppose a triangle could do a similar job). I have a set of chimes which I have used in supernatural stories but they tend to get tangled too easily. I have also been known to sing (in German) and in a story like Michael Morpurgo’s “Private Peaceful” to play a simple tune on a harmonica. I would only do this if I felt the song complimented the story.

There is undoubtedly a magic in an audience seeing and hearing an instrument being played particularly if that instrument offers a specific sound to the story or captures a specific moment. When telling Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” I use a swanee whistle as Mrs Twit floats up and then back down into the garden and in Roald Dahl’s “The Enormous Crocodile”as Trunky launches the crocodile into space I use a green singing tube as the crocodile is swung around in a blurry circle.

Audiences love seeing me swinging the singing tube around my head almost as much as they love seeing and hearing my thunder maker. I consider my thunder maker to be an absolutely essential piece of kit. It fascinates people of all ages, is easy to use and has so many applications in so many different stories that it is often the first thing I put in my bag when packing for a day of storytelling.

I have been fortunate enough to work with composer Joseph Attenborough who has recorded soundtracks for several of my storytellings but there is something special about making music together. Using shakers and bells is a great way of including an audience in a story. An egg shaker or set of sleigh bells are incredibly inclusive instruments and when I do workshop sessions with 3-5 year olds and in dementia care homes I’ll try to offer the participants every opportunity to have a go. Similarly claves are a wonderful way of incorporating rhythm, listening and repeating activities.

It’s possible to spend a fortune putting a box of instruments together for the purpose of storytelling but it isn’t necessary. My advice would be to collect instruments that make the experience accessible. There are some marvellous instruments out there but they are only any good if you know what to do with them. It’d be much better to include some old wooden spoons and saucepans and allow the storytellers to make a racket as their tales sing.

John Kirk is a professional storyteller telling stories in schools and libraries and at events and festivals.  For more information or to make an enquiry, complete a contact form.

Coronavirus videos week one (feat.Gareth Calway)

Since all schools and libraries in the UK are currently closed I have decided to take a tentative dip into the world of internet based storytelling. Its very different to my usual routine as I am interacting with a laptop screen rather than an audience. I am hoping to put up a few more videos in the coming weeks but before I do I am investing in a microphone!

Here you’ll find Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Monkeys who saved the Moon, The Three Wishes and Romeo and Juliet. I am also excited to be able to share some of the work of storyteller Gareth Calway. I hope to be able to showcase the work of other storytellers during these stressful times.

Christie from Albuquerque writes…

I am well used to my work as a storyteller having an impact on young lives. Parents, teachers and event organisers often get in touch to tell me the positive effect a story session has had on their children and in recent weeks I have had some lovely feedback.

Christie, a 73 year old woman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, got in touch via my website. She is taking a lifelong learning class in poetry and their group was studying Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”. She had been particularly interested in Tim the Ostler and a quick Google search later she had found me (I wrote a blog about Tim some years ago, it continues to be the page on my website which receives the most traffic).

Over the years I have done storytelling work with a number of groups based beyond the UK, visiting the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival in the United Arab Emirates, The Guernsey Literary Festival and MOD schools in Germany. Like the interview I did for BBC Radio Kent, some of these opportunities came completely out of the blue and suitably demonstrate the power of an internet search for connecting people. Some enquiries I’ve received have been no less flattering but sadly totally unfeasible. I regularly get asked to do a 30 minute assembly in schools in Cornwall or Sunderland but slightly more bizarrely a few years ago I was contacted by an outdoor museum in North Carolina and even stranger still, the Dancing Cop, Tony Lepore once invited me to join him on his TV show in Providence, Rhode Island! If only the world were smaller and flights less expensive.

Christie from Albuquerque asked if I was prepared to share the complete text of my response to Noyes’ poem which of course I was and now I have the satisfaction of knowing that this week something I wrote to help children with their school work is having an impact and being shared by a poetry group almost 5000 miles from my home.

John Kirk is a professional storyteller telling stories in schools and libraries and at events and festivals.  For more information or to make an enquiry, complete a contact form.

Five fantastic bits of feedback from February…

I was recently looking at the testimonials section of my website. I’m really proud of the comments I have there but some of them now appear quite old. Here are five extraordinarily lovely reviews that I have received for work in the month of February 2020. I’m chuffed with all of them.

Number One – Teacher in Sussex after a traditional tales storytelling session.

“The children had a lovely time and were engaged from the first moment. My favourite thing was seeing their faces rapt with attention and enjoyment, staring up at you; they were genuinely happy.”

Number Two – Teacher in Hertfordshire after I took part in a storytelling for well being event.

“Engaging children who aren’t always fully engaged!”

Number Three – from The Roald Dahl Museum after “The Twits”

“It was a great session! Our visitors really enjoyed the performance and the interaction. You made the story come to life and everyone in the room was absorbed in it.”

Number Four – A parent who saw me tell “The Enormous Crocodile” in Carshalton.

“(A) Naturally wonderful, gifted storyteller.”

Number Five – from Rugby Gallery & Museum after I devised and presented “George’s Marvellous Museum”

“… worth every penny!”

After a quiet December and January this month I have helped launch The Sefton Saga as well as The Wolverhampton Literary Festival and school, museum and gallery sessions in Sussex, London, Kent and the Midlands. These comments give a real sense of my strengths and the quality of the work I do. They are a real boost ahead of World Book Week and fingers crossed I can achieve similar praise during mad March.

John Kirk is a professional storyteller telling stories in schools and libraries and at events and festivals.  For more information or to make an enquiry, complete a contact form.

Alerting you to a Dahl-tastic February half term

It has been four years since my retelling of “The Twits” debuted in Islington. I am yet to tire of telling this classic tale to children and families and last year it received a timely overhaul at Roald Dahl HQ which refreshed both the story and the teller. I still enjoy seeing children’s faces as I describe the wormy spaghetti (and the adult’s faces when the bucket of Hug Tight sticky glue comes out!). It remains a pleasure and a privilege to share this story.

Believe it or not a year ago this week I moved from east London to East Sussex, a shift which I thought would spell curtains for working as a storyteller. Instead it has seen me having to shift the focus of my work and adapt to a life beyond London. I’m not saying this is always easy (I certainly see 4am more often than perhaps I’d like to) but I am still here and still enjoying the work.

It is also the anniversary of a superb week spent at Roald Dahl HQ breathing life into “The Enormous Crocodile” with Amy Hodge. In the year since I have enjoyed sharing this brilliant story with slightly younger audiences than perhaps Mr and Mrs Twit are intended to meet. I love the way I tell this story; it’s colour and inventiveness makes me and my audiences smile.

I was fortunate enough to have a very busy throughout 2019 which meant that despite spending the week of Roald Dahl Day touring Greater Manchester and Merseyside I probably didn’t share the two stories I’m best known for telling as often as I might have otherwise. So its with great excitement that I look forward to the February half term when I’ll be telling both “The Twits” and “The Enormous Crocodile” for public audiences.

On Monday 17th February I will fulfil a long held ambition as Mr Twit visits The Roald Dahl Museum. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it is to be taking my version of a Roald Dahl story back to the place where it all began for what I’m sure will be three very special sessions. On Wednesday 19th February I will be doing a very special retelling of “George’s Marvellous Medicine” for Rugby Gallery and Museum. This is something we have been working on for a few months and whilst there will be aspects of my theatrical style of storytelling on show (boy would I have loved to do a homage of Rik Mayall!), this will be much more of a workshop styled presentation of a story. Then on Thursday 20th February I will be teaming up with storyteller and friend Andy Copps as we present a double bill of Roald Dahl stories (Billy and the Minpins and The Enormous Crocodile).

Here are the dates – I hope to see you there!

Monday 17/2/20 – The Twits @ The Roald Dahl Museum, Great Missenden (3 presentations)

Wednesday 19/2/20 – George’s Marvellous Medicine @ Rugby Gallery and Museum (3 presentations)

Thursday 20/2/20 – The Enormous Crocodile @ The Charles Cryer Theatre, Carshalton

Saturday 22/2/20 – The Twits @ Eastleigh, Chandler’s Ford and Winchester Libraries

John Kirk is a professional storyteller telling stories in schools and libraries and at events and festivals.  For more information or to make an enquiry, complete a contact form.