Tag Archives: Swansea

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!

Rave reviews

The Hungry CaterpillarHere are a selection of the rave reviews I have received between January and March 2015 from schools and libraries about my work:

“Absolutely brilliant performance, totally engaging all the children and staff.” Librarian, Swansea, March 2015

“You brought the stories to life and enticed even the most reluctant of readers.” Deputy Head, Primary School, St Albans, March 2015

“You do exactly what you say you’ll do… your standard remains consistently high and polished.”  Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest, March 2015

“A great day and very inspirational for the children.”  Teacher, Primary School, Lewes, February 2015

Its easy to suggest that I am universally loved.  My way of working isn’t to every taste but having said this I am regularly wowed by the response my stories receive.  Perhaps the best comment I received over the past three months (those of you who reached this blog via my homepage may recognise it) is this one…

“It is always worrying when we invite someone new into school, as you never know which way it will go.  However, you really motivated and inspired the children and it was a joy to welcome you into the school.”  Assistant Head Teacher, Salford, February 2015.

Provided people continue to put their faith in me then I  hope to carry on taking my work around the country motivating, inspiring, enthusing and entertaining for as long as I can.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Swansea

Odysseus and PoseidonAnother week another odyssey – this time I went to Swansea via Oxfordshire.

First Oxfordshire for Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories”.  The Just So Stories may not be the most fashionable collection of short stories and are certainly overshadowed by The Jungle Book, but Kipling’s clever solutions to things that occur in nature (How the Camel gets its hump, how the Rhinoceros gets its skin and how the Elephant gets its trunk to name the few I incorporate) are little gems and great to tell.  As a child I thoroughly enjoyed these stories and they offer a wonderful and imaginative Launchpad for further learning.

As I already knew the stories from the collection I wanted to tell and I had an idea of how I wanted to tell them the preparation work was very enjoyable.  As with many of my stories, finding the right props was trickier but in the end my Mum came to the rescue as she made the most wonderful crocodile for the story of The Elephant’s Child.  I would not be exaggerating if I said that when I presented the story in East London, the crocodile’s appearance left two Reception classes speechless – he is brilliant (photos to follow)!

I’m glad to say my version of Kipling’s tales have been very well received.

HUNGRY MEAD1“We had a great time and our little ones were enthralled.” (Parent, Ebb & Flo Bookshop Session, Chorley)

“The day was absolutely fantastic and enjoyed by all! An imaginative and creative way to bring the ‘Just So Stories’ to life for younger children.” (Teacher, Wychwood Primary School, Oxfordshire)

It is always pleasing to be given the challenge of developing new material rather than simply trotting out the old favourites.  It is often good for my practice and my relationship with an organisation (the experience of working together becomes far more personal when the booker has been very specific about the day).  I particularly like to develop stories I feel will have a life beyond the intended audience.  So far my version of the “Just So Stories” has been in front of almost 350 children and I hope it will be a part of my repertoire for some time to come.

So that was Oxfordshire but what about Swansea?

I have been touring Britain for the better part of a decade.  I have been up and down England, into Scotland and even visited the Channel Islands but I had never worked in Wales.  I had heard stories of how wonderful Welsh audiences could be so I was very excited to take “The War Game” a story about football, to Swansea Central Library, situated in the heart of rugby mad Wales.  I had a very memorable day (even if the three schools I worked with all wore blue and had unpronounceable names) and it was all over much too quickly for my liking.

It wasn’t just my day or lime green hotel room that were memorable..

The War Game

Now one of the reasons why I perhaps hadn’t worked in Swansea before is the fact its 42 junctions along the M4 from London.  Don’t get me wrong, I love travel and visiting new places but motorway driving is monotonous.  Wishing I had got the train I set off for home, deciding to stop for fuel at Membury Services (not far from Swindon).  It was here that I picked up Sheffield University students Alex and Dom – my first ever hitchhikers.  It turned out that the boys were spending their Easter break hitchhiking for charity and were en route to Bucharest(!).  They had left Sheffield that morning and were attempting to get to Dover.  What they had been doing in Swindon was a little confusing but I gave them a ride to a service station on the southside of the M25 before turning for home.

As March ends so too does my busiest period of the year.  Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be taking bookings for April thru July and firming up my summer schedule.  Highlights will include another trip to The National Football Museum, visits to libraries in Peterborough and Hull and work on a Heritage Pop Up project in Redbridge but beyond these landmarks who knows where the next few months will take me…