What I’m Up To Wednesday: Our Book Is Here!

There is nothing much more exciting than opening a big box and finding shiny, new copies of your own writing: picking up and feeling the weight of your own book for the first time.

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But this one isn’t my own book!  At least, it isn’t all my own.  The plot, the characters and lots of the writing come from my brilliant Snail Tales colleague Chip, who created a storytelling stage show and asked me to help him write the ‘book of the show’.  Some of the characterisation came from the stars of that show, which I went to see in Cambridge: L-J Richardson as Knut and Olivia Balzano as Ethelred.  Many of the stories within the book and the show come, not from Chip, but from children who have taken part in Snail Tales workshops.  And the illustrations, of course, come from Dave Hingley.  I didn’t know he was going to draw a cartoon version of me…

So, this is not just my celebration.  It’s been lots of fun to work as part of a team and part of a wider project again.  It’s also been a real challenge to find a way to make an interactive storytelling show into a readable book without losing its essence.  Plenty of extra material went in, but best of all are the blank pages, waiting to be filled out by young storytellers.  This is a book which will not be complete until YOU have read it!

To preorder from Amazon, click here and please leave a review once you’ve enjoyed the book!

What I’m up to Wednesday: Dragons and Hats

Now that I’ve got the hang of Poetry Mondays, I’m hoping to use the occasional Wednesday to share what I’ve been up to, whether writing, storytelling or wearing one of my various other hats.

Speaking of hats, I wore several at an Easter Parade in Caldecote on Palm Sunday, telling journey stories as we made our way from the park to the social club.  Since there was a hat competition at the end of the event, I made sure to wear a different hat to suit each story – and the final tale of the Road to Emmaus used two hats to swap between the characters of Mr and Mrs Cleopas.  Even Zach had a hat!

Wonder the Baby Dragon had an outing for St George’s day, telling dragon and monster stories at Hardwick Primary school.  They all enjoyed joining in with the story of Louisa Freya the Dragon Slayer, and hearing about how one of their classmates had cunningly escaped from a dragon island by solving a riddle, but I suspect the highlight was the one where I make this face:

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It’s a story for which I’m very grateful to Steve Stickley of the Footprints Theatre Company: I learned it mainly because after hearing his telling of it, my own children pestered me for daily retellings for months.  Unlike Steve, though, I never tell the ending: the children make it up as part of the workshop.

It’s become a bit of a fascinating experiment.  You see, the story begins like a sort of reverse Cinderella: three sisters and a mean Mama who aren’t at all nice towards the only son in the family.  When a child-eating monster captures the sisters, and I hand the story over to the children, it’s not at all clear to them who is the ‘baddy’ – I mean, what’s worse?  A monster or an unpleasant sibling?  Although some choose to rescue the girls, or have them escape, several groups have found a perfectly satisfying ending in letting the nasty sisters get gobbled up.

You can tell which children have a grounding in traditional tales: it’s the ones who spot that there are two problems in the story, the monster and the family, and try to solve both in their ending.  They also tend to use information from the first part of the story in the way they solve the problems.  Interestingly, bits from whichever other stories I’ve told find their way in there, too.

It’s also a great illustration of the freedom of imagination that storytelling produces.  Without images, each child pictures the monster differently, and this shows in their solutions: for some, it’s a small enough monster to trap inside a pot, while for others, it’s such a big monster that the boy can prop open its mouth, climb inside and pull his sisters up through the throat.

I now know over a hundred great ways for the story to finish, including the 40 or so I picked up last week – and isn’t that what sharing stories is all about?

LightCraft

Every year round about now, I start to see posts all over social media discussing and debating the issue of Halloween: what to do about it, whether to embrace it, what its roots really are and whether it’s a bit of fun or a terrible problem for society in general (or for teenagers, children, the elderly, people with special needs, people with allergies and so on, specifically.)

This year, we’ll be celebrating All Hallow’s Eve with a LightCraft party.  Children from our four churches will gather to play games, make light-related crafts, carve hearts and pictures into pumpkins, and hear that Jesus is the light of the world who has defeated darkness.

That’s on Sunday, so we might also go meet-and-treating on the night itself.  Meet-and-treating is a fun way to turn around the traditional tricks and scares while still being generous: we go out to find trick-or-treaters and hand over a treat.  This year we’ll probably give away glow-stick bracelets along with this explanation printed onto cards: it’s one that I wrote several years ago, and you are welcome to print copies yourself if it’s useful.

Nobody really knows where the festival of Halloween originated. The name comes from All Hallow’s Eve, marking a time in the Christian church when we remember saints and loved ones who have died, but the traditions that take place come from much earlier pre-Christian times. In fact if you look at almost any culture in any time, you’ll find that as the nights get longer, a festival takes place which involves light, intended to ward off darkness and evil. That’s where Jack-O-Lanterns come from, for example. It’s humanity’s way of dealing with darkness, death and the things that frighten us as we go into the long winter.
In our family, we remember at Halloween that Jesus said “I am the light of the world”. He has already conquered darkness and death by dying and rising again. This year, we’re giving out Glo-sticks to light your way and to remind you that Jesus has beaten the darkness!
We hope you enjoy your treats, and have a safe and fun Halloween!

Many hats

I’ve always had a thing for hats – literal or metaphorical.

 

I’ve never had a short answer to the question, “So, what do you do?”

Even my tagline has three different occupations – writer, storyteller, ventriloquist.  But it’s not that simple, because I’m not the sort of writer that sits down and writes a novel.  My current to-do list is urging me to complete five different writing tasks for various clients and purposes, and that’s before you count the writing I do towards my own performances, or consider the writing I might do to use in an assembly or family service as children’s worker.  It’s also before you count the times that I do attempt to write a novel, or a resource book, or a poem.

Nor am I a storyteller with a single repertoire.  Although a large amount of my telling is biblical, and that is reflected in the books I’ve published so far, my work with schools tends to be traditional tales and my most recent storytelling project was local history.

As a ventriloquist, things are a bit more straightforward, but even there I have three distinct voices and characters apart from my own.  Evidence that I’m making a career out of splitting myself into as many parts as possible.

So I tend to answer that “What do you do?” question by saying that I juggle hats.  Or that I wear too many of them.

This new site and blog is an attempt to stack some hats together.  In fact, I nearly gave it ‘Hatstacking’ as a title, but then I reflected that it would be likely to get no visitors apart from a handful of confused milliners.

I don’t know whether it will work, or even last (I don’t have a great track record with new blogs) but I hope you will stick around and find out with me.  I do have some ideas and even a vague sort of a thing which could be called a plan if you really pummel it into shape.  So, wait and see?