I’ve known Renita for a while now. Originally from America, Renita now lives in Wigtown, which the book town in Scotland, with the most stunning views across the estuary. When I’ve performed at the festival, the children have all been whipped up to a frenzy by Renita, who welcomes them in and “settles them down” [...]
School & Library Visits
It’s been a few years since Rose Impey wrote the Animal Crackers book and I first illustrated them in black and white. Since then I’ve redrawn and coloured them in and now they are on a new set of covers.
So yesterday Rose and I did a double act in front of 275 children at the Cheltenham Festival talking about Animal Crackers and our more recent solo publications. I had a Visualiser to play with. This was a camera on a rostrum. As I drew the audience could follow on the big screen. I normally use a flip chart which allows me to shade in with pencil. This was a bit like a live youtube drawing school session.
We had a great fun and it was good to catch up.
The cheltenham Festival is a great mishmash of things. I was thrilled to see June Whitfield in the green room, but was to embarrassed to say hello. You never know if famous people want to be left alone or not. I’m sure there is some sort of protocol, but I don’t know the rules. Does anyone know or does one just instinctively know these things?
Good luck Weston and thanks for a great evening, effortlessly organised by North Somerset Libraries.
I had a lovely day, yesterday at Pillowell School, not far from me in the Forest of Dean, but well hidden down a tiny lane. You’s never know it was there if there wasn’t a sign.
At last, we seem to be coming out of the tyranny of Literacy and Pillowell have remembered that the story is important, not just the text, and that stories often have illustrations too!
A lot of the children had been on my drawing school website and had brought in their offerings. It was great to see that they had followed my instructions online, but had then gone and added their own ideas and personality too. My cute little kitten lesson had turned into a cute little vampire kitten in one case!
I love doing drawing with children. They all draw the same picture, but each is entirely different. It’s down to how they see things, hand-eye coordination, how much they do on their own – many different things – but they can all draw – even the ones who say they cant can, with a little bit of coaxing.
And it was a lovely sunny day too! Thanks too, for a great day.
On Monday I went to Whitchurch School, near Ross on Wye. Small groups of children had been brought along from other local primaries fro the morning. These children were all blessed with dyslexia and other similar language gifts.
Am I being over-politically correct saying that dyslexia is a blessing? I think not. Of course in a world of type and written language it can hold you back, but that is the world as perceived by language blessed people, who tend to be in the majority and tend to be the majority in the field of education.
Of course, when I were a lad, I was just called thick and stupid and sent to sit at the back of the class. I’d love to know if I needed glasses even then and couldn’t see the board properly.
If everyone could write brilliantly, what a boring world we would live in. Where would be the master chefs, the the artists, the cushion-makers, the entertainers and the carers?
It was great to talk to the children and show them the methods I’ve worked out over the years. I noticed one or two having that, “I’m like that!” moment. I’m afraid, in the end, I couldn’t offer too much other than to work methodically through the problem and to work hard at it. That is pretty much the answer to everything. But within my methodical system, I have a large chunk devoted to the creative part. And that was what these children seemed to really enjoy, full of ideas, imagination and possibilities. There always comes a time though, when you have to stop the fun, decide what to do wit h what you’ve got and do the work. That is the hard part whether you are dyslexic or not. That is about self discipline.
When I was young, we were maybe taught self-discipline a bit more. All our teachers had been through the second world war – my history teacher had been a tail gunner in a Lancaster – his nerves were shot, but we respected him all the same. I was an army brat, went to boarding school and was in the Cubs an Scouts. The education we had was basically training us for the services or some kind of colonial duty. Maybe I learned some self discipline from all of that.
I do wonder now, when we bribe children to read, with prizes and stickers, whether that might be detrimental to the cause. Reading is its own pleasure and prize. Getting a sticker at the end distorts the aim. A prize for analysis or for reading out loud maybe but the act and art of reading should be its own reward – or you are reading a rotten book!Anyway – enough of that!
We came up with a great story about the ElieFly that invaded the school at lunchtime. I won’t go into all the gross detail. Suffice to say it had a neat ending when the gym wallbars were converted into the world’s largest flyswat! and quick end with a lot of middle and a beginning that probably needs a bit more work!
Thanks for a great day.
On Monday I had the pleasure to visit Ruardean School, up the road from me, here in the Forest of Dean. Perched on the side of a hill, the school looks out a cross to wales – a spectacular view. The weather was taking a turn, though. Autumn setting in and a distinct chill in the air. The church has an amazing, rocket-like spire that soars up into the sky, dominating the village and the countryside around.
I had a lovely day telling stories and showing the children how to draw my characters. You can see some of them at the Ruardean website here.
In the afternoon we tried to devise a story about how the Duck-billed platypus came about. My creative organisation system is meant to cut to the chase and produce something quite quickly. Eventually the magic key turned up and we had ourselves a story, but we had such a wealth of tangential ideas pouring out of years 5 and 6, that I thought we would never get to the end.
I had to keep pointing out that we only had a short time and that we would best off not having a cast of thousands with endless red-herrings in the plot. I think they got the message in the end. When you’ve not got long to write a story, keep the characters to a minimum and follow the story, not the interesting asides.
Its a hard lesson to learn – one I’m still struggling with myself. Do as I say and not as I do!
Oh! Did I mention the lovely cakes in the staff room? They were all eaten up by the time I got my camera out.
It doesn’t help that it is in the middle of nowhere, and a long way to go to visit. Its not connected with a university, and so hasn’t got that academic bustle about it and, being a botanic garden, tries not to be a visitor attraction or a pretty garden or place to show off gardening equipment and systems or what you can do with your gardens. I came away confused. Not knowing what it was meant to be. It’s quite nice, but…
The walled garden was quite nice but it was filled with a jumble of things – bananas to pumpkins via the greenhouse, which was full of orchids and subtropicals. I could only compare it to the wild romance of the walled garden in Castle Kennedy near Stranraer, which I visited on Monday. No contest. Castle Kennedy knew what it was and did it superbly.
The Haverfordwest Book Fiesta was very well advertised and organised – I feel the Library would have wished for more people to come out than did. We are so comfortable in our living rooms these days, it gets harder and harder to get people out to see something live – even when it’s free! Maybe that’s an element. We get so much for free today that we take things for granted.
However what we had was a quality audience and I have a great time telling stories. It was great to see Bernard Ashley there too, who had had quite a journey getting there, following a fatality on the line.
I was also pleased to meet Illustrator, Teresa Jenellen, who had a lovely way with watercolours – very dreamy and ethereal, and storyteller, David Pitt, who goes by the name of the The Crow Man. He was mixing storytelling with mask making. The trouble with doing events like this is that I come away thinking that maybe I should do masks and making things with children too. Never satisfied! I have to keep telling myself that there are only so many things in life that you can do and do well.
Thanks to everyone in Haverfordwest for a great day.
Blundell’s Preparatory School in Tiverton, Devon on Tursday, where I had a lovely day – made even better by home-made cakes in the staff room! Coffee and walnut have always been a bit of a favourite of mine, since I had a slice in the Copper Kettle tea rooms somewhere near or in Bletchingley, Surrey, in the mid 1960s. I can still taste it when I close my eyes.I had a wonderful day, telling stories from the nursery up. I showed years 5 and 6 my haphazard methods of creative organisation. We tried to come up with a story and chose to work on How the Cobra came to be.
For a long time, I thought we would not get a story, then it all came tumbling out. I find it fascinating how stories appear in these sessions. One minute I’m in despair, the next its flowing out towards a reasonably satisfying conclusion for a pre first draft plot. In this case the cobra, unlike other snakes, had ears for gossip. The more he listened the bigger they got! I won’t tell you the end, because I think there may be a good story in there.
Children always ask me if I’m going the write the stories we come up with. It’s a tricky one. Who came up with the idea. I’m conscious that I push the children in the direction I want them to go and often have to drag it out of them when I can see the story and want them to provide the important influences on the plot. But sometimes a child will say something so left field that it turns something mundane into something quite good. Even so, it’s generally my interpretation of their comment that gets us to the end of the story, otherwise we would be discussing it for weeks!
I think I came up with the answer on Thursday, when a child asked the question again. “Its just a framework of a plot at the moment,” I said. “There is no copyright in it until someone publishes the story. So the first one to get it published is the winner.” Everyone seemed happy with that. Of course, if everyone wrote their version of the story, they would all be so different, there probably wouldn’t be a copyright issue anyway. So I’m beginning to feel more comfortable about maybe using the ideas that come up in these sessions.
Maybe the thing to do is start another blog, where I write up the stories. After a while, it may turn out that some of them would make a collection, and then a book. The act of putting them on my blog would copyright my versions of them, so I could share them as I went along, but it would also protect me and my future publishers, if I were to make a book out of them.
It’s a tricky subject. How far does copyright extend? I don’t think copyright covers ideas anyway. But at least if I did make a blog of it, those who were involved would be able to follow the stories.
So many people assume that a story is worth millions and that there is a fortune to be made from the copyright. The truth is that one story can barely support the author for the time it takes them to write it out. Sometimes authors get lucky – but that is such a rare occurrence.
I’ve been in Scotland the last few days, at the Wigtown Book Festival in Galloway. Where’s Galloway? That’s what I wondered. It’s in the last remaining corner of Scotland that I’ve never been to before – bottom left, with views across to Ireland from Stranraer, whose Primary School I visited on Monday afternoon.
I arrived on Saturday, flying to Glasgow and driving down in a hire car. I realised that I didn’t have a map and had put my faith entirely in the SatNav. I stopped in Girvan to check I was doing okay and bought an ice cream from Bob Bordone, a third generation italian ice cream maker.
He told me that the great big rock out there in the sea was Ailsa Craig, part inspiration for my Craig M’nure stories! I almost felt at home eating my 99 on the beach staring out at the misty monolith.
Wigtown is quite grand, as it used to be the county town of Wigtownshire. It is now a booktown like Hay-on-Wye. It was a wonderfully friendly set up and I met up with John Fardell and made new friends at a late night supper in the pub.
Monday Morning I visited St Ninian’s Primary and spoke to about 15 children who make up KS1. We spent sometime coming up with an hilarious story about the tooth monsters who torture you with toothbrushes and drills if your teeth fall out with holes in them. This was one story, we decided, that it was not a cop out to have the hero wake up in the morning and find it was bad dream after all.
In the afternoon, I visited Castle Kennedy, where I nearly tripped over a Red Squirrel. It waited while I got my camera and posed for me, then it let me take a profile shot before he skittered off into the woods again. They are totally enchanting creatures. The castle benefits from the warm air of the gulf stream, so the walled garden is an impossibly romantic tangle of herbaceous borders, still flowering away in late September.
Tuesday morning I drove to Carsphairn in the middle of Galloway’s nowhere, and had a lovely time at the school that has only 13 pupils!
I worked out that I just had time to visit Culzean castle on the way back to the airport. What a wonderfully romantic place, perched up on the rocks staring out at Arran.
The cows then began a new cheese planet and the circle of life was contained, except that some children wanted the cows to attack the beetles with milk guns!
We cut the cheese and mice out of the story and left the cows on a frozen planet at the edge of the solar system. Never mind, they found a new calling as purveyors of ice cream to the Universe!
In the afternoon, we needed a Universal being to squeze all the flavours from the old, spongey stars. We chose The Mystical Hands of Space! The Hands made jelly planets which were eaten by Mista Blobba.
The last two flavours he ate were frog’s legs and light. He had eaten so much that he exploded into a billion little jelly blobs each with a seed of light inside. This was Starspawn. the lighst grew in the jelly and became the stars we know and love today!
You learn something new…
It’s now a quarter past twelve and I haven’t done any work yet. Well, I have actually, but not what I call work work.
Now the school year is underway, invitations to visit schools and festivals have started coming in. I love visiting schools – I must do – I do a lot of travelling to schools each year, but it necessarily requires a lot of organisation. So when I’m asked if I sit down and write all day, the answer is no. I spend a lot of time travelling and, when I’m home, I spend a lot of time preparing to travel,
Today I’ve been sorting out a trip to Scotland. That’s contracts, flights, long-term parking, car hire, route planning and timing before I even consider what I might do in each of the schools I’m gong to visit. Sometimes I think it would be great to have someone sort it all out for me, but I’d probably end up spending as long with my organising person as I do sorting it out myself. Of course the internet makes it so much easier, and I’m getting to know my way around all the travel sites quite well now and the Sat Nav is a boon, when it’s got the correct destination, that is.
By the time I’ve finished the rest of my paper work today it will be lunchtime and there’s another morning gone with no work done!