Skip to content

Little Fir Tree

November 12, 2018

MEGG NICOL

I brought the idea of writing a musical called Little Fir Tree to our Writers Group a good few years ago.  The synopsis of the story that David Stoll and I had written was read out to the group and it received a general thumbs up.  That was the signal for me to go away and get writing in earnest!

It was very important to me to have that nod of approval from the group, to give me the confidence to forge ahead. Happily I am now able to report that after a gap of some years, Little Fir Tree will be aired at two staged concerts at Kings Place on 18th December, both supported by the Woodland Trust. Excitingly, Sylvester McCoy will be the narrator and we have seven actors and six musicians.

The Woodland Trust involvement came about after Alan Rickett the producer of Little Fir Tree discovered that the whole of the London Borough of Islington had been declared an Air Quality Management Area with concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter exceeding the UK air quality standards, so we decided to do something practical.

Because of my connections to the entertainment world it seemed natural to think how it might be possible to link the message about needing more trees in cities and at the same time putting on a show to raise consciousness about the subject.

That’s when the idea of using Little Fir Tree co-written by myself and David Stoll,  as a vehicle for getting the green message out there, began to form. I went to a hear talk by some of the Woodland Trust speakers at the Sainsbury’s Headquarters on ‘How trees talk to each other” and although, this was a lecture for adults, all I could think about was how children would relate to the talking trees in our show, and how we instinctively knew that trees did have an inbuilt communication system

Of course as children’s writers we know all about making that emotional connection with characters that help children make sense of their everyday lives so the first aim of the story is entertainment. That said, there are lessons to be learned. The situations that Little Tree encounters parallel those of every child, and his adventures show the power of friendship and loyalty and especially the importance of never giving up.

But importantly for the Woodland Trust the story-line reminds everyone of the value in preserving our woodland areas for the future well-being of the planet. Little Tree, for example, is not chopped down and disposed of at the end of the story (as in the original) but dug up and replanted as a symbol of growth.

I have to say that I am very excited that Little Fir Tree is growing! Wouldn’t it be fun if at the same time it might be possible to open the door to a magical world of trees that city children might not even know exists?

https://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on/family/little-fir-tree-gala-premiere/

Advertisements

Little Fir Tree Gala Premiere

November 12, 2018

MEGG NICOL

Little Fir Tree – Gala Premiere

World Premiere

Little Fir Tree is a magical new uplifting musical for the whole family based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, re-imagined and composed by Megg Nicol and David Stoll. This concert performance, with celebrity storyteller Sylvester McCoy, cast and orchestra, is the world premiere.

Little Tree lives in a clearing in the Great Forest, far away from most human contact. He has wonderful animal friends, Owl, Benny Badger, Rabbit, the Squirrel Twins and Mouse who support him, especially when the bigger trees pick on him for being small.

Occasionally the human world and the Forest world collide, bringing hope and joy, as when Lara and the other school children arrive for a winter picnic and fall in love with Little Tree. But sometimes the outside world can bring danger, in the guise of Poacher Pete, who hunts animals and chops down trees.

Few people venture this deep into the Forest. But on this special occasion, you too can discover the magical world of Little Fir Tree.

Little Fir Tree is a feel good family story that will appeal to the child in all of us.

Suitable for all ages.

https://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on/family/little-fir-tree-gala-premiere/

Rousing Time – The Space Between Words

June 13, 2018

LYNDA WATERHOUSE

I love the spaces between words. Those powerful silences when emotions run too deep to be expressed by mere words. A poem or a song might fill the void but most people in ‘real life’ sadly do not burst into song or have the perfect poem off pat. There is usually just silence. Portraying these moments in fiction can be a challenge.

For my own sanity I have to spend at least five minutes of every day inhabiting that space. When I am not speaking there is time to listen to the noisy jumble of thoughts and ideas that are bouncing around inside my head. If I’m not given enough time to think, I become melancholy and irritable.

One day as I was walking along the South Bank I was accosted by a man who said, “London Bridge Hospital. Where is London Bridge Hospital?”

I was shocked and for a minute I was once again transported back to The London Hospital in the eighteenth century. I had just come for the Museum of London’s Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition. By the time I had pulled myself together, worked out that he probably meant Guy’s Hospital, he had moved off from me in disgust and was making his desperate appeal to someone else.

Thoughts like fine wine need time to breathe. They need rousing time!

Every morning as a child my mother would wake up my brother and I by calling our names from the bottom of the stairs. When we answered her call she would give us rousing time. Five minutes or so of precious time to gather one’s thoughts, banish bad dreams and prepare for the day ahead. I still wake up each day and give myself rousing time.

As a teacher I have learned the power of silence. If I wait long enough with the right attitude – judgemental or irritated waiting will not do – then the child will invariably find the right words or the courage to speak out. It is one piece of advice that I give to colleagues: “Give the child time.” In class rooms it can be horrifying how little time is given between asking a question and waiting for the answer.

Theatre and film are more obvious mediums for showing what happens in the space between words. In storytelling, there is interior monologue, or the narrator’s voice, or observations from another character’s point of view.

I often describe periods of time in companionable silence to show an emotional connection between characters. How do you write the space between words?

Picture Books: Discover and Be Discovered

April 2, 2018

JOHN O’LEARY

A week ago, I went to the SCWBI event, Picture Books: Discover and Be Discovered, at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education CLPE where American illustrator, Paul O. Zelinski, spoke about his journey from being a compulsive child drawer to critically acclaimed children’s illustrator and Caldecott winner. During his time at Yale College, he took a class on the history and practice of the picture book which was co-taught by Maurice Sendak and it was this that inspired him to become a children’s illustrator.

Borrowing a line from an earlier talk about websites, “ It’s not about you, it’s about them,” Paul O. Zelinski tweaked and applied it to the job of illustrating. “It’s not about you or them, it’s about it,” he said, referring to the fact that each picture book cries out for its own style of illustration (or writing). Paul O. Zelinski is happy to oblige, successfully breaking the golden rule about maintaining a consistent, recognisable style.

The topic then switched to the marketing side of the business. Candy Gourlay focused on the target market and getting an understanding of just who actually buys books. She divides these into three categories; hot (dead certs – family and friends), warm (the ‘maybes’ who know who you are but haven’t got round to buying your book) and cold (those who’ve never heard of you). She stressed the importance of shifting efforts from the hot to the cold in a bid to move those on the outer reaches further down into the purchase funnel. Interestingly, independent bookshops feature high on the list of places where books are bought for all age groups up to 10, in addition to charity shops (0-4 and 5-7),  children’s book and toy shops (0-4), and bargain bookshops (5-7).

She also talked about what she termed as ‘eggs in your basket’ – what you’ve got, what you can control and what you can create? You’ll probably have a blog, website and archive, social media platforms, research, a publicist perhaps… All of these you can control, including your publicist with whom you should be building a relationship – he or she needs to get to know you. She stressed the importance of online content, especially useful information which helps to attract and grow a fan base. On Amazon, you can control the write up as well as create an author profile with an obligatory photo of yourself from ten years ago. You can create how-to videos in order to engage with fans and, if you visit schools, teachers will often show these to the children before you arrive. She added that the resources you create will also be appreciated by teachers who always need them. It’s important to build and join communities and visit schools, if that’s your thing. And it’s always useful to re-purpose existing material, create content that will increase your presence, and build and maintain relationships.

For the final segment of the afternoon, Candy put on her interviewer’s hat and spoke to Hilary Delamere who promptly dispelled the myth that agents are a tough, ruthless bunch, before discussing the search for representation and what happens once you’re taken on. Here are some of Hilary’s dos and don’ts:

  •    Think of approaching agents in the same way as a job interview.
  •    Don’t lie or be rude to the agent’s assistants.
  •    Make sure what you’re presenting is the very best it can be.
  •    Have a fantastic title and opening line and end on a brilliant line
  •    Don’t over-explain what your project is.
  •    Authors, don’t get your own illustrator on board – it will end in tears.
  •    And go for rhythmic rather that rhyming texts.

Who wants a throwaway life?

March 22, 2018

TARA BUTTON

Tara Button, founder of BuyMeOnce, is at the forefront of the global movement to change the way we shop and live forever, championing the longest-lasting and most sustainable products on Earth.

In 2013 Tara went from depressed spendthrift to fulfilled and calm entrepreneur using a technique she calls ‘mindful curation’. In this book, she teaches the steps to master this lifestyle change. On this journey you’ll:

  • Detect the tricks that get us overspending and how to dodge them.
  • Discover why they really don’t make stuff like they used to and what can be done about it.
  • De-clutter your home and find the products that will serve you best for life.
  • Jump off the trend treadmill and build a home and wardrobe to your true taste.
  • Dig deep into your purpose and priorities to live a more fulfilled life.
  • Rediscover the art of keeping and caring for things.
  • Find happiness, success and self-worth beyond buying.

Now more than ever we need brave solutions to navigate life as a “consumer”.

In this book, at last, we have a guide.

https://uk.buymeonce.com/pages/a-life-less-throwaway

 

 

On Being A SCBWI BI Conference Volunteer

February 7, 2018

CLARE TOVEY

John O’Leary has already talked about his experience of attending last November’s Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) British Isles region annual conference at Winchester to run a workshop – an event I helped to organize, and will be doing so again in 2018. This will be my fourth year helping to organize the conference as an illustrator committee volunteer!

Planning for the conference in November early in the year with a Conference Committee meeting, which is a great opportunity to meet fellow SCBWI Conference volunteers from all over the country, and be able to “put faces to the names” that you will be working with all year. A huge amount of planning goes into making the Conference happen: it is great to be part of the talented team of 20 + volunteers who do the work.

Fairly obviously, the Conference takes up a lot of time in the couple of weeks preceding it as the final details are put in place – and the last minute glitches of suddenly unavailable speakers are dealt with. (Life happens!)

There is also intermittently a lot to do much earlier in the year, lining up potential speakers, sorting out dietary requirements, the programming of the event, work shop equipment, book lists, and so on. Luckily, I enjoy this kind of detailed work, and modern technology helps us all as a team to keep on the same page.

Then at the Conference it’s different type of work: welcoming our speakers, making sure everything is set up for them, and guiding them to the right place at the right time. Plus generally helping out with anything else that may need doing!

Experience has shown that it is important for me to map out my conference, too, and make sure I get to do the workshops and fringe events I especially want to do. (The Friday Sketch Crawl being my favourite.)

To sum up, being a SCBWI Conference volunteer is both a lot of hard work throughout the year, and a lot of fun. An extra bonus for me is that having a job to do helps me to overcome my slight shyness in crowds.

Multitasking and Collaborating.

December 3, 2017

I was asked to deliver a session on multitasking to a group of illustrators at the SCBWI conference in Winchester last week-end. Jack-of- all-Trades: How to Have Multiple Careers as an Illustrator looked at choosing the right activities to complement and benefit your core practice as an illustrator of children’s picture books, getting the balance right and recognizing the boundaries? I also ran a hands-on activity where illustrators flexed their creative muscles in a mini workshop combining pop-up design and illustration.

I think multitasking is inevitable when you’re a self-employed creative, especially when dealing with the day-to-day running of your business. However, is it a good idea to diversify creatively, to expand your activities in different directions or even to add to your skill set? It does encourage thinking outside the box, leads to cross pollination of ideas over different disciplines and helps create new income streams. However, does diversifying stretch you too thin and can the problems outweigh the benefits?

For me, what started out as a plan to be an illustrator, turned into an ambition to illustrate and write books. This was followed by the desire to add paper engineering to the mix as well author visits and family workshops.

Something that was quite simple to begin with, turned into a practice that has encompassed schools visits, talks and workshops on how to create your own pop-up books, editorial illustration, card design, pop-up picture books, public art trails and other collaborations with artists, not to mention co-creating a number of children’s theatre productions. This is further complicated by the fact that it’s all done as a joint business with an artist wife with a great deal of crossover between both practices.

I think problems arise when one strand takes over and dominates to the detriment of everything else. It can be very easy to lose sight of your initial goals and to forget what’s really important. It’s also possible to become so immersed in a project that you fail to measure what you’re actually getting out of it – it’s not always a good thing to let your passion get the better of you.

I think it’s always helpful to have an idea of what you hope achieve from your activities and what proportion of your time you want to spend on each thing. If one area becomes neglected, it’s time to address that. Always place your projects in order of priority and importance. With each one, you need to balance the equation: does the time, work and money spent equal the income received plus other benefits. Think about soft benefits – recognition, exposure, does it lead to other opportunities, are you gaining valuable experience?

With collaborations, sometimes you need to tread carefully. Before you start illustrating (or writing) your best friend’s story, think about whether a publisher is likely to accept the whole package. If not, would you be happy with that and is it worth losing a friendship over? With any collaboration, be clear what it is you want from it and what should happen in any given scenario – then get it all down in writing and signed by all concerned.

In my opinion most long-term collaborations have a finite lifespan; the key is to know when it’s time to stop. The ones that continue past their sell-by-date risk creating negativity and spoiling any residual benefit that continued contact and friendship generate.

Dream collaborations do happen – those rare situations where two or more people speak more highly of each other than they do of themselves in an atmosphere of mutual respect, loyalty and transparency. Egos and glory-hunting take a back seat in an arrangement where no one’s bigger that the whole picture. These are the ones you should definitely embrace.

Examples from the mini hands-on workshop combining illustration and pop-up design. The workshop recreated something I do in schools and hopefully shows that by adding something extra, you tick more boxes and increase your appeal. Pop ups by Dave Gray and Rita Lazaro

 

%d bloggers like this: