I was at a superb talk given by Dr. Eva Griffith at the London Metropolitan Museum, about ‘Shakespeare’s Rivals’ a few weeks ago.
During it we were allowed to look at the documents of the period, which were sometimes just little pieces of paper, that when pieced together told some of the social history of the time. I was hooked.
Old pieces of paper intrigue me. The official name of course for those scraps is ‘ephemera’ described as ‘transitory written or printed material not meant to be retained or preserved’. You know, those are the bits that turn up years later in forgotten diaries like bus tickets, shopping lists, scribbled lyrics written after a break up.
I have one piece of paper that was so important to me that I’ve have kept it ever since I was twelve.
It came with me when as a child we immigrated to the States and then I brought it back again still intact years later when we arrived home to The Isle of Bute in Scotland again.
My treasured item was a postcard of acknowledgement from the publishers Blackie & Son Ltd, to say that they had received my work.
Imagine this…. aged twelve I’m sitting at the kitchen table scribbling in longhand and whizzing through a dozen school jotters to create my book called ‘‘Adventure Isle”. (For those who might be moderately interested it was an adventure in Enid Blyton style with lots of descriptions of food…just the way she did it) When it was finished I went to the local printers to see if I could get someone to type it up for me but it was too expensive so I wrapped all the jotters up lovingly in a brown paper package and posted them off.
One week later the mail arrived and in it was a postcard. It simply read:
“Blackie & Son’s Publishers acknowledges the receipt of ‘Adventure Isle’ by Margaret Nicol”
For me this was a magical moment. I was a writer and I could prove it!
The postcard was my trophy and I’ve kept it ever since just to remind myself that’s who I am…in case I forget.
It’s a bit unusual to have three publications out in one month (July), but very exciting – and they are all collaborations with lovely people.
The first two are picture books, co-written with the English Traveller, Richard O’Neill, and are published to coincide with Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month. Yokki and the Parno Gry, about a magic horse and its relationship with a Traveller family which has fallen on hard times, is a really lovely story and was great fun to work on with Richard, turning it, with his blessing from an oral story to a picture book. The other, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, is a more comical story about a monster, and a girl from a Travelling background who yearns to be a musician.
Equally, it was an honour to contribute a chapter, ‘Becoming English’ to A Country of Refuge, edited by Lucy Popescu and published by Unbound this month. This was a book that celebrates the contributions that refugees have made to this country. I wrote about my mother and grandmother coming to the UK just after the war from what was then Yugoslavia.
The first picture books reviews are in:
“This is a window onto a different culture and a reminder to have faith in imagination.” Super review by Nicolette Jones in the The Times and The Sunday Times Children’s Books Summer Reading!
Historical Novel Society on Ossiri and the Bala Mengro: Marion Rose reviewed it, writing: “This is a picture book where everything has been thought about, from the patterned end papers to the glossary that explains the sprinkling of unfamiliar words. It is beautiful to look at, and wonderful to read aloud. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is old enough to meet an ogre.”
Elizabeth Hawksley reviewed Yokki for the Historical Novel Society thus: “I loved learning about the Travelling life, what everyone did, and how they coped. It’s also a story about the power of the imagination to rise above the bad times and look forward to a better future. Children of 4-9 should love it.”
Leeds Gate, a Traveller charity, reviewed the books, with 11 year old Jerry Hanrahan writing:
“My name is Jerry Hanrahan, I am 11. I went to primary school except for most of the last year. I’m hoping to go to high school in September. I read the books in our training room at Leeds GATE with my brother Billy crawling and exploring around us!
I read Parno Gry, it was quite easy for me to read, and I liked the story. My favourite character was Yokki cos he told stories. The worst bit was when Aunty couldn’t sell her flowers, I felt really disappointed for her. The pictures were good. I read half the other book, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, but then my brother was making a lot of noise so Helen read through the rest.
I think these books would be best for children a little bit younger than me, say about nine. I liked the stories being about Travellers and what was in the pictures. I think they should write more books. Thumbs up!”
“A traditional Romani folk tale brought to stunning life… hugely original story introducing characters and stories from other cultures in an engaging and delightful way.” ReadItDaddy
Over at the Travellers Times, a magazine for the Roma, Romani and Traveller community, the books were reviewed thus: “This book, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro was a fantastic read, all though it is mostly suited to younger children as there are a lot of pictures. The illustrations are colourful, entertaining and show what is happening in each part of the story well….Yokki and the Parno Gry…made me feel hopeful towards the future. ‘Yokki and the Parno Gry’ is a wonderful tale of what a child’s hope and imagination can bring to a family, it’s just an added bonus that it’s about the Gypsy and Traveller community.
Samantha Ellis also reviewed A Country of Refuge for
The Times Literary Supplement:
“Lucy Popescu’s A Country of Refuge is a collection of both fiction and non-fiction about refugees. A moving essay by Joan Smith about Anne Frank’s father’s attempts to seek asylum, comparing it to the story of Aylan (Alan) Kurdi, a victim of “the same depressingly bureaucratic response to refugees fleeing fascist regimes”, proves that empathy is not the preserve of fiction. Not every contribution earns its place. An excerpt from Rose Tremain’s story “The Beauty of the Dawn Shift” is not nearly as powerful as the whole original. It is also a little unclear why two pieces (neither new) by William Boyd about Ken Saro-Wiwa have been included, since Saro-Wiwa was never a refugee. But this book is full of powerful writing. Many of the best contributions come from writers who are refugees,
or second-generation refugees, themselves. Hassan Abdulrazzak describes an encounter with an RSPCA inspector who refuses to allow his Iraqi family a dog, and his realization that “it was going to be a long, hard struggle to learn all the rules of my new homeland”; Katharine Quarmby tenderly describes her mother’s induction into the mysteries of The Archers.”
The video shows pop-ups from the second children’s theatre production I co-created for Wordpepper which finished it’s final tour earlier this year. The show was presented by Half Moon Theatre in association with Apples and Snakes.
I made 19 pop-up books in total for the show, from very small to extremely large constructions which opened up to form the set. The video shows a small section of the smaller ones. These presented a type of illusion, being made to look like full books but often containing only one pop-up design to illustrate a moment in the show.
“Fussy Freya (Frances Lincoln £11.99) is not for the squeamish: Katharine Quarmby’s rollicking verse tells how a three-year-old picky eater orders warthog and monkey, and learns a lesson when that is what granny serves. Piet Grobler’s watercolours have a sinister, angular exaggeration, like German expressionism. For children who like their food familiar and their rhymes revolting.” (Sunday Times, Best books for Easter, 2008)
“Piet Grobler’s brightly coloured illustrations are comic and eccentric in a way that is perfectly in keeping with the story… The characters are hilarious and unforgettable. The wavy layout of the text and the font are visually appealing too. All in all, this is a witty book that is fun to read. Each page has humour and entertainment value for children, though I love this book as much as my son does.” (http://www.writeaway.org.uk)
“What a joy of a picture book! I loved the illustrations, the fonts, the layout, the humour and the musicality of the text. A super book to read aloud with 2 to 7 year olds. The subliminal message is how Freya stopped being a fussy eater but the story line is simply a vehicle for an entertaining feast of children’s literature. Alliterative words, repetitive rhyming couplets, visual treats and more. I can hear the giggles now as the weekly menu is unravelled page by page. Every double page is packed so that I found something new each time I looked through it. In my experience this is a joy, not only for the small child but also for the adult sharing it and can make the difference between a genuinely rewarding bedtime experience and the ‘oh no not that one again’ kind of feeling on the part of the grown up. This can, so easily, be the kiss of death to expressive story sharing after a long hard day! If this is Katharine and Piet’s first collaboration, I hope they continue with original and exciting ideas for pre school children. Wonderful stuff.” (School Librarian)
“The story is written in a poetic way and is humourous and beautifully illustrated. The meals are carefully depicted, showing the importance of having vegetables and what could happen if children do not eat properly. And now when I use the threat of serving my children mashed monkey and rice when they become difficult at meal times, it yields wonderful results.”(www.theteacher.co.za)
Here are some stories from the students in 3H who were part of the six week Wriggle Room Writing workshop which you can read about in the previous post.
One early day, Mr Tazz remembered it was December and he got to practice martial arts. The place is set in an underwater palace, which has over 5000 people and they are all special. Mr Tazz wore a blue swimsuit with yellow shoulder pads and yellow stripes on his legs. In the middle there is a circle and it says ‘Mr T’. He likes riding his submarine and his jet-ski, also sharks and whales. Mr Tazz is 32 and he practices martial arts. He lives in a special laboratory. Mr Tazz is mature, courageous and kind. Mr Tazz usually feels awesome. Moments later, Mr Tazz was inventing a new vehicle called the jet bike and suddenly his Tazz phone was tingling so he answered it…….it was the Queen! “Hello Mr Tazz, is that you? Can you help because the menacing Dr Octo has my crown! Bye”, said the Queen in a cranky voice. So he swiftly ran out the palace but there was an army of brain washed people. He flew over them, he went even faster! Finally he found Dr Octo, “You’re too late!” mentioned Dr Octo. “How do you know?” asked Mr Tazz. “Because I have an army” declared Dr Octo. “Uh-oh” said Mr Tazz in a slow voice. “ No one fear, Dr Finn is here!” Dr Finn said in a clear voice. He pushed the octopus away. Mr Tazz ran and threw his Tazzarang and it snatched and located the Queen and gave it back. “Oh how could I repay you?” cried the Queen. “Well you can pay us billion sheus” suggested Dr Finn. “If you say so” stammered the Queen. “Yes!” Shouted Mr Tazz. So everyone lived happily ever after but Dr Octo felt the opposite!
It was early on a Saturday morning when Shy was feeling very cool, calm and fine. Shy was a kind, helpful person. He wore dark, shiny boots with a brown, yellow jacket. Shy lived in a gloomy ship wreck. Shy was working on his inventions that he wanted to use to defeat the mighty Claw Trox! Shy needed to watch out because Claw Trox had a plan too! While Shy was working on his inventions there was a ring on his old phone. It was the Queen, she cried, “oh Shy! Help! Someone has stolen the fish so that they can be their slaves!” Screamed the Queen loudly. “ I am on my way!” When Shy ran out of his door he saw fish angrily charging at him. Shy got out of it because he had a rope and he grabbed the fish, Shy locked the fish in his house! After that Shy was feeling anxious because he had never faced a villain that was part fish, part whale and part shark! Then Shy swam so far and found Claw Trox’s lair. As soon as Shy swam into the cave he heard Claw Trox’s evil laugh echoing around him! Shy marched into the deep, dark and gloomy cave. A few seconds later Shy stepped on a stick and Claw Trox turned around and he said, “ Hello Shy, do you think you can beat me?” When Claw Trox and Shy stood face to face, Shy had a rope and he tied it around Claw Trox and freed the fish. Then, so Claw Trox would not come back, he blew him out of a cannon!
Early one day, Star was in her shipwreck drinking juicy seaweed stew with the Queen. Star was wearing a blue, scaley skirt with a pink, soft flower in her hair. Her favourite thing to do was swimming around in circles, swishing her arms in the water. Her favourite thing to eat was fried fish with a salt drink and her best friend loved that too. Star liked painting her submarine the colour yellow and blue and it went really fast! The sea was very cold and dark so star sometimes swam around a lot so she could get warm. After that the Queen went back to her palace, her palace where she keeps her bottles of potions. The Queen saw one of them was gone so she called Star on her underwater phone. She panicly screamed, “come right here! Spikey has stolen one of my potions!” “I’ll come right away!” exclaimed Star. Star raced to the Queens castle where she explained all about it. Then, Star went into Spikey’s lair but she could not get in because there were sea urchins everywhere around the house. “What shall I do?” complained Star to herself. “Oh! I know! I can use my underwater gloves that I use when I have to touch sea urchins!” yelled Star. Then she zoomed back to her shipwreck and grabbed them and it worked! She spent about an hour to take all the sea urchins off. Star felt really cross with Spikey, nobody liked her at all so hardly anyone spoke to her. At last Star finished and got into Spikey’s lair and she poured the potion into Spikey’s mouth so she could get sick and not the Queen. In the morning, Spikey did not feel well so she lay in bed all day! At the end of the day she knew what was wrong. Star had pured the potion in her mouth and soon after, about a month, she could not talk for the rest of her life! The people in the village were very happy.
Last spring, a group of us from the Islington Writers for Children went on a writing adventure with 2 classes of Year 3 students at Burdett-Coutts Primary School – in six sessions over six weeks we hoped to inspire a love of writing and words. Each author did a different session and over the six weeks the Year 3s played lots of word games, brainstormed together and wrote their own stories and poems. We all enjoyed it, and there were some wonderful pieces of writing!
You can read them in an earlier blog – below.
We called this writing adventure — Wriggle Room Writers.
This year we were invited back to Burdett-Coutts to do it again with the next bunch of Year 3s! Yippee!! And so another Wriggle Room Writers experience got underway. We all played with plot, character, setting, voice, rhythm and rhyme and making up a song. And along the way we gave each other feedback about our writing. We were bowled over by the inventiveness and creativity of their stories and poems. Watch out for those Burdett-Coutts Year 3 students and their big imaginations! Before you know it, their books will be appearing on the bookshelves in your local bookshop!
In the final session, our resident singer-songwriter brought a guitar and each class wrote and performed a song in 45 minutes!! This is a fabulous way to end the Wriggle Room Writers experience. You can listen to their songs here and sing along with the words.
First off, here is Class 3T with their Lullaby Song
And here is Class 3H with their Underwater Christmas Song