My nephew (9) had to draw a scientist and label their skills for school. My sister sent me this picture and explained he’d chosen to draw me. Wow! I love it. I especially love that I have the skill ‘fearless’ along with the complimentary skill ‘good at being safe’.
What started as research into technique quickly changed into me being fascinated by ‘The Incredible and Fantastically Feminist Life of Ada Lovelace’, and by Mrs Puff, her best friend the cat. The whole video is so engaging, as is the illustrated book. As Ada grew up it made me think of Rachel McCrum’s fantastic performance playing Ada when we toured with the Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch.
I am not my father’s daughter
That’s the line that always sticks in my head, about her relationship with her father the poet, Lord Byron.
Ada’s life is fascinating, as is her design for the first computer – the difference engine. If you want to know more, buy Anna’s book from your local independent bookstore.
I looked up the rest of Anna Doherty’s work – I was so impressed – she’s an author illustrator who writes about women scientists and women who are neurodiverse (both topics are close to my heart).
She even wrote an illustrated book about Michelle Obama. And then I discovered her first book was about the Bronte sisters. Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books. I felt inspired seeing Anna’s work and Anna, after watching the video.
And in a small way, I felt proud my nephew chose a woman scientist for his school project – and that woman was me.
It’s been over 3 months since lockdown began and just like other authors, I’ve had my live events and book festivals cancelled due to covid 19. We’ve had to learn new ways to share stories. Here’s a bit about how I’ve been doing that and some story videos for the children you know.
Live in Schools
Last week I did a live Crime Squirrel Investigators event on google meet with two remote primary schools, Badcaul and Scoraig near Ullapool. One is only accessible by boat and in total, there are 16 children in both schools.
The event was lovely – we planned how to take what I normally do live and make it work on a computer screen while keeping it interactive. The teacher Mrs Love, was really helpful and we did a test earlier in the week so I worked out how to share images, music and video while still being live on screen myself. I was a bit nervous about the technology but it all worked.
For example instead of getting volunteers to help me with a camoflage demonstration, I prerecorded myself dressing up instead of the children:
Instead of getting a teacher to help with actions while I’m singing a song, I taught the children the song on guitar live and then played a prerecorded audio version while I mimed along and did live actions. I hadn’t realised quite how exhausting jumping about like a squirrel all the way through a song is and I had to do it for two songs!!
We got families to type answers in to quiz questions on the chat function and at other points the children made true or false shapes with their bodies for a squirrel quiz. At the end of the event, the children asked questions live on video. I really enjoyed it and I was pleased that they did too. Thanks to the Scottish Booktrust for funding this event.
I’ve even purchased a go-pro camera since then, so I can make better films and have a much better webcam for future events. I’m excited about using it for underwater filming and outdoor adventures too – it’s waterproof!
Live on Facebook with RSPB Scotland
Earlier on in lockdown, RSPB Scotland asked if I could make a video to engage with their younger members. We went for a Can’t-Dance-Cameron interactive storytelling session (with dancing and a science experiment) as part of their Big Wild Sleepout event. It was broadcast on Facebook and they added it to YouTube too so you can watch it here:
I could have filmed more outside but I wanted children who couldn’t go out much to feel understood and I wanted to remind them, with our imaginations and using stories – we can go anywhere. The sent me an osmo pocket camera so I learned how to use that and filmed it all myself. It took ages so I vowed to simplify things a lot for the next video. Thankfully the RSPB helped with editing! And thanks to the Scottish Booktrust for funding this event!
The Little Oak Tree
What came next was a request to record a story for the children at Ps and Gs. I chose a simple story I wrote about a little oak tree. It’s got a couple of songs in it too. It’s main aim is to encourage the children to be themselves. The story comes first and then there’s some songs and rhymes from Rachel. I hope you enjoy it, the message is for adults too – be yourself! Watch it here:
Leaf Cafe Live on Facebook
I had a nice surprise when I heard Carol at Leaf Cafe in Hartfordshire was reading Crime Squirrel Investigators: The Naughty Nut Thief live on facebook as part of her legendary 11am daily book reading. You can watch it on facebook here. It’s had over 1500 views because Carol is great at reading stories!
It’s been a strange time. A hard time.
At first I was surviving, waiting to get through it and come out the other side. Now I’ve got to a place where I’ve realised I don’t have very much control over planning the future so I’ve surrendered to that. And as a result, I’m more able to get on with what I’ve got to do right now and I’m less bothered when things I thought were going to happen don’t or can’t. I sometimes have hard days but overall, I’m feeling much better. I’ve been running lots which I think helps. I hope you’re doing okay, whatever is happening for you and I hope these stories help.
I’m writing most days and I’ve had deadlines every week for the last 10 weeks so I’ve had to get on with it. I realised I’m more resourceful than I thought I was because I’ve made my deadlines, even though I was finding it really hard at first. I suppose that’s what we’re all doing, we’re doing our best to keep going and do what we need to do, whatever that looks like for us.
I’ve heard lots more people are learning Gaelic since lockdown began so I’ll finish up by sharing a Gaelic glossary I made for Historic Environment Scotland when I was working as a facilitator out on the Ilse of Lewis. I didn’t share it here at the time I made it, so now’s a good time. It’s an easy introduction to a new language. And it’s full of children’s artwork so it’s really lovely. Why not give Gaelic a go and watch it here:
Read more about the Blackhouse project on the Isle of Lewis here.
I hope you have a fantastic summer holiday and I’ll blog again soon. Sorry it’s been so long!
Sometime in 2014 I was invited to respond to a short section of archive film with creative writing. The request came from Filmpoem artist Alastair Cook. I’d responded once before to a 20 second Filmpoem (20 poets – 20s of film each) back in 2012 and really enjoyed the challenge. I also worked with Alastair and children at North Lights Arts Festival to help the children create their own film poem, Shaking Shells.
This time I was one of several poets who responded, we each got given a section of silent film and none of us saw each other’s footage. The short film has now been published with Rachel McCrum‘s beautiful voice narrating the piece.
At the time when the request came, I’d been listening to a series of podcasts about the illusive nature of happiness, if you try to chase after it or hold onto it – it slips through your fingers. I work with children lots and they laugh loads more than we do. I was thinking about how they seem to be better at happiness. They create things, like a lovely piece of art, and then they give it away. It goes something like this:
I love this star. I made this star. YAY it’s finished! I want you to have it! See you later…
And then they’re off, doing something else. I studied physics so I often think about science when I’m writing too. In my piece of film there were people fishing – it looked like they were trying to catch light. I thought about the nature of light and it being like happiness and I thought about the things we try to do to prepare for happiness – when I get this job or this house or this relationship… I’ll be happy. But actually that doesn’t work.
So my poem is about chasing after happiness – trying to contain it and keep it. And how children just give it away and we need to be more like them if we want to be happy. With light as the metaphor – because it’s a wave (travelling through) and a particle. And we’re all made from stars:
Before the light came, we travelled in straight lines, with sunglasses in our bags.
Later, when it arrived we tried to catch it in our hands. Our jam jars labeled ‘photons’.
She was only three, but she knew how to share. Almost as soon as she held it, she gave it away. Without fear. Without loss.
She stayed bright, while the rest of us turned to shadows.
You can see my section as part of the beautiful Filmpoem Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared):
It was amazing to see how well the individually written pieces worked together as a whole. Here’s how Alastair describes the complete piece on his website:
Watch Alastair Cook’s brand new film, three years in the making, with new writing by twenty of the world’s best poets, sountracked by composer Luca Nasciutia and read by poet Rachel McCrum – screens worldwide from Autumn 2016. New ekphrasis work by poets John Glenday, Vicki Feaver, Stevie Ronnie, Janie McKie, Brian Johnstone, Jo Bell, Andrew Philip, Linda France, Dave Bonta, Angela Readman, Michael Vandebril, Gerard Rudolf, George Szirtes, Emily Dodd, Ian Duhig, Rachel McCrum, Robert Peake, Polly Rowena Atkin, Pippa Little and Vona Groarke.
All images and films are copyright Alastair Cook 2016 unless expressly indicated otherwise.
I’ve been working with the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative to create digital stories about mining with primary school children. I’m writing a series of blogs to share their mining memories. This first post is stories by Primary Two at Bo’ness Public Primary School. I’ll tell you a bit more about the project:
Digital stories are short audio sound tracks (less than 3 minuets) with still images over the top. They’re personal stories in the story makers own voice. I previously worked on three digital story projects with Britain from Above, The Govan Reminiscence Group and with Historic Scotland’s Trinity House. You can read about that project here.
This was unusual because it was creating digital stories but imagining the perspective instead of it being a storymaker telling their true story. It was also working with primary two children (age five and six) instead of adults. And we imagined we were animals!
The project started with storytelling workshops in class – we chatted about what makes a good story and using our imagination and memories to come up with lots of ideas. I told them an animal story and set them a brief to create their own short stories from the perspective of a pit animal. At first the pit ponies were wearing sparkley tutus and loved dancing but we talked about how great their use of imagination was and what a good idea it was to think about things like clothes and feelings – what would a pit pony wear to go down the pit? How might they feel going down the mine? They got back to work and learned one of the most important lessons about writing – it’s all about rewriting!
The class went on a visit to the National Mining Museum Scotland and had a talk about the roles of animals and children in the Mine from the Maria Ford, Chairperson of the Friends of Kinneil Trust.
They had budgies in the classroom so we talked about how the budgies might feel and what it would be like to be a canary. Then the children worked with their class teacher Mrs McNab to create beautiful books:
And amazing canaries in cages:
And 3D pit ponies with coal carts:
And fields for the pit ponies to play in:
I’d popped back in to see how they were getting on half way through the project and was amazed by their new and improved stories and all the beautiful artwork.I came back again at the end of the project to photograph their artwork and to record the children reading their stories.
After that I edited the audio soundtrack and images together to create the YouTube stories shared above. We screened them along with stories from other classes at the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness. It was so good to see the children’s amazing stories being celebrated in style on the big screen in a cinema!
This post is part of a series sharing the work from the Mining Memories Project. The next post in this series will be sharing primary five and primary six digital stories about the miners strike from the perspective of pick axes, bits of coal and even Margaret Thatcher!
Happy World Book Day! All over the world children went to school dressed as their favourite book characters and people celebrated reading through events!
I spent the morning at Danderhall Library in Midlothian. We got everything set up ready for the children to arrive for a Can’t-Dance-Cameron event:
After dancing, science experiments, smells, football pine cones and a story with the children, we had a chance to drink tea and eat this lovely cake:
They asked me what my favourite cake was and baked it especially for the visit! What a welcome and thank you Rachel, it was delicious! Speaking of cake, the library made this cake out of books to celebrate their birthday:
They also made some wonderful jellyfish out of plastic bottles and bubbewrap:
Wee Write and the BBC
Earlier this week I was at the lovely Aye Write‘s Wee Write festival in Glasgow.
Again they were so welcoming and friendly. After the events I was interviewed by BBC learning. They asked what my favourite book was when I was a child. The video was published today, in time for World Book Day, you can find it online here.
The pupils trained to become science communicators, they chose the science demonstrations from a menu (put together by Science Made Simple and based on the themes of the new galleries) and finally they wrote their own scripts. They also practiced and performed their science shows at the National Museum of Scotland.
I worked directly with groups of pupils through several school visits and day visits to the museum. My role was to facilitate the choosing of demonstrations, writing the scripts and practicing / performance too.
I think the main challenge for the pupils was one of confidence – these pupils had to leave mainstream education for various reasons. I kept telling them that they could achieve something brilliant if they put the work in.
The pupils worked hard to write and practice their shows. They came up with brilliant ideas for the stories to link the show together, they had ownership over their shows. There were a few fall outs but that’s all part of working in a creative team and relying on each of the team members to do their bit. They presented to and entertained a live audience in the National Museum of Scotland with a show that they had written – that’s a huge achievement!
I enjoyed getting to know the pupils throughout the project and seeing them improve in confidence and build ideas as a team together. I also loved working with the National Museums Scotland and Science Made Simple.
I was part of a pilot for this project where we trained Holyrood High school pupils to become science presenters. They didn’t write their shows but they did do an awesome job of presenting Alex’s Amazing Adventure at the museum. I wrote about my experience of the working with the pupils here. There’s a lovely video on this stage of the project too:
The exciting thing is I’m now about to run science communication workshops for a new age group – this time it’s with primary school pupils at Stanley Mills in Perthshire. I’m excited about sharing science communication skills and tips with younger ones – some as young as age five. I’ve been planning fun ways to get basics across and also to make them laugh by doing things well and then doing things wrong (obviously safely – I mean like talking really fast or folding my arms and looking grumpy) and getting them to tell me how to improve. I’ve planned some fun games to cover the basics of presenting and they’ll all get a chance to do some science presenting too. I’ll be running workshops at Historic Scotland’s Stanley Mills tomorrow and Thursday.
The Museum2Go project is funded by the Robertson Trust. Read more about Museums2Go on the National Museums Scotland website here.
I’ve been working with older people in Leith and Historic Scotland’s maritime museum Trinity House to create digital stories. A digital story is a two to three minute audio sound track with still images over the top. It’s a personal story in the story maker’s own voice. These stories were inspired by the collections at Trinity House.
This week we had our red carpet premiere at the beautiful old cinema building of Destiny Church Leith. It’s one of the three remaining plaster cinema screens in the UK.
We even rolled out a red carpet and over 70 people attended!
I introduced the digital stories at the event and thought that would be a good way to introduce you to the films now:
A Bow-Tow Remembers: Sophia Abrahamsen
Sophia is a Bow-Tow, that’s a person from Newhaven. She’s passionate about Newhaven History. On week two of the workshops Sophia read her first draft – it was so beautiful it was met by a spontaneous applause. Who is Old Sherrag? Who lives in New Lane and why was Sophia abandoned as a child in Newhaven Harbour?
Andrew is an amazing local historian. As well as bringing his local knowledge, Andrew helped digitise many of the images you see in these stories. Andrew had so many stories that his first read through was eight minutes instead of three. He had the challenge to shorten this and he chose one story – the story of his maritime training:
I worked on a similar project facilitating digital story workshops with the Govan Reminiscence Group and Britain from Above. I’ll blog about that soon! I got chatting with Lucy at Trinity House and suggested digital stories would be a great way to engage people on their collections as well as capturing and sharing local history.
Lucy Bull provided the expertise on Trinity House and their collections and I ran the storytelling exercises. It was amazing to see the participant’s stories grow and improve over the weeks and it was wonderful to get such a brilliant reaction to them at the premiere.
I’m looking forward to seeing this in the Edinburgh Evening News any day now. You can read about this project on STV here.
In case you don’t know, capercaillies are big black Scottish birds who live in the Highlands. There are only around 1000 of these left in Scotland and every year they do a dance that attracts people from all over the world. This is a dancing capercaillie:
I’ve written a book about a capercaillie called Cameron who can’t dance. His family, the MacFeathers are the best dancers in the Cairngorms but sadly, when Cameron wiggles everyone giggles.
Cameron learns to dance on a walk through the forest with a red squirrel (Hazel Nut) but he doesn’t realise he’s learning to dance. For example, when a pine marten jumps across a branch above, it showers Cameron with pine needles. Hazel tells him to jump and shake them off. The flutter-hop is an actual capercaillie dance move in real life. I checked with the RSPB.
During the event at the Book Festival we’re going to learn the real-life capercaillie dance moves. And we’re going to dance. But I figured dancing is better with music so that’s why I asked Sam to write a piece of music for the event.
His brief was The Lion King meets Grove is in the Heart with a Club Tropicana style intro (but with sounds of the cairngorms forests instead of a tropical beach – I recorded them when I visited). I also said we needed to hear the rhythm of the moves within the music e.g. shake-shake-jump for the flutter hop. Under, over, under, over…. needs an up and down type noise.
Sam set to work and a week later he sent me his track. As I listened my first thoughts were ‘this is not what I expected’. I kept listening and started to smile… ‘This is better than I’d expected!’. It’s better than anything I could have imagined, I totally love it. He also made me a version of the track with his voice narrating the dance moves over the top (so I can practice). Under, over, under, over…
Love Leith 1: Dog owners rewarded for picking up poo on Leith Links (watch it on YouTube here):
If you want to hear the whole of the capercaillie pop track you’ll need to come along to ‘Dancing Capercaillies‘ at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on the 18th August. Read more here. Get tickets here. Read about the schools event on the 21st August here. Get tickets for the event at Inverness Book Festival on the 23rd August here.