Category Archives: Film

Before the Light Came

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…

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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):

Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared) from Alastair Cook on Vimeo.

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.

My next book is a science book for children and by coincidence, it’s about Light!
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Posted by on June 2, 2016 in Film, poetry, Science, Writing


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Mining Memories with Primary Two


What would it be like to be a canary called CoCo working down the Kinneil Pit? Or a pit cat? Or a pit pony? Or an 11-year-old boy on his first day down the mine? Five and six-year olds from Bo’ness Primary School imagined they were the animals and children down the mine. They wrote these amazing stories:

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

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!

Primary Two

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:

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And 3D pit ponies with coal carts: Photo 11-03-2016, 12 55 52

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!


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World Book Day 2015

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.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

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Posted by on March 3, 2016 in Education, Events, Film, Media, storytelling


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Writing Science Shows with Young People

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I’ve been working with secondary pupils to help them to write and perform science shows in a project called Museums2Go. The pupils were based in Apex inclusion units in Braeview Academy Dundee and Dunfermline High School. I was working for the National Museums Scotland and in partnership with Science Made Simple.

The National Museums Scotland have just published a new video with some highlights from the project:

Museum2Go2 from National Museums Scotland on Vimeo.

The Project

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!

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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:

Stanley Mills

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.


Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Education, Events, Film, Media, Science, Writing


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Maritime Memories of Leith and Newhaven

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?


Watch the video on Youtube here.

From Lerwick to Leith: Stephen Hall

Stephen loved to talk about this family and that’s what this story is about. It’s also the first thing Stephen has written since school – I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s wonderful:

Watch the video on Youtube here.

Leith Docks: Ramsay Tubb

Ramsay began this story in school when he and two friends researched Leith Docks. Just what was it about the docks that captured his imagination?

Watch the video on Youtube here

All at Sea: Andrew Grant

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:

Watch the video on Youtube here.

How did the project begin?

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.

What did the project involve?

Firstly we ran a drop in recruitment session at the Living Memory Association venue in Leith’s Ocean Terminal.

We told people more about the project, shared some memories as a group and gave people a chance to sign up.

Each participant came to six two hour workshops with homework in between too. We drank tea, ate cake and worked on the stories.

The group gave feedback on each story – polishing a tweaking them and choosing the right images:

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.


Posted by on March 6, 2015 in Education, Events, Film, Media, storytelling, Writing


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Capercaillie Dance Music

I commissioned composer, Sam Gallagher to create a piece of music for my children’s event ‘Dancing Capercaillies‘ at Edinburgh International Book Festival.

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.

The Brief

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.

The Track

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…

I’m excited to bring you a wee sample of the track, click play below:

POP! That’s the noise a capercaillie makes when he’s dancing.

More Music from Sam: Litter and Dog Poo

I first commissioned Sam Gallagher to write some music when I was making litter and dog poo films as part of a campaign for Greener Leith. Here’s one of the films with his awesome dog-woof music in the background:

Love Leith 1: Dog owners rewarded for picking up poo on Leith Links (watch it on YouTube here):

Get Dancing 

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.

Image Credit Capercaillie: Laurie Campbell


Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Events, Film, Media, nature, storytelling, Writing


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Edinburgh Book Festival Video

Here’s a wee video previewing the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival from the Edinburgh Reporter. It includes interviews with the Director of the Book Festival (Nick Barley) and the Director of the Children’s and Education Programme (Janet Smyth).

And then there’s an interview with me. Yes, I am somehow in there with these very important book festival people. Big thanks to the Edinburgh Reporter for that.


Watch the video on YouTube here.

I wrote about my book festival children’s event ‘Dancing Capercaillies’ on the blog here. Get tickets here. Read about my schools event here.

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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Events, Film, Writing


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