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Category Archives: storytelling

Tunneling Under the Forth

AlistairMoore

I recently worked with two brilliant men, Rab McKenzie and Alistair Moore to help them write and share their mining memories. I’m really excited to share them with you here…

Tunnelling Under the Forth
There are three iconic bridges crossing the Firth of Forth, between Edinburgh on the south side and Fife on the north side. But did you know that deep beneath the Firth of Forth is a mining tunnel that crosses over too? Alistair Moore is the chartered mining surveyor responsible for making two tunnels meet in the middle, back in the sixties before we had GPS. Here’s how he did it:

Press play above or click here to watch on YouTube.

The Valleyfield Colliery Disaster

In 1939 there was a mining disaster at Valleyfield Colliery that claimed 39 lives. Tragically it could have been prevented. Robert McKenzie shares what happened using his extensive research on the disaster, he says mining is in his blood. His story commemorates the lives that were lost:

Press play above or click here to watch on YouTube.

Digital Stories

Digital stories are true stories that last 1 to 3 minutes. They’re first person and in the story makers own voice with still images or video over a story sound track.

I worked with Rab and Alistair over several workshops while they crafted and shaped their stories. They also chose images and I recorded their voices and put everything together in these YouTube videos.

We also had help from Kirsty McAlister at the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative.

Earlier in the project, I worked with primary school children, their stories were factual but we broke the rules when they used their imagination and told the story from the perspectives of pit ponies and canaries!

You can read more about that part of the project here.

Other Projects
If you’re interested in digital stories and local history, you might like some of the other projects I’ve worked on, just click on the links below.

Working with the Arnol Blackhouse and children on the Isle of Lewis to share stories from the Blackhouse (including a story told by a chicken and a piece of peat!)

Working with Trinity House Maritime Museum to share maritime memories of Leith and Newhaven

Working with the Govan Reminiscence Group and Britain from Above to create memories from Govan

 
 

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Multi-Sensory Stories

Last week we celebrated World Book Day… correction, we would have celebrated if this hadn’t happened:

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Not the cat, snow! Deep snow everywhere closing roads, schools and putting a stop to world book day celebrations across the UK. My events were cancelled but I’ve been thinking back to World Book Day last year, when something magical happened.

I was invited by Oaklands School (for children with additional support needs) to come to watch their performance of a picture book I’d written called Can’t-Dance-Cameron, illustrated by Katie Pamment:

They had turned the book into a multi-sensory story. That means they created a sensory experience for the children to engage in using the story as the journey through the experience. They recorded sounds and children who were unable to speak pressed buttons to make the sound at the correct moment in a story, for example “PING”:

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They made props like this amazing tree, giant hazelnut and bird hat:

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*By the way, the teachers dressed up in pajamas or so that’s why I’m in my dressing gown and slippers!

The children and support workers made costumes and the children acted out sections of the book while one of the teachers read the story using a microphone:

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They invited parents and other schools to come and watch. They invited me to say a few words about a new book Ollie and the Otter, illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones, and I used a squeezey osprey to join in with the muti-sensory theme:

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Their performance was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. I was so impressed by the effort that had gone in to practicing the story and making it so extrodinary.

The whole event finished with a capercaillie ceilidh – the children danced around in wheelchairs while I was trying not to cry.

One of the staff members told me the boy who played Cameron kicked independently for the first time at the kick part of the story – this was really exciting because in the practice the carer had lifted his leg to make him kick! That’s just one of many moments that morning that made me smile:

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Thanks to everyone at Oaklands for making World Book Day a day I’ll never forget!

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2018 in Education, Events, nature, storytelling

 

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Christmas Contract: Little Door Books

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I have some super exciting news! I’ve signed a contract with Little Door Books for a picture book and download album!

This is me with Alan Windram from Little Door Books at the Scotland children’s authors and illustrators Christmas meal – nice hats! You might spot author Lari Don photo bombing in the background.

The Download Album

To be honest, I’m more excited about the album than the book!!! I’ve been trying to work out why that is? Maybe it’s because I’ve written the book already and I’ve not started on the album yet. Or because I’ve written a few books before but an album is an entirely new and exciting challenge for me? Or because music is amazing? Or because an album is a collaborative process and I’m looking forward to working with someone else who has expertise in this area? Or because my whole life I’ve been writing comedy animal type songs anyway!? Or because I don’t look like a person who would make an album but it doesn’t matter because it’s for young kids and they don’t really care what you look like. It’s just very exciting anyway. I’m looking forward to singing harmonies. And recording in a studio.

The Music Industry

Alan formally worked in the music industry so every book Little Door Books brings out includes a download album of tracks for children and an audio book. Authors can play or perform the songs at book events. Children can download the songs later. Sometimes authors write lyrics and he writes music, other times he writes it all or sometimes they work together. We’re going to work together!

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There’s a woodpecker in the book so perhaps I’ll write a woodpecker rap!!! Something fun for the children to sing and dance to anyway.

Dancing at Events

Speaking of dancing – here’s me and Alan earlier in the year when I was chairing his One Button Benny author event at Edinburgh International Book Festival! He’s an author too. We did lots of robot dancing with the families there:

My Book with Little Door Books

The book I’m writing for Little Door Books is a secret just now but I can say it was first pitched to Alan in the author’s yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2016, we had a really good chat back then about books and music. I start all my events with a bird themed dance track that I commissioned a songwriter, Sam Gallagher to produce. I also use it to teach children real life bird dance moves. So we had lots in common in terms of valuing music and dancing in events for children. I was impressed with the books they were producing as Indie Publishers too so we decided to work together.

Little Door Books have a full schedule so we penciled a book in back then for 2018. I pitched a few ideas and we had some meetings and narrowed it down to one. We first met at a book festival a year before that in 2015. So it’s a long process – making books!

Alan and Susan at Little Door Books have chosen a wonderful illustrator from Italy for the book – I’m so excited about the first few pictures I’ve been sent. I’m making the last edits to text over the next few weeks with feedback from Little Door Books and my Agent Lindsey Fraser. So next year will be finalising the text, illustrations from Italy and writing and recording the songs! Bring it on!

PS The book will come out in 2019. Did I mention, we’re making an album?

Please note the album is not an actual CD. It’s a download album of children’s songs and an audio book. 

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2017 in Education, Events, illustration, storytelling, Writing

 

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Random Acts of Kindness

My godfather takes pilgrimages to Israel. He’s always done it. And I’ve always wanted to go – every since he brought me back some olive soap from the holy land when I was around five. I never used that soap – I decided holy land soap was too holy to wash my hands with. It gained a sort of magical status – along with gemstones collected from panning and my Grandma’s jewelry. We treasure funny things in childhood.

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I now like the taste of olives, use olive soap AND I’m finally going to Israel – things have changed a lot and it’s all thanks to a random act of kindness. My Godfather offered me his spouse place on a tour in January – his wife can’t make it so he asked if I’d like to come FOR FREE. I still can’t quite believe this is happening.

Then my parents got jealous and decided to come too. Which is super great because we get on well and there are going to be 100 people of the trip – it’s always good to have someone to take photos when you’re floating in the dead sea reading a newspaper (I’m not sure we will actually do this but good just in case!).

I love the bible so I’m excited about seeing where things happened. I might buy some olive soap too.

The tour company, McCabe tours, ask every guest to raise at least £300 pounds towards their educational trust. It goes to help projects in the area. We’re going to be visiting a boys school near Jerusalem and a blind school in Bethlehem – they’re both funded by the trust.

 

I was telling friends about the trip and my friend Aimerz said she wanted to help raise the money for the trust. She offered her services as a tour guide. She said we could do a bus trip to raise money for the kids. Amazing!

Then Rabbie’s Tours gave us the bus for free and free petrol. Then the Forth Inn in Aberfoyle offered us a free lunch – Aimerz visits their regularly in her day job as a Rabbie’s Tour guide. She also gets amazing reviews on trip adviser – I can’t wait for the tour!

We’re going on Saturday, there’s still a few places left if you wanted to join us. Tickets start from £30. They include entry to Doune Castle and hot lunch at the Forth.

Get tickets, donate and find out more here. 

A few friends said they couldn’t make it but wanted to help so I’ve set up an option for a donation too – again, I’m so amazed by the kindness of others. I’m about at the target of £300 already but hoping to smash through it by Saturday!

Massive thanks to Aimerz, Rabbie’s, The Forth, everyone who’s coming and everyone who’s donating. And huge thanks to my godfather too! 

UPDATE: We raised £385!

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2017 in Events, storytelling

 

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Launching the Summer Reading Challenge

Emily Dodd in Hawick

I had a lovely time in the Scottish Borders last week at the launch of the summer reading challenge. This year’s theme is ‘Animal Agents’, about animal detectives. I visited Melrose Library in the morning:

And Hawick Library in the afternoon:

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Thanks to the families who came along to the Ollie and the Otter (illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones) nature storytelling sessions! There was water squirting, fish catching, bird dancing and giant pine cones. And thanks to the awesome children who were part of the photo shoot at the library afterwards:

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The photographer was Scottish sports photographer of the year Jeff Homes. We didn’t do sport but we did do some bird dancing as part of the storytelling so maybe that counts?!

40,000 children take part in the challenge to read a book a week over the summer holidays. Its a great way to encourage reading for pleasure. You can read more about the launch in the Hawick Telegraph here.

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(I love those wellies! But what is that giant tesco book all about?)

The Summer Reading Challenge is run by national charity The Reading Agency in partnership with Scotland’s libraries and Tesco Bank

 
 

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Ollie and the Otter Book Launch Pictures

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Last month I launched a new picture book, Ollie and the Otter. Lots of lovely folk came along to Waterstones in Edinburgh and Chris Scott took brilliant photos. Thanks to everyone for coming, here’s the highlights:

Editor Eleanor started the evening with a thoughtful introduction:
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I came up to say hi:

Ollie and the Otter launch And throw fish at folk

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Rory the otter squirted water…
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We made the smells of the forest and an osprey caught a magnetic fish and lots of volunteers came out to help.
Ollie and the Otter launch The sparkly water weed wings were placed on Rory the otter…Ollie and the Otter launch

He was pinged on a seesaw branch. Rory flew through the air with his water weed wings, whistling in the wind…

Ollie and the Otter launch Ollie the osprey had a great time making noises and helping with drinks: Ollie and the Otter launch

We listened to the story

Ollie and the Otter launch Some folks followed along with their own book Ollie and the Otter launch

Ollie and the Otter launch And everyone seemed to enjoy it, phew! Ollie and the Otter launch

The illustrator Kirsteen Harris Jones joined us for the Q and A

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People asked questions

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And folk bought books Ollie and the Otter launch

We signed them (for ages!)

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Thanks again so much for coming! If you enjoyed it, please could you review the book on amazon?Ollie and the Otter launch

Ollie and the Otter was illustrated by Kirsteen Harris-Jones and published by Floris Books inprint Picture Kelpies.  See more photos in Chris Scott’s flickr album here.

 

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Black Holes and Hot Chocolate

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I’ve written my first radio story. It’s about space and mental health and it’s aimed at upper primary school children.

A friend who listened said he thinks it’s a helpful way of talking about mental health for adults too.

I wanted to write about what it’s like for children and families when one family member disengages. Here’s a wee section from the middle of the story, Ben and his mum are stargazing but Dad has stayed at home:

She poured him a cup of hot chocolate and they sipped together. It tasted good.

“It feels like he doesn’t like me” said Ben.

“That must be so hard Ben. But it’s not true, we both really like you a lot – we love you Ben!

Ben sipped his hot chocolate. He didn’t look at Mum.

“When your Dad sips hot chocolate, it doesn’t taste good to him just now. So it’s not just you, he just doesn’t enjoy things like he used to, because of the way he’s feeling. It’s not because of anything you’ve done and we can’t fix it”

“I wish we could. That must be rubbish for him” said Ben “I love hot chocolate”

“But sometimes he does enjoy things though, like the other night when you laughed so much that milk came out of your nose?”

“Yeah, that was gross. Dad really laughed. I wish he was always like that!”

“Me too Ben……         Do you see the moon?”

Ben forgot they’d come here to look up.

“We can only see a bit of it, but is the rest still there?”

“Of course!” said Ben

“But how do you know it hasn’t gone, you can’t see it?”

Ben thought for a moment.

“Well because the crescent is enough of the moon to know there’s a moon. The rest is hidden in shadow but I know it’s there”

“Well it’s the same with Dad. He’s with us but we might just see bits of the old Dad, the one who laughs lots. But he’s still here. And in time – he’ll be back to his old self”

Listen to Black Holes and Hot Chocolate on the BBC Scotland Schools radio website here, play from 9 minutes 20s.

The commission was to write something for KS2 with a stargazing theme and a link to Australia. I set it on Blackford Hill in Edinburgh but it could be any hill near a town or city in Scotland.

Half way through writing the story, physicist Stephen Hawking gave a lecture to celebrate his 70th birthday. He talked about black holes and compared them to depression. I’d pitched black holes as a metaphor to the BBC before Stephen did his lecture (tiny bit annoyed he got there first!) but I loved his beautiful words:

Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up – there’s a way out.

Stephen Hawking

Read more about his lecture on ‘Image’ here.

Here’s how I wrote about black holes in the story, They’re looking at the constellation signus the swan:

“Signus is where the first black hole was discovered. It’s called Signus X1. The X means black hole…

“And one because it’s the first one?” Said Ben

“Right. It’s kind of darker than the surrounding area – can you see?”

Ben could see a sort of dark shape but he wasn’t sure if he was just imagining it.

“It sucks everything in, even light.”

“Do you think that’s how it feels for Dad?” asked Ben.

They were quiet for a moment, staring at the stars.

“Maybe, sometimes” said Mum “I think sometimes he feels like he’s in a dark tunnel but he’s holding on. Like if you’re on a train – you don’t jump off when it’s dark, you wait until you come out of the other side.”

“Do things come out of the other side of the black hole?”

“Well, not exactly… they get squashed.”

They laughed.

“I prefer the idea of a tunnel” said Ben.

“But things can’t just disappear. No one knows what’s on the other side of a black hole. Energy can’t be destroyed, it just changes from one form to another. There’s always hope Ben.”

The BBC team tested the story in school at different stages and I worked hard to rewrite it while keeping the story to it’s 8 minute broadcast length. We knew this was a potentially difficult subject to engage children on, I was asked to give it a happier ending. We also knew that one in three men in Scotland suffer from mental health problems in their lifetime so this is something children in Scotland will have come across, even if they’ve not talked about it. That’s why it’s important people do talk about it.

So often it’s the stories of people with metal health problems we hear but there’s also the story of those around them. Their story is just as important.

The school curriculum in Scotland has relevant outcomes that all children are required to learn in school from nursery age upwards including:

  • I am aware of and able to express my feelings and am developing the ability to talk about them.
  • I know that we all experience a variety of thoughts and emotions that affect how we feel and behave and I am learning ways of managing them.
  • I understand that there are people I can talk to and that there are a number of ways in which I can gain access to practical and emotional support to help me and others in a range of circumstances.
  • I understand that my feelings and reactions can change depending upon what is happening within and around me. This helps me to understand my own behaviour and the way others behave.
  • I understand the importance of mental wellbeing and that this can be fostered and strengthened through personal coping skills and positive relationships.
  • I know that it is not always possible to enjoy good mental health and that if this happens there is support available.

I’m so grateful for a school system in Scotland that supports conversations like this one. I really hope you enjoy it. Please pass it on to any teachers you know who might be interested.

Listen to the whole program for a fab space story from author Gill Arbuthnott proceeding mine, it’s called ‘A Long Way From Home’. Black Holes and Hot Chocolate starts at 9.20. Both stories were first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 22nd March 2017. Listen to the whole episode here.

Thanks to Rob Pearson, Producer at BBC Scotland Learning; Angela Darcy and Terence Rae who read the story; to the school children who fed back on the first version, to my agent Lindsey Fraser and to everyone else involved. Finally – thanks to you for listening. 

 
 

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