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!
Alan Windram from the publishers, Little Door Books, brought along his studio recording equipment. We converted my artist studio into a recording studio. Alan coached me to make each line a bit more dramatic and we recorded a page at a time. Later, he edited the book and added sounds so the children know when to turn the pages.
I wrote a song from the main character, Rosie the squirrel’s perspective. It’s got a catchy chorus with actions for the children to join in on – to make it fun. But I wanted to write about something meaningful too. Spoiler alert for the book here… I’m aware children experience a range of emotions just like we do, so I wanted to write a song I hoped they could identify with when they feel hurt or betrayed by a friend.
It’s about the joy of friendship and then the shock when a friend lets you down. You miss them and you want them to be your friend again but you’re also unsure how real the friendship was because the other person was lying. It’s also about being a squirrel so there’s lots of lines about jumping around and playing hide and seek too. The chorus goes:
All the squirrels stick your paws up, don’t turn your nose up.
All the squirrels wave your tails, it’s time to go!
Alan wrote a brilliant song about nuts and we worked together on the lyrics to make it into a song about the high point of the story – I wanted to make it more personal to the story and again, from Rosie’s perspective. So for example Alan had written:
Nuts, nuts, nuts, NUTS, nuts everywhere!
Nuts over here and nuts over there
And I changed it to:
Nuts, nuts, nuts, NUTS, nuts everywhere!
Nuts in my tail and nuts in my hair
One of the suspects, Tappy the Woodpecker, is a great spotted woodpecker who hammers a nut until it explodes. I like writing spoken word and I think of a woodpecker as a rhythmic head banger of a bird, who’s a bit well.. badass. So I wrote a rap from Tappy’s perspective. He’s quite self indulgent in it. Here’s a line:
My beak is the key to break into the tree.
My beak is my sound and my sound is Tappy.
We recoded the music tracks at the Little Door Books Studio in Oban, the studio incudes two cats who are hiding:
I felt pretty nervous about recording vocals but Alan said when it’s for young children, it’s better to be clear and enthusiastic so they can hear the words. So don’t worry too much about being an operatic or a fancy singer. He said to imagine I’m Rosie the Squirrel singing. So I’m channelling my inner Squirrel on these tracks!
Here’s who did what:
Audiobook – written and read by Emily Dodd (me!)
Woodpecker Rap – written and rapped by Emily Dodd
Stick Your Paws Up – written and lead vocals by Emily Dodd. Alan Windram backing vocals and he plays every instrument – amazing!
Nuts – melody by Alan Windram. Lyrics Alan Windram and Emily Dodd. Lead vocals Emily Dodd. Instruments – Alan Windram.
Then I introduced myself and the Italian Illustrator, Giulia Cregut. I pointed to the banner because the two of us look quite similar to the two squirrels, see above! (yup, I’m the larger squirrel!)
And then we set the scene for the story, guessing objects from the forest. If you’d like to hold a giant Ameican pine cone that’s bigger then your head… come to an event soon!
We listened to the sound of the forest and then four volunteers helped make the smell of the forest, here’s one of them in action, wafting the pine oil with a fan…
Then it was time for the story of the Naughty Nut Thief. Crime Squirrel Investigators Rosie and Charlie investigate three prime suspects after Rosie’s secret nut store is ransacked!
Then it was time for a red squirrel true or false quiz, make a ‘T’ or an ‘F’ with your body:
Then Rosie the naughty water squirter popped out to meet everyone, I definately look like a squirrel here:
Then my lovely friend Elspeth Murray came up to help Alan with actions. And we taught everyone the Beyoncé squirrel song, here we all are dancing!
And more actions!
Then we learnt more about one of the prime suspects, the wood mouse with a camouflage demonstration:
Next it was time for hip-hop with the great spotted woodpecker rap, yep I really did rap as a woodpecker. Thankfully everyone else joined in with beats and actions:
I was a bit scared about rapping (it’s new for me) but thankfully we had a professional drummer, Ruairdh Graham from Niteworks to keep us all in time! He also made me practice beforehand – thanks Ru!
Then it was time for a couple more picture quizzes, look at the shell and guess who ate the nut. All based on the real nut munching animal science the book is based on:
And the finale was a song about nuts! Again thanks to Elspeth and Alan for actions:
Then it was Q and A time, I got to sit down at last. This looks like a serious question:
And so does this:
Hurrrah! It was all over:
There were thankyous and the book signing:
And that was it! I want to say a big thanks to Elspeth Murray for chairing and action support (she got flowers) and to Lindsey Fraser my agent from Fraser Ross Associates (she got flowers but she’d gone to the ballet by then!) and to Ruairdh Graham for beats (he got beer) and to Giulia Cregut for illustrations and to Alan Windram and Susan Windram at Little Door Books for publishing the book.
Thanks to my pals Amy, Anna, Jenny and Mel for serving drinks!
Thanks to Waterstones West End Edinburgh for hosting and to all you people who came, there were over 100 guests and we sold out – it meant so much to have your support for the book (and such enthusiastic actions!).
Rosie’s secret hazelnut store has been ransacked and her best friend Charlie agrees to help her to find the naughty nut thief. The crime squirrel investigators only have left-over nutshells as a clue, so they watch the different ways the three main suspects eat hazelnuts to try to solve the crime. Help the two squirrels discover the naughty nut thief and learn about the different ways animals eat nuts along the way!
I hear I’ll get advance copies of the book any day now (so excited!) and I’m all set to record the audio book in a couple of weeks. You’ll be invited to the book launch in Edinburgh in May. It will include water squirting squirrels, science and songs!
If you can’t make that I’ll be at festivals and events throughout the year so you’ll hopefully see me and the squirrels soon!
Crime Squirrel Investigators: The Naughty Nut Thief can be pre-ordered now from all good book stores.
UPDATE: Get tickets to the book launch on 2nd May here.
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 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.
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.
Last week we celebrated World Book Day… correction, we would have celebrated if this hadn’t happened:
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.
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”:
They made props like this amazing tree, giant hazelnut and bird hat:
*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:
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:
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:
Thanks to everyone at Oaklands for making World Book Day a day I’ll never forget!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!