As a partial explanation of my failure to maintain this blog for the last few months, here’s one of the things I’ve been up to:
This month, I have the joy of working with 300 year five and six pupils from Durham City schools to turn their ideas into One Big Story: an epic and imaginative tale that will be published in paperback in October.
This one of the most exciting things I have done for a while; it ticks about a hundred boxes for the things I love doing: creative writing, stimulating other people’s imaginations and helping them to realise their creative ideas, being able to say the magical word “story” about 50 times a day and share my passion for the written word.
I’m working as part of a team alongside Christina Maiden (Off The Page Drama) and Robyn Trainer (Floral Footsteps), running whole day workshops in primary schools, getting children to invent and develop ideas for stories and working collaboratively to forge them into a coherent narrative.
Remarkably, it turns out to be quite possible to take the ideas of 30-40 children at a time and guide them into creating a story together as long as you think on your feet and prepare yourself for almost anything to happen. Not to give too much away, but we are half way through the project already and have five out of ten chapters mapped out. The children have taken us beyond our own imaginations into their own world where there are a lot of fights involving food and an awful lot of ghoulish characters in which the malevolent and comedic are theatrically blended.
It has been very encouraging to see that literacy is alive and kicking in every school we have visited so far; I’m the one getting educated.
In less than a month, we will be holding the book in our hands and you, too, will be able to read what happens when children create the sort of story that they would like to read … watch this space …
One of the most exciting things to find and eat at this time of year is Laetiporus sulphureus, commonly and aptly named “Chicken of the Woods”. Appearing from April and sticking around into November, this bracket fungus grows mainly on dead and dying Oaks in the UK. It is nice and easy to recognise but may be inaccessibly high for foragers without crampons. Look for the distinctive clusters of overlapping fans that are bright yellow, turning more orangey as the specimen matures. It takes a good while to establish itself before the fruit actually appears, but once you have located one of these, you will generally be able to revisit it for several years.
This is a great eater and it really does behave and taste a little like chicken when you cook it. It is important, though, if it is your first time, to try a small quantity as it has been known to cause stomach upsets in some people – and it must ALWAYS be cooked. When gathering it, make sure you pick the younger yellow fans as older parts of the fruit are more bitter and tough.
When you get them home, clean them up and chop into slices. The mushroom will keep well in the freezer for later use. I generally blanch them before cooking them, to be sure that they are well cooked and to take any bitterness off. My favourite way to eat these is to make up a fairly heavy batter to dip them in and then fry up some “chicken nuggets” using oil that has been sitting for a week or so with some lemon rind in it to give it a citrussy edge. You can use it as you would use chicken in any recipe but make sure that it is always well cooked.
Please don’t use my Foraging Friday posts for identification purposes, get a couple of decent books to double check your identification. You are responsible for what you eat. Follow the guidance in my article on “Picking and Identifying Edible Mushrooms“. I won’t be held responsible for people falling out of trees, either (ahem).
When I gave up working in a stable, full-time job this time last year in order to pursue a creative streak, I thought I had a good idea of where that would take me. I had a plan to write, commercially, and grow a freelancing business as quickly as possible. However, as soon as I gave a bit of space to my dreams, they sort of got a life of their own and I got drawn into some projects in a way I had not anticipated.
One of these projects was a small theatre company, started by a good friend, James Robinson (AKA noahsapprentice), who has always had a knack for persuading me to do odd things like helping him to give a seminar dressed as a pirate and toting an accordion. The opportunity to get involved in performing as part of “Noah’s Nanny Goat Productions” seemed to draw together the threads of my passion for communicating with not just the written word but the spoken and acted word as well.
This year, being the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, has sparked a renewed interest in the Bible and a host of initiatives under the the banner of Biblefresh that seeks to restore some level of biblical literacy to Britain and explore fresh ways of presenting scripture. It seemed like a good moment to jump on the band waggon and the fruit of some eight months of writing, rewriting, wrestling and rehearsing is at last apparent in our first ever show, “Bible on a Washing Line”.
A year ago I never imagined that this is what I’d be doing and it goes to show the thrill and the danger of taking risks and opening up to wider horizons. We are even taking BOAWL on tour.
The show is about an hour and twenty minutes long with no interval and takes the audience on a frantic tour through the Bible, looking at some well known and some less well known characters and stories from the Bible. It is fast and funny and hopefully provokes people to think as well as laugh.
It is basically a series of short sketches based on “Top Tens” from the Bible, including the top ten deaths (which is set in a forensic lab), the top ten relationships (a reality TV show), the top ten foods (a restaurant) and the top ten animals (a zoo). The website is: noahsnannygoat.org.uk and tickets for the tour can also be bought on the website.
At the moment we are going to be performing in:
Darlington on May 14th at 7:30pm in Bondgate Methodist Church
Durham on May 27th at 7:30pm in St John’s, Nevilles Cross
Durham on May 29th at 6:00pm in St. Mary Magdalene’s, Belmont
Horley (near Gatwick) on June 1st at 7:30pm in St. Wilfrid’s, Horley
Godalming (near Guildford) on June 2nd at 7:30pm in a venue TBC
Birmingham on June 3rd at 3:00pm (matinee) and 7:30pm in St. Thomas’, Aldridge
Manchester on June 4th at 7:30pm in St. John’s, Mossley
More dates and venues to be announced.
See you there?
A storyteller’s imagination draws down the silk of another world and nails it to certain real places and objects such that every experience, awake or asleep, real or imagined begins to resonate with the echo of one another and boil with significance. (Me)
During his time in Durham, C.S. Lewis is said to have been enormously inspired by the landscape, the Cathedral, the geography of the place and wove it into many of his writings. In fact “That Hideous Strength” is said to be set around Durham University where Lewis delivered a series of lectures in 1943.
In fact, a bit of local apocrypha attributes one of the lamps by Prebends Bridge to be the very one that inspired the lantern standing at the entrance to Narnia. Today seemed like a good day to go and look at it. There are several street lanterns in the immediate area and many have been replaced with more modern ones but I fancy this old one is near enough.
As I wrote in an earlier post, “The Monstrous Awakening of Imagination“, the geography of the real world becomes resonant with the hinterland of dreams and fantasy if we just let our imagination loose.
For instance, I have been quite fixated on a pair of trees that stand in a field near my house. To my surprise, they cropped up in a story (excerpted below):
… Coming to a pair of oaks by the side of the road, the only shade for several miles of track, Malachi turned the horse aside and we dismounted to rest. I had another opportunity to study my companion, as he had very few words, and I hoped to find something more from his face. We sat opposite each other with our backs against each of the trunks. He had tilted his head back and let the shadows of the leaves play on his closed eyelids. I got little more than a sense that he was a man who was capable of being completely absorbed in whatever the present moment had to give – right now that was some shade and a natural wooden seat among the roots of an oak.
“What do you see?” he asked me dreamily, dropping the question like a key into the well of my thoughts.
“I see two trees.”
“Go on …”
I looked carefully at the two oaks. The one at my back was shorter and slightly stunted. One half of it had been torn away by a storm at some point, leaving what seemed like a mortal wound from which the tree had never quite recovered. The other was much healthier with a good spread of branches and an upright trunk, but not without it’s own wounds, too.
“I see two trees that have grown together in the same ground and yet they are unlike each other in the shape they have taken. The one has thrived better than the other. One is twisted, the other straight. One provides a good shade and the other is living half the life it could.”
“And what do you see?” he asked again, the simple question that unlocks the secrets of every present moment.
“I see a choice of two ways that I could grow. Both trees have their wounds, nobody escapes that, but here is one that has become stunted and weak and failed to become what it could have been – a great shade for travellers and a home for the birds. After their own fashion both ways of growing have achieved something; but your tree over there has the better part. I was growing this way, but I think I have the choice to grow the other way.”
“And so you shall.” he said pleasantly, opening his eyes again …