Tag Archives: Other waffling

Nicobobinus, the boy who can do anything

25 Feb

Jofre Alsina, Lloyd Gorman and Eilidh Debonnaire in Nicobobinus c. Ellie Kurttz                  Terry Jones_Red Ladder-1244

Please click here to read my review of ‘Nicobobinus’ which was written to celebrate Red Ladder Theatre’s 2015 production based on the book by Terry Jones. This post was published on the Leeds Big Bookend Literature Festival Website 25/02/2015.


Goosebumps and papercuts: curating the Krampus Crackers project.

3 Dec

Terry Whidborne

Please click here to read my post reflecting on the experience of curating the Krampus Crackers project. This was published on the Leeds Big Bookend literature festival website 03/12/14.

So you want to run a children’s literature festival?

9 Aug

Perhaps you’re an aspiring children’s writer, or maybe you have kids of your own and think there should be more readings and literary events in your area. Whatever the reason, you want to put on a kids lit fest. But there are a few pitfalls to avoid…

1) Aaargh! I don’t know what I’m doing!

Be organised. Very organised. Before you do anything else, draw up a schedule of tasks. It might be helpful to start with the date of your festival and work backwards. What deadlines do you have? Once you’ve got your schedule, try to stick to it.

2) Anyone got a time machine?

Be realistic. You can only do so much. It might be your dream to run a week long children’s programme, but if there’s only you to organise it and you’re only free one evening a week to do the work, then it’s not going to happen! Why not start small and build up your programme year on year?

3) Where are the children?

If you want to engage children and young people, get schools and libraries in your local area onside. If you can arrange some school visits, that will give your festival a big boost. If you can’t, a mailout of your printed programme of events would certainly help.

Libraries are a good place to promote your festival, so try to have a presence there in the weeks leading up to your events, either physically or via a plethora of leaflets.

4) What do you mean you’re in a field?

Make sure everyone knows where your events are. Authors will appreciate a map of the venue, and so will any parents / carers trying to get their children to it. Include maps and directions in your programme, and put up plenty of signage around your venue to point the way for anyone who’s unfamiliar with the area.

5) Is this venue 26?

Having one central location for your festival may be the best bet, as keeping everything in the same building allows parents to easily move from one event to another. You may want to use one room for on-going activities like dressing up or face painting, which children and parents can take part in between the main events.

6) I’m not very good with blood…

If you’ve got under 18s attending your events, you’ll need to think about child protection. Your stewards will require some basic training, and there should be a children protection representative and a first aider on site at all times. Think about photography too – some parents/carers may need to keep their children out of photographs.

7) It’s all over – what now?

Without the generosity of volunteers and the brilliance of authors, there would be no literature festivals, so don’t forget to say thank you to everyone involved. That way, they might agree to work with you again next year!


In the run up to the 2014 Leeds Big Bookend literature festival, I was on the team of volunteers who organised the events. I worked closely with the lovely Fiona Gell and Dan Ingram-Brown to put together a programme of activities specifically for children and young adults. The events we organised – which ran across the 7th and 8th of June – went pretty well, even if we say so ourselves. There was, of course, room for improvement in how we’d done things, but I learnt a huge amount from the experience, which I thought it might be helpful to share.

These are a few of the fabulous authors I worked with:

Children’s poet David Harmer reads from ‘It Came From Outer Space!’

Emma Barnes tells an entertaining tale about ‘Wild Thing’.

Martyn Bedford fills us in on ‘Flip’, the first of his two young adult novels.



This post was also published on the Leeds Big Bookend literature festival website here.

I’m not that keen on Iain Duncan Smith.

18 Apr

I have a friend with ME, or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. She’s had it since her daughter was small, when she spent months exhausted and in pain, crawling around the floor because standing up was too hard. Eventually she got a diagnosis.

If you met her at home, you might not guess that anything was wrong. She’s cheerful and coherent, and she tries to keep things neat and tidy. In fact, she’s pretty good at hiding her symptoms. She sleeps a lot, and a cold will knock her out for a week, but otherwise she seems normal. It’s only because I’ve known her for so long that I understand what her condition is like.

She asked me once what I would count as ‘severe pain’. I said that any pain not even touched by strong painkillers was severe. She just looked at me, and that’s when I realised she’s in pain like that every day.

Some people dismiss ME as an excuse for people to be lazy. My friend was training to be a bricklayer when she got ill. Even after that, she worked for two mornings a week until new government legislation stopped her. Now she volunteers for a few hours in a charity shop, because she likes to feel useful and it makes her leave the house. If she was well, I know she’d be working full-time. I know she can’t do more than she does now, and it’s because her body doesn’t work like it’s meant to. 1
I’ve seen her try to walk on Ilkley Moor during a period when she felt well, and after half an hour her muscles just gave up. She stumbled forwards as if she was drunk, and every step was excruciating.

Of course, she’s been declared fit for full-time work.

You only have to read blogs like this 3 to see that the current work capability assessment is deeply flawed. When the company in charge of carrying out these assessments starts harassing people in comas and the impact of failing the assessment is 10,600 people dying or committing suicide, surely it’s obvious that something is wrong. 4

Not to Iain Duncan Smith, who allegedly sent a memo stating that it would be ‘business as usual’ in terms of work capability assessments, even after a court ruled that his fitness for work test “discriminated against many disabled people”. 5

This is, after all, the man who referred to those on certain benefits as ‘stock’ 6, which frankly makes my blood run cold.

Yeah, I’m not that keen on Iain Duncan Smith.



To read more about ME, please visit this website: http://www.meassociation.org.uk/



Speak for yourself

3 Nov

Filming Colin and Helena

Not many people know that I have a stammer. That’s mainly because my stammer is so much better than it was when I was twelve and couldn’t say my own name, couldn’t tell you where I lived, couldn’t ask for a glass of tap water in a restaurant. In fact, those three things still sometimes cause me difficulty, as if the trauma of failing to say them so many times has left a little scar in my speech.

Anyway, no-one ever suggested speech therapy, I just got told that I’d grow out of it. While I waited for that to happen, well meaning relatives and teachers tried to make me speak, got impatient when I couldn’t finish my sentences, and sometimes just talked over me.

These days, most of the time at least, people don’t even notice that I occasionally stumble over my words. It’s only when I get ill or over-tired that the stammer creeps back in, accompanied by my rising sense of frustration. I hate my stammer. I hate the way it makes me sound, I hate the thought that I can’t control what I say, I hate that certain words suffocate me, swelling in my chest so that I can’t spit them out.

I can feel a stammer coming; it’s a little like the sensation you get before you sneeze although sneezing has never made me anxious or angry. I’ve been told by a clever and well-informed person that a stammer is caused by your brain working against itself; one part telling you to keep speaking, another telling you not to. While this makes a lot of sense, I’m not sure how it relates to certain sounds being more difficult to get out than others. For me there are consonants that mean I dread some words still. I do my best to work around them, but if they can’t be avoided then I have to take my time with them, or else run them into other words so that I can trick my mouth into thinking it’s saying something else.

Don’t get me wrong, as I said before, my stammer is much better these days. I couldn’t tell you exactly why it’s diminished so much, although I think this may have something to do with practising the things I found hardest, like giving presentations and answering the phone – which I used to loathe, feeling that curl of anxiety and embarrassment every time I picked up the handset. It’s no surprise that these were the activities I struggled with, as I’ve been told that stammering is most likely to occur when you are the centre of attention, when you know that everyone will be listening to your voice. So any sort of public speaking is tough.

However, this is especially true if I know that what I’m saying will be scripted. Reading aloud in front of an audience is the hardest thing for me and my stammer. But I want to be a writer. I’ve been reading aloud in front of an audience for years now, and all that experience has helped to some extent. I’ve also discovered that, oddly enough, if I speak in an accent or another language, I don’t stammer. After hosting an open mike night in Borders some years ago, my friend commented that I ‘went really Yorkshire’ during the event, something which I hadn’t even been conscious of doing. I suppose it was my brain trying to find a way around the stammering by making my voice sound like somebody else’s.

Of course, I can’t go to events and just talk like a northerner, so I practise a lot before I read, and on the day I do my best to keep calm and try not to worry about it. The truth is, no-one cares if I stammer except for me. I realised this when I to see Derek Landy – author of the extremely popular Skulduggery Pleasant series – talk about his latest book at Waterstones in Leeds. He was erudite and witty, but when it came to reading an excerpt he told us all that he had a stammer. He said that he’d only recently begun to give readings but that he’d finally decided that the stammer wasn’t important. The writing was the important thing.

So he read aloud and he did stammer, but no-one pointed and laughed or threw books at his head in disgust. Watching someone else publicly stammer and seeing that this was okay with him and with his audience meant a lot to me.

It’s made me feel a little braver, and I’m hoping that when I read at an event tomorrow, I won’t mind so much if I stammer. Maybe I can just be pleased about how far I’ve come, and about the fact that I can at least speak for myself.