Thursday, 25 May 2017

A Ship Of Stone

St Magnus Cathedral

You built a ship,
A tall ship of stone,
To sail our souls in,
With a crew of painted saints
To fill the sheets of faith with song enough
To lift stone into sky.

A thousand years of
Eroded stone and windworn wood, and
Watching the sea, and
Reaching for the wind, and
This ship sags against its anchors.

You built a ship of stone,
A tall ship of stone,
Crewed with saints,
To fill her with song.
And she is still here,
Anchored and earthbound.
Have you forgotten the songs
Of stone and hope and heart
That could have lifted her to the clouds?

This poem is inspired by St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall on Orkney Mainland. I wrote the first draft of it before I ever discoverdd that the Cathedral is called the "ship of stone" - its shape had really captured by interest: long and narrow, like an upturned longship - witha crew of painted saints...This year is also being celebrated as the  (probable) 900th anniversary of Magnus' death with exhibitions and events across the islands

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A Blade of Grass

A blade of grass
art workshops in Rudheath and Witton
Victoria Road Primary School

Jo, poised and reaady for making!

As part of the Do It Together Project, for Rudheath and Witton Togather, two of our artists, Jo Thilwind and Sarah Males, are working with the families of Victoria Road Primary School. Over this term they will see each class for half a day of creativity with natural materials, with parents and carers invited to join in

The following is a personal comment from Jo. I’m not going to add anything - I think this stands as a wonderful description of a session…

One of the tools of my trade. A blade of grass.
Having wept all morning over the Manchester bomb, going to hell and back wondering if my Son was ok, (he is), and feeling tearful and sick to my belly, I had to do an environmental art workshop at a school this afternoon.
I considered even writing this post given the circumstances today, but life must go on and it's turned out to be a beautiful and inspiring day.

I had the usual comments 5 minutes in about "am I a Witch?" , (what do they see?) And an incredible fascination with my jewellery. A conversation about my silver Pentacle.... 'Did I know it was a spiritual symbol?' , and the look on her face when I showed her the tattooed one on my wrist.
We made natural frames, with 3d pictures of nature, created with what they had collected outside. There was some initial huffing and puffing from these 10/11 yr olds, but actually they embraced it with passionate gusto and made some wonderful work. One lad got so into it he exclaimed, " I was wrong when I said I hate nature, it's brilliant!!".... The whole class laughed, and my heart quietly smiled. Another girl called me over to say I was a brilliant teacher because I'd given them something so exciting to do. They absolutely loved it.

I wandered around the class with a piece of lemon balm and got each and every one of them to smell it, and watched their faces light up in pleasure and amazement.
The whole session was once again sprinkled with magick. But my absolute favourite bit, was when I pulled a handful of grass out of my basket. The type with a big fluffy seed head on it, a couple of blades of grass attached. A bouquet if you will, grasped this morning from the field. "would anyone like a piece of lovely grass for their artwork?" says I, offering it like the the most glorious blossoms ever beheld, and suddenly I was surrounded by kids, carefully choosing their particular piece of treasure, a single blade of grass, gently removing it from my hand with such care, and taking it back to their desk to weave it with love and thought into their frame. I was blown away. Such reverence, such respect, such a new and unexpected view of the natural world for youngsters who previously hadn't given it the slightest thought. What a wonderful day. Humbled.
I love my work.
Bright Blessings x

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Orkney: arrivals

21st May 2017 
Looking towards Eynhallow over the Broch of Gurness

Eynhallow Sound is still today. Low tide, with bowed kelp trunks breaking the few waves there are. A raven is chuckling away on a fence post, a low stone-knocking conversation with itself that is oddly reassuring. Hugin or Muninn having a bit of a grumble maybe

Swallows buzzed the car on the way, playing dare and double-dare as I bounced down the narrow little road. Then there were those little brown dunnocky birds that shoot across the front of the car, dolphins on a bow wave. I am always surprised to arrive and find I don’t have a neat swallow and dunnock presse in the front grill of the car

Eynhallow Sound
Sometimes just getting here feels like a pilgrimage in itself. Not even getting here to Gurness but here onto the Islands at all. This trip started several weeks ago when i left home and came trundling across the country, storytelling my way round Highland schools and steadily wearing myself down to the frazzle of an ol’ toad who set off at 5am that morning to drive the final stretch north to the first ferry of the day

Arriving at the ferry really starts the final movement for me. I simmer like the sea, a rolling tide of excitement that has me wanting to hug strangers as we load the catamaran and wave at every puffin I see. I tend to do the latter anyway

I come here full of ideas but am gradually recognising the difference between need and want. There are places I would like to go to, islands I would like to see, whales I would love to stare at, point at and probably faint over. But more importantly, there are the places I need to go to. Places where I stop. Where I don’t have to go inspecting, ticking a mental box of sites visited, plants seen, stones identified, stories told. These are the places that hold me, enchant me, tell me to shut up and just relax. Their names become a litany in themselves: Gurness and Brodgar, Stenness and Birsay and the Happy Valley where the bluebells fill the woods like smoke

I arrived this time carrying burdens. A knee that feels like its ready to fall apart so that a pirate’s wooden leg has a certain appeal. A work diary that excites and oppresses in equal measure. And heaviest of all, the imminent departure of a long-standing and very dear friend. In hospital, 700 miles and probably 3 days away so that by the time I reached her I would be too late. So, I chose north and long distance vigil, sitting beside the sea here at Gurness and reaching across the miles, watching hares in the field and the precise shapes of gannets, sharing memories and acknowledging change and departure and grief.

Sometimes just getting here is enough.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Timelines and treasures

Timelines and treasures
family events in the summer mid-term holiday 
changing tools over time from the Museum colection


Everything changes: plants, animals, clothes, tools...from dinosaurs to arrowheads, shoes to spaceships. Join artists from Buxton Museum to design your own timeline of a changing world. You might follow evolving elephants, growing tadpoles or elegant fashions. Draw your ideas onto your own Timeline Frieze to take home

Where: Buxton Library, Kents Bank Rd, Buxton, SK17 9HW
When: Thursday 1st June
Times: 10.30 - 12.30 and 1.30 - 3.30
Costs: this event is free, materials are provided just drop by and join in - allow 45 minutes for your frieze

an elephant timeline

Pop-up Museum
On Friday 2nd, we're popping-up at the National Trust's beautiful Ilam Park...
What treasures do you see at Ilam? What wonders can you find? Join the team from Buxton Museum and make your own Cabinet of Curiosity - your own little portable museum to take away. there will be real bones and fossils to hold and identify as well as other times from the Museum collection
Free activity (but NT car park charges apply)
Donations welcome
Dogs on leads welcome
No booking needed

Where: Ilam, National Trust: Ilam Park, Ashbourne, DE6 2AZ
When: Friday 2nd June
Times: 11am - 3pm
Part of the Trust’s “5 things to do before you’re 11 3/4”

These two events are aimed at families but everyone is welcome.
Children under 7 need to bring a grown-up with them
Both these events are part of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery’s Collections in the Landscape Project
The new events programme can be found at

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Rabbits, giants and printed leaves

Rabbits, giants and printed leaves

week 2 in the Highlands 

waiting for the audience

The second week of Scottish storytelling went well. or, at least, I enjoyed it and swarms of enthusiastic children seemed to as well (another 5 schools and another 500 children more or less).

picturing a story
 “You’re my very best creeping toad friend” (was delivered without any irony over the numbers of other amphibian friends the young man in question might have)
and listening to the teacher of a P6 (or maybe P7) class enthuse about language, getting her pupils to talk about the images used in my stories and discuss how these made a difference to the stories
mapping a story with visuals
“I like words now.”

One bee was flying, visiting flowers,
Under the eyes of a bird flying in the sky,
While two little trees were growing in a planter,
And three little rabbits were running for the woods,
While feet tramped over the ground,
Past a single bunch of daffodils,
A peony with nine flowers,
And a tiny ladybird with black spots.
There were three stones on a wooden post to point the way,
And five fingers ready to write a story.

(using counting to set a story in motion, St Clements School)

And we shaped a story through a Fox’s creepy woods and through Eagle’s giant mountains. We threaded through haunted spider woods and ended with a return by butterfly to the garden where the adventure began.

extending a story

Activities during the week, beyond just telling stories and listening to them, included drawng stories to help retelling, adding treasures to the drawings to extend a tale, making pop-ups to hold brand new tales, exploring shcool grounds for inspiration for stories and art work. Overall,we did a lot of work seeing stories as patterns that could be recorded as words or as a sculpture (pop-ups), as story maps or as long unrolled story-sheets where puppets, drawing, words and printing could all be added and we could cooperate to build adventures as a group. This week, my visits included two lovely schools for chidlren with additional educational needs. For someone who works with words as much as I do, it is always a concern to approach groups where words are not always that effective and attention can wander very quickly, so it was wonderful to slip into those classes and find new friends waiting and hands, minds and stories ready for new adventures

dramatic puppet and pop-up

Now, I’m off to Orkney, but as the saying goes, that is another story….

with many thanks to all the enthusiastic pupils and staff i met at Kirkhill, St Duthus, St Clements, Kirkhill and Muirtown Schools
some maps are easier to read than others

Sunday, 14 May 2017

a Spring Sunday

Spring Flowers and the Green Corrie

Sunday mornings slip away so easily

A slow waking, fried breakfast, a mushroom omelette, a slice of Edam on Rye. Honey. A book to sink into, to step away from and be called back to. A kitchen window in spring. The kitchen door is open too and the blackbirds fill the space beyond with conversation. There is a bumblebee somewhere, loud and insistant. More than one. Kitchen window again: tulips do not appeal but the wild bluebells in the tub do and the heady, coconut gorse by the fence is popular.

The bumblebees are their own distraction - a different pattern. A darker brown? Buff-tailed? or Tawny? A different Tawny? Foragers for an early nest here in May, maybe even queens themselves stocking up for a brood of tender grubs tucked away behind stone. And then the Green Corrie draws me back with its gentle, evocative exploration of place and people, the friendship between Andrew Greig and the poet Norman MacCaig. A reflection on inspiration, on what gets us writing (in his case) or whatever, the influence of that older person who didn’t tell you what to do but encouraged and moved by doing it themselves.

The bumblebees are still a distraction and the morning is slipping away.

At The Loch Of The Green Corrie, Andrew Greig, Quercus, London 2010

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Two seagulls in a bright sky

Two seagulls in a bright sky

inspirational seaweed, Cromarty
First week in of this current northern tour. I’ve covered some 900 miles, worked in 6 different schools, with some 450 young people. We’ve been telling stories, listening to stories, making up stories. We’ve found dead seagulls and a beautiful skull, we buried some children under a playing field*, realised that The Old School still holds the ghosts of the Victorian children That Teacher locked in a cupboard and forgot about

We discovered how the lion got his mane and where the witch lives in the woods. We built ourselves adventures, pooling lines and images


the last sabretooths in Scotland

A Spean Bridge Adventure
Our journey took us,
Between the road and the river,
And over the hill with the peat-scented bogs,
We crept down through the woods where the wolves used to run,
Down to the river but the arch of the old highbridge was broken
And we squeezed between the sodden rock faces, dripping water like blood,
And carefully, so carefully, we balanced from stone to stone,
Across the fast flowing river where the water trolls wait,
Wait for you, for me, for anyone with warm blood in frightened veins.
And at last,
Behind the big mossy, dark, barky trees, reaching up to the clouds
We rested in the shade of a massive tree, its branches towering over us.

But when we stepped out into the sunshine of the heather fields where the fairies play,
Behind one girl stood a tall shadow that didn’t belong to her.

bear and badger story taking shape

With many thanks to all the brave and imaginative children, teachers, parents and things I’ve met so far (you can decide which you are) from
Dunblane High School, and the Primary Schools:  Spean Bridge, Raigmore, Daviot, Cromarty, Kinlochbervie, Scourie and Durness
* I am a storyteller, believe as much as is safe for yourself
Dunbane High brought some elegant buildings