Happy 2nd Birthday Live Tales

It’s two years this September, since Live Tales in Newcastle officially opened its doors, to hundreds of primary school children in the North East. The project is part of Live Theatre on the Quayside, and offers free creative writing sessions to schools. I’m a volunteer Writing Mentor at Live Tales, working with small groups of children. In October 2016 I wrote about the project in detail and you can read it here, in the blog post entitled: Live Tales – My View as a Volunteer

In the post above I briefly alluded to the benefits to me. Apart from feeling I’m contributing to the project, I still feel uplifted after a session and it’s a joy to see the children love the sessions and feel good about their writing. But over the two years, volunteering has been beneficial to me in other ways. In 2014 I took early retirement from full-time work, following a severe bout of depression. By 2016 I was ready to engage with the world more. And volunteering a few times each half term seemed manageable. At first, even getting up and out, driving, parking the car… was a challenge. Sessions are easily booked online and there’s no pressure to do a specific amount. All together this system has made me feel at ease; I’ve taken things at my own pace and grown in confidence. New friendships have been forged too and it’s good to interact with adults and children during the sessions. Mental health recovery is not linear, and I am grateful that Live Tales has been a part of my cyclical journey.

However, by 2017 the sessions were beneficial to me in another way. Because I saw the children taking risks with their writing and because I was growing in confidence, then I started writing too. Since March 2017 I have had four short plays performed and I received my first commission in May this year.

Being confident can relate to numbers, music, running, painting, playing football etc… not just words. Volunteering, and giving back to our communities, is cited by most mental health charities as being good for our wellbeing – as they say, what goes around, comes around.

So, Happy 2nd Birthday Live Tales, may you long continue to nurture creativity in the region. And thank you for valuing me… you really have put the bounce back into my step.

# If you think this might be for you then contact Izzie Hutchinson (Volunteer Coordinator) via livetales@live.org.uk or ring 0191-2292379 for more info and details about the full training given.

There are volunteer Illustrator posts too but, unlike the Writing Mentor posts, expertise is needed.

Starting this autumn, sessions are also happening at The Fire Station in Sunderland, plus sessions for KS3 (secondary school) pupils will now be offered in Newcastle.

Live Tales in Live Garden, Quayside – Newcastle

My Romantic History ~ Live Theatre Review

The play My Romantic History, on at Live Theatre, Newcastle, reminds me of the quotation: There’s your truth, my truth and the truth. Main characters Tom (Brian Lonsdale) and Amy (Bryony Corrigan) certainly give us a run for our money exploring the premise. Aided and abetted by Amy McAllister in multiple roles.

The script by Daniel Jackson is pure genius and Max Roberts deftly directs. And it needed this strong cast. The sharp asides, the light and shade, the naughty bits – all needed to be in capable hands, in order to fly.

I saw the play twice: on Press Night and on a Sunday matinee. The anticipation was delicious on the Sunday, waiting for certain lines and scenarios.

Also, by the Sunday I’d bought the play-text. One thing jumped out: hardly any stage directions. When I tweeted this out, the writer replied: Stage directions are for cowards. There’s nothing cowardly about this production. From the set, with drawings by Ben Holland depicting North East haunts, to how the three played out this story.

A clever observation of a snapshot in time for two 30-somethings. We get to see their colourful histories, their present dilemmas and a sneaky peek of the future.

Poignant bits? Yes. Tears laughing? Yes. Recognisable bits? Yes! All together it’s funny and fierce, the home-truths make sure of that.

It’s only on for the rest of this week… and if you haven’t seen it yet… then what the heck are you waiting for? Poster at Monument Metro Station

A Mini Bop ~ Maroussi Station

Chain smokers and train shakers.

Take the line down to Kiffissia or Port of Piraeus.

Car tyres chasing dogs;


Coffee – thick, black coffee cold.

Straw sippers and ice breakers.

Snide RayBan shades on sale,

No-one’s buying.


Watching beautiful, beautiful people.

Do they even know I’m foreign?

Do they even care?


(Malakas is Greek for wankers)

Show; Don’t Tell

Don’t tell me the moon’s shining, instead show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Trust a Russian to tell such a truth.

So, come on, show me.

Stroke my hair, pat my heart, read aloud.

Show me.

Show me how to answer back. Show me how to colour in. And show me how to hula hoop.

Show me.

But, then, just for once tell me. Tell me it wasn’t my fault.

Tell them to back the fuck right off.

Just for once… say… tell me

I. Love. You.

My Short Story for World Kindness Day ~ Broken Pieces

“For fuck’s sake, not again”
I could feel six pairs of eyes opening wider and piercing in to my back as I said the words. I turned and followed it with,
“Come on, you all think the same. Sorry… but it’s not on, this is the fifth time in… in three weeks.”

And it was. For three weeks we had been turning up at the community centre to find graffiti sprayed on the walls or on the ground. Each time we scrubbed and swilled away red paint.

This time the words were even bigger. This time a wooden table was daubed. Shouting:

The words stared at us. Defiant.
“Someone is angry… I see… but your Mams and Nanas and Dads… your families… are due here on Friday for the Summer Fundraiser.”
I wanted to cry, wanted to give in. I felt fragile.

At last someone dared to speak.
“But,” ventured Shelley… looking to the others for back up, “we’re gunna sort it. Just us. Mrs H, you go home and we’ll make sure it’s gone…sorted by Friday.”
Six teenagers nodded along with her words. Six kids looked older than me. Looked determined.

Over the next few days I went from trusting them to worrying to trusting to worrying. The wooden table, just by the community centre door, looked marked for life. It had been made special for the centre, by a fella who used to live two streets away, but was in a home across town now. How the hell could they sort it? I even sneaked along one night. But from the gate all I could see was black bin liners covering the table. A bin liner table cloth… bloody hell anyone could’ve come up with that solution. And then I felt those eyes searing in to my back again… only no one was there… only me on my own, standing cold and broken.

Seven years I’d put in to the centre. Seven years fighting the council to keep it open. Seven years needing help. Seven years keeping it safe for the kids. Seven years on my own. I wanted to spray paint the council buildings.

Next morning I’m in the middle of doing a food shop when my mobile rings. It’s Leon’s Mam. Telling me to get down to the centre. That the kids have sorted it…but they’re not sure if I’ll be pleased. Not sure if it does the job.

And yes… all I can see as I walk up the path is the plastic liners draping down from the table to the grass. The six are there. Shelley and Jonny have blank faces; Dawn looks worried; Kyle and Leon are half smiling and Roxana’s looking at the ground.

“Mrs H, it’s all set dry… see what you think… if you don’t like it then we’ll just have to…just have to think of something else,” said Leon.
And he’d hardly finished when Kyle pulled the covering off.
And there staring up at me on the table were the words:

Made from pieces of… broken crockery. The whole table was a mosaic of pattern and colour with the words in the middle.
And from out of the community centre came their Nanas and Dads and Aunties and friends. Each one pointing and feeling and searching. Searching for their contribution. For their chipped or cracked plate… mug… or bowl that made the graffiti mosaic.

Then they all looked to me. And all I could do was cry. I cried cos I’d doubted them. I cried cos I loved it. I cried cos this centre meant something to them all. I cried cos… cos I felt loved.

Plays and Prose and Poetry

This is my seventh and final blog post as guest blogger for Berwick Literary Festival. My debut gig as a literary festival blogger comes to a close.

This blog post will cover four events at this year’s festival… on topics that I have some experience of… plays and prose and poetry. I will have had three short plays performed this year, one at the Live Theatre in Newcastle; I am involved in creative writing workshops for children at Live Tales, Newcastle; I still love to read fiction for children and I will have had two poems published in a local zine by Maybe Later Press this year. In fact, a lot has happened this year in my literary world.

Plays ~ Moth to the Flame
On Friday, 20 October I was at Torben Betts’ talk on Writing for Stage and Screen. Playwriting and plays are my passion now, so I was particularly interested in this event.

Torben began with: What the hell makes me do this? He had me at those words! And with his acerbic wit and droll delivery he proceeded to give us the answer… script writing allows him a freedom, and just like a moth to a flame, he is drawn to it, there’s nothing else he could do. Not through the want of trying though. He went to University; tried Acting School; made plans to travel the world.

But the pull was too great; his early childhood games revealed his desire for drama … in the giving of dialogue to his Action Man. This was the start of Torben creating scenarios with conflict. I suddenly remembered my puppet shows as a child; a cardboard box theatre and two puppets; I had created dramas too from an early age.

Later, being a produced dramatist fulfilled Torben’s need to have a voice; to get angry; to get revenge… angry with the Tories and exact revenge on his slightly dysfunctional family. I could empathise with it all.

Like the How to get Published event on Saturday, this one proved that success doesn’t come quickly or easily… thank goodness… I can do hard work and perseverance. If you Google Torben or watch his YouTube clips… you will find he has created a wealth of plays; film scripts and adaptations and he certainly has no intention of stopping.

Prose ~ The Next Generation
The festival has charitable status now and an important aspect of this, is the outreach work, so while I was being inspired by Torben in St Paul’s Church, Spittal; Bea Davenport, children’s and YA (Young Adult) author, was inspiring young people in Berwick Academy. Bea’s YA novel, The Misper, will be published on 1 February 2018.

Bea led two creative writing workshops in the secondary school. She got some groups of young writers from Years 9 and 10 to create strong settings for a story using two key writing techniques: sensory detail and showing not telling.

Bea said afterwards, “The first group were members of a weekly creative writing group that runs during school lunchtimes. It was fantastic to hear that this activity is going on and it meant that the pupils were keen to improve their writing. The second group were pupils who had shown some writing skill in class. I was very impressed with the strong work they all produced and by their perceptive questions about writing.”

There were other events for school children during the festival and Berwick Rotary organised and sponsored a short story competition and Berwick Visual Arts were involved in a poetry competition for children.

I volunteer at Live Tales in Newcastle so I believe this outreach work is vital in creating the next generation of writers and in contributing to children’s well-being. I would have loved something like this at school when I was younger.

Prose ~ Read Aloud
Which brings me to story time in school; something that did happen and for which I’m indebted. It was the only way I could access books. Hearing Alan Garner’s Weirdstone Of Brisingamen read out loud when I was ten by our teacher, is my earliest, most vivid memory of the joy of books. My most treasured memory. Every word I heard at school I savoured. So, when I became a teacher and then a parent … yes, you’ve got this.

Therefore, choosing this next event to attend was easy… The Story Is You by the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize winner, Piers Torday. He spoke on the Sunday at the festival and with slides and memories of his Dad and his brother, Piers took us on his childhood and literary journey. Starting with the question: What is a story? And how telling stories sets us apart from the animal kingdom. To me stories give us a blue print to cope with life; they provide a way to endure life. Piers echoed my thoughts… also he rightly pointed out that stories help children develop a critical view of the world; help them develop emotional intelligence and empathy and of course develop imagination.

Oh, I could have listened to Piers all afternoon. The tales of his Dad reading to him were touching and I agree… reading with children is a great act of love… there’s that sting of a tear again. I may not have been read to at home or been allowed to read… but I realised the next day, that we did tell our day’s tales around the tea table… another stepping stone towards being a writer.

Piers’ dad became an author at the age of 59 (hope for me yet) and inspired Piers to change career path; embark on an Arvon writing course and become a children’s author. Piers’ latest book, There May Be A Castle, is about love, loss and the power of imagination. Piers ended his talk by giving us the background to the book and a short reading. Sting of a tear again. I now have a signed copy, of course.

Poetry ~ And Pipes
Stephanie Butland, local author, on Saturday during the How to get Published event, talked about the difference between being a published writer and being a read one, and how the latter is what matters most. It got me thinking; every time I Tweet, blog or have a monologue performed then there is the potential to be read and how all forms are ways of me having a voice. The only thing I have had printed, are two poems in a local zine (indie magazine) this month, on the theme of Truth. It’s a start.

Poetry has featured very well this festival, starting with Ian McMillan, on Friday 20 October, in the Guildhall; then Anne Ryland’s In Praise of the Ode workshops on the Saturday; next the OpenMic at the Poetry Café; then Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books with poems and songs and finally, to close the festival, Katrina Porteous in the Guildhall on Sunday, 22 October, with The Blue Lonnen. Not forgetting the children’s events above and the poetry readings in local care homes.

Katrina’s performance of her evocative poetry (often heard on BBC Radio) was accompanied by Alice Robinson (Radio 2’s Young Musician of the Year finalist) on Northumbrian pipes. The pipes took me back to teaching Country Dancing in schools, in Northumberland in the 80’s. And Katrina’s love for the Northumbrian language and landscape was abundant.

An apt way to bring a festival of words to an end, with a celebration of words and music.

Finally, thank you…
The whole festival filled me with ideas, delight and waves of emotion. A veritable feast. A treat. Thank you to all the contributors.

Thank you to the volunteer festival steering group and organisers in Berwick for such a varied, interesting and organised programme and for inviting me to be guest blogger this year. And to the patrons and sponsors. The festival couldn’t happen without any of you.

Thank you to: Mike and Margaret Fraser for their hospitality towards me at their home on the Saturday evening… to Sandra and Ian Dodds at TheAnchorage Guest House, where I stayed during the weekend and to the Corner House Café for being the festival hub.

And to… any punter, shop owner or resident of Berwick who shared a friendly word or two with me and made me feel so welcome.
Which leaves me to say… long live the word; the power of words in any form. It is true…the pen is mightier than the sword.

In Conversation With…

In Conversation With… Stephanie Butland, Caroline Roberts, Dave Randall and Colin Young. Not all at once. They constituted three, out of the nine, events I chose to attend last weekend 20 – 22 October, at Berwick Literary Festival 2017.

Two of the interviewers were Victoria Watson and Helen Wright – local women who were debuting in this role at the festival. And the third was the TV journalist Gerry Foley, who has done this more times than… I’ve had chips probably. 

Whatever their backgrounds or experience, they all put their guests at ease, yet asked incisive questions and got the conversation flowing. They all had done their homework for sure. However, Helen said to me afterwards that, Michael Parkinson was a pro at it, but even he said it helped if the guests wanted to be there in the first place. The guests at the festival seemed to relish the opportunity… if you have a love for words, your story or your message… then hopefully you’re half way there. Although, I can imagine, it may be a little daunting if you’re not gregarious… and then of course there’s the questions from the floor to face. Anyway, thank goodness, no worst-case scenarios were played out and here’s a taste of each event.

How to get Published – Northumbrian Authors in Conversation was the first event with Stephanie Butland and Caroline Roberts on Saturday. Vic Watson, a writer herself, invited them to do a short reading from their latest books: Lost for Words and My Summer of Magic Moments, respectively. She then asked them to give an outline of becoming published writers. Caroline’s 80 rejections and Stephanie winning her agent through a Twitter auction illustrated the lows and highs.

Being in the audience meant I could feel their zest for their books and most importantly for writing. I loved Stephanie telling us that, waking up one New Year’s Day knowing her first book was to be published that year, was a very special moment and Caroline saying, she stroked the cover of her first book when she received her copy.

Recollections from both authors showed us, that being published is the cherry on the cake… but writing, developing a working relationship with an agent, editing and then garnering readers for their books take precedent. I got the sting of a tear a few times listening to such enthusiastic women.

All three women write blogs too; check out their websites. Also, local blogger Jackie Kaines met them in September, and posted a blog; you’ll find it on Berwick Literary Festival’s website. 

At the close Vic asked what advice is essential in the early days… Caroline said, perseverance is the key to getting published and Stephanie said, write because you love writing… and I could feel those tears again! I came away enthused about my own writing and where I might go next with it. 

Later that day I heard Dave Randall, ex Faithless and Dido guitarist, in conversation with Gerry Foley, an ex ITV reporter now freelance broadcaster. I must admit I was a bit star struck, definitely… awe struck. Dave is a musician and activist and has just published his book: Sound System ~ The Political Power of Music. Mark Radcliffe of Radio 2 and 6 Music has described the book as: A deeply intelligent look at music and society. Thought provoking, readable and clever. And that’s how Dave came across in his introduction and in the interview with Gerry.

Dave opened with a question from a Marvin Gaye track: What’s going on? Dave claims politics today has polarized into Right and Left, and that to combat the ravages of the Right, and to make this world a better place, then we need to protect and develop culture… that culture, in all its forms, is all about how we feel about ourselves in the world. 

He stated that the establishment has been suspicious of music and its power for hundreds of years. And #GrimeForCorbyn on Twitter, started by the UK Grime artist Stormzy, during the lead up to the June General Election, proved that music is still as important as ever in the battle of politics (Grime is the newest genre of music to question the establishment).

If I had tears during the first interview today, then I had more, when Dave spoke of the musician in Syria. A musician who dared to gather crowds to sing a protest of the current regime, and was found murdered a week later. 

Gerry asked pertinent questions about sections of the book… Dave was only too happy to answer his position on and the facts surrounding: Strange Fruit and Billie Holliday; Beyoncé at the Super Bowl; Carnival in Trinidad; South Africa and Israel. All contentious topics, that Dave didn’t shy away from. Dave gave a good argument for music serving the interests of the many, rather than the few. And the word better was repeated more than a few times… Dave seems a realist but also a hopeful one… I was impressed.

Last up was Colin Young in conversation with Helen Wright on the Sunday. Colin’s a freelance sports journalist, with the Sunday Mirror and the Irish Independent on Sunday. In 2016, in just four months, he wrote: Jack Charlton ~ The Authorised Biography. No mean feat.

Being a Geordie myself; having taught in Ashington, where Jack is originally from, and having watched the recent TV programme about his brother Bobby, then I was keen to attend this event. I can’t remember the England World Cup victory in 1966 when the Charlton brothers were in the team; I was only seven, and like most people I know more about Bobby. Shocking admissions! So, another reason to hear Colin talk to Helen; I like to find out new information.

Helen had her copy of the book, with its multiple bookmarks and sensitively quizzed Colin. Colin soon found his stride and gave us an insight into writing the book and his motivation for publishing an authorised biography… to utilise his time with Jack, the archives and photos, and to do Jackie proud, and it seems he has.  

We got an insight into the big man too; a loyal, hard-working, stubborn man who seems to prefer fishing to playing or managing football. Becoming manager of the Republic of Ireland national squad in the 1980’s therefore suited him, as it was part-time… more time for fishing and family. 

Helen didn’t skirt around touchy subjects either… Is Jack best mates with his brother now? And, Would Jack survive in the current world of football? Colin was straight to the point: No and not for long! Colin did expand on those answers, and he recalled more anecdotes, when it went to the floor for questions. And in true tradition this was lively… it’s football you need to remember… the beautiful game and opinions get heated. 

One final word from Jack though… on the OBE he received… it means Other Buggers’ Efforts. Yes, wor Jackie is honest and funny too – a Geordie to the core. 

So, over two days: three conversations; three contrasting topics… all enthralling. Book signings happened after each event, but the crux was the digging beneath the surface and hearing four, no seven, engaging people. A fiver a ticket too… you wouldn’t get in to the footie for that price.

In Conversation With… Is it effective? From the audiences’ immediate responses, I’d say yes. No doubt the steering group has scrutinised the printed feedback surveys by now.

This whole festival happened due to a volunteer steering group of eleven people, volunteer organisers, patrons and sponsors…again no mean feat. It will be the 5th Berwick Literary Festival in 2018… I have a feeling the planning of it will have started already. I applaud them all.

Until then, enjoy those books or get them on your Christmas Wish List; maybe get writing and see you all next October.


A Cartoon History of Berwick 

The official start to the Berwick Literary Festival 2017 was in the Guildhall, on Friday 20 October at 7pm. The chandeliers were sparkling; velvet curtains draping and a big crowd was gathering. Michael Wright, chair of the festival’s steering group and the town mayor, Gregah Roughed, made their formal welcomes and introductions… and then legendary Ian McMillan, poet, raconteur and broadcaster began his 45-minute break-neck speed ride of laughs. Formalities were dispelled with and the grand room shook with laughter. Laugh a minute? Laugh a second! He took the whole audience with him and I could hardly get my blogger’s notes written, for laughing and crying.

His side-kick, the famous Private Eye cartoonist Tony Husband, sat in the wings – while Ian, who currently presents BBC Radio Three’s The Verb, recounted tale after tale of his gigs around the country in halls and schools. Ian used the word gig to keep his spirits up he said; me too, it gives my blogging gig in Berwick a feel of being at the centre of a cultural vortex; I like that. His Barnsley accent added to his observations and reflections, grounding it all in real life. For me he’s like other great comedians such as Victoria Wood and Billy Connolly – they relate true happenings, which happen to be very, very funny. As Ian said, “I wish I was making this up!” Whereas most of the other events in the festival gave me some backstory to the contributor, this was purely top-notch entertainment… for a tenner!

I love word play and Ian obviously does too… it’s how he lives his life; how he makes his living; how he looks at the world. From incorrect introductions to signs in shops to teachers’ traits Ian played with words. Now and again his poetry popped up its head. A punter, the next day, said he hated poetry at school and that he would rather have had double maths, but that Ian’s poetry was engaging and entertaining. He probably spoke for a lot of people on Friday night. And I learnt a new word… isogloss. Isogloss is the line on a map dividing areas and their dialects. If you love words you tend to love accents and dialect – I do. Ian’s tale about someone getting new double glazing for their arse, proved the comedic value of a different pronunciation of a word – house. Funny.

And just when I thought the evening was nearly over, Tony joined in at a flipchart, sketching the Guildhall and I remembered the event was billed as A Cartoon History of Here. There were more delights in store. As a chorus we contributed ideas and sang along with Ian, as he and Tony created an illustrated ballad about Berwick. It took flight and soon we were singing about seagulls and perches and grieving and dying – but it was still funny. Cartoonery, comedy, poetry and improv came together and the mean film star of Berwick, Steven Seagull, was born. I’m still chuckling about it… two days later. And I have the proof, as at the end of the evening Tony’s on-the-spot cartoons illustrating it all, were up for grabs and I nabbed the one below… Steven Seagull on his Perch. We even had Pamela Wright, from the steering group, using a paper origami seagull to add some pathos to the elegy at the end. Ok, it was a scrunched-up piece of flip chart paper but Pamela was fully on board.

There were some of Tony’s and Ian’s books on sale too; I couldn’t resist. But mostly this event was a clever and creative take on words and on Berwick; a fitting way to kick start the 2017 Berwick Literary Festival. And as it was ending, one last quip… Ian strode to those plush velvet curtains, drew one to the side, looked out and said, “All your cars have been pinched from the car park!” Guess you had to be there.

As I set off back to the guest house, The Anchorage on Woolmarket, I got talking to a young couple leaving the gig… they had recently moved to Berwick from down south. They agreed with me… fantastic entertainment and welcoming local people. Hey, we could’ve been anywhere in the world at that moment… Newcastle, London, Paris. But here we were in a vortex of cultural happenings, inside the walled town of Berwick. Thank you to: Ian, Tony and the Berwick Literary Festival Steering Group and Organisers for a great night, and I wish Andrea and Kevin, that young couple, the best of times in their new home- town.

Steven Seagull on his Perch ~ By Tony Husband