Saturday, 19 October 2013

Audio Books - a few not to be missed.

I love reading but I also delight in being read to. My parents read to me in plentitude when I was growing up and they still read to each other habitually now. Dad always reads a certain chapter or two of The Wind in the Willows to my Mum in the days leading up to Christmas, and on a recent holiday at my childhood home, Dad read to us all every day from Arthur Ransome's The Big Six. There is nothing like cosying down together with hot drinks and a shared story. My husband has been reading tirelessly to me from Harry Potter all year. There is something very special and reassuring about being read to that makes you feel important and loved. I am already preparing a crash-blanket of books to share together when we reach the end of the Deathly Hallows.

However, when a near and dear one is not at the ready when you would like to be read to, I have a few excellent recommendations to rave about.

On the whole, I read to myself and I am content with the silent voice in my head to narrate the story I am travelling through. However, SOME books are worth listening to for the sheer appreciation of some excellent accents and tones of voice. I set great store by the tone of a person's voice; when it is warm and rich and expressive it is something to bask in and let it wash over you. It is a treat worth savouring.

The first of my recommendations is 'Framed', by Frank Cottrell Boyce and narrated by Jason Hughes. Now, I love all of Mr F C B's writing, and my favourite of his childrens' novels is still 'Cosmic', but my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to 'Framed' during a long car journey a few years ago and still quote bits back to each other. (namely the bit about the painting by numbers looking like a load of chickens had eaten too many Skittles and then come and had a great poo party all over the page. Imagine this is an uppy-downy Welsh accent and you're on the floor...)

Aaannyway, Framed is a very extraordinary adventure set in a very ordinary bit of Wales. The grey, wet, dismal town of Manod lacks a certain liveliness, and for a young boy there is not a lot to do. Until an intriguing situation arises involving the mountain road beyond his house and some unknown men. Add in a world-famous painting and a naughty little sister who is obsessed with committing "the perfect crime" and Manod is boring no longer.

Jason Hughes does a perfect job of telling the story. His tone is relaxed and gently sing-songy and he creates clear distinction between all the characters with subtle changes in the depth and expression in his voice.

And yes, this is a Childrens' book. And?

I love it. My husband loves it. The Vicar's wife loves it (Fact). And even just sitting here typing I've got that luvly welsh accent ringing through my head. Hehe.

My next choice is not just one book. It is the entire series of How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. Yes, there is a movie, and a very fine one at that. But it all began here, in Cressida's books, with her scruffy, ink splotched drawings all over the pages and Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, a young Viking boy, heir to the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans' Tribe.

The great thing about these recordings is the vocal talents of David Tennant. Do I need to say anything else really? Just the fact that you know it's him doing it means you instantly have a clear id-ear (sorry) of what it's going to be like. Jolly amazing, that's what.

The 11th volume has just been released and David's already recorded up to number 9 which is out in 2014 I believe, so that's a good few hours of entertainment for your ears.

Hiccup is an excellent unlikely hero. Small and weedy and not good in combat, Hiccup does not seem like a very promising future chief for a Viking Tribe. But he IS a good person and surely this will help him win through in the end, won't it? Especially with a good friend like Fishlegs who is also rubbish at fighting and more scared than Hiccup is of .. everything really. And Hiccups' trusty little dragon, Toothless. Ahhh, Toothless. If you have seen the film of How to Train Your Dragon then no doubt you will remember the epic flying sequences of Hiccup riding through the skies on enormous black hulk of the 'Dreamworks Toothless', a mighty fine beast with glowing green eyes who can breathe huge bolts of fire?

Well, Cressida's toothless differs slightly. He is smaller than a cat and spends most of his time hiding down Hiccup's tunic. He can talk however, which instantly gives him .. well, a voice. And that voice is excellently delivered by david Tennant. It matches perfectly with the petulant nature of Hiccups' fierce little pet. But despite how aggravating Toothless can be, it's hard not to love the little chap. His occasional displays of affection and concern for Hiccup show us that he really does care, and after all, dragons are selfish beasts who are most interested in themselves and where their next meal is coming from. When Toothless can be convinced that what's helpful for Hiccup is also beneficial for himself, they're a winning team. Mostly. 

The series charts Hiccup's journey from a weedy little boy into a brave warrior, all the time learning about the huge variety of dragons, from tiny the size of a bumblebee to creatures more enormous than a Blue Whale. 

David brings an extra zing to the books that pull you deep into the Island of Beserk and immerse you slap bang in the middle of Hiccups's joys and fears, sorrows and dangers. If you're thinking of listening to these books, do grab a paper copy too - they are full of interesting little scribbles that I wouldn't want to miss.

How to Train Your Dragon
1. How to Train Your Dragon (2003)
2. How to Be a Pirate (2004)
3. How to Speak Dragonese (2005)
4. How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse (2006)
5. How To Twist a Dragon's Tale (2007)
6. A Hero's Guide to Deadly Dragons (2007)
7. How to Ride a Dragon's Storm (2008)
8. How to Break a Dragon's Heart (2009)
9. How to Steal a Dragon's Sword (2011)
10. How to Seize a Dragon's Jewel (2012)
11. How to Betray a Dragon's Hero (2013)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Children's Bookshow Tour 2013

Catherine Rayner in Newcastle

Catherine Rayner is not only hugely talented as an illustrator and author but, it turns out, as a performer too.
I was priveleged to witness and assist at Catherine's event at The People's Theatre in Newcastle on 1st October.

The children were completely enthralled by Catherine, just as we knew they would be. Catherine had them in the palm of her hand, listening and watching avidly as she shared her stories and illustrations, chatted about herself, asked them questions, and drew in front of their delighted eyes.

As Catherine added water by fingertip to a watercolour pencil drawing of her iconic tiger, Augustus, (who is eventually reunited with his lost smile), a child behind me breathed in awed tones, "Wwwooowww, that is ... M A G I C!  That's just magic!" 

When Catherine enquired whether the children had brought their smiles with them, hundreds of little beaming faces were her signal to proceed. The presentation, from start to finish, was flawless, just like Catherine's picture books. Confident, funny, and full of heart. In full control of the technology, her space on stage, and the audience themselves, Catherine moved, apparently effortlessly, between each story and activity, keeping a chatty tone and a clear voice. When Catherine asked the auditorium full of 5 and 6 yr olds to roar their loudest, the sound was fantastically ear-splitting but the next moment, Catherine signalled them back to silence for the next page of her story. 

During the hour, the kids were invited to make a wide variety of animal sounds from Catherine's picture books, and several were given the chance to draw on stage with Catherine, to create a collaborative picture of Abigail, the giraffe who stars in Catherine's latest picture book, just published this Autumn.  If you can draw a strawberry, you can draw Abigail, according to Catherine's step-by-step instructions.

The book is a true delight; a story that brings a lump to the throat and illustrations that engulf you.  Abigail is a unique giraffe who loves to count. As she draws her friends in to her fun and they learn and play together, we see just how special Abigail is. 

The inspiration spread beyond just the children; a young usher confided afterwards that he was going go home and try out the techniques Catherine had demonstrated. 

Catherine and I then went on to Chillingford Primary school for the first in a succession of workshops in local primary schools. This chirpy class of Year 2s were very excited to see Catherine again so soon, up close and personal. They were a chatty bunch, and Catherine happily answered their many and varying questions before telling several of her picture book stories, with cries from the children of "more" whenever she finished reading one.

The children then watched as Catherine created a picture for them to keep in their classroom, on "posh paper", this time featuring the gorgeous and endearing dragon, Sylvia, of "Sylvia and Bird." 

They then settled themselves at their tables with paper and pastels, to produce their own, unique dragon, complete with a name and choice of food. 

It was a joy to see the children so confident and comfortable with their drawing as a huge array of different colours and shapes of dragons emerged from their fingertips. 
We all waved a grateful goodbye to Catherine as she went on her way to her following workshops over the next couple of days and I hopped on a train back down to deepest Devon. I am not the only one who will treasure that day and who will always be glad I met the lady who gave Augustus his smile, Sylvia her best friend, injected the mischief into Solomon the Crocodile, and made a book big enough for Ernest the Moose. 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Beyond Compare: Inspiration vs Intimidation

I thought it might be worth sharing one of my own struggles for any of you out there who might battle with the same issue and wonder if you are the only one. 

Have you ever spent time admiring other peoples artwork, been thoroughly inspired, delighted and enthused, only to come away and suffer a confidence crash? Have you ever felt absolutely rubbish about your own creative ability when comparing it to others' talents?

You are not alone. I have struggled with this many times before. It's not fun, I can tell you. Cue moping, tears, low spirits. However, I have been sorting out my thoughts on it lately, to try and overcome the issue and get a little much needed PERSPECTIVE.

Avoiding looking at other people's excellence is not the solution. It's very valuable to research the market, see what's trending, see how other people tackle things, what materials they use, and so on. Hiding from the brilliance of others is not the way to encourage yourself. 

However, it is necessary to protect yourself from an all-out confidence crash when you've been looking at what other people have produced. 

One of the most dangerous temptations in life is the automatic comparison between yourself and others. Other people's houses, other people's kids, jobs, cars, body, talents ... the list goes on.

When you see how talented someone else is, are you able to freely admire them or their work without feeling you don't measure up? If so, I salute you. Keep up the good work!


If you want to draw, write, compose or sing like someone else ... IT'S IMPOSSIBLE!!
Just as you cannot morph into someone else's body, you also cannot adopt someone else's talent. It is theirs and it cannot be cloned. You can either waste precious minutes, hours, days of your life wishing things were different and feeling rubbish, or you can accept the fact that you will never be able to replicate what someone else can do. 

But, (and it's a good but), you CAN get on with the stuff you can do. Appreciate that no-one can replicate you either, and that you have an opportunity that no-one else has. If you want to be better at something, that's fine: learn, try, experiment, make mistakes. But keep going. Work on the feedback you get and let it spur you on. Do not waste your energy moping about how amazing other people are. Enjoy how brilliant they are, AND enjoy how brilliant YOU are. You are not them, and never will be. Which is why the world is such a rich and beautiful place. There is no room in the market for two Quentin Blakes, or thirty Alex T Smiths. But there is room for someone fresh, someone unique.

Be bold. Be you. You are beyond compare.