Thursday, 24 September 2015

Nottingham Telling Tales Festival • CLOCKWORK DRAGON event

If you live in or near Nottingham and are interested in children's storytelling you might like to come along to this year's Telling Tales Kid's Festival of Imagination on Saturday 10th October.

Aimed at children from 3 to 13 years, the festival is a great day out for all the family, with a varied mix of ticketed and free drop-in events. As well as author and illustrator events, there are filmmaking and claymation workshops, face-painting and plenty of other art and craft activities.

If you come along to my event at the Poppy and Pint pub you can hear me read The Clockwork Dragon, my picture book with illustrator Elys Dolan. I'll also tell you how the story came about and you'll get a chance to make your very own pop-up dragon mask.

Here's a quick description of the story …
The Kingdom of Rodney is being terrorised by Flamethrottle the dragon. Fortunately Max, a young toymaker, and Lizzie, an armourer, are more than a match for this man-eating monster and the two of them come up with a clever plan to drive it away.
Here's a trailer for the book …

And here's me wearing one of the masks we'll be making. Just think, you too could look just as handsome as this!

10.00 - 11.30 am Saturday 10th October
Pierrepont Road, Nottingham, NG2 5DX

Suitable for children aged four to eight
Children's tickets - £5
Accompanying adults - FREE


You can find out about the other events and activities at the festival website:

And keep up to date with the latest news and updates by following the festival on 

Saturday, 12 September 2015


Following on from my last post, I popped down to the Theatre Royal, Winchester this week to spend an afternoon at the rehearsals of the Mayflower Productions' new Here Be Monsters and Santa Trap stage shows.

The Here Be Monsters show opens at the Theatre Royal,
Winchester  on the Saturday 19th September 2015 

Although the two shows are being created side by side, The Santa Trap opens a couple of months after Here Be Monsters, so it was not as far ahead in terms of rehearsals, but I saw the company run through the first half of the script including a couple of Simon Slater's songs.

Despotic brat Bradley Bartleby is played by Toby Vaughan. I don't know what sort of a child Toby was, but he did a worryingly convincing job of stomping around the stage, throwing tantrums, while the rest of the cast quivered and cowered on cue. There are only three main characters in the book – Bradley and his parents – but writer and director Robin Belfield has extended the cast for the musical by expanding the roles of the three secretaries (Robin christened them Scribble, Scribe and Smythe) who are hired to type up Bradley's Christmas list.

The three secretaries, who only appear on one page of the
book, get a bigger role in the play.

After lunch I saw a complete run though of the Here Be Monsters show. The music for both of the shows is performed live on stage by the cast but the two scores are played on different instruments. While The Santa Trap score includes a baritone sax and electronic piano, the music for Here Be Monsters includes an accordion, banjo and caj√≥n and is more folky in style (composer and musical director Simon Slater aptly described some of the songs as having a Mumford & Sons feel). The Setting Sail song that the pirates sing on their way to the mysterious island is so catchy, by the third time I'd heard it, it was a struggle not to start singing along – but I decided to leave it to the professionals. You can watch the cast rehearsing it, and hear Eloise Secker (AKA Sneaky McSqueaky) tell you more about the show in the video below.

A few words from Sneaky McSqueaky (aka Eloise Secker) on the brand new musical from Mayflower Productions and Belfield & Slater Musicals, Here Be Monsters.See Here Be Monsters in Winchester 19 & 20 September.
Posted by Theatre Royal Winchester on Monday, 14 September 2015

The talented cast play the score as well as the characters (Photo: Marco Piras) 

While the cast of The Santa Trap is bigger than that of the book, the cast of Here Be Monsters is slightly smaller. Crew members Blue-Bottomed Bart and Dead-Eyed Dirk (the baboon and crocodile in the book) have had to walk the plank, but all of the other crew members are still on board for the musical. The fearsome Captain Cut-Throat is played by Ben Tolley whose accordion playing gives the show a properly piratey atmosphere.

Ben Tolley plays the villainous Captain Cut-Throat. (Photo: Marco Piras) 

Producer and production designer Rachel Fox was also at the rehearsal and showed me some of her set designs for the shows. Like most touring shows, the sets are designed to be taken apart easily so that they will pack into the back of a large van, but the sets for these shows are especially ingenious as they are double-sided. So the pieces of The Santa Trap set that show the interior of Bartleby Hall can be turned around and reassembled to show the deck of Captain Cut-Throat's pirate ship. This will be particularly useful for venues like the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, where both shows will be performed on the same stage on the same day.

The sets were still being built when I saw the rehearsals, as were some of Marc Parrett's monster puppets, but I did get a sneak preview of the kraken's tentacle …

Exit, pursued by a tentacle: My rather blurry photo of  Sneaky McSqueaky (Eloise Secker) being snatched by the kraken.

… and a couple of the costumes for the Here Be Monsters show as Lauren and Elouise tried them on for the first time.

Lauren Storer tries on her Quilly Von Squint crow costume for the first time.

I always have a sense of trepidation when one of my stories is adapted for another medium, but I needn't have worried in this instance. Robin and Simon have created two smashing shows and I was hugely impressed by the talented cast and crew who have done a great job of bringing the characters and settings to life. I can't wait to see the finished shows!

Here I am with the cast and and crew.
From left: Robin Belfield (writer & director), Adam Stewart (technical stage manager), Toby Vaughan (Stinky & Bradley), Lauren Storer (Quilly, Mrs Bartleby & Scribble), Ben Tolley (Captain Cut-Throat & Mr Bartleby), Rachel Reeve (company stage manager), me, Eloise Secker (Sneaky & Scribe) and Josh Sneesby (Findus & Smythe).
(Photo: Marco Piras) 

And here's Robin and me with composer and musical director Simon Slater. (Photo: Marco Piras) 

Here Be Monsters premieres at the Theatre Royal, Winchester on 19 September 2015 before going on to another 8 venues in October & November with further dates to be announced.

The Santa Trap premieres at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton on 15 November 2015 and then does a couple of days at The Plough Arts Centre, Torrington, before its main run at the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth from 19 December to 3 January 2016.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015


I’m thrilled to announce that two of the picture books written by me and illustrated by Poly Bernatene are being adapted into stage shows by Belfield & Slater for Mayflower Productions.

Theatre director Robin Belfield first got in touch with me five years ago to say that he was interested in adapting the The Santa Trap for the stage, having read the book to his young daughter. Robin wasn't able to get the project off the ground at that time, but last year he came back to me with a proposal for a musical stage show in collaboration with composer Simon Slater.

The show is being produced by Mayflower Productions, a newly created-subsidiary of the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, set up to create touring shows. The Santa Trap is obviously a Christmas show with a seasonal appeal, which is why – to my great delight – the same team are also creating a Here Be Monsters show to be performed by the same cast for the rest of the year.

Rehearsals started last week in Southampton and, since my family and I happened to be in the area, we dropped in to meet the cast and crew.

Here I am with the cast, crew and producers of the shows

It was only the second day of rehearsals, so they were just trying out the scripts and experimenting with some prototype puppets and props.

Puppet-maker Marc Parrett gets to grips with his giant claw. 

Cast member Lauren Storer with one of the “cracking” baby monster prototype puppets.
(Sadly, the legs, kindly provided by producer/designer Rachel Fox for this photo,
won't feature in the finished puppet. )

This prehensile prototype prop will double up as both a kraken’s tentacle in Here Be Monsters
and an elephant’s trunk in The Santa Trap.

They seemed like a lovely, enthusiastic group of people and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they bring brattish Bradley and Captain Cut-Throat’s villainous crew to life.

Here Be Monsters premieres at the Theatre Royal, Winchester on 19 September 2015 before going on to another 8 venues in October & November.  Most of the 2015 venues are in the south of England, but there are plans to tour the show further afield in spring and autumn next year.

Click here to go to the Mayflower Productions website for the Here Be Monsters tour dates and booking links.

The Santa Trap premieres at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton on 15 November 2015 and then does a couple of days at The Plough Arts Centre, Torrington, before its main run at the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth from 19 December to 3 January 2016.

Click here to go to the Mayflower Productions website for The Santa Trap dates and booking links.

I’ll be visiting the company again next week, so watch this space for an update on their progress.