Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Quentin Blake World of Hats

November 22, 2018

The current exhibition of Quentin Blake’s drawings of surreal hats at The Jerwood Gallery is a gift for teachers. It’s a delightful starting point for fantastically playful writing and drawing activities to engage the whole class.


One of Blake’s Hat drawings from the show

I worked with year 4 children at Rye Primary Academy at the exhibition. I asked them to simply begin by copying one of the drawings and then add their own ideas to complete the picture. They could invent a name, add the character’s home, pets, thoughts, speech, and to perhaps imagine the moment before and after the moment in the image.

The children loved the art and the activity and could have done the activity for hours but we had a short 90 minute session with lots of other things to do.

I think the exhibition works so well because Blake’s images are immediately approachable but leave masses of space- both pictorial and imaginative- for the children’s own daydreams.

The children made a fantastic storehouse of ideas for poems, stories and further art work. A complete delight!

It made me think that specifically child-friendly exhibitions are a great idea.

Head along to the exhibition until January- and perhaps take a look at my mural outside the studio at the gallery!


Some of the Children’s Drawings


I think Mr Apples is my favourite!

…and here’s a taste of my mural:


jerwood birdwatcherDancers

My Walk To School Friends

October 25, 2018

My Walk To School Friends is a poem from my book ‘Me and My Alien Friend’. 

Here’s a little performance I made of it in my studio at home:

…and here’s the spread of the poem in the book:

My Walk To School Friends

The poem has been going down really well on my visits to schools.

The chorus lends itself to call-and-response really well- we do this with increasingly silly voices as the poem proceeds! I also encourage the children to do lots of sounds and actions through the poem. It works really nicely for all ages at primary school.

I find it’s a good poem to use as a starting point for talking about how important personal and particular experience is as inspiration for writing: the whole poem is based on an experience my son and I had on the way to school every day.

The poem is the starting point for lots of activities in class. There’s lots of possibilities for writing back stories for the cats in the poem and developing writing based on the seemingly ordinary experiences children have every day.Once we transformed a class into the streets where the cats live with cardboard boxes, masking tape and drawing materials.  Children added the things they notice on the way to school. This is a nice playful creative 3D way to begin writing- a kind of big 3D whole class brainstorm!

It can also be a starting point for specifically writing about animal encounters. I often like to get children to write a letter to an imaginary friend about an animal encounter- this is a nice way of generating ideas, images and effective language before starting on a finished poem. I always use other poems with  ‘My Walk To School Friends’ as a starting point for animal encounter poems. In the poem  we meet the cats very briefly and it rhymes throughout. In contrast, I like to include a poem that doesn’t have a solid rhyme pattern and describes a relationship with one animal in more detail:


Me and My Alien Friend can be purchased below for £7.99, or is available from Amazon or to order from your local bookshop!BUY BOOK BUTTON




Rufus Wainwright at The De La Warr Pavilion!

July 2, 2018

Rufus at The De La Warr 30/6/18

Photo by Neal Neofitou

This is a longer version of an article that should be in The Hastings Independent soon.

My wife introduced me to Rufus Wainwright’s music about 10 years ago. It was the start of an obsession that’s still going strong, so I was over the moon to hear he was coming to The De La Warr.

The first song of Rufus’ I heard was ‘Nobody’s Off The Hook’. It was love at first listen. It’s a friendship-love song with an impossibly pretty melody and string quartet arrangement. He didn’t play it at The De La Warr: I’ve seen him four times and he doesn’t ever play quite the right songs. It’s almost as if he doesn’t plan his gigs just for me!

Let’s put this selfish complaint aside: it was a fabulous night.

He played on his own with piano and guitar. I’ve never seen him play a whole gig like this before and it was lovely, intimate and natural. He started by telling us about his swim in the Bexhill sea, having fish and chips and dozing off. He was warm and funny throughout.

His voice has got better and better over the years. No one sings like Rufus. He’s got a breathless superhuman soaring voice but he does not make it look effortless like opera singers often do. It’s a bit uncomfortable to watch on some of the high ones- like he’s going to burst a vein.

Third song in and I was hopeful it might be my fantasy-Rufus-gig after all as he did ‘Memphis Skyline’. I’ve never heard him play it live before. It’s a long, slow, decadent, hypnagogic dream-song about his friend Jeff Buckley. It’s got 3 or 4 musical sections with no chorus. It’s not going to make the radio 1 breakfast show any time soon! It takes you to some distant moonlit place where Rufus finds flickering cinematic memories of his lost friend. It’s full of sad longing and sounds as deep as the ocean.

The recorded version has lots of layers and is very produced. It’s incredible how he gets all the drama of songs like ‘Memphis Skyline’ across just with voice and piano. I love the ambitious orchestration on his studio recordings but the performance left me feeling he could have saved a lot of money and recorded a lot of songs just with piano. I think I’m only the millionth person to say this.

He’s not so good on guitar and he plays it in a weird way where he strums really hard with his fingers rather than with a pick. It looks really painful. I do worry about the state of his finger tips. I feel like he’s developed all the elements of his music in idiosyncratic ways separate from everyone else.  He’s really not shy but I reckon he creates everything from hours and hours of introverted working alone. Of course he plays guitar in an odd way.

Slightly disappointingly, after ‘Memphis Skyline’ he went on to do a pretty familiar set list – including Art Teacher, Gay Messiah, Going To A Town, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk. All fabulous but I would have liked a few more surprises!  Saying that, the filthy anti-Trump rap was a perfectly timed surprise in the middle of the set.

He played some new songs from his next pop album, due next year. It all sounds very good. There was an intense song about a hangover, a beautiful love song for his husband Jorn, and a vocally stunning slow song about needing ‘Alone Time’. I think my favourite new one was a quietly anthemic song celebrating ‘Only The People Who Love’.

It was a warm and lovely evening from a completely unique writer and performer. I’m sure he’ll come back, after all he said how much he liked ‘darling little’ Bexhill about 3 times. If he does, I’m writing the set list!


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