The twenty-third special episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 6th June 2011 and featured the fourth day of five as a volunteer at Oundle Literature Festival here in Northamptonshire, England. The content has never been released other than website links (on my website).
Saturday 19TH March @ 1pm: Nick Sharratt
The author and illustrator of his and other children’s books, Nick started talking (alongside a slide show) about his book ‘Shark in the Park’. Before we started, Nick had asked me to assist with a couple of his talks, the first being to throw a blow-up shark in time with the final line of the book (which I won’t give away).
Nick showed a picture of him as a child (c. 6) drawing a picture of a house followed by a picture of a street scene he drew at 9 and the teacher thought it good enough to put in the school hall (for quite a few weeks) – Nick was so inspired that he spent all his spare time drawing, then went to art school and since then has been drawing for a living.
Nick then talked about his book ‘The Big Book of Crazy Mix-Ups’ where he asked for ten children to join him on the stage for ‘Nick Sharratt’s Snap. Eight of the children held up coloured pictures (each showing the bottom of a pair). One of the remaining children held a noise box (for when there was a match) and the tenth chose other cards to match the children’s cards and every time two matched the audience said snap and the child pressed a random button on the noise box and the child then holding both cards returned to his/her seat. The child who remained (called Oliver) then picked some items from Nick’s book ‘You Choose’ starting with a Star Trek outfit, some lace-up boots, a backwards baseball cap, some popcorn and accompanied by a zebra. As these were announced Nick drew Oliver wearing or holding them all. Oliver returned to his seat. The next slide was of the covers of Jacqueline Wilson and Nick invited the audience to guess which book cover/character was his favourite. He took four suggestions which didn’t match the answer: Tracey Beaker which Nick then drew on the flip chart and talked through the next few slides of animations from the Tracy Beaker TV series. The next slide featured the front cover of ‘Octopus Socktopus’ and Nick asked a child from the audience (a young lady called Georgina) who drew a magnificent Octopus… suggestions from the audience then inspired Nick to draw a sea horse, a (strawberry) jellyfish, some seaweed, a clownfish (complete with large red nose. Nick (as Leigh moved the slides on) then read through the ‘Octopus Socktopus’ with the audience guessing what the Octopi would be called. The next book was ‘More Pants’ a rhyming book co-written with Giles Andreae.
Nick then taped a red fish to the flipchart alongside which he wrote ‘Really Rosy Red Fish’ before asking the audience for three words rhyming with red (bread, bed and said were provided) for which the audience had to vote one (bread) which lead to Really Rosy Red Fish Tasty Wholemeal Bread Fish, then a Gratuitously Green Fish (with provided words of scene/seen/runner bean) became a Gratuitously Green Fish Giant Runner Bean Fish, followed by a Super Sunshine Yellow Fish (with a word choice of mellow, marshmallow, bellow) became a Super Sunshine Yellow Fish Fancy Marshmellow Fish. The audience then chose a pink fish (from the choice of pink, brown and mauve) which became Pretty Pastel Pink Fish Low Cal Fizzy Drink Fish.
Nick then introduced his new book ‘What’s in the witch’s kitchen?’ which had options on each page to turn flaps left or right, up or down and started with a fridge with cheese (left) or a bowl: with toffee popcorn (left) or slimy frogspaw (right) then a cooker which revealed a cherry tart (up flap) or lizard’s fart (down) and other delightful options before finally having a door open with a witch saying “boo” to which Nick played a black noise box with a witch’s cackle.
He then moved on to his book ‘Pants’ which he read again alongside the slides, occasionally playing a variety of coloured noise boxes ending with ten fathers invited from the audience to play blow-up guitars to an Elvis sounding recording singing the words from the story.
The event then ended with Nick handing out the prize-winners of the children’s writing and poetry competitions. Leigh then summarised Nick’s work, thanked him for his attendance and invited the audience to have his books signed. The talk lasted about an hour but with a large proportion of it being interactive with the audience it flew by, and being his second appearance at the festival is bound not to be his last.
Saturday 19TH March @ 3pm: Simon Scarrow
Simon set the informal scene by saying that he would round up in plenty of time for the 5pm kick-off of the Wales vs Scotland rugby match. He said there are half a dozen other authors’ Roman series available, one on the Roman navy which he’s pleased about – he explained that when he was writing the sixth book in the legionary series, Eagle’s Prophecy, it horrified him how little information there was available on the Roman navy. He said that there was the image that everything was monochromic depiction but it was actually colour-laden and the TV series ‘Rome’ was very accurate. He introduced the book Gladiator; the first of his books for young adults. He told the audience of his restrictions (no sex, no violence and especially difficult, no killing) by his Puffin editor proved a challenge. He’d tell stories to his sons as he walked them to school so he wrote in a similar vein which he found helped greatly. His young adult books have been sold in the US to Disney – handy as they produce films; even just apparently saying “boy gladiator” had them hooked. He writes 4 books a year, and developing a film with his brother Alex and a former student.
Simon explained that his main interest in school was history as it’s where all the best stories are and he had good History and Latin teachers at school – the history teacher being ‘old school’ who loved telling history as stories with passion.
He then quoted a saying: he who controls the past controls the present, he who takes control of the present, controls the future. And he totally agrees saying he loves Wikipedia and he went on Google Earth and looked at Jordanian desert; saw almost intact Roman fort (some damaged due to earthquake); nearest settlement is Bedouin camp 5-6 miles away. Nothing to see for miles around so he wondered why it was built? He thinks it was either to guard camel trails or as a meeting point but pointed out inaccuracies can exist with Wikipedia etc so has to be careful but still invaluable.
Simon was then asked how far in advance he works? He said that as he researches he gets other ideas. He doesn’t plan each novel but writes a one- or two-page synopsis as the characters tell the story and he writes it down; it’s always lovely to find out what’s going to happening. He said he doesn’t enjoy beach holidays as he’d much rather explore and gets ideas. I can relate to that.
He was then asked whether he’d write a book about Pompeii? He said it had already been done by Robert Harris and (better he thinks) by Caroline Lawrence for young adults. He had thought of ending his legion series with the two main characters retiring in a lovely sunny resort… Pompeii (to which the room laughed).
The next question was about whether history was too big and is getting even bigger and that history pervades every other subject, to which Simon replied “absolutely” and recommended Ken Robinson’s Ted lecture on YouTube. Simon added that there has to be a need to generate creative literate people, that we don’t know what Britain will be like in 10 years time as technology is so quick.
Simon was then asked when he creates his characters; how does he get into the mindset of a Roman? He replied saying that it’s a real myth that you can get into the mind of anyone who lived 200 years plus; and even find it difficult to get into the mind of his 14 year old son. Having said that the Roman army is not totally dissimilar from more recent armies.
The next question related to what percentage of time Simon spent doing research? He said you should go to the location of each book to check the authenticity and do lots of reading of the era, with more research required on well-known figures such as Wellington and Napoleon; half writing, half research.
I then asked out of him or his brother Alex, who started writing first, who was published first and is there any sibling rivalry?
Simon told me that he loves Alex’s books. As children they’d sat over dinner talking about stories; ghost stories, sci fi etc with their older brother (who has no interest in writing). However, Simon’s sons are writing, as are Alex’s sons and Simon and Alex’s father is. He added that writers make the mistake of writing for yourself and not for what other people want to read. He reads and recommends Lindsay Davis. CS Forester’s Hornblower and wants to read books about similar characters like Hornblower but set in Rome – never planned to sell but thought he would when he’d finished them and the rest is… history!
Finally Simon was asked what he was writing next and he explained that his latest is set in Rome and has eight more planned then will go on holiday for more inspiration.
Once Simon’s event had finished, he announced the winners of the short story competition and I’m very proud to say that the first prize went to one of my writers; Denise (better known to us as Denny). She had been invited to the event, which I knew and we’d surmised that she would have therefore been in the top three, but didn’t know until the event that there was only a top prize and that she had won which was a lovely surprise.
Simon then gave his feedback on Denny’s story; loving the sparseness and beautifully convincing – compared her story to Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing!
Saturday 19TH March @ 5pm: Warwick Davis
Warwick started off with an introduction video to the films he’d been in. He said he came to Oundle Lit Fest a few years ago to watch Michael Morpurgo not realising that he’d be an author. Actor for 30 years. Wrote because someone said he should. Living life at 100 miles an hour and doesn’t really take note. Sat down to write down what he’d done; highlights – Harry Potter, Willow, Star Wars. Made him appreciate what he’d done. Now he takes note of what he does and life around him. Started at the beginning; growing up, school days, acting career (main feature), ‘short’ film making, Willow Personal Management (which he runs with his father in law) and his personal life.
Born in Epsom, 3rd Feb 1970 he showed a picture of him on the phone – he said to Stephen Spielberg (to which we all laughed). Then he showed a photo of mum, sister and him saying his parents had encouraged him to get on with things rather than help him too much. The next photo of him in school uniform created an ahhh, and he joked about not getting into the sandpit at long jump, and ducking under the hurdles. He loved woodwork every Sat morning where the teacher asked students to decide what they wanted to make. Most of the tools were too big for him so he decided to make a pair of stilts and spent a whole term making two lengths of wood. It was clear that he has fond memories of school.
Acting career: started in Return of the Jedi aged 11. How did he get into acting? Showed an excerpt of 23 minute show called Return of the Ewok which had never; Roy Kinnear – played Wicket the Ewok. Hilarious short movie including Harrison Ford, Mark Hamil, Carrie Fisher, Darth Vader etc. His nan heard an advert from Lucas on the radio but didn’t want to say something initially so as not to offend his parents. Left it a few days then finally said something then they phone the studios who’d said they’d had enough people but his nan persuaded them and three weeks later he was on the set with his screen heroes.
Willow (when he was 17) was the first film where he’d appeared without a mask and he talked about filming it with Val Kilmer, saying that Val likes to make jokes and he recalled taking a first class plane trip to New Zealand; wearing fake Ray Bans which Val had snapped them in half before giving him a real pair saying “these are much cooler”. Warwick then showed us a picture of him in a boat in Pinewood’s filming tank (one of the largest filming tanks in the world) where he’d spent two weeks in the tank in incredibly stormy conditions and the clip apparently had never made the final film, but hopefully the DVD extras.
Leprechaun – first movie where he’d worn prosthetics. Some of the audience had seen it and Warwick said that to celebrate St Patrick’s Day this year there’d been viewings of all six leprechaun films.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: played Marvin the android in the 2005 film. His suit had been filled with a camera, a fan (as it had been ridiculously hot) and it weighted 56 pounds (whereas he only weighs 80 pounds). As imaginable, it was very difficult to walk and act at the same time.
In Harry Potter he’d played Professor Flitwick in the first two movies and returns in the latest. He also did the voice to Griphook in the first movie and plays him in the flesh for Deathly Hallows. He compared Oundle School’s Great Hall to Harry Potter’s hall. For Prof Flitwick, he explained, there was very little description about him in the book, so he had added his interpretation; he’d a teacher so would impart knowledge in a very quick fashion, he’s over 100 so his knees would hurt. Then Warwick encouraged some audience participation with us pretending we had a wand (for which we pretended to swish & flick) and a feather (when we quoted “wingardem leviosa”).
He explained that he’d started making short film aged 12 with him and his sister –
pic 1: all because the lady hated Milk Tray (he gets bumped off)
pic 2: war movie
pic 3: nightmare (and it was – he said)
pic 4: outing using pictures
then played 2m movie from 1980s called video nasty (really clever idea). Recommended making movies from a phone or video camera with a computer. He then showed an animated video that his children had made (featuring Professor Flitwick).
Willow Personal Management is the world’s biggest agency for ‘short actors’. Represents over 120 actors under 5ft tall and a dozen or so actors over 7ft. Working on a project called ‘Jack the Giant Killer’ (remaking of Jack the Beanstalk).
Then talked through the process of prosthetic make-up; the gl (some made of foam, latex, silicone, gelatine (Haribo: peel it off and eat it!). then showed a short video of how this is done. Life Cast: making of a death mask. Mix it up with ice cold water otherwise it sets within 30 seconds; when it’s on you can’t hear, can’t see, can’t smell.
When chemical reactions take place it becomes warm and soothing. Then put some cotton wool before bandages when it gets very hot. Very used to it; once or twice a year. Whole process takes about 30 minutes. Showed photos of the makeup added to the masks. Attributed the ability to play the parts to the make-up artists.
The question and answer session then followed and he was first asked how many films he has been in? He said he wasn’t sure but probably about 40. He said he’d have to check on IMdb. I have since done so and it lists 55 attributions but that does include TV, video games and some duplications.
He was then asked what character he was in Labrynth, to which he said he’s been a goblin called WW2 (gas mask) and But Pot (bird like Goblin). When asked he said he’d not done a voice over for any animated films but would like to. He said he’s dropping hints and has an idea for Doctor Who; he thinks that when the Dr regenerates that something goes wrong and The Doctor regenerates into Warwick! Then when he goes into the tardis it’s actually smaller than it appears on the outside. He was than asked to pick his favourite role? He replied saying Wicket the Ewok held with special fondness as first character but he couldn’t choose one.
Q: Do your children want to act?
A: If they wish to yes. We are working on ‘Jack the Giant Killer’, I know how difficult it is so wouldn’t push them. They are both very good (but also very good at school). They are (and his wife) are in the Deathly Hallows.
Q: What was your favourite short movie that you’ve made?
A: The outing – it was fun because it was the first one and won some awards.
Q: Were you ever bullied at school?
A: great question; had names (lanky – audience laughed) but it didn’t bother him. Had a larger than life character so it didn’t bother him; needs to believe in yourself. He took part in Celebrity Scissorhands; school careers adviser would have said he wouldn’t have been able to do it (“short back and sides”).
Q: Which director or actor would you like to have worked with?
A: Stephen Spielberg, John Hughes, John Candy, Chevy Chase. Loved Steve Googhan and got to work with him, ditto Ricky Gervais etc. (he’s starred in Extras)
Q: Did you get lost again as the Ewok video?
A: Buy the book it’s in there… oh what happened next as I walked off? Parents put their Sunday best on… and would have appeared to fetch him; walked up forest hill.
Q: Have you ever been interested in theatre?
A: Yes. Never done any Shakespeare. Did panto with Kate O’Mara and has but behind the scenes. Has done some radio plays. It’s a really good discipline; it makes you realise how easy film is (several takes).
BBC2 ‘Life’s too short’ later. Plays a different version of himself; Warwick Davis with a bigger ego (Johnny Depp said yes!). Starts shooting in June.
Warwick ended his talk by his alter ego reading an excerpt from his autobiography ‘Size matters not’. His website includes links to his Facebook and Twitter pages.
The event culminated with the older children’s writing competition prize giving.
Saturday 19th March @ 7.30pm: Michael Wood
With few available seats available downstairs, Denny and I sat in the balcony area of the Great Hall and had a spectacular view of the stage. Michael was introduced by Ian Browne. Michael said he’d filmed the first ‘In the search of the dark ages’ (to which the audience laughed) – Oundle made the book but not the film with it’s connection with Eric Bloodaxe. He’s made more than 100 films and his academic background is on British history. He first talked about his association and focus on Kibworth (in Leicestershire; about 40 miles from Oundle) and the history of the town including its medieval documents. Every place has its story, every place has its drama, its clues. Said that as Kibworth grew it became two parishes then went on to explain the differences between Kibworth Harcourt (posh) and Kibworth Beauchamp (working men); interviewed a lady who knew the history and said that KB folk weren’t allowed to go through the KH church doors (not even for a wedding or funeral) and even that they should have separate sewerage systems. He talked about the council estate in KB being created in the 1940s/1950s and with the lack of central heating had icicles on the windows (to which many of the audience, it was clear, could relate). The next slide featured a historical hand-written document, an extract of the Doomsday Book, showing that Kibworth was formerly known as ‘Cliborne’.
The next slide showed what initially looked like a picnic but it actually showed six adults (mostly women) and one child at an archaeological event where back gardens and fields around the village of Kibworth were dug up to see if they could find anything. This resulted in a mound of broken pottery (household; plates, chamber pots etc.) and produced such enthusiasm (not least by Northamptonshire pottery expert onsite) that some wanted to dig entire gardens to see what else could be unearthed. Michael then continued to talk about previous digs that had taken place and other items (including coins, brooches and pottery, including complete Roman vases) found before moving on to how the village developed in more detail, with stills of other historical documents and farming sections on simple aerial plans. One family he’d researched were the Browns which lead him from Kibworth to Coventry and one particularly picturesque photograph showed lovely old buildings which were then lost since 1945. Nick then went on to explain that literacy was very important in medieval times with uncatalogued local records found going back to the 1400s. The final slide was of the villagers having gathered round outside their local pub with a board saying “Join the Kibworth dig 25/26 July”. A question and answer session followed:
Q: You said you were particularly interested in medieval
A: I like all eras of history but there’s something about the dark ages where people have to go back to basics, law etc. He explained how cruel a time it was e.g. death sentences against children etc. Another favourite era was the 1590s with Shakespeare etc.
Q: One member of the audience made reference to Michael’s CV and said he wanted to add an item to it, having played some of his videos when he’d taught archaeology at school. He then mentioned that he’d met a former student and said he was going to Michael’s presentation and did the student remember him and flared trousers he wore were remembered fondly.
A: He said his flared trousers had become a Trivial Pursuit question so that’s when he knew he’d really made it.
Q: Made reference to bailiff – farm bailiff and where the phrase came from.
A: Not a bailiff expert but said the word came from French but used in Anglo Saxon times and were farming terms – an agent of the Lord of the Manor.
Q: When you started doing the series on Kibworth was there anything surprising that you hadn’t expected to find.
A: Michael talked about how much work was put in – one colleague asked him whether they would find anything but he said that at every point there were incredible things and quoted the butcher’s letter from 1440 and military papers.
Q: Did you or would you do a follow-up to the Kibworth series?
A: Michael spoke fondly of his time there and they went to a party at the cricket club. He said a child had said to him that he has to come back. When Michael asked why the boy said “because you’ll want to know what happens to us in the future”. He then talked about doing a programme about the nation and said that he would (love to) have to include and return to Kibworth because they’d only scratched the surface and there was so likely to be much resource to be found there.
Ian then rounded off the evening with a short speech thanking Michael calling him the ‘Heineken’ of historians (which raised a laugh from the audience).
So, that’s what happened on day 4 out of 5 – links to the transcriptions of the days 1-3 are listed here and day 5 will put listed when it’s posted.