Knaresborough Wind In The Willows

Knaresborough Wind In The Willows

So here’s something I got up to this summer…

I just created this video (last night) to keep the memories of this extraordinary project alive – let me know what you think!

1 mile. 34 performers. 24 sell-out shows. 8 giant ducks. 6 weasels to avoid. 1 mole. 1 badger. 1 rat. 1 enormous party. And, of course, the one and only Mr Toad!

“A rip-roaring, fun-packed, giant-sized hit” Knaresborough Post
“A spectacular, interactive production” Living North Magazine

See more trailers, readings, interviews and films about my theatre projects here!

Thanks to Rachel Burrows for the footage. For more of her work, and to see a longer video of Wind in the Willows, visit https://vimeo.com/kqrach

The Vampire Experiment: The Man In The Black Coat

The Vampire Experiment: The Man In The Black Coat

This is the final monologue in a series of stories being released as separate blogs. They form an account of an experiment performed at Knaresborough castle for Fright Night, Halloween 2013. Investigators travelled around the castle grounds to discover ghosts, who waited, hungry to tell their stories. As you read the accounts, I invite you to imagine that you are standing where the investigators stood, and having heard the ghostly tales, I challenge you to make the choice each experimenter had to make in light of the evidence given.

Dare you read on? Are you willing to face your fears, your own darkness? Dare you step into the realm of the un-dead and unmask the vampire in our midst?

**Please read the first three accounts before reading this one.**

To read the first account, Steven’s story, click here. To read the second, Elizabeth’s story, click here. And to read the third tale, John Henley’s story, click here.

For this final account, the investigators had to descend stairs into a rocky tunnel that runs beneath the castle grounds. There, they were greeted by a man dressed entirely in black. He gave his account turned away from his guests, his face concealed from their gaze.

***

The Man In The Black Coat

vampire-experiment-ian

So you’ve found me.

Welcome. Please, take a seat. You are my honoured guests.

You’ve been told not to look into my eyes. Perhaps that is good advice, but perhaps you will find it necessary. We shall see.

So, have you guessed who I am – the man in the black coat?

I am a part of you, each of you. The part you can’t see, that you choose not see – that is why I cast no reflection in a mirror.

I am the part of you that cannot, or will not, examine itself – that is why I cannot enter any place of prayer.

I am the part of you that will never transform – that is why I shrink from the image of the cross, that place of death transformed into life.

I am the part of you that will not die – that will feed on the blood of others to remain intact.

I am the part of you that will suck in, consume and destroy, rather than being destroyed myself.

I am the part of you you refuse to acknowledge – a foreigner and a monster.

I am hidden underground in the darkness, for you do not wish to see me – I cannot bear the light.

But from these hidden places I perform works of service for you, and you love me for it. You serve me as your master, although you do not know it. I take your weaknesses and build a wall around you, a wall of protection. For that you should thank me.

Take Elizabeth, brokenhearted – her love taken by war. I believe you’ve been acquainted. I perform a service for her. I take away her pain, remove her grief. She does not have to let go, or move on. I protect her from that. I have become Peter for her. I give her a way out, in exchange for her lifeblood.

Or Steven, caught in the middle of a war between his brother and the woman he loved. Or that is how it seems to him. But I perform him a service. I have stolen his memory, replaced the truth with a lie. For the truth is that his twin and his wife did not hate each other, in fact the opposite is true – they were lovers. It was not an argument he saw in the shadow of the castle, but a kiss. And in that moment his heart was rent in two. I offered to bind it up, to heal his love with anger, to change wine into water, love into hate. I gave him a way out. In exchange, he serves me with his lifeblood.

Or John Henley – poor John Henley – trapped by his own ambition, unable to acknowledge that he cannot unlock all the mysteries of the universe, that he is not God. I perform a service for him. I provide the room in which he is trapped, and quiet the part of him that knows he needs to escape. I give him a way out of facing truth. In exchange, he serves me with his lifeblood.

And what about you, my friend? What service can I perform for you?

I think, perhaps you have a choice to make. Do you look me in the eye, allow the scales to fall away? Or are you here to kill me? The choice is yours. I will not aid you and I will not hinder you.

In front of you are two objects. You must choose one of them. One will kill me. The other will show you my face.

Choose one now and we will discover the end of this story.

vampire-experiment-mirrorvampire-experiment-holy-water

The Vampire Experiment: John Henley

The Vampire Experiment: John Henley

This is the third in a series of monologues being released as separate blogs. They form an account of an experiment performed at Knaresborough castle for Fright Night, Halloween 2013. Investigators travelled around the castle grounds to discover ghosts, who waited, hungry to tell their stories. As you read the accounts, I invite you to imagine that you are standing where the investigators stood, and having heard the ghostly tales, I challenge you to make the choice each experimenter had to make in light of the evidence given.

Dare you read on? Are you willing to face your fears, your own darkness? Dare you step into the realm of the un-dead and unmask the vampire in our midst?

To read the first account, Steven’s story, click here. To read the second, Elizabeth’s story, click here.

The third account, John Henley’s story, was written in collaboration with Nigel Morgan, the performer who called him from the shadows.

***

John Henley

vampire-experiment-nigel

Who’s that? Who’s there? Be quiet! I have work to do, I’ve told you before, you will not distract me!

Keep away from my files! Missing persons – six of them – all their details here. I have scanned them, searched them, scoured these papers with a fine-toothed comb. I have examined them until my eyes are sore and my head pulses with their mysteries. They have become my world, my obsession. Elizabeth. Heartbroken. Lost her sweetheart to war. Steven. Betrayed by his brother. Forsaken by his wife. Edward. Andrew. Ivy. And John – John Henley. I see their lives when I close my eyes. I hear their voices in the night.

And you have come here to persuade me to leave? To break out of this cage? Never! I will not leave this place until I have discovered the secret of these disappearances. I will not be defeated!

When I arrived, I had just returned from Africa. An investigator – the best – employed by the government to delve into mysteries. And I never failed. I never fail. I was posted here to investigate a series of unexplained missing persons. Placed in this castle accommodation, close to the disappearances, I was shown to my room and locked inside. I have been here ever since, trying to untangle this riddle, but it eludes me. It is as if I am blind to something that is right in front of me, something that is staring me in the face.

There is no need for that lock on the door. I stay willingly, of my own accord! I am John Henley and I will not give up on this work! I will make sense of it in the end.

You do not need to lock me in! I will not leave this room, not until the task is accomplished!

But you have heard of my episodes, haven’t you? I can see it in your eyes. It is true that every day, just before sunset, I am gripped by the most ferocious rage, which I cannot explain, rage and then depression. It seizes me by the throat and throws me into a fit of violence and cursing. I hurl myself about this room, as if I am a rat, trapped in a cage. I bang on the door, calling to be let out, to be released from this cell. And then I sink into the deepest of melancholies. It consumes me from the inside. I am without light. In this state of delirium, the days and the nights merge into one. The noises in the castle mock me – footsteps and murmured voices. And the music. it will not stop! I do not understand where it comes from – the castle is a ruin. When I arrived it was void of life. The steward who showed me to my room – the man in the black coat – he informed me that there were, from time to time, other guests, but I have not met any, and would not wish to socialise anyway, not until my work is complete. You must believe me!

After the depression, he comes again – the steward. He comes to my room to dine, and drains me of the anger and melancholy that flows in my blood. When I have been relieved of these afflictions and restored again to my rational self, I am able to continue with my work.

That’s what I’m doing now, can’t you see? I will not be disturbed or distracted. These people need my help and I will solve their mysteries – Elizabeth, Steven, Edward, Andrew, Ivy and John – John Henley. Missing. Presumed dead.

Now get out and leave me to my work! The steward will be here soon and he must not find you here.

***

Make sure you hear the next fragment of evidence by following this blog. After the account, you must make your choice.

The Vampire Experiment: Elizabeth’s Story

The Vampire Experiment: Elizabeth’s Story

This is the second in a series of monologues being released as separate blogs. They form an account of an experiment performed at Knaresborough castle for Fright Night, Halloween 2013. Investigators travelled around the castle grounds to discover ghosts, who waited, hungry to tell their stories. As you read the accounts, I invite you to imagine that you are standing where the investigators stood, and having heard the ghostly tales, I challenge you to make the choice each experimenter had to make in light of the evidence given.

Dare you read on? Are you willing to face your fears, your own darkness? Dare you step into the realm of the un-dead and unmask the vampire in our midst?

To read the first account, Steven’s story, click here.

The second account, Elizabeth’s story, was written in collaboration with Sian Pearce, the performer who called her from the shadows.

***

Elizabeth

vampire-sian-for-blog

Have you seen him? My love? He was here. I saw him!

Don’t look at me like that. Don’t you pity me!

You think he’s dead too, don’t you? You vipers! You snakes! They’ve told you he’s dead, haven’t they? Well he’s not. My Peter is alive, alive I tell you. I’ve seen him. I’ve see him in the market square. I’ve seen him walking past Blind Jacks. I see him here, in the castle. He is alive.

You don’t even know him, do you? You don’t even remember what he looked like? Here…

old-soldierHe was my childhood sweetheart. He was fourteen, I was twelve. We were engaged when I was sixteen. But then the war came and tore out my heart, shattered my soul, ripped us apart. He left me – he was ‘called up’. I wrote every day, every day. We kept our love strong. I still have the ink marks on my hand!

And then, one dark day, a man in a black coat came – a man from the government, with eyes that bore into my soul. Usually, the names of the dead are just pinned to the board in the market square. But this man in his black coat, said he had been sent because Peter was special. It was at the Somme, he said, that they found it – Peter’s helmet covered with blood. I saw his mouth curl into a smile as he said the word – blood. But there was no body.

‘What should I do?’ I wailed. ‘My life is over!’

And then he told me. Meet him here every day at sunset, in the place where the memorial now stands, and he would keep Peter alive.

And so here I am. I talk to him every day – to that black coat – to Peter. I tell him about our children and what they’re doing at school. I tell him about our house and what the neighbours have said. I pour out my blood every evening as I speak. But Peter feeds on it, and he stays alive.

You don’t think I have children, do you? I can see it in your eyes. You think I’m insane. Well maybe I am, but I will not let him die! I would give every ounce of blood gladly to keep him alive. I would remain a spectre, trapped in this very spot forever, rather than let him go.

He’s here, I can feel him – somewhere, hidden. Go, find him and you will see! But do not look into his eyes, lest you become like me.

***

Make sure you hear the next fragment of evidence by following this blog. The next two accounts will be released in the coming days, and then you must make your choice.

The Vampire Experiment: Steven’s Story

The Vampire Experiment: Steven’s Story

The following series of monologues, released as separate blogs over the coming days, form an account of an experiment performed at Knaresborough castle for Fright Night, Halloween 2013. Investigators travelled around the castle grounds to discover ghosts, who waited, hungry to tell their stories. As you read the accounts, I invite you to imagine that you are standing where the investigators stood, and having heard the ghostly tales, I challenge you to make the choice each experimenter had to make, in light of the horrible evidence given.

Dare you read on? Are you willing to face your fears, your own darkness? Dare you step into the realm of the un-dead and unmask the vampire in our midst?

The first of the accounts, Steven’s story, was written in collaboration with John Pearce, the performer who called him from the shadows.

***

Steven

vampire-john-for-blog

Can you feel it? Spilling out of the gorge, flowing out from that wound in the ground? The anger? The rage?

It was right here that it happened, right here where my world came to an end, as they stood looking out across the river – my twin brother, Simon, and my wife, Clara.

Simon and I were as close as two people could be – one soul in two bodies they used to say. And I adored Clara, loved her with all my heart. She loved me back with reckless abandon.

But Simon and Clara loathed each other. My brother saw a whore who was stealing half his life. My Clara saw a false version of me, a man who used my face but did not have my heart.

They fought daily, and each time they did, it became more vicious, more heartfelt. They would tear into each other, leaving me to try and maintain some semblance of civility, in public at least. But one day they went too far. It happened right here in front of the castle. They were screaming at each other and I, as ever, sat helplessly watching. One word from me, and I would be seen as choosing sides, and I simply could not. Before I knew what had happened, my wife had struck my twin across the face. I watched my brother flush with rage and then strike her back in exactly the same fashion.

My world collapsed.

They had finally done it. They each turned to me and told me this was an end. I could continue to have a wife or a brother, but I could not have both.

That rage remains here to this very day. Can you feel it, embedded in the very ground?

But there’s a question in your minds, isn’t there? There’s something missing. A detail, any detail. What led to her striking him such? What were they arguing about that day?

I have racked my brains, searched the farthest reaches of my consciousness, and the fact is, I cannot tell you. Where there should be a memory of words spoken in anger, of accusations yelled, there is nothing, just blackness. It feels as though part of my mind has been cut away and in its place, all that is left is rage – a rage that will not leave me in peace. It follows me wherever I go. I curse the very sun for not being as black as my mood or as dark as my soul.

But in that blackness, there is an image that haunts me. I am stood right here where the catastrophe happened. There is a man. He is wearing a black coat. He moves towards me as quick as lightning, and as he does, it is as if the gorge itself has opened and blood flows through it, as though the valley were an artery. I feel my heart crack with pain and then the rage overwhelms me. It burns my veins. I see her strike him, and he strikes her back.

What a wretched man I am! I wish I could throw myself into the gorge and end my pain.

He is here somewhere; I know it – the man in the black coat. He waits for me. I wouldn’t stay here a moment longer. The ground is cursed! Be gone! Be gone!

***

Follow my blog to make sure you hear the next fragment of evidence. The next three accounts will be released in the coming days, and then you must make your choice.

Page to Stage: Adapting a Book into a Play (Part 2)

Page to Stage: Adapting a Book into a Play (Part 2)

The first stages of bringing my book, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, to the stage involved discussing the themes, simplifying the complexity of the book, writing, and re-writing. In this blog, I’ll talk about raising funds, planning, finding the team and starting rehearsals. In case you missed the first part of this post, you can read it here.

Bringing the Team Together

A play can’t be performed without people to create it, so we needed to bring together a dedicated team. I took on the role of director, with theatre company co-director Lynsey Jones being one of the actors. The play is a three hander, so we needed to recruit two more actors. We were really pleased when Tom Jackson and John Holden-White joined the team. We also took on a producer to help with funding and admin. During this time, we spoke to a number of other artists, asking them to become part of the team once the full amount of funding had been secured. You can begin to form relationships and build the team even while in the process of fundraising is in progress, in fact funders will be more likely to take the project seriously if they can see there is a good team willing to be involved. We needed a stage manager, a designer for set and costumes, someone to help us with puppetry, and an potentially an animator. Once we had our team in place, it was time to begin the planning process and production meetings.

Around this stage, we also began fundraising too. Nothing can go ahead without the funding, so it’s important to gather enough money to make the project possible (an ongoing challenge!). We’re so grateful to Greenbelt and Seedbed Trust for funding the first phase of the project. In a project like this, applying for funds has its ups and downs. Don’t let failed applications get you down, you have to adjust and troubleshoot. If things don’t go to plan straight away, don’t get disheartened – try again!

Planning and Rehearsals

In these meetings we plotted out the rehearsal process. We planned for the initial stage of rehearsals (the ‘research and development’ phase) to start this autumn. The aim of the first phase is to get the actors in a room and begin to build a ‘shared language’ of movement, an understanding of the themes, and to start to build a performance style together. Most importantly, it’s time to play and get to know each other. Our aim was to produce a fifteen-minute segment of the play to show at the Leeds Big Bookend Festival’s Children’s Day, in November. This will be followed by a workshop where we can get some feedback from the children. This stage of ‘market research’, finding out what the audience really think of the play, is so vital – it tells you what you’re done right and what you may need to improve on.

We’ve just completed this initial period of rehearsals, and our fifteen minutes of performance is ready to be shown! We had six days of rehearsal, three at Harrogate Theatre and three at The Carriageworks in Leeds. It’s great having the support of established venues (again, it helps with funding) and asking for rehearsal space is a good way for venues to support the project in-kind.

We started the first rehearsal by having food on a picnic blanket, while discussing the story and its themes. In the book, Fletcher and Scoop travel to a banquet, so I wanted our first meeting to reflect that. Food is always a good accompaniment to conversation and it was a relaxed way to begin the process and get to know one another. We then picked up on the theme of story threads, playing with various workshop exercises centred around this image. We developed the idea that the Storyteller could pull imaginary threads attached to the characters and make things happen, as if they were human puppets. We worked on some performance skills, including mime, before moving onto blocking and rehearsing the fifteen minute piece of the script to be shown, using the techniques we’d just practiced. At the end of the rehearsal process we headed out to Leeds Central Library to take some photos of the characters (not in their final costumes, but something we can use for publicity along the way.) The pictures are by Tom Jackson – it’s great when one of your actors is also a professional photographer!

After we’ve performed our fifteen minutes and led our workshop in November, we’re going to have a break from rehearsals and pick up again in spring. During this time our plan is to raise more funds, complete all of the essential admin and focus on the design elements of the production. In spring, we’ll have two weeks of rehearsal to bring the whole thing together, which is going to be intense and fun! Following that the real excitement begins…we’re going on a mini tour with the show, taking it to a variety of venues, including schools, theatres, libraries and community events. With the theme of stories being lost and knotted, before being rediscovered and untangled at the heart of the production, we’d like to make a link to issues around adoption and fostering, so we’ll consider working with adoption agencies too as part of the mini-tour. Once we officially know what works in terms of audience and performance space, we’ll aim to take the show on the road for a full tour in autumn 2017!

Why not consider it yourself?

Overall, the process from discussing our ideas to performing the finished production will be about two years. It’s so worth it! I’m loving every moment of the planning and the rehearsals.

The purpose of these posts is for authors who may be interested in developing their books into a stage productions. Don’t be scared to just give it a go and experiment! It’s definitely doable for anyone to put on their own small scale production. Find out about local production companies and approach them with your ideas, and I bet there will be someone who will be keen to work with you.

If you want to know anything else about the process, don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll be happy to help.

Page to Stage: Adapting a Book into a Play (Part 1)

Page to Stage: Adapting a Book into a Play (Part 1)

Being an author and theatre director, I spend a lot of my time either writing about fictional worlds or bringing them to life on stage. The perfect combination? Adapting my own book into a play! I’m currently in the process of bringing my first book in The Firebird Chronicles series, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, to the stage. In the next two posts I’m going to take you through the whole process, from writing to rehearsing to performing.

The Process of Adapting Rise of the Shadow Stealers

I’m going to start by giving you one of my biggest pieces of advice: take it slowly. There’s not much use in rushing something and getting a bad end result. If this is something you care about and you want it to be the best it can, going slowly and carefully is the best option. It’s actually one of the values of the theatre company that I’m working with on Rise of the Shadow Stealers.

An important thing to remember is that working on a play compared to a book is a very collaborative process. This means that as an author you have to let go more. You have less control than when writing a book. That doesn’t have to be a negative thing, though: to have the chance for others to bring their ideas and vision to your story is an exciting opportunity. You can bounce ideas off each other and you might actually discover new aspects of the story you hadn’t considered before. Make sure you have some fun and enjoy the process!

The whole process of adapting Rise of the Shadow Stealers started about a year ago. The first stage was to put together a rough draft of the script with scriptwriter Paul Birch. Paul and I met with company co-director Lynsey Jones to have a chat about the book and talk through our ideas. Luckily they were both very interested to get started! We set a deadline for the first draft to be completed and Paul went away and wrote it. It took a couple of months to get the first draft back (remember, don’t rush!), and then we got together again to discuss it and make notes about what to include in the second draft.

Challenges and Decisions

More often than not, books are complicated. Whereas plays are often based in one or two locations, a book has the ability to travel to various times and places. That’s the case with Rise of the Shadow Stealers. It switches between different scenes, times and even worlds, which is a challenge when adapting it for the stage.

Because of that, the first job was to find the story’s simplicity; a through line for audiences to follow. When performing for children it’s important that the themes be apparent from the start. We decided that the main theme to draw out was the search for home, for a place of belonging: through the story, the main characters, Fletcher and Scoop have to find their home, their memories, their family and where they came from. We had to bear in mind we were making this play for kids, so the focus needed to be something they would be interested in.

The second challenge was to think of imaginative ways we could visualise the world the Firebird Chronicles on stage. Could we use puppetry? Show pieces of film or animation on a screen? These were all possibilities to explore, ways to bring our story to life. We also chose a main symbol to express the theme – that of ‘story threads’: Fletcher and Scoop following the threads of their stories and having to untangle them in the places where they’ve become knotted and tied.

One big challenge when bringing a book to the stage can be the number of characters in the story. Throughout the whole process you have to consider practical things like money and space – generally, more actors equals more money. Introducing a new character in a book is free and can be done as often as you like, but the reality is different when casting for performance. So, we had to get creative. Can actors play multiple characters? It happens all the time on stage. Take Peter Pan for example – often the same person will play both Mr Darling and Captain Hook, because they’re never on stage at the same time. We decided that the actor playing the Storyteller would play multiple characters, and that Knot and Grizelda would be large puppets, voiced and manipulated by Fletcher and Scoop.

The Second Draft

When Paul came back with the first draft we realised the story still needed to be simplified. As the author of the book this often means it’s your job to help make the big decisions about the plot: what to cut and what to keep. I made the difficult decision to cut Libby, a girl living in Leeds. The story switches between the fantasy world of Fullstop Island and our world. It became clear that this was too complex to portray successfully on stage and so Libby and our world had to go!

We wanted the whole piece to be about an hour long so cutting sections of the book was essential. Again, this isn’t a negative thing. It means that when the audience sees the play, and then hopefully decides to read the book, they get something extra. The book provides them with more depth and further insights into their favourite characters and places.

After chatting about the first draft and giving our feedback, last summer Paul wrote a second draft and the whole process repeated until we had a final draft that we were certain would work well on stage. The next phase was where the fun started: fundraising, casting and finding the right people to bring this story to life.

Read more about the process in Part 2.