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: 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.

What do you want to say through your writing?

At my recent book launch for the first of the Firebird Chronicles, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, I was asked what I wanted to say through the book. Part of me wanted to answer, “Read it and draw your own conclusions!” but actually I think it’s a fair question. If you’re going to write a book, there’s generally something you want to say, and people are intrigued by what that something is.

At the time I was reading my friend’s book, Fingerprints of Fire, Footprints of Peace (also published by John Hunt). In it, Noel Moules describes the choice we must make about how to understand reality – a choice between Nihilism and Universalism – the first being the belief that there is no meaning in life, that things are ultimately futile, and the latter the idea that reality is fundamentally charged with purpose and there is something that holds all things together. This conflict is at the heart of Rise of the Shadow Stealers.

The book is set on Fullstop Island, a land made of stories. To the south-east of the island is Blotting’s Academy, the school to which all story characters go to be trained, where they make their first mark. This is the place where Fletcher and Scoop, the heroes of the story, awake. They have no recollection of how they’ve got there, no memory of anything before that day. In their quest to discover why, they stumble across the small but deadly Shadow Beetle, an insect that feeds on words. Shadow Beetles eat reality, leaving little piles of blankness in their wake. The power of the Shadow Beetle is destructive, it nullifies and cancels out. It is the creeping possibility of Nihilism. But there is also a creative force at work on the island – the Storyteller. As the plot progresses, Fletcher and Scoop find themselves becoming entangled in his story. Gradually they uncover its thread, a thread that ultimately leads to the discovery of who they are and why they have no memory. The Storyteller’s tale is filled with meaning and leads to rebirth, symbolised by the rising of a firebird. This is a universalism, where even the apparent emptiness of darkness and death are revealed to have purpose. This is the hope at the heart of Fletcher and Scoop’s world.

There are so many things in our world that eat stories, things that stop us living in the fullness of reality. One of the things I want to say to the children (and adults) who read this book is, “Live your story! Discover who you are – don’t let life be eaten away by the shadows that can trap us, distract us, control us, or give us amnesia.”

I love to sit in the theatre and watch an audience react as a play resolves. There is a deep collective sigh and sometimes, if the performance is good, spontaneous applause. This is the psychological relief we feel as a story tells us there is a way forward, both within ourselves and in the world at large. Life is more than just Shadow Beetles and deathly stings, for although we might travel through what appears to be meaningless for a while, there’s a twist at the end of the tale, and even treasure to be stolen from the shadows. That’s the central theme I wanted to explore in Rise of the Shadow Stealers. In so doing, I add my voice to so many of the great stories that carry this hope.

That’s definitely worth a tankard of Noveltwist Cordial, don’t you think? Cheers!