Sunday, 30 October 2011
My days and nights are filled with dreams and visions, of pomegranites and lions, sea monsters and palaces and valleys filled with diamonds. Of a prince as fair as the moon, and of magnetic mountains, and of sea journeys and adventure!
Rehearsals are fully underway for the de Havilland Philharmonic Family Concert, exactly a week today. Both performance are very nearly sold out, and while the musicians grapple with the oriental cadenzas in Rimsky-Korsakov's score (and indeed the music by Nielsen that will also be performed), I'm making final decisions about the stories, which easel to use, which materials and paints, and exactly what to paint to match the music and the composer's intentions. So an intense week of painting, drawing and listening and reading and writing and rehesarsing. And it may just be my favourite week of the year!
Anyone who is coming, please remember to buy a raffle ticket BEFORE the show, for your chance to win one of the paintings created during the performance. The money raised will go to the National Literacy Trust, also supported this year by Orchard Books, my publisher, in the hope of getting more stories into the lives of more children. With Scheherazade as a theme, it seems very appropriate!
Saturday, 22 October 2011
With my head still spinning from the concert in Saffron Walden, I set off last Monday for four days in international schools in Brussels. Not having ever been before I was looking forward to the trip enormously (not least for the chocolates!). Plans were thwarted when an Albanian refugee jumped off my train and died. And so after eight hours I was back where I started: at home. Tuesday I set off again and this time Eurostar worked out just fine, although the image of TinTin on the wall at Brussels Midi Station was surprisingly poignant in the light of the previous day's tragedy.
Although I had missed some morning sessions at my first school (the International School of Brussels), they were accomodated in other sessions. I spent two days in the school, and was supported brilliantly by Gary and Anny of Book Box International, who set up the mini-tour and sold a really stimulating range of books at their book fair... including one or two of mine of course!
The next school was one of four European schools, and like the previous school, it was enormous. Because Brussels is such an important business and political centre, and since the European Union was based there, the population of children at this European school alone grows by up to 300 children per year. Next year they have to move as they are running out of room. As with the International School I was given a very warm welcome. I was also struck by a beautiful mural painted in the 1950s in the music room, reminding a little of the Jack O Legs mural from the same vintage in a Letchworth Garden City school (see earlier post below).
The last school was quite different. It had just over 100 children, and was established in a beautiful old town house. And it was enchanting, with staff and children alike giving me a tremendous welcome. At the end of the day, two teachers guided me across Brussels via the metro system to ensure I found the railway station to get home, for which – tired and bewildered by then – I was very grateful.
It was a whirlwind few days in a busy and fascinating city. Although I never saw “the sights” like the main square, the mannekin piss, the opera house... I did see watermills and Dutch gables and grand house with swan lakes, and the most remarkable bookshop that was also a restaurant with a transparent floor in the children’s department underneath which ran a complex model railway; a silverstream caravan graced the retro travel section; the music section had the atmosphere of a 60s Beatnik bar, while all over TinTin of course loomed large. And with Spielberg’s film just opening back here in Letchworth there was a lovely sense of things dovetailing as I returned from the land of Herge to the promise of a trip to the cinema with my son, a huge TinTin fan.
And so, as I gather my thoughts it’s time to crack on with Ella Bella and the Nutrcacker... and also Scheherazade in Hatfield... only two weeks to go!
Monday, 17 October 2011
Yesterday, on a golden october afternoon, the long-awaited collaboration with the Uttlesforde Orchestra took place in the Friends' school hall. We opened with Peter and the Wolf and then zipped through Bizet's Jeux d'Enfants, Patterson's Rebecca and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake suite, rounding off with Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" for an encore. It was a terrific afternoon. The school hall looked wonderfully English and charming with the orchestra on stage and the bunting strung along the windows.
After setting up my board, easel, paper and paints - on a scale I've never done before - it was straight into rehearsals with the orchestra. The festival people did a fantastic job, setting everything up, including a raffle and book sales. It all went by so quickly and suddenly the hall was packed to absolute capacity by excited children and eager parents. And we were off.
All I can really remember (apart from dwelling on the odd fluffied line!) is a sea of colour: literally hundreds of children enjoying the music, watching the pictures and having fun. And the roar of approval that greeted the orchestra at the end was thoroughly deserved as they played brilliantly.
Peter and Rebecca were the BIG challanges. The picture of the inside of the piano give you an idea of the "orchestration" of Rebecca, with balls, balloons and tin cans, whips, megaphones and buckets of water... A crazy piece!
We are already considering another concert next year. I wonder what we should perform. Any ideas...?
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Sunday, 9 October 2011
Earlier in the year, I visited the Friends' School in Saffron Walden, to take a look at the hall where the Words in Walden Family concert will take place. Suddenly, that concert is only a week away, and all my worries are rising to the surface. The hall has a lovely old stage that the orchestra will squeeze onto. And I will be in front, on a raised platform, with an easel and a large (A0) board to paint at. Book illustration it is not! I'm busy learning all the words and practising paintings. It's going to be a full-on hour of music art and stories! And with only a handful of tickets left, it looks set to be a full house.
But I'm so looking forward to this event, I truly think it will be a really fun afternoon, not least because of some really mad music - like Patterson's Rebecca. I rehearsed this for the first time with the orchestra on Friday. Oh my goodness! what a crazy piece! The conductor asked for me to be as mad as I can, suggesting Margaret Rutherford as a role model!
So I'd better practise a bit more. Now where are my tweed cape and sturdy walking shoes?
Monday, 3 October 2011
The spectacular weather and blazing hot temperatures gave the breathtaking city of Bath a mediterranean air this weekend. I was there for the Bath children's book festival, with an event at the truly stunning (and recently refurbished) Holburne Museum.
The city looked especially lovely with the bright autumn sunlight picking out architectural details. The warm coloured stone positively glowed amongst trees just starting to turn gold. Just walking past the famous Pump Room and Roman Baths, or over the bridge inspired by the Ponte Vecchio in Florence was unplifting and inspiring (although I resisted the temptation to sing Puccini's "O mio Babbino Caro" which mentions the Ponte Vecchio!). The Holburne Museum itself, with a sweeping drive and surrounded by gardens, makes a huge impression. Inside are artefacts and paintings, mostly from the collection of William Holburne (who gave his name as well as his treasures to the museum). Amongst the impressive collection are fine paintings from the Golden Age of British Art, including Turner, Constable and Gainsborough (who spent much of his life in Bath). Sitting beneath a vast Gainsborough portait was a thrilling setting to talk about Katie and the British Artists.
As usual, I told a story or two. In particular, I chose the tale of Benito the Pirate, which not only links to Turner's Fighting Temeraire (as used in the book), but also William Holburne, who joined the British Navy in 1805 and fought at the Battle of Trafalgar, alongside Nelson, the Temeraire, and of course, Benito! It was a small world even back then! As always, the children were very taken with the shark's eye lens, from a shark my grandfather caught while searching for Benito's treasure on Cocos Island in the 1930s.
After the storytelling session, the children were able to go to the art room for a chance to create their own masterpieces. And after that, I had the chance to meet other authors at the festival: Jeremy Strong, the Bath festival author-in-residence, and Mackenzie Crook, star of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Naturally he was very interested in the shark's eye lens, but I refused to let him swap it for his wooden eye!
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