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Telling Stories ...

This week two blogs in one as there are two stories to be told, two events that have taken place and two storytelling experiences that you too may want to explore and enjoy for yourselves.

Part 1 - Storytale Festival: A Tale about Bristol’s Children’s Story Festival attended by Liz Speight with thanks to Kate Frost and Ellie Freeman Storytale co-founders

My home city of Bristol is fiercely proud of its creative culture and summer in Bristol is festival season, where you can attend festivals about balloons, boats, ideas, music, film and more. In 2019, local mum and book lover, Ellie Freeman felt that something was missing from Bristol’s creative offerings and decided to follow her dream of setting up a city wide children’s book festival. Ellie tells me she realised that there was a wealth of talent locally and that 'While Bath and Cheltenham had their lit festivals, there was nothing in Bristol for children except a few events the Bristol Literature Festival had held over the years. I did a call out on social media to see what people thought about the idea of a children’s festival in Bristol and the response was overwhelming!'

Once Ellie met local author Kate Frost and design guru Nicola Fleming, Storytale Festival was born. The first festival had over 40 events across Bristol, featuring local authors, illustrators and storytellers. The events aimed to provide children with affordable opportunities to be creative in familiar community settings, such as libraries and book shops.

I became involved with Storytale in 2020 as they were planning the second festival. I met with Kate and we discussed how we could launch a schools programme to bring authors and illustrators to even more children. Then a couple of days later we were in lockdown and it looked like the festival would have to be cancelled. However, even a pandemic wasn’t going to stop the Storytale team in their determination to bring authors and illustrators to local children. So Storytale became an online mini festival.

Running a festival in such unusual circumstances has obviously been a huge challenge. Ellie explained that with homeschooling, health worries, work and family issues to juggle it took a huge amount of persistence and hard work to keep the festival on track and all with the uncertainty of not knowing whether people would engage. All the events had to be reimagined to work online and a lot of effort went into editing the recordings. This year they decided to go for fewer events and run them all as live events online and on YouTube .

With COP26 approaching there is an ecological and environmental theme to the events this year. Author Will Hamilton-Davies has a gentle message about the impact of over consumption in his picture book ‘The Shrew with the Flu’. Will is energetic and engaging and got both my 4 and 8 year old drawing along with him and joining in with the animal actions as he read the story. If you like funny animal facts then Alex Morss’s 'Funny Bums, Freaky Beaks' is for you. Some of the facts are truly incredible, and I am still recovering from learning what sea cucumbers do with their bottoms! Storyteller Pridie Tiernan tells the story of 'The Nettle Princess' in the magical setting of her farm in rural Wales. 'Oscar's Tower of Flowers' is a wordless picture book by Bristol illustrator Lauren Tobia. She told her version of the story but one of the joys of the book is that each reader will have their own interpretation. I loved the pictures stuffed full of details to pore over, lush plants, a spread of delicious cakes and expansive views from the flat window.

As well as the events for children, this year there was a focus on supporting aspiring children’s authors. In an interactive session middle grade authors Sophie Kirtley and Emma Read offered advice and tips about writing for children. Storytale also partnered with Literature Works to offer advice surgeries.

The Storytale Festival team hope that next year the festival will be able to include a mixture of in person and online events for tots to teens. As Kate tells me "Although we can’t wait to get back to live events in bookshops, libraries and community centres, going forward there is certainly a place for online events." I, for one, can't wait.


Part 2 - A Boy Called Christmas (Movie) as previewed by Stephanie Ward, based on the book by Matt Haig

In a time before there was Christmas, there was a boy called Nikolas who believed in magic. But when his father sets off on a dangerous quest to better their lives, Nikolas and his only friend, a mouse named Miika, embark on an adventure to save his family. It was magic that lead his mother to Elfdom and that same magic will need to guide Nikolas to do what’s right and bring joy to the world.

A Boy Called Christmas tells the story of the origin of Father Christmas. From meagre beginnings as a poor, young boy raised by his father, Nikolas is a dreamer who believes in magic. But magic is what took his mother away and Nikolas’ father is not about to lose him too. So when Nikolas is left with his awful aunt while is father is away, he finds a map to Elfdom and decides to find it and prove that magic is real. Along the way Nikolas meets imaginative characters like a truth fairy, a boy-eating troll and both good and bad elves.

The story of a young Father Christmas unfolds in a spectacular snowy setting in the far north. From the frigid cold that almost ends Nikolas’ journey before it begins to the array of Nordic animals, including flying reindeer, the gorgeous scenery takes centre stage in the film adaptation.

As a huge fan of Matt Haig’s book, I was sceptical that the movie could do justice to his charming story. But I was absolutely enthralled with the film. From the fabulous cast to the unexpected humour, the storyline is left intact with the addition of stunning cinematography and beautifully dramatized scenes. I laughed, I cried and I cheered as I witnessed Christmas being born. This is an instantly classic movie – and book – that will be on rotation for many Christmases to come.

If you would like to view a little trailer to get you in the spirit click here


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