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Cheltenham – feat. stories of lazer beam eyes, evil Wayne Rooneys and a tragic potato

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Yesterday I went to Cheltenham Literary Festival to do a do a workshop based on the Usborne Write Your Own Storybook. I also met some lovely new people, one of whom – Sarah McIntyre, illustrator and maker of comics for kids-  kindly took lots of pics. I have repaid her kindness by shamelessly posting them here. Here is my face with the Write Your own Storybook, and Usborne publicist Amy Dobson.

Photo by Sarah McIntyre

It was an amazing day, and the kids in the workshop wrote some completely off the wall bonkers & brilliant stories. After some warm ups involving character creation, setting description and how to make an exciting plot, we got stuck into writing stories about superheroes, using a page of the book, illustrated by the talented Katie Lovell, an Usborne illustrator who did the pics you can see on the cover above. But even before the super-topic came up, lots of people seemed keen to write about people (or animals) who shoot lazer beams out of their eyes. Zombies were immensely popular with most of the young writers, but there was also a strong anti-zombie camp.

One football-mad writer wrote about a good footballer (whose name escapes me, but I think was a famous footballer) rescuing a dog from an evil footballer called Rooney, who never ever washes, so smells absolutely disgusting. A few authors wrote pleasant stories about nice characters… but that was mostly the grownups who came with their children, but who joined in with gusto. I remember one very enjoyable story about a hive of superhero bees fighting evil wasps. I have it in for all wasps – they need to be stopped – so that story spoke to me on a profound, revenge-fantasy level.

Amy (Dobson, Usborne publicist) took pics of some of the stories as they came into being. Here’s the planning stage of one story:

Photo by Amy Dobson


Before my workshop, I went to see Steve Bell and Simon Hoggart’s talk about their lives as satirists. I’ve been a fan of Bell since I was a kid, and he didn’t disappoint. He gave some great insights into the Maggie’s farm-era, and Thatcher’s increasing loopiness. Hoggart talked about what it’s like to come up with 600 words or so every day about parliament – sometimes it’s a breeze (when Murdoch’s there explaining his sins and banging the table) but at others, it can be a real feat to make something funny out of hours and hours of discussion of minor legislation about Welsh road building. I took notes, with doodles. Sarah took a picture of them:

Photo by Sarah McIntyre

My favourite moment during the talk was when Bell stopped in the middle of a rant about Murdoch’s awfulness, did a double take, and asked the audience whether we thought it was ok to mouth off like that at an event sponsored by a News International paper (The Times sponsors Cheltenham). Oh, and he talked about his encounters with various PM’s and their reactions to his cartoons. Tony Blair didn’t say much more than “hello” (perhaps the best approach to a satirist), John Major complained about the underpants cartoons saying, “They are designed to destabilise me”. (I love the idea of destabilising underpants.) David Cameron keeps coming up to him and asking if he’s going to get rid of the condom. You can see my doodles of the destabilising underpants and Cameron’s durex-coated head:

Photo by Sarah McIntyre


At Cheltenham, there was a lovely Writer’s Room with free stuff – free stuff is excellent – which is where I met Sarah, and bonded over comics. Also, Alistair Darling was in there, sporting his amazing two-tone head. I’ll link to Sarah’s blog for that beauty…second pic down:

That’s a fine head

All in all it was an excellent day. Only sad I couldn’t stay to see more speakers. Oh, and, Sarah, I’ll certainly come along to the Comica meetup, that sounds amazing. All that talking about comics has given me a bit of a kick up the bum to get my web comic going. At the moment, it’s a few scrawls on pieces of paper, some more ideas, and a friend of my wife’s who knows how to build that kind of site.


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