The Benefits of Storytelling

You’d think by the time the kids reach their preteen and teenage years, they’d be too old for storytelling, but you’d be wrong. This is the perfect time for them to hone their storytelling skills, and it has a number of spin-off benefits too. The skills involved in creating, editing and telling a great story are useful in many areas of teenage life.The first vital skill to develop for storytelling is an agile memory, to get the story back on track when it wanders, or adapt it to suit listeners. This skill is also useful when it comes to exams, as it enables effective information retrieval. For millenia before writing was developed, human societies used stories and songs to remember their histories. The brain is hard-wired for stories.

Next comes an understanding of characters in the story. This comes in especially useful for teens, whose developing brains have a tendency towards self-centeredness, and who are ruled by their emotions and hormones. A teen with an understanding of other people’s motives has quite an advantage over their peers when it comes to social interaction.

Setting a narrative out in a logical order, introducing plot points leading towards a planned conclusion, is a very useful skill when it comes to essay writing, a mainstay of many exams. Storytellers can see the “bigger picture” and hold it in their mind as they write, even under pressure. The skill of weaving togethoer a narrative transfers nicely to building an argument for debate (though this skill is often used against parents when it comes to negotiating freedoms!).

Children who are regularly exposed to and involved in storytelling, develop the ability to notice the extraordinary within everyday situations. They can pick out the birdsong over the roar of traffic, or notice the beauty of a plant growing in a crack in a crumbling wall. This ability brings them out of themselves, and helps them focus on positive aspects of situations that others find disheartening. Optimism is a great trait to have!

An imaginative child is never short of entertainment, even when the wifi is down and they don’t have a book to read. They have an endless source of interest in the world around, and in their own heads.

When it comes to interviews, whether for work or education, storytellers have the upper hand too. The skills of planning, refining and choosing salient points to expand on, mean they can answer unexpected questions eloquently and succinctly (not to mention, they’re more likely than most to know the meaning of the words “eloquently” and “succinctly”!).

Storytellers are confident of their own opinion, and less likely to be swung by the whims of their peers. They think things through before acting, which helps them make wise choices.

When you give your child a love of stories, you’re giving them a whole lot more. It’s not just fairytales!

300 Seconds Manchester 2014

I was the official blogger for the 300 Seconds event at SpacePortX in Manchester. Here are my blog notes from the event:

SpaceportX in Manchester was an excellent venue for the 300 Seconds event, with lots of audience participation led by compere Elizabeth Clark (CEO of Dream Agility).
Victoria Sorzano (BBC) 5 things you should know about Ada Lovelace
First up was the lovely Victoria Sorzano (BBC), who confidently led us through a fascinating synopsis of the life of Ada Lovelace, as the event was held on Ada Lovelace Day.
Ada Lovelace was a pioneer, the first person to write a computer program, working closely with Charles Babbage. She was the daughter of Lord Byron, though he left when Ada was young and she was brought up by her mother. Ada’s mother encouraged the very intelligent Ada to pursue studies in Maths and Science, and steered her away from the arts, though Ada showed her creative side in the elegance of her computer algorithms. Ada died of cancer aged 36, though her life was not all plain sailing. She was known to have had affairs, and was clearly dissatisfied with elements of her life.
Victoria ended her talk by showing us a funny extract from the graphic novel series “Goth Girl” (Illustrated by Chris Riddell) featuring Ada as the character “Ada Goth”.
Gemma Sou (Viva Voce podcasts) Viva Voce: a new social network for social scientists
@gemmasou @vivavocepodcasts
Gemma Sou spoke about how she developed a new social network which enables research students to disseminate their work across the academic community.
While studying for her Doctorate, she reviewed her online profiles, but couldn’t find an existing network to share her work that didn’t read “like an online CV”. She decided to set up her own solution to this problem, choosing to use 4-minute podcasts to summarise a variety of research topics. Each member of the social network can choose up to four key search terms for their work, encouraging interdisciplinarity and recognising that research often spans multiple subject areas. The podcasts are long enough to get a feel for the subject, while short enough to keep the interest of people outside the field of study.
Gemma hopes this network will rapidly expand, and encouraged the audience to spread the word.
Rachael Ball (BDB Marketing) What does a digital project manager do? A window into my world
Rachael used clear graphics and imaginative illustrations to show us the various aspects of her role as a digital project manager. She took us through the process of driving a project, from balancing the expectations of all the parties involved in the project to juggling the timescales and workload across concurrent projects. She showed how keeping “two or three steps ahead” helps drive projects forward, anticipating problems and preparing for eventualities. She explained the importance of empathy in dealing with clients, an understanding that their digital knowledge is not the same as hers, and the need for regular face-to-face meetings to avoid confusion about the project’s aims and progress.
Paula Moughton-Weems (Thoughtworks) Making the impossible possible
@iamPaulaMW @thoughtworks
Paula Moughton-Weems spoke about her journey into the field of tech (beginning her talk with a description of her journey across an actual field!)
From humble beginnings, Paula knew she wanted to have an impact on people’s lives, but did not follow the traditional University route into Tech. She met people who worked in software, and knew she wanted to be a part of that world, so she applied for a job at Thoughtworks, not expecting to actually get the job as she lacked the qualifications and experience of her competitors. Nevertheless, the Thoughtworks team wisely saw her passion and potential and hired her. Paula’s first impossible thing was “Don’t let them know I have no idea what I’m doing!” She faced a steep learning curve, with plenty of trial and error and asked lots of questions. She knew that asking questions would get her the information she needed, but without knowing what she didn’t know, how could she know what to ask? Her next impossible challenge came when Paula was asked to train up an intern. She didn’t feel she had the expertise to train someone else, but very quickly found that the best way to learn is to teach. When the intern asked a question she couldn’t answer, they found out together!
Paula is glad that Thoughtworks believes in passion and potential, and says she now gets to make an impact on the world because she faced those seemingly insurmountable challenges and “made impossible things possible.”
Verity Stockdale (BBC) Technology and Language
“What have technology and language got to do with each other?” Verity explored the complex relationship between these seemingly distant topics. Repurposing language is far from a new thing: in fact neologisms have been giving language purists trouble since at least the 16th Century! As new technology develops, language needs to adapt to adequately describe new ideas and ways of working.
Verity referred the audience to Tom Chatfield’s book, “Netymology” which shows the long history of words most people assume to be brand new. For example, the first recorded use of O.M.G. as an acronym was way back in 1917, and the “Smiley” 🙂 has been in use since the 19th Century. Mostly, language innovation is viewed as inevitable and indeed a necessary part of societal change, but there are some who are vehemently opposed to the alteration of language.
In France, the “Académie Franҫaise” (known as ‘Les Immortels’ – sounds like something out of Twilight!) guard the purity of the French language, with varying degrees of success. The ‘pure’ French equivalents of popular modern terms were certainly a mouthful, it’s no wonder they didn’t catch on.
Verity showed how neologisms can follow rules, so even brand new words are understandable. She gave the example of an e-sofa. Language and technology are more closely linked than you think, as one changes and develops, inevitably the other will too.
Viv Slack (Code Computerlove) If you build it, will they come?
@vivslack @givingevents
The theory behind ‘Giving Events’ is simple: you do something, other people enjoy it, they donate money to a worthy cause.
Viv researched existing platforms, but couldn’t find anything that bridged the gap between organising events and giving money. Her top tip when setting up something new such as this was ‘ask friends for help!’ A friend helped her design the site, and soon it was up and running.
Viv finds it satisfying to see people having new experiences (an overseas student’s first glimpse of English countryside at Edale for example) but her current challenge is getting the site more widely known, beyond the sphere of her personal influence. She is bursting with ideas, and urged us all not to give up if an idea doesn’t succeed, but to move on and create the next new idea!
Nour Alomary Everyday digital security
Nour spends a lot of time on public transport, where she sees many people using technology. She has had ample opportunity to learn strangers’ passcodes, as they type them in slowly in public! Luckily, Nour is not a criminal, and used her experience to help the audience stay safer online.
Her useful advice included an insight into the ways hackers crack passwords, and a warning not to use “really obvious” passwords such as ‘password1234’ or ‘your pet’s name, and the date you got your pet’ (at this point, several gasps rose from the audience as they realised their ‘terribly safe’ passwords were anything but). She advised using phrases instead of dictionary words, and adding numbers and characters, with the exception of replacing ‘o’ with zero (hackers have technology that can see through that). Several of the audience changed their passwords after Nour’s talk, so while her advice is not complex it is clearly necessary!
Emma Madden couldn’t make it, so we went straight to the final speaker, Lizzie Dyson
Lizzie Dyson(Ladies that UX) BBC Sports Persona refresh in 6 weeks
@lizziedyson @LadiesthatUXMCR @BBCSport
Lizzie started her talk by showing us the ‘before’ pictures of uninspiring personas for the BBC Sports site. They were DULL, and needed an urgent facelift. The information contained in the personas was factual and adequate, but needed to appeal to a discerning online audience, thus began a 6-week process to refresh the personas.
The first step was to commandeer a corridor wall and cover it in post-it notes of different colours to denote different things. Passers-by were intrigued by the spectacle, and were wisely roped into informal interviews, informing the content. The public were consulted about the personas, with Stakeholders looking on through one-way glass. Lizzie noted that the public were an important part of the process, and it was important for the stakeholders to see their views, as ‘stakeholders tend to think that everyone thinks like them’ and real users are more diverse.
Once the consultation was over, the story-building began. All flat surfaces were covered with strips of paper, dubbed ‘post-it porn’ by Lizzie and the team. The strips of paper were shuffled around to make engaging stories for each persona, then the content was made into web pages. A ‘naming ceremony’ was held, where the team showcased the personas and explained the reasons behind each one, then the personas were formally launched.
All in all, Lizzie provided an engaging, humorous account of the process, and showed how there’s far more to a persona than bare facts on a page.


I’m delighted to announce that my latest book “Drabble Folk and Fairy Tales” is now available in a Local Independent Bookshop.
If you’re passing an Independent Bookshop on your travels, why not pop inside for a bit? You can find some lovely books in Indy Bookshops that are simply not available through chain stores.
Of course, if you feel like asking the bookshop owner to stock “Drabble Folk and Fairy Tales” or any of the Drabble Diary series I’d be much obliged, point them in the direction of the Drabble Diary website, where they can get hold of these lovely titles.
Local Independent bookshops are vital to small publishers and self-published writers, please visit yours and buy a couple of books (ideally my book!).
You won’t regret it!

Ten Taster Tales – free sample PDF ebook

I have had feedback that some people haven’t bought my book, “Drabble Folk and Fairy Tales” because they don’t know what a Drabble is.

To answer this, I’ve made a taster PDF containing 10 of the 100 stories from the full book.

These delightful little stories are ideal for a quick children’s storytime or as the basis for crafting a longer tale….or just to read for your own pleasure.

Enjoy and let me know what you think. Please feel free to pass them on to anyone who may also enjoy them.

Download it free here:

Ten Taster Tales

Agaric and the Flower Fairies

toadstool image

Every spring, the flower fairies awoke from their winter sleep, and they painted the spring flowers. They arranged the petals facing the sun to make it smile, then they danced among the stems to shake the flowers and make them wave to the bees.
I say all the flower fairies, but one is missing. Agaric has overslept. She stayed up late last autumn painting the leaves orange, and forgot she still had the red leaves to paint, but then she was always so easily distracted.
As spring gave way to summer, the flower fairies were busy making ever larger and brighter blooms for the butterflies, but still Agaric slumbered on.
Only when the summer was giving way to autumn again did she stir.
She was bleary-eyed and drowsy after her long sleep, and when she made her flower, she realised she had no green to paint the stem. She had also put the flower on upside down, with the petals facing the ground instead of the sky!
She went to paint her flower with the red paint she still had, but as the paint dried it cracked, making the flower look spotty.
Agaric sat down under her flower and cried. She felt she was the worst flower fairy in all fairyland. As she sat, it began to rain, and Agaric realised that she was still dry, because the flower was like an umbrella, pushing the water to the sides because it was upside down.
She saw a pair of green legs appear in front of her, and Mr Toad addressed her in his croaky voice “thank you Agaric, I’ve been looking everywhere for a comfy seat, and you’ve made me a lovely Toad Stool.
“That’s it!” Said Agaric, “a toadstool!” She made the toadstool so perfectly that she was given her wings, to be a flying fairy. Now every year, Agaric makes Mr Toad lots of toadstools just the way he likes them.
You’ll know which are Agaric’s, they have speckly red tops, and are pure white underneath.
If anyone asks, you can tell them the name of those toadstools is Fly Agaric, and you can tell them why.

The Strangeling’s Tale

I have finished my new book, “The Strangeling’s Tale”. Here is the blurb, which summarises the story beautifully:
Seven stories merge to one,
When the seal’s song is done,
Trees will walk and talk and sing,
Sailor, Tailor, Trapper, King,
Daughter meets a father changed,
Strangeling finds himself Unstranged,
Scrivener’s writings cut the gem,
Wild-heart’s tears reveal them,
Blood of the cursed meets blood of the free,
Paper’s revealed by the roots of the tree.
All the seven make the quest,
And, united, pass the test.
Seven stones that mark a grave,
Call the timid and the brave,
Ancient evil bows to good,
In the confines of the wood.
Words and stories hold the key,
Strange the powers that they see,
Strange, the magic that they hold,
When the meek become the bold.
Leaves of pages, leaves of trees,
Mark their mingled destinies.
Some for better, some for worse,
All together break the curse.

The book is now available on Smashwords, Amazon, and Kobo , I’ll update as it appears on other sites.

The Tortoise and the Hare

The tortoise and the hare
Once upon a time there was a hare, the fastest hare that had ever lived. He ran everywhere and all the time, and he knew how very amazingly fast he was. Because of this, he started to boast “I am the fastest creature in all the world! Nobody is faster than me”. The other creatures grew tired of his incessant boasting, and sought a way to bring the hare down a peg or two.
They called a meeting to which all creatures (except the hare of course) were invited, and asked who would race against this upstart animal. The creatures shuffled their feet, and looked nervously at each other. Who could be confident to beat the hare in a race? Only one creature from all gathered stepped forward, and it was a most unlikely challenger. Tortoise plodded out of the crowd, and said in his slow-and-steady voice “I’ll race the hare”.
The creatures laughed at such a ridiculous proposition. Tortoise was so slow that despite setting out for the meeting as soon as he heard of it, three days previously, he was still late arriving. His plodding ways were well known among all animals. Eventually the badger asked tortoise “why do you think you can beat the hare when all others can’t”, and the tortoise in his slow-and-steady way said “because I keep going, and I don’t stop. Slow-and-steady wins the race, that’s what my dad told me”.
The creatures could not argue with the tortoise’s logic, so despite their reservations they set up the race for the next day.
Hare ran to the start line in seconds flat, and hopped about while he awaited his race-partner. Hours later the tortoise appeared on the scene, plodding along in his slow-and-steady way until he arrived at the line. The starting pistol went “BANG” and the hare raced off into the distance. The tortoise began his slow-and-steady plodding, and plodded along all through the day and all through the night. The hare, meanwhile, saw a shady tree beside the race track, and decided that his lead was immense enough, and his challenger slow enough, that he could take forty winks and still trounce his opponent. The warm sun lulled the hare into rather a deeper sleep than he intended, and soon he was slumbering peacefully, safe in the knowledge that however fast the tortoise plodded, he, the hare, would always beat him. The tortoise was not at all surprised to see the hare asleep under the tree, and muttered to himself as he passed “slow-and-steady, that’s the way, keep going”.
The hare awoke some time later, aware he had been asleep for quite a while. He looked behind him and chuckled to himself “not even on the horizon! What a plodder that tortoise is”. He jogged along, confident of an easy victory, but as he neared the finish line he was met with a most surprising sight. There, a whisker away from the finishing line, was the tortoise! The hare was quite taken aback “but how…” He upped his pace and sprinted for the line with all his speed, but the tortoise had plodded across the line ahead of him. The hare, red in the face and sweating profusely, approached the tortoise, who looked cool and collected as usual. The hare asked the question that had been puzzling him; “How did you beat me in a race? I’m the fastest creature in the world!”
“Not now you’re not”, the tortoise replied with a wry grin, “I am. My father told me Slow-and-steady wins the race, and he was right. It does!”
Thus the tortoise enjoyed his unlikely title of “world’s fastest creature”, and the hare learned humility.
The other creatures noticed a change in the hare from that day onwards, as after his defeat he vowed to use his speed to help rather than to boast. The hare became the messenger for the other creatures, and the tortoise retired from racing, enjoying his retirement with good grace.IMG_0821[1]

The strangeling and the lost pencil

A teacher walked a lonely road one day long ago. As he walked one path, he saw a pencil on the ground. Unthinking, he picked it up, put it in his pocket, and carried along his way. He arrived at a small village and took up his post as a school teacher for the local children.
All went well for him until one day a strange child entered his classroom. The child was unlike any he had met before, he did not speak, nor did he play. He just sat silently in the classroom, with watchful eyes on the teacher’s every move. Nobody knew where the boy had come from, or what his name was, so they called him “strangeling”.
The teacher wanted to find out more about the strangeling, so asked the class to write a story about their lives and families. All began their tasks diligently, except the strangeling. The teacher offered the strangeling a pencil (it just so happened to be the same one he’d found all those years before), and the strangeling smiled his strange smile, then began to write.
He wrote pages and pages of dense prose, then stood up and left quietly never to be seen again, taking the pencil with him.
The teacher picked up the strangeling’s story and began to read. He was still reading as his students left for the day, and when they returned the next morning the teacher was still there, with a strange faraway look in his eyes. Nobody knows for sure what became of the story he had read, some say he locked it away, some say he burned it, some say the story became a part of him, but no scrap of it was ever seen.
From that day a change came over the teacher, he seemed to be searching for something, and began collecting pens, pencils, straws, twigs, anything that resembled a pencil. All these he would collect together in a tin, and woe betide anyone who forgot their pencil, as they would be forced to endure the punishment they dubbed the “Russian Roulette of Calligraphic Dysfunction”. Poor unfortunates would reach into the tin, and their choice would determine their punishment. The lucky ones would find a pen that worked well, and they would return to their desks unscathed. Others would select pencils empty of lead, and would return home to find all their possessions had vanished mysteriously. One child was especially unfortunate, he picked what he thought was a pencil, but it turned out to be a twig. As the child looked at the twig, she stood rooted to the spot. leaves sprouted from the twig, and blossomed before her eyes. She tried to run, but found her legs were stiff. She tried to throw the twig away from her, but found it was part of her hand, although her hand began to look strangely wooden. Too late, she realised she had been turned into a tree, and she saw her classmates flee the classroom, all except the teacher, who calmly stood up and cut a twig from what had once been the girl’s hair. She saw the faraway look leave the teacher’s eyes as he calmly whittled the twig into a pencil and added charcoal from the grate as a lead.
The teacher turned to the girl and said “sorry, and thank you, the enchantment of the lost pencil was difficult to break, but I have finally done it! I’m free!”
The teacher was seen rushing from the village clutching the tin of pencils, nobody ever saw him again. Some say he leaves rogue pencils for unwary travellers to find, perhaps that’s the truth, but somewhere out there is a school house, in a long abandoned village, with a tree growing right through the centre of it. There are many stories of how that tree came to grow there, each as unlikely as the next, but whatever the story, nobody is willing to cut it down or prune its branches…IMG_0782[1]

The least of my brothers

Once there was a man called Simon, and he trudged his weary way to work one morning, unaware that this was no ordinary day. As he walked along, he passed an old man who was busking on the high street, playing a battered old acoustic guitar. The old man looked hungry, and his hands were blistered from playing the guitar, but the music he played was so beautiful Simon stopped a while to listen, and when the song ended, he talked to the old man.
Simon found out that the man’s name was Paul, and that he had been busking that part of the high street for years, initially singing, then adding the guitar once he had raised money to buy it. He was now saving for an electric guitar and an amp, but was finding busking increasingly hard as the cold weather bit, and his old voice showed his age.
Simon’s heart was touched, and he gave the old man a plectrum (he always carried a plectrum in his pocket in case of impromptu jamming sessions). Paul thanked him, then took the plectrum and played a new song for Simon. Simon recorded the song on his phone, then continued to work, thinking how dull his day would be after that bright interlude.
As Simon sat in his office, with nothing much to do, the song drifted to the front of his mind, and he uploaded it onto his work computer, then played it on the speakers. Hearing it again, Simon noticed new messages coming through the song, and his heart was moved anew. He forwarded the song to his friends, along with a plea for them to take a few minutes out of their day to visit Paul, the lonely busker, and to hear his wonderful music in person.
Simon had a few days off after that, and it was almost a week before he saw Paul again, but when he did, he was happy to see him playing an electric guitar (albeit a shabby second hand one with a small amp) and still using Simon’s plectrum.
Paul stopped playing, and shook Simon’s hand “I am happy to have met you, since you gave me this plectrum people have stopped to hear my music, and smiled at me. I have earned enough for this guitar, and all my dreams have come true”
Simon’s heart was touched anew by the man’s gratitude and small dreams, and he told Paul how he had shared the song with his friends. Paul was moved by Simon’s kindness, and began to weep. Simon gave Paul his handkerchief, and a scarf to keep out the cold. He also gave Paul the sandwich he’d brought with him for lunch, and a fully stamped coffee shop card that Paul could use to get a free coffee. Paul pressed a piece of paper into Simon’s hand, and said “God bless you, and thank you for your kindness”.
As Simon left Paul, to trudge to work once more, he heard him play a new song, a song of joy, he felt he’d heard it somewhere before. He looked at the paper, which said “Mt25:40″.
When he got to the office, he looked up the bible passage at Matthew chapter 25, verse 40, which read “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”, and he knew where he had heard the song before.
Once, in his younger days, he had heard the song of the angels, along with a promise that he would hear it again someday. He ran out of the office to the high street, and there was Paul, playing his wonderful music. Just for a second, Simon was sure he saw a glow from Paul, and wings tucked behind his hunched shoulders, then Paul, the guitar, the music and all were gone in a blaze of light. While Simon’s work was no more interesting from that day onwards, he found a new strength to face it, and a renewed joy in working, not for his employer, but for the glory of God.
Simon learned that day that angels can be found in all shapes and situations, and that generosity returns in unexpected ways.