UK flag A newsletter alert from a nursery school was shared on Facebook: “Prevent duty: From the 1st July 2015, all schools and childcare providers must have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism…”

Comments were scathing.

“They’re literally assessing the children to check they’re demonstrating British values… *shudders*”

“I hope they’re also teaching [toddlers] how to root out and report illegal immigrants at nursery. Hmmm. Which side of the Iron Curtain were we on?”

We need to get past the clichés. Prevent strategy contains several worrying bits – but I see an opportunity to connect all British young people with a magnificent heritage of story (eg traditional folktales) and some rather important bits of history. Plus of course we can make clear what we’ve learned from national mistakes of colonialism and exploitation.

I sighed with boredom at school over the list of Factory Acts created in Victorian times. Only recently have I understood how important that legislature was: locking into law the protection of workers’ rights; saving childhood and guaranteeing children the right to education.

Now our rest days and right to withhold labour are being whittled away. There isn’t even a Workhouse for people to go and die in when cut off from essential benefits … But that’s another story.

A sense of belonging (or not) really does start among small children. People who feel part of a nation, and who feel they have a chance to contribute to and profit from that national community, are less likely to want to blow it up!

Hmm… What are ‘British values’?

Cleverly, even the Prime Minister who ringingly asserts their importance has shied away from defining British values in his public utterances. But of course there is Department of Education advice for grant maintained schools.

 My version includes a nice cup of tea; generosity and quiet kindness – sometimes, admittedly, only when things are dire; respect for privacy; and an irrepressibly wicked sense of humour!

My British values encourage everyone to be self directing individuals within their group of family, cultural and social circles: to think clearly, form their own opinions, build resilience to life’s downs and ups, treat people fairly, protect the vulnerable, know the difference between authority and bullying, and to have the knowledge and courage to speak truth to power. Or at least to lampoon the powerful – and those who try to control us – without mercy, until they get over themselves…

So here’s a cliché for you: as a pro storyteller working with British cultural stories, I’ll be putting Prevent front and centre of my approach to schools. So there.

A nice cup of tea

“My idea of heaven is a nice cup of tea”

• What are YOUR British Values? What mindset do we need to live together well in the 21st century?

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Poster for 28 July 2015 Storytelling Dragon Tales at Sutton Coldfield LibraryA rare flying visit from the Dragon Whisperer brings a morning of fantasy and magical adventure to Sutton Coldfield Library (Birmingham, England) on Tuesday 28 July.

As part of the Record Breakers themed Summer Reading Challenge 2015, gorgeously costumed Agent Green the world’s only living Dragon Whisperer tells Dragon Tales from around the world to age 7+ at 11am. At 12.30, Agent Green breaks out the drawing pens to show age 9+ How To Draw Your Dragon – bring your favourite sketchbooks, pencils and colouring pens.

Both sessions are free thanks to sponsorship from Sutton Coldfield Charitable Trust. The Library is at Lower Parade, B72 1XX. Tel 0121 464 2274.

Thrilling legends and folktales include a dragon in hiding and the dragon who was really a lost princess, ranging from Eastern Europe to Bamburgh Castle.

Agent Green, who is alleged to work for DCHQ, Dragon Conservation Headquarters, also reveals hot tips on dragon care and training, and talks about her mission to find and save the world’s last dragons. You’re welcome to ask everything you ever wanted to know about dragons – because the Dragon Whisperer has the answer!

Behind the bling is Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers, a storytelling entertainer and writer/illustrator from the Cotswolds. Celebrating 15 years as a spoken word artist, Chloë sets a new record this August as the first ever Dragon Whisperer in Residence at Sudeley Castle (Gloucestershire).

Chloë’s performances for children take her to primary schools, community events and festivals all over the UK. Her story cabaret shows for adults are acclaimed from Cheltenham Literature Festival to cruise ships on the Mediterranean. For her 15th anniversary celebrations Chloë has launched a new contemporary story cabaret show Scheherazade’s Shed which tours to Kidderminster Arts Festival 14 August and Windsor Fringe Festival 24 September. The Dragon Tales CD is available £5 from Chloë, while the fully written out and illustrated Dragon Tales are available as a Kindle ebook (£2.99).

  • The annual UK Summer Reading Challenge, an initiative from the Reading Agency and the Arts Council, encourages UK children aged 4-11 into libraries to read up to 6 books during the long summer holiday. The scheme is designed to maintain reading skills and confidence which can otherwise weaken during over that time.
Chloe with Save Our Libraries banner at Bourton on the Water

Trying to Save Our Libraries 2010-11

I’m 54 and live in rural England. Whatever you see on the tourism websites, life round here is not glamorous. We endure low wages, expensive housing (second homes and tourist prices), poor public transport, poor work prospects, unaffordable leisure and arts (tourism again), lost banks, closed post offices and libraries. If it weren’t so stonkingly beautiful every time I look out of the window, there’d be no point living here.

Anyway, the UK holds a General Election next week. Mindful of what British women went through to get the vote, and of how many countries deny their citizens any vote at all, I’ve been trying harder than ever before to understand what the political parties are offering.
And NEVER have I felt so excluded, misinformed, disinformed and generally treated like an idiot.
For once it’s not the BBC’s fault. The wretched political parties release tiny dribbles of information. Partial glimpses of the truth as they’d like us to see it. There are no facts – only opinions and sniping. It’s impossible to make an informed decision.
 
The only possible conclusions to draw are:
  • Nobody in power actually understands Britain’s finances, and they have no idea what we need or what we can afford. This is terrifying!
  • In 2015 vote Tory = vote cruelty
  • Vote Labour = vote incompetence 
  • Vote LibDem = vote not sure what will happen
  • Vote Green = vote naive
  • Vote UKIP = vote rabid racist and cut us off from Europe. Although this morning UKIP leader Mr Farage sounded like he’s been fitted neatly into Mr Cameron’s pocket [prime minister since 2010; Conservative]. Both of them are ‘insisting’ they want to ‘offer the country a referendum’ on leaving the European Union. Talk about distraction technique!

Westminster politicians are incapable of representing the electorate because they don’t live real lives – they have NO IDEA what it’s like to struggle for a fair chance in Britain today.

I see my friends’ lives, their creativity either sidelined or crushed by the daily grind to pay the bills. Members of Parliament have never lived like that. Nor do many County Councillors have to worry about paying the Spare Room Tax. None of these people has had to go without food or warmth because their benefits were sanctioned when the bus made them 10 minutes late for the Job Centre. Note that it’s County Councils – under the Westminster thumb – now relentlessly taking away services which directly affect daily life.

Clever people have said “Nations get the government they deserve” – well, we deserve better than what’s lining up for Westminster now. I see nobody capable of governing this country with intelligence let alone compassion and decency. It’s a shock to get to my middle age and realise how bad things have become and how powerless we are.

Headshot image of ChloeRevered script consultant Michael Hauge, whose blockbuster credits range from Pirates of the Caribbean to Hancock, happily gives away trade secrets at www.storymastery.com .

A young wannabe wrote to Mr Hauge of his frustration at getting no response from Hollywood script agents. The submitted scripts, intended for mainstream USA audiences, featured Sikh characters and included roles for the writer, who’s also ‘an aspiring actor’. He asked if he must ‘write to sell instead of writing good quality screenplays with unique characters’. You can read Michael’s beautifully honest reply on the Q+A page of www.storymastery.com

Michael’s response might be tough for a frustrated writer / actor /director to read. That’s why it’s so valuable.

I believe that ‘commercial and ‘good quality’ are not mutually exclusive – in fact the creative challenge to balance those elements is a big part of the fun!

To me, creative process means communicating my ideas – in ways that will win audiences. Grab them, hold them, provoke them into thinking (that’s hard!), give them laughter and other reasons to go on living.

Emotional power

Obviously I’m white British, irretrievably middle class and now sagging into middle age. Yet somehow I’ve always been aware of long established respect for Sikhism in the UK. When I was aged six or seven I loved the serial in my weekly comic about a Sikh army officer. I was also a child who suffered horrible nightmares. Time and again I summoned up the image of that warrior in his turban and uniform as I prepared to face the wild landscapes of night; the thought of that character made me feel protected.

So let’s think Life of Pi. Think Slum Dog Millionaire. Those films involve cultures outside the experience of a large part of western cinema audiences, yet the stories have vivid characters about whom you really care, they have visual magnificence and narratives that corkscrew between magical romance and raw survival. Cultural settings are secondary to the films’ emotional power.

5 year plan

But that young Sikh writer-actor must also remember that British creative industries have gatekeepers who tend to revel in their power and who only deign to give the time of day to their chosen clique. Outsiders are almost never allowed in. I suspect the USA, land of opportunity, is no different when it comes to film and television.

I suggest that, given he knows what he’s capable of when he gets his break, the young man needs a 5 year campaign:
1) To build a good reputation in the right places as a Sikh actor. Be available in many countries, do the widest possible range of work to learn how different aspects of the industry create success (and to see how NOT to do many things!) Respected actors do get opportunities as writers + directors.
2) To offer scripts to specialists in making films that feature Sikh culture.  Initially he should not ask to act in his own films, until decision makers know and trust his writing and his acting. So where are the Sikh film makers, all around the world? Hollywood is not the only fruit.
3) To trust that all experience is useful as he works towards writing scripts that celebrate his Sikh culture and weave that material into a wider (western) context that will hook Hollywood decision makers’ attention. If he still wants that.
4) To network, study, work ordinary jobs to pay his bills and discover life; and keep writing. NOTHING IS WASTED even if it isn’t used this year … or next…

All about the money

I know all about failing to see beyond my own potential. “If only bookers/audiences would see how brilliant my performances and material are…”

And my work is constantly devalued, even when people enjoy it. “It’s just storytelling. It’s just for kids.” “We’re a charity.”

Just last week a conversation went bad because someone said “It’s not all about the money” to which I responded “But money is important. I have to pay the rent”. They couldn’t assume that I deliver my work fuelled by a lifetime of experience, 15 years of full time commitment and all the artistic integrity of which I’m capable. Instead they leapt to the easier assumption that I’m crassly commercial.

Right now I’m wriggling my material around to reach a new market. The world première of my first all-contemporary story cabaret Scheherazade’s Shed was hailed by the director of Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2015 as a “highlight of the festival”. I should have done this years ago!

Terrified

But when I started out in 1999, the senior practitioners of my (very small) creative industry terrified me into believing that only one kind of work was acceptable. They were the gatekeepers so I did what they said they wanted. And 15 years on I’ve realised that didn’t work either! Sometimes the doors aren’t just locked against you, they’re bricked up. Time to stop banging my poor bloody head against a brick wall.

But if I’d been more confident, I’d have found the way round much faster. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you always got. Creative work MUST be influenced by commercial demands, i.e. what audiences like. Otherwise your work is just amateur self indulgence.

Cheltenham Poetry Festival logoIt was a delight, dare I say even moving, to hear the poetry choices of Cheltenham’s election candidates last night at Cheltenham Poetry Festivals world first Poetry Election.

The town’s current MP is Martin Horwood, a Liberal Democrat. He won the Poetry Election with a pair of poems that included Shelley’s Ozymandias (‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone…’) which stopped being a cliché when Martin explained the poem’s original, harshly political context: the Peterloo massacre, repressive Corn Laws and vicious poverty.

The event in the echo-ey vastness of Frances Close Chapel on University of Gloucestershire campus was very sensibly free, so nearly 100 people including the be-chained Mayor of Cheltenham and plenty of arty types packed the front pews to hear readings and a short debate. For an informal arts event in Gloucestershire, that’s an almost miraculously good house.
Other things were revealed. Only the Green candidate Adam Van Coevorden knew how to use a microphone. Labour candidate Paul Gilbert had thought about how the arts enhance education. UKIP newbie Christina Simmons didn’t seem to have an arts policy at all and put austerity far ahead of support for the arts. Martin Horwood vaunted the array of Cheltenham Festivals, quite reasonably on the basis of his involvement in helping to win funding for them. Everybody on the platform got stuck in to their poems with gusto, even indie candidate Richard Lupson-Darnell who confessed to loathing poetry at school.
Call it creativity…
But none of the candidates showed any real understanding of the arts world. Cheltenham’s wonderful Playhouse Theatre – that welcomes professional, semi pro and amateur performance in a way that some of the town’s posh publicly funded venues dismally fail to do – never got a mention.
Beyond the official Festivals, and a yearning for the long lost Axiom centre, the candidates clearly had no concept of working in the arts. If you call it creativity, by the way, the elitist overtone goes away.
Nobody spoke about how creativity – received or participated in – supports mental health, potentially saving the NHS fortunes as depression attains epidemic proportions in the UK. Nobody spoke about how millions of creative people in the UK today – dedicated, intelligent people who train to a high standard and who commit their finances, heart and soul to their work – are unable to make a living.
The thing that makes your heart sing
Nobody spoke about how ‘working in the arts’ carries such a stigma now that it’s almost better to be outed as a banker.
Nobody spoke about how most creative people must, for the whole of their adult lives, consign their talent to a mere hobby to be fitted around zero hours contracts, inadequate wages and exhaustion. If you have any spark of creativity in the UK today, but you’re outside the elite cliques of arts stars and large scale commercialism (film, musical theatre, video games) then all you can expect is sneering discouragement.
Your ability, the thing that makes your heart sing and gives you a reason for living – will be dismissed with a cry of “Get a proper job!”
Cultural desert
After 15 years working full time as a spoken word performer, and observing a wide range of theatre and music from the inside, I’ve concluded that Gloucestershire is a cultural desert where nobody wants to go to anything except the pub, and if they drag themselves to a show they certainly don’t want to pay more than the price of a pint.
Oh, all right, there’s a thin cadre of intellectuals who rather joylessly patronise opera, literature, smart exhibitions and the snob end of culture. Often nowhere near Gloucestershire, let alone Cheltenham or oh my goodness rough old Gloucester.
I could be wrong. It could be that 15 years battling the dead weight of indifference has skewed my view.
Last night’s Poetry Election showed that even politicians can be moved by – and can reach other people through – a thoughtful choice of poem.
But the cold truth in Cheltenham as in most of Britain is that the general public has no interest in what creative people can do. They don’t know, don’t care, don’t go. I’m good at only one thing: telling stories. I have to face every day knowing that very nearly nobody wants what I do best.
Story Cabaret entertainer, spoken word artist Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers

Chloë: new contemporary Story Cabaret

Notes

•  The Jordans Cheltenham Poetry Festival runs 20 April – 3 May 2015: from the world’s gloomiest poet (who will have you in stitches) to duck infested canal poetry, plus bands, hip hop and poetry for children.

•  Scheherazade’s Shed – the world première of my new contemporary story show for adults is Monday 27 April 9pm at Cheltenham Playhouse, ticket £7 or concession price £4. Please pre book from the Playhouse 01242 522 852

Cheltenham’s parliamentary candidates, in alphabetical order, are:

Cotswold Life magazine requested spooky local yarns for its online pages during October. I sent them a true story… Here’s The Museum in Black – don’t have nightmares!

Come and enjoy Hallowe’en family storytelling and adults’ Story Cabaret

during October

starting 12 Oct. 4pm with Sunday Afternoon Tea & ScaryTales at the Burrow Café, Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire

Chloë at Hallowe'en

Chloë tells scarytales [photo by Ken Skehan]

Chloë: "Fairytales help me function in the real world"

Chloë: “Fairytales help me function in the real world”

Experts tell me my blogs are too long. They insist you don’t have the time (or intelligence?) to take in detail.
I think experts cater for the average – and that’s not what I’m working with, here.
I think you read with cuppa to hand and brain provoked into firing off your own ideas. That’s what blogging is about, isn’t it? But today I experiment: the long blog has been split into 2 parts. You tell me what you think – add your comment or use the Contact Form below.

When I perform as the Dragon Whisperer, every audience includes one child who asks, “Are dragons real?”

To the child whose voice quavers with anxiety I answer, “I am a storyteller. It’s my job to make things up. What do you think?”

To the grinning, streetwise brat as well as to the gravely enquiring child I respond with a straight look and “Dragons are real to me. You’ll have to make up your own mind.”

I believe these responses empower children to sort out their own thinking; and that’s the point, really.

A few young people find fiction an irritating turn off. Was Richard Dawkins, disparager of fairytales, one of those? Many reluctant readers need facts – wild truths, outrageous reality, biographies and encyclopedias. Fiction phobes relish real life stories about how their heroes overcame disadvantage and setbacks. Engage their imaginations with how the real world is constructed, from weird sea creatures to the craziest twists of history: because truth is, of course, stranger and more wonderful than fiction. Every day.

Relief in fantasy

It’s quite disturbing to hear an eight-year-old claiming that fantasy stories help her ‘escape’. I have to hope she was repeating what she’d heard adults say.

But fantasy / fairytale as escapism for teens and adults is also valuable.

BBC Radio 4 intelligentsia might fret about teen boys immured in bedrooms playing internet wargames and watching endless films; I suggest this is still feeding imagination – and diverting the rogue waves of testosterone. Better films and fantasy than rampaging down the road with an Uzi. (Yes, this is a whole different subject, for another day.)

Put it another way: if your life is dull or difficult, if physical or mental health is on the blink, then fantasy can provide significant relief.

More adaptable

For more than 30 years I’ve been pummelled by phases of depression, some more derailing than others. Millions of people face the same mood management challenges that I do, and likewise refuse to resort to alcohol or other substances.

I can’t change my world: only my response to it. For me, that means a short trip into fantasy – dragons, space ships and all; sometimes in a book or film, sometimes at a live action roleplay game. Thus refreshed, I face my real world tasks in a stronger and more adaptable frame of mind.

In my mid 50s, I still NEED fairytales in order to function.

I hazard the guess that Richard Dawkins loathes Narnia author C S Lewis, whose work was as much Christian allegory as children’s entertainment. I read the whole series repeatedly between the ages of eight and twelve and took no interest whatsoever in the Christian connections. The stories were just rattling good reads. So I’ll give today’s last word to the creator of Aslan, so thrillingly “not a tame lion”.

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” – C S Lewis 

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Blog revised (divided to make shorter pieces!) after expert advice that you can’t cope with long articles…
Tell you what, you tell me: comments below. And anyway, you’ve probably seen Part 2 of this already, thanks to blog layout. Hey ho.

The hero who faces the dragon can inspire or warn many generations

“…Let them [children] at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage”

PART 1:   Richard Dawkins won his headline coverage at the 2014 Cheltenham Science Festival by belittling fairytales and suggesting that childish fantasies should be dropped in favour of “a spirit of scepticism”.

Dawkins has a string of letters after his name. My late father, the entomologist Professor A D (Tony) Lees, had only BSc, PhD and FRS [Fellow of the Royal Society, Britain’s top club for scientists. You don’t get many of them to the pound]. From my earliest years, my father read to me and encouraged me to love stories.

In his own boyhood, my father was partly inspired to follow the way of the naturalist by reading the children’s fantasy series Dr Dolittle.

Before that story was razzamatazzed by Hollywood, Hugh Lofting’s stories about the little portly doctor from Puddleby-on-the-Marsh nudged young readers to consider very serious subjects indeed. The Dolittle books explore friendship, family, multi culturalism, moral dilemmas, money management, cruelty, ignorance, courage and the stultifying effect of narrow thinking – including academic snobbery… Lofting himself was a WW1 veteran and international civil engineer.

Relief from logic

My father – and his colleagues – sent me exploring Narnia, Middle Earth, Japanese poetry and mythology, Jules Verne proto steampunk science fiction and of course the spoof scientific methods of Sherlock Holmes. For these very serious scientists such fiction provided relief from the business of hard logic – as well as springboard moments of ‘What if..?”

Several models of mobile phone, medical diagnostic devices and even the latest space ship design derive directly from the enduringly popular TV science fiction series Star Trek.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales,” Albert Einstein is alleged to have said.

The author Beth Webb says “Fiction inspires scientists to imagine the impossible.” All my life I’ve seen how the arts and science mutually nourish each other. I’ve observed author Sir Terry Pratchett deep in discussion with performers and scientists as he developed more of his glitteringly successful, magi-technical Discworld. Good fantasy writers start from real science in order to create plausible fiction.

And yes, bad fantasists distort science to con the less well informed. Look at almost any so-called UFO website; it’s very nearly impossible to find genuine information.

But the professors from around the world who dined at my father’s table, talking shop until my mother and I crept away in exhausted incomprehension, valued creativity from fine art to fine words. Very serious scientists love fantasy.

Great beards in the sky

Dawkins complains that fairytales indoctrinate children in “supernaturalism”. An ardent atheist, he worries that fables put young minds at risk of being caught in the webs of religion.

But isn’t it exactly the other way around? I suggest that young people experienced in the difference between fantasy and reality are far LESS likely to be taken in by claims of resurrection, virgins in heaven, tablets of stone, divinities with animal heads, guided thunderbolts or any of the great beards in the sky that rulers have invented to control the general population.

The woodcutter takes charge of the dragons, tricking them out of their treasure

Legendary hero Stan Bolovan wins wealth and happiness by keeping his nerve: a lesson for children? (Illustration from ‘Dragon Games’ story in DRAGON TALES CD and e-book by Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers)

I can’t have been the only child who was disappointed to discover that her toy magic wand didn’t work, and that no amount of burrowing to the back of wardrobes led to a snowy lamplit land. Privately, without fuss, I confirmed the difference between make-believe and the real world.

Dawkins fails to credit children with their natural bloody-minded common sense. We know in our bones – I revert to eight years old here – that frogs can’t turn into anything (except interesting corpses…), that superheroes don’t fly to the rescue and that dragons don’t light up our skies. And we see pretty soon that prayer can ease fear but it doesn’t stop earthquakes or save loved ones.

The uses of metaphor

As it happens I deal in make-believe on a daily basis. For the purpose of children’s entertainment I have constructed the fantasy world of Agent Green the Dragon Whisperer – lead draconics expert and field operative for DCHQ, Dragon Conservation Headquarters.

In costume and character I tell stories about dragons, plus traditional folktales and legends from many cultures around the world. I must be doing something right because it’s no trouble to keep a couple of hundred primary school pupils completely spellbound. Even teen and adult fantasy fans – especially Tolkien/LOTR enthusiasts – enjoy my Masterclass in the Care & Training of Dragons.

But what is actually the point of fairy stories and folktales? (As the very teutonic academic demanded at the end of my Tolkien Society presentation in 2012).

Beth Webb (also on Facebook) writes elegant fantasy fiction that is adored by an extraordinary range of children and teens. She also works with the UK’s most gifted and talented young people – frankly, the great thinkers and top boffins of our future – in writing courses bubbling with joyously outside-the-box creativity. Most of her students won’t become professional writers but they do go on to communicate more effectively with the rest of their world. They never forget the critical and constructive thinking skills – yes, the ‘spirit of scepticism’ – and the creative freedom opened up for them under Beth’s guidance.

Educationalists around the world assert

  • For children transitioning from concrete thinking to abstract thinking, the structure, phrasing and imagery of fairytales/folktales demonstrate the uses of metaphor.
  • Fairytales accustom children to narrative structure and develop their vocabulary. Children who grow up hearing, telling and reading stories move more easily into written work at school.
  • Fairytales allow children to experience fear and danger at a safe remove. Children observe how wit, courage, creative thinking and co-operation solve problems.

I would also say that fairytales and folklore help connect young people to their cultural roots. Equally, stories from different cultures give children insight into other ways of life and different values. In a world where belief systems are clashing with ever bloodier violence, and the great beards of temple, church and mosque are prescribing and proscribing with ferocious zeal, stories become a last chance to broaden cultural horizons.

Very definitely fairytales promote scepticism: think of all the mocked and unloved third sons or daughters of storyworld who shine as role models, defying convention and authority to save their families. Consider Dawkins’ improbable frog prince, and the Beast in his rose garden: apparently impossible partners for a human – yet their gentleness and delightful good company invite us to take the difficult step of looking beyond appearances, beyond prejudices.

And now refill your glasses for Part 2: scroll up to the next blog post title ‘Fairytale: A Great Escape’

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If you’d like to be entertained by live Story Cabaret (spoken word fantasy for audiences of adults) or would like workshops to inspire your own creativity, as well as for secondary schools Year 7 – Sixth Form, please check out my work

I also supply storytelling for primary and junior schools and family events as Agent Green the Dragon Whisperer

If you’re really keen, Dragon Tales the e-book for Kindle is available for a teensy tithe of treasure – only GBP£2.56 – including more illustrations

British values: down the pan?

British values: down the pan?

Education boss Mr Gove has decreed that our schools must promote ‘British values’. Depending on who defines ‘British’ and ‘values’, this should be interesting. With a side order of hilarious.

I invite you … Oh, go on, I challenge you to devise your own list.

Meanwhile, here are my British Values:

  • Grumbling, whingeing and whining but eventually getting things done
  • Obsessed with the weather
  • Fair play
  • Stiff upper lip – potentially awkward, after years of mental health advice to talk about your troubles
  • Two fingers up to authority
  • Behave as if you hate thy neighbour – especially foreigners, and that’s anyone with a suntan or a vaguely Eastern European accent – but move heaven and earth to bail them out in any kind of bona fide disaster
  • Lazy to the bone
  • Obsessed with work
  • Revolting peasants, and proud of it (going to the supermarket in your onesie and crocs)
  • Never buy a book, use a library or go to the theatre
  • Campaign to save local libraries, theatres etc
  • Campaign to raise money for health charities
  • Stuff your face with rubbish food and booze for decades, then be shocked that you get diabetes or heart attacks
  • Hate anything or anyone ‘posh’. Anyone who likes reading, is articulate and speaks ‘nicely’ should be ostracized at very least, and if you can do it on the sly then give ‘em a good kicking too
  • Love the countryside, wildlife and all animals
  • Chuck your pets out on the road when you don’t want them any more, because you’re moving house or they’re too old or pregnant and need veterinary care you won’t give up your booze and fags to pay for
  • Dump old mattresses and sacks of litter in beauty spots
  • Delight in whimsy and eccentricity
  • Sneer at whimsy and eccentricity as creepy, under suspicion of being posh – or kiddyfiddling, or both
  • Insist on humour splattered with expletives, racism, misogyny, homophobia and ageism. Basically if they’re different from you, you hate them
  • Love the Queen, sneer at Charles; don’t bother to vote
  • Complain endlessly about council tax and government in general but NEVER get involved in politics at any level and especially don’t read any leaflets circulated by your local council to explain how they’re trying to eke out their Westminster-controlled budget
  • Never volunteer
  • Work unpaid long hours for charities, heritage sites, libraries, venues and more where those roles could and should be paid jobs

And finally:

  • (Employed) Work like a slave for gobshite bosses at dead end low paid jobs, under perpetual threat of redundancy and having to reapply for your own job every two years. Retire much later than you expected, run out of money and die mindless with dementia, wallowing in your own piss in a so-called care home that couldn’t care less
  • (Unemployed) Booze, eat and drug yourself to an early death because it’s all hopeless, you haven’t got a chance of escaping the demeaning and demoralizing struggle for a decent life, nobody gives a toss about you, and it’s all so fucking depressing…

These are the values I see around me. This is Britain in the 21st century.

If you’d like to be cheered up (!) or you’d like your children, pupils or students to be inspired by fascinating fairytales and other traditional stories from around the world, please check out my work.

Chloë at Bristol PirateFest

This one I got paid for! Thank you Bristol PirateFest 2013. Photo by Marie Ponting

I’ve been scratching my head, wondering how to be able to afford to work at festivals.

Unless you’re a headline act, a household name, you don’t get paid for your work. Music festivals, story festivals, even literature festivals. They’re all at it.

So only the independently wealthy can afford to appear at these events. Or else you must work full time and relegate your art/craft to a hobby. And then how d’you get or afford time off for performances or promo activities? Throw a sickie and risk your job? Or are you going to tell festivals you can only do Saturdays and Sundays up to lunchtime ‘cos you have to get home, to be ready for Monday morning? Will you miss out on schools visits or media interviews because you’re unavailable 9-5? Are you only going to be properly available for your art or craft during your annual 2 weeks holiday?

In the real world it’s highly unlikely that you can sell enough books or CDs at an event to cover your expenses let alone make enough profit to pay the bills back home. Certainly not after production costs of merchandise, whether you or your publisher/manager manufacture the stuff.

I’m not (yet!) the kind of act that festivals want to pay – but I am a business. I’d like to think the quality of my work reflects 14 years of full time dedication. I don’t live in an ivory tower – I rent a cottage with a whole stack of bills to pay every month. The way these festivals work  – and many other event organisers – is extremely poor business for all of us.

I wish it was just me. But it’s not.

Danuta Kean is books editor of writers’ mag Mslexia, and her freelance journalism is widely published. She is also a publishing analyst, public speaker and teaches publishing skills to writers. Her website is http://www.danutakean.com

She’s in the loop. She knows pro writers high up in the food chain. And she writes with venom about the rising trend for no-fee commissions:

http://www.alcs.co.uk/ALCS-News/February-2014/Danuta-Kean?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Authors%27+Licensing+and+Collecting+Society&utm_campaign=3574109_ALCS+News+February&utm_content=DanutaFeb2014&dm_i=76%2C24LST%2C1DK2QK%2C7OJHX%2C1#.UwN5qKUFlGc.facebook

(Sorry about the layout gremlin there – but the link works!)

Authors, musicians, storytellers: we’re all being bullied into working for nothing. Which simply and logically means we won’t be able to keep going.

And if festivals and the like won’t even pay peanuts, then pretty soon all they’ll get for performers will be rich, low quality hobby-monkeys. Which will destroy event quality and drive away audiences.