Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Characters for a new adventure

Papier-mache People of the Peaks
Borderland Voices
2nd February 2016 
a gentleman awaiting his face and a tricorn hat

Working with BV’s Tuesday Art Group in Leek, we have started shaping a set of characters who might have, should have, may once have, lived, loitered or even lingered in the Staffordshire Moorlands

we started with sketches and rolling and scrunching paper

Elbows, knees, hats and shoes and faces next week…..
ready for some clothes
elegance taking shape

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Summer stories: workshops for schools and public events 2016

Summer stories
Stories in school
and other excitements
with Creeping Toad,
Summer 2016
celebrating the richness of the season, here are stories, 
sculptures, flags, books and  boggarts

With stories spinning from the first signs of spring right through to earth giants, summer flowers and thunder-tigers, here are stories and activities to enchant and inspire.

a small story-house
Drawing on 30 years of professional experience, my work blends environmental experience with creativity. “Much of my work uses storytelling and story making but I also make small masks, giant masks, flags, lanterns, pop-up landscapes and create wild and wonderful occasions”

Scottish Tour dates: 
April 25th - May 6th
September 5th - 16th

Dates for England & Wales:  
just about any other time - I tend to plan trips as bookings come in

These notes are written for schools. if you have a community grouup or fancy a public event these might give you a guide to what wee might do but talk to me about your specific situation...

a group telling their own stories,  Woodland Trust 2015

In school

A day’s visit to your school might include:

storytelling performances: lasting up to 60 minutes for up to 90 children at a time 

stories out of anything! outdoors or in, we'll use leaves and pine cones, twigs and stones and shells to inspire words, create poems and shape a set of stories never told before
(allow 60 minutes for a class session)

New workshop!
headfulls and handfuls of river animals
puppets and headfulls of animals: like the illustration, we can make quick finger puppet animals or magnificent animal crowns. Allow an hour and a half for a class
New workshop!
Heroes for stories: building characters - as quick puppets and as written pieces: capturing the qualities of our characters for stories: their ambitions, triumphs, disasters and secrets - skills for a richer tale

make your own book
story and book workshops: taking a bit longer (allow 90 minutes for a class) as well as discovering those stories no-one has ever heard before, now we will build those into the books that no-one has ever read before and leave the classroom with a library no-one has ever visited before!

pop-up storyscapes: allow an hour for a class: gathering ideas, images and words we’ll make quick 3-d landscapes holding the essence of a story in a setting, key characters and the words that set the adventure running

tales of old Scotland: a collection of stories of Highland folklore and Scottish histories, of heroes and sorrows, bravery and the magics of sea, mountain and moor

Ancient Lives:  a wider historical perspective could be involved, by adding a voice from the distant past to your history topics with stories that our Stone, Bronze or Iron Age ancestors might have listened to. Stories, models, artefacts and drawings can feed into art inspired by cave paintings, carvings and jewellery

your own themes and ideas: or are you exploring a particular theme that you would like to involve some stories in? In recent projects we have also made talking stone puppets, a giant eagle to hang from a classroom ceiling, prehistoric rockpools, a swarm of shadow dragons, pop-up castles

an African selection

Charges: £250 a day: includes storyteller’s fee, travel and materials. Can be paid on the day or I can invoice you. Activities can be adapted to suit groups from P1 through to Secondary

For further information and to book    
contact Gordon directly at
or by telephone:
landline: 01298 77964
mobile: 07791 096857

release the storytelling pirates!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Deep dales and wild places

Deep dales and wild places
A new story for the Moorlands
with Gordon MacLellan

Wednesday 17th February 2016
Flash Village Hall
(off A53 between Leek and Buxton)
7.30 – 9.30pm

From the Dale of Goyt to the sweep of the Warslow moors, the South-west Peak is a landscape full of variety and excitement. Old stories are embedded in these hills with Gawain hunting for his Green Knight, stray mermaids, lost loves and wandering brigands.

This evening will explore some of those old tales and invite people to add ideas about the Moorlands today and help start some new stories.

Where are your favourite places, dreaded places, secret places, wild and windswept treasures, where are best places for picnics, or long walks or playing or walking the dogs? We will gather those ideas and feelings and start spinning a new landscape of stories and poems.

Join me for an evening of ancient tales and modern wonders

Practical stuff:
  • Free
  • Refreshments provided
  • No booking needed but if you are coming it would be helpful if you could let us know!
  • finding the hall: turn onto Brown Lane (signposted to Flash) just south of Flash Bar/Knights Table. Hall is 100 yards along Brown Lane on left

Organised for:

double sunset at Glutton
icicles in Lud’s Church

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Book review: The Ash Tree

The Ash Tree

Oliver Rackham

Dovedale in the 19th C*
Everyone knows ash trees. They are one of those trees that are simply there. Seldom huge and spectacular, or ancient and excessively gnarled or especially anything. We don’t generally eat their nuts or play with them or watch for them or decorate our houses with their leaves. But ash trees are always there. Ash is a tree that doesn’t quite. It produces wood but not that hard or strong or long lasting timber. That wood rots quickly. It doesn’t burn well. Its useful but doesn’t give building timber. It makes good cups. Good tool handles. Deer eat its coppice shoots. If they last long enough, those shoots sprout leaves that were used as good winter fodder for livestock. The wood bends well when steamed. The Ash Tree’s chapters on ash biology and its place in our history make fascinating reading: endless contradictions. Ash trees often don’t live long enough to really become individual landscape features as some yews and oaks do but “ash” turns up as an element in more place names than any other tree. Ash trees are just there. In 2013, as the hysteria about Ash Dieback was running through the media, I visited the upper Dove Valley here in the Peak District and looking out over a beloved landscape, I realised that almost all the big trees, those majestic figures in the middle of fields, on field corners, by the ruined barn over there, the fallen cottage here at the break of the slope are ash trees. I cannot imagine this dale without them, but soon they might not be there any more.

caves in Dovedale
The hysteria around the awareness of Ash Dieback Disease in 2012 was the push that produced this book and running through the slender but very tasty volume is the threat of what may – or may not – come with a return of Ash Dieback (which often doesn’t actually kill the trees) and grimmer warnings of other troubles whirring closer on beetle wings. The Emerald Ash Borer is the one to worry about.

The AshTree is good. It calmly and  lovingly fills in the background. It spreads a canopy over ash tree ecology, and unravels historical contexts. This is a book by someone who really knows what he is talking about, a long time champion of the British landscape. Rackham is – was (he died last year) – one of the leading ecologists of the last 20th Century. His works are classics and if you haven’t read books like his History of the Countryside then, really….(I know, you’re waiting til they make the film). There is a sense, however, of a weary warrior. People like Rackham have given the same or similar warnings for years, to be ignored or dismissed over and again or to see recommendations so diluted down that money would have been far better spent elsewhere. The underlying politics makes fascinating and frustrating reading too and gives much to think about – not least a quick woodsman’s axe swing at tree-planting schemes.

Monsall Dale, 1808 with presumed ash trees

This book is a study of a tree and as such it is an interesting and rewarding read but as a study in the sensible approach to landscape conservation it is almost more intriguing and leaves me wanting to throw things.

The Ash Tree, Oliver Rackham, Littletoller, 2015; ISBN 978-1-908213-42-6

It also reminds me of:
Wych Elm: a wonderful exploration of this tough bristly branch of the elm family from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, and

The Black Poplar by Fiona Cooper. I love Black Poplars. they have a powerful presence and are trees that always call em to just stop and sit beside them for a while
*there is a sort of logic to the pictures - images of Dovedale in the early 1800s. There are ash woods across most of these slopes now

Friday, 22 January 2016

Stories Alive! a thunderstorm of chopsticks

Stories Alive!

twilight music 

18th Jan 2016

it's quite hard to catch stamping feet....

Ben wrestles sticky tape
We began with noise…
This was a twilight session for teaching staff from the 5 nursery schools of the Stories Alive! Project. As the project draws to a close, we have been looking at areas we would like to develop more – not necessarily as a project but perhaps within individual nurseries. Our musician/storyteller, Ben McCabe had done an excellent job of inspiring both children and  staff musically during earlier workshops, giving all of us new confidence  in ourselves as musical people, so we gathered for an afterschool session with him.

We began with noise….

Over 2015, Stories Alive! placed 5 artists in 5 Nursery Schools (see below) in and around Burnley in East Lancashire. Our teams have been challenged to develop sets of activities to help embed storytelling and storymaking in Nursery practice, in families and in the children we are all working with. There have been storyhouses built, storysacks made, stories mapped, little adventures, big adventures, whole storyworlds of adventure. Because of the carefulness of photographs of young children, I’ve charted relatively little of the project so far but will hopefully catch up a bit now….

So we began with noise….

chair drummers, poised
We sang a journey: improvising an adventure with repeating sounds, actions and words, reflecting on the value of combining sound and movement. We played musical I-spy, creating improbable stories with improvised lines

It wasn’t all just fun, you know. We talked about the importance of playing with sounds for developing verbal skills. We thought about rhythm, story structure, dance and the abstract thought processes that represent action or objects with sounds and the value of recording patterns of sound - creating group scores as a way of thinking about writing. And we made a spectacular amount of noise with sets of cooking chopsticks (other wooden rods are available) on the backs of chairs (other furniture is also available)

ready for action
And that was fun. The rest of the evening was fun, too, but this was spectacular. A rippling seashore of noise breaking over the chairs: rattles and scrapes and thumps and scratches and 50 people laughing and concentrating and releasing a thunderstorm in a school hall

This has been a good project. This is still proving to be a good project!

Nursery schools involved

Stories Alive! is supported by Grants for the Arts 
and the Stocks Massey Bequest

Monday, 11 January 2016

Summer woods: the stories of the trees

Summer Woods
finding the stories of the trees

Saturday 18th June 2016
Morgans Woods, Horsham

At midsummer, step into the long green shadows of the trees, touch earth and bark and wonder, pause, listen and reach out to the storyteller within you

Join artist and storyteller Gordon MacLellan, the Creeping Toad, for a day of delight, storymaking and discovering the stories the trees tell us

winter trees...
Summer Woods offers a creative connection to woodland. We will write a journey that will take us into the heart of the wood, shaping poems to feel our way through the trees, exploring, finding moments to treasure: characters, faces, maps of connections. This will be a playful day, a cheerful encounter with a woodland, a reminder that a smile helps us learn.

Working in the ancient woodland of Morgans Wood, we will gradually build our own links to individual trees or glades until by the end we will each (hopefully!) have a story to tell and have built our own tree book with drawings, poems, riddles and that story from the heart of the wood. Here in the Sussex Weald, oaks and hornbeams grow their stories and buzzards sing their songs over the treetops.

...cheerful leaves...
To book: contact Gordon to book and pay, form below
Costs:  full price £80, early bird booking £70 (before 31st March 2016) (includes drinks and materials, bring your own lunch).
Payment: can be by cheque, BACS (contact Gordon for details) or Paypal (to:

Directions and any other instructions sent with booking confirmation
Camping: spaces for overnight camping are available at £10 a night (bring your own tent!) (see note below)

For more information about the workshop, contact Gordon at

Please provide the following information:

How many places are you booking?

Payment: how are you paying?

Directions will be sent with booking confirmation

Will you want to camp before or after the workshop?
How will you be travelling? Nearest Station is:  Horsham
If coming by car, can you offer any spaces to other participants?

...glowing trees

Camping further information
If you want to camp, we need to know on booking or well in advance. There is space for small tents and some campers. All camping is self-catering and water will need to be brought onto site. Please note that facilities are very basic and no showers or buildings are available. Small manageable fires may be permitted on request. £10 per head per night payable on the day.

who knows who - or what - else we might encounter?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Stories for the great outdoors

Stories for the great outdoors
or maybe
fir ye gurt ootseid?
 April 22nd 2016, 
Glenmore Lodge, Aviemore
this little character appeared on an earlier session

WildScotland are running their excellent “Art of Guiding in the Great Outdoors” training programme again this year. Here programmes can suit everyone from beginners to experienced group leaders, “allowing them to understand their guests better and to enhance their experience of the environment in which they operate”

I am involved in the “day modules” section where you can book on for individual sessions (rather than the whole programme) including such delicious treats as “Gaelic in the Landscape”, “Introduction to Bushcraft”, “Wild Stargazing”(with the delightful Rupert Hutchison). There are lots more: follow the link to become over-excited… And you could spend a day with me looking at some Environmental Storytelling
spinning stories out of scraps and found materials

“Stories, whether traditional or newly written, offer people an emotional, creative and intuitive way of engaging with the world around them. Well told, stories offer an audience ideas and experiences without dictating how they should feel or what a story should mean, encouraging listeners to value their own reactions to the places they encounter in a Guided Experience. This module will work with both established traditional stories and techniques to use in developing new stories with a group.”

During the day we will experiment with traditional stories, exploring ways of remembering and of telling and of making a story your own. We will wander, exploring as storytellers, gathering elements for stories from woods and weather, the stone beneath us, the sky above and just about anything that saunters past

Date: April 22nd 2016 in Aviemore
Cost: £95 + VAT
To book: contact Wild Scotland

Tempted? I hope so!
See you in the mountains!

come away with a story to tell