Matthew Bellwood is a writer and storyteller based in Leeds. Over the last few years, he has worked everywhere from the Canadian Fringe to the International Shakespeare Conference in New Zealand. Along the way, he has performed in schools, libraries, theatres and pop-up museums, at DIY rock gigs and, on one memorable occasion, to an audience of 1,200 girl-guides in a tent. He has been working with ELFM for the past few weeks on our Telling Tales Schools project…
Young people in Leeds are REALLY DARK. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to after spending the week working with a whole range of amazing young writers at Harehills Primary, Austhorpe Primary and John Smeaton Community College.
Now don’t get me wrong, the students I’ve worked with are also warm, welcoming, witty, charming and intelligent, but when it comes to the contents of their collective imaginations, they undoubtedly err towards the dark side.
I’ve read some wonderful pieces this week. Moving stories of loss and abandonment, tales of heartbreak and vanished love, thrilling fairytales filled with black magic and other stories that feature antagonists scarier than anything Hollywood has dished up for years. Even the lighter pieces seem to be riddled with sinister undertones.
There have been a lot of highlights for me this week.
On Monday, Austhorpe’s Year Six class served up the wistful saga of John Tate – a little boy left on a beach by his mother and abandoned for years to fend for himself. The children wrote beautifully about John’s pain at being betrayed by someone he thought he could trust and showed great insight in writing about John’s mother – trapped in a hospital after an illness and unable to reach her son.
On Thursday, Year Four at Harehills Primary responded to the myth of Perseus and wrote their own radio script all about him before coming up with their own strange take on a mythical quest. The resulting story takes in a teacher’s ghost, a malevolent school-caretaker and a little boy turned into a big-nosed zombie dwarf.
And today the students of John Smeaton have offered up material that spans the gamut from doomed romance to sci-fi adventure story. It’s all been wonderful stuff, filled with nightmarish dreamscapes and startling images. The best/worst bit? Undoubtedly the “thing” on the top of the wardrobe in the deeply unsettling horror story The Darkness.
It’s not all been blood-curdling tales of terror for me though, I’ve also been adding the finishing touches to Monday Night’s Storytelling Cabaret. This year’s theme is The Seven Seas and we have some cracking tellers lined up to spin yarns from around the world.
The whole thing will be glued together with sea-shanties from Leeds’s own Ocean Loiners. The group had a rehearsal on Wednesday Night and are sounding pretty fantastic – especially now we’ve added in some last-minute musical accompaniment on the uke and the melodica. They might not be “traditional” sea-shanty instrumentation but I’d like to think Poseidon would approve.
Each of the five schools involved in the Telling Tales project will be broadcasting their work live at 2pm Monday to Friday next week as part of the Live@Chapel Festival. And the Seven Seas Storytelling Cabaret is on Monday night between 7pm and 9pm. (there are still a few places left if you would like to be studio audience for the Cabaret – email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the guest list)
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