Recently we said goodbye to the project's first placement Michael Wheatley, who helped us over the summer holidays on developing some new short stories for children, Michael joined us from Worcester University where he is studying a joint honours degree in English Literature and Creative and Professional Writing. Below he shares his thoughts on his time working with us.
Over the Summer, I decided to apply for a placement as a Creative Writing Intern for Malvern City Council in their Route to the Hills Project. As I’m currently studying English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Worcester, I thought this would be a good challenge to flex my still-developing writing muscles, whilst also being able to contribute to the wider area in which I grew up.
Having always enjoyed writing horror fiction, and stories with more adult themes, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself agreeing to not only write children’s stories, but also to read said stories live, to a group of children. However, I thought this would be equally as exciting as it would be challenging, and decided to throw myself headfirst into a new discipline, utilising my admittedly limited experience, and regretting not taking the ‘Writing for Children’ module in my second year of University all the while.
However, I soon found the pieces were developing, and having a younger target audience to be altogether more freeing. Whereas in my usual pieces, 1000 words would hardly have got my character from one end of the street to the other, in these pieces they had already zipped around the Malvern Hills in race cars or written an entire novel from their bedroom. And the prompts provided, building off of Malvern’s rich history, were both stimulating whilst allowing me the creative freedom to create a story which I still felt was mine. As for the live reading, it was incredibly fun, and it was a hard to describe feeling (a bad sentence for a writer) when I saw the enthusiasm of the young children and their engagement with pieces I had created.
Altogether, I found my time with the Route to the Hills project to be a fulfilling project; it challenged me to radically change my style of writing, and in doing so helped develop my skills and confidence in tackling new ideas, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys writing.
Please see below for copies of the three short stories Michael wrote;
For the last 18 months Perfect Circle has been working with various local community groups to produce a theatrical production which portrays some of Malvern's unique stories. In July the show went live, with over 162 people seeing the show at Great Malvern Priory, and many more watching the smaller performances in the weeks leading up to the play. Reviewer Nigel Turner writes about his experiences of the production.
The “Route to the Hills” initiative is designed to celebrate the richness and diversity of Great Malvern’s heritage and culture, from earliest times right up to the present day. Malvern’s Perfect Circle Theatre Company, which has established itself as a leading Youth Theatre company in the region, joined forces with this initiative, researching, devising and finally presenting an original piece of community theatre, based upon the memories and aspirations of a wide range of folk who live on Malvern’s slopes. It was thus entitled “The Folks from the Slopes” and was performed aptly in Malvern Priory, the very centre of the town, on the 14th and 15th July.
From the first, it was made clear to us that we were being welcomed into the Priory, not to be lectured at, but to be invited to share in different people’s experiences of life in their communities, on these slopes. We were to expect a variety of styles of presentation — film, dance, song, poetry, sketches, interviews. Furthermore, we should be prepared to move to different parts of the building. An appreciation of this ancient interior was thus to be a vital aspect of the whole experience.
The residents from Clarence Park opened the proceedings, sharing their memories on film. Nevertheless we felt that they were speaking directly to us, without exception revealing a quiet pride in their achievements in many diverse fields. A picture emerged of individual lives making up the complex patterns within a community, seeking fulfillment at work, at play, in friendship, in helping others as well as themselves, in growing older.
Pride of a more directly infectious quality was very evident in the next item, as pupils from Northleigh Primary School revealed its extraordinary history,from total destruction by fire to its rebirth with another school in a brand-new building. The pupils involved us in the story, first through a very clearly delivered shared narration and then through a sequence of vigorous dance and mime , which culminated in a moment of extraordinary emotional power, as we witnessed the two schools being united together into a circle before us. There could have been few dry eyes in the house.
A sudden shift in location signaled a complete change in style and focus. Behind the high altar, a small group of local poets and singers waited for us to arrive, to commemorate with us the lives of famous [or notorious] Malvern women. This item was boldly delivered, with sudden shifts in style and intonation. We veered sharply from Dame Laura Knight, through Lady Emily Foley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and on to the morally ambiguous, possibly victimised Florence Bravo — all women who courted controversy, asserted their individuality and refused to be categorized. We were left with a feeling that much has yet to be resolved.
But little time to reflect— we’re on the move again, to the other side of the altar and squeezing into St Ann’s Chapel, to be entertained by an experienced group of Malvern amateur actors, performing a devised piece celebrating the arrival of the Radar ‘boffins’ in WW2, and the subsequent growth of Malvern’s scientific community. Each player demonstrated versatility by playing multiple roles, thus also celebrating the well-established interest in theatre and drama within the life of the town; possibly also nudging us to reflect upon Malvern as a vital centre both for scientific research and for the performing arts.
A final move into the Chancel, to sit in the choir stalls. It was fitting that the concluding item should be presented by some young people from Malvern whose experiences and skills have been enhanced by their membership of the Perfect Circle Theatre Company. Ostensibly a ‘Malvern journey based on interviews’ to find out what the folk of Malvern liked about the place, its focus rapidly started to shift in multiple directions: how can we make something out of nothing— is Shakespeare useful as a fall-back — how about escaping to the secret park of the imagination — let’s bring on a couple of dogs —- are famous people to be revered or laughed at, or both — how to work the audience— how to learn lists of names—- why bother—how and when to stop ———.In short, a celebration of Theatre, full of the irreverent creativity of youth, brought our journey round this ancient Priory to a thought-provoking yet highly satisfying conclusion.
Have you spotted anything new around town recently? Next time you you pop over to Church Street, or take a stroll in Rose Bank Gardens, we challenge you to spot our five new benches that have recently been installed.
Each bench has a unique bench-end which depicts a story or legend linked to Malvern’s history. Designs includethe following;
- The goat legs and cloven hooves of Mr Tumnus from the Chronicles of Narnia (a reference to Malvern providing the inspiration for CS Lewis’ much-loved children’s books)
- Florence Nightingale’s beloved cat and writing implements (Florence took the waters several times in Malvern and owned over 60 cats throughout her life)
- The wheel of a Morgan car (The first Morgan Factory opened in 1905 on Chestnut Villa in Malvern Link)
- The shield and axe of Caractacus (An ancient British chieftain who according to folklore made his last stand at British Camp. The legend inspired Elgar to write his Caractacus Cantata)
- The head of a donkey (donkeys use to carry patients up the hills)
The benches can be found in Priory Park, Lyttleton Well, Rose Bank Gardens, outside the Post Office and on Belle Vue Island. A small plaque will be fixed to each one at a later date to explain the story behind each design.
Today marks the beginning of the Civic Society's Midsummer Malvern Week! Join Route to the Hills as we celebrate all thing historical in a week packed full of fun activities for the whole family to enjoy!
Tuesday 20 June 4pm - 5pm
In this nature-inspired activity we explore the history behind Great Malvern's Priory Park. Solve puzzles, discover stories, and locate certain trees to become an accomplished historical nature explorer! Meet us at the Bandstand and join in this fun activity perfect for children aged 5+. (Please note all children must be accompanied by an adult).
Wednesday 21 June 10am-11am
Meet one of our historical experts as we follow the new interpretation route that is currently being installed in the town centre. Learn about stories which have inspired the route, see some of its features and share your own stories on this guided walk from Great Malvern Railway Station up to Rose Bank Gardens. Meet at Great Malvern Railway station entrance. The walk will take 40 minutes to an hour, and is uphill. For more information or to book onto the walk please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday 21 June 6pm - 8:30pm
We would like to invite you and your family to join us in our Explorer Extravaganza, where we will be celebrating the release of our new book: An Unusually Excellent Guide for Curious Explorers. With fun activities, street theatre, photography and just a little bit of history thrown in, this FREE event will bring to life some of the puzzles, stories and characters found within our new Great Malvern Family Guidebook. All attending children will get a free copy of the book. For more information, or to confirm your attendance, please contact Harry Robinson by emailing email@example.com.
For more information about Midsummer Malvern please visit here . We hope to see you at one of our events!