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Reconquista at Storytelling TOMORROW

 The Storytelling tent at Crystal Palace Overground Festival will be open for business tomorrow at 11:00. You can find it on the edge of the Family Zone, just behind the Youth Takeover sound stage.  There will be improvised stories, from Twice Shy Theatre, South London Tales from Jo Clayton, Story Cycler and a Story Circle from the Beckenham Storytellers.

Reconquista is in the tent at 5 o’clock in the afternoon ( 17:00 ) when J. J.Anderson, the author, will be telling ‘The Story Behind the Story’ of Reconquista and reading dramatised extracts from the novel. Be sure to get there in plenty of time for a seat.

Having a Bedouin tent does lend itself to Reconquista, set in Al Andalus, though it’s also very appropriate for Storytelling in general. Think of The Arabian Nights, One Thousand and One Nights, Sheherazade and Omar Khayam. The tent will be laid out in Arabian style, with floor matting, wall hangings, lanterns and little tables. There will also be a special Storytelling Chair – no one knows what it looks like but one is going to be delivered, by a local antique shop, on the day.

‘Performing’ a story is different from reading from it, or discussing it with an interviewer. There is only the storyteller ( and her sound effects ) and she has to catch and retain everyone’s attention, so it can’t just be a reading – people would either be asleep or walk out!  So the author has taken lots of advice from experienced and professional storytellers and she’ll be watching closely on the day those people who precede her.

The weather forecast is good – sun with some clouds and dry and warm – there’ll be plenty to enjoy in the sunshine.  As well as Storytelling, there’s The Spoken Word tent and two sound stages, with Morcheeba headlining on the main stage in the afternoon. There’s the Vintage Zone, for all things old and nearly new, including dance lessons ( if you want to learn the Lindy Hop ) and the Arts and Crafts Zone, if you want to learn how to make things. Also, check out the Urban Farm and the biggest dog show in South London. You can find all these listed in the Festival Programme, for sale on the day in the Park.

It all happens tomorrow! And it’s all FREE!

But there’s lots to do before then for the people running the Festival, starting at 9.30 on Saturday morning when we all put on our hi-vis jackets ( and headsets for those running tents ) and add the finishing touches to the tents. Storytelling has bunting for outside as well as hangings and lanterns inside.

Check that the sound system is working, test the mics and make sure that there’s plenty of bottled water for the performers ( plus fresh fruit ).  And we’ll have to find out where the ‘back-stage’ area is ( close by ) so there’s somewhere to escape to if needed. Then it’s everyone to the main stage for a final briefing before the gates open.

Eleven o’clock – here we go!

If you enjoyed reading this article and want to read more about Storytelling try    The Story Behind the Story                     At Crystal Palace Overground               Local & Exotic Magic

Reconquista at Crystal Palace Overground Festival

17th June is the date for south Londoners determined to have a good day out at the FREE Crystal Palace Overground Festival.

In Crystal Palace Park, the Festival gates open at eleven in the morning and the music goes on until nine o’clock at night. But Overground is about much, much more than music. There’s the Vintage Zone, stalls, music and dancing ( lindy hop or twist anyone ), the Family Zone with a Performance tent, Arts and Crafts and, for the first time this year, tents celebrating The Spoken Word and Storytelling ( and there’s a book tent with book signings by authors who speak at the Festival ).

Julie Anderson, author of Reconquista, is organising the Storytelling tent. This is very much performance based. So we have Twice Shy Theatre, winners of the Best Alternative Act, London Cabaret Awards 2015, who create impromptu stories using suggestions from and the experiences of members of the audience. Zoie weaves her wordy magic, while Des creates an underpinning sound scape.At midday Twice Shy take over the tent ( I’m hoping for a real Mongolian yurt, if it’s owner will lend it to us ) to develop some tales with the audience (they will be back to develop some more at 2.30).

Jo Clayton, the StoryCycler, formerly Practitioner in Residence at the Globe Theatre on London’s Bankside, begins in Storytelling at 1.15 in the afternoon, with her South London Fairy Tales, suitable for ages from 9 to 90.

Then we have Story Places, the stories devised by local story tellers specifically set in or about Crystal Palace Park ( working with folk from Southampton University ).  The Uni has developed a special app for mobile phones which allows users to be ‘in’ a story set in a specific place. A specially commissioned story from writer and actress Katie Lyons ( who, it is hoped, will perform it ) will start things off. Listeners can leave the tent and load the app on to their phones in order to ‘walk the stories’ in the park.

At some point in the afternoon we hope to be starting another walk from the tent, the Adventure Maze procession, for any younger folk who will enter the Maze with their story books in hand, to meet magical characters, the spirits of the trees and places in the Park, as well as people who have lived there or been associated with it. An analogue version of the Story Places app, but with ‘real’ characters within the maze.

Then, at five o’clock it’s Reconquista time. I am hopeful of acquiring a set and some props as well as a few helpers, rather better readers than yours truly, to re-create scenes from the story. I will, however, be signing copies of the book in the Book Tent earlier in the day.

Storytelling closes with the Beckenham Storytellers at 6.15 p.m. creating their Story Circle, telling tales about south London life.

So, if you enjoyed reading Reconquista and live in London come along to the Storytelling tent at the Crystal Palace Overground Festival on 17th June to meet the author and listen to some fabulous tales.  See you there!

If you enjoyed reading this article you might also enjoy  Ask the Author       Reconquista at the Clapham Book Festival 2017


Has a strange co-incidence ever happened to you? Something which made you feel a bit uncertain.

That happened to me recently. If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you will have read my piece about hunting with hawks, called Hunting with Birds. I’m interested in that right now because the sequel to ‘Reconquista‘ includes a new character who is a falconer. So I have to learn about hawks.

Well, I was in Spain and I happened to be writing a chapter in which two of my main characters are up in the Sierra El Endrinal. They take shelter on a mountain ledge which, they discover, is also home to a pair of birds of prey. It was a lovely sunny day, with the temperature in the twenties so I went out with a friend to her place at the beach. Another friend joined us and, after giving the dogs a run around and buying food to make a good picnic, we headed out to his house in the campo or countryside. This gave me some useful background for my book and made the three dogs who accompanied us very happy indeed.

While out walking in the countryside one of the dogs began behaving strangely. She wouldn’t leave a particular patch of ground and was sniffing around. We soon found out why. Half hidden in a pile of fallen leaves there was a bird, its beady eye almost the only element which distinguished it from the mound of leaves and sticks around it.

Taking great care, we brushed away the leaves to reveal a wonderful creature, a young hawk. It had a rounded head and a vicious, hooked yellow beak, but also bright yellow-ringed black eyes and feathers which ranged from pale fawn to deep brown and black. It’s plumage wasn’t fluffy, so we new that it had fledged a while before, but it wasn’t the size of a fully mature bird. It also, quite clearly, had a broken wing.

The dogs were put in the car and we set about persuading the bird from its hiding place. It couldn’t fly and, if Wendy the dog could find it, so could other creatures which might be less innocently curious. If we left it where it was it would probably die or be killed.

Eventually we got the bird out and my friend placed it, cradling it delicately in her hands and ignoring it’s beak and talons, into a large cardboard box lined with old clothes . Off we set to find a refuge or rescue centre. But the sun was already setting in a blaze of red on the horizon. By the time we got to any habitation it would be much too late to find anywhere that was open.

So it came to stay with me. A wild hawk was my house guest.

It was a lovely and beautiful creature, with a fierce, quick-moving eye. When it was startled its feathers bristled and it seemed to glower at me for bringing it to my home. I provided it with water, but I didn’t have any dead rodents to hand, so I tried raw bacon, the only other meat product I had available.

Hawk was unimpressed. We stared at each other for a while.

It was warm in the room and the hawk, not to mention me, grew drowsy. I cut extra air-holes in the top flaps of the box and weighted the lid down, so as to prevent the bird from escaping and damaging itself trying to fly. After a few minutes I heard it settle down, presumably to sleep, and I went off to do the same.

When morning came Hawk was restless and emitted little whistling sounds, followed by one hair-raising shriek.  It probably scared my neighbours. They must have wondered what the sound was, coming from my flat on a Sunday morning. But I took it as a good sign. Hawk was alive and kicking. My friend, having finished her shift at the local hospital, came to collect it and took it to a bird recuperation centre.

Just yesterday, she contacted me to say that Hawk was doing well and the rescue people thought it would make a full recovery! This was my co-incidence.

Unfortunately I couldn’t take any photographs of my hawk – the flash on my camera would have frightened it, So the pics here are of other birds.

Reconquista at the Clapham Book Festival 2017

This year’s Clapham Book Festival takes place on May 6th at Omnibus in Clapham, South London.  And at half past three in the afternoon, J.J.Anderson, the author of Reconquista, will be leading a discussion on writing history, both fictional historical novels and non-fiction history books. The session is called The Past is Another Country.

She will be talking with Elizabeth Fremantle, author of The Girl in the Glass Tower, a Times Book of the Year 2016, about her novels set in Tudor and Stuart England. The Girl follows the tragic story of Arbella Stuart, the Queen England never had.

Julie Anderson will also be talking with Robin Blake, whose North Country coroner Titus Cragg solves all manner of mysteries in 18th century, pre-industrial Preston, with the aide of his trusty colleague and local doctor Luke Fidelis. His latest novel featuring the crime-busting duo is Skin and Bone.

The fourth member of the discussion is Simon Bershon, award-winning TV documentary film maker, whose history book Warlords was made into a series for Channel 4. Simon has just started to write historical fiction and his book, Woman of State, is published in the Summer.

There are other events on the Programme, beginning at 2 o’clock in the afternoon with ‘Death in the Afternoon’  This is a panel discussion chaired by Natasha Cooper, crime writer and former Chair of the British Crime Writers Association.  Authors taking part are Sabine Durrant, whose bestselling ‘Lie with Me‘ is a Richard and Judy Book Club Choice; J.P.Delaney whose new book ‘The Girl Before‘ is already winning praise. The fourth writer is Clapham-based Annemarie Neary, whose new novel ‘The Orphans‘ comes out in July and is set in and around Clapham.

The third panel discussion of the afternoon is at 5.00 entitled Spies Under the Bed. This is chaired by novelist Elizabeth Buchan, whose latest novel The New Mrs Clifton‘ is set in post-WWII Clapham and whose previous book ‘I Can’t Begin to Tell You‘ told the story of Danish Resistance fighters and the SOE. On this panel are Andrew Lownie, Chair of the Biographers Club and author of a new biography of Guy Burgess ‘Stalin’s Englishman‘, Jane Thynne, creator of Clara Vine, British spy in 1930s Germany, who features most recently in ‘Solitaire‘ set in war-time Berlin and Rick Stroud, historian and author of ‘Kidnap from Crete; the true story of the abduction of a Nazi general‘ and ‘The Phantom Army of Alamein; the men who hoodwinked Rommel‘ .

From 6.30 until 7.30 there is a general open session in the Omnibus Bar attended by a number of Clapham writers, including the author of Reconquista, and then at 7.30 broadcaster and author Kate Adie in conversation with Simon Berthon.

You can find out more about the Festival and its Programme of events on the Clapham Book Festival web-site. Tickets are on sale for The Past is Another Country on the Omnibus web-site. They cost £10 ( £8 concessions ). Or you can follow the Festival on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

If you want to find out about the 2016 edition of the Festival take a look at Clapham Writers web-site.


‘Reconquista’ at The Polygon

Could Little Bo-Peep go round the May Pole clockwise please – that’s CLOCKWISE PLEASE!’

CWFeteSaturday 3rd September was the inaugural Clapham Village Fete, to celebrate 150 years of the London Fire Brigade and ‘Reconquista‘ was there, on the stall belonging to Clapham Writers. The Fete took place in the elegant Georgian portion of Clapham named The Old Town, in a many-sided open space called The Polygon. Clapham goes in for utilitarian names – Old Town, The Pavement, The Windmill, The Polygon.

There was a lot of chat through-out the day, with other local residents and visitors, CWFete3often about writers who had lived in Clapham through time and their books. Copies of ‘Reconquista‘ were signed and sold, as were those of other Clapham Writers.

Okay, when I blow the whistle everyone has to jump their way to the finish line. Hold on to your sacks! Ready, steady…. what? No, only one. NO! It’s not for sharing!’

CWFete4The Polygon was full of noises. Not just the occasional  sounding of the Fire Engine’s siren, but the cackles and grunts of Vauxhall City Farm’s enclosure just opposite (bantams, rabbits and other small and furry creatures). A surprised Scottish wedding party populated the outside seating area belonging to the Rose & Crown pub ( next to the Farm ). So there were lots of men in kilts, before the entire wedding party marched through the Fete to their transportation, a London double-decker bus.

There was also the gleeful enthusiasm of young people taking part in the sack and CWFete2egg and spoon races, happening close by. The two burly firemen who competed in the former were, needless to say, disqualified, after having crossing the line ahead of everyone else, leaving a gaggle of others jumping in their wake. As the egg and spoon race lined up we considered a fund-raising sideline selling our Blutac to all-comers , but resisted the temptation, as we did when the coconut shy opened for business.

Entertainment was provided by the commentary heard on the Fete’s sound system. A jolly MC, sometimes being very patient, allowed us to conjure up images of what was happening elsewhere in the Fete*. Around the May Pole she gave rousing encouragement, above jaunty English folk music, but her voice grew increasingly dismayed. The music stopped – Bo Peep and the Fairy
Princess had to be disentangled – then began again.

The soundtrack to the dog show was intriguing. ‘Lucky’ was persuaded (finally) to perform his party trick, whatever that was and ‘Bison’ did something very clever, probably involving a hay bale, which drew CWFete5applause from the crowd. I assumed that ‘Bison’ was the name of the beautiful, but massive, Great Dane who had earlier walked past our stall, drawing open-mouthed and upwards glances from a number of small people, teetering between amazement and fear. But no, I think he was actually a little Westie.

The arching gazebo housed a succession of musicians and we enjoyed jazz, reggae CWFete6and rock. Mouth watering odours wafted from stalls manned by local restaurants selling hot food. Award-winning ‘Trinity’ had its stall too, though the intermittent smattering of rain dissuaded diners from sitting outside the restaurant itself. It did not dampen spirits, however and the people kept coming, until the heavens eventually opened in the late afternoon, sending folk scurrying for cover.

No, wait here, Kirsty. I know it’s wet, but Mummy’s gone to get the car. Leave that sweet alone, Alistair, someone’s dropped it. Don’t put it in your…. oh. Oh well.

A good day was, it seemed, had by all, including Clapham Writers and ‘Reconquista’ got lots of publicity.

*With apologies to the late Joyce Grenfell and to Marie, the MC, who did a sterling job.  A version of this article was first published on on 5th September 2016.

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