Paper Birds and some Spontaneous Storytelling

paper birds
“Birds can fly into your stories, bringing a sense of upliftment and airy freedom… Invite the benevolence of birds into your story world.” Nancy Mellon
Grow Mayow Community Garden

In the lovely Grow Mayow Community Garden we made birds to hang near our story circle.

the sweetest participantsbeautiful petal paper birdmaking birds

The birds watched over us as I began a story with a wooden girl, some chocolate coins and a paperweight bird…

storytelling props

… and they inspired a fabulous tale of a girl finding golden coins in the forest and a bird that helps her when she is transformed into a little dog.

the Story Circle
Photo: Nicola Ferris

The story grew and grew with the big clever children and the tiny ones joining together with incredible suggestions, me following, linking scenes, all of us gently probing forward into our unfolding adventure. This is the point in all of our Story Hug workshops where I see the children most completely engaged – adults too, so present in the moment of making our story. And while the writer in me searches for the plot and a convincing ending, I know now to hold back and trust that a story made with the free, unbounded minds of children can fly – anywhere! The story will always reach further, higher than it ever would have.

Such is the joy of spontaneous storytelling – and its challenge – riding the unexpected and binding the sparks, the shining offerings of ideas into a satisfying whole.

hanging birds

“…story-makers leave the familiar ground of the known, the security of established tales and premeditated plots. They put all their trust in the new, the unknown and unexpected.… practise on children – they are your best audience. They know that a fresh tale comes straight from the heart. They relish the moments of imaginal bonding, the meeting of what is most creative in us.”

Horst Kornberger The Power of Stories

Making Masks – Story and Craft at Grow Mayow Community Garden


We made masks in the community garden from cereal packets, petals, leaves, sticks, herbs and old egg boxes.

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Such great teamwork! And what joyful and unique results:

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I told the story of the Thief and the Mask – the extraordinary case of a man becoming his mask.

The Thief and the Mask - an illustration from Story Hug Magazine: Masks
The Thief and the Mask – an illustration from Story Hug Magazine: Masks

An old Chinese tale, it involves a thief who is forced to act like a handsome, kind, honest, intelligent man because of a mask, only to find that after a year of pretence he has become just such a man.

The story made me think of the storyteller mask I wear each time I sit in the lovely warm circle of responsive open minds and hearts, able to lose the fear of my story not being enough, of not connecting with anyone… one of the many strange and wonderful ways in which storytelling transforms, providing us with a way of sharing a part of ourselves and of being together; a magical mask to grow beneath and beyond.



Forests, Fairies and Magical Beings at the Wild Things Weekend in Mayow Park Community Garden

photo: GrowMayow (

In blazing unexpected sunshine at the beautiful Mayow Park Community Garden we gathered to make story props…

garden, Mayow Park Community Garden Mayow Park Community Garden Writing Hut, Mayow Park Community Garden

…we made trees of recycled card, leaves, flowers, herbs…

recycled tree tree for story forest

…and we made magical people to hang in the branches of an enchanted wood:

elf in fine clothes elf for story

These were to be our ‘props’ for our storytelling session later, and it was fascinating to see the care and concern and intensity of focus that went into the fixing of each petal of a fairy skirt:

dancing fairy for story

…the fine detailed drawing of a wizard:


… the carefully considered contribution of a trio of imps based on the young artist and his two brothers:

three imps playing chequers

The fact that these beautifully unique creations were to be used in our stories seemed to lend a deeper significance to them, the children looked so pleased with their work and so proud as I arranged the little handmade forest and hung the magical beings on branches, and they were very deeply engaged in the stories we made together.

pasting leaves

Working with our hands and the imagination is a way into the deeper quiet where story parts lie; people and places waiting for their stories to be woven, to be spoken out loud into the open.

story circle

audience with miniature forest

At the end, the children sat on their logs in our story circle under the trees, looking thoughtful and dreamy, still lingering in the world we had made together, gazing up at the magical folk above us in the trees…

fairy with poppy petal skirt fairies in the forest

…before running back into the sunshine to play!

storytelling friends

Thinking about the Goose Girl: Storytelling and story making at the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve

story for syria
Photo: Fiona McDonald Joyce

With Spring just about to begin we spent a beautiful day at the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve to raise money for Syria – an event organised by the wonderful Fiona McDonald Joyce.


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I told the story of The Goose Girl  but before that the children  made a story together choosing a character (person, animal or magical creature), an object and a second character from the Goose Girl: Princess, Hat, Horse.

princess, hat, horse

An astonishing tale resulted, of a horse that put on a magical hat which gave him spots, and a princess who tries to help him! So different from the tale of the princess setting off into the woods to go to her prince, and the maid who attempts to usurp her. The maid succeeds in deceiving everyone and is deposed only when the princess speaks out and tells her truth, her story.

But why would a princess agree to a lowly maid’s demands? Why would she fear her so much as to exchange clothes and her horse and even promise not to speak the truth when they reached their destination? This question has always niggled me – I found it difficult to accept that she did it through fear, and as I worked with the story, preparing to tell it, I suddenly understood: the princess agreed because she didn’t think for one moment that an explanation would ever be needed! After all, she had always been a princess and where she came from, everyone had known who she was. And she fully expected it to be the case when she and the cunning maid arrived at the new kingdom.

What a shock for her to realise that mostly people tend only to see one’s surface, to note only symbols and signs; they do not see beyond what is presented to them. One cannot hide one’s true self and hope to be discovered. Even the King, more perceptive than the others, needed to have the truth told to him, to be given the full story.

To reach our desires, our goals, the life we secretly want for ourselves, we must speak our truth. And like the King with his ear pressed to the stove pipe, we must listen well, and we must hear it.

The Goose Girl by Margaret Evans Price
The Goose Girl by Margaret Evans Price

Seven Tips for Initiating Change: Inspiring Sharing and Community… The story of Stone Soup



Once upon a time, deep in the woods, an old woman went walking; she wasn’t lost, but she had wandered far from her friends and family and home, she had nowhere particular to go. She hadn’t eaten for many days and she was very hungry. After some time, she came to a village. She knocked at the first house she saw. A woman opened the door.

“Please may I have something to eat?” the old woman begged.

“Food?” snarled the villager. “We’re all starving here, didn’t you know? We haven’t enough food for our own families! Go away!”

The old woman went to the next house.

“We have too little to give any away,” a man told her sadly.

“We need the little we have,” said a young farmer and his wife.

One by one, the villagers shut their doors on the old woman, but she just nodded and headed back into the woods.

Under the great trees she gathered sticks, branches and some logs and staggered back with them to the village square, where she built a big strong fire. From under her cloak she brought out a cooking pot and filled it with water at the village fountain and set the pot on the fire. A little boy called Ralph stopped to watch. As the water started to boil he saw the old woman reach deep into the pocket of her skirt and bring out…a stone. Smooth and round and polished. She dropped it into the pot. Splosh! Ralph crept closer. The old woman stirred the pot and sniffed and nodded. She tasted a few drops and smiled.

“What are you doing?” Ralph asked.

“Making stone soup of course,” replied the old woman.

“What’s that?”

“It’s delicious, that’s what.”

The old woman tasted a few more drops. Ralph’s mouth watered and his empty little tummy rumbled.

“But you know…” said the old woman.  “…it would taste so much nicer with just a little onion…”

“We’ve got an onion at home!” Ralph cried and raced off back to his house.

“Wonderful!” the old woman said and took out her knife.

Chip, chop, choppetty chop,

Cut off the bottom and cut off the top

Chop up the middle and into the pot!


In went the onion. The pot bubbled. The old woman stirred and Ralph watched. And one by one, the villagers came out of their houses to see what was going on. They smelled the faint oniony smell in the air and their mouths watered, their stomachs rumbled. The old woman tasted the soup again.

“Lovely,” she declared. “But it needs a touch of something more, just a little…”

“I’ve got a cabbage, if you want,” offered the woman from the first house. “It’s not big enough for much. You might as well have it.”

“I’ve got a few carrots you can have,” added a man.

“I have some potatoes,” a young woman said.

Everyone else joined in:

“I’ve got peas!”

“We have parsnips!”

“A little barley, perhaps?”






People rushed to bring out their offerings. Soon a rich hearty broth bubbled in the pot.

“Go and get your bowls and spoons,” the old woman called.

She ladled out soup and kept on going until everyone had eaten their fill. People sat back, talking and laughing, for the first time in months forgetting their troubles. The children played peacefully, not hungry for once. Meanwhile, the old woman took out her stone and washed it at the pump. She cleaned the cooking pot and her utensils, tucked them under her cloak and started up the road out of the village. The villagers ran after her.

“Don’t go! Please stay!” they pleaded. “You’ve brought us luck!”

“But you have everything you need now,” the old woman replied. “And over the mountains there’s another village, I hear, where no one knows how to make Stone Soup.”

And with that she went on her way.  (As retold by Amanthi.)

Seven tips for initiating change as learned from Stone Soup:

1. If nobody appears interested in your idea, start doing it anyway

One by one, the villagers shut their doors on the old woman, but she just nodded and headed back into the woods.

2. Do it with purpose;

Under the great trees she gathered sticks, branches and some logs and staggered back with them

3. Do it in public

… to the village square

 4. Do it well.

…where she built a big strong fire.

5. Tell people about it.

“What are you doing?” Ralph asked.

“Making stone soup of course,” replied the old woman

 6. Sing its praises.

“Lovely,” she declared.

7. Suggest ways in which others might help.

“But it needs a touch of something more…”

Happy cooking!


Stone Soup – storytelling in Oxleas Wood

Oxleas Wood

We went walking in Oxleas Woods, parents and children from my daughter’s school, some younger brothers and sisters, babies, a little dog. When it was time to rest, we shared biscuits and fruit; a dad made giant bubbles that wobbled and floated off glinting among the great trees. I told the story of Stone Soup, my one  prop a favourite stone.stone for Stone Soup


The beautiful woods created the perfect hush as the little old woman came hunched and small and hungry, searching for a village where she might ask for food…

During our walk through the woods I’d asked the children to find one object to add to the ‘cooking pot’. When it came to their turn, they made fantastic villagers, gleefully dropping acorn pumpkins, leaf carrots and pebble onions into the soup! They slipped easily into the world of the story, the transition between real and imagined seeming effortless to them!

stone soup

Weekend in Pevensey Bay

Pevensey Bay

Early morning fierce sun, soft winds, blue sea against a pale pebble beach; old friends chatting on the terrace sipping tea, the children playing, distant, released: the perfect lull.

Pevensey BayPevensey BayPevensey BayPevensey Bay

“Jonna had a happy habit of waking each morning as if to a new life, which stretched before her straight through to evening, clean untouched, rarely shadowed by yesterday’s worries and mistakes.”

from ‘Fair Play’ Tove Jansson

Pevensey Bay

After weeks of trying to create, to improve, to begin, to complete, it feels good just to stop and give in, to simply sit back and see.





Making stories is … a walk in the woods together.

raft of sticks for a story

Manaccan - woods

Yesterday we walked in the woods, my daughter and I, she talking of a princess who lived in a tree with her mother, me looking for sticks for making a dolls raft later. We were both busy with our ideas and impressions, each occupied in their own way, yet we were together.

We showed each other things we’d seen: she, a ‘door’ in a tree that led to the ‘tree palace’, me, a branch with good joins and curves for whittling. We were both stilled and calmer than we are indoors, surrounded by the tangled green of the woods, the sound of a stream, the singing of birds, and absorbed in carefully making our own way over the uneven ground, yet we walked hand in hand. I felt her small gloved hand in mine, her strong bony fingers curled tight around my hand, and we were perfectly lost in our own thoughts but never alone.

This is what good story making feels like, being in the woods together.

Manaccan, Cornwall, the woods

Manaccan, Cornwall, the woods



Bodging in the Woods

Daddy and daughter bodging Gipsy Flowers during a day in the woods


At Trelissick Gardens we spent a day in the woods with Dave Hart the resident bodger .


A bodger is someone who works with green, unseasoned wood, scented and soft to work with.




woody flowers

Traditionally, a bodger would set up camp in the woods in the summer months, making his own equipment and turning chair legs to sell to carpenters for stools and chairs.


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Afterwards I couldn’t stop whittling! So peaceful and absorbing, finding a shape, working a way around and through the knots and quirks, seeing a new form take shape…