Creating The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord

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I am often asked by children, parents and teachers what made me think up the ideas for my books. Many of the ideas for my picture books seem to have come out of small experiences in my life that I have wanted to reflect upon and then the wish to turn part of these memory glimpses into fantasy stories for children. My father has a loose connection with some of the stories I’ve done: with his advice as to how to get rid of wasps at picnics (for The Giant Jam Sandwich); the fact that I was too scared to tell him that I had lost one of my new roller-skates when I was a boy at school (for Mr Ellwood’s chase in The Runaway Roller-skate); and his annoyance at his next door neighbour for chucking snails over the garden wall (for the exploits of Mr Mead and his Garden).

I am describing here the background and evolution of events that led to the publication of The Giant Jam Sandwich, as this will probably be the most familiar of my children’s books. The story tells how a village called Itching Down is invaded by wasps one hot summer and of the residents’ efforts to rid themselves of their unwelcome guests by baking a huge loaf and spreading a slice of it with jam. As the wasps begin to gorge themselves on the strawberry jam, a second slice of bread is dropped on top of them from a great height (with the aid of helicopters and a flying tractor) and squashes flat most of the wasps, trapping them inside the sandwich. While all the villagers rejoice in a celebration, the wasp-filled sandwich is finally taken out to sea by hundreds of crows for the rest of the birds to feast upon.

The idea for this story was prompted by an event, which took place during an August holiday in Devon. My family was staying at a fairly remote farmhouse in Milton Damerel with a couple of friends who had two young boys, Alexander and Jonathan, aged five and three years. These young lads were terrified by wasps and, whenever there was a buzzing sound about the dining table or picnic cloth, they would squeal with alarm until the offending insects were removed from the scene.

One afternoon, during a walk across the fields, Alexander started to scream and shout because a wasp insisted on hovering continually about him. In order to quell his anxiety and divert his attention I settled the two boys and our three girls on the grass and, on the spur of the moment, proceeded to invent the bare bones of the story of what came to be The Giant Jam Sandwich.

wasp-and-jamThe germ of the idea must have sprung from my own childhood memory of my father’s habit of placing a slice of jam-covered crust some distance away from where we were picnicking in order to encourage aggravating wasps away from our food. My father was a baker, who had a bakery and cafe in Glossop in Derbyshire and you can see his old shop at the end of the book when the villagers are dancing. In the book my father can be seen in his familiar white coat, puffing upon his pipe and standing at the door of ‘Bert’s Cafe’.  I spent many hours working in his bake house on Saturdays and during the vacation period when I was an art student and I can remember hurling lumps of discarded dough at any wasp that dared to venture in and hover about the white tiled walls.

Over the years I have often received letters from children. On the first page of the book we can see the wasps swarming towards the village; ‘four million’ of them it states in the text. I once had a letter from a classroom of school children asking me why I had not drawn all the four million wasps as stated in the text. I wrote back saying that it took me on average about 45 seconds to draw a single wasp and I suggested that they should work out how long it would have taken me to draw all four million wasps. The answer is 180 million seconds, or 3 million minutes, or 50 thousand hours, or 2,083 days, making it nearly five years and nine months (if you were working on it 24 hours a day!).

John Vernon Lord originally presented this article as a case study at Bookquest in 1984; it was re-produced in ‘An author’s view: John Vernon Lord talking about picture books’ published in Reflections on Early Reading by Collins in 1990 and updated for a paper presented in Barcelona in 1999.

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The Giant Jam Sandwich opens as a half term treat in association with Derby LIVE at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre on Saturday 11 February with performances daily at 11am and 2.30pm through to Saturday 18 February – you can book tickets here.

The production moves to Polka Theatre, Wimbledon, followed by tour dates around the country through to Saturday 25 March – you can see a full list of performance dates with booking links by clicking here.

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John Vernon Lord is an author, illustrator and teacher. His children’s books have been published widely and translated into several languages. His picture book The Giant Jam Sandwich has become a classic, having been in print for over forty-four years. His career in education includes being head of various departments and schools during his many years teaching at Brighton. He was Professor of Illustration at the University of Brighton 1986-99, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He was the chair of the Graphic Design Board of the Council for National Academic Awards 1981-84. He is allergic to wasps!

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Charlie’s ‘Oh Whistle’ Work Experience

On 17th October, Charlie Harris, a yr. 11 student from Toot Hill School, joined us for a week of work experience. He arrived at an exciting time, having just started rehearsals for Oh Whistle, And I’ll Come To You. Charlie was in a unique position, joining the team of creatives helping to build the show; he has written about his time with the team, and what he learned.

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“My time at New Perspectives Theatre Company was fun and interactive in a multitude of ways; each one I enjoyed more than the last. I started my week by joining the cast and crew for a read through of the script for their new show Oh Whistle, And I’ll Come To You. By the end of the read through I felt confused about the script and what it meant but with the help of the director and actors I quickly managed to overcome this and to gain a thorough understanding of the themes and meaning. In the afternoon, after a lovely and engaging lunch where I had an opportunity to chat with the actors and to learn more about life as an actor, we researched the life of the author of the original short story – a man called M. R. James. We learnt about his childhood and why he began to write short stories, after this we thought of some questions we had about the script and tried to pool our knowledge and answer them ourselves; often this could not be done so we resorted to sending off some questions to the author of the script, David Rudkin.

During the next day David had replied with answers to the questions we sent him so we all read through his notes, learning a lot as we went. After this we read through the original short story authored by M. R. James, giving us all an extra level of understanding of the script and a deeper insight into the reasons why James wrote the story. However, it also created a few more problems for us, such as understanding the philosophy referenced in the script, this included trying to decipher the meaning (and pronunciation!) of the words ‘identity’, ‘ostension’ and ‘hypostasis’!

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(L-R) Actors Jack Wilkinson and Mark Jardine in rehearsals

For the next three days we got into the bit which I enjoyed the most: we started to block through the script and started acting which, as an aspiring actor myself, really helped me understand some of the fundamentals of acting but also some more complex techniques. I really felt at home and a member of the company at this point as I was able to fully voice my opinion and thoughts on every scene. Also even though I was not acting, just by watching the two actors at work I learned so much and was able to progress my skills by leaps and bounds.

During my time at New Perspectives I felt at home and valued; it was such a nice space to work in and to be in. Even though I was just there for work experience everyone accepted me as if I was a permanent member of the team. I enjoyed the experience immensely and learnt so much and for that I am very thankful to the theatre for allowing me to join them.”

New Perspectives is hosting a Rehearsal Lunch on Saturday 5th November, 12.15 – 2pm, giving everyone the opportunity to have their own behind-the-scenes creative experience.  We invite you to observe a rehearsal session, followed by a continental buffet lunch with the director and cast. Learn more about the event and book your place online, or contact Claudia on 0115 973 9123 or claudia@newperspectives.co.uk.

In the Shadow of Orgreave by Martin Miller

And so it’s all over bar the shouting. After 4 weeks of intensive work on John Harvey’s excellent stage adaptation of his final Charlie Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, we now leave the relative safety of the New Perspectives rehearsal room in Basford and move into the Nottingham Playhouse from next week to start the technical and dress rehearsals for what will be the next show of the Sweet Vengeance season. If anything, this is where all the hard work needs to come together. The actors need to adjust their performances from the intimacy of the rehearsal room to the theatrical space without losing any of the subtleties and truth of their characterisations that have been developed through the rehearsal process (so rule one: don’t panic, rule two: don’t start shouting). Our hardworking technical crew including Kathryn Wilson (Deputy Stage Manager), Drew Baumhol (Sound Designer), Azusa Ono (Lighting Designer), Ruth Sutcliffe (Set Designer) amongst many others will be collaborating with our director Jack McNamara to bring the world of the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike and Harvey’s CWA Dagger award – winning Detective Charlie Resnick seamlessly to life, and from Friday 30th September audiences will see the finished product.

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Actors Emma Thornett & Martin Miller in rehearsals

I have been impressed throughout this process by the collaboration between Jack McNamara and John Harvey. It is rare for directors and writers to cooperate so effectively. I worked with Jack on a previous New Perspectives play about Alfred Hitchcock and he has a strong sense of how to engage with a piece visually, almost filmically, and in collaboration with our Video Designer, Will Simpson, audiences will find themselves transported to the heart of a mining community bitterly divided by the strike, and of a murder investigation 30 years later which threatens to open these divisions once more. Harvey’s skill has been in not only placing Resnick front and centre of this action in the theatrical space, but also in bringing the world of this torn mining community to life. One could argue that the work is even more politically charged and relevant today with the recent announcement of an inquiry into the events at ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ . Harvey’s play explicitly references Orgreave and its aftermath, indeed Resnick finds himself conflicted by the police conduct on that day, and we see the casual brutality of the Met. The recent inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster laid bare the failings of South Yorkshire police and the Hillsborough families had to fight courageously and persistently for years to get any semblance of justice. The Orgreave families have had an even longer wait. Indeed, post-Brexit result, it appeared the issue could conceivably be dropped from the government agenda altogether. How can one even begin to disentangle the bloody events at Orgreave, of systematic and systemic state and police collusion, the very worst example and excess of what Tristram Hunt MP called ‘legalised state violence’?

Over thirty years on, the events of the Miners’ Strike still divide communities and we see in the play how these divisions are just as raw today. All of this plus at the heart of the play we see the dogged determination of Charlie Resnick to solve one last murder case before his impending retirement. John Harvey first created his famous Nottingham Detective back in 1988 and I am confident that with the team Jack McNamara has put together and the strong collaboration between cast, production team, director and author that we can do it justice. As we head into our final rehearsal week, John Harvey’s beloved Notts County have just beaten Leyton Orient 3 – 1. Surely a good omen? Hope to see all you Resnick afficionados in the theatre bar afterwards for a drop of Highland Park. “No sense arguing, Resnick raised his glass and drank…”.

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David Fleeshman as Charlie Resnick in rehearsals

Darkness, Darkness opens at the Nottingham Playhouse Friday 30 September until Saturday 15 October. Tickets available from the Nottingham Playhouse website and at their Box Office on 0115 9419419.

Shedding Light on Darkness, Darkness by Elizabeth Twells

I was born and bred in Nottingham, and for my first play in Notts to be John Harvey’s Darkness, Darkness with both New Perspectives and Nottingham Playhouse, is a real privilege as it’s a very personal story for me and my home town.

Set in Nottingham, the play focuses on Detective Charlie Resnick’s last case following the discovery of the body of my character, Jenny Hardwick; a young woman who disappeared during the bitterly-fought miners’ strike 30 years earlier. It moves between both 1984 and present day, opening old wounds sustained on the Nottinghamshire picket lines for many characters.

I was born after the miners’ strike and my first experience of it was seeing footage released of The Battle of Orgreave years after the strike had finished and thinking ‘that can’t be real’.

orgreaveOrgreave 29th May 1984

Only recently I found out I had a connection with the strike through my Mum. I always thought that Nottingham miners had gone on strike, but only a very small percentage actually joined the pickets, the vast majority had continued to go to work. My Nanna mentioned that when she went away to Yorkshire during the strike she was told not to say she was from Notts because we were a ‘scabbing’ city.

Our play shows both sides of the strike; the miners who kept working and those that went on strike, including the flying pickets who came down to Nottingham from Yorkshire to persuade the men to stay away from work.

My character, Jenny, is married to a miner and chooses to go against her ‘scabbin’ husband to join those on the picket line, creating a huge rift in their relationship. Jenny is the kind of part you dream to play in that she’s not your average young female role. She’s a sparky, unpredictable, driven woman who is politically awakened throughout the play.

During rehearsals Harry Paterson, who wrote Look Back in Anger: The Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire, came in to speak to us about what the strike was like in Nottingham. He told us how the strike galvanised many women, who were used to building their lives around their home, to suddenly become independent, ambitious activists. These women then went on to attend University, become leaders and MPs, the likes of which they never thought would happen to them. Jenny represents those women and her journey through the play encapsulates that liberation.

The cast are a bloody brilliant bunch and Jack McNamara (the director) has established a very fun and creative environment in rehearsals for people to explore, play and take risks. Today we’ve been working on ‘the murder’ scene which is going to be so exciting. I’ve definitely come up with a few daft ideas which, thankfully, you won’t see!

liz-twellsBeing very serious in rehearsals…

I was sat in the Nottingham Playhouse the night I decided I wanted to be an actor and being able to finally tread the boards in there is a real honour. Plus, the whole family’s coming too so the pressure’s on…

Please come and see us so it’s not just me Dad in every night.

Darkness, Darkness is on at the Nottingham Play Fri 30 Sep – Sat 15 October. Tickets are available from the Playhouse website or at their Box Office on 0115 941 9419.

THEATRE IS…

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IMG_20160520_121904Over May and June Nottingham city was even more alive than usual with arts and theatre, as it hosted both NEAT’16 and FONT Festival. We thought there was no better time than now to release issue #2 of New Perspectives NPZine! With a theme of ‘Theatre Is…’, we got in touch with as many East Midlands (and beyond) creatives as we could to ask them ‘What is Theatre?’ With the responses we gathered, we created NPZine #2, which can be found around the city now, in arts venues and various Notts haunts.

Our #TheatreIs project doesn’t end on the page however; we have taken to cyberspace to encourage more people to tell us their #TheatreIs. Because Theatre Is For Everyone. If you would like to contribute then you can tweet your #TheatreIs to @NPtheatre, write to us on Facebook or email us at info@newperspectives.co.uk. We will add it to our ever-growing list of illuminating reponses.

THEATRE IS…

… the moment when you start to listen to the couple at the next table.

(Jack McNamara, Artistic Director, New Perspectives)

… the construction of elaborate lies, in real time, that work to tell the truth about who, what, and why we are.

(Inua Ellams, Spoken Word Artist)

… the excitement of learning about ourselves, our world and how to change it for the better!

(Edward Boott, Artistic Director, Nonsuch Theatre)

… an infinity of ‘what ifs?’

(Hilary Spiers, Writer)

… hearing for the first time something that you have routinely witnessed previously …. and vice versa.

(Tim Elgood, Writer)

… a window into a play space.

(Will Drew, Associate Dramaturg, New Perspectives)

… the world and the stage and everything in between.

(Sam Thorne, Director, Nottingham Contemporary)

… a roomful of mostly strangers gathered to play.

(Tassos Stevens, Director, Coney)

… a brief cessation in the rhythms of everyday life wherein one world drops away and another – with all its intricacies of speech and movement – is briefly brought into being.

(Philip Jones, Founder of Words For Walls)

… a direct engagement in other lives, experiences and emotions – making us challenge our perceptions and attitudes in ways that both inspire and move us – it can uplift or shake us to the core.

(Michaela Butter, Director, Attenborough Arts Centre)

… a way to animate our story telling and inspire children and families to read more.

(Peter Gaw, Chief Executive Officer, Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries)

… Connection.

(Sarah Brigham, Artistic Director, Derby Theatre)

… where freedom, and fires, start.

(Henderson Mullins, Chief Executive, Writing East Midlands)

… life – life is theatre, Long live life and long live theatre.

(Sharon Scaniglia, Principal Arts Officer, Nottingham City Council)

… bloody difficult!

(John Harvey, Writer)

… a window and a mirror.

(Amanda Whittington, Writer)

… the inside life of humans acted out on stage so we can hopefully better understand ourselves – our drives, motivations and emotions.

(Rachel McGrath, Deputy Chief Executive, Northamptonshire Community Foundation)

… my teacher, my amusement, my challenger and my solace.

(Barbara Matthews, Pro Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities, De Montfort University, Leicester)

… a way of asking in public the questions we don’t know are worrying us.

(François Matarasso, Writer, Researcher, Consultant)

… an A-Z of life. Theatre is an alphabet of emotion. Theatre is a time machine. Time, like space, is pliable in performance and words and actions can rewrite it.

(Michael Pinchbeck, Writer)

… anything you want it to be.

(David Longford, Creative Learning Manager, Nottingham Theatre Royal and Concert Hall)

… magic.

(Emma Pegg, Set Designer)

… indestructible and always will be.

(Martin Berry, Artistic Director, New Street Theatre)

… at the heart of my world!

(Mark Humphreys, Managing Director, Magna Vitae)

… exciting and challenging experiences, potentially changing your view of the world.

(Gerard Rogers, New Perspectives Trustee, Volunteer Promoter)

… a place where I feel alive, where for the time I’m onstage I forget everything else, all the worries that normally course through my head are distinguished and something electric takes over.

(Hannah Stone, Artistic Director, The Gramophones)

… all about people coming together to think, feel and share, to experience imagined worlds and change the real one into something better.

(Ben Spiller, Artistic Director, 1623 Theatre Company)

… an alchemy which transcends culture, age, language and reason, creating a momentary community, which never forgets.

(Imogen Joyce, Writer)

… a living mirror and a collaborative conversation which tries to suss out what it all means; which fails; which tries again, ad infinitum.

(Ollie Smith, Theatre Maker, LaPelle’s Factory)

… like your first experience of falling in love and heartbreak – all consuming, full of feelings, intimate, private and yet completely public and common.

(Natalie Ibu, Director, Tiata Fahodzi)

… is one of the rare opportunities available to us nowadays when we can stop being customer and provider of services and come together as a community of something more, citizens.

(Alan Lane, Artistic Director, Slung Low)

… transportation from the hum-drum of everyday life to be challenged, enchanted or, simply, entertained.

(Susan Rowe, Trustee, New Perspectives Theatre Company)

… lives you may recognise, or have never imagined; theatre draws you into new worlds. It can make you laugh, cry, think, and dream.

(Jennie Jordan, Senior Lecturer, School of Arts, De Montfort University)

… able to connect you closely with others in other times in real time in a different space.  Each performance is unique.

(Lady Diana Meale, Labour Councillor for Mansfield West)

… live. Theatre is skill, and embodied energy, and the sharing of ideas both big and small. Theatre is the indrawn breath of anticipation and the shared whoop of applause.

(Dr Jo Robinson, Associate Professor in Drama and Performance, University of Nottingham)

… an adventure for your mind.

(Gordon Fleming, Treasurer, New Perspectives Theatre Company)

… the freedom to escape for a bit.

(Katie Redford, Writer)

… story-telling writ large and can only take shape, to move, amuse, make angry, make sad, as a shared experience.

(Robert Sanderson, Managing Director, Nottingham Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall)

… one of the few things left in this world that brings people together in the same space, to share something with each other.

(Ruby Glaskin, Creative Producer, InGood Company, Derby Theatre)

… the cosiest place to have your brain poked.

(Nic Harvey, Director, The Television Workshop)

… entertaining, thrilling and challenging and, at its best, allows us to walk in other people’s shoes and experience their lives.

(Jane Morgan, Trustee, New Perspectives Theatre Company)

… a performance that can only be seen live and in the flesh and can only work in that environment, not on TV or film.

(Andy Dawson, Manager County Youth Arts, Inspire)

… a way for children to express themselves and explore ideas in a creative way.

(Rachel Grafton, Year 1 Teacher, Westglade Primary School)

…  the word that sports commentators reach for when things get really exciting.

(Andy Barrett, Writer)

… putting on a red sparkly thong.

(Martin Miller, Actor)

… a tupperware box full of stories that we’ll never find a matching lid for.

(Jayne Williams, Unanima)

… for the audience, all communities great and small.

(Sally Anne Tye, Executive Director, New Perspectives/Northants Touring Arts)