Flying High! wins ‘Excellence in Writing’ award

I was in the stunning setting of York Minster last Thursday night, along with many hundreds of other people from the creative scene in York. We were gathered for the second annual York Culture Awards, celebrating cultural achievements in York.

I was shortlisted in the ‘Excellence in Writing’ category for my book Flying High! Discover the poetry in British birds, and I’m thrilled to be able to say that I won!

Photo taken by Paula Duck

I’m particularly thrilled as the award I was given is absolutely stunning. It’s been created by craftsmen at York Minster from a 14th-century roof beam from the North transept of the Minster (where our ceremony was being held). Priceless!

It looks like it’s charred around the edges, so I’m assuming it was removed from the roof as a result of a fire. I’ll have to find out more!

The whole evening was a great celebration of York’s cultural vitality and variety, and included, in addition to the announcement of the award winners, performances from local choirs. A highlight for me was the sublime performance by the Ebor Singers, in the Chapter House, of Sleep by Eric Whitacre.

I’d like to thank all those involved in the award, including the judges, MakeItYork, and the sponsors of my particular category, RED Publications, who said of my book:

Described as ‘poetry meets ornithology’, Flying High! is a gorgeous guide to British birds for children (and grown ups) mixing up entertaining poems, science facts and amazing feathery photos.

Andy said: “Anneliese’s award was well deserved – Flying High! is a brilliant book for getting youngsters interested in wildlife. We were delighted to be involved in this year’s York Culture Awards – it’s great to be able to help shine a light on our local creative talent here in York.

“Well done Anneliese – and congratulations to all the winners!”

Congratulations to all the winners indeed. You can see them below, and find out more about them here. ( You’ll see that the York Festival of Ideas won the award for ‘Best Cultural Event or Festival’. As it happens, Flying High! was launched at that very festival!)

Winners of the York Culture Awards 2017. (Photo by Paula Duck)

At the end of the ceremony I was nabbed by Kay Hyde, from MakeItYork, who asked me if I’d like to go on Radio York the next day to talk about the ceremony and my award. Seemed like a good idea to me, so I blithely said ‘Yes’. Only to discover that they wanted me there at 7.30 the next morning!

This is what I sound like when I’m interviewed (by Joanita Musisi) at 7.30am the morning after the night before:

Big thanks to my publishers, Brambleby Books, Flying High!’s designer, Tanya Warren of Creatix Design, Prof. Sir John Lawton for supporting the project by writing the Foreword, and all the talented photographers whose stunning photos appear in the book.

If you’ve yet to get a hands on the book, you can order a signed copy here, dedicated to you! I hope you enjoy it!

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life

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Youth Theatre flies high!

The ginormous invitation (taller than I am!) from Project B

In my recent podcast, recorded at the Ledbury Poetry Salon, I talked about how the poems in my two books (Buzzing! and Flying High!) can help children develop empathy by enabling them to see the world through other creatures’ eyes.

Last Saturday I had the privilege of seeing that put into action in an extraordinary way by the members of York Theatre Royal’s Project B Youth Theatre group, led by Catherine Heinemeyer. Under Catherine’s tutelage, the 5- to 8-year-old children in Project B didn’t just see the world through other creatures’ eyes, they experienced the world as other creatures. They became those other creatures.

And in exploring others’ emotions and behaviours, they were, of course, being able to explore their own too.

Let me explain.

Catherine decided to devote this term to birds, specifically through a selection of the poems in my new book Flying High! Discover the poetry in British birds. I was sent a stonking invitation (taller than I am!) created by the members of Project B, to come to their end-of-term sharing, where they were going to perform for their parents. And where I joined in too.

In their sharing, the children acted out the contrasting behaviours of Starlings – now scrapping with each other, now swirling round elegantly all together as a mass murmuration – to my Starling poem called ‘Startling’.

They divided into (posh) Great-crested Grebes and (common-as-muck) ducks and performed my ‘Different Strokes’ poem.

As I performed my poem about a Blackbird building a nest, they built their own nest together:

Project B children sitting in the nest they'd created

Project B children sitting in the nest they built

And then, as we all joined in with my poem about a Blue tit leaving its nest, they experimented with leaving their safe, cosy nest (or not!):

Project B children leaving their cosy nest (or not!)

Project B children leaving their cosy nest (or preferring to stay put!)

In my podcast, I also talk about the importance of rhythmic rhyming poetry for developing children’s language and broadening their vocabulary. You can hear this in action in this clip of the Project B children reciting, along with me, my courting pigeon poem:

(The footsteps you can hear in the background are them pattering around as pigeons, trying to attract a mate.)

I was entranced by the use Catherine and Project B made of the material in my book, and hope others will use it in similar ways too. It’s always a complete joy to me when children read out my poems. But watching them performing the poems and exploring the different behaviours and emotions in them like this was remarkable. And very moving.

Catherine described my taking part in the session as ‘a real 360 degree experience’ for the children. It was for me too!

With Project B after the sharing

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life

Bumblebee Conservation Trust AGM 2017

The last time I saw Gill Perkins was in 2012. We were attending the launch of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Bees for Everyone campaign in London. Gill had organised the launch. I had been commissioned to perform at it.

With Gill Perkins, who organised the London launch of Bees for Everyone

With Gill Perkins, who organised the London launch of the BBCT’s Bees for Everyone

Fast forward five years, and Gill is now the Head Honcho of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which this year held its AGM in my home town of York. Gill was Head Honcho-ing the AGM, and I was performing at it. So our paths crossed again.

With Gil Perkins, BBCT CEO, at the BBCT 2017 AGM in York

With Gill Perkins, BBCT CEO, at the BBCT 2017 AGM in York

What I take from these two encounters (apart from the fact that my hair has grown more than hers in the interim) is that wardrobe-wise, Gill and I seem to have an uncanny knack of choosing similar colours/degrees of stripy-ness for BBCT events.

More importantly, what I take from these two encounters is how wonderful Gill, and all the BBCT staff, are. If you’re not already a member of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, then why not?! Join here and now! They are a fabulous organisation doing vital work – innovatively and with passion. And they are small enough for individuals (both staff and members) to matter and count. Something that was very evident at the AGM.

Now perhaps your heart leaps at the prospect of attending an AGM, but when I think ‘AGM’, the first words that come to my mind are: ‘dull as dishwater’. What I hadn’t realised is that the BBCT AGM is actually more of a Members’ Day, packed with fascinating talks about BBCT research and projects. Oh, and this year, a performance from yours truly too.

On the one hand, the decline in bumblebee numbers – as outlined/alluded to/quantified by speaker after speaker – is deeply depressing and worrying. But on the other hand, the work the BBCT is doing to try to remedy this, with farmers/landowners, school children, members of the public and policymakers, is very inspiring. I was particularly taken with their ‘polli:lab’ project, which will take bumblebee science into secondary schools. I wish a polli:lab had visited my school when I was a lass!

Speakers at the event were: Prof. Pete Hollingsworth, Gill Perkins, Dr Richard Comont, Sally Cuckney (doing fabulous work Pollinating the Peak), Helen Dickinson, Dr Kate Ashbrook, Sinead Lynch, Lucy Witter, Hope Moran, Steven Falk, Judith Conroy (check out their fabulous Blooms for Bees app) and Stuart Roberts. Particularly inspiring were the young student speakers. Hope for the future!

Whether I was inspiring or not is not for me to say. However, I can say that my poetic interlude provided a slight change in tone. Here’s a snippet of what I got up to:

That poem is from my Buzzing! book, that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust wrote the Foreword to. As is this poem, too (though replace the word ‘hive’ with ‘nest’ – a slip of the tongue in the heat of the moment):

Thank you to award-winning BBCT volunteer Dylan for manning my camcorder for these clips. And to Gill for joining in the show.

So, go forth and join the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (who, incidentally, wrote the Foreword to my book Buzzing!) They are doing vitally important work – and they want you to join in with it. Your life will be enriched as a result!

Oh, and if you’d like me to come and perform at your AGM (I have form when it comes to AGMs …) or other event, then just get in touch!

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life

Tang Hall Family Festival

There was lots – and I mean lots – going on at the Tang Hall Family Festival in York yesterday. It was spread over three sites – Tang Hall Community Centre, St Nicks and Hull Road Park. And it was all free.

I got to two of the three sites. Here are some snaps to give you a flavour of what was going on at the Tang Hall Community Centre site, where I was leading story-telling sessions.

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What did I get up to there? Well, I led a story-telling/poetry quest, in which Prince Dennis of Tanghallia explored his kingdom and successfully fulfilled his mission, thus becoming King Dennis of Tanghallia.

And then I welcomed princesses into the golden palace of Tanghallia, where they rode on unicorns and sang songs in praise of Tanghallia. (It may have looked to you as if we were in a yellow gazebo standing on beanbag cubes, but that just shows how little imagination you have!) (By the way, you may remember those beanbag cubes from my visit to Tang Hall Community Centre last December, during which they became sledges and snowballs and pyramids.)

And then those same princesses shed their royal connections and created a story in which we all flew (using our magic powers, natch) to Africa, where we went on an adventure to catch a venomous snake.

I learned last time I was at Tang Hall that the children have amazing amounts of imagination and creative energy, and it was a great pleasure to encourage them to put these into action again on this occasion.

Then, just as I was leaving the site to go home, two children came up to me and asked me to perform some poems for them. How could I refuse? To start with they each chose one of my Buzzing! photos, and I performed the poem that went with each one. But have I mentioned how creative the children round these parts are? When they chose their third photo (a caterpillar), I was about to start performing my caterpillar poem, when they decided – quite rightly – that they could do just as good a job themselves. So there and then, they wrote – and then performed – a caterpillar poem of their own. Which went like this:

My spikes are so hairy
They’re big and they’re scary
And people are frightened of me
I change my ways
And how I behave
And crawl from tree to tree.

By Maisie and Nathan, both aged 10

Owzat?!

Thank you to Tang Hall Big Local for inviting me to be part of this Family Festival, and to Tang Hall Community Centre Manager Stephen Collins for letting me use his wonderful beanbag cubes again.

A big thank you, too, to all the fabulously enthusiastic festival-goers who welcomed me back to Tang Hall Community Centre so warmly, and who joined in my events yesterday.

The icing on the cake for me was that I discovered that up on the wall in the Community Centre lounge are two beautifully framed photos taken during my December story-telling workshops. I was absolutely thrilled to see them there.

A participant in my December 2016 Tang Hall story-telling workshops.

One of the photos from my December 2016 Tang Hall story-telling workshops that’s now gracing the walls of the Community Centre.

So, that’s a brief run-down of the Tang Hall Community Centre part of this 3-venue festival. (Though I forgot to mention the belly dancers, the bouncy castle, the ukelele players, the face painter, the pizza making, the ice lollies, the virtual reality headset, and … and … and!) I also looked in at the St Nicks part of the festival yesterday too. But I’ll tell you about that another time.

Meanwhile, if you live down Tang Hall way, do keep tabs on all the great activities that Tang Hall Big Local puts on.

STOP PRESS: And for a video of the Family Festival events, see

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life

Ecotherapy at St Nicks

I put on a poetry-writing session with the Ecotherapy ‘Connect to Nature with Creative Writing’ Group at St Nicks in York last week. They wanted me to begin my session with a few of my own poems. This is one that I thought apt:

Then we started our workshop proper.

I was bowled over by the quality of work the participants came up with. It far exceeded my expectations. I’d like to thank all the members of the group for letting me come and join them, and for sharing their thoughts and words and imaginations with me.

I was there as part of a project to … ah, well, that would be telling. More about that later!

Meanwhile, I had some lovely words back from participants and organisers of the group:

‘Thank you so much Anneliese, your workshop was so lively, fun and well organised, thank you. ‘

‘The poetry workshop was excellent… The feedback I have received today from group members was very positive – saying that they were very pleased with the outcome and … enjoyed getting involved and felt very pleased they had participated.’

I was very pleased to have participated too.

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life

Tang Hall Big Local

This might look to you like a jumble of beanbag cubes for sitting on.

The new seat cubes at Tang Hall Community Centre

The new beanbag seats at Tang Hall Community Centre

Indeed, that’s what Tang Hall Community Centre Manager Stephen Collins bought them as. However, on their first outing (at the Tang Hall Big Local Festive Make & Take day on Saturday), the children in my storytelling sessions saw them rather differently.

These cubes became sledges to toboggan on, they became snowballs to build into tall snowmen, they became the building blocks of castles and of pyramids and … and … and … .

Oh the joy of creative, imaginative play! In this instance, creative, imaginative, language-rich play. Initially, the children were inspired to build things that featured in the rhyming stories I was performing for them. However, it soon became apparent that these children were more than capable of creating rhyming stories themselves, inspired by the things they were creating with the cubes.

Some of the children who created and performed story poems at the Tang Hall Big Local Festive Make & Take day.

Some of the children who created and performed story poems at the Tang Hall Big Local Festive Make & Take day..

After a momentous battle fought between the occupants of two rival (cube-built) castles, the children wrote an epic poem they called The Battle of Slew (a saga to rival the Icelandic sagas!) Which they then performed to an audience they rounded up themselves.

I was so impressed with these children’s creativity. With their ability to get on with each other. (This was a drop-in session that any children of any age could take part in.) With their imagination. With their vocabulary. With their enthusaism. With their performing skills. And what was great was that Tang Hall gave us the flexibility to go with the flow. Initially I had been scheduled to put on four separate 30-minute rhyming storytelling sessions, with 30-minute intervals inbetween. However, the kids wanted to carry on going without any breaks – and so we did!

The whole of the Tang Hall Big Local Festive Make & Take day was inspiring. There were a raft of seasonal craft (and my storytelling) activities put on in the Community Centre on a free, drop-in basis. *And* a delicious free lunch, which we all shared together in the hall. So uplifting! And topped off by the best inter-generational Christmas jumpers I have ever had the privilege of encountering:

The best family Christmas jumpers I have encountered!

The best family Christmas jumpers I have encountered!

Thank you to all those at Tang Hall Big Local who invited me to be part of their Seasonal Make & Take day, and who made me so welcome.

A particularly big thank you to Stephen Collins, whose inspired idea to buy some colourful bean bags to sit on transformed the day for us all!

Tang Hall Community Centre manager Stephen Collins

Tang Hall Community Centre manager Stephen Collins

There are fabulous photos from the day at Tang Hall Big Local’s Facebook page, so do go and have a look. The feedback from the day was so positive that I was invited to think about starting a regular session at the community centre there. Sounds tempting to me! Watch this space …

Meanwhile, if you’d like your community event pepping up with some rhyming storytelling, just get in touch!

Anneliese Emmans DeantheBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life

St Nicks Autumn Fayre

I love putting on community poetry activities. They’re a great way of getting everyone involved in an event. And anyone who was anyone was getting involved in the Amazing Autumn Acrostic being created at St Nicks Autumn Fayre yesterday. From York’s MP Rachael Maskell and the Sheriff’s Lady, Brenda Tyler, through to both the junior and senior winners of this year’s Longest Apple Peel contest, young and old alike helped create our acrostic poem, as you can see from the slideshow below.

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The weather was kind to us, and it was a delight to see people of all ages and from all backgrounds stream into ‘the green heart of York‘, to look around and take part in a host of autumnal activities, from apple juicing to apple olympics, bird walks to water vole wanders, Nordic walking to sloe gin tasting.

The Civic Party arrived by tuktuk (100% electric; zero emissions):

The Lord Mayor's party arriving by tuktuk

The Lord Mayor’s party arriving by tuktuk

and joined in events with gusto:

The Sheriff and Sheriff's Lady taking part in the Longest Apple Peel competition

The Sheriff and Sheriff’s Lady taking part in the Longest Apple Peel competition

And as for the cake competition – mouthwatering in the extreme!

Some of the entries in the cake competition

Some of the entries in the cake competition

At the end of the Fayre we had two complete Autumn Acrostics that celebrated what visitors had enjoyed about the day, and about St Nicks in general.

Me, Ivana of St Nicks and the two complete acrostics

Me, Ivana of St Nicks and the two complete acrostics

I realise it’s a tad tricky to read these, so let me quote some of the lines for you here:

‘Totally blown away by apple-juice making scrumptiousness’

‘Bobbing apples was amazing’

‘Nature in the middle of town and the community’

‘Really, really, really looooong apple peels’

‘Acrobatic minibeasts’

‘Song thrushes, sycamores and sawflies’

‘Talking with old friends’

‘Amazing autumnal activities’

‘Swinging on the swings’

‘Carefree autumnal strolls’

‘Looking for butterflies makes me feel happy’

‘Going through the bendy paths is fun’

‘Gaining my potter’s spot’

‘Sloe gin after Nordic walking’

Winner of the Longest Apple Peel competition (Junior section)

Winner of the Longest Apple Peel competition (Junior section)

If you missed this year’s Fayre, look out for the upcoming events at St Nicks. But you don’t have to wait for a special event. Come and walk around your local nature reserve any time you fancy. (Directions here.) Who knows, you might even spot a water vole!

Thank you to Ivana and all the other staff members and volunteers who made St Nicks Autumn Fayre such a success. It’s a privilege to be a St Nicks patron.

Oh, and if you’d like me to put on a community poetry event where you are, just get in touch!

Anneliese Emmans Dean – theBigBuzz – Bringing poetry to life