A tasty taste of juicy newness!!


I’m so excited to be able to share a glimpse of some of my work with schools. The wonderful staff and children at Bentfield Primary School allowed me to spend the day spinning tales with them and film the whole shebang.

Vast, sprawling thanks to Smoke No Pony who filmed, edited and animated (yep!) this visual feast.

Here is a tale I call Monkey See, Monkey Do.

Away, away to Fairytale City… the straight way’s short but the long way’s pretty.


A  year ago I reintroduced myself to this man,  John Row; master storyteller and child of the East Anglian Fayres of years past at a Cambridge Storytellers event.


I informed him that I had boldly (and probably rather drunkardly) stalked him through festivals across the years throughout my 20s, sitting like a  child at his feet while he spun yarns fantastical and wonderous.

“Lovely” he said, with markedly less recognition towards me than I had to him.

“….and I was on a workshop of yours four years ago”

“OK, brilliant.”

“..and I’m a fledgling teller myself now”

“Ahhhhh….Wonderful.  We’re looking for new blood at Cambridge Folk Festival if you’re interested, drop me an email”

“… wha?… Really? Um… Yes, wow, …ok.  Really? … Thanks”

So I did, ..then I didn’t follow it up, then I fell fantastically pregnant, then fantastically ill with morning/afternoon/night sickness, then life took over and the battle to earn rent whilst trying really, really hard to keep all the plates spinning to maintain the facade of a normal-functioning woman soon swamped everything.  For a reeeeeally looooong tiiiiiime.

I kissed goodbye to the dream of performing at one of THE most prestigious festivals on the Folk calendar.

Because I’d been a self-absorbed idiot.

..and pregnant.

Then an email.

“Hi Janina, It’s John.  It’s Cambridge next weekend, your name’s in the programme, you are still coming aren’t you?”

“… wha?… Really? Um… Yes, wow, …ok.  Really? … Thanks”

Truth be told, I’d have gnawed through a mountain to get there.

So there I got, teeth still intact.


All relevant passes acquired, and  distributed about my person, I’d never been so squeelingly excited and terrified.


I arrived in a world where the the bubble-blowing festival nymphs were barefooted and the trees be-jumpered.  Gorgeous.


And there, nestled in the solitude of the Flower Garden sat my sanctuary.  Like some beauteous, gentle Dark Crystal Land Strider

Our story-spinning space.

I knew I’d be safe here.


And then they came, the other Tellers, emerging through hedges and from corners unseen… The three experienced hands in the guise of John plus the world’s most smiley teller Mike Dodsworth


The hilariously-earthly and connected Suzanne Arnold

Plus myself and two of the coolest, most un-outwardly nervous new tellers I have ever met….


Grounded, ecstatically energetic with a menagerie of animal tales, that’s Holly Piper that is.


Backed up by her rubber-voiced, amigo Callum McGowan.  This guy can embody and switch between characters so damn swiftly it was nothing but a joy to watch him.   A huge inspiration!

We all held our audiences with varying shades of emotion, well… I say audienceS…  We performed twice a day over three days.  Us newbies presumed, as it was a huge festival, that we’d be able to recycle material; tell the same stories twice, not have to prepare 10 different stories each.

Not so.

I spotted the 15yr old lad in a bowler hat first, a strong look for one so young.  He turned up at the first telling, then 3hrs later at the second.  Then the next afternoon… Then I noticed other smaller faces becoming more familiar.  We couldn’t rehash and serve up stale tales to them, they deserved fresh meat.  So we dug deep into our hearts and delivered.

So how did I find performing to so many people over such a long period of time at 6 month’s pregnant? I can’t say it wasn’t a scary ride, but no-one got eaten, we all survived and the fledglings amongst us, flew a little higher on the way home.


like swallowing glass


Just after my last post below,  the boy below,  was raised up off his feet and sent to a place beyond.

Nobody wanted it.

No one was prepared for it.

No one should experience the death of a child.


Michael was my Godson. His Mother, my childhood friend.

Grief is a dark and heavy load indeed…. Michael was 15 years when he passed away.

I was blessed to know him and thankful to be able to say goodbye properly.

My stories have distracted and hopefully, in some small way, soothed the jagged hearts of his smaller sister and brother over past 15 months.   I have never had a personal illustration of how powerful storytelling can be, I got into this because it was fun and a bit of an oddly interesting thing to do.   Story’s ability to transport the listener and teller to somewhere other than here (and yet seems strangely comforting) is a truly incredible thing.

It’s for that reason that I’ve got back on my storyhorse and am now breaking from a trot to a canter.

Thanks Michael Valentine, you’re still making things happen.

The only constant


After a whole weekend of self-induced domesticity I stepped outside,  into the air of a pre-work morning to scrape the last gooings of the porridge pot into the compost.   The magical bin where food goes in and soil comes out sits snuggled into the hedgerow not far from the front door, wormery and the other members of it’s waste repository family.

The tangled thickety mass of hawthorn that embraces the bin yesterday had looked much the same as it had done last Wednesday, ..and the Thursday lunchtime before that, …or whenever it was I last  paid it any attention.

But today it was pink.

Not just the warm, soft blush pink of a sun barely risen.  No, this was a siren-searing cerise.

“Hey there hedge, you’re lookin’ gooooood today! When did you get so pretty?”

“Oh, it’s a look I’ve been working on for a while.  I’m glad you noticed.  It’s taken you a while.”

“Taken me a while???!!!”    I stopped and looked at the collection of brown twigs that my fella calls  forsythia.

Long, pendulous butter-yellow buds dripped from it’s stems.

The horse chestnut, like a child’s fingers fresh from the sweetshop, thrust it’s fat, sticky tips towards the sky.

Suddenly, Spring had happened.

Only it hadn’t.

This had been going on for months.  Reverently, solemnly, each plant had been preparing itself for another jazz-hands display of razzle-dazzle.  Barely drawing breath from last season, they have been quietly inching-out roots and swelling tiny, deep-set nubs.

And that’s the thing with nature, and the nature of things; nothing ever stands still.

Mountains, sand dunes, attacking swarms and thundering, raging storm clouds… they all move, (just some much more slowly than others.)

Change is constant, which can be a comfort if times are tough.  Rough patches don’t last forever, they may get better, they may get an awful lot worse, but today will pass like water under a bridge.

Equally, when times are heart-stoppingly exquisit, to have the clarity of mind to pause and feel the bliss on your lips and tuck it away in your cinema-heart is a wonderous thing.

Because that’s the thing with nature and the nature of things …..


Grimm Reading


I am, amongst other things, a storyteller.

Me, the mouth where my stories come from and the mirror that tells me I AM the fairest of them all, most of the time.

This year sees the 200th anniversary of the first edition of  Children’s and Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.  Their monumental tomb of tales, some of which lay ingrained within the fibre of our childhoods.   As with whispers and gossip, tales told time and time over often end up not really resembling their true form.  Today saw a story in the Telegraph which made me feel all shades of opinion.  You can read the full article here .

The headline reads “Fairytales too scary for modern children, say parents.”  It is the result of an American TV channel’s survey who’s results, issued as a press release, gives their new ultra-adult retelling of classic Grimm tales heaps of promotion.  I realise I am playing into their hands, but I could not lessen my grip on this.

2000 parents were surveyed; 50% refused to read their children Rumplstiltskin or Rapunzel because of  unsavory issues raised such as the threat of kidnap and execution.   A third of parents report that the eating of the grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood by the wolf left their children in tears.   52% feel Cinderella is outdated as it sees a young girl left carrying out household chores all day.

Oh my…… where to begin?

Yes, if you tell the original version of Cinderella it will be outdated, the story is over 200 years old.  However,  you will also learn that the two step-sisters are punished for their wickedness with blindness by having their eyes pecked out by two pigeons.

It is a moralistic tale; if you chose to do bad things to good people, that badness will eventually return to you.  It is a simple and exceptionally relevant lesson.  Surely it is the parent’s responsibility to unpack this moral to those little ones too small to understand themselves and not just leave them reeling and in tears??

Secondly, children like to be scared …as long as it’s within a safe environment.  That’s why theme parks are so successful, why playing peek-a-boo is so hilarious.  It’s positively beneficial for their health and well-being, if we do not let children explore the boundaries of their emotions, how on earth do we expect them to become grounded, level-headed adults?  If we wrap them in cotton wool, we run the very real risk of creating a generation of adults who are risk adverse, overly cautious and full, full of fear.  The very thing we are trying to protect them from.

The world is a place of undefinable beauty, inexplicable wonders but there is also darkness beyond the very depths of our imaginings, there has to be, as one cannot exist without the other.   For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction (Newtons Third Law of Motion physics fans) (For fellow Brian Cox fans, here’s a pic of our Bri looking like a sexy physics angel, .. any excuse)

It may be that the survey was weighted towards providing a negative outcome for our friend Fairytale, you can prove almost anything with the right statistic.

I really could go on, but I feel I’ve ranted enough.  Before I go though, I’d just like to ponder where the notion has come from that stories are just for children?

The utterly fantastic Rachel Rose Reid is a flying example of a contemporary adult storyteller.  We all have a heart, we all have a soul, those souls need sustenance and watering so they can grow.  So here we are, have a nibble on some soul food…

Not a kerfuffle over nothing.


I am a fairly calm soul.

I do not get whipped up into the frenetic dizzyness over the latest musthave.

Hype around anything generally makes me sceptical because it causes me wonder who’s benefiting from all that shouting.

The sensationalism created by the Daily ffffflipping Mail two weeks ago truly made my bones boil.  Apparently, four horsemen had been seen stalking the south-eastern corner of our Isle.  Had they the Apocalypse with them in their evil rucksack?  No, a fear far greater rode with them, a terror so immense it’s name could only be whispered in darkened, underground corridors.  That name?…


Oooooooooohhhhhh it was coming, it was heading this way, it was going to be the most terrible of  terrors,  the entire  nation would cease to function and Waitrose would surely run out of brie. How would we possibly survive?

I gave the clouded night sky a cursory  glance as I pulled the curtains tight against Saturday evening.  “You’re not going to give us any snow are you?  Fuss over nothing as usual.”

Then Sunday arrived…

There WAS snow, it was real, it really was real snow and it was HERE!!!!

I honestly felt like a five year old on Christmas morning.

Moog and Noggin were less excited.

For a Norwegian Forest cat, Moog got quite upset at the snow.

So I tucked them up inside with warm radiators and blankets and resigned myself with not going anywhere for two days.  The only thing I could do was immerse myself in the deep joy of this already beautiful world suddenly made more wonderous.

Billions of flakes, each and every one different to it’s neighbour, made the mundane shine.

I’ve never photographed a postbox before, but this is beautiful isn’t it?

A daydream along the road and I stumbled across the scariest shack I’ve ever witnessed. Neither Spring, Summer or Autumn had pointed this out to me.  Had Winter placed it here for just this very moment?

I imagined I was in a film and surveyed the peeling shack through a tangle of scratchy branches while a piano plinked sparsely in the background.

At this point in the film you’d be telling the lone girl to turn back but secretly willing her on.

Your curiosity is mine too.

I moved closer.

Surely no-one could live here could they?  I peered through the eeriest window that ever there was.

No, just stacked chairs, papers, pots of crayons, children’s pictures pinned to the wall and books,… books

Bibles and the tattered remains of The Ladybird Book of Prayers Through the Year,…. ahhh this was the church’s Sunday School Hut.  A place for children.

I left before I was seen and made my way to the river where Leaf had proposed to me, to wash the shiver from my spine.

Here I took his hand as he gave me his heart.

Sadly, economy dictates that my love travels to where the money is.  His time at this time was being spent in Birmingham.  And it was his birthday too.  Rubbish!

So with his smile in my head, I fashioned him a snowman, a peaceful snowman on the bench by our house.

“What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.”