York Festival of Ideas is an annual two-week programme of events to educate, entertain and inspire. We were honoured to be part of this year’s festival, not least because its theme of A World of Wonder aligns with our values perfectly.
The festival was fantastic. With so many citywide activities, talks and workshops taking place, the team truly managed to foster a feeling of wonder – in every sense of the word – across York. Here’s how we got involved in sparking people’s imaginations around writing, reading and storytelling.
Remember our writing desk? Having toured several literary events over the past 12 months, it was back in action in York. Between May 31st and June 16th, it was moved between four different venues – empowering people of all ages to co-create short stories line by line.
A total of 48 people took part, creating four short stories altogether. The Dragon and The Spider was read out by Guardian journalist Tim Dowling at the festival finale event, A Healthy Dose of Cynicism.
Here are the four stories in full. Each new line represents another person’s addition to the story.
The Dragon and The Spider
Co-authored by 17 different people at Clifton Explore Library
The dragon resembled the red one on the Welsh flag, which hung on a wall in my great-grandmother’s house in Llangollen.
Very slowly, very steadily, I raised my hand – my fingers curled slightly in, as if to beckon a dog.
The dragon’s ash-rimmed nostrils twitched. It padded forward, stopped, then drew back – a worried, puzzled look on its face. Then it padded towards me again.
The dragon walked around the garden, smiled then breathed fire twice from its mouth, before taking flight towards the sun.
It danced through the sky with glee.
However, its happiness didn’t last long. The sun disappeared behind the clouds and it started to rain.
The mighty dragon soared high in the sky, looking for shelter. It eventually spotted a cave where it could wait until the rain stopped.
Gusts of high winds ripped down trees, lightning flashed and thunder struck. The dragon wondered when the bad weather would end.
It was then that the dragon remembered it was on a quest that must be continued. Nothing must get in the way of its mission – certainly not rain.
Determined to achieve its goal, the dragon leapt forth with courage and might.
But how would it proceed? A moment of doubt troubled the dragon, but it managed to summon some confidence once again. It quickly set off.
It was a long time before the dragon stopped to rest again.
“I wish I was as fit at 85 as I was some years ago. But I can’t really complain. I’ve had a fit and happy life,” the dragon said to itself. “It’s no fun getting old!”
Another voice spoke up: “Liar! I bet you got up to all sorts of crazy stuff when you were young. Tell me some of your stories.”
“Who said that?” hissed the dragon.
“I did,” came a silky whisper on the edge of hearing. A baby spider descended from a web strung between two stalactites. She was as new as a raindrop, small as a freckle. “So spill!” she added.
“Well,” replied the dragon. “There was this one time in Cyprus…”
Last Remaining Drops
Co-authored by 14 different people at the Discovery Zone
She looked at everything as though she was seeing it for the first, or last, time.
She wasn’t sad, but she wasn’t happy either. Likely, there was a long journey ahead.
She pulled the magic potion out of her pocket and sighed, because it wasn’t ready yet.
What can I do to hurry it up? she thought to herself.
That’s when it hit her. The bus had been travelling particularly fast along the road – and she hadn’t been paying attention as she stepped off the pavement.
She was flying upwards, over the streets and roofs, into the wide blue sky above.
She lost control, yelling and kicking her legs in the empty expanse of time.
What was happening? What was she doing? She was acting silly. Pull yourself together, she told herself.
She landed with a crash. Dazed and confused, the potion in her pocket had leaked from the broken bottle. Whether it was ready or not, she’d have to use it now.
But the potion was scattered all over the ground.
She tried desperately to pick up the last remaining drops, but it was too late.
After she’d spent way too long trying to gather as much of the spilled potion as she could, she heard footsteps around her. They were getting closer and closer.
Then she saw a cloaked figure. He took off his cloak and she recognised who it was. Her dad.
She made sure it was her dad by checking his ears. Yes, definitely her dad, as he had enormous ears.
“What are we going to do now?” he said.
She reassured her dad that mum would not be cross about the potion, as she was busy at bingo.
Co-authored by 11 different children at the Discovery Zone
He looked up, not down at his feet. That’s when he saw the rainbow.
When he was a kid, his dad once pointed to an oily patch on the wet ground.
“Look,” dad said. “All the colours of the rainbow.”
Dad asked: “Which is your favourite?”
“Blue, always blue,” he would reply. He missed his dad.
He decided to capture that memory of his dad on an old-fashioned camera, by filming himself jumping into a rainbow reflected in a puddle.
He dived in feet first.
Why has this appeared in the sky? Why does it appear when it rains? he thought to himself.
He didn’t know, but didn’t stop him wondering as he stared at the puddle rippling.
Then suddenly, he heard a quiet “hello” whispered through the air.
He turned and saw a small child stood, young and innocent, next to him.
Co-authored by 6 different children at the Discovery Zone
She found her violin on her bedroom floor. It was then that everything fell silent and still.
The room filled with heat and a man appeared. She stumbled back in shock.
The man, with a sly grin on his face, pulled a fiddle out of thin air. A bow appeared in his hand.
He gestured to her violin. “Fancy a wager?” he asked, eyebrows cocked.
“Who… who are you?” she stuttered.
“I’m Mr Fond. How are you?”
Let us know which story is your favourite, and book the writing desk for an event you’re planning, by emailing us.
We also staged a story hunt across the streets of York, scattering extracts from a short story in five secret locations – each one revealing a clue to the next. While the weather was certainly against us – wind and rain blowing in all directions – dozens of people braved the conditions and brought their families along to be the first to find all five extracts.
— Nicky Kippax (@kickynippax) June 15, 2019
To source the short story for this event, we held a writing competition with the University of York’s Department of English and Related Literature. The winning short story was the incredible A Whisper Or A Universe, by Nicky Kippax.
This event would simply not have happened without collaboration with a LOT of people and organisations including:
- Hakeem, who designed the boxes we used for the hunt
- David Cundall, who facilitated their design and build with Groundwork NEWY
- Helen Smith and Dr Hannah Roche, who helped us launch the writing competition
- University of York academics, who judged the entries
- Nicky Kippax, who wrote the winning story
- Frances Postlethwaite from York Explore Library, where we stored the first extract
- King’s Manor, where we stored the second
- Cycle Heaven, where we stored the third
- All Saints Church, where we stored the fourth
- True Story cafe, where we stored the fifth
- Naomi Richards and Beth Prior, who worked tirelessly to coordinate both our events at the festival
If you head down to the library today, you’re in for a big surprise… The #foundfiction story trail starts here! Discover the beginning of a new story: follow the clue to the next location, and continue the adventure. Who knows where it will lead you? @YorkFestofIdeas pic.twitter.com/FWcnQAGPvu
— York Explore (@YorkExplore) June 15, 2019
A huge congratulations to the York Festival of Ideas team, who did a genuinely amazing job of delivering such a magical programme of events. Follow York Festival of Ideas for details about the 2020 festival.