Just Imagine… an essex monster launch party!

On Saturday, a whole lot of vision and backbreaking labour paid off… Just Imagine went LIVE! Chelmsford now has one of Britain’s best children’s bookshops, but even more than that, plenty of space for loads of workshops, storytelling sessions, puppetry, dress-up theatre, animation, music, crafts and more.

64 – 68 New London Road, Chelsford, Essex, England; excited Just Imagine team member Georgia Snelgrove

The writer Steve Cole and I were very proud that the project’s head, Nikki Gamble from Write Away, asked us to help her launch Just Imagine, and we led our Make-a-Monster Mega-Challenge, which was fabulous fun, despite being absolutely mobbed!

Steve Cole with Dr Who monsters (among his zillion books, Steve has written Dr Who novel adaptations, comics and plays)

Our monster workshop, photo by Stassia, window-dresser and workshop assistant

I’ve done lots of monster-making sessions, but it was Steve’s idea to have kids make a Top Trumps-style card to go with it, ranking their powers and getting people to write a monster name and description. And the visitors came up with amazing beasts! Nikki’s going to turn them into vinyl artwork for Just Imagine’s stairwell, and I know they’ll look fabulous.

I had several people, including a librarian, ask if they could have copies of the sheet, to lead their own Monster Mega-Challenges, so here’s a PDF file, if you’d like to download a copy!

DOWNLOAD HERE – monsterfile.pdf

Nikki had asked me to give a speech just before Steve Cole and I cut the official ribbon, but I made it even shorter than I’d planned, when I saw the long queue of parents and very young people eagerly waiting to come inside (off to my left and not in the photo).

Photo by illustrator and writer Layn Marlow

Here’s the slightly longer version of what I said:

Today’s a proud day for storytelling! At the same time as we’re hearing about planned government library closures, we have a beacon of hope right here in Essex. Storytelling is important not just as an aid to literacy or entertainment, but because our lives are stories. Just think, your life is a story! How does that make you feel? And how is your story coming along? Does it need an injection of mystery? Passion? A bit of editing? Or is it hugely inspiring? We decide how we will live by the stories we encounter in other people’s lives. By the stories we read in books. By the stories people have written for film and telly. By the stories we hear in music.

Just Imagine brings all these things together to inspire people of all ages, to discover new stories and to articulate and get excited about their own. This is where it’s going to happen, right here, an explosion of creativity that can affect the whole country. And you were here right at the beginning!

A huge hurrah to Nikki Gamble, whose vision and hard work means there’s already a long story behind this place. But for us, Just Imagine’s story is just beginning, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen. It’s going to be a real page turner!

I read Morris the Mankiest Monster and Steve whipped up the kids into a monster frenzy!

Here’s an amazing alphabet Nikki commissioned for one of the events rooms, from a whole range of distinguished British artists including Chris Wormell (who popped briefly into the launch, but I didn’t manage to photograph), Anthony Browne, Layn Marlow, Sue Eves, Emily Gravett, Garry Parsons, Petr Horacek, Tony Ross and Mini Grey.

Here’s Nikki Gamble herself, talking with supplier Jim Youell from Gardners Books.

It wasn’t just kids making monsters! Here’s illustrator Noelle Davies-Brock, who’s soon launching a picture book with Puffin called Here Comes the Poo Bus! with Andy Stanton.

Check out Noelle’s monster, isn’t it the best thing ever?! Steve and I debated long and hard and almost stole it for ourselves.

Nikki even brought in the local Town Crier and Toastmaster, Richard Palmer, to keep the party swinging. He showed us this nifty sword trick that, with a big whack, slices off the whole top of the bottle. Here he is, showing off the cork with the top of the bottle, still attached, to Steve and writer Graham Marks.

Since Steve and I were in the monster room most of the time, we missed the pageantry happening on the street, with people dressed up as various storybook characters. Here’s a photo I nicked off Facebook, of writer Tamsyn Murray posing with the Gruffalo.

Everyone knows Nikki, but here’s the partner who’s been working just as hard, and putting as much at risk to make this whole project happen, her husband Neil.

Neil, Late-night Junction DJ Max Reinhardt, writter, illustrator and puppeteer Sue Eves

Marcus Sedgwick charmed everyone with a reading from one of his yet-unfinished books, we did a signing, and I had a lovely time chatting with his teenage daughter, Alice.

A highlight of the day was getting to meet writer, illustrator and animator Nick Butterworth, whose work I’ve known and admired for ages for its warmth and painterly skill. I only got to chat with him briefly while I was right in the middle of making monsters, so my fingers were covered with glue-stick and I didn’t get to take a photo. But he showed me a trailer for an animation he’s working on with his studio, Snapper Productions, of Q Pootle 5. You can see a trailer here, but there’s a much better one that’s still password-protected, I’m sure I’ll be blogging more about it later. Here’s a still from it:

Nick Butterworth’s Q Pootle 5

Another person making the party happen was Chelmsford’s storytelling laureate, Mike Dodsworth. Here he’s encouraging everyone to come along to Chelmsford on March 19th for its Jibber Jabber storytelling festival.

Writer Anita Loughrey with her son and Steve Cole

Now, back to the monsters, because they were well cool!

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