Ink, paints, and happy coincidences – Korky Paul at Children’s Day, Swindon Festival of Literature

12 May

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“What’s my name?” illustrator Korky Paul demands at Swindon Festival of Literature’s children’s day.

Bit of an ego trip for a kids’ event, thinks I (Chronicler Pete), as a barn full of youngsters yell back a response.

“Snorky?” retorts Korky in mock-indignation? “Snorky Snortle?” Then he draws and colours a Snorky Snortle in super-quick time, taking leads from the children as to what kind of nose (elephant), mouth (crocodile), arms, and legs (chicken) the fictional beast should have.

The kids are lapping it up.

He then proceeds to give the sketch away, via raffle tickets, and I ponder out loud to eight-year-old Milo just how much that might be worth. His eyes go as wide as saucers when I speculate at £100 – maybe £200.

Ably assisted by Winnie herself, Korky gives lots away during his half-hour presentation: sketches, audience portraits, copies of his many books, and the deep, dark secrets of the world of illustration.

“Do you know why Winnie the Witch has a pointed hat?” he asks the audience of the trouble-prone sorceress who has been entertaining girls and boys for a quarter century.

“When I first drew her, I wanted to give her a tall hat, but I ran out of space at the top of the paper,” he admits. “I thought I could straighten it out later, but I really liked it that way, so it stayed.

“That,” he concludes, “is what we call a happy coincidence.”

There are more happy coincidences outside, where poet and educator Hilda Sheehan is leading a Poetry Walk around the grounds of Lower Shaw Farm, reading topical poems she just happens to know at the chestnut tree (The Candles of the Chestnut Trees by Mimi Khalvati), the pond (A Frog’s Fate by Christina Rossetti), and the wildflowers area (William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence: To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour).

When we get to the sheep pen, she admits she doesn’t have a poem about sheep. I prompt Milo to recite the first verse of St Agnes’ Eve by Keats (St Agnes’ Eve — Ah, bitter chill it was! The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold; The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass, and silent was the flock in woolly fold). His granny taught him the poem by rote when he was two.

Anyone dazzled by his apparent brilliance was soon put right, however, when he blurted out: “I can’t look at those sheep without thinking of ham.”


Words and pictures by Peter Davison. Children and Families Day at Lower Shaw Farm was 11 May 2014.

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