Mr Biggles started as an idea – as a storyteller, I have been lots of books as part of my research into the history of folk tales. Many of the European stories feature bears, especially those from Germanic areas. Those of that have read my blogs before will be familiar with the peculiar story of The Turnip Princess, in which a small bear is a witch’s familiar, although this is a bit of a red herring (if you pardon the pun). I have been slowly creating a Storytelling Gang of characters that I use as focus objects during sessions, so it became obvious that a bear was necessary.
But how to make a bear?
Well, I have made a few characters now and most of them have come from the crochet pattern books of Kerry Lord from TOFT, an alpaca wool manufacturer. Her patterns are brilliant and make fabulously lovable and tactile, appealing creatures. They have a definite ‘look’ about them and they easily be given a personality all of their own. On finding the pattern for the bear I wanted, I looked for suitable materials and colours. I went for bamboo cotton for its durability (it will be handled by many times and in different conditions, weather etc) and shades of brown, to keep an edge of realism. Once I had completed all the parts of the bear, the face posed the most difficult part of the puzzle, as this is the most important piece. Needless to say, it took ages to get this right. The shape of the eyes, the nose, to smile or not, the shape of the smile and the size of it – all almost impossible! Somehow, the face suddenly revealed itself. Almost like a carving coming out of stone. And wow, what a lovely little face too!
What is in a name?
Mr Biggles came out of the Storytelling Gang bag for the first time the next day, and barely had his nose poked out, when I heard a little boy proclaim, with an earnestness known only to five year olds, that he knew his name was Mr Biggles. So that was that sorted. I wasn’t going to argue.
I had been struggling to name him, so it was always wise to consult the experts on these matters. The eight and nine year olds (and their parallel class) given the job of naming Mr Oggy Boggles (my story loving, moon cheese eating alien character) earlier in the year were still buzzing with excitement over that event, five months later.
What happened next…
The shaping of the character of Mr Biggles pretty much at the same time as he did. The process of crochet and pattern I followed involves a great of shaping and creation, thinking about the general shape of the character, his face, how his body will work and move, all contribute to how he will be. More than that, as a storyteller, I think about what he might get up to, think about the stories he will get involved in, the stories that he knows. Of course, there will be elements of my personality going into his personality. He is, after all, my creation, and that is bound to be inevitable in some way. Once a character has met children and I talk about them, things can change as this when they really come to life, especially when I hear my responses to questions that I never thought I’d be able to answer.
And then, of course, there’s writing a story about them… but that really is a whole other story!