Lockdown Stories: Creativity still thrives

in Features

Jo Ward talks to two friends of Gibraltar, both of whom have appeared at the Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival in the past, about what they have been doing during lockdown and how new and unexpected avenues of opportunity have arisen. 

Author and publisher Christopher Lloyd is well known to many children, parents and teachers not only for his series of ‘What on Earth?’ books, but also for his exuberant storytelling of fascinating facts that make learning fun.

Normally travelling the world giving talks and lectures (he should have been in Australia and South Africa in May); Chris tells me how life has taken a different twist. One of the things that came along was the opportunity to record an audio version of his book ‘Absolutely Everything’. “There are different ways of trying to process knowledge about the world and it is lovely being able to explore some of those. When I am writing, I try to imagine that I am reading out loud to a child because that is such a natural way for them to receive information, and this book lends itself perfectly to that.”

Something that Chris says will quickly overwhelm his life is a new venture. “My little publishing company signed a partnership last year with Britannica, known for the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’,” he explains. In 2012 Britannica gave up printing books to put the whole Encyclopaedia online. “They have realised that in a world of fake news, printing books that fascinate children and appeal to their natural curiosity is a really important part of their development.” Chris and his team have been busy working on building a whole list of ‘What on Earth?’ books, but also on a new imprint – Britannica Books – which will launch this autumn.  “This will be the first new ‘Britannica Children’s Encyclopaedia’to be produced for a generation,” he states. “The beautifully illustrated books will consist of a large volume with eight chapters, going from the beginning of time to the present day in a big overreaching story.”

As if that weren’t enough, Chris has become involved in a new project to create a national online school in the UK. “This is about trying to connect what children do at school with what they can also do at home and to enable the learning experience to be not something that is physically limited by the school proximity and resources,” he tells me. The project will connect children with parents and industry experts to give them a real sense about careers and will show them the different opportunities and possibilities that can develop from whatever fascinates them at an early age. “Most importantly it will connect children with other children so they learn, inspire, criticise and communicate with each other,” Chris says. 

“Children are interested in different things and if you tell a child that they are going to learn something because it says so in the curriculum, their motivation levels are way down,” he explains. “If you ask a child what interests them and, for example, they say penguins and they go on to do a project about Antarctica, about ice, read and create poems about penguins or do maths through penguins, the child’s motivation is much higher because they have a stake in the choice which they don’t normally get.”

“This paradigm has been missing from traditional education, but I do think there is now a tremendous potential to unleash some of that, and maybe we will look back and see lockdown as a moment where culture and behaviour was forced to change,” Chris comments, going on to say that he is full of optimism for the future of education. “The great strength of our species is how adaptable we are – we adapted to the ice ages by learning how to light and control fire; we adapted to climate change 10,000 years ago by learning how to farm and produce food in a new way rather than just relying on hunting, and we will adapt again, and adaptability in children is the best thing they can learn when they are young because who knows what the jobs of the future are going to be.”

Lockdown has meant that Chris has been able to enjoy family time with his wife and two daughters at their home in Kent. “Apart from my undertaking twenty-four years’ worth of gardening in 3 months, we are very lucky to go walking in the countryside with our dogs, have picnics and BBQs and we even had a little rock concert here in the garden – we warned the neighbours, put up the big screen and  speakers – and had great fun!”

At the 2017 Literary Festival, Chris presented a new timeline book called “The Story of Gibraltar” and worked with some of the teachers here to show them how to integrate the story into history lessons. “I do hope that I can come back to Gibraltar and talk to you about all the exciting projects I have been involved in since then,” he says. 

Tim Bentinck aka David Archer from BBC Radio 4 series, The Archers, came to Gibraltar last year to talk about his autobiography ‘Being David Archer – And Other Unusual Ways of Earning a Living’. 

Tim tells me he has been very fortunate in that he has been able to work from home in North London. “I’ve got a little studio downstairs underneath the front steps where I am able to do recordings,” he says. These have included audio books, Automated Dialog Replacement (ADR), and a couple of audio dramas – Dr. Who and Space 1999. “I’m busier than ever!”

When it comes to The Archers (celebrating its 70th anniversary this year) due to lockdown restrictions, large cast recordings with interaction between multiple characters had to be scrapped in favour of monologues recorded at the actors’ homes. Tim’s character David Archer was the first voice to be heard.  “For the first time, listeners get to hear what the characters ‘really think’, he says. “As actors, we’re always after the sub-text – what we say is not necessarily what we mean. Now, what we think is not necessarily what we say!”

These internal thought processes have enabled the listeners to get inside the head of the denizens of Ambridge as never before. “One revelation that came out is that David Archer plays the guitar, which I think might have been mentioned about 30 years ago,” Tim explains. “The idea is that he has got a guitar in the attic which he’s always wanted to get out and go down and play at the village pub, The Bull, and now on Facebook; they have been calling him Disco Dave!”  Luckily, Tim can play the guitar, which is evident by the Fender and acoustic guitars visible on the wall behind him during our Zoom call. 

Tim has a long list of theatre, television and film credits to his name, and was in the middle of filming a big HBO series called The Nevers, an upcoming science fiction drama television series created by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Marvel films fame. “Unfortunately, it packed up because of the pandemic,” he states, “but hopefully we will get going again in the future.”

The pandemic is revolutionising the world of performing arts and looking forward Tim knows that for TV and theatre, the ‘new normal’ will be very different to how it has been. “How can you film a realistic drama where people have got to remain two metres away from each other – you can’t have intimacy, or people close to each other – it is going to be very weird,” he comments. He is also very concerned about what will happen to theatres when, and if, they are able to reopen.  “You can’t have a theatre which is half empty; the idea is that when you are on stage performing to a packed auditorium there is an atmosphere, that’s what theatre is all about.”  

There is no doubt that the coronavirus crisis has hit the industry in unprecedented ways and Tim says that many of his actor mates are currently out of work.  “The only people in the acting profession who are still working are those who are doing voice over work,” he remarks. “I do lots of dubbing and post-syncing and recently took my first foray out into the wide world and went into a studio – and there I was in a recording booth and I looked through the window and there was the engineer in another room, and the director was in another room with the monitor directing me – so it can be done, and what is really interesting is that people are finding ways of making this all work – to begin with they said ‘we can’t do this’ – but they have found ways.”

As with many of us, Tim has had time to expand his cooking skills. “I have always done a very good Spaghetti Bolognese and I have now extended that range to Chilli con Carne,” he laughs. “The upside of all this is that it has been really lovely spending time with my wife Judy and son Jasper, not having to rush off to work and then not seeing each other until the evening – with never a cross word being spoken.”

As our chat came to an end, Tim’s parting comment was: “We had such a lovely time in Gibraltar and the people we met were great, so I do hope that we can come back again in the near future.”

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