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I am a writer, poet, performer and award-winning cartoonist with extensive experience of writing for a wide range of formats including TV, radio, online, newspapers, magazines, and of course, books.
As I like to say, I have written for everyone from Dennis the Menace to Chris Tarrant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire!
I specialise in humour, which I use to inspire and enthuse audiences of all ages, especially children in schools. I firmly believe that laughing and learning should go hand in hand. I am also a proponent of hands-on learning, with children being encouraged to make things, participate, and get involved. (Kinesthetic learning, to give it its proper name.)
I have a First Class Honours degree in Botany and Zoology from Kings College, London, which translates into an understanding of science, particularly natural history.
Given my experience, training, interests and background, I am able to offer a wide range of workshops and activities, all linked by an imaginative, fun and enthusiastic approach.
I live just outside York but am very happy to travel anywhere in the country provided agreements can be made over accommodation and travel costs.
KS1 & KS2 SCIENCE - MINIBEASTS & EVOLUTION!
My children's non-fiction picture book Swat! A Fly's Guide to Staying Alive (Brambleby Books, 2013) forms the basis of two primary school offerings: an author visit complete with one hour show (full day or half day), and a full day minibeasts workshop suitable for a classroom setting.
SWAT! is a cartoon-style housefly survival guide, and covers insect anatomy, lifecycles, predation, food chains and minibeasts.
The show based on the book was a sell-out success at the Hay Festival 2014, and will be part of the Edinburgh Fringe, 2015. I present the show dressed as a giant housefly and it is a fun and fact-filled performance suitable for the whole school, complete with music, songs, props, and lots of eager audience participation.
If booked as part of a whole day author visit, it is followed by post-show sessions across all year groups in which students make their own paper housefly and a working Venus fly trap! The visit ends with a whole school quiz in which students get a chance to show just how much they have learned.
A pupil following a recent visit to a primary school near Hull described it as 'the best day of my life!'
Additionally, SWAT! can be booked as a full day minibeasts workshop covering the themes of lifecycles, invertebrates, and foodchains in KS1 science. Again, the workshop is presented by me in the guise of a giant fly and students learn about the wide variety of invertebrate organisms, with access to a large range of model animals, as well as making and labelling their own model insect. The workshop ends with a nail-biting game of minibeast bingo!
As one West London assistant head put it: 'the children were captivated by all the activities...especially when Mike demonstrated how if he was a fly he'd check out his food with his feet as this is where his tastebuds would be!'
New for September 2015 onwards, I am also offering a KS2 Science workshop 'You Are Charles Darwin!' linked to the new Evolution and Inheritance modules in the national curriculum. Fossils, plate tectonics, Darwin's finches and Extinction Bingo will all be part of this fun and fact-filled day!
KS1 & KS2 & KS3 POETRY
I am a much anthologised children's poet, with a fondness for comic verse, which I perform with great enthusiasm and exuberance - often to ukulele accompaniment!
I offer full day workshops which explore classic comic verse forms including limericks, clerihews, cautionary verse and nonsense verse. Children are introduced to such classic comic poets as Lear, Carroll, Belloc and Milligan, and contemporary writers too, such as John Hegley and Carol Ann Duffy.
For KS1 poetry, workshops are gentler and are usually classroom based. I offer several which are themed around the seasons, including a winter/Christmas poetry workshop called Verse Noel. This opens with a performance by me, involving lots of audience participation as always. This is then followed up with writing in class. There is also a highly popular autumn workshop - Awesome Autumn - and a summer term version, Hi Summer! CDs of my shows are also available for purchase by pupils.
KS2 and KS3 poetry workshops involve a more in-depth look at verse forms, covering those mentioned above. Emphasis is on inspiring students to produce their own written work and to then perform back to the group with confidence and enthusiasm. The workshops are also a huge amount of fun.
One teacher, after a KS2 workshop near Newark, called me 'the Gareth Malone of poetry!' A KS3 workshop at a Scarborough school saw me perform an impromptu one hour poetry show to over 200 Year 8 pupils, all completely engaged, and had 250 Year 7 students packed into the dining hall and writing their own limericks simultaneously! Is this a World Record?
KS1 & KS2 CREATIVE WRITING
I am also able to offer a creative writing workshop with a holidays theme. This works for both KS1 and KS2. Called 'Wish You Were Here?', the centrepiece of the workshop is an exercise in which students produce a wildly imaginative account of a holiday written on the back of a range of odd and otherwise unconnected postcards.
This is effective for all levels of ability, but works particularly well in encouraging reluctant writers.
As a North Yorks Year 3 teacher wrote: 'Your visit was simply superb!'
And in the words of one pupil: 'Mr Mike is so funny and I love his weird postcards - I have written so much - look!'
With a science background, plus a long career as a cartoonist, I have combined the two interests and abilities into a unique maths workshop for more capable KS2 students. This combines mathematical methods and problem solving with modern art. Artists covered include Damien Hirst, Barbara Hepworth, Carl Andre (the Tate Bricks man) and Antony Gormley.
Entirely hands-on, students make their own spot-paintings, brick sculptures, and Gormley-esque minifigures while rising to solve mathematical challenges and apply their numeracy skills.
Mathematical topics covered include rows and columns, tables, arrays, number bonds, regular and irregular shapes, combinations and areas.
As a teacher at a Milton Keynes primary school commented: 'Feedback from Tanya and the children was really positive. Tanya said your ideas 'really opened her mind to different approaches which she could use in mathematics'.
Also quite probably unique is my working collection of clockwork toys: dozens of old-fashioned tinplate animals, robots and vehicles.
This I offer as a fun clockwork circus to accompany the early years history module, Toys, Then and Now. What better way to bring home the difference in toys over the centuries than a demonstration of dozens of toys from the past? This has proved a huge hit at schools, libraries, museums and festivals nationwide, and can also just be booked as an entertainment for all ages.
Given my enthusiasm for making learning entertaining, I have been asked to generate one-off workshops for many differing situations: from reluctant readers to primary school induction days. If you have an idea you'd like to explore, then do get in touch.
Additionally, I also work as a cartoonist (19 years now in Private Eye, and The Oldie) and play the ukulele - so I can also offer cartooning classes as well as simple song-writing classes.
PERFORMANCE AND PUBLIC SPEAKING
I have a number of one man shows to offer, including a fully illustrated talk about my varied career, complete with songs, jokes, audience participation and even a quiz!
As Alana Barney, chairman of the North Riding Countrywomen's Association wrote:
"As the guest speaker at the North Riding Yorkshire Countrywomen’s Association’s AGM at the Hambleton Forum, Northallerton, Mike provided an entertaining and enjoyable touch to the event.
He is a natural raconteur with a wealth of riveting stories and anecdotes from his background in TV and writing.
He has a wicked sense of humour and a zany take on life as you would expect of a renowned cartoonist featuring in Private Eye.
His delivery and content perfectly matched his audience who were enthusiastic in accompanying him singing whilst he played the ukulele!
I will be putting your name forward to the YCA central office for our other county events in the future."
I have performed at numerous festivals including Hay, Galtres, Ripon International, and the York Literary Festival. I have also been a regular interviewee on BBC local radio, and had my work featured on BBC Radio 4's Pick of the Week (a song about asparagus!)
I have both written and contributed to many books, across a wide range of genres, and for both adults and children. This is just a partial list.