Meet: Annie Herridge
Writer Annie Herridge has recently published her first children’s book, The Woodland Clan. Inspired by the green paths of Purbeck, Dorset, and the animals that live there, she’s created a story that connects “children to the animal’s world in an ancient woodland where the spirit of the wildwood weaves its magic and wisdom”.
And the COVID-19 pandemic has actually generated something wonderful, as Annie has also created an outdoor activity trail with sculptures and installations inspired by characters from the book that is open until September.
A 2013 graduate of MA in Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre, Central Saint Martins (CSM), we spoke to Annie about how she created this world.
Why did you choose to study at Central Saint Martins, UAL?
I was looking to develop my craft as a playwright and saw the MA Dramatic Writing course which was just launching at CSM. It was industry-driven working with Industry Masters which was just what I needed to expand and explore my skills. I applied and won a place. Equity awarded me a bursary to support my development and paid for the course which was absolutely amazing! It was the first year the course was running so we were all birthing a new course. It had its’s ups and downs.
How was your time at CSM? What were the highlights?
One of my highlights was the collaboration with MA Animation. I went on the course focused on my playwriting but came out with a new toolbox of skills and work I never expected. I really enjoyed working in this field using my storytelling and imagination to help create three successful short films.
I loved working with Director Steve Winter at the Old Vic, where he introduced me to verbatim theatre and I wrote my first verbatim monologue. He gave me such positive feedback telling me I’d really captured the voice, rhythms and humour of the character. After I graduated I was looking to write a new piece. I was taking care of a dear friend of mine who was ill with cancer and he said to me “Annie the stories I could tell you.” He was gay in the ’60s when it was illegal and led a colourful life but he was determined to be himself. I knew that was my new piece using my verbatim style to get his story out there. He sadly passed away in 2017 but at least I wrote something for him, a piece called 'Red Hot Pokers' and it’s through my time at CSM that partly inspired me to write it.
What have you been up to since you graduated?
I’ve written and launched my first children’s book ‘The Woodland Clan’ with support from ACE and National Trust Corfe. I’ve created an outdoor activity trail with sculptures and installations inspired by characters from the book working with two amazing makers. I’ve been working in schools creating work for the trail and exploring the story through drama and dance which has been an absolute joy! I’ve created trail packages where children can explore the story, worlds and wisdom of the animals in a natural setting. I’m selling and signing books at my trail over the summer and meeting loads of lovely children. I’ve adapted the story for a musical show working with my composer Chas Dickie. We have performances lined up over the summer. I’m busy on rewrites of my theatre work and getting my work showcased in London.
What inspired you to write a children’s book?
I was living with my sister in Purbeck, Dorset redrafting work and working part-time in a pub! It’s such a beautiful part of the world. I wanted to develop my work writing for children and a friend mentioned I should get writing a book! Walking the green paths of Purbeck I thought about all the animals that lived there. I began to imagine the animals as characters, mapped out key locations where they lived.
Then one day I sat and I heard the voice of Owl the longest living creature in the Woodland and the world just opened up to me. I wanted the story to connect children to the animal’s world, an ancient woodland where the spirit of the wildwood weaved its magic and wisdom. I began plotting ideas for storylines. I wanted a strong environmental message so the story revolves around the death of Blackbird’s chicks who are killed by glass left by the Big Foots. He can’t sing the song of spring as he’s heartbroken so the woodland rises up in anger to teach the Big Foots a lesson.
You've also created an outdoor activity trail inspired by the book. How did this come about? And how can people visit?
The trial came about due to the pandemic. I’d been awarded an ACE grant in 2019 to write the book and work with local schools to create an outdoor performance for the community. Obviously with the pandemic that couldn’t go ahead but Ranger Alistair Tuckey had the idea to do a trail and bring the Big Foots and Small Foots (humans) out to woodland like they do in the book. It was a pilot trail but it gave us the springboard to envision how amazing an outdoor trail could be with more time and budget. I applied for a second grant to ACE which we were awarded along with investment from National Trust Corfe to deliver a spectacular trail for 2021. Perfect timing for launching the book and rolling out the trail when everyone is holidaying in UK. People can visit the trail at Corfe Castle Dorset where it’s running from 5th July - 1st of September.
What is next for you?
I’m currently writing my second book ‘Mouse Gets A Fright’, it’s a follow on story post-uprising! I plan to write several short episodic stories now I’ve established the world of the Woodland Clan. I’ve loads of ideas to explore and characters to write about. Owl’s winter story is another one I’m mulling, that will be magical! I’m planning more schools workshops exploring the book through arts and drama. Having written and directed the musical show I may tour that to schools and local theatres venues. There is so much to explore with the book including an animated series. Once theatre opens up again I’d like to showcase my monologue ‘Red Hot Pokers’ and start working on my Chinese musical love story ‘Green Mountain.’ I’m up for collaborating and creating work.