I’d better start writing down the bedtime stories – and The Weatherbies were born
When Maghera mum, Yvonne Fleming, began to tell her two children night-time tales, little did she know that she would end up with a series of books, animations and a potential TV deal all based on her Weatherbies characters.
Yvonne was encouraged to make her idea of the Weatherbies characters into a career after her husband Peter overheard the stories.
“He was walking past the bedroom door and heard me telling the story,” Yvonne explained.
“He listened for a while and then when I came downstairs, he said he thought it had potential. His background is in the music industry, for years he has been writing and creating music.
“I started writing stories and songs, and then Peter would write and record the music for them.
“I’d have been putting my kids to bed and would have read them a story,” she said.
“If I was tired, I would have made up my own stories about The Weatherbies.”
“They kept asking me for these stories and I couldn’t remember what I’d said two nights back, so I thought I’d better start writing them down.”
Now her children are grown up she still runs ideas past them, but she is also dealing with publishing deals and working with Peter Rabbit script writer, Jodi Reynolds, as well as UK production company, Threewise, with the potential to have a 52-week series of Weatherbies TV programmes.
The first time she read her stories beyond the walls of her home was to a very special focus group.
“The very first time I went into a school was my wee boy’s P1 class about 12 years ago,” Yvonne said.
“They had invited the parents in to read a book. I had said to the teacher what book am I going to read, and she told me to read my own.
“I went in thinking I was going to be in the school fifteen minutes or so. I was in that P1 class for two hours and then it was lunchtime.
“The other P1 teacher came in and said, ‘you do know you’re coming into me after lunch’. I was in the school nearly a whole day talking to the kids and reading some of my stories without a lot of artwork and they all loved it.”
All the Weatherbies stories are based around a group of weather-themed characters who live in Skytown including Sammy Sun, Rosie Rainbow, Colin Cloud, Flo Snow, Ronny Rain, Willy Wind and many more. As well as being a fun set of stories, there is also learning for the target age range within Key Stage One and timely environmental messages.
“Children are like sponges and sometimes people underestimate the knowledge a child has and their ability to retain information and understand it better than some adults,” she explained.
“There have always been environment issues, but it is now at a stage where it can no longer be ignored and needs to be addressed.
“For me it has always been very important, and I’ve always taught my kids the importance of recycling and not wasting electricity – teaching them to do their bit. If kids are more aware of how their actions can affect the environment, they can adopt a more sustainable lifestyle at an early age”
As well as the environmental messages, the Weatherbies also help children learn about the different forms of weather and their characteristics and roles.
“Our Colin Cloud Is Making Shapes book is a fun story about the cloud changing shapes but also educates children about the water cycle,” said Yvonne.
“It helps the kids to understand the importance the water cycle has in keeping the plants and forests alive.”
She has incorporated all the eco-messages into Skytown.
“The eco-friendly community of Skytown all do their bit in sustaining the environment. They do this by using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, while also recycling their rubbish.”
Yvonne believes that no matter the age of children they can take on board the positive messages from the Weatherbies.
With the help of her husband, songs have been developed to accompany the books, although Yvonne confesses that she had to get a singer to record them as she isn’t a great singer herself.
Yvonne has been determined to see her books grow and flourish into other media such as animations and online content, looking back at how far the Weatherbies has come since the first self-published book “Sammy Sun Is Coming Out To Play” motivates Yvonne to keep moving forward on her Weatherbies journey.
“We self-published that as our first book,” she said, adding: “it did well and then six months later we published Rosie Rainbow’s Recycling Day and we got a good response.
“We went to the London Book Fair, where we met Tiny Tree Children’s Books and they published our third book – Colin Cloud Is Making Shapes.
“We’re also exploring animation. We have developed an animation pilot with Flickerpix Animation Studios, which has led us to work with Michael Ford
“Michael Ford from Threewise Productions is working with me to build a team of professionals in this industry to help further develop the Weatherbies for animation”
That’s when Michael Ford’s network paid dividends for Yvonne.
“He sent my work out to five or six writers to see if they were interested, ” she said.
“Jodie Reynolds had come back and said she thought it was a phenomenal, very strong concept.
“She said sometimes you get things sent to you and you read them and you don’t see a lot of potential – maybe one movie or maybe one series and nothing else. But she said The Weatherbies had it all. She was very excited about it and wanted me to know how strongly she felt about the project and how much she would love to work with me on it.
“I was blown away by this because you always second guess your work. So, for someone with her track record in the industry to see the potential and want to put her name to it was just amazing for me.”
Yvonne is currently working with Jodi developing scripts and creating the character and story ‘Bible’ for the series, while also working with her illustrator, James Salenga on a new Weatherbies book “Sing a Song With the Weatherbies”. However, Yvonne always keeps in mind who her audience is.
“Children are very blunt. If they like something they’ll tell you, but if they don’t like it, they’ll also tell you. I feel relieved that none of the kids have actually said they don’t enjoy it. I think it must be okay if I’m still pleasing the audience.”
To purchase the book and listen to the songs go to theweatherbies.co.uk
Four-Day Festival Announced In Belfast’s Sailortown Later This Month
A four-day festival is set to take place in Belfast’s Sailortown later this month. Organised by Sailortown Regeneration, The Gathering is an exciting festival taking place from Thursday June 9 to Sunday June 12th.
The event, headlined by artists such as Brian Kennedy, Radio Ulster’s Hugo Duncan and Johnny Hero from U105 will see a whole range of performances and events from concerts and theatre to dances, boxing, a market and even a pet pageant.
Organiser Terry McKeown, Project Manager of Sailortown Regeneration said: “Sailortown are delighted to invite all to our weekend of festivities as we continue our long term vision of bringing this historic Urban Village back to life.
“Thanks to all those who have supported us to reopen St Joseph’s Church as a focal point for the local and wider Community.
“We particularly extend a warm welcome to Sailortown’s ex residents who kept their home fires burning all these years.”
Following years of restoration the ‘sailor’s church’ has been transformed to a community hub in recent years.
“The Gathering which is funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the National Lottery and is supported by Belfast City Council, allows us to bring people back to showcase the creative talent that’s in Belfast and celebrate the transformation of the Chapel on the quays to a community hub” added Terry.
There is an impressive variety of both free and ticketed events across the weekend, ranging from musical performances to theatre and exhibitions, with something for everyone to enjoy.
Throughout the four day festival, visitors can explore free exhibitions that detail the past, present and future of Sailortown at the American Bar, Dockers Club, the Flying Angel and St Joseph’s Church.
The Gathering kicks off on Thursday, June 9 in the evening with a performance of I’ll Tell My Ma, Patricia Gormley’s one woman play about the misadventures of four generations of a Belfast family, performed by Christina Nelson at St Joseph’s Church.
Friday evening sees an array of events, including the Dockers Club Dance off, hosted by Radio Ulster’s Hugo Duncan, Boxing Blasts From The Past, a 12-round exhibition of boxing history or a trad session at Pat’s Bar for those with a flair for poetry and or music.
The weekend will bring lots of craic and fun for the whole family with the return of the Sailortown Fair on Saturday, featuring local crafts and produce throughout the day and music performances throughout the evening.
On Sunday, there will be a performance from Cavehill Community Choir and a Pet Pageant at Barrow Square.
Belfast star Brian Kennedy will close the festival with a performance at St Joseph’s Church on Sunday evening, with support from Anton Glackin.
The Gathering is an opportunity to support Sailortown Regeneration, who are leading a regeneration of the maritime village and have reopened St Joseph’s Church with the aim of it becoming a space to celebrate the culture and history of the area.
Terry added: “The festival is an opportunity for old friends and new to gather together, relive old memories and make new ones as we recreate renowned Sailortown events such as the Blessing of the Pets, St Joseph’s Boxing Club and the lively social scene in Belfast Docks. We’re building on the past to create a future in this iconic waterfront location.”
With something for everyone at the event, The Gathering promises to be an exciting weekend packed with events that showcase the cultural heritage of Sailortown.
To view the full schedule of events, go to www.maritime-mile.com. To find out more about Sailortown Regeneration, and how you can support the regeneration of Sailortown, visit www.sailortownregeneration.com.
From 80’s Punk Star To Magician, Welcome To The Oddly Unique And World Of Mr Wizzy
It was a pack of cards and an encounter with a famous comedian and magician that turned the young Steve Wilson from curious teenager into budding child magician. Little did he know then that these experiences would lead to a 25 year relationship with Circusful, formerly Belfast Community Circus School.
“My fondest memory was meeting Tommy Cooper at a magic convention in London. I was a wee nipper of 13 and he was a giant.”
“I bought some cards in Hamleys toy store in London in the 70s and this pack of cards got me into magic,” he explained.
After establishing his career as a professional magician, performing at the likes of the Royal Silver Jubilee Celebrations in London and at children’s parties, Steve moved to Ireland permanently in 2000.
His connections with the Belfast Circus School via fellow Circusful performer, Bucky The Clown, led to Steve creating the building blocks of his original character, “Wonderful World of Mr Wizzy”.
“I wasn’t very academically good so I was always going to be a performer. I did workshops, and some shadowing for the first month to get up to a certain skill level”
“It’s all Bucky’s fault but I’ve never looked back.”
Originally, Mr Wizzy performed as a double act around Ireland showcasing highly visual and entertaining mobile performances.
During his early career, Steve took part in the Special Olympics ceremony held in Dublin where he brushed shoulders with U2, The Corrs and Bon Jovi.
“Back in the day we did the Special Olympics at Croke Park. We were there for three days and Nelson Mandela was there but hadn’t arrived yet so someone was invited to get up on stage to be him for the camera angles. So I went up.
“We did a big finish for 30K people in 7 minutes.” he explained.
When he isn’t performing, Steve enjoys his role as a Circusful trainer where he teaches workshops to enthusiastic participants who have the opportunity to learn new skills, gain confidence, build resilience and make long lasting friendships.
“We’ve got them all wired. It helps to build their self-esteem for school or a whole range of things. Circus breaks down all the barriers. It’s not like rugby at school where if you don’t fit in, you’ll be singled out. It’s not competitive at all”.
Over the years, Mr Wizzy has led classes for disabled people and people who are recovering from strokes, he finds this work the most fulfilling.
“One of the things we have been doing over the years are workshops with disabled people which I love with a passion, I must say. When we come back from the workshops, we can’t believe that we’ve had the privilege to work in this way – it’s very rewarding.”
Steve worked with a woman who had had a stroke a few years ago. “This lady was blind and I used juggling balls with her and she held a juggling ball and burst into tears as her carers had all told her she couldn’t feel anything in her hand.”
Although his colourful career has meant he’s travelled far and wide and performed to a variety of people, Steve believes that Belfast is the perfect place to do what he loves.
“My favourite place to perform is undoubtedly Belfast because we know everybody from the school, so we don’t have to try too hard to get an audience.
“We already know the people in the audience and with the Festival of Fools, we have theatre on our doorsteps here – it’s brilliant.” he said.
Steve continues to move forward with the tight knit Circusful family to connect, empower and inspire the people of Northern Ireland and beyond through high-quality circus tuition and performance.
“It’s a family. It’s the circus family.”To find out how you can get involved with Circusful, visit https://circusful.org