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26 writers project

A photo of 26 Sestudes

The 26 writing group has worked with The Story Museum before, and we were delighted to make them part of the story of our 26 Characters exhibition.

Twenty-six of their writers were paired with a portrait from the exhibition, creating a sestude (poem of exactly 62 words) to be read alongside it. The poems form a book which can be bought from their online store.

Introductory Sestude

by John Simmons

About badgers, crocs, clocks,
cats and docs in strange pairings
and everywhere fairies,
giants and hairy heroes,
icy witches, just kings,
little people and mirrors
for nannies and wild things
like owls and fowls,
parrots and pirates questing
river creeks, screeching at teachers
under umbrellas shading
very bad witches
with wizards spelling
X marks the spot before yelling
Z ends the lot.

Julia and Malcolm Donaldson as
The Owl and The Pussycat

by Alya Al-Khatib

Admire this motley brace:
brindles of feather and fur
In verdant receptacle
cutwater chevrons
lighting the

Bless this pea green Gretna
A feeling of floating
on strong

And those sailing in her, who better
than the wise and liberated
to rewrite archetypes
and story

She’ll nimbly approach
He’ll skip by her side
Talons twitching
as they say
‘I Do’.

Ted and Pandora Dewan as Pod and Arrietty
from The Borrowers

A Father’s Duty

By Chris Bird

“Beautiful – thrilling! – the world is, my love,
But dangerous too, when we’re up above

Our world is shrinking, our friends gone away
(With poor Eggletina become the cat’s prey!)

So watch very carefully, tread where I tread
And soon you’ll be Borrowing in your father’s stead.”

Although sorely tempted to keep her at home,
I lead Arrietty up out of the gloam.

Anthony Horowitz as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The magician’s reflection

By Sara Sheridan

Careful as you step out, sir! This mottled threshold sculpts the transition between man and monster. It’s a twisted mirror. Loiter and hazard branding yourself either or even both, for what man is all hero or villain? Roll up! And dare to choose. Or will you flip a coin, fate’s golden fragment, to see which dark shadow walks, tormented, into the light?

Benjamin Zephaniah as Anansi the Spider

By Beverley Moore

Don’t scream!
I am
I am spider. I am man. I am god of all the
I bring the rain
the night
the day
I made
the sun
the moon
the stars
I caught the bees
I trapped the snake
I am greedy
I am smart
I share my stories with the world
But my beans are mine. All mine.

Charlie Higson as Boromir
from The Lord of the Rings

By Sue Evans

Eagle and child, the bird and the baby,
The innocent, the wild,
Above sheer mountains, their destiny writ,

Engraved on a silver-tipped horn.
Sun glanced, steadfast jewel, this token of might,
Halls of stone diminished at sight.

Sound the horn once, twice if no answer comes.
Clarion outrun, lying cloven in two,
The child is a man and the eagle has gone.

Cressida Cowell as Peter Pan

By Justina Hart

Follow me! My brain’s bright
as birds’ eggs, my words sticky
with fairy dust, my luck’s taut as a bow.
Together we’ll swash and buckle,
fly through the night
and unhook our foes.

Follow me! My laugh’s crinkly
as copper, my heart forgetful
as stars, my soul sparkles like lightning.
Together we’ll tock and shuffle,
ruckle the seas,
unlock the way home.

Francesca Simon as Queen of Hearts
from Alice in Wonderland

Off with their heads (and quills)

By Rebecca Dowman

Galumphing gadabouts! roared the Querulous Queen
How can we play our game
Of croquet if, curse their quills,
The hedgehogs have all gone lame,
The flamingos have flamingone
And Alice has grown again?
And even high tea is up the spout –
Knaughty Knave has stole my tarts!
If I don’t lop off that boy’s head,
I am not the Queen of Hearts…

Steven Butler as the Mad Hatter
from Alice in Wonderland

By Michelle Nicol

Hat full of riddles,
A quicksilver changeling who’ll steal your place,
Drink from dirty teacups, finger crooked
(Best watch the butter).

Your petulant guide to the underworld,
Dances on writing desks,
Meters out madness
And tells tall tales of trolls at teatime.

If you dare to join him,
Beware the rotsome Slurch, my son
And take the mouse out of the teapot.

Frances Hardinge as The Scarlet Pimpernel

By Jo Wigley

Indented into his cheek,
disguised as a heart,
is a scar shaped like France.

A country that was once square
before it passed through
the rind of revolution.
The mark is his reminder
of a braver self – the type
you read about in plays.
But to everyone else,
it’s just a bit of makeup.
A hand-drawn folly to match his dandy heart.

Geraldine McCaughrean as Bellerophon

A Quest for Immortality

By Faye Sharpe

Jewel-like, the Chimera’s monstrous eye shone.
From the back of winged horse Pegasus, I slayed her.
With arrogant conceit, I crowed.

“Pride,” jealous Zeus whispered, “goes before destruction
And a haughty Spirit before a fall.”
And sent a gadfly to sting its flank.

Bitten, the brave horse bucked.
And atop Mount Olympus, I fell through cloudy memory.
I cried my name.  BEL-LER-O-PHON!

Holly Smale as the White Witch
from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

By Pip Trentham

Knowingly feared, comfortably cruel
I might just cast a spell on you.
Disobey, and with one strike
I’ll freeze the drum beat of your life.
Show compassion, dare to be kind
Your soul becomes forever mine.
This kingdom has no place for joy
All traitors perish; my concrete toys.
Icicle of cool or awkward geek
No matter, when you’ve stone for feet.

Jamila Gavin as Hanuman the Monkey God

By Suzie Cunliffe

Loyal Hanuman!
Mountain mover; Shape-shifter; Never-ending friend.
When the evil demon Ravana kidnapped good Lord Rama’s wife, a bitter war began.
Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, was fatally wounded. So Hanuman grew and flew to find a life-restoring Himalayan flower.
Not knowing which herb to pick, Hanuman brought back the whole mountain.
Lakshmana survived: Ravana defeated.
Immortal Hanuman!
Brave warrior! Strength-bringer! Destroyer of demons!

Julia and Malcolm Donaldson as
The Owl and The Pussycat

Further-Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat

By Elise Valmorbida

Many’s the creature that lurks in this pose
One owl and one puss, you might first suppose,
But west of a whisker, and north of a nose,
Dressed in best paw-gloves of innocent rose,
There’s a snail and a whale—the Gruffalo too—
Some monkeys, some mouses… a runcible zoo!

Our menagerie-manager of mutable hats
Inhabits Bearsden with mate and two cats.

Katherine Rundell as Wild Thing
from Where The Wild Things Are

Eating your words

By Elen Lewis

Night-time, Arthur in wolf-suit with crown
Pretending to be Max.
He growls.

Oh, my wild thing, I think,
I’m going to eat you up, I love you so.
We stomp around
Making wild rumpus.

I remember that
One boy ate Sendak’s letter
He loved it so.

That’s what we all want.
For someone to love our words
So much,
They eat them.

Katrice Horsley as Mary Poppins

A Spoonful of Extraordinary

By Elena Bowes

Ordinary, she is not, that Mary Poppins
Sailing through stormy skies
Floating with the east wind
Down, down, down
To Cherry Tree Lane,
Number 17.

An empty carpet bag stuffed with surprises,
Marvelous surprises
The kind we dreamt about
When we were young.
Sliding up staircases,
Drinking delicious medicine
Jumping into pretty pictures,
In the moment,
When did life become ordinary?

Kevin Crossley-Holland as Merlin

By Philippa Cowley-Thwaites

Perhaps I saw you, Merlin,
Scattering stars skywards
In the dark-cloaked night.
Perhaps I heard you, Merlin,
Roaring with dragon’s fire
In the dancing firelight.
Perhaps I felt you, Merlin,
In the autumn wind
Turning green trees gold.
Perhaps I dreamt you, Merlin,
In the turning leaves
Of an ancient book
Full of tales, spells
And whispered magic secrets
Waiting to unfold.

Malorie Blackman as The Wicked Witch of the West
from The Wizard of Oz

By Julie Batty

Quick! Duck! Run! Hide!
The Wicked Witch is awake and alive!
She didn’t get dead
Getting soaked like they said
Now she’s scaring you out of your mind and your bed.

Wait, stop, what’s that?
Evil don’t live in the black of her hat!
It’s not in the white
Of her big snarly bite…
Is being so green what’s making her fight?

Michael Morpurgo as Magwitch from Great Expectations

By Sophie Gordon

Rough and ragged.

No hat. Just a tattered scrap, stained crimson.
No shoes. Muddied feet.
His jewellery is a heavy iron chain.
A wild animal. Caged.

But his eyes are the eyes of a man.
A man who is tired of running but will never stop.
A man who stares back – his gaze heavier than lead, stronger than any shackle.

Michael Rosen as Till Eulenspiegel

By Tessa Sheridan

Who’s the Fool?

Story seeder, mischief-maker
Sadness-sifter, mick-taker,
Joy merchant, king of fools:
‘My story; my rules’.

Green tights – no, brown tights.
Jelly eyes: brain lights!
Spider fingers, peeling toes,
Who’s the fool? Who knows?

Schoolboy ego slayer,
Chancer, trasher, trust-betrayer
Mocks and mirrors what we do
(cook up lies; make them true).
Tells us what we always knew*.

*’Who’s the fool?’ ‘The fool is… (_ _ _ ).’

Neil Gaiman as Badger
from The Wind in the Willows

By Daniel Headey

There he waited, listening for that strange guttural scream again.

But nothing stirred, other than the wind twisting through the wizened old oak outside his new lair.

“Why on earth did I move? The Wild Wood was perfect,” Badger said to himself as he peered out at the Old Vicarage through the trees; candlelight flickering underneath his chin.

He’d never liked graveyards.

Philip Pullman as Long John Silver

By Laura Hunter

Up! Over yonder.
Move quickly
there’s treasure to plunder.

Forget your allegiance to “honest” men.
We’re pirates, together
I’ll fight for you ’till the death.

Pah! Fate and fortune. I’ll write my own
in the jewels that I’ll pillage
or in dead men’s bones.

So let’s adventure to the wild, wicked isle.
Trust me
you want to be on my side, child.

Shirley Hughes as Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell

By Neil Baker

Victorian snobbery
flowers quite naturally.
For it’s a fact unarguably true
that I was born better than you.
And my breeding you plainly can see
just look how I imbibe my tea.
Put simply, I simply have class
whereas you are all muck and no brass.
My father was a Nabob of Gujarat.
This hat was a gift from his favourite cat.

Clara Vulliamy as Oscar Wilde’s Miss Prism

By Gilliam Colhoun



As there is no greater nuisance to society than children, God undoubtedly sent us a daughter as a test of faith.

Since ‘the accouchement’, you and she are grown intolerable. Infinite questions, nonsensical doodlings, hee-hawing over train journeys! Frankly, this complicitous podsnappery is undignified.

I implore you to reacquaint yourself with the edifications of your former profession.

Today, please.


From the writing desk of Rev Canon Frederick Chausuble D.D.
Dated Wednesday, 30th August 1899, six months after his death.
Cause unknown.

Ted and Pandora Dewan as Pod and Arrietty
from The Borrowers

My Father Climbs the Bookshelf

By Kirsten Irving

X: the grappling iron’s in place.
All I know is I can’t think of Mother
or the sentinel butler,
so I fix on my father’s back,
broad like the summer,
as he digs in,
scaling Three Billy Goats Gruff,
then Rumplestiltskin,
scuffing buckram strata,
ever smaller,
and my calfback heart says,
Next time, that’ll be me, your daughter.

Terry Jones as Rupert the Bear

Dancing bear

By Lin Sagovsky

You need a certain comic flair
To dress up as a little Bear;
Adopt a pose that’s odd, but merry –
And there you have it: Rupert / Terry.

Such tribute to the famous fellow,
A timeless dance in red and yellow,
Pours shame on Shepard, pooh-poohs Pooh –
They can’t match Rupert’s derring-do.

And here’s the living evidence:
Your Inner Bear – in present tense.

Terry Pratchett as Just William

By Chris Martin


He aimed his slingshot in a rush,
now he’s hiding in a bush


Escaping along the river path
Leads to an unexpected bath


Through the river and away
Safe from capture for another day


Into the house without a care
To find his pursuer waiting there…