Horrible Histories Illustrator Martin Brown at Seven Stories National Centre for Children's Books

The World of Martin Brown: Horrible Histories and other Dazzling Drawings

Vegetables might be for Peasants - but books are for everyone
August 16, 2023

We’re unlikely to secure any literary plaudits for confirming that Newcastle upon Tyne is indeed a special place. Everyone knows that.

What perhaps is less widely understood (outside of the region), is that within a few minutes of the Quayside, St James’ Park and Grainger Town, there is a unique enclave nestled beneath three impressive viaducts that bridge the Ouseburn Valley.

Ouseburn, (or The Ouseburn, or The Ouseburn Valley - all three are used to reference this part of town) is an incredible village-like ‘creative quarter’ that is home to some of the most dynamic cultural organisations – certainly in the North – but probably the UK too.

A red-brick, post-industrial landscape that in-itself is beautiful – and the polar opposite of much of the architecture found elsewhere in the city – music venues, artisan bakers, bars, art spaces, and an urban farm sit side-by-side in an environment which feels like it has nature and colour everywhere.

Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne

However…don’t panic…this isn’t some Mag North ‘Visit Ouseburn Tourist shtick’ – although a visit to this bit of NE6 will very probably add-value to your already fantastic life.

[Get to the point please.] Okay, okay. We’re waxing lyrical about this particular ‘cradle of the industrial revolution’, because recently we were invited along to a special evening at one of the key Cultural Anchors in the North – that calls this part of town ‘home’.

Seven Stories is The National Centre for Children’s Books – and lives in a beautiful Victorian Mill on Lime Street. You know the out-of-body euphoric feeling you get when you walk into a bookshop anywhere? Well multiply that by a figure with a lot of digits – and you’re somewhere close to the enveloping sense of ‘oh wow’ that’s waiting for you in this magical place.

Why ‘Seven Stories’? Firstly this gorgeous building (perhaps obviously) has 7 floors, but more amazingly: Did you know that it’s believed there are just seven story plots from which all tales are told? That’s the standard of attention-to-detail you’re going to encounter wherever you wander in this extraordinary building.

A registered charity and Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation, this place is dedicated to protecting – and shouting about – our literary heritage. In addition to a superb children’s bookshop, café and 7 floors of wonder in the Visitor Centre, this is the only exhibition space in the UK wholly dedicated to the work of children’s writers and illustrators.

Through a year-round programme of exhibitions and exciting events, visitors are able to discover the ‘stories behind the stories’ we all know and love, and to feel excited and inspired to tell their own stories, in their own ways. We also hear from CEO Wendy Elliott that the team are expert at delivering extensive school and community outreach work, both locally and nationally.

If at this juncture you’re worried that a visit with your tribe will be expensive – it won’t. Seven Stories operates a Free Entry structure that is central to the ethos and aims of the dedicated – and lovely – team you’ll meet when you head along. (Do you have a date planned yet?)

The World Of Martin Brown Exhibition At Seven Stories
The World Of Martin Brown Exhibition At Seven Stories

Although we should say at this point, that if you visit Seven Stories over the summer – it might be Just Horrible! Because ‘The World of Martin Brown: Horrible Histories and other Dazzling Drawings’ is now open – and we dropped in to meet the man himself on the opening weekend.

Among the most accomplished cartoonists of his generation, Martin Brown has illustrated Horrible Histories since 1993, working alongside County Durham’s Terry Deary to create one of the best-loved series of children’s books ever published. TV series, stage shows and a film have all resulted from the creative genius of Brown and Deary.

On view at the exhibition are original Horrible Histories covers, in addition to some of Martin’s work from his beginnings as a graphic artist and fan of cartoons. Never-before-seen work from Nell and the Cave Bear, both written and illustrated by Martin, are also on display for the first time.

At the exhibition launch Martin explained: “I want to show everyone that they can pick up a pencil and draw. Everyone can draw.”

Underpinning all of his work is Martin’s desire to use the power of illustration to entertain and educate – and he did just that at Seven Stories earlier this month by taking part in a number of workshops and drawing sessions.

Close-Up Original Horrible Histories Sketches And Illustrations
Close-Up Original Horrible Histories Sketches And Illustrations

CEO Wendy Elliott is clearly over-the-moon that Seven Stories is holding Martin Brown’s exhibition: “As a mother of four reluctant readers, Horrible Histories were some of the only books my children would read growing up. I would always catch them giggling at Martin’s silly cartoons and I’d marvel at how he could make history so fun and engaging through the power of illustration. It is important that families and visitors across the region have the opportunity to experience the exhibition free of charge – and that’s in line with our charity’s objectives around inclusion and literature.”

And to complement the wonderful work of Martin Brown, the Seven Stories Boffins have created a summer programme jam-packed with fun and family-friendly events. Youngsters (of any age) can create their own Canopic Jars, Dragon Puppets and Roman Mosaics during the special craft days running throughout the summer holidays. There’s also a very exciting collaboration currently underway with Newcastle Castle – that sees interactive performances taking place across the Seven Stories Visitor Centre.

Seven Stories The National Centre for Children’s Books is open every day from 10am to 5pm throughout school holidays (closed Wednesday in term time).

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