When three-year-old Nathaniel, who always has a smile on his face, met Terry Deary after 18 months of chemotherapy, he cheered up even more!

Our storytelling project works with children with all forms of cancer, distracting them from the reality of their treatment and taking them into a world of pure imagination. It began in 2015 at the Paediatric Oncology wards at the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle, motivated in part by a desire to invest more in our own region. In 2017, we began expanding the project to other hospitals around the UK.

The project was inspired by Henry’s own work with a young filmmaker making cartoons and other stories when he was undergoing treatment. Having seen how much he enjoyed these sessions, it is no surprise how much children love working one-on-one with our professional actress and storyteller, Shelly O’Brien, to create and tell their own stories.

The project has been a huge success, distracting children from their difficult treatment and often long hospital stays. For example, patients who were reluctant to eat following their treatment have been encouraged to do so by stories about food. Not only does it bring the children a few minutes of fun, but it also gives parents and carers a little time and space for themselves. The value of the time for parents to speak to relatives or gather themselves out of sight of their child cannot be underestimated.

We also give books to the children, meaning the fun does not stop when the sessions end. Patients, parents and hospital staff have all praised the project and the hospital has since asked us to double the number of sessions.


“Entertaining young people using stories is dear to my heart and seeing their reactions during Shelley’s visits makes it clear that this idea is extremely worthwhile. It makes a wonderful change for children undergoing cancer treatment to enjoy some fun and distraction and Shelley is great at involving families in her sessions.”

Terry Deary

Best-selling author of CBBC’s ‘Horrible Histories’ and supporter of the Storytelling Project