Thursday, August 17, 2017

Stories Are Alive!

Telling stories around a fire - circa 2013
Last night I was telling stories at Camp Exclamation Point (CAMP!) where i go every year to share stories with kids who face more challenges in their lives than most. For the last five years, I think it is, Odds Bodkin has joined me, and this year we had a special visit from Karen Pillsworth. Karen was standing in for Angela Klingler, who has been coming on and off for as long as I have been going.

For a change I told stories to the youngest Pods, and Odds told to the oldest group. I have been telling to the older kids since the beginning of offering storytelling to CAMP!. Because the younger kids only get about 30 minutes, I was able to hoof it up the hill, join Odds to catch his last story and share one or two myself.

I told a story I had been working on, one I wanted to share with the CAMP! folks for the first time - The Golden Ball. They wanted another tale, and one young man asked me to tell the Scottish story known as The Lonely Boatman, or The Fairy Bride, depending on your source! I had not told that story in a good number of months, if not years. It could be a couple of years since I have told the story. When the young man asked me, my first reaction was - no! It's been too long, I have not practiced it, I'll botch it up. But the story and characters floated to my mind and wanted to be told.

The story of The Fairy Bride, is not a silly story, it is not a story which makes us look at ourselves and laugh. It is a love story about the fey, the fair people - fairy folk. It's about losing something precious. And getting it back. It's on my third CD ('A Tangle of Tales') and is a beautiful tale. It was one of my Gran's favourite stories.

Stories, I truly believe, live within us. I have likened them before to children - sometimes errant children, who hide away when you have practiced and planned on telling them, or they can jump up and down and demand to be told.  The Fairy Bride is a gentle story, sad in places, thoughtful in others, and when I was asked to tell it, the tale stepped quietly to the front, ready to be told. It was alive, and it breathed as I spoke the words. The telling was different, easy, relaxed - I caught the elusive dragon. When the story ended there was that pause you sometimes get as folks take it all in, then a sigh, then applause. This was a large group of young people from 12 years up, not a group I would have pegged this story on, especially when they wanted ghost stories. This was not a ghost story in any manner or form. And they loved it.

Another story I tell on the same CD is called The Story Untold, Song Unsung. I end it, where and whenever you hear it, with the words: "If you know a song - sing it. For they wrap us up and keep us warm when we need to be held. If you know a story, tell it. For stories are like boots and like to travel." And I'll end this blog the same way.

If you know a story - tell it. Stories are like boots and love to travel.

Simon
17th August, 2017



Simon Brooks © 2017


Friday, July 07, 2017

Beowulf

What gives you joy? What brings you into the present? For me, storytelling does this in bucket loads.  You have to present to listen to stories otherwise you lose the thread of what's going on, you cannot remember the story. Some stories are hard to listen to, but often I listen to a bunch of stories together, or I listen to single stories that are not hard to listen to.



Beowulf is one of my all time favorite stories. You know, like some people say Pride and Prejudice is theirs, Beowulf is mine! I have five versions of it, and there are a couple of other re-telling in some childhood books of myths and legends I own and love. I have two young person translations/re-tellings, one by Michael Morpurgo which pulls you in like no other revisit I have read, and the other by James Rumford who only uses Saxon words. This renders the language very blunt and edgy, but I love it. This is quite the opposite of Morpurgo's poetic style of writing and are great to compare. The other versions I have are David Wright's prose translation, Burton Raffel's translation, Michael Alexander and of course Seamus Heaney's definitive (for me) bilingual verse translation. In collections I have Kevin Crossley-Holland's superb translation, James Riordan and Brenda Ralph Lewis' young readers version of the tale, and I recently  found an 'updated verse translation' by Frederick Rebsamen, which I have yet to read. And I have, of course, seen the movie directed by Robert Zimeckis, with screen play written (along with others) by Neil Gaiman. This is a 'based on' movie and has some very interesting ideas and concepts in it, but is not the 'proper version of Beowulf! The movie is good entertainment.

Odds Bodkin has recently released a live recording of Beowulf. It is a recent acquisition for me. Like all of his work, it is deep, funny, and brilliantly told. Odds' version is entertaining and pulls you in so you cannot back away from it and sticks very closely to the story. There are parts where he uses the exact wording and phrases from the translations which pop out for me. The humour he injects into the story is artful, and respectful to the original. I have listened to it several times. In fact I am at the point where I cannot start it unless I have the time to finish it all. I cannot stop listening to the words and music which flow so wonderfully throughout the hour and twenty minutes or so it lasts.

If we lived in those days of Grendel, swords, and mead halls, and spoke current English, this telling by Odds would be the quintessential telling. I am not usually a fan of live recordings, but this is one of those performances that truly benefits an audience. The musical accompaniment on guitar, never drowning Odds out, pulls you along, fills your ears and body leaving you totally immersed in the man's words and fully within the story.

If you like epics and like Beowulf, you should get a copy of it! It's wonderful. It's not for kids though!
http://www.oddsbodkin.net/shop/beowulf-the-only-one/

Peace,
Simon

Thursday, July 06, 2017

4th July

The day was planned to be uneventful. Start with a walk, chill out with my son, maybe take in some fireworks, or watch a very American movie or two!
The day began with the walk.
About a year ago I found this truck door on a trail with what I thought were flames painted on the side. You could barely make out the markings. Then sharing the trail with another dog walker, they mentioned the old Coke truck door. So I returned to find it again. Sure enough, what I had at first thought of as flames, I realized was hand painted lettering.
Maybe you can see where I went wrong?


I think it was the yellow that throw me. Moe told me she knew the first time we saw it, but I am not sure!


We did take in a movie - Stripes. It seemed appropriate, sort of!
Then a friend of my son's got into a little bit of bother so we  joined him for moral support and got to see some pretty cool fireworks at Elkins Beach, NH.



Red, white and blue. Which of course could also be for the UK and France, Australia, Costa Rica, Cambodia, and Cuba, Serbia and Thailand!


Belated Happy Fourth from the Brit in the USA.

Peace,
Simon

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Why should I read or tell old folk stories and fairy tales to children?

Reading to children is very important and there is that attribution to Einstein, about the importance of fairy tales. Research has informed me that Rita McDonald wrote an article: “Children’s Reading in the Space Age,” in Montana Libraries, in July 1958.

In the current New Mexico Library Bulletin, Elizabeth Margulis tells a story of a woman who was a personal friend of the late dean of scientists, Dr. Albert Einstein. Motivated partly by her admiration for him, she held hopes that her son might become a scientist. One day she asked Dr. Einstein’s advice about the kind of reading that would best prepare the child for this career. To her surprise, the scientist recommended ‘Fairy tales and more fairy tales.’ The mother protested that she was really serious about this and she wanted a serious answer; but Dr. Einstein persisted, adding that creative imagination is the essential element in the intellectual equipment of the true scientist, and that fairy tales are the childhood stimulus to this quality.

 
It is almost like Whispers/Telephone! I heard it from the internet, which states Rita McDonald in Montana Libraries heard it from New Mexico Library Bulletin that Elizabeth Margulis said...
This is the story which led to the saying: “If you want a child to be smart, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be smarter, read them more fairy stories.” If Einstein thinks it is important, I am totally on board! And more about this later.

 
The idea of reading to children is very important for a couple of reasons, more so if English is a second language, but it applies to all of us. One, is that picture books often contain words which are not normally used on a day-to-day basis. To take examples from four books:

Original sketch for Dragon and the Monkey's Heart, Rob Brookes, copyright 2006
 Puss in Boots, by Philip Pullman (ISBN: 0-375-81354-3) 2000
property, monsieur, fortune, impressive, saluted, meadows, astrologer, villains, hermit, marquis, sleeplessness, onward, dungeon
Merlin and the Dragons, by Jane Yolen (ISBN: 0-525-65214-0) 1995
gazed, knowingly, withdrawing, companionship, troubled, predictions, planetary, revolt, emblazoned, Welshmen, banners, consulted, reported, knowledge, emerged
The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, by Neil Gaiman ((ISBN: 0-06-058701-6) 1997
penny whistle, brilliant, swap, splashes, mumf, humf, doorbell, gorilla, escaping, darling, attention, present, caught, butler, whom, ginger beer, tickled, fussed

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
, by Dr. Suess (ISBN: 90129-80527-8) 1990
congratulations, steer, direction, decide, frequently, fliers, sights, slump, unpleasant, magical, scare, hither, creek, prowl, dexterous, deft
These are just a few words taken from part of the books, apart from Dr. Suess' Oh, The Places... which I went all the way through as it is one of my favourites. Now I admit, some of these we do use, but not usually on a daily basis. Seeing these words in books on a regular basis (you know how children love to hear the same story over and over again) puts them in context and makes it easier to spell the words, or recognize them when they see them later. Reading any children’s book will therefore increase vocabulary. 
The other reason to read (or tell a story) is to sit down, turn off the phone and to remove any distractions (like the television). Reading or telling tales to someone provides intimate one-on-one time, creating a strong and lasting bond. Distraction free one-on-one time with children in this day and age is rare indeed. Sharing folk and fairy tales can also provoke meaningful conversations and discussions. When these children grow up, no matter what happens to them, they will have this special bond, and memories of time spent with loved ones. And if you are reading Grimm to anyone, it provides an ample supply of topics on all sorts of subject matter!
Elves and the Shoe Makers
Should you read all of Grimm’s stories to young children? Some of them, yes. Although obviously there are some which are not for young ears. There are some wonderful stories collected by the Grimm Brothers, and most, if not all, end with hope. There isviolence in these stories, and some dreadful things which happen, but nothing a child has not seen on the evening news, or heard on the radio or playground at recess. The thing with these stories, is that there is hope (which is rarely given on the news). And when we are surrounded by doom and gloom, hope is a big thing, not just for a child, but for adults, too. Children who have issues at home, or at school, such as bullying, or abuse, which may feel are insurmountable, can find hope and support in some tales, and will find escapism and laughter in others.
These stories are needed now more than ever. If we were to take Hansel and Gretel, for example, this is a story where the children are abandoned in the woods by their parents, and have to survive the encounter of a predator – the witch - on their own. At the time (in history) of when this story takes place, abandonment was a very real threat if a family was on the brink of starvation. Small children and elders were left in the woods to ‘fend for themselves.’ Although these reasons are no longer valid, children can feel they are being abandoned, no matter how well it is dealt with, when parents get divorced, or have to travel a lot. Sadly there are families where a parent gets imprisoned, or parents are just too busy for their children. Little Red Riding Hood can help young children process events they might hear on the news about predators*. There are many ways tales can help, as well as entertain. 
As tools to understand the world around us, the old stories are as relevant today as when they were first told. And a good majority of the ancient, dark stories should be read to young people, and discussed. Just because a book is for children, does not mean only children should read them! I never stopped buying children’s books or getting them from the library and reading them, and I doubt I will. Read to your children, your grandchildren, your wards, and tell the gritty Grimm stories! They’ll become favourites.
Artwork by Rob Brooks, copyright 2017. For the cover of Under the Oaken Bough
by Simon Brooks, copyright 2017
The above text was taken and modified from parts of my forthcoming collection of retold folk and fairy tales, Under the Oaken Bough. Due out in November 2017
*See my article on LinkedIn – The Old Tales, and Personal Stories
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/old-tales-fairy-folk-myth-legend-personal-story-simon-brooks
For more of Rob's artwork, or to commission his work, visit his website:
http://brookesandbrookes.com/

Friday, May 05, 2017

Personal Development and Why an Artist Should Be Paid!

It is Friday.
We have a couple of electricians working on our stove, putting new wiring in, banging and crashing.
I am exhausted.
Some of my equipment at a gig

A few weeks ago I was working all weekend at a conference with the delightful Doug Lipman on sound for the Sharing the Fire storytelling conference of Northeastern Storytelling.
I have set up bands before, in my youth. I have set up sound in rooms for small presentations and story performances, but never done sound for a conference.
First of all, I have to say I was approached to do this as a volunteer, as was Doug. We were pooling equipment to create a soundscape for the presenters and audiences to ensure a great conference. I think we did that. It was a lot of fun.  I present a workshop called 'Be Loud, Be Loud, But Not Too Loud', so I had better know what I do!

Then last weekend I went to the Northlands Confabulation. I am just recovering!

So often in the arts, people ask one to work for free. It rarely, if ever, is asked of a contractor, or lawyer, but artists get asked all the time to work gratis. I think some of it is that people assume you never went to college. Or that you don't have bills! But all professional artists have bills and on-going expenses. When my computer breaks down, I don't hand it over to my IT person - I don't have one! Well, it's me and I can only do a certain amount. When I need a new publicity campaign, I don't wander the hall to the PR department. Wait! That's me again and I pay for the paper, ink and mailing costs for all that stuff. And training and on-going professional development has to be organized and booked by me.

I just spent this past weekend (29th and 30th of April, 2017) at Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. I was presenting a workshop on microphones, PA systems and how to use and set them up to get the best sound for someone that presents stories. There are a few technophobes in my profession, although I love tech stuff, especially sound. Although I got a stipend to be at the conference and deliver my workshop (Be Loud, Be Loud, But Not Too Loud), I had to get myself there, pay for the hotel, and registration fee. The advantage is that the stipend off-set some of the costs of driving the 2,096 miles there and back and I got to attend other workshops.

Ready to present Be Loud... at Nothlands, 2017
After watching some storytellers perform on Friday night I made my mind up whose workshops I wanted to attend, where I wasn't sure before. I went to Ingird Nixon''s workshop on 'Story Evolution By Way of Creative Selection.' The title alone had intrigued me but when I saw her perform, I knew I would learn from her.

Some of the things we did, were reminders of what I used to do and worked well. We get into habits, get out of others, so reminders are very important, and prevent our work getting stale. She introduced me to some techniques I had not tried which sparked some great ideas for stories I am working on right now. It was very well timed.

Another presenter I had to see was Susan O'Halloran, presenting 'Storytelling and the Culturally Relevant Classroom.' I recently saw Susan presenting at Sharing the Fire, the North Eastern Storytelling Conference where I was doing sound with Doug Lipman. There is a lot of misunderstanding about culture and how it effects what we do. My wife told about a training her workplace had on culture in the workplace. This was my own version! Susan does a fabulous job.

On Sunday I went to Antonio Rocha's workshop - 'A Conversation with Antonio.' It is always interesting to see how other storytellers work, and find out what makes them tick. Antonio is a remarkable storyteller who uses mime in his work. I do too, but not to the extent that Antonio does. He is a trained mime, and to watch him tell stories is like watching a human being being poured into different the invisible containers of his characters. What he does is pure magic and to learn from him is a gift.

When you think about asking an artist to work for free, please see the value in what they do as their art, and realize they are also their own IT department, PR company, booking agent, trainer, and office manager and pay them for what they do, just as you would an electrician, real estate agent, or doctor. After all, you don't see too many artists with multiple homes, a few cars and a boat, wearing Prada, or Rolex watches.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rumi and Storytelling

If you have been to one of my 'grown-up' gigs, or even one of my family gigs, you might know I am a fan of Rumi. Rumi is a poet, and came from Persia, originally from the Balkh, in present-day Afghanistan. He lived in the 1200's.
Rumi once said to his soul brother, Shams of Tahris: "stories are reshaped in the light of the tellers own concerns." Stories change.
Often we talk about the original source when we are asked where we got the story from from. Or we say the 'oldest source we can find'. But in my brief life span, I know stories shift and change. Who can know what the original source is, and how different it is from how that story was first heard? When I teach the art of storytelling, I mention that when we tell a story we part of ourselves into it. Something in our life resonates with the story, and it might put a spin on how we tell it. Something in the story becomes more important than another part, so we emphasis it.
We can read all the stories we want, we can read all the self-help books, but we need to put ourselves into the story, and into life.
Rumi taught the texts as his father before him did. He would read from them to his students. Shams took the sacred books and through them into the pool of a fountain. Shams told Rumi to live the words he was teaching. He asked Rumi to "surrender the literature" for living.
To me, storytelling is just that. It has to be to be able to ride the elusive dragon. I want to surrender myself to the story, not the words, and be that conduit for the story. And I also hope to live life that way.






Words and photo copyright Simon Brooks, © 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stories, and more stories - Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman and Patakin by Nina Jaffe

 Fact - I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. Fact - I am a huge fan of the Norse myths. So when Neil came out with his retelling, I was thrilled, excited and pre-ordered his book, Norse Mythology. I waited months, and months, and months. And it arrived in February. I dove into the book with great abandon. And I was a little surprised.

 You KNOW Neil Gaiman knows his myths. Not just the Norse myths, but also the Greek myths, Japanese myths, the list could go on forever. You can see it in the layers of his graphic novels The Sandman. You can feel it in Neverwhere, and taste the Norse myths in Odd and the Frost Giants. Neil Gaiman is one of the most talented writers out there. His characters are deep, the mood is intense, even in some of his picture books (Wolves in the Walls). There is humour in his writing, great style, and knowledge.

 I was sorely disappointed in Norse Mythology. At times the writing is geared to young readers, but in the next moment it seems aimed at an older readership. He talks about poop, then says piss.The writing is choppy, in the way Oscar Wilde can be choppy - Neil Gaiman is not choppy!
Having said all this, the book is a fairly good retelling of the Norse myths, but it is not Gaiman's best writing. I ask myself if this book was edited, and if so does the editor still have a job?
Would I recommend it? Sort of. Not the hardcover. Get the paperback. If you are a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, maybe. If you have young readers or listeners who want to know more about the Norse gods, probably. Otherwise I highly recommend one of my favourite books of the Norse stories - Kevin Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths. It has everything the Gaiman book does and more. It might not be as cute as Gaiman's, but the Norse stories are not meant to be cute. Funny in places? Yes. Cute? No. Crossley-Holland's might be a little more dry, but they are myths and the book is well written.

Another book I finished this year was originally published 2001 and written by storyteller, folklorist, and drummer Nina Jaffe: Patakin, World Tales of Drums and Drummers. (Pronounced pah-tah-KEEN, the sound of hand hitting a drum.) As a drummer this book was of great interest to me and was recommended by Tim Van Egmond for a bodhrán tale it contained. Although most of these wonderful stories are traditional I discovered the bodhrán tale from Ireland was not a traditional tale, but one created 'for the drum' by Nina and features the legendary drummer Stevie Mac! The edition I got included a CD of some of the tales (not all ten). The introduction, five tales and epilogue are well told by the author and are augmented by the percussion featured in the story, and flute and vocals. The amount of research that obviously went into this book must have been great. You know there is more that was not included, and I for one, would be interested in seeing all the notes and research that went into this wonderful little book. Drums and their stories hail from Ghana, Fiji, Korea, India, Ireland, Haiti,Venezuela, Mexico and include a tale from te Inuit people and a Jewish story. With explanatory notes, a glossary, bibliography, discography, recommended resources and publications and further reading, if you like drums and folk tales, this is a must have book! If you are, or know a music teacher who love their drums, compliment their collection of books by adding this one! A well researched, nicely illustrated collection of tales indeed.

Both of these book reviews were unsolicited.
© 2017 Simon Brooks