Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Three Apples Storytelling Festival

Hi All,

This last weekend I went to the Three Apples Storytelling Festival with my two children - Aidan (8) and Perry (3). It was a bit of an experiment! When Sarah, my wife, comes to an event Perry has acted up, or been too restless to sit through a whole performance, but on the two occasions I have had her with me on my own (and with Aidan) at semi-informal performances, she has not been too bad. So to take her to an all day event for JUST storytelling and sitting around listening, it was to be quite the test. First up was a two and a half plus hour drive to Bedford, MA to be followed by a one hour show (which went over time a little) with three performers.

The opening act was Christie Keegan which, despite being targeted for families, it did not really hold much for a three year old, but Perry behaved and Christie did a fine job. She was followed by storytellers and musicians The Healing Force, a family band of four - see their website -
www.thehealingforceonline.com. Aidan and I like the tale a lot - an African version of King Mark's Ears (the King with Donkey's Ears, a tale from Wales I tell). It was great. The Healing Force gave off this love, or happiness that seemed to fill the venue and their obvious joy of what they were doing made it all the more special. This was followed by Odds Bodkin - a HUGE favourite of my entire family. He did the story of Fionn MacCumhaill and the big man and boy did he do a great version. This had Perry standing on her seat, jumping up and down and clapping on the song "Boy That Hurts" which was sung every time the Big Man got injured by Fionn's friend or wife! If you have never seen Odds, see him!

We had a short break then headed to the swapping fields led by the amazing Tony Toledo. It started with Tim Van Egmond, storyteller troubadour who did a wonderful story that all three of us loved. Tim is an extraordinary man and I feel blessed to know both him and Tony. We hung out there for a while and Perry and I did the Three Billy Goats Gruff together - sort of! Perry was very shy in front of so many strangers, but managed to 'trap, trap, trap' in all the right places! Later in the day Aidan joined in with a group story and finished the made-up-as-they-went-along story in such a fine way that many people came up to him afterwards to congratulate him! Bravo Aidan! We spent quite a lot of time with Tony at the swapping ground and watched all manner of tellers, from seasons pros like Tony, Tim, Jim LaChapelle,
and Lose Change to beginners who had never told before - kids and adults a like. There is something very magical to see and hear someone who has never done it before come to life as they slip into the story themselves - be it a personal tale, or a folk story - and lead you into the story so you become part of it too.

We went for a walk around the area of the festival and got rained on a little but the fresh air was more than welcome and the kids didn't care. We had a lunch of sorts - mostly snacks with a little proper food - and Perry had a butterfly painted on her face. Aidan and I looked at books carrying Perry, but decided we had plenty to read at home! I did some silliness with Tony and told a story at the swapping grounds and heard a great story about geese from Tim and then we were off to see...

... Odds Bodkin do the family show in the afternoon where, unbelievably (or maybe not) Perry fell asleep. She had been up since 6am and been sitting listening to all this storytelling and running around at lunch and it was now 2pm. Aidan and I were engrossed in his performance. I was happy to hear another story from Odds that I had not heard before. Two new ones in one day! I like hearing stories I have heard him tell before, but am always excited to hear tales that are new to me - in his telling. I knew the Fionn story which he had told in the morning, but never quite like he told it and what appeared to be an original song about some creature that no one knew, exactly, what it was - was it imagination? We got to see Lorraine Hartin-Galardi (I had performed with Lorraine at a preview show for the festival) but I had to take Perry out. She had just woken up from the nap and began to run around and bang on things, talking loudly to Aidan. Aidan loved Lorraine's tale about a piano player and a snake and was telling the story to me on the way home.

Perry and I returned to the swapping ground and listened to some more tales and then, as the day ended, I performed my traveling tale which had died. We listened to the other traveling tales, then headed home. The day had been about my children. There were many other tellers I had wanted to see, adult storytellers I had not heard before, but this was for Perry and Aidan and they had been great. I was so happy. Perry sang "Boy That Hurts" for the first part of the way home as loud as she could until Aidan and I could stand it no longer and then Aidan shared Lorriane's snake story which I had missed. We listened to the Healing Force CD which we had bought, then popped in Angela Klingler's CD - where were you Angela? - for the rest of the trip home, with two very happy and sleepy kids.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New Job

Hi Folks,

Just a short announcement that I have a new job as Teen Library Assistant at the Howe Library in Hanover, NH. The library is about 30 minutes from home (as everything is around here!) and is 8 hours a week, two afternoons a week. I could tell you all about it here, but it might be more fun to look at what I have been doing by going to http://howeteens.blogspot.com/ and finding it all there!

Remember to listen for great stories and share them.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Howe Library CD Release Party

Well, friends, it happened yesterday evening! Aidan, my eight year son, came with me to the Howe Library, Hanover, NH to help me set up my performance space with posters, postcards and, of course, CDs for the CD release party. Aidan quite often comes with me to gigs over the summer and that is something I thoroughly enjoy. His company, the chats we have, the help, his face in the audience still grinning at the funny bits he has heard many, many times over, his eyes widening at the scary bits he has heard many, many times over. Once we tested the microphone we ended up not using, we popped over to Romento’s for a pizza supper. We met up with some friends and my wife and daughter who I left there to finish their pizza, to get myself ready for showtime.

A few people were already there, so I hurriedly got into my storytelling outfit (out of my raggedy shorts and tee shirt) and tuned up my drum. As more and more people arrived I kept looking at my list of stories and changing it. In the end the list proved useless. With an age range of retirees to one year olds I went with a few requests and a couple I had planned on telling. The requests kept coming from my three year old daughter, who is quite stubborn, so it is sometimes quite useless to fight her. Hence me telling “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”, not something I usually do. Other tales told were “The Fly” from Vietnam, “The Goat from the Hills and Mountains*” from Alma Flor Ada and her wonderful book ‘Tales Our Abualitas Told’, “The Dragon and the Monkey’s Heart*” from China, and of course “Ananzi Gathers Stories,” my signature piece, if one can call it that! The evening went well, and nobody, as far as I could tell, minding the heckling from the little voice at the back of the room, and I heard some other voices join in with a couple of the stories. Always a good sign.

The Howe Library once again proved cake for all, and once again it had the CD cover on it and tasted wonderful. Denise did a great job organizing and helping, and Peter Blodgett did a great job introducing me. The people who were there were friends, family, fans and some faces I had not seen before, but hope to see again. Sarah, my wife, was able to sit through the whole evening and listen to the tales without having to take Perry out for being noisy, which is a first. So, the night was a happy success.

The photograph above was taken at the first CD release party held at Orford Library where Perry actually helped tell the story "The Three Billy Goats Gruff”.

Thank you to Alex Hanson for the well researched article he wrote for the Valley News about me and the art of storytelling: a great piece of writing. To those who came: thank you. To those who couldn’t make for whatever reasons, I missed you. To all: thank you for helping me get where I am today with five years as a professional teller of tales and a second CD to my name.

*Stories from the new CD, 'More Second-Hand Tales'

Thursday, August 21, 2008

CAMP! and CD Release Party

What is CAMP! I hear you ask? It is a summer camp for Vermont children of migratory workers. It has been in its present form for 18 years, I believe, and was doing business in another form for three years prior to that. Some of the councilors have been working there for 18 years, and many of the others have been coming back year after year - sucked into the love of the place and the children who attend. It is a great place and I volunteer to go there mid-week and tell stories. It turns out I have been going for 4 or 5 years (I have so much fun I forget!) and I love it. Last night was the day for 2008 and after Steve Glazer, Duncan McDougall and myself told stories to the entire camp, we split into three groups and I was taken with the oldest group up on top of a hill with a wonderful fire pit and told tales into the darkness. Duncan takes the youngest kids and Steve took the middle group. The kids always want more and more and if it were not for the other younger kids being in bed already and the councilors not wanting to disturb them with screams in the night I would have gone on for another hour. These kids, many very underprivileged, are so welcoming and eager, and quiet often better behaved then kids from affluent families. It is an honour to to tell stories to these faces year after year.

Today is the last day Aidan and I have to play together all day as he is off to school next week. This is our last summer 'Daddy - Aidan day", just the two of us, as Perry is in daycare, so I need to be brief. Tonight is the CD release party for "More Second-hand Tales" and I have everything ready. I have a bag of stories to take with me as I am not 100% sure which tales I will tell. There will be two from the new CD but I will throw in some other new stories, or some old faves, not sure yet.

Anyway, it has been a while since I posted anything and I am pretty excited about tonight, and am still buzzing after last night, so had to say something!

Remember to find your tales that excite you and share them - there is a world of stories out there for your making.



Monday, July 07, 2008

The New CD is here - Please Welcome: More Second-hand Tales

My path on the road of storytelling is filled with people who have helped me do what I do and have supported me in many different ways: Duncan McDougall, director of CLiF; Grace Greene and Ann Hoey, ‘in charge’ of the children’s literature and activities of Vermont and New Hampshire State Libraries were a great help at the beginning of my career path. Bonna Wieler, Steve Glazer, Mo Wilson, Betsy Eaton and Peter Blodgett, who were incredibly supportive at the beginning and continue to be a huge support. And then there are other people like Rob Brookes, Rick Barrows, Kristine Stykos, Greg Gundlach, Dean and Sally Whitlock, Ben Power, my LANES colleagues, and my Storytel listserv buddies. And then there are the librarians, the teachers, the parents, the children who book me to perform and come to see me do my thing. And my family - Sarah, Aidan and Perry. Without all these folks I would not be where I am today. With the help of all these people and more I now have a new CD: "More Second-hand Tales".

I do not usually put up personal photos, but I really liked these two taken on the 28th June of me and some of my family at my sister's wedding. In the photograph on the left, there is (from left to right) me, Victoria, her husband Paddy, my youngest brother Jeremy and my younger brother Colin (the one making the strangest face of all us boys).

The wedding was wonderful, my sister looked divine, Paddy did the best speech I have heard (and as someone who used to photograph weddings, I have been to over 300, I think I qualify to say that) at a wedding and I got to see a lot of my family for a BIG party. The only story I could share is that my brother Colin's cilt (Welsh spelling) flew up at one point - why and how and what he was wearing underneath I shall never reveal. My son was also wearing a cilt at the wedding and was part of the groom's party and my wife looked stunning in the dress she wore.

We visited a number of castles and abbeys and I ate as many vegetarian Cornish pasties as I could get my hands on. My son learned a lot about the English Civil war and I got a refresher course! Of the whole 16 day trip I think my one of my favourite photographs is this one of me and my daughter Perry. For a such a long trip away from home, she did great. At the wedding she was part of the bridal group complete with butterfly/faerie wand and wings (you can just make the wings out).

We all had a great time away and had the best weather over there. I came home to hear that my CDs are in transit and on their way to me, and I should also have a new drum in the next day or two.

Whilst staying in the UK, my mother's partner Peter made some very nice sticks/tippers/beaters for me out of ebony, oak and some unknown wood that I shall ask my father in law about - he really knows his wood. I am very much looking forward to using them on the new drum. I have used two of the new sticks on my current drum, but the other sticks are in the case that British Airways put on a different flight to us. I should have those tippers in a day or so, along with the rest of our belongings, when it is delivered.

So, stay tuned for the CD release party where a new drum, some new stories and fancy tippers will be, along, I hope, with an amazing cake!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Carver, an original story by Simon Brooks

There were once, as there always are in tales like these, a man and a woman who loved each other dearly.

He made carvings out of wood she found for him in the forest. Sometimes she would bring home a limb blown down in a storm; a branch snapped by some animal off a fruit tree; a sun-bleached, water smoothed piece found in a stream. He was now blind but could work well with his hands and fingers, whittling, engraving the beautiful carvings by touch. And what did he carve? Well, the stories his wife would tell him of course. He would see the images she describe flash and dance through his mind, and would try to retell these tales in images of scenes, of characters in the form, almost, of a map, which he carved into the wood she brought him.

Their house was small but was filled with books. There were books about herbs, there were books about music, there were books about paintings, there were books about magic, there were books about books even, but most of all there were books filled with stories. The house smelled like good cooking and books and what better smell is there than that?

Their living room had four chairs in it. They formed a rough circle facing a fire place that sat in the centre of the house. Beyond the fireplace was the kitchen. The smells and warmth from the kitchen added to the smells and warmth of the living room, whose walls were covered with bookshelves. When he moved about the room, he would sometimes run his fingers over the spines of the books his wife would read and pull one off the shelf for her. Sometimes he would just sit with a book in his lap and feel the embossing on the leather cover and lift the book to his face to smell the pages, or run the paper between his fingertips. For years she read him the stories and told him the tales, and his knives and chisels would work the stories into the wood. To help make ends meet she would sometimes sell a carving or two. She would ask her husband which ones she should take to the market and he would run his hands over them and pick some out. He would hand the carved, bleached wood to her with a smile, and as she slowly took the pieces, his fingers would slide over the wood as if saying goodbye to his work. She would then replace the carvings by placing her own hands in his, and he would kiss her fingers gently, and smiling she would do the same to his rough hands. The only other money that they brought in was that which she made from making clothes, cleaning houses and the like. And what would he be doing? Carving. Carving the stories that were in his head, the stories his wife told him, the stories his wife read to him.

Well, time passed and sometimes you die before your time and that is what happened with the man. Without the gentle sound of the knife as it slowly chiseled and formed stories in the wood, the house seemed filled with silence. The sound of his breathing and the chuckles and sighs, and gasps as she would read to him were no longer there. Without his presence and smile, the house did not seem as warm. And it seemed that a darkness came into her life.

One day she woke to find a dog sitting outside their house. She tried to shoo the dog away but it would not leave. She chased the dog with a broom, but it came back and sat on the front step and looked at her. She left it there when she went to work. When she came back, the dog was still there waiting. The woman stood with her hands on her hips and looked at the dog. She scowled at it and went inside leaving the door open. “Well, come on then,” she said to the dog, and so in it came. She found some scraps and fed the dog and put an old bowl on the floor and filled it with water. The dog ate and drank, then sat down by her feet. And that is where the dog stayed never bothering her just watching and sitting close by. After a month or so, she found herself patting the dog, messing its ears up and scratching its head. A smile came to her face, the first smile since he had passed.

And time passed, and she got used to the silence in the house. Then she began to read to the dog. The dog had no name; it was just ‘dog’. She would finish one story and begin another until she found she could not keep her eyes open. Then she would go up the creaking wooden stairs to bed. Sometimes the dog would follow and sit at the foot of the bed. The dog gave her some comfort there.

Late one night there was a banging at her door. A cry for help came from outside. She went to the door to see if she could help but the dog pushed in front of her and growled low and menacing. “Out of the way, dog. Someone needs help,” she said. But the dog growled even more and barked at both her and at the door. The cries got more urgent and then stopped. The dog kept barking, growling with teeth bared, and then she heard some harsh whispers. “No point in trying here, the dog will most likely tear us to pieces.”

The next morning she heard from her neighbours that two people had been murdered in their home and four other houses robbed. She had been lucky, they had told her. “No,” she said. “I had dog.”

They had settled into winter. Nights were long and dark. She still read to dog; one story after another in the light of the lamp. But this night was different. When she finished one story, the dog got up and went to the door. She opened the door to let the dog out but he just turned and looked at her and waited. “Well go on then, and do your business,” she said. But the dog just looked at her and took a couple of steps and stopped. She stepped out through the door and dog trotted off and stopped again, waiting for her to follow, which she did. The dog then trotted to a small shed where they had kept some tools and old broken things. The dog scratched at the door until she opened it. The dog trotted in and took hold of a piece of cloth and pulled it off a trunk. It was a large box she did not recognize. She walked over to it and opened the chest. The lid was heavy and she struggled, but once it fell open she found a collection of her husband’s carvings inside. She pulled out carving after carving, piece of wood, after carved piece of wood and found in these carvings the story of their life together. She saw her face in a piece of rose wood she remembered giving to her husband, many years ago, a young face, filled with joy. She saw her hands in his hands as they floated across a piece of drift wood. Images in wood of places they had been, things they had seen together, before he had lost his sight. She stared at them in wonder and smiled, a tear rolling down her face. Dog sat and looked at her.

She took them, one by one, into their house and set them around on every space she could find for them. The sun came into her home and the carved, bleached wood would seem to amplify the sunlight coming in through the windows, adding warmth to the house. And the darkness slowly lifted as she looked at what had been their life together and the dog sat at her feet. With happy memories of her old life around her, she realized a new life was beginning.

An original tale by Simon Brooks, copyright 2008 ©

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tales and telling

This time last week I was getting ready to pick up my son from school and my wife at work to travel two hours down to Nashua, NH. Why? To tell tales at Sharing The Fire, the New England storytelling conference presented by the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling.
Last year I was asked to m.c. the Friday Night Opening Concert (after I turned down the chance to tell) which was wonderful. I was blessed to be sharing the stage and introducing such talent. This year I was asked to tell and this time accepted! To be the first on the stage after various announcements and welcome notes was inspiring and a little frightening. Peter Brodeur's introduction (he got back at me for my introduction of him last year!) was very welcome and helped me onto the stage. It is not the number of faces out there looking at you, I have done that sized audience and larger before - it was the fact that many in the audience were my peers and many of them out there were tellers I have a great deal of admiration for. I am happy to say that it went well. I had been rehearsing the story for a while, and although I had told the tale many times before, was going to try a new delivery of it.
At one moment in the story (The Story Untold, Song Unsung) the couple have an argument and the wife tells the husband to leave. Usually, when telling the tale, the argument is fairly strong, and they shout at each other at the end. This time the argument was played down and when the wife speaks, she does so in a very quiet way. There was a gasp in the sea of faces and I knew it had worked. The story was given much more power and strength in it being quieter; the impact had been made stronger through the gentleness of the delivery. It is amazing how such a small difference can make.
The other tellers were remarkable. I got to see tellers I had met before but had never heard perform. I got to see seasoned tellers on the stage with me. What a great feeling. Unfortunately I had to leave as me and my family were driving to Central New York to visit with relatives. My seven year old son, and my almost three year old daughter were both very tired (two hours after their normal bedtime) and we had a five hour trip in front of us. Many people came up afterwards as I rushed out of the door and to them I say thanks - thanks for listening and for hearing the story and for taking time to say the things you said. Thanks to my wife Sarah, who ended up sitting in the foyer of the hotel with our daughter for well over an hour so Perry would not disturb any of the other tellers telling. Sarah is a saint.

On another note, the CD is all but finished. Steve Blanchand and I now need to do the final tweeking - making sure the stories are all the same level, and Rob is finishing the artwork. Promised for next weekend. All very exciting.

Keeping listening and hearing the stories out there.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New CD coming close to being done

I am thrilled! The other day Greg, Rick and myself went into the studio to record the final piece of music for the CD. Steve G had come down with the flu, which hit him hard the day we went to record. Well, today I got into the studio to see what Steve had done and put all the finishing touches on the recording. Steve G and Stevens B had laid down some more acoustic music and Steve G had put down some electric. It is wonderful! Stevens and myself went through the whole CD looking for errors, cleaning up breaks between the tales, and all that sorts of stuff and I have a full 'clean' copy in my hand. I will running upstairs any moment now to listen to carefully to make sure it is good to go; the excitement is running high. I sent an email to Rob to ask about the artwork, but it seems like many of the great classic rock albums whose artwork was done by the legendary company Hypnosis, the release will be held up because of the art! But I know it will be worth the wait.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Storytelling Families

I was doing a family storytelling “performance” at the Mount Washington Hotel and Resort in Bretton Woods, NH last week. The storytelling began at 8.30pm and was to go until 9.30pm. I was wondering what kind of audience I would be getting at that time – a bunch of older cynical kids eager to get away from younger siblings or their parents putting the wee ones to bed; adults with nothing better to do; younger kids tired and crabby from skiing all day and wired on hot chocolate before going to bed? It was all of these! But the group was a great group for all that. Some stayed for one story then left, some stayed for a few tales before leaving, but most stuck out the whole set.

I had set up early and sat tuning the bodhran when people began to arrive early and waited expectantly for me to start – a good 15 minutes early. So, yes, I began - with a full moon tale, which is short, whilst we waited for the rest to gather and join us. At the end of the tale I lead everyone outside onto the balcony and looked up at the almost full moon to show that “hare was still up there on the moon, wondering how to get back home.” A buzz ran through the audience which I got a kick out of, I have to say! Then the ‘real’ storytelling began. I ran up to and a little over my 9.30pm finishing time and parents carried out their sleepy children, older kids gave me thumbs up and nods as they coolly left, and the adults who were there with nothing better to do left with smiles on their faces. A great feeling, all round I think.

A few folks came over to say a few words after I had finished, and I was thrilled myself when one couple came over with their six year old, still taking photos of me and my backdrop, to say they had had a great time. Why was I thrilled about this one family? We talked for a while about stories and how their child loved them. I commented that he had been so engaged that they must tell him a few tales themselves. It turned out that Grandma told the tales, and they were Indian tales. The family’s roots were in India and Grandma knew all the traditional tales and told them to her grandson. It seemed that dad (son-in-law) was a huge fan of these storytelling sessions with Grandma too! I suggested that they record these stories, not just for themselves, but also for future or other grandchildren who might not be so fortunate to have Grandma so near by. They seemed to be keen on the idea. It was great to hear that all the way from India the child was getting a good dose of traditional storytelling from a close family member – something, I fear, is rare today, even when Grandma is just around the corner.



Friday, February 15, 2008

New CD - "More Second-hand Tales" and catch up!

Okay, so it has been a long, long while since I last blogged. Time seems to fly by so quickly, and what with gigging, being the stay-at-home dad, and children's librarian, I seem to have too little time to blog. But I will endeavour to be a little more diligent.

In December 2007 I began working with Steve Blanchard of the Conniption Fits. He is recording my new CD, 'More Second-hand Tales'. We are still in production. We have the stories recorded and the other night we recorded the music. I am so lucky that I have great musician friends who wanted to contribute to this second cd. Rick Barrows and Steve Glazer return and we have a new member of the Houghton Hill Billies - Greg Gundlach playing second guitar. Unfortunately Maureen could not make it so we are sadly missing the fiddle. In its place we have banjo (Rick) and a second guitar. It sounded good when we recorded it, but I am really looking forward to hearing it 'fresh' in a couple of days. That will be when I know if we have what I want! It is just a little nerve-racking.

Rob Brookes is once again doing the artwork for the new cd, which I am thrilled about. This time we have dragons. If you have not seen Rob’s work, please visit my website http://www.DiamondScree.com and click on CD. Follow the links to Rob’s work. Or you could go to www.cdbaby.com/cd/simonbrooks and buy ‘Second-hand Tales’ and see it close up in your hands!

Last year was a great year for me. I performed at over 90 different venues! I have worked mainly at libraries and schools, but was also fortunate enough to perform at the Three Apples Storytelling Festival, m.c.ed at Sharing The Fire (the storytelling conference for the League of New England Storytelling), and I performed at a couple of farmer's markets, and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A great year! I hope to have an equally fun year in 2008. I have a couple of gigs booked for CT, which will be the first time I have performed there. I am looking forward to that. I will also be at STF again this spring, but this time I will not m.c.ing, but will be performing at the Friday Night Opener. I am very excited about that.

My next gig is at the Mount Washington Hotel and Resort, Bretton Woods, NH. I will be there on Tuesday 19th February, performing at 8.30pm. It is a family show, and my own family will be there, as we are staying the night. We are all looking forward to that. A wonderful opportunity. I also have a regular performance at Zack's Place in Woodstock VT. My next visit there is on the 29th February, at 4.15pm. Other gigs that I have are not open to the public, as there are at schools, but new dates for my 'public performances' will be posted on my website.

Anyway, I have to go and do some work! Visit my website for more details (www.diamondscree.com), or return to this blog!