Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Magic Mortar

Many thanks to Tim Van Egmond who pointed me to the story!
Also many thanks to Sean Herman who allowed me to use his art. See link under image for his DeviantArt work.  He is also an amazing tattoo artist, I discovered!



The Magic Mortar, retold by Simon Brooks (c) 2012
A tale from Japan

Once, long ago in Japan, there were two brothers. The older brother was wealthy, greddy, and mean-spirited. However, the younger brother was generous, and kind-hearted, but had few possessions or money.

It had been a hard year for the younger brother and New Year was fast approaching.  How could they celebrate the New Year if they had little to no rice or wine?  The young man’s wife told him to go to his older brother and asked for some rice.  If he gave enough, they could make their own wine. Otherwise water would be fine. So the young brother made his way from his own humble home to his brothers fine palace which sat on it’s own island.

The younger brother borrowed a boat and rowed over the sea and came to the palace.  When he walked in and asked the servants where his brother was, he was told by the pond feeding the coy fish.  He made his way out down the long paths between shady trees to where his brother was.

"What do you want this time?" asked the older brother.

"Tomorrow is New Year and I have little rice for wife and children to celebrate.  Could I borrow some?  I will return whatever you are able to spare later in the year."

"No!  You should not be so generous.  Maybe if you were more like me, you would not have to come scrounging for food on New Years Eve. Go!  And don't come back!"

The younger brother rowed back to the main land and returned the boat.  As he trudged home, he felt the weight of the world upon his shoulders.  As he was walking, an old man called out to him: “What is it that bothers you so, young man? You bend your back down like mine!”  The young brother looked up and saw the man was carrying a bundle of firewood on his back.

Image used with permission from the artist Sean Herman - via DeviantArt
“Here,” said the young man. “Let me carry that and I will tell you my story,” which he did.  When they reached the old man’s house, the man pointed to a wall and said: “See that gap in the wall?”  The young man nodded.  “Well, go in there and you will see a statue of Buddha and beneath, some tiny people.  Give the little men this rice cake.” The old man gave the young brother a rice cake whose top was coated with honey. “But only when they offer you a stone mortar.  Go on! Go!”

The young brother was puzzled, but thanked the old man and made his way through the gap in the wall and saw the stature of Buddha.  A tiny shriek came from by his feet, and when he looked he saw, he found he had trodden on one of the little men. “I ma so sorry,” he said.  “You are so small I did not see you there.  Are you alright?”  He lifted the wee fellow up and apologized again.  The wee fellow saw the rice cake.

“What’s that?” asked the little man.  “It smells so good! Can I have it?”

“This is very valuable to me. What would you give me in exchange?”

The little man asked to be put down and he went and talked to his friends. When he looked back up at the young brother he said: “How about yards of silk?”

“No, this cake is more precious to me than silk,” said the young brother.

The little man ran back and talked with his friends again and came back and said: “Well, what about a large bag of gold?”

“I am not sure,” said the young brother.  “What else might you have?”

The little man ran back to his friends and a great deal of whispering began.  Eventually the little fellow came back and said: “We have a stone mortar.  Would you take that?”

“That sounds like a fair trade,” said the young brother. So out came the stone mortar and the brother handed the little men the rice cake.  As the young brother turned, the wee man called out: “Wait!  You need to listen.  That is a magic mortar. It will give you whatever you want.  All you need to do, is sing what you want and turn the pestle clockwise.  When you have enough, stop the pestle and turn it counter-clockwise and sing stop!”

The young brother could not believe his luck and ran home after thanking the little gentlemen.

When he got home his wife asked if he had rice and said, no but had something better.  He pulled out the stone mortar and told her about the old gentleman and the little men.

“Does it work?” she asked.  The young brother looked at his wife and said: “Let’s find out.”

He held the mortar in one hand and turned the pestle clockwise with the other, and sang:
“Rice, rice, can we have some rice? Rice, rice, can we have some rice?” And the pestle suddenly speeded up and rice began to flow up from the bottom of the mortar until it overflowed onto the floor!  The younger brother called out: “Stop, stop, we have enough rice! Stop, stop, we have enough rice!” and the pestle stopped turning and the rice stopped.  The husband and wife smiled at each other.  The younger brothers wife asked if he could ask for wine.  They got a vessel and the younger brother tilted the mortar over it and sang: “Wine, wine, can we have some wine?” and the pestle took itself from his hand and spun faster and out flowed wine, until he sang it to stop.

The younger brother was ecstatic! “We could have a great party and invite all our neighbours over!”  But his wife said their house was not big enough for all the neighbours. So the younger brother took the mortar in one hand and turned the pestle clockwise with the other, and sang: “House, house, can we have a bigger house?” and shots were heard and the house began to grow new walls and as the house grew it was filled with fine furniture until the younger brother sang the mortar to stop. Which it did.

And so they asked their neighbours to come and celebrate New Year with them. And the next day, on New Years Day, they came.  Many were surprised to see the new house and the fine clothes and furniture the younger brother and his wife now had, but people were too polite to ask where it had come from.

Well the older brother heard about the celebrations and came to join in.  When he saw the new wealth, of course he had to ask: “Yesterday you came to me asking for rice and now you have all this!  How did you come by all your new wealth?”

The younger brother knew not to tell his older brother, so said “I suppose that it came because of my kindness and a lot of luck!” But he said no more.

People feasted and laughed and played until late.  When people began to leave, the younger brother said, wait.  “I want to give all the children who have come a little gift.  Wait one moment.”  He went off to the kitchen and the older brother quietly followed and saw the younger brother pick up the stone mortar and sing it to produce sweet candy curd cakes.

“Arr is that how it is done, is it?” and he sneaked back to the others.  But, he did not see how the mortar was stopped.  After the other guests had left, the older brother asked his younger brother if he could stay the night.  “I have eaten too much and my belly aches.”

“Of course you can,” replied the younger brother. So he and his wife took out a tatmi mat for sleeping and laid it out for the older brother.  But as soon as the younger brother and his wife were asleep, the older brother got up and stole the mortar and took it with him to his boat and began to make his way over the waters to his island.  He was thirsty and hungry, despite what he had told his brother so looked around his boat and found some un-salted rice cakes. He picked up the mortar and holding the pestle sang out, “Give me salt, give me salt!” and salt began to fill the mortar.  He sprinkled some on his rice cake and ate it, putting the mortar down on the deck of the boat.  But the mortar continued to make salt.  As he rowed he found the boat getting harder and harder to row and then realized that the boat was filling with salt.  He tried to stop the mortar but in his panic did not say the right words, and could not have even if he knew the right words to say.  He tried bailing the boat out, but it sank and took the older brother with it as well as the mortar.

And because no one has asked the mortar to stop making salt, it still makes salt to this day.  Which is why the seas are filled with salt.

 Retelling copyright (C) 2012.  Do not copy, duplicate or reproduce in any form.  It's illegal and NOT cool.

Sources:
Ready to Tell Tales, by Holt and Mooney
The Magic Listening Cap: More Folk Tales from Japan, by Yoshiko Uchinda
Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society, Inc.
Sting of the Geisha by M. M. Rumberg

Monday, December 03, 2012

Tiz the season

Crow II by Simon Brooks, (c) 2012
Recently I have spent a lot of time working on voice over work and learning new stories and rehearsing some of my old favourites.  Last night I told some of these tales for teens and grown-ups in Amherst, NH.  There was a wonderfully warm crowd there and the atmosphere was cozy, I thought.  I was telling Winter Holiday stories. Although I am not a practicing Christian, I am Spiritual and my upbringing was Christian.  So most of the stories reflected that.  I always feel a little odd telling Jewish tales, not being Jewish! Almost all of the stories were folktales, although I also told the true story of the unofficial truce on Christmas eve, December 1914.  Although the Pope himself could not stop the war or get a cease fire, and although the suffragettes could not petition for the war to end, the fighting soldiers themselves began truce. On Christmas Eve the Germans set up trees they had been sent, and lit candles along the trenches and  when the Germans sangs hymns and carols the British sang their own, not to be outdone! It had been raining up to Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day the weather was good.  Together, on Christmas, they swapped gifts and buttons, exchanged cigarettes and rations, and played football (soccer), in some places along the front, as many as 50 soldiers on each side.  No-mans-land being the pitch (field) they played on.

Raven by Simon Brooks, (c) 2012
All of the stories I told, although featuring Christmas, have a strong message in their own right.  The message is about sharing, looking after each other as well ourselves, of giving to those in need - because no matter how badly off we might find ourselves, there are always people worse off than yourself.  The stories are about fairness and caring and most of those I told were about family.  These things are not ties to any religion, but are tied to all.  And you do not need to be religious or spiritual to practice these traits!  So whilst we are shopping for those we know and love, do a little shopping for those you don't know and give to those in less than comfortable circumstances, and please consider dropping food off at food banks.  If you can't afford to do this, then maybe volunteer somewhere.

I will be telling more winter stories at a couple of other venues before the year is out, and one of the stories I will be telling will be a Siberian version of this tale: http://youtu.be/3xhWWdGm8fE.  I remember watching a lot of Canadian short films growing up (it's the Commonwealth thing!), but never saw this one!  I love it though, and wanted to share it.  The differences between the version I found in James Riordan's Siberian Folktales and the one above on YouTube told by the Native speakers themselves, is the Siberian Raven paints Owl with ash from a fire and not oil as in the Inuit tale.  And the reason Raven gets painted black is slightly different, although both tales blame Owl for one thing or another - lack of patience, or vanity, although in the Inuit tale Raven is being his usual bouncy self which don't help Owl!  What are YOUR favourite winter/holiday tales? Tell me in the comments, or shoot me an email!  I would love to hear from you.

One last thing before I go!  Over this season folks often try to get together with family.  This would be a great time to record tales our parents and grandparents tell, either personal stories about themselves and a time and place all but forgotten, or their favourite stories from childhood.  If you need help coming up with ideas to start a 'story time', there are some great resources at: storycorps.org  and there is a wonderful PDF here: http://nationaldayoflistening.org/downloads/DIY-Instruction-Guide.pdf that StoryCorp have put out.  And here is a link to why we should be recording stories our families tell from an earlier date on my blog: http://worldofstories.blogspot.com/2011/10/recording-family-stories.html

None of us are going to be around forever, so catch those stories for our later generations and give them a piece of your own family history.

Peace,

Simon
www.SimonBrooksStoryteller.com
which is the same site as: www.DiamondScree.com!

PS, the images used in this blog are original art done by myself.  Please do not copy, cut and paste, or redistribute in any manner or form. It is not cool, AND it's illegal!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

When Story and Audience Don't Mix

Original art by Pump The Beat, released into public domain via Wikipedia
As a storyteller who tells predominantly stories that are filled with noises and movement and are generally for "kids of all ages", I was a little taken aback when I first experienced people walking out of "my adult show".  Did I do a bad job?  Was it the wrong story?

I have been working on telling Edgar Allen Poe's The Black Cat for a little while.  It is not a light tale. But how many of his tales are? It is by far the darkest story I have ever taken hold of.  I was struggling with how to tell the story when I had the idea of telling from a modern point of view. For those who do not know the story, it begins with the narrator telling us he was a meek and loving child who liked pets. He was picked on at school. He got married to a woman who also loved animals. He becomes a drunk who verbally then physically abuses his pets and wife, in particular his black cat, Pluto.  He eventually kills the black cat. Depending on how you read it, the 'monster' comes back to haunt him or is reincarnated to taunt him. He trips down the cellar stairs by the cat, goes to kill the animal, but ends up killing his wife instead.  In typical Poe spirit, the body is walled up in the basement.  The police come to investigate and on tapping the wall which hides his wife's body comes a howl "as if from the throats of the damned and the demons of damnation".  The police pull the wall down, and the very much alive cat was mistakenly walled in with the body, the former howled when the wall was struck. Narrator is in line for the gallows. Obviously this is a very brief run down of the story which would normally run at six pages of letterhead - short for Poe.

My modernization of the story, and retaining the Poe first person narrative gives it, to me, a gravity which might be lost if told in third person. Trying to tell Poe in his own words would loose most modern audiences looking for mere entertainment, due to his verbiage, which is verbose!  The story is not for the light-hearted either. Subjects like alcoholism and abuse are never far from any of us in the real world.  I was very recently  informed that 32% of women have suffered some sort of physical abuse.  I have not checked this fact but sadly can believe it to be true. It is also about animal abuse which some people can tolerate less than abuse to fellow humans.  I knew all this (although not the 32%  bit) when I started to learn The Black Cat.  And I wanted to tell the story because of those things.  As well as the fact that it is a damn creepy tale.

I have read books on addiction and stories of abuse (such as Roddy Doyle's amazing, brutal The Woman Who Walked into Walls).  I cannot sit and watch a movie when a woman or child is being violated without a violent reaction coming from within me.  Several times I nearly walked out of The Cook, the Lover, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover because I did not like the abuse in it and after the movie ended I wished I had and asked for my money back (I am not, on the whole, a big Greenaway fan anyway).

There was something inside me that was able to connect to the 'sad child who went bad' of Poe's Black Cat and put on the clothes of that character.  It made me shaky, it got me amped-up in a way that made me pace backwards and forwards between practicing the tale.  This has never happened to me before with such strength. And that, in part, was why I felt I had to tell the story. I was being possessed by the story.

And then I told it.  Maybe it was because I used it as an opener (so I could then fill people's mind with fun and silly and slightly rude afterwards). Maybe because it was done in the first person and even though the story was introduced by the host as a retelling of a Poe story, people were taken aback when I limped onto the stage and began: "Hi.  My name is Simon and I’m an alcoholic.  This is my first meeting on the inside."
Maybe I should have used a different name - Ed, for example. Maybe the pauses were too long allowing people to think too much.  Maybe, someone later suggested, some of the audience did not want to re-live something they had already gone through.

Talking with this person the next day (this person had walked out), I was given a glimpse at what dark stories can do.  When my wife and I talked about it, she asked why I hadn't told uplifting stories instead?  Why did I have to tell such a dark story?  I have to search within myself to find out why and see if I want to keep telling the story, knowing that there might be some who leave. Should I tell a story that brings up experiences folks do not want to re-live?  The person I spoke to said that people always have the chance to leave.  It doesn't have to be physical or animal abuse that makes people leave, it could be political view points, it could be bad memories triggered by an uplifting story. You don't know how a story will touch a listener.

Did I do a bad job?  Was it the wrong story?  I don't think I did a bad job.  I think I did a good job. Did I tell the wrong story?  For some, yes.  And I am left with the thought: do I want to tell a spooky, creepy story most folks enjoy, but which might bring up horrific memories for a few others?  I am left with a lesson to learn and a question in need of an answer.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Giving back with stories


How often do you give back to your community or to an organization?  I am not talking about giving money, popping a check in the mail; I am talking about giving your time and energy to something you care about, or have strong feelings about.

Every summer for something like seven or eight years I have been going to a single week long camp held in Fairlee, Vermont. It is run by volunteers mostly and is only available to under-served kids from Vermont.   It is called CAMP! (if you were to say it out loud – or want to Google it, it would be Camp Exclamation Point).  The Aloha Foundation give them space to hold the camp at the last week of summer, when most other camps are over and done with.  The children have plenty of challenges in their lives, but CAMP! gives them a week to get away from it all and share, play, create, explore and have fun in a healthy and safe environment.  The camp is like most any other camp, but these kids are not as well off as most camp kids.  CAMP! serves those who have limited opportunities for such an experience because of a lack of financial resources, rural isolation, and disruption of life and education. Yet these kids are just like other camp kids – they are kids!

There is a sense of love for the children at CAMP! which goes beyond the ‘call of duty’.  CAMP! is a vocation, a passion; the councilors have a desire that these kids get some amazing experiences that they would never normally be able to have. Let me stress that, never normally be able to have.  Most of us have the opportunity to send our kids to a camp of some sort – be it a day camp for a few days or a week camp, fortnight or summer camp.  We have that choice.  But this camp is set up for those who do not have that choice, but CAMP! make it possible.  They get funds so even the most economically challenged family can send their children to paint, write, read, sing, act, sculpt, experience archery, learn to swim, do woodwork, learn about plants and nature, make new friends, know that they are not the only ones who have such difficulties, and of course make their own tie-dye tee shirts!

Each year I go to CAMP! to tell stories and volunteer my services. It is not much, I feel, but it is what I can do and this is how I give back to my community: when I go to CAMP!. For one afternoon, or evening, I perform there and spend extra time with the kids when I am able – and I try to make it so I am able.  Last night with a voice almost gone after a busy summer, I, along with colleague and friend Angela Klingler told stories to the entire camp before the kids were spilt into groups for individual camp fire stories based on age.  It is always fun to work with Angela as she is the consummate professional and has this magic about her when she tells the deep stories, which she did for the entire camp.  I have also worked with Angela around Halloween and know she knows some great campfire stories for all ages.  This is the second time she has volunteered to make the 2 /2 hour drive to CAMP! to tell tales.

I got to walk the hill with the eldest of the CAMP! kids and their councilors to a favourite quiet spot in the woods to tell tales and got to bring out some really fun and creepy tales for the ‘tweens and teens.  There is something about the darkness and the flames that can make a not-so-scary story seem quite spectacularly creepy.
This was in 2008, but feels like a few months ago!

These kids are great.  They are so appreciative of everyone.  I only appear for one day in one week in the year, but the kids remember me.  There are some kids who jump up and run over to give me a hug, there are those who jump out of seats to high-five me, and there are even more who simply grin at me or shout a loud ‘hi Simon storyteller guy’ when I arrive knowing that Wednesday night is story night.  And those hugs, high-fives shouts and smiles, and the stories I have to share are all I need.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Diving into Stories


For me, storytelling is sometimes like diving!

With the Olympics on, I was reminded of what it feels like standing on the high boards about to jump or dive. There is this fear, this sort of trepidation that goes along with a buzz, excitement and a knot in your stomach.  At least that is how it is for me.  I first want to put it out there that I am NOT a high diver, although I can dive.  And I am not talking about scuba here, I am talking about jumping off a bouncy fiberglass board, or a rock solid piece of a high concrete slab.  I am self taught and have never had a lesson.  I am a point and shoot diver and for me it was all trial and error.  Quite a fair bit of error too!

Stick Person
At first I jumped.  Nothing can go wrong, it is a straight, feet-first fall into the pool; you just need to remember to have your lungs full of air before you hit the water and your toes are pointing down.  If you flat foot it, it hurts - a lot.  If you don’t have enough breath, it seems like you might just gulp in a litre or three of water before hitting the surface once you are under the water.  You know you can do it, but standing on the edge looking 30 feet down into the water - well it is a long drop.  I have to admit there were a couple of times I walked back down the steps before I plucked up the courage to jump off that top board at my local pool as a kid.  A friend of mine, however, just went up there the first time, walked to the end and jumped.  At that point of leaving the concrete platform he could not swim. When he got to the side after coming up to the surface, he could!  That was how he taught himself to swim.

So I jumped a lot to get used to the height.  Figuring out breathing patterns is pretty important too.  I knew the time it would take to fall from the board to the point where I hit water after jumping a few times and getting the breathing wrong. It was quite a drop so I had filled my lungs the first couple of times way too soon and had to breathe out before hitting the water.  Not good!  But eventually I figured it out. For me, it was basically a little longer than a full lungful of drawn-in breath - I had to breathe out first, before that long slow pull of air in as I dived down.

Next, I plucked up the courage to sit on the end of the concrete board, feet dangling down, hands up in the air at a point, leaning back a bit, then rolling forward and dropping towards the water. I had of course done this a lot on the second board when I started diving, which was about 15 feet from the water and springy so I had an idea of the force of roll needed to not flip over and land on my back. The first few times the back of my legs got smacked by the water as I had not quite judged it right and spent a few moments waiting with smarting legs before trying it again.  But I tried over and over again until I got good at it.  Then I stood and dived, and although I had only one dive technique (jump, bend and go straight down), I got pretty good at it.  I got to the point where there was only a little splash.  And I can dive from rocks too, but only after watching others so I know there are no hidden rocks below a strange surface!  And I love to do it!  There is something about that moment when you leave the safety of the board and you are flying through the air, hoping that the angle is right and you’re not going to go over too far, or not enough and land on your back, or front.  I have done that and it hurts. A lot!

As I was thinking about this, it occurred that for me, it is very much like learning a new story. Or even storytelling!  You start with the smaller stories, or easieror sillier tales (the first board about a couple of feet or so off the water), until you can wind back the wheel so the board is at it’s springiest.  You can run the board, bounce really high, fold up in half and come gracefully down into the water.

Then you try the longer tales (the second board) until it feels as good as the first board.

And after that there are the deeper, meaningful tales.  Tales that you don’t just love, but stories you connect with on a deep level; stories that you find resonating within you like a tuning fork, a story that demands to be told – whether it is a personal tale or a folk tale. A story you put your whole being into.  You’re on the top board looking over the edge.  You might walk back down the steps, but you might just jump.  After all, when you bounce on the second board, you go almost as high (so it feels) as the top board.  So you take the story you have learned and you have it in your hands and you do that first jump.  Then you try the roll dive and then you stand and dive.  Will I make it to the water?  Will I fly through the air gracefully, or will I go over too much, or not enough?  Will it hurt when I hit the water? Will someone clap or appreciate what I just did?

Tonight I told a tale for the second time in public.  It was like walking up those steps, getting closer and closer to the ceiling, and the butterflies setting in.  But I had made the decision to tell it.  I made it my first tale so I could not back out and walk down the steps to the second board and choose another story.

The story is one I heard 4 years ago and love.  I have not heard it since, but it has been rattling about in my mind, demanding to be told.  So I learned it.  Then I got in touch with the storyteller I heard tell the story, Bob Pegg, and asked if he was okay with me telling it and if I had it right.  He told me "almost" and fixed my errors.  I have to tell a tale correctly or I would not be honouring it, or respecting its tradition. So I re-learned it. And checked again with materials Bob had generously provided.

When I told the story tonight it was a little like synchronized diving.  Bob was next to me on the board as I jumped, and his words were coming out, but as I got closer to the water, to the end of the story, I knew I was diving on my own.  And I know the more I tell the story it will become more of my own telling and less and less of Bobs.  They will be my words and phrases, my life experiences I bring to the story, my ‘spin’ if you like, but it will be true to the original, as true as it can be.  And then when I tell it, I know I will be alone on the board and the flight to the water will be filled with joy.  The name of the story?  Margaret of the Three Gifts, from way up in Scotland.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Audio Book - 1

How would YOU pronounce the name Gythal?  And what does a giant sound like when talking?  Think about that for a while.

I have finished recording the book "Hapenny Magick" by Jennifer Carson.  It has been a fun process and I have learned a lot throughout.  It is an almost 200 page chapter book and my daughter loved listening to it.  I read it through once to get a feel for the writing style with her and then read it again so I was familiar with the writing and story before recording.

Because I knew at nearly 200 pages it would not be done in one take, I set up my studio space and marked where everything was.  This was a precaution against my kids coming in and borrowing or moving things around (or myself for that matter).  To make sure I had the same sound, everything would have to be in the same place.  So duct tape was stuck everywhere to mark where I stood when reading and where the microphone stand was placed, and the height of the microphone and sound baffles.

Each day I recorded, I warmed my voice up*.  I found that 'jumping into the studio first thing in the morning' was not the thing to do!  Some days the kids were around, but I got most of it done before the summer vacation began. I recorded the stories for my third CD in this same studio and it sounded great (getting a Gold award from Parent's Choice and an honors from Storytelling World).  I now I have better sound proofing so I know this will sound at least as good, even better.  However, my mic still picks up the sound of mowers, large trucks, kids playing, and cars passing by.  The passing cars can be painful as there is a 25 m.p.h. speed limit and those gracious enough to oblige take a LONG time to get out of sound range.  In the middle of a take, that can be annoying!  When the kids are in the street playing it is easier, as it is simply time to quit until playtime is over!  So in some respects, for me, recording this book is like a live performance: being aware, whilst reading and recording, of the environment around me.  And with all of what can happen, it is like performing for squirmy kids some days!

I have a microphone which I could plug directly into my computer, but I have found that there is noise on the mic (it is not an expensive one).  So, I have used the digital voice recorder I have (the high quality one which was used for "A Tangle of Tales"), and then move the tracks (one for each chapter) to the computer where I use my DAW (digital audio workstation) to edit out the 'bad bits'.  Bad bits can be the cars passing, or some folks walking by with their dog talking to one another, or a 'plane flying overhead.  But it is as often me mucking it up.  Sometimes I stumble over a word, or a pronunciation.  When I first read the book and did a preliminary recording for the author, I miss pronounced the title characters - Hapenny's - and I kept doing that every once in a while throughout the book.  Instead of saying hah-penny (like happy) I would say hay-punny like the old British coinage!  Sometimes my English syntax would have problems with the American syntax the book was written in, but after a couple of tries I got it flowing.  Also, when I have read a certain line, especially in dialogue, I might try doing it two or three times in different ways.  Sometimes I would just flub!  Sometimes it would annoy me and a stream of expletives would fly (I record on my own!), and sometimes I would be silly with it and laugh at my own expense.

To give an idea of time of recording time down to the time of a finished piece, chapter 18 (15 sides of paperback book) began as 23 minutes of recording, and was edited down to 19 minutes.  But the editing down to that 19 minutes took a long time.  I actually re-recorded most of chapter 18 twice.  Why?  Because I had so much editing to do what with cars, and flubs that it should have been quicker to do a better take and edit less.  When you edit, you listen to what you have recorded, mark the bits that need chopping out, chop them out, move the piece together and listen to it again; maybe make some other adjustments such as making the gap of 'silence' bigger or smaller, or using fades etc. and then double check that it flows and sounds natural.  Sometimes it does not, so you need to undo it all and do it over again!  This hopefully does not happen too often and takes patience.  I have inadvertently learned a lot more about my DAW than I knew before! So it is all good. The third time I had to re-record was because my voice was a lot rougher the second time I recorded than the first time, and it did not fit in with what I was keeping.  So I recorded those parts a third time and it worked a charm.  Sometimes (not always) it is quicker to re-record than edit a lot out.

When I began recording this book initially, I was still looking for the right voices of the characters.  And in one instance the author did not like one of the voices. One of the characters voices was not how the author had envisioned it, so we got on the phone and talked it through.  It was the giant.  I was so glad we did because it sounds a many, many times better now.  I was able to drop the voice in with some careful editing; fortunately, most of the time, dropping a voice in is easier than making some of the other corrections.  However that does not apply when the dialogue is fast between two or three characters.  Funnily enough the giant was not a fast talker!

One thing I found as I re-did certain parts and edited them, was how much fun the book was.  I liked it when I gave it the initial read-through (with/to my daughter).  The second time I read it, I was working out how I would read it and was figuring out voices and flow.  But in listening to it, listening to the words I had read, I found the book was really good.  I discovered that I had read it the first time thinking only of it as a job.  But as the work progressed I found this book was/is a little gem.  And I have become attached to it.  I have also spent 57 hours with the story so far!

All the chapters, the intro-credits and the outro-credits are now with Jennifer Carson who is listening to it all. I have been providing the chapters as I finished editing them, in case I had missed something, or mispronounced a name.  Once I hear back from her, I will be off to see my friend and colleague Stevens Blanchard who produced my last two CDs.  He and I will then polish what I have done to a brilliant shine and add a bit of flute. Once that is done, I will be handing over the finished work to Jennifer who will have the work made into a 4 CD audio book with a running time of about 3 1/2 hours.

Oh, and Gythal is pronounced Gith aal.  Who knew? (The author!)
And yes, my warm-ups can sound like those Bill does!! A shout needs to go to Bill Ratner for giving me the encouragement to go this route!  Thanks Bill.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A planet of plastic


Image from: http://wildnewjersey.tv/2010/09/30/phillycom-where-did-all-the-plastic-go.aspx

I do not always write about stories and storytelling, and this is about recycling. I suppose this could be a story about the planet and how I live my life.  And this might help you save some money and will help reduce the amount of plastic that goes into landfills.

We all talk about the planet getting smaller, but our garbage rate in plastics is getting greater.  We stopped buying plastic bottled water and soda a few years ago because of this.  And we are trying to find other ways of reusing single use plastic items, or eliminating them altogether.  And we are saving money. Dasani bottled water had an ad that said "Treat Yourself Well Everyday." Dasani is tap water bottled for you, yet bottled water costs 2,000 mores times than tap water, which is also more regulated!  As it says on The Story of Bottled Water, would you pay 2,000 times more for a sandwich? How many tax dollars are spent cleaning up these water bottles - look in a trash can at the next outdoor concert you go to or at your kids next sports game.  Some plastic gets thrown in water ways and ends up in the ocean, or is shipped to India (we don't want it in our backyard) and it has been reported that some of these ships have sunk. There, it is down-cycled to lower grade plastic to be later put in a landfill with the rest of the 80% which is not recycled.

We have not bought a zip lock bag in over a year.  We realized that the bags we bought our tortilla shells in are zip lock.  We reuse them. A lot! (We also consume a lot of tortillas!)

We have started making our own deodorant so we re-use the deodorant container.  I have refilled mine up a good half dozen times and the container still works fine! And it is way cheaper and better than any commercial version out there that I have used. (See below for recipe!)

Image from: http://swilson37.wordpress.com/tag/recycle/
There is currently an island of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean.  According to Wikipedia: "Estimates of size range from 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres (5,800,000 sq mi) (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean), or, in some media reports, up to "twice the size of the continental United States".[10] Such estimates, however, are conjectural based on the complexities of sampling and the need to assess findings against other areas."
Image from: http://www.geog.ucsb.edu/events/department-news/619/marine-trash-islands/
I have read that this island has grown rapidly since the 1980's, due mainly from the increase in bottled water sales - something that was thought of once as a yuppy fad!  Most of the plastic actually arrives in the ocean via rivers and streams and causes untold damage to the environment and the creatures we share the planet with.

One last note on how ridiculous bottled water is.  On Wikipedia it states: "In 2009, the New South Wales town of Bundanoon voted to become the first town in the world to outlaw bottled water.[32] Its citizens voluntarily chose to ban bottled water in response to a bottling company's desire to sell water from the town's local aquifer.[33]
"In a community meeting of 356 of the town's 2,500 residents, all but one voted in favor of the ban,[30] prohibiting the selling or dispensing of bottled water within the town precinct.[34]
 "Bundanoon's six stores have removed bottled water from their stock. The town now offers public drinking fountains and filtered water dispensers where people can fill up reusable water bottles and canteens. The reusable empty bottles are sold in place of full bottles in the local stores. Bundanoon's bold stand against bottled water's damaging effects on the environment and on communities has thrust it into a global spotlight. Bundanoon has caught the attention of many other cities around the world who soon could have similar policies.[30][35]"

An interesting article on re-using plastic bottles can be found here: http://refillables.grrn.org/content/western-europes-experience-refillable-beverage-containers.

So, next time you reach for a bottle of water in the supermarket, think about buying a steel or glass bottle instead and fill it at the fountain.  It will pay for itself in a few weeks, if not days and you will be saving yourself money.  Don' throw away those bags that your consumer products come in, re-use them.  Don't buy things that come in blister packs, or wrapped in plastic unless you really have to.  And check out the recipe for homemade deodorant! There are four "R's".  Re-use, re-cycle, reduce and refuse!

Do you stink?


This stuff is great.  As part of my family’s desire to eliminate as much consumption of (single-use) plastic as we can, we searched for a recipe for home-made deodorant.  We looked at a few and now use this. 

Recipe
  • 2 Tablespoons Baking Soda
  • 4 Tablespoons Cornstarch
  • 2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil*
  • About 5-10 drops of essential oil of what you would like to smell like (lavender, tea tree, basil, ylang-ylang, clove etc) - optional.  This can mask the smell of the coconut oil if you do not like coconut!
  • 1 recycled empty, washed and dried deodorant container
Steps
1. Mix 2 tablespoons of baking soda with 6 tablespoons of cornstarch in a bowl.
2. Add 2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil to the bowl and mix well. The coconut oil we use is firm, so we heat it up a little to reduce it to liquid form.  Microwave it for just a few seconds.
3. Add about 5-10 drops of your favorite essential oil, and mix well.  If you find that the smell of the essential oil is not strong enough, add more. 
4. Make sure your recycled deodorant container is clean, dry, and unwound (the ‘tray’ is at the bottom). Pour/pack the mixture into the container, pushing it down with your fingers if need to get remove air bubbles or gaps. Wipe off the edges and sides, place on the cap. 
5. Put the deodorant container in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes so that it sets/solidifies.

A few words about this deodorant:
*This is an all natural product. Because it is made of coconut oil it can and will liquefy if it gets too warm. We live in New Hampshire in a house with no A/C and it is fine, however on a trip to Costa Rica, we found in places where there was no A/C our deodorant turned to a more liquid state.  Fortunately we had packed a few zip lock bags (reused tortilla bags) and still used the deodorant by dipping our fingers in it and wiping it on!  It does leak from the container in hot climates, but very slowly.

**UPDATE**
 21st June - When the weather reached the upper 80's in our house (the nineties outside) the deodorant began to liquify!  I did not have my glasses on, so ended up wearing a lot down my torso!

It can mark your clothes if you put on too much and it is freshly applied and your clothes rub against it.  It contains oil, so apply lightly.

We were very active in Costa Rica where it was hot and humid. I found it works for me better and longer than any other commercial deodorant I have ever used, including the healthy options, and is a lot cheaper too.

The cost of buying a (recyclable) glass jar of coconut oil, (card box of) baking soda, cornstarch and essential oil comes to about $18.00, depending on brand, size, and which essential oil you buy.  You should get over 6 batches from a 12oz jar of coconut oil and many more batches from the baking soda, cornstarch and essential oils.  A six pack of Old Spice deodorant costs around $14.00, a six pack of Arm and Hammer costs about $18.00, the good healthy varieties cost about $25.00 - $30.00 for a six pack.  And then you have six plastic containers to dispose of!

**UPDATE**
 21st June - When the weather reached the upper 80's in our house (the nineties outside) the deodorant began to liquify!  I did not have my glasses on, so ended up wearing a lot down my torso!

Friday, June 08, 2012

My first audio book has it's first chapter. It comes from Jennifer Carson's Hapenny Magick, published by Pugalicious Press.
Go to: http://www.diamondscree.com/downloads.htm
for more information and to hear this snippet!
(C) 2011 P.A. Lewis

Friday, June 01, 2012

Here is a commencement speech by Neil Gaiman for the University of the Arts entitled "Make Glorious Mistakes, Make Good Art".  Gaiman is one of my favourite writers. Check it out.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The passing of my Gran

My Gran
For the last couple of years my Gran has been getting worse in health and on Friday, 11th May, 2012 at 10.15 am GMT, she passed away aged 94.  She had lived on her own until January of 2011 and did not complain too much when her kids moved back in to help!  My mother and uncle (Rob) spent a week on and a week off sharing Gran's house, looking after her.  But now that is over.  I was asked to speak  at her funeral and two stories came to my mind, the second my brother reminded of, and I thought I would share what I said at her funeral just a few days ago.


I loved my Gran and Grandad (who died in 1981 at almost 80 years of age).  Sometimes I would cycle down to their house, sometimes I would walk, and once in a while I would drive with friends if we were passing  by on the way somewhere, just to say 'hi'.  Gran was always good for a cup of tea and biscuits (English cookies). My friends would suffer my forced visits to my grandparents because of the treats, as well as them being fun to be around.  I was in my late teens on one of the first visits with my friends and I began to hand out the chocolate fingers my Gran made whilst she brought in the tea.  Gran used to make wonderful snacks. My personal favourites were biscuits made of oats and had a 1/2 cherry in the center.  Once the chocolate fingers had been passed around, I began to hand around a plate full of these wonderful, soft, oat biscuits with the cherry in the middle.  "Anyone for a titty biscuit?" I asked, for that was what they were called.  They had always been called that, and to me it was just a name with no meaning.  But to my teenage friends who had never seen them before - well, there were some slack jaws and some snickering! "What?" I asked.  One of my friends said: "Titty biscuits?" and held one up.  The penny dropped.  I looked at Gran and she was smiling, pouring tea.  I was mortified, she was giggling.  And from then on, when my friends came with me to Gran and Grandad's house, they were always sure to ask if there were any titty biscuits to be had!

When I last visited Gran in January last year, we got talking about cars.  She had mostly had what might be classified as little racers! Gran wasn't reckless, but she really liked to drive.  She stopped driving when she knew she would was not safe driving.  There are many elderly drivers who could take a lesson from her there.  And  I remember that my Gran was good driver and probably would have been a racing driver if she was born in a different generation.
A very nice Ford Anglia - Gran's was white!

This goes back to when Gran was driving her beloved Ford Anglia.  A wonderful little car with fins; a wonderful little car that in 1966 won the British Saloon Car Championship.  The Anglia has also been in movies such as 'Harry Potter' (the car that flew), and 'Blow Up' with Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings (one of Uncle Rob's favourite movies).  Gran loved that car.  W
hen Gran drove, she never went over the speed limit, but stayed right on it.  And when Gran got to traffic lights, she would, of course, stop at the red lights never running them. The amber lights, however, were different!

This time, Gran must have had enough of my brother and me and was trying to get to Mum's as soon as possible.  We were sitting in the back seat in a car that had no rear seat belts and certainly no headrests. I was sitting in the middle of the back seats, my favourite spot, no doubt with arms on the back of the front seats, looking alternately between the speedometer and speed limit signs. Gran was coming towards a set of traffic lights.  They were green.  Then they turned to amber and Gran sped up.The amber light turned red.  And Gran would not run a red light and so she braked. Hard. Really hard.

I remember we careened to a stop, no doubt JUST on the line!  I do not remember the car skidding, nor do I remember bouncing off Gran's arm, but I do remember that I did not stay on the back seat as the car came to an abrupt halt.  I had been propelled between the front seats and took rest in the passenger foot well in a tidy shaking ball!  I imagine my brother wondering, gleefully, if I were still alive!


Gran calmly said: "Are you alright, dear?"  and helped me out of the well and gently helped back over the front seats into the rear of the car.  My brother has similar driving skills which I am sure come from Gran, inspired by that amazing stop.  "Wow" I think was all he said.  I always liked the Anglia, despite it's grumpy look.  When I had talked to Gran about it she said: "Oh, I did love that car."

I can imagine Gran now, freed from her body at last, to be the young spirit she always was.  I can see her driving off at top speed in her Anglia to get to those who have been waiting for her for so long, so happy to have her with them again....maybe with a tin of titty biscuits and chocolate fingers sitting beside her in the passenger seat.

Uncle Rob, Mum (Di) and Gran (Daphne), 1990
Many people shared memories of Gran at the funeral and afterwards at the pub.  Not just my Mum, Uncle Rob and cousin Kat, who also delivered eulogies at the service, but others who came up to us to tell us their memories.  Some inspired or remembered (triggered) by what we had said at the funeral.  We found out where the name titty biscuits came from.  There were children (now in their sixties and older) of people who knew Gran and Grandad who came to say how much they were loved.  I learned more about Gran that day than I ever thought I could.  She truly left a positive mark on many people, and a legacy to live up to.


Love you, Gran.
Simon

Titty Biscuits, or officially "Crispy Biscuits"

Here is the recipe for 'Titty Biscuits" although going through Gran's stuff the recipe was found, and they are really called "Crispy Biscuits."

2 oz. cooking fat
2 oz margarine
3 oz sugar (brown)
1 teaspoon of syrup (Tate and Lyle's Golden Syrup which can be found in the USA at some health food stores)
3 teaspoons of boiling water
4 oz self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup porridge oats
Glace Cherries

Cream fat and sugar, add syrup and boiling water.  Work in dry ingredients.  Roll into balls, top with half a cherry, place on greased baking tray and cook for 15 to 20 minutes on Gas Mark 3 or 150c
Crispy (or titty) Biscuit


The biscuits in the photo were made by my cousin Catherine.  They sit on a plate of my Gran's crockery which she had forever on the kitchen table (with original chairs) which dates to the 1960's.  When Gran (and Catherine) made them they were never crispy, but rather the almost crispy side of soft.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Dreaded Nightmare Gig

Last week was nice and busy for me.  I had an all-day school residence, an evening performance at the same school, a gig at a ballet studio (dance stories), and another performance close to home.

Usually things go right!  You get to a venue and as you unpack the car you realize that you have everything you need.  This is not always the case with a busy week!  You have plenty of time to set everything up and the venue offers you helpers too, even your musical instrument has time to acclimatize to the space.  You test the space to see if you will need a PA.  You look yourself over and there are no food or drink stains on your clothes.  Your socks match your shoes and there is no cabbage in your teeth.  Things are good.

So there I was.  Matching socks, clean clothes, bottle of water, all set up and plenty of time.  I clapped my hands and said a few words in the space in which I was to perform. There was a fair amount of echo, but it was a small space.  Smaller than the other the previous nights which were also acoustically challenged.  I wondered if I might need a PA; I had one in the car.  No, it was a small space and a PA, I decided, would be more than over-kill.  Besides, when the audience shows up and the stories start, those bodies will absorb some of the sound and everything will be all right.  Except, except I did not look at the ceiling over my head and notice it is at a very acoustically dangerous angle.  The pre-arranged start time is pushed back a little.  There is, however, a deadline which doesn't get pushed back and I wonder if I can do all I want to in the shrinking time frame. I again wonder about the PA.  No, it will be fine.  It's a small enough space, and there should be about 100 people coming.  My socks still match my shoes, I have not eaten any cabbage, and my water won't leave ugly stains on my shirt.  And there is still 15 minutes before 'show time'.  I play my bodhran and watch as people come through the area I am set up in.  I then notice, a little late, that there is a dance class going on down the hall, and in a room right next to me, other activities are going on, but that's okay, the door is closed.  I chat with a few folks and sit with a couple of the kids already congregating for the tales. And then it happens.

People appear from all over to hear stories, or so I think.  They swap stories with each other, visit the activity rooms which begin to get hot with all the bodies and so the door is left open and the sound of happy voices filter out.  And because sounds travels up, those happy voices hit the angled ceiling and bounce back down amplified.  There is no one there to introduce me, so I begin.  I get out my brass Tibetan bowl and make it ring, starting off slowly until it is singing beautifully.  This usually has the effect of those nearest me hearing the bowl sing and so become quiet, which then has a ripple effect as more people hear it.  But those closest to me, by a matter of a few feet, cannot hear it or the two that can, turn and ask the others what it is and why I am doing it.

I laugh to myself and stop, putting the bowl away, and then in my big booming "pub voice" do not announce closing time, but starting time.  I do the usual 'turn your phones off', 'if you kids lose it, take them out and come back when they are calm', and 'please, please, please be quiet, the acoustics here are not conducive to more than one person talking at a time - and that person should be me - I was paid to come here and tell all of you stories after all! Respect your neighbour' and all that.  Mostly people settle down, but one man keeps talking.  He is on the other side of the hall and it sounds to me like he is sitting on my lap, shouting in my ear.  So I politely walk over, so as not to make too big a deal of it, and restate my cause and the room's acoustic issues, allowing that there is a very long corridor and that he or anyone else could carry on their conversation down there where others won't be disturbed, and I can do the best job I can.  He is very gracious and smiles.  But by the time I am back on my side of the room he is talking again, albeit much quieter.  Yet it still sounds like he is sitting on my lap.

Who designs ceilings like this anyway?  You know, apart from Christopher Wren who MEANT to do it.  And he did it so you could be heard if you WHISPERED and it would only travel around the wall, not into The Space!  I worked at a library whose architect designed a room for teens with no doors - a very open space - and then in the upper floor above put quiet study rooms.  Teens cannot be quiet.  It is a scientific fact.  That without killing their spirit, or threatening them their lives, teens cannot be quiet.  With the open design the noise from the teen room went out of the space, up the walls, hit an angled ceiling and projected the now what seemed amplified sound into the quiet study space.

Anyway, I told my first of three stories without too much trouble after this, but when I finished the kids began to get up to go.  Some moved into the activity room, some came out.  This had been going on during the story but somewhat quietly.  Now there was no need to be quiet.  I had finished, hadn't I? Wait, wait!  I asked if they wanted another story and many said 'yes', and sat back down or came to listen.  But about a third of the way through my second story I could not hear myself speak.  The adults had taken over.  I tried raising my voice, but so did everyone else.  I spoke softly so it might cause some who wanted to be respectful of those who wanted to listen to become quiet, but they did not notice.  One woman, in the picture above, walked up next to me and began talking to a friend of hers, who tried politely to make her stop - to no avail.  The kids took a cue from her and began to talk about what to do after the stories, where did they get the cool hats from, etc..  I tried every trick in the book, from trying to physically engage the kids in participation, to walking into the audience, but people then began to move around and out of the room.  My normally ten-minute story was reduced to five and before I could get into another tale, people were leaving to get to another event which was to begin in another five minutes or so.

Someone came by and asked me to stay in case people came back.  In what seemed like 30 seconds, the place was empty.  As I was left alone, I packed up most of my stuff and waited.  But no one came back.  But I waited.  Not even the person who asked me to stay and wait, "just in case".  I smiled and laughed to myself and wondered what it would have been like with the PA.  Over-kill?  It was a great drive home as I listened to some of my favourite storytellers - my kids captured on my iPod, and thought this was one event I would not forget!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A world away

When my family decided to book a vacation in Costa Rica I thought I could find a native storyteller or two, but that, sadly, did not happen.  There was not enough time and this was a family vacation.  But I have come home with a desire to return to Costa Rica and learn Spanish. Not in that order!

We read up a fair amount before taking off for these foreign climes, so we might understand the culture we were about to explore.  We read and were told that there is a thing called Tico-Time!  People of Costa Rica are very friendly and laid back.  We were told that if you want someone to show up, they may not be on time (at least not Western time, but on Tico-Time).  We never found this, everyone was very punctual.  However, whilst waiting for a ferry as we traveled from Curu to San Jose, I was in a line with a bunch of people from all over and learned another part of Tico-Time.  This was my second time in the line, getting a second cup of Costa Rican coffee (in my mind, the best coffee on the planet - even the bad ferry port coffee was really good).  The line was not moving fast due to some of the none Spanish speaking tourists who panic and look blankly at the Costa Rican's with wide eyes!  One guy was getting really up-set.  The ferry was close to leaving, but I watched the three folk in front of me fuddle their way through their breakfast order and get to the check out. Meanwhile the other guy, Mr. Upset, was getting more and more agitated.  In the end he leaned between the group of men and me, jumping the line in quite a major way, ordered a soda, paid and left.  On the ferry I saw him and discovered he was not a native, but an American!  He was the only one NOT chilled out and NOT on Tico-Time.  I guess he was starting his vacation, or had lost some surfing contest!

This really is a land to watch and listen to.  We traveled by taxi, micro-bus and regular bus with a backpack on myself, a backpack on my wife, and with the kids carrying day packs; traveling light.  Walking through forests, or sitting on beaches, and even climbing up volcano's or sitting by the pool, if you stopped and watched and listened, you saw and heard so much.  As I sat alone one morning, on the beach at the Curu Refuge I noticed a hermit crab climbing over the rocks and stones.  As I sat still and watched this little fellow make his way along the shore, I noticed another, and another.  Then, as I broadened my view, I realized the rocks were a hive of activity with hundreds of hermit crabs moving around almost invisible blending into the rocks and stones they traveled over.

In the forest we heard rustling. Turning around to our sides we saw a very different crab.  These crabs were blue or purple in their bodies, with bright orange or red legs - not water crabs, but forest crabs - congrejo.  They rattled over the dry forest leaves and fallen palm fronds.  Hundreds of them, running and hiding or bolting back into the holes they lived in.  We realized that first evening there that the holes around our cabina were not lizard holes, but homes for these crab.  We came back to find the concrete floored porch, and screen door covered in the congrejos.  It was like a sci-fi movie or Hitchcock film as we chased them away and they rattled and clattered back to their burrows.

Volcan Chato
I imagine the first Europeans to visit Costa Rica thought that the forests there were filled with demons: the eery screams and barking that come from deep between the trees.  Well there might be demons but we only saw, and heard, howler monkeys.  From the noise they make you would think they were giant monsters, with frighteningly sharp teeth.  But no!  Over-sized if they were large dogs, shy and those who are not shy, very friendly!  We were so lucky to have many howler encounters.  We watched as they danced from tree to tree, in a way Ananzi would be proud!  We saw a mother carrying, with great care and agility, her young one.  And they watched us too.

The sounds, once you got used to them, were like songs, the sites like a dance.  The scuttling crabs, the howlers had their language and at first we were wide-eyed. But the more we listened, the more we heard the songs and understood the language: the songs of the birds, the songs of the fish, the dance of the incredible flora and exotic birds, the songs of the forests and the songs of the people and the beautiful dances their joyful faces made. I have a desire to return to Costa Rica and learn Spanish. Not in that order!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Brothers Grimm meet Philip Pullman

I received an email this morning from Laura Packer (via Facebook) that Philip Pullman is coming out with a new book of old tales. In September we can look forward to 50 of the 200 or so tales Grimm, retold Pullman style. It seems appropriate that this year is the 200th anniversary of when the Grimm Brothers originally published their Household Tales for the Young and Old. On 'Bridge to the Stars dot' net they mention that some of the tales are well known, such as Snow White and Cinderella, but he will also be including some of the lesser known ones such as Godfather Death, Three Snake Leaves, and is quoted as saying his favourite Grimm tale is the Juniper Tree, which happens to be one of my favourites. I first read the Juniper Tree in Kevin Crossley-Holland's book Northern Lights: Legends Sagas and Folktales and was fascinated that there was such a blood-thirsty story 'for children'. But this was not one of the most dark stories I found in that book. Nor in other re-tellings of Grimm, either. Those of you who know me, also know that Crossley-Holland is one of my favourite writers. The Juniper Tree is a great example of fairy tales at their darkest. The story includes murder, cannibalism, and revenge; the latter taking form of a good crushing by a millstone (although I have wondered how a bird could lift a gristmill stone capable of crushing someone)! I also wonder if this story is where the saying 'knock your head off" comes from.

Louis Rhead, illstrator.
New York: Harper and Brothers, 1917.

(That step-mother looks nice, right?!)
As with most storytellers, I have a few different editions and translations of Grimm's tales.  It is good to compare them to see how people have treated them.  Pullman has said that he is telling them in his own voice.  On 'Wales on line dot co dot uk' he states that when the Grimm recorded their stories, they were captured as they were told on that day by that informant and if they had come another day the telling would have been different.  I think this is a very true statement.  As with all storytellers, we also bring our own life experiences into the stories, highlighting some parts and toning down others.  I, for one, am very much looking forward to reading Pullman's book and hearing his voice and seeing what he plays and plays down.  The new book will be released on the 6th September, 2012 published by Penguin.  I will be pre-ordering mine right now!