Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A List of Spooky Stories I Tell

Boo! Halloween is one of my personal favourite times of year. I love the spooky tales, horrible horror stories, ghoulish tales, ghost stories, yarns about witches, black cats and dogs with red eyes. Stories that make us shiver, cringe, hide behind the couch, are not ust kids' fare. Often these stories were written and/or told for adults. There are a good number of great stories for kids, but there is a bigger number of tales for older kids and adults.

These tales come from all over the world. After a recent listsreve request for stories of this kind, I put together a list of tales I tell. Below is is this list. Some can be told to younger ears, and some need to be shared with mature minds! They are listed with the less fearsome tales at the beginning of each section, and the chillier tales come last. There is some overlap with the end of the Tales With a Little More Terror and the beginning of the Terrifying Tales sections.

Original art by Simon Brooks on the back of a receipt! (C) 2016

Spooky Tales for Younger People
The Man Who Was Affraid of Nothing - Japan
Zara's Magic Kettle - Russian
The Big Toe (although in the last couple of years I have stopped telling this tale as it is told frequently at camps in the summer and has lost it's JUMP impact!
Black Bubble Bubble Gum, a story first told by Francis Caffrey although close to John Steinbeck's short The Affair at 7, Rue de M-
Kolbold on Board - A Scandinavian pirate ghost tale
Bony Fingers and Wet Lips - Europe/America
The Gunniwolf - An English variant of Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood - Germany/France
From Aloft - English/American
Baba Yaga - Russian
Baba Yaga's Black Geese - Russian
The Miser and the Apple Sauce -  A tale originally told by the wonderful Papa Joe
The Unwelcome Guest or The Tailor in the Graveyard - England - One takes place in a house, the other in a - you guessed it - graveyard!
The Viper - England/America - told as a true, personal tale, making it just a little more scary!
The Hedley Kow - England
Wicked John and the Devil - Wales and Ireland, America - this is a tale told by many people

Copped Hall, London, (C) Simon Brooks 2016

Tales With a Little More Terror (can be told to slightly older kids, or much older kids when ramped up!)
The Benders - a true story from the American Mid-West 1873
Cell 17 - a true story of the Carbon County Jail, Mauch-Jim Thorpe PA
The Unstopable Coffin - a joke story, told as a true, personal tale
The Other Mother - England
The Hunchback - A story from 1,001 Nights where a hunch is killed by choking, being pushed down stairs, and a couple of beatings
The Piper's Revenge - a tale of horror from Scotland
The Severed Head - Africa
Taily-po - American
Vasilisa the Beautiful, the story of Vasilisa and her doll - Russia
Wiley and the Hairyman - American
Hand of Glory - England
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves - Middle East. One of my favourites where Ali's brother is cut into four pieces and stitched back together for a descent funeral, and the thieves are killed with boiling oil, and their leader stabbed by Ali's maid servant

UK Gravestone, (C) Simon Brooks 2016

Terrifying Tales for Teens and Grown-Ups
WW Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw
RL Stevenson's The Body Snatcher
Edgar Alan Poe's The Black Cat
Mr. Fox - England
Mary Cullhaine - Ireland
Weyland Smith - England/Scandinavia - a man from the ancient Norse tales who kills a king's two sons and has sex with his daughter in revenge for maiming him and imprisoning him on an island. He flies off to find, once more, his wife - a Valkyrie
The Rosewood Casket - America
Golden Hair - an original telling of two other folk tales from Eastern Europe where a dead count steals a woman and her true love comes to rescue her

Original artwork for 'The Shadowlands' by Simon Brooks (C) 2016

Great Stories for Dark Evenings by the Fire
These are tales which can be fit into the last of the two categories but more for older kids and adults than young kids.
Margret of the Three Gifts - Scotland
Tam Lin - Scotland
The Roma Cheating Death - a Russian Gypsy tale
Hansel and Gretel - Germany

I hope you enjoy finding these tales and telling them yourself. And of course, if you want me to tell any of these tales to you, let me know! I do all sorts of programs including a split event where there are two sets - one shorter for younger kids and one a bit longer for older kids and adults. For more information about my Fight Night Program, shoot me an email:
Simon at Diamondscree Dot com
or visit my website:
and go click on suggested programs under WHAT!
or here

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Recording your stories at home - 1 Space

This is the first of a handful of posts I will be making about recording at home. These will help you understand how to make the best results you can on your own. This does not mean I recommend this route, as it is full of pratfalls, pitfalls, learning curves and such, but when you GET it, it is so much fun. If you do not like learning software, this is probably not for you, unless your desire to record outweighs your loathing of technology!

If you really want to record your own audio material and publish it, it is not a hard nor expensive task these days. Well, not really. It is incredible how simple it can now be.  And if you are a seasoned teller with a bunch of stories, and can use a computer, there really is no excuse to not have recordings out there. You have material, you most likely have a computer, and there are free programs to use. And let's face it - tweens and teens do it on a daily basis!  So why haven't you?

Let's talk about space for recording.  For spoken word, you need a dead space to record. This does not mean a room at a mortuary! It means a room with little to no echo, or reflection of sound. If you are in a blues band and play the harmonica I would recommend the bathroom with all the towels put away.  For voice-only work, I would suggest, at the most basic, the bedroom.  Most people have carpets in their bedroom, a bed with covers, and a closet filled with clothes.

Do this simple experiment:
Go into your bathroom, take every towel, bath mat, dressing gown, jammies, anything that is not a hard surface or nailed or glued down, out of the room. Clap your hands, talk out loud and listen. What do you hear? Lots of echo, sound reflecting off the hard surfaces.
Now go into your bedroom, open the closet doors wide, pull the curtains and hang a blanket or two over the doors. If you have hardwood or non-carpeted floors, floors without rugs, throw a few blankets and or towels down on the floor. Now clap your hands and talk out loud and listen. GO back to the bathroom and repeat.
Do you hear the difference? What you have in your bedroom is the closest thing to a dead space, acoustically speaking. When recording, this is the ideal sound you are looking for. Reverb can, if wanted, be added later.

Echo and Narcissus, 1903 - John William Waterhouse

But is the bedroom the best place to record. It needs to be quiet. Really quiet! Close the door. Close the windows. Listen for your clock, heating system, furnace, fridge unit and dishwasher. If you can hear these things they need to be turned off.  If you can hear traffic, you need to find a room further away from the road. Can you hear the kids playing? If there is no room in the house where you can find silence, you need to find another location, or build a space. For that you will need space!

Maybe there is a large closet somewhere you could convert into a home studio. Or part of a garage, even an attic or basement space. If the garage is concrete and the roof well insulated, either of those would work, of course if the garage is made of wood, in fact anything other than concrete, there will be issues with sound.

The room I had was a sun room. It was the only room in the house I could use for my office/studio that was left. Two walls were/are windows, measuring in total 14 feet of glass in length. Glass is not the friend of a studio. So I built a couple of false walls. These were made in 4 feet sections so they could be slid over one another to let light in when I was not recording. They were as tall as the windows. The frame contains layers which are:
Outside wall - painted plywood (to reflect sound away from the studio inside)
Layer of sound/thermal insulation (to prevent as much sound still carrying through the ply from getting to the inside of studio)
Layer of Audiomute's Peacemaker (to stop dead any other sound frequencies which the insulation didn't stop, and to absorb that sound. Also doing the same from the inside of the studio)
Inside wall - Homosote (to absorb any sound in the studio, to prevent reflection and echo)

I built frames out of 1" by 4" and 2" by 1" pine with 2 supports down the middle. One side of the frame I covered with 1/4 inch plywood. This would be the outside of the wall and would, when painted reflect sound away from the wall. Flipping them over I then filled all the seams and places where the plywood looks a little cracked or weak, with sound insulation sealer. The point of the insulation sealant is that if there are vibrations (more for loud rock music, but also for passing vehicles!), as the frame moves, the sealant will stop and sound from being transmitted through the wall (in this case). Basically where air can travel, so can sound. You can imagine sound acts a lot like water - if it can find a way, it will make it through. The sealant does not have to be pretty, it just needs to stop the air/sound waves.

The 'channels' were then filled with the highest thermal and sound loft insulation I could lay my hands on. I want to say the R rating on this was 27, but cannot remember! These I stapled into place. A lot of noise and sounds are stopped by this, but some frequencies still can make it through.

Once this was done I covered the frame and insulation with Audiomute's Peacemaker material. It comes in various thicknesses, and I used the 3.2 mm thickness. This is great stuff, not too expensive and with everything else worked really well. I went straight to the dealer and got the best price I could find on-line. Peacemaker is designed to stop sound from travelling further through a wall, and to absorb that sound so it does not continue or reflect back. Audiomute have a range of products from acoustic curtains and blankets, to panels, and if you like this sort of thing, it's a fun website to look over.

 Once nailed into place, I used their Peacemaker tape to hold the sheets together creating a good seal. The tape is supposed to be 'acoustic' tape but being so thin I wonder how much sound it actually stops! This also went over the edges, sealing everything in.

Over all that, adding to the other side to the plywood, went a sheet of Homosote creating the sealed wall. This stuff crumbles easily, so be careful when setting it down and screwing it in.

Again I used the acoustic sealer, filling any and all gaps. Once this was dry I painted the plywood with gloss paint. As I mentioned earlier, the idea is to make the outer, or outside surface as 'hard' as possible to reflect as much sound as possible. The Homosote, being very soft and absorbing, I left unfinished. One could put some material over it, hang curtains (my option) over it, or decorate in some way as it is pretty boring to look at! This is the inside of the studio, so you want it to absorb as much sound as possible, making the room as audibly 'dead' as possible. You do not want to hang framed pictures behind glass and other hard surfaces up on this as you will be undoing what the Homosote does!

The above photo shows the two false walls up against each other. Each one is very heavy. I have not weighed them, but for me they were heavy enough to struggle with getting them upright. To move each one takes two people. The finished product looks like this on the outer side:

I made these walls the sizes I did because I did not want permanent walls in the sun room. Neither did my family, despite it being my office! If you are converting a space to make it into a permanent studio, then build the walls in place and anchor them permanently to the floor and ceiling, or build a new ceiling for your cube. If you ever wanted to build your own tiny house, this is a good way to see if you are up for that, especially if you are adding a door and window (so your partner sees you are in fact working and not passed out or sleeping in there!

Once I had the walls in place they cut out 90% of the sound. The only time I had to stop recording was when a large truck came by or noisy kids were screaming in the street outside the house!

"Had" he said? What does that mean. After recording two of my own CDs in this space, and 6 audio books there, I recorded a 19 and 1/2 hour audio book and had many interruptions during the process. The door from the sun room to the house was thin and it meant if I was recording with folks home, they had to be quiet. So I moved my studio (and walls) to a different location. I set the studio up against an inside wall in a room. Each of the walls I had built created 4 foot side-walls. I built a ceiling for this cubicle room, and made a new wall with a better door. I now have a much smaller room, but a much more sound proof space.

These two 7' tall by 4' wide false walls cost about $600.00 to build. They have easily paid for themselves many times over and created space for me to work in silence. Or hide from the kids! Bare the price in mind when you are thinking of buying a pre-made studio space. It might be better to buy one fully made IF you have the space for one.

If you found this information useful in any way whatsoever, please considering following my blog and subscribing. Click there on the right!
I will also invite you to visit my website:
where there you can listen to recordings made in the studio, short movies of me telling tales at various places, and where you can also sign up for newsletters (which are a lot shorter than this blog) among many other cool things!  Thanks for reading.


NEXT "RECORDING YOUR STORIES" BLOG about voice recorders and other studio equipment!

Intro about recording:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What did you do over the summer?

Between June and today I did over 60 gigs which took me through most of New Hampshire, and into Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York. It's been busy, exhausting, and great fun. I met some wonderful people, adults as well as kids, reacquainted with some of my die-hard fans and hopefully made a few new ones! There were some folks I did not see this summer and I hope to see them later in the year.
Some of my work this year, as with most years, was for CLiF - the Children's Literacy Foundation. An amazing organization built on heart and the very strong desire to improve literacy in New Hampshire and Vermont. The team they have is strong, and the people up in Waterbury, Vermont (their world headquarters) all have a love of what they are doing, and for the kids and communities they serve. I am merely the delivery boy of books. Lots and lots of lovely, new books.
I wanted to share what I and a number of other presenters do in a day for CLiF.
The process is not easy for CLiF as the programs over the summer are many, and trying to have the presenters schedule and location schedule work together can be tough. All of the presenters do their own work, and for some, like me, summer is one of the busier times. But the kids need their books, so we make it work. After the emails and phone calls trying to get the scheduling sorted out, I get a list of where I am going and when, and closer to the day I get the notification of who the contact people are, names, numbers, address, number of kids, ages etc.
Sometimes the boxes are shipped straight to the venue, other times they are shipped, or delivered by CLiF folks directly to me. These boxes are labeled as to where they will end up: this school or that community program, or this summer camp.

The evening before or the morning of (depending on whether the leaving time is 6 am or 10 am) I load the car with the boxes of books. In this particular load (two large venues), in the trunk I have 8 boxes of books, my backdrop stand, speaker stand, and cables.

In the back of the car, I have another  three boxes, plus my box with my water, drum throne, and odds and ends, the speaker is in the foot well, my backdrop, my CLiF banner, my microphone, drum, and spare clothes in case I need to put on a fresh outfit when hotter than hot! Some of these things are put in the car right before I leave so they do not get damaged due to security and the temperature of the car overnight. My drum does not do well overnight in a car, and lunch is better when freshly made and packed! I have to say I do love the mileage I get with my 2014 Toyota Corolla, even when fully loaded up. It's not a hybrid, just a regular old basic Corolla!

42.5 miles per gallon

I try to get to the venue about an hour in advance n case there are issues with the venue, to set up the books, and my sound system (some of the multi-purpose rooms I work in have awful acoustics). Once at the venue, which can take anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 1/2 hours to get there, the car is unloaded, the boxes are emptied onto tables, and a visual presentation is created where we create a candy store of books! The books are in no real order other than reading level, to some degree, and not by author, so not like a book shop!

CLiF banners are put up, a final check and then the young people come in. I tell stories for about 30-40 minutes, depending on the kids or what else is going on, and then they get to pick (for the summer reading program CLiF does) two brand new books each. This sometimes takes quite a while, and again depends on the kids. Usually I can pick up whether the children will need a longer or shorter time to pick out books, which is what I judge when it comes to stories, and length of storytelling. When I head to a CLiF presentation I have a very rough idea of what I might tell, but sometimes the age group, the restlessness of the kids, or at the end of a hot day, the attention of the kids will have me change from the rough plan to something different. After the stories the kids get to look at the books and pick out two they want. Some kids have not picked out books for themselves before, so either myself or staff members at the venue who know the children, help them find something they want and will read. After this is done, all the left over books are packed up and I take them home with me to get back to CLiF at a later date.
The thing about these book deliveries over the summer is that they go to many places where poverty is high, where the majority of the school population is on free lunch and that lunch may be the ONLY meal the students get that day. At many, not all, but many of the places I go to there are teachers and others volunteering to make sure the kids get fed over the longest vacation of the year, and with the help of CLiF, the kids get food for their brains too!
68% of fourth graders in the USA read below a proficient level. 43% of adults with the lowest level of literacy live in poverty which means CLiF is helping break that cycle in NH and VT by bringing kids new books which they Pick Out Themselves (sometimes with a nudge and helping hand in the right direction when needed). There are communities I go to year in and year out, and still I hear the words: "This is my first book I get to keep." Heart breaking and heart warming all at the same time.

The books are chosen on recommendation and vetted by Jana Brown at CLiF. And of course the kids review the books themselves in what they pick and what comes back with me. The range of literature is wide. The choice wildly varied. From The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, to Captain Underpants. There are National Geographic books for early readers, and Curious George, to Judy B Jones and Emilia Bedilia, Eoin Colfer's Artimus Fowl books, Paul Fleisman books, a handful of graphic novels, Rahl Dahl and Rick Riodan books and piles of great picture books, some classics, and many modern classics including Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace!

There are over 58 presenters who work with CLiF including my friends and colleagues illustrator and writer Marty Kelley, writers Erin E Moulton, Eric Pinder and Dean Whitlock, and cartoon artist Marek Bennett. CLiF also has such luminaries as Michael Caduto, Jim Arnosky, Natalie Kinsey-Warnick, Katherine Patterson, poet Leland Kinsey, and Doug Wilhelm to name a small handful. This year CLiF has given over 6,250 kids the chance to pick out two brand new books of their own choice. This is close to $135,000 worth of books! I am just a small cog in a wonder wheel called CLiF which takes me through New Hampshire and Vermont meeting some of the best kids, volunteers, counselors, and teachers in those states.
If you want to donate money or new books to CLiF, volunteer, or help on the board, their website is: They would be happy to hear from you.
Here's to books and reading and being able to be whoever and whatever you want to be!

Monday, August 15, 2016

My Summer Reading

At the beginning of the summer I began a list of books I had every intention of adding to. A list of books I read over the summer. I have been so busy, which has been great, I have read all of two books!
The first was a kids book, The Search for Wandla by Tony Dizilla. You might remember Tony Danzilla from the Spiderwick Chronicles (which I much preferred to A Series of Unfortunate Events (although those were a lot of fun). Because of my love for the Spiderwick Chronicles I truly looked forward to The Search For Wandla. This book, too, is a lot of fun. The world creation is amazing. The story is well thought out and a rollicking good read, but in places the writing seemed a little off. Only a little. The book is one of three, I believe, and I am still hemming and hawing about reading the others. The characters and world are really good. It is about this young girl, Eva Nine, who lives in this pod, and is being trained to become ready for the outside world. We get the impression this is post apocalyptic. The escape to the outside world is something the heroine is ready for mentally, even though her robot "MUTHR" (Multi-Utility Task Help Robot) thinks otherwise. The entry to the outside world is jump started by an incredibly violent creature we learn later is called Besteel. This creature invades the pod and pretty much destroys everything. Eva escapes into a world which is nothing like the world she was preparing for. She has only her suit (which is able to monitor her health and hydration), an Omnipod, and what we believe is a torn photo showing a happy family complete with a Muthr and the words Wond La in the image. Eva Nine wants to find others like her, and find and become part of this happy family. We suppose all other humans have these devices called Omnipods which scan the world and creatures around them to tell them friend or foe. However as Eva scans the world around her, the Ominpod finds nothing in its data banks which match the things Eva finds.
The book is about her finding her way through this strange and worrisome world. Eva meets and make friends with some of the creatures of this planet, but also finds, along with Besteel, others who might harm her. Eva finds a city, and hoping to find humans, finds only other creatures and that the ruler of the city has a museum which featured some of the items (such as an Omnipod and jacket) which are part of Eva's world.
We learn which characters we can trust, and which ones we cannot. We find beings who want to help Eva, and those who would like to see her as an exhibit, and of course there are creatures we are not sure of yet.
The Search for Wandla is lightly illustrated with Tony's amazing artwork giving us a true glimpse of his world, allowing us to imagine the rest. The book reads well on the most part and as it is a science fiction book for children, they should love it. In fact as I wrote this, I have decided to read the others! I try to encourage boys to read what might be perceived as a book for girls - 'It's about a girl, why would I want to read it?' The main protagonist in this book is a girl, but there are male characters boys could possibly identify with, and there is so much adventure I think everyone would enjoy this book.
UPDATE: 4th September 2016 - Just finished the second in the series - A Hero for WondLa. Eva has a sister! Eva grows a lot and becomes a Very Strong Young Woman. And the plot thickens.
The only other book I have read all summer, is another juvie books, This graphic novel I would suggest for slightly older young readers, younger teens apposed to tweens, as it implies sex with boyfriends (although does not talk about it) and mentions girls periods. I read it because I give books away to young people and wanted to see what this was about, that and I have an 11 year old daughter.
Chiggers is really well written and beautifully illustrated by Hope Larson. Hope also did A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, and I have to say from what little I have read (these two) I really like her work - a lot. Chiggers is about girls at summer camp (my daughter's first was this summer) and all that goes on there. From boyfriends in rock bands dumping their girl friends in letters, to chiggers (of course) to back biting between groups of girls and that painful part of trying to fit in.
The story centers around Abby who in the past has been great friends with Rosie. They are looking forward to hanging out with one another, despite the three year age difference, only Rosie is now a cabin assistant and has no time to spend with Abby. Abby's other camp friends seem to have become too cool for Abby (with piercings and 'proper' boyfriends), but when one leaves, they get a new cabin mate, Shasta. Shasta is very different and takes to Abby, but Shasta has a few things she keeps close to her chest. Can Shasta be trusted, is she a true friend? Shasta and Abby become friends of sorts; they definitely become confidants. Despite the others in the cabin calling Shasta weird, Abby stands by her. Years ago Shasta was struck by lightening and strange things happen to her when there is strong electrical fields. The girls give one another new haircuts. Abby hears who she thinks are friends put her down. The story jumps about, but in a way that works well. It is like taking the boring bits out, and keeping the pertinent parts only, which is what makes it work. It is a touching story of girls getting on and not getting on at summer camp, and shows how some people grow, and others, well, they are who they are!
It is a warming book in a way, almost a form of poetry about girls growing up. I will be looking for more of Hope's work. I think I will try Larson's Mercury next.
The other book I am in the middle of is Homer's Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles (Penguin Classics). As I said I am half way through, and it is a great story and a wonderfully readable translation. I have to say Agamemnon is a total arse. As is Priam, but in a very different way. It seems Troy brought it's problems unto itself with Helen. It goes to prove, to me at least, that humans do go to war over the most stupid of things. All those lives lost for what? Pride?

I hope you got some good summer reading in and got more in than I.
Watch out for the next blog coming very soon.