Thursday, December 28, 2017

The end of 2017 is nigh!

I hope your year has been full of splendor and joy, or at the very least had a very liberal sprinkling, or generous coating of both! Outside the wind is whipping over the recent snow fall. When we had the first snow fall, it was like hunks of butter on warm bread to mostly sink into the ground, but leaving coverings in places. The next big fall we had was like a layer of thick white marmalade - it was sticky, and not going anywhere.

The snowfall before Christmas was like a blanket wrapped around a child, gently covering everything, heavy and silent helping to bring the sleep of winter. It now lies everywhere. It has pushed trees over, some old-timers leaning against their still upright siblings, as they support it lovingly, moaning gently in the wind - the only sound, it seems, in the woods apart from the stream. There is ice over the streams and brooks now; commuters of black pockets of air can be seen rushing downstream, shape-shifting as they go. Moe jumps in and out of depths of white powder, taking delight in the now easily spotted squirrels and chipmunks, dark and dashing against the white. She tries to beat them to their tree hideout but has yet to catch one!

The trees were not totally denuded of foliage when the snow came and with the wind that has been visiting, these leaves lie in abundance on the surface of white. Pine trees have been ejecting cones both large and tiny. Other trees have spat out their own seeds in preparation for spring. Red berried bushes, stand out against the background of white snow and evergreens.

Photo by Simon, copyright 2017
It's been a busy year, and it is not yet over! There are many things I am thankful for over the last 12.

Looking at the calendar I have thus far completed 88 performances at 77 venues, worked with Doug Lipman for the sound at this year's Sharing the Fire - the Northeastern Storytelling Conference, told at Dawnlands Festival, and presented workshops and told stories at the Northlands Storytelling Confabulation, completed a book for publication next year, been the headline at the White Mountain Storytelling Festival, contributed to two of the four issues of Storytelling Magazine, and written and recorded a full retelling of Gilgamesh, for middle school aged kids and up.

It's been a fun year and I have met some great people on my travels.

Working with the sound system for STF with Doug Lipman was probably the most challenging and stressful of all. Going to a gig of my own and not making the sound sound good is one thing, to be responsible for the sound of others is daunting. People pay good money to enjoy, learn and HEAR others at Sharing the Fire, and making sure people were heard well was our job. I think Doug and I both learned a lot from this experience. We were very happy we visited the venue and tested the sound equipment a couple of months before the weekend, and ironed out the kinks we found. Practice, practice, practice! One thing I learned is that Doug is great to work with.

The organizers and people I met in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin were wonderful. The feeling there at the Confabulation is very welcoming and family-like. Although a smaller version of STF it is every bit as full and good. The presentations and storytelling were superb. I learned from many people here in WI and I am grateful for that.
I was thrilled to be performing at the White Mountain Storytelling Festival in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire back in September. Although I was the main feature, or headliner, there were a lot more storytellers sharing their own tales, too and I was able to see many of them. This is a great weekend of stories, and more stories, and even more stories. From ghost tales on Friday night, to the sacred stories on Sunday morning, there is someone to hear. If you like to hear stories, then this is a great festival to go to.

Artwork by Aidan Brooks copyright 2017
My work on Gilgamesh was a lot of fun, and a lot of work. As when I dived into the Ramayana (pronounced Ram-EYE-an) a few years ago, I totally immersed myself into the Sumerian epic of the king of Uruk. Figuring out a way to tell the story and make it "fun" for tweens and young adults, yet appropriate and authentic was a challenge. I knew I wouldn't make a scholarly version of the tale, yet I wanted to stay as close to the original as I possibly could. I think I succeeded and from what I have heard back, I seems I did! And I loved the illustrations Aidan did for the book.

Not sure what's in store for 2018. Under the Oaken Bough will be published by Parkhurst Brothers sometime in the spring. This collection of folk and fairy tales is a little gem with eighteen stories, an author Q & A, vocab list, and tips-on-telling section. The stories were written as I tell them - as best as they can be in written form! I am hoping that I will be able to get The Epic of Gilgamesh, a retelling, printed and in book form during 2018, and a new kids/family CD out. It's been way too long. And I have plans for a podcast - still! But they are much closer to happening now! I have conducted some interviews with other storytellers, and have recorded a few stories for it, but need to get more done and then get it edited.

Anyway, I hope the year for you has been filled with wonder and you have had time to smell the roses!

I raise my glass (of spicy hot chocolate) and offer a toast to a successful and harmonious New Year.
Here's to 2018!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

REPOST - Understanding History and what it means to be British!

I originally posted this a few years ago, but as an immigrant, I wanted to share, again, what I feel being a privileged white male European living in the USA.

From (slightly edited):

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Before the holidays took off I began a quest to find more Holiday stories from cultures other than my own.  I mulled over stories from faiths other than Christian.  I was raised with Grandparents who were mostly Christian Scientists, but in late Elementary School years attended Church of England for a while.  In my teens I explored other religions and faiths and I have kept reading about different cultures and their beliefs since then.  I have also been lucky enough to have known people whose faith has been tested beyond 'normal' circumstances and have retained their faith, or had it made all the stronger.  Religion can be a bit of a sticky wicket.  Some people proclaim their faith is the only right one and all others are corrupt, or heathen beliefs.  I once shared a flat in London with a born-again Baptist. He was told me the Catholics had it wrong and would burn in hell for what they thought was right. That was his belief.  The truth is that until we die, none of us will really know - have the solid  fact before us (a fire pit beneath our feet, wings on our backs, or fighting in Valhalla with other great warriors) - if there is indeed anything after death other than nothing!  Reading old myths, legends and folk stories I have seen many religious (and other) bigotries appear, sometimes because of who was transposing, or translating the story, or because of the 'norms' of the day - what was acceptable then and not now.

Being British has some drawbacks.  Hard to imagine, but it is true!  The biggest for me is that as a Nation, Britain colonized the world.  The sun never set on Britain at one time in history.  It was a while back and I should move on, but that history comes with a lot of baggage and for me a heightened awareness of what Britannia did - England even.  England ripped apart Scotland. England caused major problems in Ireland which began over 350 years ago and are not 'fixed'.  Britain did serious damage on the African continent, and in India, and what we did to the indigenous people of America was appalling. I know other countries did similar things, but.  With all of this came exploitation, and... and the suppression of indigenous beliefs.

So when I come to tell tales from other cultures I carry that sack on my back. Especially around the Winter Holidays.  We could begin the winter Holidays with the Eid Al Adha on the 14th and 15th of October and run until the Chinese New Year which [was in 2013] the Year of the Snake and is celebrated on the 10th and 11th of February. Somewhere I wanted to find some great stories I could be faithful to and tell from deep inside. And not be too down - I was going to be performing for kids as well as grown ups.  I looked at some Jewish tales, mainly the story of Hanukkah and the folklore of the driedel.  But I did not feel right telling this story as a non-Jew. Then I remembered a wonderful story written by Eric Kimmel called  Zigazak!: A Magical Hanukkah Night. Because this is an original story I could not, with good conscience, tell it without Eric's permission. So I emailed him via his website and he said: YES.  A friend of mine Tim Van Egmond told me (and others) about a Japanese story. And I had my own stories to draw from.  So over the Holiday period, I was able to tell a story about a couple of Hanukkah goblins (thanks so much Eric), the story of King Wenceslaus from Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), a Japanese story about New Year and why the seas are filled with salt (thanks Tim), the Winter Cherries (a great Welsh tale set in the Arthurian 'romances' pantheon), and a true story about the truce the soldiers created on the Western Front of World War I, 1914.  (Over the holidays I found another true story about a German pilot who escorted a British bomber to safety!)  It was a nice mix of tales and religions and all of them contained the best part of humankind - our humanity!  Every story I read and told contained our humanity, our ability to make the right things happen, to help others. And every story has it's own little miracle in it.

Oh we ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny
But we'll travel along singin' our song side by side

Don't know what's comin' tomorrow
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road sharin' our load side by side

Back to now - 16th September, 2017

When I first came to the States I had to stand in a line with other men on either side of me with my drawers down, along with the rest as a doctor took hold of certain parts and asked each and every one of us to cough. On arriving in U.S. with all the right permits I was questioned about why I was here and what I planned on doing. My answer to marry my American fiancee. Once in America it wasn't over. We had to be married within three months. It wasn't over. We were interviewed together six months later. And a year later. I was given a 'green card' (which was pink and when I asked if boys didn't get blue ones, I realized I should keep my mouth shut) which was to be renewed in five years. Even with nothing to hide, and with all the right papers filled out in advance, it was intimidating.

In Portland, Oregon where my wife and I moved to live, getting in line at the immigration building to be interviewed to stay in the country and renew the visa I was very much in the minority being white. I saw all sorts of people with all sorts of problems. Some of these people were rude and obnoxious to the officers, even when it was the person at fault, so it is not surprising the immigration people were not always happy. It was not surprising that some of the immigrants were pissed off. It was not easy to find the right information, and even when you arrived at 5.30 AM to get close to the front of the line when the doors opened at 8 am (or was it nine?) to find you still needed other info, it was frustrating. Sometimes these folks were very polite despite all this and the officers were rude, for sme unknown reason. Should you talk out, and stand up and defend these folks? What if when it was your turn they refused you admission? Once you left the line, you wouldn't get back in until the next day. The officers I dealt with were sometimes great, and sometimes not so much. As an English speaking, white male I think I was sometimes treated better than others, and saw and heard some pretty poor human relations. No one wants to be in those lines, in those rooms, waiting to see if you could remain here. I chose to come over to America. For those who did not choose, but were brought, I cannot even imagine what the experience would be like for them - young people who have really only known America as their home, brought here by their parents.

I have been here in America for over 20 years and still carry a 'green card' which is now green again! I cannot imagine what it must be like for people trying to move to America now, after the Twin Towers came down, after the hatred that seems to be rife here now. Or for those who are trying to stay. It took me two months to find a job. My skills included 5 years of management experience, and hospitality, I had been a professional photographer - self employed, and ended up at first as a barista in a coffee shop - it was Portland, Oregon! I speak the same language, sort of. There are people coming over here with better skill sets than I had or have, more qualifications who are working the same sort of jobs - coffee shops, cleaners, menial work, if you will as I had when I first arrived. For someone of colour coming here, someone of an obvious different faith than Christian, I can see these folks having a much harder time finding work and settling.

With the garbage I carry of Britain's past colonization, I have the utmost empathy for newer immigrants coming to these shores who welcome "your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I hope America can stand by these welcoming words, and remember that everyone who is not a Native American is an immigrant or descended from immigrants, who might have arrived homeless, wretched, tired and poor. Have empathy. When the Italians came over they were treated like dirt. When the Irish came over, the same thing. The Polish people, the folks from the Ukraine, each 'last' wave of immigrants begin at the bottom, with a sort of cultural hazing, intentional or otherwise.  I hope we can offer all people entering the United States of America the little miracles I find in the stories I tell. The stories I tell from all over this wonderful and crazy work we live in.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Stories Are Alive!

Telling stories around a fire - circa 2013
Last night I was telling stories at Camp Exclamation Point (CAMP!) where I go every year to share stories. The kids here face more challenges in their lives than most. For the last five years, I think it is, Odds Bodkin has joined me, and this year we had a special visit from Karen Pillsworth. Karen was standing in for Angela Klingler, who has been coming on and off for as long as I have been going (13 years).

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

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

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

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

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

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

17th August, 2017

Simon Brooks © 2017

Friday, July 07, 2017


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

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

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

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

If you like epics and like Beowulf, you should get a copy of it! It's wonderful. It's not for kids though!


Thursday, July 06, 2017

4th July

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

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

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

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

Belated Happy Fourth from the Brit in the USA.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 05, 2017

Personal Development and Why an Artist Should Be Paid!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rumi and Storytelling

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

Words and photo copyright Simon Brooks, © 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Here's To 2017, and a book review - Gossip From the Forest

The book I am going to review, is a must have for anyone who loves forests, fairy tales, and/or storytelling. But first...

Last year was pretty amazing. We got a dog - oh wait. That was late 2015. I performed at 100 venues. Some of these venues were multiple performances. I presented again at the National Storytelling Network Conference and met some truly wonderful people there. I have seen some very talented storytellers from all over the USA.

I moved my studio out of my office, to a more sound tight location. I got to see, with some friends, David Francey perform in New Hampshire and got to visit family back in the UK.

I fell in love with the Ramayana, read Stephen Mitchell's free translation of Gilgamesh along with a slew of other great (and not so great) books. And I started on my own book which we are hoping will be out in September.

One book I have not quite finished yet, which I am greatly enjoying, is Gossip from the Forest: the tangled roots of our forests and fairy tales, by Sara Maitland. I have not read anything else by her yet, and her writing is superb. I think I can it is mouth watering. The book is about forests in the UK and Grimm fairy tales. Starting in March, Maitland visits a different forest each month (per chapter) and talks about its ecology and/or culture and how (European) fairy tales are of the forest. At the end of each chapter, she retells one of the Grimm fairy tales. Sometimes the stories are a simple retelling with a new riff, but others are very different. Fans of Angela Carter will notice an echo, but these retellings are all Maitland. Those who are not fans of Carter, you may well like these.

Last night I finished Chapter 9: November - Kielder Forest, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. The Keilder Forest is in the very north of England, on the border of Scotland. Kielder is a heavily managed forest, Maitland talks about how the Forestry Commission, established in 1919 after World War One, has changed their mandate over the years and have not done a terribly good job up until recently. She talks about clear cutting, or clear felling, and it's pros and cons in these British forests. She writes how the forests are managed and how recently the way they are looked after is similar, in a way, to how forests were managed in the Middle Ages, only with very modern technology.
Burley in the New Forest, 1991, © Simon Brooks, 2017
Sara Maitland seemed to have a slight fear of forests, which she puts down, in some respect, to the love of the old fairy tales. She shows how we were once very connected to the woods, and the woods themselves are not to be feared. Indeed not all the animals and people there are to be feared either. Often there are helpers, it is a place to escape to. There is no need for panic on entering a forest, but there are things in the woods to be fearful of.

Maitland discusses how people are still deeply connected to some forests in their work, and how communities still use them. The work Maitland has done in research is thorough. The things I have learned from this book has been and will be useful to my work as a storyteller and writer. The history in this book is far from dry. Being born and raised in the UK I have spent a great deal of time in three of these forests - the Forest of Dean, the New Forest and Epping Forest. I know these woods and their vibe, if you will. It was wonderful to revisit them through Maitland's words.

If you like woods and fairy tales, then this is a must-have book. Sara Maitland's writing is, as I have said, superb and her reasoning and research is impeccable. The retellings of the stories (Thumbling, The White Snake, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Little Goosegirl, The Seven Swan's Sister, The Seven Dwarves, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, The Four Comrades, Dancing Shoes, and The Dreams of Sleeping Beauty) are creative and powerful. These alone will have you look at folk and fairy tales in a new light and might inspire you to retell stories in a new way. Her points of view and how they can be used to make a tale come to life, should inspire you to give a different spin on a story or go deeper with it.

My copy came from the UK and was first published in 2012. My 2013 paperback has the ISBN number 978-184708-430-9 and can be found at Amazon
Start the year off with a great book!