Red!

Artwork used by permission - https://peerro.deviantart.com/ (C) Peerro 2017

A retelling, and exercise in not starting a story at the beginning!

Red!

It was dark, damp and hot. The air was filled with rancidity. The old woman felt around the slime covered walls which gave and moved to her touch. She felt a jolt and was bounced around and for a short while was not sure which way was up and which was down. Then all was still. Sitting up she felt the walls press against her. She heard gentle rumblings, was jolted again and felt it become slightly and slowly more damp. There was an acidic smell to the new dampness, not unlike wine. At least it was warm. Silence and stillness and what seemed like eternal darkness ruled for a while. Then the old lady could hear murmurings, mumbles, but could not really make anything out. The woman was glad to try to hear what the noise was; it was a distraction from the claustrophobia she was beginning to feel. Then another sudden jolt, a roar, and she was bounced and jostled around and felt something land and press against her. There was barely room to move before; now she was crushed almost beyond endurance against the stinking, slimy wall. The old woman did not move and then muttered to herself: “It’s dark in here, but at least I am still alive.”

“Who’s there?” said a tiny voice.

“Is that you, Little Red?”

“Grandma! Did the wolf eat you too?”

“Well, I suppose he did, my little one.”

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The Gilgamesh Project

The Gilgamesh Project began for me last year. I have been wanting to tell one of the great Epics for many years, but wasn't ready. I had been working on Beowulf, but it wasn't speaking to me. Ironic, as it is one of my favourite stories. I have over seven different translations, retellings!

My son had been studying mythology at high school. It bothered me that so much was omitted in some of the stories. Characters were missing. What I thought were essential plot schemes were absent, and to me, it seemed wrong. I understand these books cannot contain the full stories. One book with all these myths and legends would be too big to lift, but still. When my daughter began to study Ancient Civilization I decided to learn Gilgamesh, to tell at her school. I saw one version they were learning from and saw huge parts missing again. I read other parts added - not in any version I have seen and read! I wanted to create a telling of the story which stayed faithful to the original. I dove in and found a story I connected with and fell in love with.

Learning a story like this means, for me, immersing myself in it. I re-read the two books I had, one a translation by John Gardner and John Maier, the other being N. K. Sandars. Sandars does not work from the original cuneiform, but from German, French and English translations he had available. I then found Stephen Mitchell's wonderful poetic retelling, which captured a magical part of the story I had not felt, up to that point. I then invested in Andrew George's 1999 translation. Since these books have been produced, another tablet was discovered in 2015. I read about that, and what it contained. I then set to work.

Several months later I had a working story which stayed close to the translations I was working from. I did not use the children's retellings, but stuck with the full versions. I wanted to present the story authentically to middle school aged people and their teachers. I felt I had to make a few small changes. The last thing I wanted to do was have agitated parents calling me up, or schools getting upset. The part where Ishtar's priestess Shamhat "couples with Enkidu" for seven days straight became 'the priestess and Enkidu stayed together and danced for seven days.' In other versions written for young people, this is missed out all together. I feel that Shamhat tames Enkidu, so that Enkidu can tame Gilgamesh. We need to know this event happens. These are the sort of changes I have made. I used semantics to disguise what was happening in places. The story retains its gore, but this is not any worse than the six o'clock news or what is seen on people's devices and apps like SnapChat.

I was able to present my retelling of Gilgamesh to the entire 6th grade at my local middle school. About 175 students and all their teachers (Mathematics, English, Science etc. as well as Social Studies) attended. It was well received. In fact some of the boys wanted more gore! Of course.

Over the summer I worked on the book form with the idea of making it available for teachers, using my telling, and the books I have, as resources. This telling is, I hope, engaging to the younger reader and accessible to the youth of today. It is not inappropriate and remains authentic to the original cuneiform tale. At the back of the book there is a bibliography, a character list, a vocabulary word list/lexicon, and some activities for readers, which Social Studies and English teachers might enjoy using.

There will also be an audio available of the book. This is script read, and not a live storytelling, which I normally do, from the book. I am hoping all this will be out, released and in the big, wide world by the end of September 2017 at the latest.

Watch this space!

Peace,
Simon

21st August, 2017

I think Shamash will go into hiding today for a brief time!

Artwork by Aidan Brooks

Stories are alive

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 words I came up with for this story: "If you know a song - sing it. For they wrap us up and keep us warm when we need to be held. If you know a story, tell it. For stories are like boots and like to travel." And I'll end this blog the same way.

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

Simon

17th August, 2017

Favourite Epic!

I am not sure if I can say I have ONE favourite epic anymore. I have read too many and enjoy them all. The one I have the most connection with is Beowulf, probably because I have known it the longest. And have read many different translations. But another story I have immersed myself in this year is Gilgamesh. It's been 'bugging' me for a while.  I immersed myself in the epic, reading what there was on-line, re-reading the two versions I had by Gardner & Maier, and N.K Sandars, and buying and studying two more versions - a very thorough translation of both Sumerian and and Akkadian cuneiform by Andrew George, and Stephen Mitchell's poetic version of the epic. Mitchell did not translate, but used a number of translations available to him.

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Professional Development

We have a couple of electricians working on our stove, putting new wiring in, banging and crashing.
I am exhausted.

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.

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.

Halloween

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 just 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 listserv request for stories of this kind, I put together a list of tales I tell. Below is this list. Some can be told to younger ears, and some need to be shared with mature minds! The stories are listed starting with the less fearsome tales at the beginning of each section, with the chillier tales coming last. There is some overlap with the end of the 'Tales With a Little More Terror' and the beginning of the 'Terrifying Tales' sections.


Spooky Tales for Younger People
The Man Who Was Afraid 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

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 Unstoppable 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
 

Terrifying Tales for Teens and Grown-Ups
WW Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw (retelling)
RL Stevenson's The Body Snatcher (retelling)
Edgar Alan Poe's The Black Cat (retelling)
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 the king's 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 folk tales from Eastern Europe which I have blended together. A dead count steals a woman and her true love comes to rescue her, of course!
 

Great Stories for Dark Evenings by the Fire
These are tales which can be fit into the last of the two categories but are 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 - the first set shorter (30 minutes) and for younger kids and the second set longer (45 minutes) for older kids and adults. For more information about my Fright Night Program, shoot me an email:
Simon at Diamondscree Dot com
or visit here http://www.diamondscree.com/programs

Moving House!

There are many things that the old folk and faerie tales, or as I like to think of them, the ancient stories can teach us, even help us with today. Mostly inspiration. You can take a story at face value if you only want entertainment. By looking deeply at the stories we can learn a lot, and even see ourselves staring back at us.

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