Professional Development

Originally posted May 5, 2017

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.


Originally published August 31, 2016

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

Moving House

Originally posted May 16, 2016

For the last ten or so years I have been blogging on blogspot, for the reason that it was easy, and available to me at the time. I have enjoyed using blogspot, but it is time to bring my work under one roof. This is one of the last few boxes for me to move to my new house and unpack!

So here is the first blog on this now, almost new, site (house)!

The Old Tales by Simon Brooks © June 2016

 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.

 I also believe that with today’s mobility with people moving not just about the country, but around the world, folks lack grounding. I believe the ancient stories allow us to regain some grounding and in can help us recapture our heritage. Many of the old tales tell us about the ‘cruel world’ that is out there and how the heroes and heroines (mostly vagabonds and waifs) of these stories figure it all out. By doing this the stories give us hope.

 Not much has changed with us humans, really, if you think about it. There is still greed, hate, corruption and war, and it’s usually over what others have that we want (the big bully in the playground after the good candy). And we all know there are no magical spells in the real world. But there is hope that we will find solutions if we look hard enough and find the right people to help us.

 The really old stories, such as Gilgamesh and Beowulf, teach us about the old cultures, and the hero code of conduct. Many of the ancient heroes talk about their kin, their relatives. These characters are often introduced as ‘son of’ such and such, ‘cousin to’ so and so, and ‘warrior under’ this lord or that. These heroes are deeply rooted in their own genealogy, they know who they come from, where they come from, and are fiercely proud of it. And when it comes to walking the talk, they definitely do that. Some might see this as bragging, but there is more to it than that. It is about pride of the family name and honour to themselves and their lineage. When a hero says he will slay the dragon he will slay the dragon or die trying. We could all learn from this. He doesn’t pretend to slay the beast by hiding it somewhere and giving it a pay-off. He slays the beast.

 When warriors had done well for their lord or chieftain, these men and women in these tales received great honour and recompense. The kings and rulers would offer much in the ancient tales, to the men that made their kingdom what it is. In some cultures the leaders give away almost all to the rest of their people knowing that they will get it back in the future if they were a good leader. I think this is something we could learn from! Of course we know these are stories, and in real life the riches came from plundering and invading other nations. And still do. But if we look at these stories and how some parts (by all means not all!) could teach us a thing or two. And no, I don’t mean we go beating our chests, buy guns and claim we will kill the beast, but we need to look at the problems we have and when something needs to change, change it. If something needs fixing, fix it. Don’t just patch it up and make do, but fix something. There is much that is broken in our society. The old tales don’t just help us see the issue, but encourage us to confront it, and do something to make things better for all.

 Some of these tales are mirrors to our own inner selves and can help us see what we are really trying to achieve. This applies to adults as well as children.  Two legends that show remarkable ethics are the story of King Wenceslas, and the Arthurian story of Sir Cleges and his miraculous winter cherries. Cleges routes out corruption and greed and is rewarded for this. His Lord, King Uther Pendragon (Arthur’s father), looks after Cleges and his family (who had become penniless). Wenceslas of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) was one of the most revered Kings (actually Duke) of his time, a fair and just man who dispensed justice with an even hand, despite his somewhat dysfunctional family (his mother killed her own mother-in-law when her husband died, and Wenceslas was eventually murdered by his brother). Wenceslas was made Saint because of his good treatment of his citizens.

 With the story giving us a distance to an issue, we might be able to handle a problem out which might be too difficult, otherwise. Take Little Red Riding Hood, for example. I know of a young girl, about 6 or 7 at the time, who asked for the story to be read to her. She wanted the tale told to her at least once a night for about a month. We discovered the young girl had found out a friend of hers had seen a registered sex-offender who lived near-by, staring at the house from the bottom of the drive. In listening to the story, we later figured out, it enabled the young girl to process what had happened to her friend, safely. There are stories about relationships going bad, and trying to rectify the mistakes made. There are stories which ‘teach us’ or remind us of what is really important.

 Yes, there are stories like Hansel and Gretel where the mother (in the original) tells the father to leave the children out in the forest because there was not enough food. She knew they would all starve if they fed the children. Back in the past, this was a real issue, and the young and elderly were put out to die. This does not happen in our culture now, but these stories remain relevant when families suffer through divorce.  The children might be ‘abandoned’ in other ways and these stories can reach out to them and offer some sort of hope. Yes, the stories are dark, but they teach us that the world can be harsh, and that there can be a way out of the forest, even if it is not immediately apparent.

 The stories talk about compassion, sharing, fighting on the side of right, to overcome the big, bad wolf, dragon, or evil giant, to use our minds and not just brawn.

 There are many things that the ancient stories can teach us, even help us with today. And let’s face it, if they weren’t good, they wouldn’t still be around today. These ancient tales are really good stories, if you look a little deeper. Go on. Go ahead. Lean over and peer in more closely.