Showing posts with label storytelling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label storytelling. Show all posts

Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Story So Far... part 2

I had decided that a new batch of short stories needed more than a page to take them to their audience. But, deciding is only the beginning.
I knew exactly what I wanted, I wanted to put on a show. I wanted to share my stories up close and personal but I just couldn't see how to fit them into a format that would work. I didn't feel that I could carry an hour and a half show. I had half-convinced some other writers to collaborate but this would make the whole process so much more complicated. Some of the would-be collaborators are in other parts of the country and all have different obligations and time constraints. This would become an enormous monster of an endeavour.
I have always loved stories and literature and music so it follows that many of my favourite songs were narrative songs. When I was a kid, my Grandad used to play Johnny Cash and ‘A boy Named Sue’ fascinated me. I'm going to list some of my favourites simply because I want to say them out loud.

  1. ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ The Charlie Daniels band
  2. Hotel California by The Eagles
  3. Eleanor Rigby The Beatles
  4. All of Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf
  5. I loved Ian Dury ‘My Old Man’ about his father was a fave
  6. Jeremy by Pearl Jam
  7. Central Reservation by Beth Orton
  8. Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega
  9. Stan by Eminem
  10. Love Vigilantes by New Order
  11. A Whole bunch by Amy Winehouse
  12. Jim White, The wound that never heals, a dark tale of love and murder
  13. David’s Last Summer by Pulp
  14. The Wild Rose by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, another who loves to tell a good tale.
  15. Love Detective by Arab Strap. Again a band who liked to tell stories more than sing songs.

While I'm writing this I'm remembering so many more but I really have to stop somewhere.
What informed my vision was mostly the last three in this list. Pulp and in particular David’s Last Summer because it breaks out of the 3 minute pop song limitations and tells a story that could just as well be a chapter from a book. Actually most of Pulp’s songs were stories, Common People being the most successful but I could name Babies and Disco 2000 off the bat. Nick Cave tells a good tale but its strongest point is the musical mood and use of Kylie’s voice. 
You may be less familiar with the last one, Arab Strap, they are from Glasgow and although Love Detective is my favourite they tend to narratives in their songs told in Glasgow patter usually with no attempt to sing a hook. Love Detective is a seedy tale of secrets and suspicion, I love the way the beat drives the story and not the words filling the tune as in most songs. This is what I wanted.
I imagined a DJ or computer based setup with loops and samples to drive the atmosphere. Behind me on the wall would be evocative images to set the scene. At last, I had a plan. This would be the show and it would hold an audience’s attention for as long as it needed. Don’t get me wrong, I've been to some incredible solo performances but I really felt the experience need some extra dimensions.
One minor problem, though. I could not find a DJ/musician. Basically, I wanted someone who would know exactly what I want and be able to realise that in a way that I would be happy with, easy.
Actually, I did have exactly the musician I needed, I just didn't realise it. I had known him for years and we had talked about music many times but a Venn diagram of our tastes would have looked like this…
Then one day he invited me over to his place to figure out if we could work together. He had a bedroom studio with all we would need but I still wasn't sure that he could see the music in my head.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Story So Far... part 1


Recently I wrote a batch of short stories that were different, they were truer, deeper and despite being some of the quickest stories I've ever written, they were hard. I achieved ‘flow’ this is a state that many artists crave and few reach, when it feels like you are a conduit for something that pre-exists, somewhere. After writing them I had to sit and recover, just imagine some flunky old medium after a séance. There is something about these stories that’s different, honest (unlike the flunky old medium). I realised that these were not my stories and they have to be shared but I didn't want to trust them to paper. I had to share them face to face, eye to eye.

My first attempt was My Reward, which you’ll find on YouTube. I had a strong idea of how I wanted to present it but what I didn't have was the skills, equipment or even a decent place to film it. With my phone and a darkened bedroom I produced what you’ll see if you haven’t already. It received very strong reactions from everyone and I've subsequently met people who've seen it and got some very encouraging feedback. The most humbling was when I was with a friend, her phone rang and she told the caller that she was with me. When she hung up I asked who it was and if I knew him, “No, but he knows you!” she said.

It isn't an easy watch and the subject is maybe not the most popular at the moment, men in power are being vilified by the #MeToo movement and barely a day goes by without someone being accused of some predatory act. I'm all for that and I know my kind and we are a flawed species, but I think that the “in power” part is more toxic than the “men” part. You know, many of us are just trying to get on with doing the right thing while the goal posts are dancing around the field.

Anyway, I took another of my stories and tried to film it with the help of a friend. It was tough, we both have jobs and families but we worked late into the night trying to realise a plan that wasn't that clear in my mind. And he had only really used his camera to document his kids growing up and the odd social gathering. This remains 85% complete but I promise I’ll regroup with the experience I've gained and get it done.

There was also the matter of the music, I used a fabulously atmospheric piece for My Reward by a band called This Will Destroy You then I received a terse message from the representatives of the band and a red strike on YouTube. I would need to have original music.      

So, I had a vision, some stories and little else. I organised a storytelling event for World Storytelling day at a local hotel. I would invite people to tell their stories and I would present one of mine. Now, I don’t mind telling you, I was a wreck. I have spoken to crowds, given lectures and seminars, I even did some theatre back in the day but this was different. These stories were different, I couldn't fail them, the stories that is. I took a deep breathe, a big gulp of adrenaline and did it. It wasn't all I wanted but it did make me realise what I wanted. I wanted to do a live show.

I knew I wanted to perform these stories, reclaim storytelling from little kids, they get enough things already. You know storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of communication. Once it was news, morality, entertainment. Once, storytelling was Netflix. No! storytelling WAS the internet. I wanted a new age of storytelling.

But, I didn't yet feel that I could carry a whole show on my own. I spoke to other writers, one in particular I know could carry a live performance (you know who you are!). I knew I wanted a show, a performance, not just a reading. And, the more I knew, the more I knew nothing!

Until it all clicked into place, I knew exactly what it would be. And all I would need to realise this was, well, just about everything. So, I went shopping for a musician…   


... Part 2  

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Writing can be Damn lonely



Writing is something that I've always done. No matter what has interested me, I have always gone back to it. But, DAMN it’s lonely! Anyone who knows me will attest that I am not a wallflower, not the bookish shadow in the corner, I love people, I love attention. I have given seminars and speeches in front of hundreds of people and while my colleagues are pouring over their PowerPoints or eyeing the exit, my nerves are a beehive of excitement. Don’t get me wrong, I am nervous but for me it’s an elixir, pure adrenaline. Now I have responsibilities and a family and me and time have had a major falling out so I have to fit more of what I love into what I have left. Just last week I found the impetus to marry two of my passions.
Twitshot
World storytelling day is observed on the spring equinox, this year it fell on 20th March. I found out about it the Friday before but after some reading, it turns out that it begins a week of oral literature so I had some breathing room. I found a venue at a little boutique hotel in town and began rallying the troops. I set up a FB event and called on my mates at the Toastmasters club I have been a member of for a month or so.
The day arrived and me and the family made our way downtown. Now, I'm usually pretty cool about talking in front of a crowd but I noticed a drilling in my head, a stiffness in my back. I was anxious. This was my story I would tell, I had poured over the words and phrasing to get the impact I wanted. What if I fluffed my lines? what if I missed a scene? What if they didn't like it? I've gotten rejection letters for my work before, I've had readers who didn't get it, but to have to look them in the eyes while they did it… I didn't know if I could take that. This meant too much to me.
This is Greece and 6 o'clock is more an advisory concept than a time. Greek time pieces have rubber hands and blurred faces so when I arrived and found just a couple of faces my heart dropped and yet it also embraced a kind of relief, I might not have to do it and I can blame others. Get off scot-free. After a half hour wait, however I had enough who had made the effort to come not to be able to back out. I launched into my preamble about the importance of storytelling. More began to arrive and by the time I reached the end we had a good turnout. There was even an American lady who had wandered into our room to wait for a friend. My plan was to call on others to take the floor and share their stories before I told mine but while I looked to them, they looked to each other and it was clear that I would have to fill the void.
“This is a story about sex, the insatiable appetite that drives us all. This is a story about love and how it hides in its shadow…
I guess I could have picked a lighter story but I have been working on a video for this story and I wanted to hone the performance, plus I was pretty sure I would remember it well and be free enough to immerse myself in the role.
I gave it my all and despite fluffing lines and drenching the armpits of my shirt, I reached the end delivering the final lines that left most staring, silent. It was maybe the hardest thing I've done but I'm glad I did it.
Eventually, I managed to coax the others up to tell their tales. If I'm honest, this was thanks to my son who was the first to volunteer. He told a wonderful story of how he had gotten away with some mischief at school. After that no one really had an excuse not to join in. Most didn't really know what to expect. Hell! I didn't but it was so good to tell and hear stories from people I knew well and many I didn't.
We had three hours without phone twitching, no one checked-in, no one shared and calls were rejected. At the end of our allotted time in the hotel’s meeting room, we all agreed that it should be repeated. We talked of interesting and inspiring venues and even outdoors in the park on the seafront.
What I learned that day was what I really care about. The reason I could take a stage and talk for hours was because at the end of the day, it wasn’t so important. This was important and too important not to do again.
I am looking forward to doing it again. See you all there.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Storytelling

World Storytelling day is coming and you may groan at yet another world 'something' day but this is one that I feel we should take greater heed to.


"World Storytelling Day is celebrated every year on March equinox and the following week. This year it starts on Tuesday March 20. The idea is to have as many people as possible tell and listen to stories in as many languages and at as many places as possible. Doing so we promote oral storytelling all over the world. We also get a chance to build friendships across national and cultural borders in joyful ways. As if we meet around a global campfire."

With it come some misconceptions. First of all, as you have seen, it is not a day it is a week and secondly, well secondly, allow me to elaborate.
Twitshot
 Storytelling is a wonderful medium of entertainment. We tell our children stories to help them sleep at night. Right? Wrong!

Storytelling pervades our lives on such a powerful level that we just take for granted. If you are in marketing or advertising, you already know what I mean.

Storytelling is one of the most ancient human arts, in fact it is prehistoric, pre-language even. We know this because the earliest creations of man, cave art told tales of hunts, of ceremonies and a need for moments in life to be passed on to later generations. Even the most primitive cave art, the hand stencils in France, Spain, Indonesia, Borneo and many others that date back 10,000 - 40,000 years display a need to transcend lifespan with their tale of existence. So how can a bunch of hand stencils tell a story. Well, the same way six words can not only tell an entire narrative but also evoke deep emotions.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

In this work by Hemingway we can understand the power of narrative... it is the reader who writes the story. I showed this to some young children and their interpretations were quite different to yours or mine, this is called schemata and it is the way we connect our own experiences with the words.

Stories are eternal, common and unique and are written in the reader or listener. 

Aesop taught morals not by lecture but by stories. In fact, his "The boy who cried Wolf!" is my favourite tool for teaching the folly of lies. Plato passed Socratean philosophies through narratives of his mentor's exploits.

The Celts chose their leaders, not just by their prowess on the battlefield but by their skills to spin a yarn. A great leader, Churchill was a modern exponent of this skill, drawing on common schemata can inspire his people to achieve heroic acts.

Christ! just think, who are the most applauded writers in the English language, (and this applies to most, if not all languages) was it Isaac Newton or Charles Darwin, who wrote volumes on the most ground-breaking discoveries. No, it is Shakespeare, who wrote stories. 

Then came a man called Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud. He turned public relations and advertising on its head when he realised that emotions sold soap, cars, insurance and even ideologies better than information. And, it wasn't long before they realised that stories were the most effective conduits for emotional response.

So why is this?
  • Stories invite us into the lives of others. Some we relate to, others we abhor but all are fascinating.
  • Stories give us context. We understand the environment in which motivations develop.
  • Stories ask and answer the question 'Why?' We can understand why things happen because we make similar choices to the protagonists. 
  • Stories evoke empathy and take us to a place where we open our minds to new ideas.
At a recent presentation I attended there were two speakers, one employed a narrative to explain how she was sceptical about some new methods and materials asking "Why should I change something that has worked so well for so long?" then proceeded to explain why she did exactly that. The audience empathised and engaged with her. The other gave us information about how it operated and pretty soon, the phones came out and facebook was being checked.

Storytelling is one of the most important skills we can develop.

Steve Jobs was not the greatest inventor or innovator, Steve Wozniak did most of the heavy lifting but we bought his story and his phones.

Stephen Hawking may have had his equals and dare I say his betters but we bought his story and his theories and many were inspired enough to go into science. Maybe even inspiring his successor.

Elon Musk is doing the same...

It is no coincidence that the best selling books of all time are by Agatha Christie and God and he must know a thing or two about inspiring mankind.

"Would you like to organize your own event?
It could be a cosy gathering in your kitchen or a school event with stories by pupils, teachers or professional storytellers. Or an evening at the storytelling club, library or a museum. Or a big festival or anything you and your friends can come up with!" Click to enter the World Storytelling Day site.


            

From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY