Something for the four children who made stories, just for us.

It’s been five and a half months since we’ve seen some of the family. For various reasons, Ray and I are still shielding, and they’re a hundred miles away. So last week we had a Zoom slot with some of the grandchildren.

It was lovely to see them all together, rather than taking it in turns on the phone. Charlie, Alfie, Sasha and Kelsey told us about the arts and crafts projects they’d done through the summer, and Charlie said that he was writing a book.

‘Wow,’ we said. ‘What a great idea. Who else likes making stories?’

They all did, excitedly taking it in turn to give us summaries of things they had written, and ideas of what they would write next. The inspirations, all different, were influenced by books and films. ‘That’s exactly what writers do,’ we told them.

‘I’ve just had an idea,’ Ray said. ‘You can write stories to read to us on Zoom.’

There was a chorus of enthusiastic yeses.

‘And,’ said Ray, ‘we’ll send each of you a special notebook and lots of pens.’

So, yesterday, we were treated to an exclusive private reading by four authors. It was brilliant.

What would they write next, we wondered. Ray thought they might create a story together. I thought I might join in. Perhaps, I could start them off.

So, this is for our story-tellers, who might, perhaps, decide what happens next…

There were once four children who could sit quite still, if they had to. They were called, Charlie, Aflie, Sasha and Kelsie, or maybe, they were called Kelsie, Sasha, Alfie and Charlie. They may even have been called, Ashas, Lafie, Larchie and Selkie. It’s tricky to tell when your Zoom connection isn’t quite stable.

Stables are where horses live. Lots of children long to own a horse. Sometimes, if they’re very, very lucky, they might get to ride on one.

Most people would say that one of the things no one can do, is promise to post you a horse. Well, not a real, live, breathing horse. But that’s what Aunty Cath decided she would do, when she woke up one Monday morning.

It wouldn’t be easy. It would need some very special skills.

She’d got the idea while watching the children, who were a hundred miles away, on the other end of a Zoom call, eating some really delicious looking sandwiches. Those sandwiches looked so wonderful, perhaps the best she’d ever seen, that she could almost taste them.

She’d said, ‘I’d love one of those. I wish there was a way you could send one to me through the internet, right now. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could put one in a slot on your computer, press a button, and have it arrive at ours, right away? One of you ought to invent a way to do that.’

They had laughed, as if their silly aunt was making another joke. But when Aunty Cath woke up the next morning she knew exactly how to do it, and she wasn’t just going to send food, she would send something alive, something exciting, that could be an adventure.

She had had a dream, not just about how to send a sandwich. No, the thing to deliver, was a horse. A magic horse.

Aunty Cath could remember exactly how her dream horse had looked. All she had to do, was draw it.

That was the difficult part: the trickiest thing she would have to do. Aunty Cath was rubbish at drawing. She much preferred writing descriptions. But, would words come to life?

What a question! Of course they did, all the time. That was the magic of stories, after all.

On the page, to someone who couldn’t read, stories could look like a lot of squiggles. But if you understood them, if you read them, like the four children had yesterday, then whole other worlds could come to life.

Print by Alberto Manrique

It was just what happened when Charlie told Coco’s story. Aunty Cath had run with him, when he was chased by a bully, and followed him into the shopping Mall and the hotel, and it had been lovely. Then, just when she’d thought Coco’s story was finished, another special thing happened: he made friends with a peanut, and how that had made her, and everyone else, laugh.

Next Alfie introduced her to Artemis Fowl Junior, and Dr Doom, and she’d had a very exciting time, going into big battles and mixing with fairies.

After that Kelsey told her about Tom Gates. He’d had to find ways to keep calm when Covid meant he couldn’t play with his friends, and Aunty Cath had been really relieved when he found a way to have a lovely special birthday party.

Then Sasha had described Matilda The Second, who was four years old, and super clever, but had mean parents who didn’t want her to go to school. Aunty Cath had been really worried about that, wondering who could save the little girl. What a surprise when Matilda cleverly tricked her parents into understanding that really, school was a good place for little girls to spend time.

Yes, that was it, all she needed to do was write a true description of the magic horse. She would start with his name, which was Starlight, because he glowed so brightly white.

He was not too tall, but he was strong, with a long glossy tail, and a shiny mane that flicked up softly when he galloped. What he loved sometimes, was to run along a beach when the sea was stormy, stamping through the frothy waves flicking spray up around him.

Other times he liked to walk quietly through long grass, feeling the stems tickle against his long white legs. He was good at stretching his neck and reaching high in the branches of a fruit tree to find apples.

Starlight was a gentle horse. If you were brave, and held your hand out flat, with a piece of carrot on the centre, and shut your eyes, you wouldn’t know Starlight had taken the treat until you heard him munching.

When he was happy, Starlight whinnied, gently, as if chuckling. He loved to have the soft skin under his chin stroked, and the hard bump of his forehead scratched. That always made his ears twitch.

Well, there he was: Starlight was on the page. Was he clear enough? Would it work?

What would the children do if they each received a horse, by email? Would they take him into their yard at the back, and keep him cosy and happy? Would they climb up on his back and see where he would take them?

There really were such a lot of questions that could be answered.

Reading aloud? Encouraged!

In the beginning, there’s just you, the pen and the paper – or the keyboard – and your inspiration.  Words spill out, and if you hold onto that privacy of setting yourself on the page, you can write anything.  That’s how I believe the best writing takes place.

Leonid_Pasternak_-_The_Passion_of_creationThe page is a space of freedom to explore ideas, to experiment with form and content, to imagine; to re-imagine: to remember.  You can chose when and with whom to share it.  Will you though?

That’s a big step, for most of us.  Even handing out a finished hard copy so that someone else can read it, can be nerve-racking, and hopefully we will have chosen our ideal reader carefully.

So what happens if you’re asked to read it aloud?  There are a few competitions around now where the chosen texts are expected to be delivered to an audience, by the author. Do you avoid submitting your work, in case you get picked?  That would be a shame.  Your work might be perfectly suited to ‘telling’.

It’s been a source of discussion in my creative writing group, where we encourage each other to read our homework tasks to the group.  Some people are confident about this, they’re natural story-tellers who know how to pace, and dramatise.  For most of the rest of us though, it’s a steep learning curve.

Between us, we’ve shared a range of approaches, so I thought I’d try gathering them into a list.

  1. Read poems or stories that you like aloud.
    • You can do this on your own, or to a willing and sympathetic guinea-pig, who may then help you to change your style.
  2. If you’ve small children in your life, read to them.
    • Put your mind to making the text entertaining, don’t just deliver the words dryly.
    • Children love silly voices, pauses and dramatic interpretations.
      • Just because you read dramatically with them, doesn’t mean you need to employ those techniques to an adult audience, but knowing that you can loosen up will help your confidence.
  3. Read your work aloud to yourself several times.
    • This will help you to practice timing, and see if there are difficult phrases, or changes needed in the punctuation, so you’re winning on two levels.
  4. Go along to some readings and open-mic events.
    • Don’t just chose the big-name venues, opt for local, room-in-a-pub groups.
    • Enjoy listening, but at the same time, notice how varied the styles of reading are.  Some people are performers, but lots more are good readers.
  5. Try a public speaking coach.  They’ll have a wide range of strategies and approaches to help you overcome nerves and develop your delivery style.

What I find, is that confidence comes through practice.  Nerves are natural, so my list starts small and builds.

miki byrne1

Miki Byrne, performance poet.

 

This week I’ve had enthusiastic emails from two of my regular group who went along to Miki’s poetry workshop & open mic in the bar of The Roses, one of our local theatres.  ‘Poetry night was great,’ said one, ‘we really enjoyed it,’ said the other.

There’s a big writing world out there, and it’s ours, if we just dare…

What else are we going to do with our writing, if we don’t share it?

It’s the bank holiday…

…here, and in some other countries, so I’m offering a brief post this week: a quote from Middlemarch.

We are not afraid of telling over and over again how a man comes to fall in love with a woman and be wedded to her, or else be fatally parted from her.

…In the story of this passion…the development varies: sometimes it is the glorious marriage, sometimes frustration and final parting.

George Eliot’s novel was published in 1871.

It seems to me that her observation is still true.  So come on, you blocked writers, what are you afraid of?

Next time you have doubts about your writing, think of all the fiction that has been published since this quote: the millions of characters who have interacted with each other.  Then ask yourself why you shouldn’t tell your version of any story.

And in case that doesn’t impress you, here’s Sappho, born circa 620 BC.  The fragments of her poetry that remain are all centred on love and passion.

pompei_-_sappho_-_man

Looking for a quick smile?

logo4%20copyCheck out today’s post on Paragraph Planet, The Barrister.

This lovely piece of concise writing is by way of a boast, since Martin attends my writing classes, so I feel I can garner some reflected glory.

Paragraph Planet is a lovely challenge.  Why don’t you give it a go, too?

Martin has also been published on the letter project.

Watch this space for more.

Heard any good stories lately?

KuchaleeWe’re at a local fete.  Lots of people drifting round stalls, greeting, sipping tea and eating cake in a sunny vicarage garden.  The story teller wanders in.  He wears a big woolly hat and bright, Caribbean style beach clothes.  He carries a drum.  Heads turn, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

He settles on a low stool under a broad leafy tree, crosses his legs around the drum and taps out a soft, regular, rhythm.  Children pause and turn to look.

The Story-teller speaks, just loudly enough to be heard above his drumming.  ‘The Mosquito,’ he says, ‘had a beautiful yam.’  An audience begins to form.  With a gesture, the Story-teller encourages them to settle around his feet.

His drumming builds into a crescendo, then dies away and he says, ‘The Mosquito boasted about his beautiful yam to everyone.  They were so impressed that they all came to his house to taste some.’

His audience has expanded to include adults, standing.  A few are parents, waiting within reach, but they’re listening too, to the story of a boastful mosquito.

The Storyteller slaps at his drum and calls out in the neighbour’s voices, ‘Let us in, Mr Mosquito, and share some of your wonderful yam.’  His drumming softens and, he tells us, ‘Mr Mosquito was terrified.  He stayed behind the door pretending to be out, but the neighbours wouldn’t go away.’

The Storyteller pounds at his drum and raises his voice.  He says, ‘They said, “We know you are in there, Mr Mosquito.  Why do you not answer us?”’

The Storyteller drums soft and fast, and his voice drops.  ‘Mr Mosquito said, “Zzzzzzz.”

“What?”’ The Storyteller calls out above the heavy beating of his drum. “What is that you say?”

The Storyteller pauses, and into our silence he loudly sibilants, “Zzzzz.”

We are all wide-eyed.  I am vaguely aware of the fete, busy behind us, but, what is going to happen now?

Our understanding of the shape of a tale is something we practice from the moment we learn to communicate.  Once we can begin to say, this is what I want to do, or this is what I have done, or even that he or she did to me, we are putting together narratives.  If we’re lucky, someone has already been regularly reading to us, or even telling us stories.

The traditional stories I grew up with, European tales, were sculpted for the page. Stories from other cultures often don’t work in the way we’re used to.

Kulchalee, The Storyteller, drew his story to a close in one line: ‘And that is all Mosquito ever said again.’kulchalee