Sunday, 20 May 2007

Mind alteration

A couple of months ago I received an email asking me if I would be interested in being part of the evening entertainment at a conference on Scottish literature that was to be held my university. I would be one of three storytellers and there was a buffet dinner in it. I jumped at the chance, never being one to turn down a free meal or the opportunity to hold an audience in my spell. I then forgot all about it and continued with my studies.

Towards the end of last week I got another email to say there would be an informal rehearsal next Thursday if I felt the need. And I do: it's always good to meet everyone beforehand and sort out timing. It's also worth knowing what the others plan to do, what stories they plan to tell and see how they tell them. This email also had attached another from the woman who is organising the whole conference detailing the order of the proceedings and the time we, the entertainment, will start. It also mentioned the fee. THE FEE!! It hadn't occurred to me that I would be paid.

This changes everything: no longer am I to be just a person telling a story to a bunch of folk interested in Scottish literature. Now words like 'professional', 'contract', 'value', swirl round my head; sentences like 'you get what you pay for'; questions like 'they pay you for that?' 'how much?' and 'was she worth it?' vie for attention. Formality has been inserted into the mix. Now I'll have to sound professional, I'll have to look professional, be professional.

The conference is on Friday the 25th of May, less than a week. I'd had a vague notion of telling a blogging story, something about how the internet is a continuation of the oral tradition. Mentioning the many Scottish storytellers I've come across in cyberspace and the fascinating voices they have. But now I find myself pulling books off my shelves with titles like Tales of the Borders and Scottish Folk-tales. My own portfolio doesn't seem good enough, my own ideas unprofessional.

I had planned a cheery week of research, exploration and invention. Now it will be a stressful week of angsty searching for the perfect story and trying to memorise it. There'll also be that 'I have nothing to wear' thing, that 'I need a haircut' thing and that 'I don't have a Scottish accent' thing to contend with.

Money: the greatest mind altering substance of them all. Of course, in a way I'm flattered that someone thinks I'm worth paying for. I'm also slightly enamoured of the notion of being a professional storyteller, travelling the world with a head-full of tales that people pay me to tell. Another dream to fill a pipe with no doubt but it does entertain. And yet... I'd rather do it in exchange for a meal or even a thank-you. For rapt attention and a round of applause. For a conversation; for a smile; for the hell of it.

But, hey-ho, that's not to be, the fee is set, the change has occurred. Nothing I can do to alter it now. It seems I'm on a new course, no point whining about it. So if any of you know of a good story that you wouldn't mind sharing I'm looking for all the help I can get. Also, for any ideas of what a professional storyteller might wear, what kind of haircut would be suitable and anything else I might have missed I would be truly grateful.


Kim Ayres said...

Ah, you've taken the story telling workshop we were on so much further than I have!

How fantastic!

You'll be great - get Steve to video it then post it on youtube for the rest of us to watch!

Haircut - either back-comb it so you look like Robert Smith from the Cure, or shave it all off and go bald.

Kanani said...

Congratulations! I can see where it'd be stressful! You'll have to let us know what you decide to speak about.

I agree with Pirate Man's hair ideas.
Here's a dress that I think would be appropriate, as well as a handbag. And if you don't like either of these, anything from the Harry Potter movies should suffice.

Eryl Shields said...

Kim ~ Are you kidding: video it? no way. I rather like the Robert Smith idea though. I didn't mean to take it further, it just happened.

Kanani ~ We've never met yet you know me so well, I love that dress and I'm sure I have something similar lurking in the back of my wardrobe.

PI said...

Above all be comfortable in what you are wearing - if it is also attractive that's a bonus. Choose a story that enthuses you and you can communicate that to your audience. Practice reading it aloud as much as possible and this will give you confidence. In lots of ways an audience is like a mirror and often reflects your expression which should be engaging and animated. Best of luck and enjoy it - especially the moolah!

Carole said...

The fact that you are not vomiting and have all sorts of stomach upset, because you have to speak in public is quite curious. As far as what to wear to the event, I would suggest some sort of clothing. And I read several Scottish folk tales this morning hoping to find something suitable for you, but I guess you will have to tell your own stories. Although I read about a chap named George, who seems to be quite a quick witted hero for the Scottish folk.

Seriously though, money does come with a whole lot of baggage attached. Still and all, it buys bread, so I would take it. For what it's worth, if I had to speak in public, there isn't enough money...

Eryl Shields said...

Pi ~ Thanks for that, I really must practice you're right. As for being comfortable in what I wear, that's a tricky one: I tend to be comfortable if I blend in and uncomfortable if I stand out. I tend towards scruffiness these days but would feel perfectly fine in a cocktail dress and heels if everyone else was dressed that way. I used to be much bolder and once (in my twenties) turned up to a pottery workshop in a white linen suit! Now I fret for days about what to wear for any given occassion where a dress code is not specified. I hoped to grow more confident with age not less.

Carole ~ No doubt I'll have the squits on Friday morning. But storytelling isn't the same as speaking in public because you're metamorphosed into part of a tradition. I think of myself as a kind of shaman when I'm doing it, a conduit recountng something from the past in my own voice and words. Does that make sense? If I have to give a presentation on something that is all my own work, well, that's quite a different thing and I agonise for weeks.

Mary Witzl said...

Great news, Eryl!

I would be inclined to wear something folksy and romantic looking. Not that I have anything even remotely like that, of course, but that's my image of a story-teller. Either that or a get-up like my kindergarten teacher used to wear: a white blouse with Peter-pan collar, lace trimmed, neat little skirt with pleat and nylons. No, I wouldn't be caught dead in anything like that either...

I would certainly go for lavender oil (to calm the nerves), camomile tea (ditto) and maybe a stiff gin or two, if I could stand the stuff...Unless you're driving there, of course.

Good for you to be doing this, and what an honor to have been chosen!

Eryl Shields said...

I've been trawling through my wardrobe and have found several pairs of jeans in various states of disrepair; a few ancient summer dresses and a black trouser suit which I only ever wear if I want to intimidate people like car mechanics. I do have my Virginia Woolf dress too, which is a dark blue floral jersey number with long sleeves. But, sadly, I don't have any brogues to go with it.

Nerve wraking news today: the other two storytellers have dropped out, leaving me on my own sandwiched between musicians. At least there won't be anyone I can be compared to I guess, but yee-gads!

Mary Witzl said...

I laughed out loud at what you wrote about intimidating car mechanics. I need a suit like that, but I suspect it wouldn't help me much. I can't talk the talk.

Years ago, I had a housemate who looked little and dainty, but was actually very good at figuring out what was going on in her car. She went to mechanics only for confirmation, and I used to love watching the interactions between her and the mechanics. The men went from obnoxiously patronizing to shocked and stunned in about thirty seconds flat. She was great at hardware stores (ironmongers) too.

Eryl Shields said...

The thing about this suit is it removes the need to speak at all. It somehow makes me look like someone who is not to be messed with. I don't know why. It wasn't even very expensive on the scale of things. Actually this gives me an idea for a post.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I think, above all, be yourself which means being comfortable. The people have asked you to do this on the basis of knowing you, your work, or having seen you do something similar before - that's what they'll be hoping for, I reckon.

Well done on getting a paid storytelling job! That's very, very cool.

Best luck to you - you'll shine!

eg(scotland) said...

Sorry I've not been around - internet access problems and all that.

I would suggest that you be yourself. Don't do anything different. If you normally wears jeans, then wear jeans. If you wear a suit, then go with that.

Your hair - well, it looks pretty good to me in the picture on your page - you don't need to worry about that.

The Scottish accent - or not! That's an interesting point - I expect it will be to your advantage.

Content - heck you're getting a fee that must mean you're good so don't worry.

All the best with it - you'll be great.


Eryl Shields said...

Oh god I lost my reply comment. And now I can't remember what I said. It was somehing like:
Sam ~ But which self? Though yes, I hadn't considered the fact that they are paying me to be how I was when not being paid. It would be bonkers if they were hoping that I would now be quite different, so thanks. I will tell some of my favourite stories like I always do.

Eg ~ Good to have you back. I normally wear paint stained combats that are several sizes too big. They seem to have stretched over the years.

Both of you (and, in fact, everyone) ~ Thank you for your kind comments, advice and best wishes. I'm actually beginning to feel much better about the whole thing now.