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.