Sitting beneath my monitor and winking at me is a check from the Association For Scottish Literary Studies. Paid to me for a fifteen minute performance of three stories: my first professional storytelling gig. I don't know whether to frame it or cash it.
My son has just told me that scientists have created a substance that can stop light. It is neither gas nor liquid, but something in between.
When I woke up on Friday morning after running through my stories in my head all night I realised I knew what I had to do: wash my favourite grey t-shirt. It would go with my skinny jeans, my old suede sandals and faithful tweed jacket. That was the outfit nearly sorted. So I put on a wash and mooched around in my dressing gown for most of the day occasionally making an effort to warm up my voice and breathe deeply. I drank gallons of water and ate lunch. Finally I had a shower, properly blow dried my hair and even applied some make-up. I went out to the garden and took my now clean tee from the line, on went the clothes and I was ready to leave.
Driving into Dumfries I did the voice exercises for real and told the stories to the dashboard...
John was a lonely fisherman who lived on the very edge of a small village on the Solway coast in quiet isolation. He lived alone, fished alone, was shunned by the villagers because it was said he was touched by the devil on the day he was born: he had the red mark of the devil down the side of his face. He longed for nothing more than companionship...
I arrived in Dumfries early so stopped at Tesco to get some bottled water as I'd forgotten to bring the tap water I'd meant to. I also got some lavender chocolate as I was there: emergency supplies. Once on campus I took a long draught before walking up to the building. Bracing myself I opened the door, went in and spotted Valentina the lecturer who had organised the proceedings. Paused briefly and went up to her, I didn't quite feel nervous but I am shy so was a little awkward. However she is a very nice woman and was definitely feeling nervous herself. She said she felt like she'd organised a big party and was now waiting for people to arrive: would anyone turn up? She introduced me to the people from the ASLS. After which I found myself in a room full of literary types and the buffet supper. Onto my plate went a tiny stuffed tomato, a mini spring roll and a satayless chicken stick, mmm. I gulped orange juice.
The other performers arrived and we checked out the room: row upon row of seats and a tiny portable stage behind a desk with three chairs arranged at it. There was to be an introductory talk before we were on.
The other performers were Jo Miller a fantastic fiddle player and singer of traditional Scottish folk songs, Cathy Hobcross a traditional ballad singer and Lincum Doddy (apologies to them if I've spelt the name wrong) a group of rather marvellous singers. We organised a programme between us: a round each, a break, another round each. Jo first, then me, Cathy next and finally LD. After the introductory talk, while everyone had gone to top up their glasses, we moved the desk out of the way and brought the stage forward. I got more orange juice. Now we were ready to do our stuff. As Jo was playing and singing I was thinking 'fuck she's good, how can I follow...?' Then I was being introduced and I was up...
It was the time of the great Narwhal hunt. Tuglik was an old woman who lived with her grand-daughter Quajapik. They couldn't hunt and having no man to do it for them they began to get hungry. But Tuglik knew a little magic and one day she uttered an incantation and turned herself into a man. She had a seal bone for a penis and a hunk of mattock for testicles: her vagina became a sledge...
I got up on the stage, my heart in my mouth, introduced my story and began. Everyone sat quietly and listened. I lost my way briefly, began to sweat, got back on track - did anyone notice the glitch? Finished the story then... silence. I was beginning to sink into my chair but then realised that everyone was clapping; one down two to go, but not yet...
During the break I allowed myself a glass of wine and a fag. When I went outside one of my lecturers – an evil smoker too - was also out there and said to me 'well done you, well done you!' and I felt quietly released.
Next round: Jo, first again, had us all singing along, she was just so bloody good, but my nerves had evaporated and when I went up for the last two stories I was much bolder and members of the audience smiled at me as I looked at each one in turn. My last story had everyone in fits at the end and garnered me an enthusiastic round of applause.
...'it was when we were dogs' she said 'but oh! You died a terrible death, terrible...'
'Really! How... what...'
'You ran out into the road, got hit by a car... and oh! Your right shoulder was smashed up, leg over your head and you just lay there bleeding and whimpering. All I could do was stay with you; I barked and howled but nobody came and eventually, as the sun began to sink, you went'
I won't give away the ending, just in case. Though Kim knows it.
So, I'd done it and survived. My first gig as a 'professional' storyteller. How odd! I'd never in a million years have considered the possibility. I just stumbled into a storytelling class to make up my points. This time last year I didn't know such people existed.