Monday, 28 May 2007

Telling Stories

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.


Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Well done, Eryl, very well done indeed! It sounds like it went beautifully. It would have been easy to get nervous and overwhelmed but you handled it like a pro - which you are now, right? You got paid!

I hope you celebrated the popping of your pro. story-teller cherry with a large glass of something dreamy. You never forget your first. ;)

Long may your story-telling continue!!

Kanani said...

Even this post was compelling. I wish I could have been there.
Storytelling is truly an art. I'd love to hear the whole of this story... please? Or do we have to wait for the book? ;0)

Kim Ayres said...

Fantastic! Absolutely bloody fantastic! Well done Eryl!

Scan the cheque and print it out on glossy paper and frame it. Then cash the real cheque and treat yourself to something special.

I'm so chuffed for you :)

Mary Witzl said...

Good for you, Eryl, getting through this so well -- and having fun doing it, too! You really should get a photocopy of the check and take it out and look at it frequently.

Eryl Shields said...

Sam ~ You have such a way with words! To tell the truth I was so knackered when I got home I ate some left over chineses food, cold, and went to bed.

Kanani ~ The whole story of this probably would take a book. I suppose it started about fifteen years ago, no seventeen, years ago when my son started school and people kept asking me when I was going to get a job. This made me flail around looking for some sort of alternative and so I went back to education, beginning with high school stuff and slowly moving up. It takes in several glitches including moving countries, a breif flirtation with the world of commerce and an ingrown toenail.

Kim ~ You're so kind. And what a good idea I can have my cheque and spend it!

Mary ~ Thank you. Photocopying the cheque is even better than scanning it, I can never find things I scan into my computer. Actually, I've just thought, I have some printable fabrics lurking around somewhere I could photcopy it onto a bit and sew it onto a tee-shirt. Or maybe make a border for the bottom of the blind in my study. The possibilities are endless!

eg(scotland) said...

Oh wow - well done. I too would like to hear the full story sometime. And sounds like you got the right outfit for you. Professional storyteller - well that's something special.


Carole said...

Good job. Sounds like you did absolutely great. And the thing I like is that your remembered the before and after. Usually when I have something frightful to do (like speaking in public) I don't remember how I got there or what happened afterwards. I am glad we got to hear about the entire adventure.

Eryl Shields said...

EG ~ I may start trying to write up the full story as I'm thinking that it could help me with that whole 'Dominant narratvie' thing. It could be years before I'm ready to share it though so don't hold your breath.

Carole ~ I think 'absolutely great' could be pushing it slightly but thanks for your sentiments. The thing is, although I did have an attack of nerves, I really enjoyed the whole experience.

PI said...

You should feel very proud of yourself. What a great evening's entertainment and how lovely to be part of it AND PAID! You obviously have great story telling gifts and to be able to project them on to an audience is a bonus.
I am restraining myself from lecturing you on putting on clothes straight from the line (I air for days) as I am not your mother you'll be relieved to hear:)

Eryl Shields said...

Thanks Pi, it was lovely in a testing sort of way.

Is hanging clothes on the line not airing them? My mother wasn't a launderer so I didn't learn these things.

Pendullum said...

CONGRATS!!! I have tingles all down my spine for you woman!!!
Now, Kim will have to teach you how to post a 'voice post' so we may listen to you from around the world!!!!

Eryl Shields said...

Thanks Pen. Voice post oooh! I'll have to give him a call.