Sunday, 29 July 2012

Confession: I'm a control freak

It's been quite a week, with two very different highlights.

This was me on Wednesday telling my new ghost story at the Whitstable Oyster festival ...

...and this was the GB cycling team leading the peloton yesterday on Box Hill (blurriness due to me taking the picture on my phone while cheering wildly).

Neither quite went as planned. I think my story went down well - it felt good as I read it - but it proved incredibly difficult to engage listeners who were just passing by. I'd spent hours on the story itself, and almost as many making posters and leaflets to hand out to attract an audience. But on the day, posters and leaflets weren't what was needed - I did have delightful listeners, but it was Facebook and friendship which brought them along (and the sterling work of the ReAuthoring team who brought me to Whitstable and looked after me there).

The one exception was a man who came in to the pub for a drink and (foolishly?) sat at the table next to mine - so I simply went up and asked if he'd like me to tell a story. Not at all what I'd planned, but it worked - he looked really thrilled at the end, and we had a great conversation about why stories and poems mattered to him.

Leap forward to yesterday. The GB cycling team had a plan - they'd deliver Mark Cavendish to the finish and he'd sprint over the line, just as he did in the Tour. Only it didn't work out - a load of other cyclists took the initiative and vanished into the distance, leaving the perfectly planned GB team out of the action.

We cheered anyway, and hoped till the last minute that they'd pull it off - but in the end, it was the guts and risk-taking of Vinokourov that won out and took the gold medal.

I'm off to LV21 in a few weeks to tell another story, and I'm determined this time not to plan it all to the last detail - I'll leave some ends untied, maybe, see what happens on the day. This time I'll be confident that my story will thrive no matter what the audience does. What's the worst that can happen, after all?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Writing displacement activity #99

This is a wobbly photo of my homemade (can you tell?) poster for Wednesday's storytelling.

It's not as wonky in real life (the edges curled up and made it look lopsided when I took the photo) and the colours are much much lovelier, I hope. Indeed, if I squint and turn the lights off I can almost persuade myself it has a touch of sub sub sub Rothko about it.

That's an accident - it's actually supposed to be a picture of something in the story.

The poster's to take the place of costume, trumpets, props and general loud announcements that if you step into the Duke of Cumberland between 3 and 7pm, I'll tell you a ghost story.

Both poster and story are low key, but rather scary, I hope.

I practised telling the story today as I cycled into town, gathering some strange looks from the waiters smoking outside the High Rocks inn, and the old lady on the path by the fair ground. Sorry guys - hope I didn't give you nightmares.

Monday, 16 July 2012

I'm telling stories live this summer

If you're anywhere near Whitstable, Gillingham or Forest Row this summer, you can come and hear me telling stories. I've put links up on my new 'Where you can see me' page over there on the right.

Next week I'm telling a kind of ghost story at the Oyster Festival. I've completely rethought it after ten days away on holiday - same story, new way of telling it. I tried out my original on my family as we sat over drinks. Reading to them made me realise that I'd written something that works on the page, but was really slow as a live story.

So I'm going to be brave. I'll let go of the comfort of reading and tell the story as I would if I met you in the pub. Which is, after all, what I'm doing.

See you in the Duke of Cumberland

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The ghost of a story

Where do stories come from? It's something people often ask writers, and mostly our answer is that we don't know - which is probably rather frustrating to the questioner.

I've been writing a ghost story over the last couple of weeks. I used to be terribly afraid of ghosts when I was a child, and though I would read any book, every book, I learnt to avoid ghost stories. I still do - even the thought of re-reading The Turn of the Screw makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

I'm not sure, then, why I wanted to write one. But I think it simply seemed the best way to tell the story which had been preoccupying me. I've a life-long fascination with floods. My father was the river engineer when I was a child, and one of my earliest clear memories is of driving through the 1968 flood as it swept through Tonbridge. For years I lived near rivers, and being cut off by floodwater was part of the rhythm of my life. But I always lived above the river, up hill, beyond the hundred year flood line. I've never been flooded or in danger. (Though I have been cut off, and the Medway did swill around the rusty floor pan of my car most winters for years - it's most unpleasant when water swooshes from the rear footwell to the front and up your legs because you've driven through a flood, and the water hasn't had time to drain back out through the rust holes before you go down hill. Just saying.)

This new story is about the 1287 flood which wiped out much of the coastline of eastern England. It was caused by a storm surge - opposing winds drove down the North Sea from Scotland, and up from the Channel, pushing its shallow waters before them. The water had nowhere to go but the low-lying land of East Anglia and north Kent.

That flood moved the coastline inland. That's a dry statement for something so dramatic. There were people living on the land that vanished.

I wondered what happened to those people, and I couldn't find any mention of them. So I wrote a story. I don't know why I wanted to tell it, but it's been itching at me for ages and I'm glad it's out there on the page now.

I'll be reading my story at the Whitstable Oyster Festival on 25 July, more or less where it's set so if you're in the area, come along and say hello. I'm part of the ReAuthoring Project so we'll be a whole bunch of writers bringing you Whitstable-flavoured treats.

Oh, and if you look closely at the map above, you'll see a place where the sea and the estuary meet marked 'The Spit'. It's neither sea nor land, and is, I think, now only visible at the lowest tide. That 'I think' is crucial  - I'm not sure because I've only been to Whitstable once, and I don't know its sea or tides. The story I've told is fiction. I made it up.  (But here's a rather nice video by Henrietta Williams of people fishing on the Spit - it's a magical place, where I'm pretty sure there's a ghost or two when the light and the tides are right.)