Archive for the ‘Books + Literacy’ Category

As told by the free dragon Fuse to Agent Green, the world’s only living dragon whisperer, at DCHQ [Dragon Conservation Headquarters]

It was a complete scam. A nasty one. A man calling himself Sir George used to ride around looking for dragon sign – heat shattered rocks or scalded stones; it’s territorial: a sort of Trespassers Will Be Devoured notice. Once George had tracked down a lair, he’d high tail it to the nearest town and gallop down the main street in a terrible lather, shouting the odds about A dragon, a dragon!

Of course everybody barricaded themselves indoors at once and George could latch on to the local bigwig. He’d be all broad shoulders and brave words, then pretend to set off scouting the dragon’s lair. After a couple of hours he’d come back looking shaken and sober, with awful reports of the creature’s voracious predations. Most people didn’t even know the words.

So then George would insist on virgin girl ‘sacrifices’: and of course he had a crew of henchmen waiting, didn’t he, to grab the poor kids and sell ‘em into slavery. Vile. Absolutely filthy business.

Soon it would come down to the princess or the mayor’s daughter, or whoever. They’d deck her out in some sorry parody of a wedding dress and drag her up to the lair. George knew when the dragon was asleep, oh he was very good, he knew his dragons, timed everything to the hour… After a bit of ceremony the grieving parents and guards all shambled off, sobbing like infants, and the young woman was left to her fate.

Which had nothing to do with the dragon. George appeared with his wolfish smile – he never washed, by the way, in fact he stank too bad even for a dragon to eat – and he’d start getting personal with the girl. She was bound up, poor wench, so all she could do was shriek.

Which was exactly what the wretched George wanted. The girl’s protests would wake up the dragon, who invariably stuck his head out of the cave to see what the fuss was. Of course the poor beast was still sleepy, not to mention grumpy at being disturbed. George just had to hurl a few ripe insults to make any dragon come charging out without even sharpening his claws properly.

George was depressingly efficient at this next part. He knew how to dodge the tail, duck under the claws and teeth, and skewer the dragon right through the rib cage. Then he’d hack its head off. His henchmen could take their time pillaging the cave and carting away the poor dead dragon’s treasure hoard.

Meanwhile, George would terrify the girl even more by telling her that nobody back home would believe she hadn’t wanted to make sport with him, as he called it, and that she was sullied beyond repair with her family and her community. He called her a slut and told her the only hope was to marry him and make him one of the family.

Then he’d drag the girl and his grisly trophy back to town, and insist on a ‘private conversation’ with the family. That’s when he dropped all the chivalrous charm, coldly told them that their precious daughter was no longer a virgin and demanded a wedding, quick sharp.

While everybody was celebrating the slaughter of a dragon who had never been a minute’s threat in the first place – well, all right, it probably had pinched a few sheep and cows – George and the girl would be married, whether anybody liked the idea or not.

Sometimes he only stayed for the wedding night. He liked young flesh and he liked variety.

If he didn’t see much prospect of squeezing more profit out of the game, he’d help himself to the best horse in the stable and disappear. The girl and her family would be in turmoil. The dragon was dead. George never even looked back.

Agent Green is the lead draconics expert at DCHQ.
Mission: to find and save the world’s last dragons.
Motto: Only The Keenest Survive.

Voracious predator or victim of a vile scam?

For #NationalTellAFairyTaleDay I offer the heart of an odd project that never quite happened. I loved learning French. Uni careers advice person sneered at me and said, there are no jobs with French. In 1984 he was correct. But the language enchants me. I’d love to tell stories in French.
I apologise for all the language mistakes in this piece. (Please do let me know in the Comments below!) Apart from the traditional start –
Once upon a time, there was… – I keep to present tense and simple-ish sentences. The story was originally intended for school children.
Of course this has limited appeal. Yet there are images here which flow in French, that I’d never have devised in English.

Il y avait une fois un roi et une reine.  Ils habitent un grand château. Ils sont très riches.

Mais le roi et la reine sont malheureux parce qu’ils n’ont pas d’enfant. Tout d’un coup, la reine est devenue enceinte. A la fin de 9 mois – voilà un bébé. C’est une fille.

…Une jolie petite fille avec de toutes petites mains, avec un tout petit nez, avec des touts petits pieds, des cheveux marrons, et avec des yeux bleus comme le ciel.

Le roi et la reine font la fête, avec toute la cour. Tout le monde est invité. Le roi et la reine invitent aussi les 7 fées qui habitent au royaume.

Les 7 fées arrivent. Elles portent des robes magnifiques. Elles ont des ailes qui brillent comme des bijoux. Et chaque fée a une baguette magique.

Chaque fée offre un cadeau à la jeune princesse: on la donne touts les vertus – la beauté, la grâce, une belle voix pour parler et chanter … qu’elle joue parfaitement à la guitar et au piano… qu’elle sait bien monter à cheval… qu’elle fait parfaitment son broderie…   enfin, tous qu’une princesse du 16ième siècle doit savoir faire.

Ensuite – à table! On mange et on boit. C’est bon! C’est beau! C’est délicieux! Toutes les fourchettes, tous les couteaux, même les verres sont faits d’or. Qu’est-ce que ça brille dans la belle lumière des bougies.

Mais tout d’un coup la salle devient noir comme la nuit. Un grand vent souffle et ce vent éteint toutes les bougies – pouf!

En haut de l’escalier, la grande porte de la salle s’ouvre – claque!

Et dans un nuage, tout le monde voit entrer une fée habillée tout en noir, avec des bijoux et une couronne d’acier. Elle descend l’escalier. Ses ailes sont fait d’acier, eux aussi. Elles font un bruit affreux.

C’est la fée Carabosse! Elle est vieille. Elle a beaucoup de puissance magique. Et elle est de mauvaise humeur. Elle est super fâchée! Parce que personne ne l’a invitée à la fête pour la princesse. Le roi et la reine pensent que la fée Carabosse est morte. Soit morte, soit ensorcelée. Alors bien sûr personne ne l’a invitée.

Furieuse, la fée Carabosse s’avance jusqu’au berceau de la princesse. Ses ailes d’acier claquent comme les dents d’un dragon.

La reine pousse un cri de peur. Elle court vers la fée Carabosse, elle veut l’arrêter – mais la fée méchante repousse la reine avec sa magie. La reine tombe par terre. Elle pleure.

Carabosse regarde la petite princesse, elle regarde toute la cour et, d’une voix forte, elle dit: “Maudit soit ceux qui m’oublient! Malheur à vous, roi et reine! Et mort à la princesse! Jamais plus personne de ce royaume va rire ou sourire, car – je vous le dis, je vous le jure – le jour de son seizième anniversaire votre jolie princesse va mourir! Ella va trouver un fuseau, elle va se percer la main de ce fuseau – et la blessure va l’empoisonner et la tuer avant la fin de la journée. C’est moi Carabosse qui vous le dis. Ainsi soit-il!”

Et dans un nuage de fumée verte – pouf! – la fée méchante est partie.

Dans la cour tout le monde est effrayé. On pleure, on s’arrache les cheveux.

Mais alors une des 7 fées avance. Elle lève sa baguette magique, et voilà! Du calme. La fée porte une robe argentée. Elle a des ailes et une couronne d’argent. Elle a même des yeux argentés.

Tout doucement la 7ième fée dit, “Majestés, ne vous inquiétez pas. Je n’ai pas la puissance magique pour défaire entièrement la malédiction de Carabosse – mais je sais la modifier.
“Alors, majestés: le jour de son seizième anniversaire votre fille la princesse va bien se percer la main d’un fuseau – mais au lieu de mourir, elle va tomber dans un profond sommeil de cent ans.
“A la fin de cent ans, c’est un beau prince qui va venir la réveiller.
“Et pour que la princesse ne se réveille pas toute seule, toute la cour et tout le château vont aussi dormir cent ans. Tout sera protégé. Tout va se réveiller, sain et sauf, dès l’instant que la princesse s’ouvre les yeux.
“Mais vous, majestés, quand votre fille s’endort, vous devez la quitter, vous devez quitter le château et passer le reste de vos jours ailleurs, loin d’ici. Voici combien ça coûte, pour sauver votre fille.”

Le roi interdit de filer au fuseau, sous peine de mort. Ainsi passent les seize ans. La princesse est jolie, elle est gentille, elle est sympathique. Elle aime bien se promener, à la campagne et dans le château.

Le jour de la 16ième anniversaire de la princesse, il fait beau temps. Personne ne pense plus à la malédiction de Carabosse. Surtout, la princesse pense seulement à sa fête – et aux cadeaux! Elle se promène dans le château. Elle cherche sa bonne, elle veut sa nouvelle robe de fête. La princesse ne trouve personne et elle est presque de mauvaise humeur.

Tout d’un coup, au fond d’un couloir, une petite porte s’ouvre. Voilà une chambre que la princesse ne connaît pas. Et là dans la chambre il y a une vieille femme. La vieille s’occupe d’une … chose, une machine, que la princesse ne connaît pas.

Alors la princesse entre dans la chambre. Le soleil brille fort par la petite fenêtre. Mais les coins et le plafond sont ombreux et plein de toiles d’araignées.

“Bonjour, grand’mère,” dit la princesse.

“Bonjour, bel enfant,” répond la vielle. Elle sourit. Elle na pas de dents.

La princesse regarde le fuseau. “Qu’est-ce c’est? Que faites-vous?”

“Eh bien, c’est un fuseau. Je file. It faut filer le lin ou le coton, ou bien la soie, pour faire le tissu de vos belles robes. Tenez, ma belle, venez voir…”

Il semble que la vieille ne connait rien de l’interdiction du roi.

“Oh, qu’est-ce que c’est joli!” dit la princesse. “Faites voir!” Et elle met la main sur le fuseau. “Aie! Ça fait mal! Ça me pique…  Tiens, grand’mère, je ne me sens pas bien, je suis tellement fatiguée…”

La princesse tombe par terre. La vieille sourit horrriblement – et elle disparaît dans une nuage de fumée verte.

La princesse commence à ronfler.

Au bout de cent ans un prince vient se promener à la campagne. Il est grand. Il est beau. Même son cheval est beau.

Le prince entre dans un bois. Il perd son chemin. Au coucher du soleil, parmi les arbres, le prince se trouve devant une grande haie. Partout il y a des épines affreuses. Le prince voit des squelettes, il voit des épées et même les restes d’un cheval – tous morts en essayent de traverser la haie d’épines.

Le prince se souvient d’une vieille histoire: il a entendu parler d’un ancien château caché et oublié derrière une grande haie d’épines affreuses. Et dans ce château, dit l’histoire, se trouve une belle princesse endormie depuis cent ans, que seulement un prince peut réveiller – avec un bisou.

Alors le prince tire son épée et se prépare à attaquer la haie. Il a très envie de voir la belle au bois dormant! Les oiseaux chantent, les étoiles sont au ciel, et le prince s’étonne de voir les épines affreuses qui s’écartent devant lui.

Le cheval du prince a trop peur. Il ne peut plus continuer. Donc le prince marche à pied jusqu’à la grande porte du château. La porte s’ouvre – avec des grincements horribles.

Le prince entre dans la cour du château. Il s’effraye: parce qu’il voit partout des morts… Mais au bout de quelques instants le prince voit que personne n’est mort. 

Partout – dans le jardin, dans la cour, sur l’escalier, dans la grande salle – il y a du monde qui dort. Et qui ronflent de leur mieux. Il y a des soldats. Il y a des gentilhommes et des dames de la cour royale. Les uns dorment par terre, les autres dorment assis. Sur le toit dorment des pigeons. Il y a un chien étendu par terre, comme s’il court toujours, il a la bouche ouverte – évidemment il est sur le point de mordre la queue du chat qui le fuit. Mais les deux animaux sont allongés par terre, et ils ronflent comme tous les autres.

Le prince trouve une belle chambre toute dorée. Dans la chambre se trouve un grand lit. Et sur le lit dort la princesse. Elle porte une robe blanche brodée de fleurs et d’oiseaux bleus. Ses cheveux marrons sont très, très longues. A travers ses pieds dort un chaton blanc. 

Le prince voit la belle princesse et il tombe amoureux sur place. Tout doucement il s’avance vers le lit, il se penche en avant et il donne un tout petit bisou à la belle au bois dormant.

Le chaton ouvre des yeux bleus et dit, “Miaou!?” Il se lève et s’étend d’un air content.

La princesse ouvre des yeux bleus et dit, “Te voilà enfin!”

Et la princesse se lève et s’étend d’un air très content, parce qu’elle fait de beaux rêves depuis cent ans. Elle reconnait le prince de ses plus beaux rêves. La bonne fée, elle n’est pas bête!

La princesse dit, “Mais j’ai faim! Allons trouver à manger! Et il me faut absolument une tasse de thé…”

Quand le prince et la princesse descendent dans la cour du château, ils voient toute le monde qui se réveillent. Les soldats bâillent énormément. Les pigeons se mettent à roucouler.  Même le feu à la cheminée se r’allume. Et le chien aboie et achève de chasser le chat, qui lui donne une bonne baffe au nez.

Partout dans le château on allume les bougies. Heureusement il y a très peu de poussière, ni de toiles d’araignées, grâce au charme protecteur de la bonne fée.

Alors on fait la fête de mariage la nuit même. La viande, le pain, le vin, les légumes et la soupe sont toujours bons – grâce encore à la bonne fée.

Après avoir bien mangé, la princesse et son prince se promènent ensemble dans le jardin du château, sous la lune, parmi les belles fleurs de la nuit.

Le prince est beaucoup trop amoureux pour dormir. Et la princesse n’en a vraiment pas besoin.

❦ FIN ❦

Image credit: Spinning wheel by WikiImages from Pixabay

Headshot of Chloë showing weight loss and undiagnosed illnessIn April 2018, three weeks before I was hauled into hospital for emergency surgery, I completed a storytelling workshop project for Cheltenham Poetry Festival.
Today I found that I wrote this account of it:

When ordinary life scares you rigid, imagine what order of heroism is required to step up and tell a story – live without notes – even to a handful of people you know.

I’m Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers and I’ve been a gabby, über confident diva since I was four. Since 1999 I’ve worked full time as a performance storyteller.

But I remember when I was just as terrified of public speaking as anybody else. And for forty years I’ve experienced phases of not handling the world very well.

Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2018 invited me to deliver an Outreach programme to people supported by the Independence Trust in managing their mental health issues, notably anxiety. I wanted to deliver workshops that I hoped would help empower participants to break free of habitual thought patterns and explore happier scenarios: to discover their own ‘hidden hero’.

Positive fantasies

I workshopped with the group to develop their storytelling skills and devise pieces for performance. We based ideas on a folktale or fairytale of their choice; or they could create an original story. Many of the group already took part in drama and creative writing sessions run by Independence Trust. They were up for something new.

Above all I encouraged the group to create positive fantasies in which the hero was an aspect of the person at their very best – confident, capable, feeling good. I hoped it would be a chance for some participants to step into the imaginative opposite of their regular experience.

Working with traditional story allows people to explore ideas at a safe emotional distance – story action happens to a fictional character not to themselves. Most participants adapted fairy tales. And two people created moving, original stories.

Huge achievement

Five participants braved the microphone at our third workshop, a recording session at Independence Trust’s music studio.

Part of the challenge was to complete the story devising and rehearse in personal time. It was also seriously daunting for some of this group to speak in front of other people let alone into a microphone, and it was a huge achievement that they did it.

The final performance and recording took place in April 2018 at Independence Trust music studio. Four people spoke live. Two recordings were played.

Stories presented were:

A Brave Little Girl – This Red Riding Hood boldly enters the forest and sorts out the wolf.

Blue Roving Hood – A Red Riding Hood who wins the day despite being tricked into taking drugs; plus a woodcutter with caring good sense.

Cinderella Story – Cinders leaves home and starts her own business.

Moving On – Original fiction about the conflict between family duty and life changing romance.

The Little Tree – Original fiction, styled like a folktale and enhanced with mini puppets.

Bra, Knickers & Beanstalk – Benny Hill style romp through the Jack & the Beanstalk fairytale, complete with naughty names and magic mushroom dream.

For some of the group, summoning the courage to attend the event was already a big success. For others, quietly telling a four minute story with only a couple of glances at notes was quite simply a heroic triumph.

You can tell I’m proud of them all, can’t you? I’m also hugely grateful to Hugo Poyser at Independence Trust for his kind and energetic support, and to Anna Saunders / Cheltenham Poetry Festival for giving me the opportunity to deliver the project.

This evening on social media I saw an artist acquaintance giving up in despair: “…too demoralised by the drudgery of applying to committees for funding. I could not give a fuck about what adds value to communities, or promotes anyone’s wellbeing. All I need to do, all that satisfies me, all that keeps me alive, is beauty. I don’t make art to justify the existence of funding committees – I make it because I have to…”

I posted to her: If you stop then they have won. I understand a lot about why an artist (in any genre) can be made to feel like this… You at least have figured out how and where to do funding applications!

May I invite you to view this from a different angle? As creative people we are forced to work with many ‘brutal morons’ [her words]. They got that way because they didn’t have enough art of any kind in their young lives, they never learned empathy, never got stopped in their tracks by beauty – they had a set of grey, workaday values ground into them and they perceive creativity as some kind of cop-out, a soft option…

So part of our job is to educate the people we work with. I know, artists want to do what we’re good at – the art! – even so, I still think we do better in all ways by gently and warm heartedly leading our clients to better understanding of our work, and of others’.

Excessive behaviours

Historically, artists of all kinds contributed to the modern negative view. The 19thC rich kids getting off on laudanum and poetry, the precious flowers in their ivory towers… That wasn’t the whole truth but it’s the image that lingers. The 1960s wacky baccy brigades were fighting to experiment and evolve artforms but people remember the excessive behaviours and not the art. Creative people now are paying the price for all of that.

Creative people walk a cliff edge path: keeping the mind free enough to think beyond “normal”, and having to convince the money people that art is “worth it”.

I was involved years ago in a couple of completely useless arts projects that reached nobody, and taxpayers’ money was spent, and I felt deeply embarrassed (organisers failed to understand what their audiences would respond to, and completely failed to promote the events!) Because of multiple failures like this, and because of so-called austerity, arts funding has become almost impossible to achieve.

Make them feel

Worse, the general public either can’t afford or just won’t pay for art! If I as a non London nobody try to charge more than £3 a ticket, I face empty seats! But people will pay for what they see as “entertainment”, £40+ for West End shows with celebrities…

We have to deal with things as they are. We have to explain how creativity adds value to people’s lives. The raw fact that art is our reason for living doesn’t matter to the money people, or anybody else. We’re being challenged to make art that has an effect on people, and that’s good for our creative discipline.

In a world hurtling towards self destruction perhaps our last chance is in the arts. Creativity is the last way we can protest. Creativity is the last way we can grab humans and make them feel. I love what I do. I live for what I do. And  a little of what I do has a powerful effect, on people and in ways that I’ll never know. That’s why we must keep doing our art.

The family show that brought me happy audiences all summer just bombed at a theatre festival. This morning I feel worthless and irrelevant.

I’m drinking coffee from my Never Give Up mug.

What can I learn?

  • I am amazing at going on stage and delivering the full experience to an audience of 2. They bothered to turn up. They get their money’s worth, in fact I work harder for them so that, in a big empty room, they feel relaxed and welcome. I believe it’s called being a professional.
  • The festival organiser possibly should have known that, despite last year’s feedback saying “not enough shows for families”, in fact this festival is popular for decidedly grown-up theatre including experimental pieces. But with my previous experience of the festival I should have known this too!
  • The other storytelling show in the festival – that sold out and needed extra chairs, oh my poor crushed heart – featured modern / personal stories, stand-up comedy and adult themes. This is what sells. Traditional storytelling [folktales etc] suits only a very limited number of venues and audiences. I need to devise and offer work with more awareness of this.
  • It’s time for me to grub out the crippling fear that took root in me when I was starting out in storytelling – a fear unleashed when influential storytellers publicly sneered at me, even shouted at me, for wanting to do ‘new’ material. More than ever, I must keep my confidence and continue to create new work. Yes, the magnificent heritage of traditional story must be kept alive through regular retelling. But 21st century themes and styles are also worth exploring in spoken word ‘telling. The person who roared at me “Nothing you’ll ever do can ever stand up in comparison with the traditional tales that have been tried and tested for hundreds of years!” was very, very frightening – but wrong. That is simply not true.
  • Of course nothing really new is possible … but I’m good at bringing old pieces into new settings, new twists, new life.
  • Who’s to say my show must be all storytelling? Why not include, say, one piece of dramatic reading? People love talking books. Actors do well giving theatrical readings. Reading a story aloud can be interestingly different from telling.
  • Many artists / performers make a big deal out of their personal battles with life. I won’t trade on personal misery – although I’ve struggled with depression since the 1970s. As an apparently white middle class ‘privileged’ person […hollow laughter…] I’ve felt it was out of the question for me to make personal sadness part of my performance territory. But perhaps I’ve missed a trick?
  • Audiences choose where to spend their money based on minimal information: usually just the image … and the title. Do not expect people to read any blurb. So I know I look like one of those overweight, chinless, greying arty-farties in ridiculous clothes. There’s no point in me trying to be edgy. And I’m not naturally sweary, I can’t go all Jimmy Carr. But being my age puts me in a great place to have seen the way the world works and to still have energy to rage against it. The London spoken word venue that told me last year to “Stick with storytelling in libraries, dear” might have missed out…

A friend reminds me Don’t make plans on the basis of what you should do, don’t make yourself fit into somebody’s else’s idea of acceptable – pretend there’s a fairy godmother and plan for what you really want to do! Ok: so that’s Chloë presenting a roller coaster ride of exquisite traditional tales, hair raising contemporary pieces, a piece read from the page to provide a contrasting tone and pace – alongside (a) gypsy jazz musician(s) connecting sections of the show with very different sounds and that gypsy energy of heart and blood… There! Easy! ‘Love, Death & the Invisible Woman’ … hmm… Booking now for autumn 2017. Thank you!

profanities

 

Gloucester Guildhall 2pm daily until 27 August – Ticket £7
Dads-Play-Poster
This week is your last chance to catch the final performances in the debut run of The Secret Life of Dads by Jarek Adams at Gloucester Guildhall, 2pm every day until Saturday. It’s the perfect cast and a sparkling gem of a new play that brings something truly new to family theatre. Just because it’s for children doesn’t mean it has to be about children!
    So here are three no-longer-young blokes who love their kids but really need a break from fluffy bunny world! Over beer and daft blokey banter in the pub they talk themselves into resurrecting their old band The Cabbage Heads for a talent show.
    But it’s not so simple, as each man struggles to put the stresses of modern life into perspective – wage cuts, new baby worries, grumpy teen – and grab some time to live and be playful for his own sake. You can feel the warmth and strength of friendship; and the music also turns out very much better than you might expect! This is live performance, too: no cowardly backing tracks here.
    Officially suitable for age 4+, the audience I observed included several dads with children under 10, all watching keenly. Seating is café style, more relaxed for youngsters. What a great way to start conversations about family and why parents are sometimes so embarrassing.
    Written by Jarek Adams*
    Directed by Jilly Breeze
    Original music by George Moorey
    with Murray Andrews, Darren Lake and Craig Rogers
Tickets: £7  No online booking at Gloucester Guildhall! Be patient with 01452 503050
Where? Gloucester Guildhall is in the city centre pedestrian precinct next to BHS (for now!): 23 Eastgate Street, GL1 1NS. A brave urban tree shades the entrance!
Parking + public transport: Nearest parking is Gloucester Eastgate and lots of bus stops are a 2 minute shamble away, outside the Museum and Library.
    * Jarek Adams is an award winning playwright based in Gloucester. Her science and history have been seen by more than half a million school children. She now runs the Scriptorium, a group of emerging playwrights based in Gloucester Cathedral – where you should look out for Jarek’s new work Tapestry in May 2017.  www.jarekadams.com
   And finally… Apologies for rubbish layout of this article. WordPress is refusing to insert paragraph breaks. Bah! Millennium hand and shrimp!!

UK flag A newsletter alert from a nursery school was shared on Facebook: “Prevent duty: From the 1st July 2015, all schools and childcare providers must have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism…”

Comments were scathing.

“They’re literally assessing the children to check they’re demonstrating British values… *shudders*”

“I hope they’re also teaching [toddlers] how to root out and report illegal immigrants at nursery. Hmmm. Which side of the Iron Curtain were we on?”

We need to get past the clichés. Prevent strategy contains several worrying bits – but I see an opportunity to connect all British young people with a magnificent heritage of story (eg traditional folktales) and some rather important bits of history. Plus of course we can make clear what we’ve learned from national mistakes of colonialism and exploitation.

I sighed with boredom at school over the list of Factory Acts created in Victorian times. Only recently have I understood how important that legislature was: locking into law the protection of workers’ rights; saving childhood and guaranteeing children the right to education.

Now our rest days and right to withhold labour are being whittled away. There isn’t even a Workhouse for people to go and die in when cut off from essential benefits … But that’s another story.

A sense of belonging (or not) really does start among small children. People who feel part of a nation, and who feel they have a chance to contribute to and profit from that national community, are less likely to want to blow it up!

Hmm… What are ‘British values’?

Cleverly, even the Prime Minister who ringingly asserts their importance has shied away from defining British values in his public utterances. But of course there is Department of Education advice for grant maintained schools.

 My version includes a nice cup of tea; generosity and quiet kindness – sometimes, admittedly, only when things are dire; respect for privacy; and an irrepressibly wicked sense of humour!

My British values encourage everyone to be self directing individuals within their group of family, cultural and social circles: to think clearly, form their own opinions, build resilience to life’s downs and ups, treat people fairly, protect the vulnerable, know the difference between authority and bullying, and to have the knowledge and courage to speak truth to power. Or at least to lampoon the powerful – and those who try to control us – without mercy, until they get over themselves…

So here’s a cliché for you: as a pro storyteller working with British cultural stories, I’ll be putting Prevent front and centre of my approach to schools. So there.

A nice cup of tea

“My idea of heaven is a nice cup of tea”

• What are YOUR British Values? What mindset do we need to live together well in the 21st century?

Poster for 28 July 2015 Storytelling Dragon Tales at Sutton Coldfield LibraryA rare flying visit from the Dragon Whisperer brings a morning of fantasy and magical adventure to Sutton Coldfield Library (Birmingham, England) on Tuesday 28 July.

As part of the Record Breakers themed Summer Reading Challenge 2015, gorgeously costumed Agent Green the world’s only living Dragon Whisperer tells Dragon Tales from around the world to age 7+ at 11am. At 12.30, Agent Green breaks out the drawing pens to show age 9+ How To Draw Your Dragon – bring your favourite sketchbooks, pencils and colouring pens.

Both sessions are free thanks to sponsorship from Sutton Coldfield Charitable Trust. The Library is at Lower Parade, B72 1XX. Tel 0121 464 2274.

Thrilling legends and folktales include a dragon in hiding and the dragon who was really a lost princess, ranging from Eastern Europe to Bamburgh Castle.

Agent Green, who is alleged to work for DCHQ, Dragon Conservation Headquarters, also reveals hot tips on dragon care and training, and talks about her mission to find and save the world’s last dragons. You’re welcome to ask everything you ever wanted to know about dragons – because the Dragon Whisperer has the answer!

Behind the bling is Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers, a storytelling entertainer and writer/illustrator from the Cotswolds. Celebrating 15 years as a spoken word artist, Chloë sets a new record this August as the first ever Dragon Whisperer in Residence at Sudeley Castle (Gloucestershire).

Chloë’s performances for children take her to primary schools, community events and festivals all over the UK. Her story cabaret shows for adults are acclaimed from Cheltenham Literature Festival to cruise ships on the Mediterranean. For her 15th anniversary celebrations Chloë has launched a new contemporary story cabaret show Scheherazade’s Shed which tours to Kidderminster Arts Festival 14 August and Windsor Fringe Festival 24 September. The Dragon Tales CD is available £5 from Chloë, while the fully written out and illustrated Dragon Tales are available as a Kindle ebook (£2.99).

  • The annual UK Summer Reading Challenge, an initiative from the Reading Agency and the Arts Council, encourages UK children aged 4-11 into libraries to read up to 6 books during the long summer holiday. The scheme is designed to maintain reading skills and confidence which can otherwise weaken during over that time.

Headshot image of ChloeRevered script consultant Michael Hauge, whose blockbuster credits range from Pirates of the Caribbean to Hancock, happily gives away trade secrets at www.storymastery.com .

A young wannabe wrote to Mr Hauge of his frustration at getting no response from Hollywood script agents. The submitted scripts, intended for mainstream USA audiences, featured Sikh characters and included roles for the writer, who’s also ‘an aspiring actor’. He asked if he must ‘write to sell instead of writing good quality screenplays with unique characters’. You can read Michael’s beautifully honest reply on the Q+A page of www.storymastery.com

Michael’s response might be tough for a frustrated writer / actor /director to read. That’s why it’s so valuable.

I believe that ‘commercial and ‘good quality’ are not mutually exclusive – in fact the creative challenge to balance those elements is a big part of the fun!

To me, creative process means communicating my ideas – in ways that will win audiences. Grab them, hold them, provoke them into thinking (that’s hard!), give them laughter and other reasons to go on living.

Emotional power

Obviously I’m white British, irretrievably middle class and now sagging into middle age. Yet somehow I’ve always been aware of long established respect for Sikhism in the UK. When I was aged six or seven I loved the serial in my weekly comic about a Sikh army officer. I was also a child who suffered horrible nightmares. Time and again I summoned up the image of that warrior in his turban and uniform as I prepared to face the wild landscapes of night; the thought of that character made me feel protected.

So let’s think Life of Pi. Think Slum Dog Millionaire. Those films involve cultures outside the experience of a large part of western cinema audiences, yet the stories have vivid characters about whom you really care, they have visual magnificence and narratives that corkscrew between magical romance and raw survival. Cultural settings are secondary to the films’ emotional power.

5 year plan

But that young Sikh writer-actor must also remember that British creative industries have gatekeepers who tend to revel in their power and who only deign to give the time of day to their chosen clique. Outsiders are almost never allowed in. I suspect the USA, land of opportunity, is no different when it comes to film and television.

I suggest that, given he knows what he’s capable of when he gets his break, the young man needs a 5 year campaign:
1) To build a good reputation in the right places as a Sikh actor. Be available in many countries, do the widest possible range of work to learn how different aspects of the industry create success (and to see how NOT to do many things!) Respected actors do get opportunities as writers + directors.
2) To offer scripts to specialists in making films that feature Sikh culture.  Initially he should not ask to act in his own films, until decision makers know and trust his writing and his acting. So where are the Sikh film makers, all around the world? Hollywood is not the only fruit.
3) To trust that all experience is useful as he works towards writing scripts that celebrate his Sikh culture and weave that material into a wider (western) context that will hook Hollywood decision makers’ attention. If he still wants that.
4) To network, study, work ordinary jobs to pay his bills and discover life; and keep writing. NOTHING IS WASTED even if it isn’t used this year … or next…

All about the money

I know all about failing to see beyond my own potential. “If only bookers/audiences would see how brilliant my performances and material are…”

And my work is constantly devalued, even when people enjoy it. “It’s just storytelling. It’s just for kids.” “We’re a charity.”

Just last week a conversation went bad because someone said “It’s not all about the money” to which I responded “But money is important. I have to pay the rent”. They couldn’t assume that I deliver my work fuelled by a lifetime of experience, 15 years of full time commitment and all the artistic integrity of which I’m capable. Instead they leapt to the easier assumption that I’m crassly commercial.

Right now I’m wriggling my material around to reach a new market. The world première of my first all-contemporary story cabaret Scheherazade’s Shed was hailed by the director of Cheltenham Poetry Festival 2015 as a “highlight of the festival”. I should have done this years ago!

Terrified

But when I started out in 1999, the senior practitioners of my (very small) creative industry terrified me into believing that only one kind of work was acceptable. They were the gatekeepers so I did what they said they wanted. And 15 years on I’ve realised that didn’t work either! Sometimes the doors aren’t just locked against you, they’re bricked up. Time to stop banging my poor bloody head against a brick wall.

But if I’d been more confident, I’d have found the way round much faster. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you always got. Creative work MUST be influenced by commercial demands, i.e. what audiences like. Otherwise your work is just amateur self indulgence.

Cheltenham Poetry Festival logoIt was a delight, dare I say even moving, to hear the poetry choices of Cheltenham’s election candidates last night at Cheltenham Poetry Festivals world first Poetry Election.

The town’s current MP is Martin Horwood, a Liberal Democrat. He won the Poetry Election with a pair of poems that included Shelley’s Ozymandias (‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone…’) which stopped being a cliché when Martin explained the poem’s original, harshly political context: the Peterloo massacre, repressive Corn Laws and vicious poverty.

The event in the echo-ey vastness of Frances Close Chapel on University of Gloucestershire campus was very sensibly free, so nearly 100 people including the be-chained Mayor of Cheltenham and plenty of arty types packed the front pews to hear readings and a short debate. For an informal arts event in Gloucestershire, that’s an almost miraculously good house.
Other things were revealed. Only the Green candidate Adam Van Coevorden knew how to use a microphone. Labour candidate Paul Gilbert had thought about how the arts enhance education. UKIP newbie Christina Simmons didn’t seem to have an arts policy at all and put austerity far ahead of support for the arts. Martin Horwood vaunted the array of Cheltenham Festivals, quite reasonably on the basis of his involvement in helping to win funding for them. Everybody on the platform got stuck in to their poems with gusto, even indie candidate Richard Lupson-Darnell who confessed to loathing poetry at school.
Call it creativity…
But none of the candidates showed any real understanding of the arts world. Cheltenham’s wonderful Playhouse Theatre – that welcomes professional, semi pro and amateur performance in a way that some of the town’s posh publicly funded venues dismally fail to do – never got a mention.
Beyond the official Festivals, and a yearning for the long lost Axiom centre, the candidates clearly had no concept of working in the arts. If you call it creativity, by the way, the elitist overtone goes away.
Nobody spoke about how creativity – received or participated in – supports mental health, potentially saving the NHS fortunes as depression attains epidemic proportions in the UK. Nobody spoke about how millions of creative people in the UK today – dedicated, intelligent people who train to a high standard and who commit their finances, heart and soul to their work – are unable to make a living.
The thing that makes your heart sing
Nobody spoke about how ‘working in the arts’ carries such a stigma now that it’s almost better to be outed as a banker.
Nobody spoke about how most creative people must, for the whole of their adult lives, consign their talent to a mere hobby to be fitted around zero hours contracts, inadequate wages and exhaustion. If you have any spark of creativity in the UK today, but you’re outside the elite cliques of arts stars and large scale commercialism (film, musical theatre, video games) then all you can expect is sneering discouragement.
Your ability, the thing that makes your heart sing and gives you a reason for living – will be dismissed with a cry of “Get a proper job!”
Cultural desert
After 15 years working full time as a spoken word performer, and observing a wide range of theatre and music from the inside, I’ve concluded that Gloucestershire is a cultural desert where nobody wants to go to anything except the pub, and if they drag themselves to a show they certainly don’t want to pay more than the price of a pint.
Oh, all right, there’s a thin cadre of intellectuals who rather joylessly patronise opera, literature, smart exhibitions and the snob end of culture. Often nowhere near Gloucestershire, let alone Cheltenham or oh my goodness rough old Gloucester.
I could be wrong. It could be that 15 years battling the dead weight of indifference has skewed my view.
Last night’s Poetry Election showed that even politicians can be moved by – and can reach other people through – a thoughtful choice of poem.
But the cold truth in Cheltenham as in most of Britain is that the general public has no interest in what creative people can do. They don’t know, don’t care, don’t go. I’m good at only one thing: telling stories. I have to face every day knowing that very nearly nobody wants what I do best.

Story Cabaret entertainer, spoken word artist Chloë of the Midnight Storytellers

Chloë: new contemporary Story Cabaret

Notes

•  The Jordans Cheltenham Poetry Festival runs 20 April – 3 May 2015: from the world’s gloomiest poet (who will have you in stitches) to duck infested canal poetry, plus bands, hip hop and poetry for children.

•  Scheherazade’s Shed – the world première of my new contemporary story show for adults is Monday 27 April 9pm at Cheltenham Playhouse, ticket £7 or concession price £4. Please pre book from the Playhouse 01242 522 852

Cheltenham’s parliamentary candidates, in alphabetical order, are: