Join the Journey

Month: June 2017

Reconquista at Storytelling TOMORROW

 The Storytelling tent at Crystal Palace Overground Festival will be open for business tomorrow at 11:00. You can find it on the edge of the Family Zone, just behind the Youth Takeover sound stage.  There will be improvised stories, from Twice Shy Theatre, South London Tales from Jo Clayton, Story Cycler and a Story Circle from the Beckenham Storytellers.

Reconquista is in the tent at 5 o’clock in the afternoon ( 17:00 ) when J. J.Anderson, the author, will be telling ‘The Story Behind the Story’ of Reconquista and reading dramatised extracts from the novel. Be sure to get there in plenty of time for a seat.

Having a Bedouin tent does lend itself to Reconquista, set in Al Andalus, though it’s also very appropriate for Storytelling in general. Think of The Arabian Nights, One Thousand and One Nights, Sheherazade and Omar Khayam. The tent will be laid out in Arabian style, with floor matting, wall hangings, lanterns and little tables. There will also be a special Storytelling Chair – no one knows what it looks like but one is going to be delivered, by a local antique shop, on the day.

‘Performing’ a story is different from reading from it, or discussing it with an interviewer. There is only the storyteller ( and her sound effects ) and she has to catch and retain everyone’s attention, so it can’t just be a reading – people would either be asleep or walk out!  So the author has taken lots of advice from experienced and professional storytellers and she’ll be watching closely on the day those people who precede her.

The weather forecast is good – sun with some clouds and dry and warm – there’ll be plenty to enjoy in the sunshine.  As well as Storytelling, there’s The Spoken Word tent and two sound stages, with Morcheeba headlining on the main stage in the afternoon. There’s the Vintage Zone, for all things old and nearly new, including dance lessons ( if you want to learn the Lindy Hop ) and the Arts and Crafts Zone, if you want to learn how to make things. Also, check out the Urban Farm and the biggest dog show in South London. You can find all these listed in the Festival Programme, for sale on the day in the Park.

It all happens tomorrow! And it’s all FREE!

But there’s lots to do before then for the people running the Festival, starting at 9.30 on Saturday morning when we all put on our hi-vis jackets ( and headsets for those running tents ) and add the finishing touches to the tents. Storytelling has bunting for outside as well as hangings and lanterns inside.

Check that the sound system is working, test the mics and make sure that there’s plenty of bottled water for the performers ( plus fresh fruit ).  And we’ll have to find out where the ‘back-stage’ area is ( close by ) so there’s somewhere to escape to if needed. Then it’s everyone to the main stage for a final briefing before the gates open.

Eleven o’clock – here we go!

If you enjoyed reading this article and want to read more about Storytelling try    The Story Behind the Story                     At Crystal Palace Overground               Local & Exotic Magic

The Story Behind the Story

Reconquista was published in Spring 2016 and launched at the Clapham Book Festival ( see Sunshine and Flamenco Guitar ). But the writing of it began many, many years before, when the god-son of the author, a thirteen year-old named Luke, first came to visit Jerez de la Frontera.

Luke liked numbers and mathematics, but also history and his god-mother thought about how to engage him with the places in the ancient town and the events that had happened there long ago. So she began to write a story which was then called ‘On the Frontier‘, beginning with the siege of Jerez by King Alfonso X in 1264.

It’s main character, as readers of Reconquista will know, was Nathan, a fourteen year old ( which was, at the time, what Luke wanted to be ). He had an older cousin named Rebecca who lived with Nathan and his father . Rebecca is the name of Luke’s younger sister.

Just to be fair to the author’s other god-son, she included a character called Thomas of Whelmstone, an English doctor who had come to Jerez with the King so as to learn to be a surgeon. The real Thomas was then studying at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital in London to be a surgeon and he came from a place in Devon named Whelmstone Barton. His brother is named Ben.  Of course, there is a character named Ben Isaacs in the book, although he isn’t related to the Thomas of Whelmstone character and, in fact is nothing like the real Thomas’s brother.

So the story began and the author sent the first two chapters to Luke, her god-son.  He had soon read them and wanted more, which was when his god-mother realised that she had better work out just what was going to happen in the story, from the beginning right through to the end. She realised that she was actually writing a novel. The rest of the story was eventually sent to Luke, chapter by chapter.

Years passed.

The writer wrote other books, like her short story collection The Village. She set up The Story Bazaar web-site and social media sites. But the manuscript of Luke’s story was always at the back of her mind. Then in 2015 she decided to get it out and look at it again.  Luke was now a young man, he was working in the accounts department of a charity in the Midlands and he had long since forgotten Nathan and Rebecca, Atta and Senor Thomas.

On the Frontier‘ wasn’t anywhere near ready for the wide world. It had to be thoroughly edited and much of it was re-written, to put much more emphasis upon the three young protagonists. The title was changed ( the author asked readers of her web-site to nominate their favourite, see Vote for your Favourite Title ) and the new book produced. Then Reconquista was published, with a dedication just inside its frontispiece to Luke, Rebecca, Thomas and Ben.

The author will be talking about the story behind the story and reading from Reconquista in the Storytelling tent at Crystal Palace Overgound Festival on 17th June at Crystal Palace Park. Come along and listen! It’s FREE!

The First Draft

Relief, that’s the first reaction.typewriter-584696_1280

Then a touch of astonishment that it’s finally done. You’ve been working on the first draft, making those marks on the blank page or screen for months and now it finally reaches its end. Yes, all four hundred pages of it.

This is swiftly followed by the realisation of just how much work there is still to do.  For, however hard it has been to write your first draft, it is only the beginning. Now you have to go back to the actual beginning and start again, re-reading and re-writing.

In some ways the first draft is the most difficult, because the words you are putting on the page or screen are new. There will be times when the story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, or anywhere exciting or interesting. Even with a plot sketched out and, in my case, having a synopsis of each chapter’s action, one can write oneself into an impossible place. So, late in my draft, I found one of my protagonists was, literally, cornered and there was no plausible way to get him out of the situation he was in. I had no alternative but to discard most of that chapter, to re-write it and aspects of earlier chapters which led up to it.

But this is what the first draft is about, at least for me. It means getting a consistent, believable and engaging story on the page, including characters who the reader will care about and underlying themes which register without overburdening the story. Developing those characters into three dimensions and  bringing themes out further, without banging the reader over the head with them, is what later drafts are for. Capturing the places and times, the subtleties of action and reaction in perfect prose (not that mine ever is), all this can take place once the first draft is done.

I’m sure other, more experienced and better authors are more skilled and simply more efficient than I am and it probably doesn’t take them as long, because they do some of these things as they go along, but they too will create the first draft.

Yet in other ways the first draft is easy.  One doesn’t have to care too much about the wordsmithing, this can always be addressed later. Reaching one’s daily or weekly writing targets is much easier, as you don’t have to concentrate on the detail, just getting the words down. Several successful writers of my acquaintance have daily/weekly word targets, but acknowledge that these are more easily met during the first draft.

Recently I read Stephen King’s On Writing and was pleased to find him advising new writers to set themselves writing targets, 1,000 words a day to begin with, something I had used to advise many years ago when I, briefly, taught creative writing. And, in the first draft, a goodly proportion of those 1,000 words might be clichés, but hey, they’re words so they count.

So what’s next? Well, I tend to step back for a short while, then return to the first draft and read it through all at once, trying to take an over view on structure, character and theme. Do I actually have that ‘consistent, believable and engaging story on the page’? What changes do I need to make to ensure that it is so?

And then? Well, that’s when the hard work really begins……

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