In 2004, the Snowdon Trust helped me when I was raising money to study for my MA in Voice Studies at Central School Of Speech & Drama. The Snowdon Trust are a charity set up by Lord Snowdon to help disabled students in further and higher education who are working towards a professional goal. And they were such lovely people that we’ve kept in touch ever since.
And earlier this year they did just that. Paul Alexander, their Chief Executive, excitedly told me that they’d won the chance to make a Radio 4 Appeal, as they want to boost donations to enable them to help more people like me. So I congratulated Paul.
Then he got to the point! They’d been advised to get a celebrity to read their appeal, but then they thought, wouldn’t it be nicer if we could get a beneficiary instead?
“Ah!” they thought, “Giles could read it.”
Then Paul said the producer had advised them that when writing the Appeal they should bear in mind that it’s basically storytelling.
“Ah!” they thought, “Giles could write it.”
Then the Snowdon Trust wondered what I could base my story on. I’m sure you can guess…
So, not much pressure then! I started my research by analysing a number of past appeals, a very useful skill I’ve learnt through working with Leon Conrad, my partner at Academy Of Oratory. I wrote the first draft expecting it to be the first salvo in a back and forth, ping-pong of edits. But no, the Snowdon Trust said they loved it.
Next step was sharing it with Kate Howells, the producer at the BBC. Again, I expected back and forth but again, she was delighted. There was some tweaking and rewording, of course, to get it down to the exact word count but basically it was a goer. I love it when a script comes together.
And then I went to record it. I was told they’d booked an extra long recording slot so there’d be plenty of time. I walked along Regent Street to what I hoped was Broadcasting House. Inside, I came face to face with a lady standing at the desk. I wished her good morning and said
“I’m looking for Old Broadcasting House?”
“This is it,” she answered, brightly.
“Oh good,” I said (I am always relieved when I actually find a location), “I’m doing a Radio 4 Appeal recording today…”
“I know you are,” she said, “for the Snowdon Trust!”
I was amazed at that! Wow, I thought, the Beeb know there’s a VI bloke coming so they’ve briefed people to keep an eye out for me, amazing…Then I realised the lady was trying not to giggle. It was Linda, fundraiser for the Snowdon Trust, Linda who had won this opportunity in the first place, Linda with whom I had collaborated on the final edits! Captain Blinkie, with his X-Man powers of Not Recognising People Even When He’s Standing Right In Front Of Them, scores again! We both laughed. Like I said, they’re lovely people at the Snowdon Trust who make a genuine personal connection with the people they help, so genuine that Linda knows me well enough to know I’ve lost much of my sight but not my sense of humour.
Inside, the sound engineer was as brilliant as sound engineers so often are. He set up a mic so I could have my phone practically touching my nose (I use the largest possible font in ePub to read scripts) and the mic off to one side. “Which side?” he asked. Left side, as I have a little bit of macular vision I can peep through on that side. We got to it.
Longer session? I did it in two takes! The first take was too long and we needed to lose 20 seconds. Kate Howells is not only a great producer but also a brilliant editor. She would very quickly, very decisively suggest “why don’t we lose this because, if you emphasise this here then the point is already made…” or “if you miss out these words here and just go from this ‘if’ to the ‘if’ that comes up later, we’ll gain about 3 seconds….” She was right.
A few drop-ins on info which had been formatted and we were done! Then Kate said something so lovely I asked if I could quote her:
I was overawed by Giles’s dexterity with delivering a script in the studio. I had booked extra recording time in case it was a complicated process, but, holding his phone next to his nose to read, he was quicker to work with than most fully sighted people. And script alterations were no problem. What a pleasure to work with him.
You see, I’ve known for years that I can do this job but until tablet phones etc came about it wasn’t physically possible. Isn’t technology marvellous?
So tune in to hear the Snowdon Trust Charity Appeal on Radio 4 on Sunday 29th May at 7.55am (repeated at 9.26pm) and again on Thursday 2nd June at 3.27pm. And to find out more about the Snowdon Trust visit www.snowdontrust.org They really are an amazing charity, and without their help I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.
Update: To listen to the appeal go to the BBC website
And here’s my BBC Audioboom:
On Monday morning, 15th Feb, at the Royal Festival Hall in London, I ran an hour long session for blind children and their siblings at the Imagine Festival. My brief was to involve the children in a highly interactive storymaking session. This would draw on previous work I’ve done in Norfolk with blind children on behalf of the County Council’s Sensory Impairment Services. I started by telling a couple of very ‘joiny-inny’ stories and got the children singing, clapping, beating drums and shaking tambourines and maracas. In order to take the interactivity to another level I began to tell them a story, asking them to choose for themselves the elements that I could weave into the story as it happened. The result was a story about a knight who lacked courage, rode on a small steam-breathing dragon, and was armed only with an ordinary wooden stick. I told this new story back to them and asked “Who made up that story?” “WE DID!!” they chorused. By the time we’d told two interactive stories and co-devised a third, we had only seven minutes left. “Right,” I said, “let’s make up a complete story from scratch, only using your ideas….” Using Story Structure, we did. I was able to tell the them the tale they’d invented (to be honest, we told it together). Elements included: a giant horn-lacking unicorn! Quacking like a duck! International travel! Blackbirds! Lots of them! Struggles! Danger! Love, and, of course, a very happy ending.
Bloody good story, I reckon, given the time constraints, but this is one of the key things about the StoryMaking work I do. Speed helps. I found it fascinating that this group of blind children created a story about an animal born lacking something everyone else around him possessed.
I was speaking afterwards to one of the dads and an idea popped up – what about setting up a storytelling club for blind children in London, where they could develop their creativity, explore and express their articulacy as well as developing their confidence? What do you reckon – should I do it?
Then we were home.
We were both genuinely sad to leave so shining a country, so energetic, so optimistic. We were sad to leave the graciousness, the warmth of Indians behind, to say nothing of the warmth of India itself. India was cotton shirts, tee shirts. Home was damp, clammy, cold, but still home. We realised, on disembarking from the plane that straightaway we would need our woollen armour.
Next day, Sunday 14th, I told love stories for Valentine’s at the Viktor Wynd Museum Of Curiosities (my monthly residency). It interested me – the Museum is based on the camera fabula of 18th and 19th Century Englishmen, a box or a room crammed with exotic treasures picked up on voyages as the English explored the wider world. One of those exotic treasures, acquired first by a private company and then by the Crown, was India, all of it. In Hackney, young men in Victorian style beards, and their vintage-fabulous ladies, lost themselves in traditional love stories. It was interesting to reflect on that deep and long relationship between two cultures, which still persists. In India I saw endless cricket and English place names. In Hackney, as well as British Indians, of course, I see young men with large beards and elaborate moustaches which were originally inspired by that British contact with India, where moustaches are still almost de rigeur. That night I told the story of Shukuntala, a beautiful Indian story that Gorg Chand told me years ago. It features the kindness of a king’s daughter, the greed of a god and love for a blinded sage. It seemed right.
A late night, especially after all that travel and with my body clock 5 ½ hours ahead, but worth it. Telling good stories is always worth it. Next day would bring another early start and “Storytelling Mayhem”, a workshop with blind children for the Imagine Children’s Festival. I went to sleep not knowing what stories I would tell the children the next day. Why? Well, we were yet to invent them together.