I’m really excited – building on my successful workshop at the Imagine Children’s Festival, I will be at Shakespeare’s Globe on Saturday 30th July, running a session at 2.15pm called Shakespearean Story Madness. This workshop is specifically for children who are visually impaired and who may have additional needs. What will it be? Well, Shakespeare knew his traditional stories! I’ll be looking at the plot structures underneath his great tragedies, for example Lear, Hamlet, MacBeth and Othello, and using them to help make up new stories with the participants. The session will be frenetic, collaborative and above all fun! So if you, or if you know of anyone who has VI children, please forward the workshop information on and get them involved. You can find out more and book tickets here.
And if you want to hear more about the links between Shakespeare and earlier traditional stories have a listen to this brief natter I’ve recorded for you below:
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:
So I’m fast approaching the final stretch of preparation for Alexander Pope: A Search For Perfection. On Friday I suffered a bout of Popalysis, my head was so full of Popations that I couldn’t tell my Essay on Man from my Eloisa To Abelard. I was frozen, couldn’t settle on the next move the story had to make. But then I remembered “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” and I kept working. Sometime over the weekend I saw just enough of the road ahead to make the next move and, what do you know, I was writing again. Somehow I’d turned a dam into a flow. I knew that this would happen as that’s part of the process but it was a relief nonetheless!
Here’s a snippet of what it’s like being severely visually impaired and trying to research:
The next task, once the script is done, is to step away from it and use it as a starting point only because it’s all for nothing if I don’t get the story loose on my tongue. When that happens it really comes alive. I can tell the story. Without that all I can do is recite a script, which I won’t. Bring it on!
My first preview is on Saturday 21st May at The Proper Study of Mankind is Man: a symposium for Alexander Pope’s birthday hosted by Pope’s Grotto Preservation Trust at Pope’s actual Grotto in Twickenham (tickets still available here). To celebrate this moment (and Pope, of course), The Observer got in on the act. If you didn’t catch Vanessa Thorpe’s engrossing article in last Sunday’s edition, you can do so here.
And then on to my first public performance on Bank Holiday Monday 30th May at Orleans House Gallery (tickets still available here) and beyond…
I’m excited! I love it when a script comes together! Plus we have the poster!
I was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s “Saturday Live” on 20th Feb. Great fun. Programme started late because of a technical hitch and there was even a blackout in the studio (I confess, I didn’t really notice!). It’s a great programme, with Richard Coles and Aasmah Mir hosting. You can listen to the whole show here or, if you want to jump to my bit, I’m at 01:07:30.
Here’s the link;
and here are some pictures from the studio. Who knew Zeb Soames looked like this?!
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.
On Friday 12th, we travelled from Chandigarh to Delhi. We’d flown from Delhi to Chandigarh, but now we took the train back. We’d seen nothing of the Indian countryside from the plane due to fog, until we landed in Punjab, green and growing, everywhere. We arrived in modern Chandigarh.
Chandigarh, incidentally, is very modern and very beautiful. Because we’d seen nothing of the city, our British Council hosts, Bipin and Christina, told our driver to take us the long way to the station, only ensuring we arrived in time for our train. Chandigarh is so open, so spacious and so incredibly rich in public parks and nature reserves that we felt like we were in a city and not in a city simultaneously. I’m very glad we got to glimpse it.
Then we got to the station and waited for our train. The trains that pulled in were huge! You could feel the weight of them, the heft of them. Truly, these were trans-subcontinental trains. We boarded ours, and shared our carriage with families, business-people, students, more. As we pulled out, darkness fell, and so we didn’t get to see anything of the Indian countryside by train either! But what an enjoyable journey. We were in standard class. In standard class, two young men, who seemed to tend our carriage only, served us first with vegetarian sandwiches and salad. Next came a rich dhal and with it a paneer marsala, chapatis and rice. Next came fantastic samosas, soft, spicy potato-filled, with peas, chickpeas and almonds and peanuts added for texture. Then came tea, and I finished with a wonderful Indian sweetie but Gluten free and milk free Sooz had to be sweet-free too. Because I know how empathic she is, I enjoyed mine as ostentatiously as possible, rolling my eyes, humming and gasping with pleasure, so that she could at least share the experience with me. Aren’t I kind?
Now contrast all this with catering on an English train – microwaved ham ‘n cheese baguette, completed with painted on griddle marks, which you have to pay for on top of your ticket fare. We’ve got a lot to learn from India.