Fabulous February

Where is February, I ask. It has been a whirlwind of activities in London and rest of England, armed with a bag of books and props, often looking like a bag lady on National Rail Service. And it was mostly fun even when rain poured through dark skies and sleep was a rare commodity.

This February has been extra special – having been invited to the prestigious Imagine Festival at Southbank to run workshops and to the Chester festival of half-term fun and to the South London’s favourite bookstore Tales on Moon Lane’s half-term festivities. Half-term ended with wonderful storytelling at Discover Stratford.

World Book Day ran almost back to back with Half-term across England and my story train barely stopped between the two. I was on the move, constantly checking my orange National Rail tickets and printed maps just in case my phone runs out of juice. Between the boroughs of London, I moved from East to West to North to South, testing TFL’s quality of service.

When I was bereft of sleep and missing home-cooked dinners, there is one thing that kept me going. My engine was fully powered by the stories I tell and the stories the children were inspired to write. We made up wonderful stories with the children and in some schools we told them and in some we wrote them down. Either way, there was no limit to their imagination. That’s the primary reason I go into schools and do events – to fire up the imagination of both children and parents alike and at the same time, be absolutely enthralled by the stories the children create.

From Greek gods to aliens, pigs to fishes, our stories were full of adventures, mishaps, journeys and cartloads of fun. Here are a few stories children jotted down during the workshops.

If you want to be part of the next workshop, do sign up to my newsletter so you can find out about an event near you or if you want to invite me to your schools, do get in touch.

A Celebration of Jars and Pumpkins

Throw a giant pumpkin, a jar of mango pickles and a storyteller together into a bookshop, sprinkle some cake, mix some friends and family, garnish with praise from the publisher and editor and what you get is one amazing book launch and a chuffed author who is busy writing more stories.

Maybe you missed the noisy chatter on Twitter or my invite in the newsletter or perhaps you had AJOP_9781406364675_PC_UK_circrelocapattan_coverted to Mars to escape the pollution on Earth -but if you have not heard, I celebrated the launch of two new books last Saturday (8th Oct 2016) at Pickled Pepper Books, London with storytelling, orange and yellow mini cupcakes and a room full of people who had come from far to celebrate with me.

 

I’ve gone to many book launches in the past few years and I was worried that I p1030032wouldn’t know what to do when it was my turn. I was worried there won’t be any photos. I was worried that I’ll forget my words during the storytelling. I was worried. It was like your baby being sent to nursery or the big school for the first day. Shiny and new into the hands of others. Would they love the stories as much as I do?

p1030050I watched the door as people trickled in. I watched as people on the street walked past and it wasn’t a familiar face. As friends started coming in, I slowly relaxed. As the time came to tell the stories, my story genie took over. She knew the stories, she loved them, she grew up with them. And I hope those who were there liked the stories.

So the books have left the docks and floated away into the hands of readers. A story lives again when it is told and it grows and changes and lives over and over again when retold many times. And I hope these stories live those many lives through the readers and the listeners they read to.

 

 

Celebrating Stories and Libraries

The first week of February is special for two reasons – it is the National Storytelling Week and the end of the week was the National Libraries Day. I usually mark these dates with tweets and Facebook posts of cute quotes.

But this year, I had a fantastic opportunity to celebrate both with bells on. I was recommended by the charming and gracious Jan Blake to CLPE as one of the storytellers at their Wonderful World of Stories event. What a joy it was. The amazing Ann Lazim and her team had put together three of us – June Peters and Patrick Ryan and the newbie me to tell stories to school children across London.

Sat in the Julia Donaldson room at CLPE, I told stories from India – from tricksters to creation stories, from animal stories to stories filled with food. We had crocodiles and turtles, crows and cockerels. We had Birbal walk the floor with the great Emperor Akbar. One class surprised me and asked me gory stories and how lucky I had been reading a few to find some Halloween ones.

The sweetest joy was also that June and Ann had a free slot in the last session and they came to listen to my stories.

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On 6th February, I was invited to Hillingdon to tell stories from my books – it was the celebration of National Libraries Day and what better way to spend the day. My dad was visiting and I took him with me too. I was going to tell stories from my books – and we got an instant audience when the carpet was unfurled and a real drumbeat started.

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We had kids from three years old to twelve and everyone joining in. I had my drums and cow bells and the kids started to play some of them and we had a noisy session. Even the shy ones who pretended who were not listening were actually listening. And then they came to me when I finished to ask me if I would come again. Aawww! What better compliment could I get.

A big thank you to Helene Roome and CWISL of course for making this happen. We were in this library as part of CWISL’s Shoutwest festival a year ago. Then Helene kept in touch and asked me to visit once before too. There are many kids from Asian families in the neighbourhood  and she was keen to bring me to tell stories from India to them.

All in all, a special February so far with my finger in the story-pie. Check out my events on the website to find out where I would be visiting next.

Bookaroo – Day 2 – Workshops & Storytelling

Header-logo-unit-DELHI2My first session of the day was at 10:30 am and I had to get to central Delhi from Gurgaon, a neighbouring town where I  had gone that morning to meet friends from Duckbill Books and a brilliant breakfast. In spite of the numerous warnings about traffic jams, I got back in plenty of time.

At first, the Amphitheatre was empty – after all, it was Sunday 10:30 am – and I thought most people would have a lie-in, a late breakfast and perhaps some newspaper browsing. But eager readers from New Delhi came in droves just in time for the session.

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The first session was IDEA BLASTER – we were going to take off into StoryWorld with things we can find around us.

With the help of the young people in the audience and some grownups who were brave enough to reply, we built three stories out of nothing but our imagination and some prompts from the world around us.

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Our first story was about an eagle called Narangi – because it was orange in colour and it was stuck inside the Matti Ghar that was on the premises.

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The second story involved Astro-Cat fighting with a superhero to take control of Mars.

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The third story involved an Astro-Mutt and a cartoon superhero villain with gadgets.

All in all, we had super-fun.

Then I had some time to make sure I get some selfies with writers and friends I had met during Bookaroo and visiting the illustrator gallery. More on that in tomorrow’s post.

The afternoon session was a wildcard – it was about story shapes – shapesbut it was right after lunch. Would people listen? Would children fidget and want to run about?

I was scheduled to start at the Kahani Tree and there was already a big audience seated there. Then as I welcomed them, many opted to stay back, much to my joy (and relief?)

We did long stories, tall stories, never-ending stories and counting stories.As we began the story of the biggest liar, we tested the waters and found out how well the children can imagine.

lie-clipart-liesThey made up stories about themselves – being a princess, a fairy, a dragon, a superhero – even the littlest ones had a lie to tell. Then I told them the story of the biggest liar (A Tall Story).

We followed that with the never-ending story – the story about the twins Only and Again.

gola_webWe talked about stories about going home, journeys and landscapes with Where is Gola’s Home? which was a big hit with all ages – they were busy trying to spot the various characteristics of riversides, beaches, deserts and jungles.

I like counting like every other 7-year old. So I told them the story of the 11 travellers. But we didn’t just tell the story – we played it out. We had 11 eager volunteers up front who were being counted. We had a wise girl solve their counting problems.

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The crowd was hungry for more – so we did another counting story with Birbal and the crows in Delhi – an apt story for a Delhi Bookaroo!

That was my last session at 2014 Bookaroo and I hope to come back again and meet more readers and budding writers.

Swept Away in Stories

events 270414 090Storytelling came into my life long before writing. I told my first story in public when I was seven. I told more stories as I grew up to my sister, cousins and children younger than who I was tutoring.

But as a gawky teenager, as a girl who was unsure of herself, I moved away from storytelling. Though I wrote those days I was not ever close to it. Never thought of writing stories. When I started writing, it was due to the need to tell stories – my own stories, made up ones. I also wrote stories that had been passed on to me and that didn’t feel like writing – that felt as if I was recording a piece of my past, my culture, my inheritance on paper.

Writing felt and still feels as if it suits me. I can be on my own, in my head. I can write in my room, write on a bus, write so I could be amused more than anything else. But I think the storyteller in me wants to get the story published so I could tell it out loud. Writing like storytelling is a performance art – though not in the same way. For a writer in many ways, having a reader is gratifying. Having a reader who likes what you’ve written is redeeming. And it is performance – I’m so glad you liked this story – did you get what I wrote there?

Storytelling needs a listener. An audience. And I was afraid of it. It is more immediate. In storytelling I have to sit in front of you and enthrall you – otherwise you are going to boo me, throw tomatoes and rotten eggs at me.

But there is only a subtle difference. If readers don’t like your story, whether they are editors, publishers, the person who bought the book, the child who is read to – it is the same. The rotten tomatoes still come – but perhaps more in virtual reality. Maybe I don’t know about them. I still have to fear it and I do.

So when I braved myself two years ago to join a weekend course in storytelling – I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. It felt as if I needed a new distraction. New courses to go to instead of going on holidays like regular adults. New courses I could learn in, having exhausted all the courses in writing and there was nothing more to learn except write.

But the course felt like homecoming. I love folktales, always loved it and there was a joy in discovering a story that had the wisdom of your ancestors. I had escaped from falling in love with storytelling for almost 20 years. And there I was in this course – thinking maybe I have to do this more seriously.

In that weekend course, Abbie Palache asked to look up some storytellers on youtube or out in the performance arenas and one that stood out for me was Jan Blake – storyteller extraordinaire. snap_apr_jan_blakeFor the next few months I cyber-stalked her – well I looked her up, listened to all her youtube videos, tried to find performances that I could go to and of course see if she was teaching a course that I could join.

I made connection with Jan in one of her performances and she said she was doing a one-day course in West London. I couldn’t believe my luck – I booked my place and there I was in front of one of our master storytellers. We had a day practicing storytelling with Jan Blake and 3 other students – and we got tips about posture, presence, voice, enrichment and more. I was hungry for more.

Jan tells a lot of stories – her repertoire is quite wide and varied. She tells to adults and to children. But the fascination for me was that she told folktales from her own culture. She told to children as well as adults. And I wanted to learn from her – even if only 1% would rub off.

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I wasn’t sure I was good enough though. I always have big doubts about my abilities, even in my successful day-job – it is good to be insecure about yourself someone told me a while ago – it keeps you alert on the job. But I am always anxious about my writing and now I am anxious about my storytelling. If I had a shrink, his kid’s college fees would be paid for.

Jan told me I had it in me to become a storyteller – yes, I have to learn a lot of things – but I had the spark that could turn into something bigger if I nurtured it. I reluctantly believed it.

One day Jan announced that she was going to run her masterclass which she taught 12 years ago – it is 4 weeks, one week a month covering various aspects of storytelling. I messaged her and said I’m in.

As the course neared its start date, Jan told me there wasn’t a lot of participants for module 1. In fact due to pre-half term dates, it was just me. So I had a one-one coaching with Jan Blake (can you believe it?) last week.

 

Right from my story choices, to my eye-contact, my expressions, my telling, my presence – I was up-close and personal with my coach for 3 days. I learnt about voice, emotions of the characters in the story, how not to tell it and to demonstrate what I was doing wrong, Jan would tell my story in her own way. What a treat that was.

And when I tophoto-4ld her my stories, she would remember a similar story from Africa or another part of the world (a treasure-trove of stories in her memory) and I would listen enthralled, but also trying to capture and observe how she was telling it – even though she was telling to one person, not in performance mode.

And if this was not treat enough, after the third day of the course, Jan Blake was going to perform at the British Musuem with another veteran storyteller Tuup and she took me along with her as her guest. What an honour that was.

http://youtu.be/XwQ4E9mAMQU

Ben Haggerty (another British storytelling stalwart) asked me “Was it intense?” – Yes it was. Here was a tsunami of a storyteller in my living room. How could it not be intense, powerful and radiant? It was harsh in some ways – because I had to no place to hide, no backbench distractions, no waiting for someone else’s turn to tell – I was there alert and under her intense coaching.

I helped out with the carrying of props, I listened to four storytellers discuss the upcoming performance, met people I would have never been able to meet and I got to listen to gothic horror tales from the Caribbean. If that wasn’t a grand finale to a course, what could be?

The next module is on 10th November in Southwark in London. Then there is a module in December and one in January. I’m hoping to attend all of them – hopefully nothing would come in the way.

While I am still preparing for telling stories in schools, preparing a repertoire based on Jan’s advice and would be posting details of my school programme soon, I have my first hurdle to overcome – tell a story to a camera with confidence and post it on my web and my youtube channel. Can I do it? Would you come and watch it? Do you like stories?