Last night I joined Saira Niazi from Living London to recce the route for our joint adventure on the 25th March… secret passages and pathways:
Unfortunately it was so dark we couldn’t find the special-super-secret location we’d planned to use. We ended up climbing over a fence and getting swallowed up in the darkness just beyond Kensington Palace. It was fresh and damp and full of the silent energy of the trees growing. Saira showed me some absolutely ethereal places in Kensington that I have literally never been to before- as well as some alleyways and passages which all seemed extra beautiful by night!
After our recce, I chose a story to tell- it’s one of my favourites and is inspired by the darkness, the water and the whole energy of the experience.
You can join us on our night-wander with storytelling on 25th March at 7pm, email me to book your place. All details click here. Places are limited (obviously) and not many left so if you want to come we recommend you book straight away. If you miss out this time, do sign up to the mailing list or check the calendar for future adventures.
Photos by Saira Niazi (top) and Eva Grosman (actually of Brompton Cemetery from a previous event but it captured the mood so well!)
How to use nice and revolting smells in our storytelling practice (and some smell inspirations you will love.)
It is the perfect partner for Storytelling, an art which aims to conjure up worlds in the listeners mind and imagination.
Don’t forget that some audience members might have smell sensitivities of various kinds so it’s wise not to ambush your audience with a scent.
Research shows that when a listener hears a story, parts of their brain involving action (not just listening) are stimulated. So when you add smells into the mix, you should theoretically be able create a multisensory brain explosion in your lucky audience…
Pre-planned smell in a story is often used to animate the tale for the elderly- or more generally for people who need a multi-sensory element to their performance. It’s commonly used for audiences with additional needs. But there are more possibilities too.
Here are some ideas:
There are commercially available “smell cubes” which work best passed around with a small group or one to one. http://www.daleair.com/dispensing/vortex-cubes For example Funfair Selection contains Candy Floss, Toffee Apple, Cinder Toffee, Peppermint rock. These are designed to trigger specific memories and reminiscences. They are fun but with a bit of thought and effort you could probably make your own.
You can burn a candle or incense with a theme which complements your story. Obvious example is a story which involves food! (and especially if your story comes from a certain culture then the smell of food from that culture can really bring it to life.)
In the V&A they tell a story about spices which involves passing around cinnamon sticks in a basket.
OR… I used to tell a scary story with orange-scented poisoned gas in it. Throughout the story I smoked orange oil in a burner. (below)
You can use a water spray with scent added to the water- this allows the smell to last for a moment or two not the whole story. If you’re looking for something to add to water, check out the amazing “Library of Fragrance” : powder, vanilla, play doh, rain, gin and tonic etc!
As well as directly illustrating the story, smells can add a counterpoint or another dimension, it’s all about being creative.
A lot of milage and fun to be had with bad smells.
If I want to tell a story for kids about a horrible dirty room full of rotten food, filthy water or a person who never washes… or a really smelly rotten fish, bad smells are a great attention-getter and focus point!
Stink bombs in a jar are good (I use empty spice jars with a flip-top-lid and keep a bit of the spice in there to soak up the liquid). Chamois Leather has an ‘interesting’ smell. One of the worst smells I’ve ever had was artificial fishing bait. it made me want to vomit whenever I opened the box.
(Pic: what fishing bait smells like.)
I try to have a few jars of the same smell to hand so they can be passed quickly around and people don’t have to wait too long to have a go.
Obviously we should be sensitive to people’s wishes- if they don’t want to smell anything they shouldn’t be forced to!
Smells in baskets, boxes or jars work better when you have a fairly small group, spray or candles/ burners can work for bigger groups.
I would like to finish this post with a salute to some of my olfactory inspirations. I hope they inspire you too:
- When I was working at HRP Kensington Palace, they had just developed a scratch and sniff map of the palace with different smells (flower water, fireplace etc) for different rooms. Yes really!
- I just bought a “Dumbledore’s office” scented candle (They have been forced to change the name to to “headmasters office” due to copyright reasons.) There’s a great range of Narnia, Sherlock and Hogwarts inspired candles to choose from.
- Number one inspiration for me is the fabulous Odette Toilette; one of the most fascinating performers out there who works with historical fragrances. *Mummy unwrapping*! I’ve worked along side her at events before, always a treat!
(Below: Smelling Slimy mud)
Here’s a summary of the things I’ve done in 2016. It finishes with a section of extended ‘thank yous’, it occurs to me that I’ve only had the opportunity to do all this stuff because of the constant help and support I get. I am so grateful!
TV and Radio
Live section on BBC World News talking about fairytales and performing The Snow Queen.
NTS Radio for Nxy Chariot storytelling show (in fabulous Dalston)
I was very privileged to perform alongside Caleb Femi, (children’s Laureate for London) at the Young Muslim Writers Awards 2016 which will be televised on IslamCHANNEL.
2. So many schools!
3. London Dreamtime Storynights
Secret storytelling adventures into hidden corners of London. More stories than ever this year. As well as our various escapades in derelict houses, night gardens and damp rooftops, we were lucky enough to collaborate with some very interesting people:
This summer we celebrated the Great Fire of London by accidentally setting fire to the roof of Deptford Library with Bernadette Russell…
A labour of love for me… “UnRipped” a celebration of the lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper with John Constable and the Museum of the Women of the East End.
Various visits to Brompton Cemetery at night with Antique Beat and London Month of the Dead.
4. Art and heritage
The Royal Academy of Music, Sadler’s Wells, Cityread, Dulwich Picture Gallery and special story commissions for various museums including The V&A Museum…
A very creative and unusual brief at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden (for the Crafts Council national exhibition “Twelve Tall Tales”)
Classic stories at Guildhall Art Gallery
Pirates and Magic Lanterns at Florence Nightingale Museum (for their Peter Pan Exhibition)
and much more
6. Corporate, Training and Walks
Corporate work includes Johnson & Johnson, Lloyds Bank and Brecker Grossmith. I regularly provide training for adults in communication, teaching and storytelling techniques. This pic was taken during a day of Training to Teach for doctors at UCL Centre for Medical Education.
I also do a lot of guided walks! (Many with London Street Tours)
6. Community and Charity
A noisy crowded festival, city farm or playground full of distractions isn’t exactly the IDEAL place for storytelling…. But community festivals are so much fun!
Pic: Twinkle Park Summer Fair Deptford
Below: Brixton City Festival (Pic by Rosie Powell Freelance.)
A charity Christmas event for Auditory Verbal UK:
7. Extra Special
I’ve been lucky enough to be part of some really exciting events this year including a trip to Ispira, Italy to headline the International Evening at their Festival of Storytelling
Touring the length of the UK with Walker Books and Harper Collins to promote some of their best-loved children’s titles. (Pic: “Seven Stories” in Newcastle)
Special guest at the gala Literary evening for the Lavenham Literary Festival at the 500 year old Swan Hotel
A nine-day residency at the Southbank Centre on their Giant Storytelling Bed for the Imagine Festival….
and then… curating & hosting an afternoon of storytelling with Elbow’s Guy Garvey for Meltdown at the Southbank Centre over the summer…
8. …people who have helped me
So yes, a busy year. And now for the thanks: For everyone who booked me, collaborated with me or encouraged me this year- you will never know what a difference you have made!
Firstly, I don’t have a photo of her but you, yes you Mrs Bradford of Boutcher School– have helped me so much.
And where would I be without my fellow storytellers, eventmakers and performers? I’ve had so much help, here are just a few people I couldn’t do without:
training, sharing of ideas and endless help from Chris Roberts…
original thoughts from Stephen Coates
emergency assistance from beautiful, kind and talented Katy Carr:
And these two :-)
9. and finally
The biggest thanks of all goes to anyone and everyone who has listened to one of my stories in 2016. You are the whole point.
“I hate talking about money!”
Here’s a story about the most difficult ‘money discussion’ I’ve ever had with an employer. It didn’t really work out that well to be honest!
Today I’m a freelance storyteller but in my 20s I worked in the film industry as a freelance electrician.
The work was physically demanding, locations inhospitable, hours were long.
It was a constant scramble for jobs, I never knew who might be in our crew of ‘sparks’, the only definite was everyone else would be a man.
Most of the men were 10, 20 or 30 years older than me, I was on a constant battle to prove I was “as good as a man”.
When I was 25 I started getting put in charge of teams of electricians. As the “gaffer” it was also my job to negotiate changes to the standard deals for money and overtime with the production team. Luckily most deals were very straightforward— because I hated talking about money!
This particular day I was on a pop video in charge of six men, all older and more experienced than me. We’d been working hard since eight in the morning, a flat rate of payment for sixteen hours had been agreed.
The clock ticked closer to midnight and a messenger from the Very Important Producer came around to the heads of department (including me) apologising and saying we were going to run over by “a couple of hours.”
Most of the crew sighed and nodded wearily, but sparks are famous for being pushy about money. My team looked over to me.
I knew what they were thinking: “Who cares what the rest of the crew do? We agreed money until midnight. You’re supposed to be our Gaffer so go and get us our overtime like a Gaffer should.”
At that moment I hated them all for putting me in a difficult situation… jeopardising my precious, vital relationship with the cameraman and the very important producer who had final say over everything. Just for yucky money.
However I also knew that “two hours” could become three or four. Without the restriction of paying overtime, shoots can go on all night. There was safety to think of. (not that anyone seemed to care about safety.) But more than anything I wanted to prove that I could be as good as any male gaffer. Or hopefully better.
At the time I HATED talking about money. But off I went into the production office and, dying of embarrassment, spoke the words I knew my sparks wanted me to say. I demanded triple time after midnight. The Very Important Producer was handsome, kind and friendly but definite, it was impossible. But I shouldn’t worry. He knew how difficult those sparks could be! I was doing an amazing job out there- and as a woman too… He hinted heavily that if I did him a favour this time, won them round, he’d get me on lots of other jobs.
So much easier, less embarrassing, to agree with him! All my conditioning was screaming at me to agree, not to be “a difficult woman”.
There wasn’t any more money he said. Literally none left. These two hours were vital to the whole shoot and everyone else was being a team player for the good of the whole production, we should do the same. I was a reasonable person wasn’t I? I could talk to them, persuade them.
But the thought of going back to my electricians and telling them I hadn’t got their overtime was appalling. How weak I’d look. How …girly!
So I insisted. He refused, getting impatient. “If there was money, you could have it! The budget’s been spent! There’s nothing I can do! Ok? I’m really sorry.”
I glanced at his expensive watch. Five to midnight. “I’ll talk to them” I said.
He smiled and nodded, waving me out. I suddenly realised: he thought the conversation with the electricians was over! He thought we’d agreed to work on, unpaid.
I didn’t go and talk to my crew.
I went to the intake cupboard, shouted a warning, and, on the stroke of midnight, pulled the breaker.
The whole enormous studio full of millions of pounds worth of technical equipment was plunged into pitch darkness and it stayed dark.
A few giggles and gasps were heard. The focus puller turned on his torch. For a few minutes, everyone just stood still by their equipment so as not to cause an accident in the darkness.
I waited next to the main breaker and soon enough the producer arrived at my side to tell me that… in fact they could find the money to pay us after all.
From the murmur that arose I realised the whole crew was grateful. Okay I hadn’t got overtime for everyone but if we electricians were getting paid triple time, the shoot couldn’t afford to go on much longer! It also meant that next time the other crew members might feel bolder about asking for overtime.
We were the only department to protest, but everyone had felt that the producer was being unfair.
I had to talk money very many times but that was the hardest.
What a mess. What a terrible thing to have to do. Talking about money shouldn’t come to a pitched battle!
This problem had arisen because the client was trying to change our agreement without asking. We were within our rights not to work on after the agreed time.
I know storytellers who have been hijacked by unwelcome changes when they arrive at a job. Maybe you have. What would you do in that circumstance?
Over dozens of negotiations, I learned that five things make talking about money easier. They apply to freelance film work but also to storytelling.
Be completely professional in every aspect of your work.
Set your rate based on what you can offer and what the “going rate” is. Then advertise it clearly and stick to it.
Be straightforward about money from the outset. Without fail, get details in writing at the start.
Believe wholeheartedly in your own value.
And remember- being firm but fair about money means the wider community benefits.
…But you will benefit the most!