January Recap

January was a very busy start to the year, but all round filled with awesome. I finished my story for the Second Contacts anthology and submitted it a couple days before the deadline, in spite of some fears about getting it done on time. Originally my home had been to finish drafting it around the end of November (it was my only focus for “NaNo” for what little I engaged in that), then the aim was to finish draft one before the Christmas holidays. That didn’t happen either, nor did I finish drafting before the end of the Christmas holidays. Sometimes stories just don’t click when you want them to. I stalled out on it around the climax and knew the ending it was heading towards was going to be crap. So instead of finishing it just for the sake of finishing it, I reviewed the 3/4 story I had penned hunting out weaknesses and issues and scheming their fixes. The holidays were not nearly as productive as I’d hoped, but it seems the rest and relaxation paid off. The small tweaks to early scenes in the story culminated in a larger direction shift. By the time I hit the climax on the second try I was on a roll, pieces were falling together, and I drafted 1,700 words in one day (not a common occurrence outside of hardcore NaNoing) just because I knew where the story was going and was excited to get it written. I didn’t have time to put this one before the Narwhals for a full critique as I would have liked, but fortunately Derek was kind enough to offer a quick critique.

The creative writing workshop with Amal has been a blast so far. We’ve been reading short stories and discussing different elements of fiction (character, narrative voice, world-building, etc), as well as doing writing exercises. Writing exercises are the best homework.

And the storytelling show, Twisted Tales, with Marie last week was fantastic. Both of my stories were original pieces that I had actually drafted a couple years ago and then just been sitting on. They both stretched into new territory for me (for told stories at least). One was the darkest story I have ever told and got some very satisfying ewwws from the audience. The other was the most comedic story I’ve done, a satirical fairy tale, and drew out lots of laughs. It’s always great when an audience is so openly responsive to stories (they can be reserved sometimes); though perhaps after the dark and sad stories of the first set they were well primed for the relief of a good laugh. No one believed me when I said that I was going to give them something lighter after the first story.

As for February, things calm down a little, sorta, maybe not really. No storytelling shows are lined up until Marie and I reprise Twisted Tales in June at the West End Well. I’m just starting to draft a new short story for a submission deadline on April 1, switching from sci-fi to fantasy. And around mid-month I submit a short story to the workshop to be critiqued in class. Full speed ahead!

Review of Finding Excalibur

Marie Bilodeau and I performed our show, Finding Excalibur: Tales of King Arthur and the evolution of a legend, on March 11th at the Tea Party. (I know, I forgot to post before the show.) The Tea Party is a cozy, intimate space, great for storytelling, and it was packed. We had a few people standing in the hallway or sitting on the stairs. Marie opened the show with a story Arthur becoming king and finding Excalibur (featuring a dragon ship and shining people). For the second set I told Culhwch and Olwen from the Mabinogion, in which Arthur helps his cousin Culhwch fight the nightmarish boar, Trwyth in order to win the hand of a maiden from her giant father. The story draws on old celtic oral traditions. I took a couple of Arthurian classes in university: Arthur of the Celts from the Celtic studies department which looked at who a real historical Arthur could have been along with the legends about him up until Geoffrey of Monmouth; and the King Arthur class from the English Lit department that started with Monmouth and carried through with the literature until Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I’ve been fascinated with how the stories of Arthur have evolved and morphed over the years and have wanted to tell one of those older celtic stories since I took the beginner’s storytelling workshop a couple of years ago. Finally, Marie closed the show with a story about the decline of Arthur’s reign and touching on the love triangle with Lancelot and Guinevere. I had a lot of fun developing this show with Marie.

Elaine O’Reilly was kind enough to write this review of our show for the Ottawa StoryTeller’s newsletter. Thanks Elaine for your kind words! I am so glad to hear people enjoyed listening as much as Marie and I enjoyed telling these stories.

The Excalibur Tea Party by Elaine O’Reilly

So, you think you know the story of King Arthur, Guinevere and the sword, Excalibur? My husband and I and my 12-year-old grandson thought we did. But our pre-conceived ideas were whisked away by the magical weaving of new, or should I say very, very old, stories at the March 11th Tea Party.

Marie Bilodeau and Nicole Lavigne took us from the beginning of Arthur’s reign at 15 years old through the rise and demise of his kingdom with storylines different than we had heard before. Arthur given his sword by a Lady of the Lake? What, no stone! Arthur on a mission to kill a Giant so his cousin could marry the Giant’s daughter? King Arthur will return after death?

The stories were captivating; the tellers voices mirrored beautifully the mood of the stories. The quest for the Giant was raucus and violent. The reunion with Guinevere after her betrayal of Arthur’s love enveloped the listeners with romance and gentle forgiveness. The description of Arthur’s last hours before death left us with more hope than any other ending we had heard or read. In all, our evening was thoroughly enjoyable and from the positive reaction in the extremely crowded room, it was just as enjoyable to the other listeners.

(Elaine O’Reilly is a very active member of the Ottawa Storytellers).

Glory of the Gods: working on the Iliad

We’re having our first big rehearsal for the Iliad in a couple of weeks, so I am starting to work on my piece of the story. I will be telling the fight for Patroclus’ body, after Hector has killed him and stripped off Achilles’ armour, which he had been wearing. It’s an interesting part in the story, because it’s when the battle really starts to get ugly. The niceties of war, such as they were, are getting abandoned. But what I love most about my piece is how Zeus reacts to Hector donning Achilles’ famous armour. In short, Hector be screwed. Hector has killed Achilles’ buddy Patroclus and is now wearing Achilles’ own notable armour, making him really easy to find on the battlefield. And Zeus watches this and says, fine, I’ll let you get away with it, but you’re gonna be screwed. I may be paraphrasing somewhat.

One thing that stands out about the Iliad, and a few of my fellow tellers commented on this during our first meeting in December, is that the gods are very human. They fight and bicker amongst each other. Half of Olympus is siding with Troy and the other half is in favour of the Greeks. They come down to Earth and influence things to go how they want and frequently appear disguised as the fighters’ comrades in order to tell them what to do, hopefully without being noticed by their fellow gods. I’ve always loved mythology and you see this sort of thing all the time, be it Greek, Roman, Egyptian or Celtic mythology. Many a Greek myth centres around the fact that Zeus can’t keep it in his pants and thus pisses Hera off. The gods have a lot of children and grandchildren that they conceived with mortals running about. At one point Zeus even comments that there so many of them running about that they can’t protect every single demi-god in battle or there would be no battle.

One of my favourite moments is sadly not going to be in the show. The Iliad is so long we can’t tell the whole thing in a day without resorting to summary and losing the essence of Homer. Zeus has made it clear that none of the gods are allowed to interfere in the battle, but Hera is determined to have her own way. So she gets the help of Aphrodite and Sleep to seduce Zeus, her own husband. And when Zeus sees her, wrapped in Aphrodite’s charms, he says, “Come, let us to bed and the delights of love. Never has such desire, for goddess or mortal, flooded and overwhelmed my heart; no, not when I loved Ixion’s wife who bore Peirithous, wise as the gods; or Danae of the slim ankles, daught of Acrisius, who gave birth to Perseus, the greatest hero of his time; or the far-famed daughter of Phoenix, who bore me Minos and godlike Rhadamanthus; or Semeke, or Alcmene in Thebes, whose son was lion-hearted Heracles, while Semele bore Dionysus, mankind’s delight; or lady Demeter with her lovely hair, or incomparable Leto; or you yourself – never have I felt such desire for you, or has such sweet longing overwhelmed me.” Nothing can sweet-talk your wife like listing all the women you’ve cheated on her with. It’s a prime example of the fact that, while the gods may be all-powerful, it certainly does not make them all-perfect. Also, it’s hilarious. I can just picture Hera standing there, biting her tongue while he says this and trying to keep her eyes from rolling or her hand from slapping him and giving him bedroom eyes instead.