Posts tagged ‘Writing’

Story Stones

I’ve just made two sets of Story Stones. One set I will gift to Stegby at the up and coming Feast of Friendship, the other set is for me, as part of my bardic bag of tricks.

So what are Story Stones?

Story Stones

Every stone has a word, and every word is the seed for a new story

Put simply, they are a creative lubricant. Basically, it’s any number of stones in an appropriately sized bag. On each stone, there is a word. Most of these words are nouns… places, people, animals, things. I’ve added some colours in too, just in case.

The idea is to draw out two stones at random, then to ad-lib a story featuring those two things.

I tested them out on myself this afternoon. I picked out “Eagle” and “Lizard”. There, in front of my husband and my step-daughter, I created the following short story:

The Tale of the Eagle and the Lizard

Once upon a time, there was an eagle. He was flying along on a nice day, feeling the wind ruffle through his feathers, thinking how good it was to be an eagle.

At the same time, a lizard was out having a bask. He was enjoying his life, lying there on his favourite rock, feeling the sun on his back, thinking how good it was to be a lizard.

The eagle happened to look down and see the lizard, lying there on a nice, exposed rock. “Hmm, I’m a bit peckish,” he thought, and decided that the lizard would make a fantastic lunch. So he swooped down and grabbed the lizard.

The lizard, who had been nodding off, woke suddenly and saw the ground slipping away underneath him. “Wha…. What’s going on? Where am I?” He looked up to see the eagle. “Who are you?”

The eagle looked at the lizard briefly. “I’m going to take you back to my nest and eat you for lunch,” he explained.

The lizard didn’t like the sound of that. “Wait, wait, wait,” he said, “You don’t want to eat me. Look, I’m scrawny, I’m bony, I really don’t taste that good. But what if I said I could get you something that was a lot tastier, and would fill you up more?”

The eagle thought about it, and realised he really was quite hungry, and the lizard would probably only do for a quick snack. “What do you have in mind?” he asked.

“Look, see that bush down there?” The lizard pointed at a large bush hemmed in by some trees. “That’s where we need to go.”

The eagle looked down where the lizard was pointing. “I’m not to sure about that, I’m really too big to go into a space that’s got lots of trees like that. They get caught up in my wings.”

“Don’t worry. I can get you something much larger than me, but it’s there. You just have to drop me off there and I’ll go get it for you.”

The eagle greedily imagined plump rabbits and other yummy things to eat as he swooped down to the clear spot next to the bush.

“Stay here, I’ll be just a second,” the lizard called as he scampered into the bushes.

The eagle waited. And waited. And waited. After about ten minutes, he called out “What’s the hold up?”

But there was no reply.

The Spirit of Lochac, and on writing filk (and why I can’t teach it)

Looking through my blog, I realised that I’ve not yet put in a plug for The Spirit of Lochac.

That’s probably because I wrote it before I started this blog.  Not only that, but it exists elsewhere on the internet, at the Lochac Performers and Entertainers Guild.  However, I am currently constructing a page to place all my song links onto, and I believe The Spirit of Lochac needs to be on that list.

A Lochac warrior stepped out
One bright and shining day
To face a horde of armed men
Upon the battle fray
His armour gleamed, his shield held high,
His sword held fast in hand
As he stepped forth that fateful day
For to protect his land

‘Twas on the field at Rowany
Our hero stood his ground
An army waited by his side,
But not one made a sound.
For on the ridge, an awful sight,
The enemy was vast,
And then they roared, that mighty horde,
And fell upon them fast.

Swords and shields did crash and bang
In dizzy fearsome flight
But every time the one foe fell,
Another joined the fight
Weariness did take its toll
Our hero’s arms ran red
And amongst the gore of those he slayed
None noticed that he bled.

His strength was sapping mighty quick,
In vain our hero tried,
But from one foe, the telling blow
And our dear hero died.
But lies a heart of fortitude
In every Lochac man
And like unto a Lazarus
Our hero rose again.

His pallid flesh was icy cold
But his eyes they burned like flame
A demon in him bursted forth
As each opponent came
The bodies piled within his wake,
None could withstand his might,
And as the last opponent fell
He vanished in the night.

Seven times that day he fell
And seven times he rose,
For Lochac men do not lie down
To face their battle foes.
A horde of men that day he fought,
A horde of men he slayed
For none can match the valour of
A Lochac hero’s shade!

The song was written specifically (at least in part) for Festival, where I received nothing but positive feedback for it, especially from the fighters that heard it.  But the best feedback was the silence after I sang it in the bardic circle, and seconds later, the almost whispered “Huzzah“.

This recording is not the best rendition.  It was recorded when the song was in its very first stages of being settled in my head, and contains none of the tempo changes I use now.  I do intend to re-record this song at some stage, but until then, please, if you see me at an event, don’t be afraid to collar me for a live performance.  So long as my throat is in good condition, I’ll be more than willing.

For those who find the tune familiar, you may indeed have heard it before.  It’s a direct rip of The Handsome Cabin Boy by Kate Bush.

This was not the original tune I had planned for this song.  The original tune was going to be Tempus Adest Floridum, more popularly known now as Good King Wenceslas.  Nor is it the original lyrics.  In fact, very little of the ditty that woke me up in the wee hours of the morning late 2010 actually remains.

I’ve been writing poetry since I was twelve.  Reams and reams of the stuff.  I’m 36 as of the writing of this post, so that makes 24 years of experience.  Writing is like any other skill, it improves with practise.  But for me, writing has never been a process of sitting down with the aim of writing something.  That process works with some people, but every time I actually attempt to write poetry, I end up with drivel.  My best works have been spontaneous, and tend to occur at the most inconvenient times.  The middle of the night, while riding a bicycle, while sitting in a restaurant… I recall one time in particular when I wrote on the back of a shopping docket in eyeliner because I had no paper or pen handy, but the words burning through my mind so quickly that I knew I would lose them if I waited.

For a long time I thought that spark was all I needed for my writing, and if I had continued with that line of thought, you would, instead of listening to The Spirit of Lochac, be listening to The Seven Deaths of ****** (name blocked to protect the innocent), a jaunty tune which describes how one specific SCAdian dies several times in succession.  It was very specific.  I thought he might have taken it amiss that I killed him over and over again in song.  I quite like him, and you don’t try to kill friends.  So I tabled it.  It didn’t scan well, the lyrics were off colour, it just wasn’t going to work as it was.
But editing is an important part of writing poetry, and the core of the story was a good one, so I took what was good and worked with it.  Sometimes you’ve got a heap of good that’s wiped out by just a few lines.  Experience is the only thing that can tell you what to cut and what to keep.

I removed all references to the original victim of the song.  I wanted this to be a ghostly hero rather than a real life person.  And I got rid of the music altogether and stepped back into an easy rhythm which I call “horseplod”, but which probably had a much nicer name somewhere outside of my own head.  Basically, the accent is on every second syllable.  Eight syllables first line, six the second, eight the third, six the fourth, rhyme on the second and fourth lines.  When I’d finished cutting and shaping, which was quite a tedious process, I had 4 verses of usable material.

Later that day I was listening to various ballads, and The Handsome Cabin Boy was amongst them.  It stuck me that this used the same beat pattern I had settled on for my poem, so that was the tune I used.

Unfortunately, the very first person I showed it to (beyond my other half, whom I automatically expect to be biased), after raving at how it read like music, tried to give me the tune she thought I should put with it.  All I heard coming from her lips was the same note over and over again in a rather unrhythmic pattern, which does not a tune make.  At which point I told her I already had decided on using the tune from another ballad (a wonderfully period practice), and sang her the first verse.  Her face turned sour and she told me that I didn’t need to turn it into a dirge, that this should be a more uplifting song, and that I should write my own music, I shouldn’t make filk.

Please don’t ever do this to anyone.

I put this song away for months because of her comments.  I knew it was good poetry, but I wanted it to be good music.   I’d even forgotten I’d written it, as I hadn’t wanted to look at it after hearing negative comments the first time I’d shown my work.  Criticism does not equal critiquing, and can be very harmful.

Eventually I found it again during a tidy up months later,  and reading through it with fresh eyes I found there was a lack within the story at two points.  I didn’t have a description of where my warrior was, or what he was facing (which became verse 2), nor did I have a description of what happened when he rose (this became verse 5).  I spent roughly a week on those two verses.  I knew what I wanted to say, but writing with purpose is not my strong suit.  It was at this point that I decided to make the song specifically for Rowany Festival, as I was steadily gearing up to attend.  Those two verses were, I think,  the thing that took this from good poetry to great poetry.

I then revived the tune.  I was convinced it could sound good despite what had been said, so I persevered.  And thus was born The Spirit of Lochac.

I was asked just a few days ago about perhaps doing a collegia on how to write period style filk.  But I can’t teach that.  I just don’t know how to teach a skill that’s grown from something I do without thinking about it.  Perhaps this blog entry gives a small taste of why that is.

And if you haven’t found the link to the song yet, here it is one more time:  The Spirit of Lochac

(c) Kristine Robinson 2011

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