Wednesday, 29 July 2015

In the slaughterhouse. Part two

Ten days before the gig my family and I all went off to Scotland to visit the Isle of Bute and
Dylan and the fire at Ettrick Bay. Image by Amy Toop
light a fire on Ettrick Bay (as my family has been doing for the last hundred years). After intense short bursts of rehearsal, I now had a huge block of time when I could not practise the story. Instead I got on with the business of relaxing with my family, going for walks in the woods and hunting drift wood along the shore. And as I rested and relaxed so the story seeped quietly into the very fabric of me. There was no opportunity to rehearse at all, but in the few quite moments I had I’d step into one of the chapters and walk around it, touching the furniture as it where, examining the carpets and pictures and ornaments on the mantel piece.  Though I was still terrified of telling the story, I knew that it was now alive and fully formed in my head. It only needed to hold my nerve and take my time and the telling of it would be perfect. 

We got back to Galway the day before the gig. I managed a morning of rehearsal. To make the story work, to make the terror slowly seep out and grow in intensity, the telling had to be slow. It had to have moments of silence, moments of textured description, but most importantly the two slaughterhouse sequences had to be big and bold and filled with hilarious yet simultaneously horrifying comedy. 

So finally the session started. It was a packed night and though the windows were open in the CraneBar, the air was muggy and thick. I took a breath and plunged into the story. There is always an impulse to rush through things that scare us, and there are few things as scary as trying a new and very different story to a pub filled with people from all corners of the earth. But I forced myself to take it slow, to meet the eyes of my audience, and let the story find its own pace. And then as I was coming to the last quarter of the tale I opened my mouth and the cow I was impersonating began to howl.

Later I worked out why a howl came in where a moo should have been. Before the show I’d been talking to a Glaswegian in the audience who was asking me about an entirely different story of mine in which a young boy shape shifter turns into a sick dog and howls like one. Somehow the story I was now telling – a tale of savagery, lust and jealousy in the Scottish writing scene – had decided to throw in the wails of a sick dog from the other story. 

As I howled, my little inner lizard of awareness ran through options and checked out the audience. The audience were enraptured; some laughed, some grimaced, some stared wide eyed. They were enjoying themselves, so I decided to enjoy myself too. I carried on with the howl. Who was I to argue with a story? Let’s face it a cow about to be slaughtered would be confused as well as terrified, so why shouldn’t it howl like a sick dog. So I let the howl carry on. Then added another howl, this time twisting it at the end into a terrified moo. I let the confusion and terror grow big and bold and brutal in its humour. It worked perfectly not only as a piece of storytelling but as a little wake up call to me to stay focused as the gory dénouement approached.  

There not much else to say except that in stories, as in life, sometimes crazy random things just throw themselves into the narrative – and the best response is to just let it happen and see where it’ll take you. That night was one of my best tellings, and as random chance would have it, my friend Coralline had her camera phone with her and managed to snap the very hilarious horrific instant when the diseased dog howl turned into a maddened terrified cow bellow. As to how she happened to take a picture at that very moment; well that is another story entirely…
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  1. fulla mixy mischief and truth
    ...just as i remember.
    ive just started a blog called 'mudered balloons'...still tryin to learn how to do the blog thang-the technicalities like publishing and linkin to fb.the writin hasnt really come yet,but im hopin it will be interestin when it does

    1. Hi Joan, I look forward to reading yir blog once its up and running. Twitter works great for me. I've my twitter account linked to my FB, so when i tweet a blog it goes up in both media. A handy thing for tweet is hashtags. The Aerogramme studio has a great wee article which you might want to check out