No Porridge In Yellowstone

Buffalo inYellowstone

Buffalo inYellowstone

I know it’s not really fair to be unkind about tourist stuff when we are tourists ourselves, but if I see another plastic buffalo I will scream. I know that any place that relies on tourism has a short season in which to make their money, but even so when you’ve spent all day in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming watching herds of real wild buffalo then the large plastic ones at the entrance to a hotel or the small fluffy ones on sale in souvenir shops just seem silly.

Elk in Yellowstone

Elk in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is amazing – all 2 million acres of it. Scenery to die for, buffalo, black bears, grizzlies, wolves, elk – we saw all those. Hot springs, gorges, rivers that bubble over stones before plunging several hundred feet down a waterfall. Amazing.

The land was originally occupied by Native Americans and at many of the excellent visitor centres their stories and legends are set out. These are fascinating to read, not for their originality especially, but more for the fact that in so many ways they reflect our own legends and folk stories about creation, our relationship with the natural world, our understanding of the society in which we exist, our sense of community and our reaction to external threats.

Black Bear in Yellowstone

Black Bear in Yellowstone

Storytelling is universal – it satisfies a basic need in us all – but now I have seen Black Bears in the wild I think Goldilocks had a narrow escape. Not that our ones showed much interest in porridge.

Michael

Ol’ Man Crimson

Bit of a delay since the last Blog due to a lack of internet connectivity in South Dakota. Most motels say they have Wi-Fi but what they don’t tell you is that some of them can only achieve a signal if you sit on top of the chimney at 3 in the morning.

Frustrated by the inability to go on-line I began thinking back to my last piece about storytelling. When we talk about stories we tend to think “fiction” but in fact many of the best stories are true. In our own list the story of Mary Kingsley paddling her canoe up the rivers of West Africa in the 1890s, biffing intrusive crocodiles and berating French customs officials is more compelling than many fictional stories. Similarly the letters of Tony Rawson writing home to his mother in Watford while serving in the British army in Iraq in the 1940s are more real than anything about that time written in retrospect.

When the story concerns real people you know that what you are reading – or listening to – is but a section of their life. A snapshot of a particular moment or period. Ideally, this should also be the case with fiction. As Femi Euba, the Nigerian writer says, “Your listener or reader must believe that the characters in your play or story had a life before the story started and will continue to have a life after the story has finished”.

The Mighty Mississippi

The Mighty Mississippi

A week ago we crossed the Mississippi river from Illinois to Iowa. It’s one hell of a river, very wide at this point and yet still 750 miles from the ocean. It seemed a good parallel with story writing. The Mississippi flows on for ever. We arrive at a specific point, follow it for a while and then leave. We see a small part of the river, never the whole and that part is our story. Even if we were to return to the same place the river would be different. It’s a real skill to create a piece of writing that acknowledges the before and after as well as the piece we actually see.

 

And so the journey goes on. Since I last wrote we have passed through Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and crossed the Badlands of South Dakota. If you’ve seen the Badlands then you don’t need me to tell you what they are like. If you haven’t, then there are no words to describe them. They are simply another world.

Tonight we are in Sundance, Wyoming, an empty land where there seems to be unlimited space – the blank page that every writer is faced with, if we want to continue the metaphor. Perhaps it’s getting a bit stretched.

Time for bed, said Zebedee.

Michael

Random Literary Thoughts

By the shores of Gitchee Gumee
By the shining Big-Sea-Water, 

Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
There the wrinkled old Nokomis
Nursed the little Hiawatha,
Rocked him in his linden cradle,
Bedded soft in moss and rushes…

This little outburst of Longfellow was sparked by us driving through a town called Hiawatha in northern Kansas. I must have been very young when my mother first read this poem to me and why I remember (possibly not entirely accurately) this particular bit I do not know. I can’t believe she read me the whole poem – it does go on a bit – but it is the rhythm that stayed in my mind. Perhaps dangerously so because sometimes you can so caught up in the rhythm that you no longer hear the words.

But is the rhythm that helps the memory, a point that was brought home to me many years later when I was working for BBC Radio Drama and producing a programme for Radio 3 about Finnish Folk Poetry. I learned that Longfellow had borrowed the metre and rhythm of Hiawatha from the Finnish tradition but here the rhythm and repetition had a necessary point. Like many other cultures, Finnish folk poetry was an oral tradition. The storytellers recited from memory and the repetition and rhythm were a significant aid to that memory.

Dee in Nebraska

Dee in Nebraska

It’s amazing what you start thinking about and discussing when you spend all day on the long, straight roads of the American mid-west. They told us that Kansas was “pretty empty”, well, we can confidently say there is not much in northern Nebraska either. However, we do apparently have some claim to this land as you can see from the pictures. “Palmer” has a population of around 400 and “Bartlett” a mere 128. Both these little townships are in Nebraska.

Mike in Nebraska

Mike in Nebraska

Onto South Dakota which we suspect will offer even more time for thinking.

Michael

The Mail (and Male) Must Get Through

When I was a child I was fond of a series of books about a young cowboy called Pocomoto. The only title I could remember was “Pocomoto – Pony Express Rider“. This memory occasioned a change of plan today.

Having driven across Ohio, Indiana and Illinois we spent Monday night in southern Iowa. This morning we had planned to start heading north towards South Dakota but glancing at the map over breakfast we noticed there was a Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri about 150 miles to the south. On the spur of the moment we changed our plans and came here. The museum was great – another argument in favour of serendipity and the influence of reading.

A quick Google search told me that the Pocomoto books are still available but I don’t plan to re-read them. The memory was enough. It gave us an unexpected treat so I’ll leave it at that.

Michael

Tell Us A Story

Saturday 2nd June found us in Indiana at a town called Decatur. This is a trip which involves a lot of long drives and we are using some of the time to talk about the future of Crimson Cats and how we might develop further. We came across a lovely quote recently:

“There is a great deal of solemn discussion about The Novel. In fact every novel is an answer to the ancient plea ‘Tell us a story’

Last Friday evening in the company of Jennifer, Amy and Beth of Jane Austen Books in Ohio we talked a lot about stories and their power to entertain, inform, amuse and inspire people. Stories are wonderful whether they are being told round a camp fire, printed in books, listened to on radio, CD or the internet.

Long straight road

Long straight road

As we travelled the long straight roads of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois we talked about the greater flexibility of providing audio books as downloads. With a CD we need to provide around 70-80 minutes of material to fill the physical CD but downloads have no such restriction. Maybe it is time to launch Crimson Cats Short Stories – classic stories, contemporary stories, stories by new writers who cannot reach a wider audience any other way, stories at whatever length they need to be.

 

We were reminded that it’s possible to tell a story in a very few words by some pieces of verse painted on the walls of a wonderful restaurant in Decatur, Indiana called Back 40 Station which has a railroad theme. One of our favourite verses was:

Approach a crossing without looking,
Who will eat his widow’s cooking?

Stories don’t come much shorter than that.

Michael

The Washing Cats

But all cats wash, I hear you say. True but I cheated. The title should have read “The Washington Cats” but that didn’t look as good.

Sunday 27th May. Washington is a very interesting city, though extremely hot and humid at the moment. tomorrow is, apparently, Memorial Day and great parades are planned. If we have seen one Harley Davidson motor cycle today, we must seen a thousand and I am not exaggerating. Riders from all over America, many of them Vietnam Vets, are pouring into the capital. We leave Washington tomorrow heading for Philadelphia and so the great drive begins. Cats on the move.

Tuesday 29th May. Philadelphia was great, just as we remembered it from 18 months ago. Lovely evening with friends in the publishing world and some of their friends. Now comes the great challenge – how to find our way out of Philly without getting lost. Managed it on the second attempt. Result.

Friday 1st June. We had a lovely few days with Nancy in Lewisberg, PA. Nancy writes books on Mrs. Gaskell and was very welcoming even though we don’t have any Gaskell books in the Crimson Cats List – at least not yet. (http://nancyweyant.com) She has also written about Marjorie Kinnon Rawlings and has a book of her letters, many of them written to that great publisher’s editor, Maxwell Perkins of Charles Scribner. If you don’t know Max Perkins, look him up. He is a shining light to all those of us who would call ourselves script editors. A few days talking about books and writing with new friends who love the same things. Wonderful – and a visit to the Civil War museum in Harrisberg as well.

We left there this morning and 300 miles later we are now in Ohio and have had a great evening with Jennifer, Amy and Beth of the Jane Austen bookshop. (http://www.janeaustenbooks.net) More of that anon.

A Crimson Cats Sandwich

The Beautifull Cassandra

The Beautifull Cassandra

With or without Mayo, I hear you ask? No, nothing like that and Holly (our cat) can relax.

We went to Canterbury last night to give the Jane Austen show to a group of 22 Australians over here on a literary tour of England. (I think we were sandwiched in between Dickens and Kipling). They were a lovely audience, clearly out to enjoy every moment of their trip.

We were joined by the wonderful Teresa Gallagher who reads “The Beautifull Cassandra”, our audio book of some of the Jane Austen Juvenilia, and last night read the extracts live to this group who were delighted. It is so good to perform to such enthusiasm. By the way, to get my defence in first, the spelling of “Beautifull” with a double “ll” is deliberate as that is the way Jane Austen herself spelled it. Okay?

Crimson Cats On Stage

The Crimson Cats Pair

The Crimson Cats Pair

Well, we did 2 great shows at the Fisher Theatre in Bungay, Suffolk yesterday. The audiences were small but very appreciative and it always helps the energy when you can sense that people are enjoying themselves. The cat masks were a good idea and a lot of fun but it’s not terribly easy to read the script when you are wearing them. Never mind, it was a good occasion.

Off to Canterbury tomorrow to perform the Jane Austen show to a group of travelling Australians. At least we won’t need the cat masks for that one.

Michael

Crimson Cats Joins the Summer of Sport

With a summer of sport nearly upon us Crimson Cats has added 2 new titles to its range of Sporting Legends audio.

Kitty and Fred

Kitty and Fred

Kitty and Fred (CC019) contains interviews with 2 Wimbledon tennis champions from between the wars. Kitty Godfree was twice Wimbledon champion in the 1920s and Fred Perry was 3 times Wimbledon champion in the 1930s. They talk to Paddy Feeny about the memories of their tennis playing days. The 50 minute audio is £5.99

 

Farewell Leicester Square

Farewell Leicester Square

Farewell Leicester Square (CC020) is the story of World Championship Snooker from 1927 to 1977. Paddy Feeny talks to Fred Davis, Bruce Donkin, Clive Everton, Ted Lowe, John Spencer and Rex Williams about the increasing popularity of the game and its first real home at the Leicester Square Hall. The 54 minute audio is £5.99

 

Both titles are available as MP3 downloads from the Crimson Cats web site. And don’t forget we already have interviews with other Sporting Legends:

  • Cliff Morgan
  • Mary Peters
  • Stirling Moss
  • Ted Dexter
  • Tom Finney
  • Walter Winterbottom

Click on this link for full details: http://www.crimsoncats.co.uk/18-sporting-legends-dl

 

Crimson Cats In Action

If you live  in – or are within easy reach – of East Anglia then don’t miss the Crimson Cats in action. We’re doing 2 shows at the Fisher Theatre in Bungay on Saturday 19th May. You have a choice of “HOW TO OWN A HUMAN & OTHER TALES” a lively lunchtime show at 1.15 pm which lasts around 45 minutes. Or “WHY DID YOU CALL IT CRIMSON CATS?” an entertaining evening show at 7.30 pm which runs for around 90 minutes. Tickets available from the Fisher Box Office on 01986 897130.

Come and laugh with (or at) Mike and Dee as they perform extracts from some of the Crimson Cats audio books and share a few secrets about how they are made.

A Purr-fect show so don’t Paws – just book it.