Saturday, September 15, 2012

In which I am Unchained...

I am typing this on an old blue school-bus. There are eleven people on the bus, including me. Two of them are asleep. There are two musicians, a sound man, a PR-wrangler, a driver, a videographer, and six storytellers. We are a motley and disreputable bunch, a diverse mixture of genders and skin-colours, sizes, ages and body-shapes.

I am one of the storytellers.

The outside of the bus is hand-painted with scenes from stories.

Two of the storytellers in the bus have scenes from stories they have told painted on the outside of the bus. They are Edgar Oliver, and George Dawes Green. George's story picture shows him listening to stories as a boy, while the moths flutter into the porchlight. When George grew up he founded the storytelling movement/institution/ organisation called The Moth. This bus, and the tour, is George's idea too.

 Edgar Oliver's story shows Edgar and his mother and sister, and painted next to it, the opening of one of Edgar's stories about Savannah, and his childhood. Edgar is from Savannah, and he lives in New York, but his accent is unlike anyone else's, probably in the world: it is musical and it is theatrical and it is unplaceable, vowel sounds that are English or Eastern European.

The bus is a storytelling bus. Every day – sometimes twice in a day – the bus will come to rest and we will tell our stories.

I am here because George asked me to come, and it seemed like an interesting way to spend nine days of my life.

Last night I told a story about chains: about my dog, who spent the first three years of his life on four foot of chain, and about the chains that bind us, and about love, which, only after I told it, I realised was peculiarly appropriate, given the name of the tour. It's called Unchained.

I was really nervous: one reason I was nervous was that I hadn't told the story before, or even rehearsed it. (The rehearsing time had been eaten because the bus had blown a tyre on its way to Columbia, where I was connecting with it.) But once I started telling the story, it seemed to work. People listened.

I haven't done anything to promote that I'm on the tour so far, mostly because I didn't want to change the nature of the tour or the audiences too much by being here. It's not a Neil Gaiman show or a Neil Gaiman tour: it's the Unchained tour, and I'm just one of the storytellers, and that is the way I like it and was the reason I agreed to come out.

The tour has pretty much sold out without me saying anything. Right now there are only two venues with any real tickets left for sale (Charlotte SC and Charleston NC) and a couple of venues with a handful of tickets left. is the website with the venues on it.

(It may say Over 18 Only on the website, but they are fine with under 18s turning up - they just wanted to make it clear that this wasn't an event for kids.)

I am typing this as we chug down the freeway from Columbia to Spartanburg. I'm happy: there are nice people around, and a table in the bus I can type at. I have lots of things to write, and it's always good to write with people around you, all of them working on their own projects, or reading, or talking. There's a No Internet on The Bus rule too, which I may break in a moment, and put this up. Or I may enjoy the No Internet rule, and wait until we get to where we are going, and find a coffee-shop instead.

There is no air-conditioning. Instead we are driving through a hot day with the windows of the bus rolled down, and we are cool, and there is a breeze, and tonight we will sit in a room in Spartanburg (“It's called Sparkle City,” said someone this morning, "and Hub City".) and we will tell true stories about our lives, of our childhoods or our longings and desires, our fears, and there will be music, and we will feel human.

Someone came back to the Green Room last night after the show and handed me some comics he had written. “These are for you,” he said. “Because stories... I guess, stories are the nearest thing I have to a religion.”

“Me too,” I said. “Me too.”

If you are in the area, come on down to the shows, if they are not already sold out. Last night's was very sold out. Someone Twittered this photograph of a sign at the front of the line to get in. 

I promise you nothing except stories.

(This is me not working yet while Jose, who is driving the bus, does something that makes the bus go.)

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