Don't Tell Stories

Rachel Newsome invites you to indulge in a unique and subversive celebration of the spoken word at The Book Club Boutique

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Next week, The Book Club Boutique hosts an event by a mysterious cabal of literary subversives who go under the curiously contradictory name of Don't Tell Stories. Based upon Dash Snow's immersive concept of 'the nest', the event will transform the space into a magical temporary autonomous space and include specially created music by Andrew Weatherall and spooky spoken-word performances by ex-Dazed editor Rachel Newsome. Newsome will be reading extracts from her transgressive debut novel As It Was In The Beginning, so we figured it would be a good idea to find out why she's devoting so much of her time and energy to telling tall stories...

Dazed Digital: How did it all come about?
Rachel Newsome:
 I spent a gypsy-ish summer going round festivals as part Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis’s travelling art circus The House of Fairy Tales. The idea was to create these magical immersive spaces, which allow people to liberate their imaginations in wonderfully sincere, beautiful and anarchic ways.

DD: Do you think we are losing the art of storytelling in the digital age?
RN:
 Storytelling doesn’t die but it does evolve. In fact, I have just finished a piece of work which involved writing a poem in response to a set of photographs by Maitland Mason, who is also the art director of Don’t Tell Stories for an exhibition called Exquisite Trove at The New Art Gallery in Walsall. Except we are not displaying the artwork. Instead, we made a business card with the words TEXT ME and a phone number. Curious visitors can text the number and receive a series of messages containing Maitland’s haunting images alongside fragments of the poem on their mobile phone. In turn, we have started receiving a number of poetic responses from mystery gallery visitors, so the storytelling has evolved into a dialogue and developed a life of its own.

DD: What do you think is important about storytelling as performance?
RN:
 The performance is about creating an art-directed theatrical space where people can momentarily lose themselves in another world. The last event was in a wood-panelled Victorian chapel and had this very sacramental feel to it. At the forthcoming event at The Book Club, we will be creating a “nest” environment inspired by Dash Snow. In addition, Andrew Weatherall has produced a specially commissioned set in direct response to the stories with the aim of creating a womb-like experience. It will be very dark and atmospheric and will feature soundtracks from 50s horror movies and arcane folk alongside samples of flies eating the flesh of rotting carcasses. Above all, Don’t Tell Stories is a creative act of generosity. It is about collaborating, giving and sharing in order that the words might take on a life of their own.

DD: Do you write the stories performed or read from published literary works?
RN:
 All the stories are taken from the novel I have just finished writing – As It Was In The Beginning. It wasn’t originally intended for performance but there are certain set scenes which work as stand alone pieces. They are all heightened moments in the novel – a fever, a wild night out dancing, dark and disturbing sex – while the prose is intended to be quite mesmeric and dream-like. As it grows, the idea is to invite other performers to enter the space and read – be it stories by Edgar Allen Poe or Angela Carter or poems by Rimbaud. However, Don’t Tell Stories isn’t about writers doing readings to promote their own work. The storytelling always, always comes first.

DD: Do you think stories and fairytales tap into our subconscious?
RN:
 The story is a magical vessel or perhaps a poisoned chalice. And what’s powerful about them is that while our response to them is individual, they take shape and come alive in our collective conscious, having pre-existed in the collective sub-conscious all along. It’s a universal language. And it doesn’t just belong to literature but to music, film, performance and art, too. The heroine of my novel, Annie, is an artist but I’m rather taken with the idea that all artists are modern day saints. I decided to push that to its extreme by allowing her to have dreams, see visions and hear voices. And so she became this mythical hysterical artist-saint constructed from Joan of Arc, St Theresa of Aquila, Judith, Salome, Hollywood femme fatales and even contemporary artists like Nan Goldin and Tracey Emin. The context might shift but the archetype, or song if you are a Led Zeppelin fan, remains the same.

DD: What have you learned in the process of this undertaking?
RN:
 Yesterday I went to a paper-recycling depot in Rainham, Essex, where much of London’s waste ends up, on a mission to get materials for the “nest”. We were surrounded by huge walls built from blocks of waste paper. They were all different textures and colours and quite beautiful. It was like being inside a giant Rachel Whiteread sculpture. And I learnt that a tonne of shredded paper don’t come for free. Which just goes to show that things on the margins, the waste, the foot notes, the unwanted, the stuff we throw away is, of course, the real gold.

Don't Tell Stories is on Monday, November 30 at The Book Club Boutique, Dick's Bar, 23 Romilly Street, Soho
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