The Spark explores the delights of storytelling
There’s something magical about being told a story. A gifted storyteller can be transport you to other worlds both wildly different and deliciously similar to your own. Storytelling is part of an oral tradition passed down through the generations, from lips to ears throughout history, changing as each teller leaves out or creates their own new details. We do it every day as we pass on urban myths, anecdotes and funny stories to our friends. A good story-teller learns stories image by image, retells them from the heart in gatherings, adapting their words to suit their audiences.
Last August bank holiday weekend I took Junior, then eleven, to attend the West Country Storytelling Festival in the grounds of the Steiner school in Dartington, itself a fairytale place with gardens, hidden paths and rope swings. We camped among a small throng of friendly people, sat comfortably beside the large communal fire, and then the stories began...
Some tales were adapted for different ages or times of the day but grown-ups loved them just as much as children. For me there was a nostalgia, a cosiness, and a safety about concentrating on the storyteller, focusing on them to show me the characters, take me through a journey, like being a child again myself. "The difference between being read to and being told a story is relatedness," Chris Salisbury, organiser of the festival told me. "A relationship develops when you exchange eye contact, and the story is created in the moment – it's behind the story-teller's eyes and between the listener's ears."
The stories we heard relayed wishes, longings and concerns that exist in us all. "Stories help you make sense of the world," Chris said. "They are full of metaphor and warnings – they address fears and give reassurances." Last summer Junior finished primary school and the festival was the weekend before he started 'big school'. Many of the stories I heard were about rites of passage; girls and boys undertaking journeys to reach adulthood, they seemed to chime with our experience. Chris said "Yes, stories can be used at times of change, to interpret it and guide you through transitions. These days there's a lack of that, young people understand the concepts in stories and can use them as reference points."
And where do the stories come from? "They're from all around the world. Lately there's been an upsurge of interest and people are archiving the spoken stories. Sometimes they look terrible on the page but when they are spoken you find patterns and themes, whether they're silly and frivolous, dark and deep or piercingly truthful, they have soul and depth." And, no, not every story has a happy ending – some I heard late at night huddled around the fire in the dark, some from the Orient or Scandinavia, were particularly dark or macabre and when they'd ended the audience were left quiet and thoughtful.
The last night ceremony of walking a fire labyrinth to the sound of Celtic pipes and whistles was spine-tingling. Matt Harvey, poet and MC, was so good that my son was reading his poetry by torchlight in our tent voluntarily. So thanks Matt. Chris Salisbury (whose alter-ego 'Spindle Wayfarer' is a story-teller who sits by the fire after dark with his cloak and staff and engages young and old in his tales) has the last word: "Stories bring meaningfulness to the world and I delight in them. The festival gives me a chance to share this delight."
West Country Storytelling Festival www.weststoryfest.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
Beyond The Border - Wales International Festivalof Storytelling www.beyondtheborder.com
The Society for Storytelling has a pretty comprehensive website which is a great place to start if you’d like to find out more about the art of storytelling: www.sfs.org
If you’re ready to have a go straightaway, storytelling clubs seem to be popping up all over the place – follow the ‘storytelling clubs’ link on the SfS website for something local to you, including Bath, Bristol, Glastonbury and Totnes.
First published issue 41 (Summer 2005)
Written by Beccy Golding
Disclaimer – details were correct at time of going to press, but may now have changed. Please make your own checks.
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