Are You Sitting Comfortably?, Book Slam, Dr. Suess, Giraffe's Can't Dance, Green Eggs and Ham, Grit Lit, Liar's League, literacy, National Storytelling Week, Oh The Places You Will Go, Rattle Tales, reading, reading aloud, short stories, spoken word, Story Tails, Tiger Flower, Winnie The Pooh, Word Theatre
It’s National Storytelling Week. I know, I know, it’s always something or other week but I like this one, I am after all a storyteller, both verbally and on the page. Most of us start out in life being read to even if it’s only at school, if we are lucky our parents read to us at bedtime. It goes without saying that children who are read to show a greater interest in books than those who are not, there have been numerous studies confirming this over the years; take a look at the Reading Agency for evidence.
I don’t think you ever lose the memory of being read to as a child; even when we grow up it lays dormant within us. When I became a parent and started to read to my sons it stirred memories of my Dad reading Winnie the Pooh complete with silly voices,
‘Good Morning, Pooh Bear,’ said Eeyore gloomily. ‘If it is a good morning,’ he said. ‘Which I doubt,’ he said.”
The memory of it made me feel all warm and secure. There is nothing like watching the delight on a child’s face as the tale unfolds, the wide eyes of surprise when the under-dog triumphs or the squirming laughter when the baddie gets a pie in their face. When you are an adult you can also see the skill involved in the really great stories, the brilliance with which Dr Seuss suggests to children that you don’t have to do what everyone else does, that it’s a big world out there with lots of options (Green Eggs and Ham and Oh The Places You Will Go!), or when Giles Andraeas and Guy Parker Rees show us that actually Giraffes can dance even when everyone else thinks they can’t (for supreme story-telling check out the Hugh Laurie audio book of Giraffes Can’t Dance).
My mother recently gave me an old battered picture book she’d found at the back of a wardrobe, Tiger Flower, a riot of 1970s psychedelic colour and poetry my older sisters used to read to me. I had forgotten all about it but turning the pages I was immediately transported to a time of nylon sheets, cuddly Wombles and midnight feasts of bourbons and milk. I was amazed by the strength of this memory buried for so long and yet so instantly retrievable.
But stories aren’t just for children. Over the last few years I have become a storyteller. As part of Rattle Tales I have read stories to adults many times. I suppose we recreate the storytelling atmosphere of our youth (perhaps even further back to our tribal ancestors sitting around the campfire) our events take place in candlelit rooms that are invariably toasty warm, everyone sips a drink and listens quietly as they are told a story, they don’t know where they will go or who will take them but like children they give themselves up to the ride. All our nights have been sell-outs and people return again and again. It’s not just us there is probably a storytelling event in every major city, Liar’s League, Grit Lit, Book Slam, Story Tails, and Are You Sitting Comfortably? The list is endless and that’s just in the UK.
I have also been lucky enough to listen to my own stories being read by other more proficient readers. I have listened to my words being read by actors at Are You Sitting Comfortably?, Liars League and Word Theatre. It is a strange experience, I recognise the words but somehow it’s like someone else has written them. Sitting in an audience in which few people knew I was the author made me both acutely aware of every word and its success or failure and utterly thrilled by the laughs and gasps from those around me. The fact that an audience was listening rapt to my work gave me butterflies. Of course this happens when I am reading my work too, but then there is so much else to think about when someone else is reading it you just sit back and listen to the rhythm of the words. When one of my stories was read at Word Theatre at Latitude Festival the performance by the actors (Gethin Anthony and Diana Vickers) was so good that I actually forgot I’d written it, I just sat back on a cushion and listened, returning once again to the bedtime story of my childhood.
If you want to mark National Storytelling Week check out their website for details of events or look in the local press, I promise you won’t regret it. If you are a writer and fancy becoming a storyteller why not submit to Rattle Tales? The deadline is Friday for our show on Feb 20th at The Brunswick in Hove.
‘He who holds the rattle tells the story.’