The Art Of Storytelling
In life, as in dreams, things often come in threes. For me, the recurring theme, which has presented itself thrice, is storytelling.
Last Friday I attended my first ever, ProBlogger Conference, which was way out of my comfort zone. As a natural introvert, sometimes large gatherings scare me, but as it turns out nearly everyone else there, including the presenters, were fellow introverts. Who would have thought it!
Many bloggers find cyberspace the perfect forum to write in their own voice, and tell their unique stories. But, according to some, the halcyon days of the personal blogger are gone – much of the ‘storytelling’ credibility has been lost due to the ‘sponsored post’ and the relentless monetisation of such blogs. Of course, not everyone agrees with this point of view, and much healthy debate has ensued.
I was struck with the idea of storytelling, how important it is to the human psyche, and how it can continue in this digital age. Oral storytelling has continued to survive throughout the millennia, and almost everyone likes to be ‘told’ a story. While Western civilisation has moved away from yarning around a fire circle, what child does not delight in a bedtime story?
My mother told me that, growing up in Liepāja (the third largest city in Latvia) in the 1930s, she loved to visit her grandmother’s farm in the country every summer. In the evenings, everyone gathered together in a central location to listen to the old people tell their stories (including some very tall tales).
This was their way of passing their knowledge and wisdom on to the younger generation. Ghost stories were always a favourite with my mother – it didn’t matter how scared she got, she always returned the next night eager to hear more.
Photo courtesy http://www.grenzecho.net
I am reading a book called Distant Marvels by Chantel Acevedo, which is set in Cuba, and discovered the profession of El Lector (masculine) or El Lectora (feminine). My knowledge of any of the Romance languages is virtually non-existent but thanks to learning about Latin roots in primary school, even I can work out that this means ‘the reader’. The main character, María Sirena, was an El Lectora in her youth and used to sit on a high stool on a platform above rows of men, and her job was to read to them, while they rolled Cuban cigars.
Shakespeare, Dumas, Cervantes, and adventure stories such as Moby Dick formed María Sirena’s repertoire. And every once in a while, she took the liberty of telling her own stories, which she had committed to memory. María Sirena made a pretense of announcing her work as that of a new novelist, and ostentatiously made a show of turning the pages, but the men were none the wiser, and enjoyed the stories as much as those of the literary greats. In my workplace, you can tell those who belong to Gen Y, not only by their youthful visages, but by their ubiquitous earbuds which link them to their inner world, and discourage interaction.
And this brings us back to blogging, and how it really is the perfect way to embed stories in the everyday. Take this post from Epicurean Eva, which not only shows us a new way to make raisin bread – a perennial favourite with almost everyone – but allows us to share a family story and introduces the glamourous Bronya (in the role of magical fairy godmother) into our world. I don’t know about you, but in lieu of my workplace hiring an El Lector or El Lectora anytime soon, I’ll continue to receive my storytelling fixes online.
On Monday evening (17 August), I hot-footed it down to Avid Reader to hear the work of three emerging authors and the internationally acclaimed and best-selling author, Kate Forsyth. The intertwining theme was the reinterpretation of fairy-tales. Kudos must be given to the three young authors, who not only have put their written work out for public scrutiny, but also undertook the challenging task of reading aloud to an audience.
Kate Forsyth is an accomplished storyteller and didn’t disappoint the audience. She dressed for the part, and wore a shiny black satiny dress, which edged towards the Gothic but its darkness was relieved by trimmings in a fine claret wine hue, and matching ruby ring. Kate even bought her talisman box – containing a magic white feather and other trinkets which are prompts to a seemingly endless collection of tales.
We were treated to her rendition of The Singing Spinning Lark, an old German tale, which forms the basis of the well-known fairy-tale, Beauty and The Beast.
Kate was traumatised early in life when she was mauled by a savage dog, which resulted in a damaged tear duct and numerous stays in the clinical, sterile, and often cold and unwelcoming environment of hospitals. Fairy-tales, in particular those written by the Grimm Brothers, not only gave her solace but provided a glimpse into a new and golden world, which she parlayed into a career.
Kate really knows her stuff – she has a doctorate in fairy-tale retellings and the novels that have come out of this fascination include the winner of the 2015 American Libraries Association Prize for Historical Fiction, Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl. Her books have been published in fourteen different countries, including Japan, Poland, Spain, Russia and Turkey.
The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of the Grimms’ Beauty and The Beast, set in Nazi Germany, is her latest novel.
Lord Byron and Brigitte Bardot
I asked Lord Byron (aka A, the romantic-looking young bookseller from Avid Reader), “Do you like The Drums?” “Yes,” he said, “I love that sort of surf-inspired music.”
External appearances can be deceiving and song writing – a form of storytelling in its own right – can be one of easiest ways to find a kindred spirit. I showed Lord Byron the links to Let’s Go Surfing on my blog and the sublime black and white photos of The Drums taken by Hedi Slimane. “Jonny’s such a star, isn’t he?”
Lord Bryon looked at me rather quizzically when he saw a photo of Brigitte Bardot on the same page. “That’s me,” I said, “or rather my idealised vision of myself when I’m listening to Let’s Go Surfing”.
“Fair enough”, he said. “You should listen to ‘Girls'”. And, so I did.
…”We only write about two feelings: one is the first day of summer when you and all of your friends are standing on the edge of a cliff watching the sun set and being overcome with all of your hopes and dreams at once. The other is when you’re walking alone in the rain and realise you will be alone forever.” – Jonathan Pierce.
Storytelling is a recurring theme because “we tell ourselves stories in order to live” – Joan Didion.