The Art of Storytelling

I’m beginning to realise that this blog is some sort of curious insight into the twisted and jumpy thoughts that connect up my interests in language; a little like Daves’ curious links on the Chris Moyles show, so please bear with me…I have a point, I’m certain.
[edit: I think my knackered mind last night meant stream of conciousness…now more awake!]

This week, my thoughts have mostly been on the stories we are told throughout out lives, and how humans have depended on storytelling since, well I’m imagining since language was first formed and developed. Our lives are constantly surrounded by tales, of so many different kinds yet they help to shape our understanding of new and known thoughts, ideas and people.

Obviously the written word is a huge part of storytelling. I’m particularly drawn to literary fiction because of the exploration of language, form and style that literary prose, poetry and everything in between can take. However, I believe that the tradition of storytelling has it’s feet firmly planted in the performance of the stories told.

From tomorrow, the first London Storytelling Festival will be kicking off; started by a storytelling workshop with Martin Dockery and ending with the Gala Night on Monday 10th October. A quote from their website sums up the reasoning behind this new venture perfectly

If you’ve ever been swept up in the moment in the darkness by a campfire or had your mind blown at a candlelit dinner table – you know what we’re talking about.

The beauty within a crowd, or even a friend or child, when they are involved with a story so much that they are being delicately wrapped within the silk that any well told story can spin is one to behold. If you can, get yourself to this festival as the events are selling out fast…talking of which, I must book myself in too!

Other forms of performed storytelling have begun to interest me too. Folk music is not something I ever thought I would add to my eclectic musical loves, I’m a 70’s rock girl at heart – blame my father, yet it has wheedled it’s way into my heart by modern folk singer/songwriters like Seth Lakeman and Kate Rusby. The way they explore both old myth, legend and truths as well as modern occurrences, allows the listener to be enraptured by the tales they tell. For me, this particular happens with the songs which are written from the first person; someone, real or imagined, within the events.

Another singer/songwriter has crashed his way into my CD collection, even into the list of music that inspires me. Ed Sheeran launched his debut last month, and since then it’s been on repeat for me. Small Bump has most definitely caught my attention. It reads like a sonnet, well almost. Like a sung, slightly repetitive, sonnet which doesn’t follow any of the other sonnet “rules” apart from, resolution in the last two lines. I may have studies literature, but I’m far too practised at following the rules which is why this has jumped out at me! The song begins like a present, a hope for an unborn child from a new parent. Knowing Sheeran’s age only makes your further appreciate the nativity and genuine nativity that this song holds, be it from own experience or imagined; I’m not one to believe that writers shouldn’t stretch beyond what they know – that’s the whole point of imagination and, at times, research. The song then develops a whole new meaning within the last two lines, beautifully simple yet strikes exactly where the mark is – you didn’t see it coming:

‘Cos you were just a small bump unborn for four months, then torn from life

Maybe you were needed up there but we’re still unaware as why.

Please go and listen to it, be it on youtube or his own site. Believe me, worth the wait for the twist in the tale.

The line within it which has truly inspired me though is

And I’ll hold you tightly and tell you nothing but truth
If you’re not inside me, I’ll put my future in you

Although I realise it is not about storytelling, although it is reminiscent of the way in which parents “storytell” the early parts of a forming life to a child later in their years, these lines made me connect to something which was written in the Guardian last weekend.

And yet through it all we struggle on, and every now and again our lives are illuminated by shafts of brilliance and beauty.

This is the stuff of novels. Everyone deserves to be the hero of a novel. What matters is not the class or location of the characters, but the degree of insight into the human condition. What matters is truth.

The way in which we as writers have a need, or perhaps a calling to provide truths which reach out to ourselves, or our audiences, by presenting the hard facts from within the heart of story – be them imagined or real life. The past, present and future of literature is in our, as readers/listeners/audiences/writers, need for understanding through language.

How language is developed has always been a big interest for me but before I leave greater detail on that for another day, I must briefly make you aware of a great new documentary series, Fry’s Planet Word on BBC 2 which has the ridiculously talented Stephen Fry searching the globe to uncover the origins of language; interesting, engaging and not to miss! I will follow up soon, with more on language….promises.

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