Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Further thoughts on reading

Last week’s  theme on reading continued popping up this week and in several different ways.  First came a comment on last week’s blog from storyteller Janet Dowling in which she said she often gets asked to do readings. And it seems the reason people ask her is because she’s a storyteller. When you come to think about it, perhaps that’s not surprising. Bill yourself as a storyteller and people can be fairly confident about several important points. First is that you’re used to speaking to an audience. Second is that you probably have a voice that is used to speaking with expression. Not everyone who gets to read aloud has that!

Second this week, I noticed a contribution on reading in the regular blog put out by the London Review of Books (a fortnightly journal of which I’m an avid reader). The blog piece from Gill Hartington was evidently prompted by a visit she made to The Hague’s Museum Meermanno, ‘the House of the Book’. In the museum was an exhibition which makes use of screens, moving images, sound and all kinds of other data to explore and examine the act of reading. According to Gill Partington, The Art of Reading: From William Kentridge to Wikipedia is not so much an exhibition of contemporary book artists as an attempt to use their work to ask what reading is. ‘What does it mean to see written marks and transform them into meaning, or into speech? Does reading take place in the mind, the eye, the body, or in the digital devices on which we increasingly rely?’

The same question could be asked of storytelling. Where do we understand a story? We know that stories create images in the mind. We know we feel stories in the body. We also know we can experience a story in different ways.  A storytelling can be live, happening right there in front of you. It can be recorded on tape or CD. It can be stored in memory, revisiting you in the storyteller’s voice whenever you want.

A third experience this week which made me think about reading came about when I took the opportunity to catch up with a short film to which there was a link on a recent Society for Storytelling webletter. The film had been made by storyteller Giles Abbott with a lot of input from others and if you’d like to take a look, here’s the link. What you’ll see is a rather strange mixture that starts off with realistic video of three young people walking along a road. The oldest boy is obviously bad news. Angry, rude and impatient, he is probably up to no good. According to the younger boy, he is always seeking revenge. When the three get to the launderette to which they were headed, they continue to argue until, eventually, a man appears as if out of nowhere. Even as he comes forward, he is starting a story:  ‘There was once a king …’ But as the storyteller’s voice continues – and of course he is Giles Abbott – the storyteller is no longer seen. What is seen instead is the story in the form of an animated film. The animation is simple, artful and beautiful and it ends as the very selfish king gets the comeuppance he deserves.

So there we are. The interplay between stories told by word of mouth and those told in other ways continues all around us and through many different media. ‘And then Santa will come!’ said a little girl to her mother today as, holding her mother’s hand, she danced along the street outside Tales on Moon Lane, the children’s bookshop in Herne Hill in South London. And yes, that’s a whole other story.

PS: Photos this week are of two of many lovely stars that were made some years ago by children who came to a storytelling event I was doing at the National Observatory in Greenwich. Of course, I can’t throw them away. Stars are precious, I hope these will get you into the right mood for Christmas and get you out of worrying about shopping.

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