Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ In praise of the personal tale

P1080273A tale that I told my brother this Monday was of an occasion a few summers ago when Paul and I were climbing back up from Pwll Strodyr to the lane. With us were our friend Eddie, who’d been down at the beach for his regular swim, and also his dogs and his cat, all of whom used regularly to accompany him there. 

On this occasion as often, the field was full of cows. Before we reached the part of the field where the cows were grazing, Eddie stopped and told us to stop as well. ‘Now watch this,’ he said. What we then saw was amazing. As Eddie explained how his cat hated cows, his two dogs ran ahead through the herd, creating an open pathway between them. As soon as the open path appeared, the cat, who’d meantime been sitting on its haunches in front of us, suddenly took off.  Whoosh! Like a bolt of lightning, she ran straight through the channel the dogs had created to the safety of the gate.

Wow! We were full of admiration and I remain full of admiration whenever I remember the incident. And whenever I recount it to someone else, they are always impressed. On Wednesday, same thing when I told it to my brother. So of course it’s one of the stories I love telling and I know Eddie doesn’t mind because Eddie loves telling stories too. In fact, he is a treasure house of tales and, not surprisingly, his grandchildren love him for it.

The result of all this was that yesterday I set my mind to thinking more generally about what can make personal stories work.

What makes personal stories worth telling:

First, it has to be a good story – and you discover if it is a good tale in several different ways. One is by valuing it yourself. A second is by telling it to others and observing what effect it has. A third is by becoming conscious what sorts of stories should remain private, what stories can be freely shared.

But that’s not all. You also have to have a receptive audience and part of finding a receptive audience involves realising when is a good place and a good time for telling your story. Here in Wales is generally P1040735a brilliant place – the telling and listening of tales of personal experience is a normal part of the culture. People allow time for talk, banter and exchange.

Finding a receptive audience also involves taking the time to put the story across as effectively as you can. You don’t have to feel self-conscious about this. It adds value to the story to realise that your listener might enjoy it too. And that helps you not to rush over the story too quickly but to give it proper time and emphasis.

I’ve always loved personal tales. I grew up with them. But I also came to value them greatly through my workshop work as a storyteller. I could see the confidence gained by someone who realises that a story they’ve told has been appreciated. The experience gives us personal value as a human being. And I’ve found this to be as important and effective with children as with adults. I’ll never forget the young boy who came up to me after a storytelling I’d done where, following the story, I gave the children the chance to exchange with each other little stories from their own lives.  The theme of the session was animals and, as they left when the session was ended, this little boy looked very serious as he came over to me, leaned towards me and simply said, ‘My rabbit died.’

PS: My two photos this week are, first, of course, foxgloves and second, that little Pembrokeshire cove, Pwll Strodyr.

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