My love of stories started when I was young, living in the bush. My mum would read aloud to us, or tell us stories, then encourage us to write and draw. Once I became a proficient reader, I would read Enid Blyton to my brothers – that was about all we had access to. Of course, it was the 70s and we didn’t have television, so it was our form of entertainment. We had a small radio that could pick up BBC radio on a good day and if we were lucky there would be serial readings of a book or play. Watership Down is one that has stayed with me.
Storytelling is an ancient art form. Listening to a story is very different than reading it in your head because the reader will choose what to emphasise, adding light and shade to what might already have light and shade. The sound of the storytellers voice will also add rhythm and lyricism to a story.
Oral stories have been passed down the generations, especially in cultures that do not rely on the written word to record their history, and for many people with low literacy levels, these stories are what binds them to their community. Certainly in a western culture before printed books were the norm, stories were told around the fire connecting us to each other while imparting wisdom to our young.
Years ago when I worked in the library system, we organised for an oral storyteller to appear at a library, offered comfy chairs, wine and crackers and a warm fire. The event was booked out (I like to think it wasn’t because of the wine) and the attendees loved it. They were engaged – laughing, sniffling and cheering along – with the stories. The storyteller was so engaging and she brought fairy tales, fables and contemporary stories to life. It felt like the whole room was part of it, as if she was talking to each of us, making the event feel intimate and indulgent.
Maybe that’s the key? To be made to feel intimate with another person, to feel indulged to be able to sit back and absorb the story without having to work for it? It’s not something that I really want to figure out or analyse (there is most likely a thesis written on the topic somewhere), rather to seek out the pleasure of it and share it with other humans.
Busybird Publishing has been running a monthly open mic night for a few years now. Writers, poets, lyricists come to share their work. And it is a pleasure. It’s a pleasure to hear their work and a pleasure to see them enjoy themselves as they offer their stories to the audience. It’s also an automatic payoff that as people get in front of an audience more, their work improves as does their oral presentation. I encourage anyone who is writing in any form to seek out live readings, such as our open mic night (or check out these guys http://www.storytellingvic.org.au) and see where it takes them.