Last week I went to an adult (no, not that sort of adult!) storytelling event at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Birmingham. The place was bursting at the seams with people of all ages keen to enjoy an evening of live entertainment. It was all very informal with the tellers (if that’s the right word) taking it in turns to stand up and spin their yarns. Every story was unique and every teller extremely polished, whilst still retaining a freshness and friendliness within their performance. We heard stories of stealing from corpses, mind-reading and chopping the feet off a dead body. Without microphones, props or costumes we were transported to other worlds by the power of the teller’s language and a few dramatic gestures.
Storytelling is a traditional art that is making comeback. I first heard about it through a friend of mine, Sophie Snell, who is a professional storyteller. She tells her tales at a whole range of events and venues as well as going into schools to work with children. Sophie gave up her career as a management consultant when her children came along and, after attending a storytelling event, decided that storytelling was what she wanted to do. She started attending training sessions and workshops and the rest, as they say, is history.
If you fancy going along to an event in the Midlands have a look at the Traditional Arts Team website.
What struck me about the storytellers was their precise use of language which enabled the listeners to immediately conjure up a wonderful accurate image. Words like nice, quite and sort of were conspicuous by their absence. Storytellers have to grab the attention of an audience and hold it for 10 or 15 minutes. If a listener’s mind drifts for just a few seconds he loses his place in the story and can’t re-read the page as he might in a book.
As a writer I already read aloud my finished pieces and this enables me to spot any clumsy language or word repetition. I wonder if standing in front of the mirror and telling my story to a pretend audience might help me conjure up more colourful imagery as well as pick up on any dull bits in the narrative where the reader is likely to get bored and switch off.
I think I might try it – when the house is empty!