Just Tell Me

One of the pleasures of running a story-group is in the sheer originality of the approaches which the members bring to the offering of stories. I’m an enthusiast for home-grown diversity and rarely does a meeting go by without someone providing a new and sometimes experimental “take” on story-telling. Out of such variety does the future of story-telling grow.

Recently John gave us an unusual experience – his “story” was an escorted excursion round a landscape familiar to me, Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. It started as a topographical meander through the park as though we were accompanying him on a shared walk, and then branched out into historical interludes about the various historical events which have distinguished the park over the last 600 years, like the imprisonment of Lady Jane Grey. In between were moments of simple nature poetry which at the same time seem to suggest imagistic connections with the events and the whole story ended, like many a good Sunday stroll, where it began. It was fascinating and charming and repaid close attention, and what struck me about it was how it evaded the usual categories of story whilst still offering its own particular satisfactions.

What I concluded was that John had not been telling a story – he’s been offering a “telling”. In my mind then a telling was not a full-on recounting of a narrative structured classically to maximize drama and impact but a kind of sharing enacted in real time, or in the virtual time of a walk. It was episodic and often shifted perspective but we never felt, as listeners and audience, that we were being lost or left behind. John’s telling was underpinned by a feeling and a poetry. A telling is fundamentally poetic

As it happened earlier in the session I had invited all present to recount a “memorable homecoming” from their own experience and Max had shared, as part of this, the time she had experienced a deeply accident-prone return-to-base in the Far East. There were enough agonies in the account to shiver the timbers but the only point-of-reference to classical story, as with the others’ contributions, was the ending. It came home, and safely and generally well. Otherwise it was a “me” story, the very basic unit of story-sharing, and again an example of a telling. Both Max and John in very different ways were saying, – Join me on this journey.

There’s something very engaging about a telling. Sometimes with full-on performance story-telling the audience can feel quite assailed by the experience and challenged to keep up with the complications and intricacies of the sustained narrative. Outright virtuosity can sometimes be exhausting. A telling, apparently by contrast, invites and gentles us along but, if offered with the ingenuity of a John or the pained recall of a Max, is equally satisfying and more inclusive. We join the teller in their experience rather than witnessing a performance. Both approaches are valid, of course, in the growing realm of story-telling in the U.K. today but just as watercolours are as much loved as heavily-worked oil-paintings so I think we should cherish the democratic and unforced pleasures of a good telling, as well as the high drama of a big “story”.

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I write a lot in many media on many subjects

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