My love of stories started for me when I was very young, hearing Nursery Rhymes and Folk and Fairy tales at home from my Dad and also at Infant school. At Infant school, we regularly sang nursery rhymes and also did folk dancing. I loved the story component and the mystery of what the Rhymes meant. The traditional folk and fairy tales that I heard, I loved even more. As the oldest of six children I told my siblings the folk and fairy stories that I heard and I sang them nursery rhymes. I carried this on with my own three children. My father would often take the opportunity, to tell us six children, local and traditional folk tales and ghost stories. As we became older, he also told us many real life stories. The TV would be turned off, we would sit around the living room fire and he would tell us stories. Those stories transported me to another place, another time. I would imagine these places, the people, it allowed me to create the images in my mind. When I was a little older, inspite of being very shy, I enjoyed Drama at Middle school and at Upper school. I was always very enthusiastic.
My Dad also told us true life stories of when he was a Lumberjack in Scotland and of his time in Lerwick, Shetland Islands, training as a young soldier in the Gordon Highlanders. There were also other stories of him out poaching in the woods, of the Suffolk countryside and stories of him working on a travelling fair. They were probably embroidered somewhat, as they should be. To me, then a young lad, these were wonderful places and stories, they were doorways into another world. My father told us about the Legend of the Saxon, King Edmund, who was shot to death with arrows, then beheaded by marauding Vikings and his severed head was guarded by a Wolf. The Legend is that his head is still buried in the Abbey Gardens, as a child I often wondered if I could find it. King Edmund went on to become Saint Edmund. My Dad told us stories of the ghost of the ‘Grey Lady’, who walked in the graveyard of St Marys and also in the Abbey gardens area. He along with his mates, would put on a sheet and walk the Abbey area at night, pretending to be ghosts. Many a time at night I kept an eye out for ‘The Grey Lady’, but alas, I did not see her. As an adolescent, I saw several of the monks tunnels, that linked the Abbey beyond the walls to the town, as my Dad was a builder and worked in several of the old building’s cellars. They always intrigued and scared me, what with all the stories of the monks escaping, from those wishing to kill them. As a result of growing up on the edge of the Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds, I spent a lot of time out in nature, in woods, copses and fields of wheat and corn. In my early working life I spent a lot of time in Suffolk villages and surrounding countryside.
As a child and young person, I had several connections with ‘settled’ Gypsy’s and travelling Gypsy’s. My immediate neighbour was a settled Gypsy, called Willie, who lived with his Nan, known as Nanna Cox, who appears via artistic license, in one of my Suffolk folk tales. Willie and I became good friends for several years, sometimes falling out, we were a similer age, I spent a lot of time with him and I had sleep over’s at his. When I was about twelve years of age I worked with two Gypsy’s, Whally the Woodman and his side kick Dave. We delivered sacks of logs to customers, sold off the back of his lorry. Whally was very kind and fun to be around, I can still remember the joy the first time he took me out to the woods, where a few of us processed and loaded bags of logs onto his lorry. There was no Health & Safety in those days. I left school aged just 15 with no qualifications, I didnt know then, that I was Dyslexic and probably also had ADHD. I then worked for a short spell on a Travelling Fair in Suffolk. I later worked in the building trade with another Gypsy, Tony, a huge man. He introduced me to riding a horse ‘bareback’. I got thrown over a hedge receiving, just wounded pride. He taught me how to gently calm and hold an unbridled horse by its nose. I also spent some time with another ‘settled’ Gypsey family on our estate, consisting of 3 brothers and a sister. I continue to have good friendships with a couple of Gypsy and Travellor folk. Unsurprisingly, my storytelling repotoire includes several Gypsy and Travellor folk stories, I find that they speak to my childhood connection with Gypsy’s and to my love of nature and the fact that I have wild camped for years. I have something of ‘the rover’ in my nature.
I remember hearing my first Nasraddin story as a teenager. At the time I had no idea that it was an ancient tale, as it was set in modern times. Now jumping ahead and leaving out many stories, it was the mid 1990’s when I saw my first ‘performance storyteller’ of the oral tradition. I took my daughters to a small festival in a wood outside Colchester. We walked around a corner and there was John Row, sat on a stump, we sat and listened to his stories, it was magical. We watched him tell tales from out of his head, not a book in sight, it was an epiphany moment for me. I thought, ‘one day I want to tell stories like that’. The thought never left me, however it took a long time to mature, like all good things do.
During the early 90’s I changed career, as the building trade was in another recession. Firstly, I went to college as a mature student, with a mortgage, a wife and two children. I went on an ‘Access’ course and to my surprise, I excelled at English Literature, in spite of my then undiagnosed Dyslexia. However I have always had a very vivid imagination and a love for story. I received an A* for my first piece of written work, interpreting an Angela Carter story, who had reinterpreted Red Riding Hood, from a feminist perspective. Ironically it was one of my favourite childhood stories. As part of the course I also recorded and transcribed a Real Life story from an elderly woman who as a child, lived during the Second World War and had witnessed seeing aeroplanes dog fight over the far reaching skies of outer London and remembered, aeroplane machine gun bullets ripping into a field of cabbages near where she was standing. She was later a Blitz evacuee and was moved out of London to Wales. Having recorded and then transcribed her story, as part of the course, I turned it into a script for an imagined radio play. Which was well received.
After the Access course I went on and trained as a Social Worker. During this time I spent 3 weeks in Romania, working on an Orphanage, as well as spending time in a children’s HIV unit and with street children. I wrote a journal of my time there. The following year I spent 3 weeks in Manitoba, Canada. During this visit I was very privileged to have been invited to spend a day with the Metis people of Manitoba, who’s heritage is from the indigenous tribes of Manitoba, Canada and the colonial invaders. I was invited, to take part in a traditional welcoming ceremony and was part of a whole days therapuetic Real Life, story sharing circle. This was followed by a ceremonial sweat lodge on the edge of a great lake. A day that I will never forget. As a Qualified Social Worker, back in the 1990’s I was able to work even more with people’s real life stories. Later in my career I undertook further training, gaining a Post-Grad Diploma in Systemic Family Therapy and also a Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling. Around the year 2000 I began using ‘Narrative’ storytelling work in my therapeutic work. I also went on to use Dr Mooli Lahad’s, ‘six part story making’ process, with children as a therapeutic tool. While using ‘story’ in a lot of my work.
My move into telling/performing stories to groups large and small came about after an Ecotherapy weekend workshop. As part of the course I spent time meditating on a future that involved the telling my real life story. The next morning while catching up online, I accidently (or was it in the stars) came across the ‘International School of Storytelling’ . As soon as I saw that it was a professional storytelling course I tentatively enrolled onto a beginners course, I was so nervous when I went along for the first time however by the end of the weekend, I absolutely loved it. One of the tutors, Sue Hollingsworth, took me to one side and said, “Every now and then someone walks in, who “must tell stories, you are one of those people Shane”. I knew then that I had found something special and my place in the world of Oral Storytelling. I realised that I had listened to so many people’s stories over the years, that I could combine something from that experience, into my love of Folk and Fairy stories. I have since found that traditional oral stories are so very powerful, when told from the heart, with an openness and respect for the story and the listener. It is such a pleasure and privilege for me to be able to tell Traditional Oral Stories to children and adults alike. I find that these stories speak to something of our lives, of our ancestors, while at the same time, they can take us away from our everyday lives, to a place of wonder, magic and possibility. Telling stories from memory, from my imagination, telling intuitively, using what the audience brings, eye to eye, heart to heart, moment to moment.
Around 8 years ago, I told a story around a camp fire at the, East Anglian Storytelling Festival and there listening, was the Grand Storyteller John Row, who inspired me all those years ago. When I had ficinshed my story he turmned and said, “that was a great story”. Since then I have shared the storytelling space with John many times, including as his guest at Cambridge Folk Festival and at the World Storytelling Cafe (online). I continue to attend storytelling training workshops and have trained with Paul Jackson (my mentor) ; with Ben Haggerty twice; with Hugh Lupton and Stella Kassimati; Danya Miller and Roi Gal Or. I have also had many, developmental; storytelling conversations with wonderful storytellers; such as Damian Wood, Justine de Mierre and Peter Optical and Liz Wier MBE.
I was asked by, ‘The Society of Storytelling’, to contribute to a National Schools Project, by contributing to a Resource Pack for Schools, ‘The Magic of Stories’ , all about Oral Storytelling. I was asked to record an audio story of a very old traditional oral story, suitable for 4-7 year olds. Along with a written contribution, about my experience’s of using story for over 20 years, in various contexts. To date more than 500 schools have asked for and received the resource pack.
I now spend a lot of my time Storytelling at Festivals, at Storytelling Clubs, in Schools, at Charitable events, Bushcraft Camps, Special Events, such as RHS Wisley, Art Festivals, etc. I tell all over East Anglia, London and the South West. Increasingly I am being requested to events, to share my experiences of my extensive time in nature and how it informs and enhances my storytelling in the outdoors. Recently ‘Casglu’ a part of ‘Beyond The Border Festival in Wales asked me to deliver an Online zoom, all about telling stories realating to nature and also in the natural environment.
I also run a successful Storytelling evening, ‘Tall Tales & Short Stories’, every 6 weeks at The Two Brewers pub in Chelmsford. (Currently suspended) Where I attract other professional storytellers, we have a regular warm supportive audience.
International experience telling and working with story in; Morocco, Holland, Northern Ireland, Canada.
To find out more about what I do, please go to each of the sub-heading’s, or contact me direct on 07709 904 053.
Thank you Shane
Contact Me without obligation to discuss a traditional storytelling performance.