My interest in telling traditional oral stories began with hearing Nursery Rhymes at infant school and at home. I loved the story component and the rhythms. I also got to hear folk and fairy tales at Infant school and at home. My father who would often sit us all down as children, (there were six of us), he would tell us local folk tales and traditional folk tales and some real life stories. Those stories transported me to another place, another time. I would imagine these places, the people, whether fairy, folk, or real life stories, it allowed me to imagine. My Dad told us true life stories of when he was a Lumberjack in the highlands of Scotland. Or his time in the Outer Hebrides as a young soldier in the Gordon Highlanders. There were other stories of him out poaching in the woods, in 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.
I grew up in the Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds, my father would tell 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. He told us stories of the ‘Grey Lady’ a ghost, who walked the monks tunnels, in the town’s Abbey 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 I kept an eye out for ‘The Grey Lady’, but alas I did not see her. As an adolescent however, 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 cellars. They were always intriguing and a bit scary. I also helped ‘Whally the Woodman’, a gypsy, I was about 12 years old, delivering sacks of logs to customers sold off the back of his lorry. He was fun to be around, I can still remember the joy the first time he took me out to the woods where we processed the timber. It was around this time that I was also introduced by someone else, to poaching and various other ‘crafts’, of the outdoors. Having left school aged just 15 with no qualifications, I worked for a short spell on a Travelling Fair and was taught the financial strategy of, ‘one for them, one for you’. My home town was near to the countryside, of which I had a lot of access to, in a time when kids went out all day to explore. I was exposed to the basics of poaching at a very young age. I now spend as much time as possible in the countryside and in particular in the woods, but not to poach, I prefer to watch and wonder at wildlife. This quintessential English countryside features in many of my stories. When I look back, I realise that oddly, we never had books in the house. Perhaps this is the reason why I developed a love of oral stories and traditional nursery rhymes from a young age. I have had a small collection of Folk Tales, Wonder Tales and Nursery Rhymes for over 30 years. Many of these I use to read to my three children and some I told orally. I also made up fairy stories for them, which they always loved. I particularly enjoy English Folk tales, Icelandic Folk tales, American First Nation stories and American pioneer Folk tales, as well as Irish tales. I also continue to enjoy old English nursery rhymes. The folk and fairy stories that I tell are many hundreds of years old. For example the Suffolk folk tale of ‘The Green Children’, has been documented back to the 12th century and its central themes of displacement and belonging are still very relevant today. I also now tell real life stories professionally. Looking back I can see that I have been telling real life stories all my life.
Jumping ahead and leaving out many stories, it was the mid 1990’s when I saw my first oral storyteller of the old tradition. The storyteller was John Row. I had two daughters then, I took them to a small festival in a wood outside Colchester. We walked around a corner and there sat John, we sat and listened to his stories, we experienced, how magical traditional oral storytelling was. We watched him tell tales from out of his head, not a book in sight, telling Folk and Fairy tales, it was like an epiphany. I thought, one day I want to tell stories like that. The thought never left me. Around this period while I was training as a Social Worker, I spent 3 weeks in Manitoba, the prairie lands of Canada. During this visit I was very privileged to have been invited to spend a day with the Metis people of Manitoba, who came from the indigenous tribes of Manitoba, Canada. I was allowed, after a traditional welcoming ceremony, to be part of their sharing circle. This is where people shared real life stories, of which I contributed. This was followed by a ceremonial sweat lodge on the edge of a great lake. As mentioned I was studying as a Social Worker, later in my career I undertook further training and became a Therapeutic Counsellor, regularly listening to ‘real life’ stories. So looking back I can see that I have been working in some way or other with stories, for many years. Moving forward to more recent years having experienced the ups and downs of life. Out of the blue, just like in a fairy tale, something happened that changed everything for me.
After being on an Ecotherapy weekend and spending time meditating and focussing on my future pathway. The next morning while online, I accidently (or was it in the stars) came across the ‘International School of Storytelling’. I tentatively enrolled onto a beginners course, I was so nervous when I went along for the weekend workshop, by the end I absolutely loved it. One of the tutors took me to one side and said, “Every now and then I come across someone who ‘must’ tell stories, you are one of those Shane”. I knew immediately that I had found my place in the world of Oral Storytelling. I realised that I had listened to so many peoples 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 of our lives, while at the same time they take us away from our everyday lives, to a place of wonder, magic and possibility, which we can then instil in our everyday lives. Telling stories from memory, from my imagination, telling intuitively, using what the audience brings, eye to eye, heart to heart, moment to moment.
In 2016 I told a story around a camp fire at, The East Anglian Storytelling Festival and there listening to me was the aforementioned Grand Storyteller John Row. When I had finished my story he commented….”what a wonderful story”…………..I guess what goes around comes around. And like life itself, it’s a never ending story…..Since then I have shared the storytelling space with John Row several times. Along with many other great storytellers who have shaped my telling.
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