My interest in telling traditional oral stories started in childhood. It began by hearing Nursery Rhymes and Folk and Fairy tales at home and at Infant school. We often sang nursery rhymes and added movement to them as children. I loved the story component and mystery of some of the Rhymes. The traditional folk and fairy tales that I heard at Infant school and at home, I loved even more. When I was a little older I enjoyed Drama at Middle school and in Upper school. I was always rather shy, but very enthusiastic.
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. 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’s cellars. They were always intriguing to me and a bit scary, what with all the stories of the monks escaping those wishing to kill them.
I also had several connections with ‘settled’ Gypsies. My neighbour and friend as a child, Willie, lived with his Grandmother, she was a total charactor. I spent a lot of time with him, sleeping over. I helped ‘Whally the Woodman’, another 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 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’. I then worked as a teenager in the building trade and worked with another Gypsey, Tony, a huge man. He introduced me to riding a horse ‘bareback’. I got thrown over a hedge, just dented pride. He taught me how to calm and hold an unbridled horse by its nose. I also spent some time with a ‘settled’ Gypsey family on our estate, 3 brothers and a sister. I continue to have strong friendships with a few Gypsey and Travellor folk. 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 now spend as much time as possible in the countryside and in particular in the woods, but not to poach, I prefer to watch, photograph and wonder at wildlife. Gypsey, Travellor and Peddler stories feature in many of my stories, as do stories of the English countryside.
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 British Folk tales, Icelandic Folk tales, American First Nation stories and American pioneer Folk tales. I have developed a deep love of the Scottish travellor stories as told by the late Duncan Williamson. I also continue to enjoy old English nursery rhymes. The folk and fairy stories that I tell are many hundreds of years old and some are thousands of years old. I tell a Suffolk folk tale of ‘The Green Children’, which has been documented back to at least the 12th century when it was written down, so we can assume that it was being told orally long before that. Its central themes of displacement and belonging are still very relevant today.
I remember when I was 16 hearing my first Nasraddin story on a buiding site. At the time I had no idea that it was an ancient tale as it was set in modern times. Storytelling was a regular part of tea breaks in the hut, especially during cold winters. Jumping ahead and leaving out many stories, it was the mid 1990’s when I saw my first storyteller of the oral 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 was John Row, 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, telling Fairy tales, it was an epiphany moment for me. I thought, one day I want to tell stories like that. The thought never left me, but took 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 haad a very vivid imagination and received an A* for my first piece, interpreting an Angela Carter story, ‘The Company of Wolves’, a feminist reinterpretation of Red Riding Hood. As part of the course I also recorded and transcribed a live interview with a woman who was a child, during the Second World War and who had witnessed seeing aeroplanes dog fight over the far reaching skies of London and remembered, aeroplane machine gun bullets ripping into a field of cabbages near where she was standing. She was later an evacuee because of the Blitz and was moved out of London to Wales. I recorded and then transcribed her story of this period of her life, which I then turned into a script for a play.
After the Access course I 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 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, I also have a Post-Grad Diploma in Systemic Family Therapy and a Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling. Around the year 2000 I began using ‘Narrative’ storytelling work and also Dr Mooli Lahad’s, ‘six part story making’ process, with children as therapeutic tools. On reflection I can see that I have been listening or working in some way or other, with stories, all my life.
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 my telling my life story. The next morning while catching up online, I accidently (or was it in the stars) came across the ‘International School of Storytelling’ while looking for something else. As soon as I saw that it was a storytelling course I tentatively enrolled onto a beginners course, I was so nervous when I went along for the first of what was many weekend workshop’s, however by the end, 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.
In 2016 I told a story around a camp fire at the, East Anglian Storytelling Festival and there listening, was the Grand Storyteller John Row. Since then I have shared the storytelling space with him 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 many, developmental; storytelling conversations with wonderful storytellers; Damian Wood, Justine de Mierre and Peter Optical (aka Peter Monk).
I now spend quite a lot of my time Storytelling at Festivals, at Storytelling Clubs, in Schools, at Charitable events, Bushcraft Camps, Special Events, such as RHS Wisley etc. I tell all over the South East, London, the South West and I have told in Amsterdam and The Hague, in the Netherlands. During Lockdown, I began sharing tales in Northern Ireland, at Liz Weirs club, via Zoom.
I also run a successful Storytelling evening, ‘Tall Tales & Short Stories’, every 6 weeks at The Two Brewers pub in Chelmsford. Where I attract other professional storytellers, we have a regular warm supportive audience. You are most welcome to come along.
I was very privileged to have been asked by, ‘The Society of Storytelling’, to contribute to a National Schools Project. I was asked to contribute to a Resource Pack for Schools, all about Oral Storytelling, called ‘The Magic of Stories’. I was asked to contribute a recording of a 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.
To find out more about what I do, please go to each of the sub-heading’s.
Thank you Shane
Contact Me without obligation to discuss a traditional storytelling performance.