Sunday, 23 October 2011

I Want To Tell You a Story, Are You Sitting Comfortably?

So, dear reader, it is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness yet again. the garden centres are now displaying Christmas decorations and chocolate advent calendars are available in shops. Harvest festivals have come and gone and not only is everything safely gathered in , as the words of the hymn go, but it is put away, pickled, salted, frozen or generally preserved for the winter days ahead. I have yet to turn on the central heating, donning extra jumpers and warm slippers, instead. Every year I go through a phase of defying the elements. I nurture the wild notion that one day I will be able to last out until the first snows and if they keep coming earlier and earlier I might be able to. The dog days of Autumn always get me feeling nostalgic but also help me justify time spent writing and reading in bed because I am not wasting precious sunshine by remaining indoors.

Reading in sunlight however has always been a tiring occupation but I am now assured by those that have Kindles that reflection and bounced light is a thing of the past and that text is available despite all levels of sunshine intensities. Laying by the pool or on the beach reading has never been so available and easy. Holiday reading is now not bought at the air port but downloaded in some Internet CafĂ© in Malaga, Sorrento or Florida. No longer will the traveller have to frequent the aisles of W H Smith at the airport looking for a good read to take onto the plane, the Kindle can be slipped into the hold luggage along with the 3,000 books it is holding. It is a bit like taking the local library onto Easy Jet and whilst wonderfully life enhancing I don’t want to do it , not just yet, I want to feel the paper between my fingers.

I am no Luddite, I just have a paper fetish, I like a spine, a sense of weight. Don Quixote is fat and heavy and gave me a strong sense of accomplishment when I finished it. Not that I am suggesting we should measure books by the kilo but the physicality of the book adds to my experience of it. Where on a Kindle can you experience those wonderful hand crafted poetry chap books, the quality of the paper, the delight of vellum that adds to my reading pleasure. Hopefully such things will continue to exist long after pupils sit at their desk, browses the virtual school library and download their next book and the system logs and notes their choices automatically. I am sure the system could also be set so that only books at the pupil’s level of ability could be shown to them in the catalogue. I know we are not even far from a child reading out loud to their Kindle type notebook and the notebook halting and correcting them when they make a mistake perhaps sounding the word out so the pupil can make a correct stab at synthesis. No longer will there be children stacked and waiting to land with an adult so they can read to them. However where will be the warmth, the human contact and shared excitement of opening a book and looking through it, wondering what it might contain. Reading is not just a lone art it can be a shared experience.

Those children that have had a fun and warm fuzzy feeling from snuggling up to an adult and being read a story regularly, usually learn to read faster and maintain the habit of reading far into their adult life. I listened to a radio programme that was investigating the marketing of programmes to children such as Peppa Pig. The TV series immediately has the spin off of toys, DVDs, clothes, lunch boxes and books. Something that makes any child want to read is good but I wonder whether such marketing destroys something as wel,l in its ready packed consumer experience. I heard someone on the radio ( yes dear reader along with a paper fetish I am a Radio 4 groupie) talk about the fact that in some ways the art of the story was destroyed by the written word. That writing a story down fossilised it. In the era of the oral tradition stories were passed on and people would miss out the boring bits, extend and slightly tweak the exciting bits or add to the vividness of the setting. This process kept the story as an organic living thing that responded to its audiences’ interests, needs and lives. I am becoming involved in some story telling projects in schools and I find it fascinating how much, even very young children, want the opportunity to tell their story, to stand before a class and recount a story they have heard.

I am toying with the idea of getting someone to make me a story teller’s staff, one adult sized, one child sized. It is common practice for some story tellers to put on a special coat or cloak to give a visual prompt to the idea that now you are listening to a story. Allowing children to do the same thing is very empowering and very young children have no problem in telling the same story over and over again to each other adding their own little embellishments. You don’t have to be a Saxon elder huddled round the camp fire with other villagers to want to embellish and improve on the story of Beowulf to entertain and captivate your audience. A short incantation that children and adults say before telling a story can also be a great lead in to signal that now we are in the land of the imagination. “Let those that have ears to hear draw near and listen to my tale of a time when there were princes, princesses, animals that could talk and adventures to be had by those who were daring and brave,” is always a great attention grabber before you even launch into any fairy story. I have even used that tactic in another form when introducing children to poems especially ballads such as The Highwayman or The Listeners. I would never describe myself as a story teller but I am passionate about children being excited by them and sometimes you don’t need gadgetry, technology or devices to engage children with a story you just need the skills of one human being telling a story well to another and giving them the space and time to pass that story on to another. In such a way can the story thrive and grow and become part of the fabric of our society. The written word them becomes another doorway to a world children have already been excited by.

So much thought about stories and story telling is going on at Blogspot Towers. This also seems to be feeding into my poetry head and poetry tutor head as well so all things are useful that excite you about words.

If you want to listen to a consummate story teller listen to Eamon Kelly, a master of the art

I do know that momentous things are going on in the world, Gaddafi is dead, the European Market is wobbling, a Defence Minister is amazingly stupid …would you invite a friend to work and let them sit in on private meetings even when the higher management at work have specifically told you not to.. the man must have a blind spot the size of the House of Commons or an ego as large. Anything else …well all seems to be quiet and calm now at The Poetry Society, wounds may still be being licked but business as usual or rather as it should be seems to be being resumed. The small Dingly Dell that is the Poetry Village is more tranquil and no episode of Midsummer Murders will now be filmed there.

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