Taking Storytelling Beyond The CrEST

Previously I wrote about taking a storytelling course with storyteller David Heathfield over Christmas which was great craic.  That was level one of his storytelling courses, as of today, I’ve now finished Level Two – Beyond the Creative and Engaging Storytelling for Teachers course.

And it was Great craic!

Although this course has been six weeks long, I feel the difference in what those of us who took the course were all like before and after the course is massive and amazing to see – maybe it’s down to the shared experience together sort of thing.  Since storytelling is not only very public, but also very personal to the individual teller, there does feel like individual growth from everyone, certainly when considering how things started – and besides, we’ve been doing all this through a bloody pandemic too, and everything that comes with that.

With this course, within the last two months, I’ve gone from ‘wanting to tell a few fairy stories” in classes and to anyone who would listen, to actually being able to research through material, develop a story, and eventually make it my own – and even learn a wide range of techniques on how to remember them.  I’ve also done some public performances, come up with my own tales from scratch(ish), and been able to work out what sort of identity I want from my storytelling – not just for teaching, but as a storyteller in general.

This isn’t just about teaching CPD it has to be said.  As personal as teaching is, storytelling to me is much more personal than that.  It’s a way to see the world, it’s a way to connect with others on a different level.  It’s a connection to childhood, family and where you are from, and where you are going to – it may even be a connection to a place/time where you will never go to.  It’s powered entirely through your own imagination.  Teaching has been around for Millennia, but then again, the Three Pigs have been around for at least 45,000 years.

I think it’s fair to say when all this started, I was certainly at the bottom end of the ‘experience’ scale – some of the other teachers in the room were storytelling pros, something which I can only dream of! There’s a difference between telling stone soup, and creating entire CLIL modules from a story on water droplets, now that is a proper storytelling skill!

Interestingly though, at the start of the course, I had an idea in my head of what I wanted my course project to be and work on, which was to follow in the footsteps of one of the most legendary Irish seanchais, Eamon Kelly, and successfully be able to tell a story like him – similar to the video below.

I even have the perfect hat for the very story.

But…strangely, as time went on, we worked on our techniques, stories and developed our own tales either based on lore or from scratch, one thing really started to occur to me.  I’m not Kelly.  Nor am I from Kerry. Nor do I have his in-your-face brassness that he can seem to have in his telling’s at times – not in a negative sense, just a different personality trait to me.  Instead, I’m a culchie from the Glens of Antrim, and although Kelly and myself may be Irishmen, we’re from a different time and a different part of Eire, and it just wouldn’t be right, to simply retell one of his classics – because that isn’t me.

So for bed time reading each night, I went through books of folk tales from home.  Antrim, Derry, Donegal and Down are the ones I’ve gone through in the past month.  Revisiting places I grew up, would walk the dog, or places I know of and have hiked through. There is also the National Digital Folklore Collection which is actually searchable too, which is a wonderful resource. These are just some of the collections of stories people have put together that they have heard either in the pub or over a cup of tea.  And it was through these that the stories started to jump out at me, and some started to come alive.  Having read through the best part of 200 individual stories in the last month, I became aware of, and drawn too certain stories – maybe ones that reminded me of something specific in the past, perhaps ones that I can directly or indirectly relate too, or perhaps it is ones that I know where they took place, so I’ve a personal relationship with the area – Glenarm forest being a common area for tales.

It was through this way that I was starting to find my own identity in how I would either tell these stories, or ‘edit’ to make my own and re-create.

Through an amazing coincidence, one week on the course we were told, and then reworded and retold the story of two farmers who were friends, but then had a falling out and never spoke again.  One wanted a wall built by a carpenter but when he went down to see it the next morning, the lad built a bridge instead, connecting both areas of land.  The final line in the story is the carpenter walking away saying, “I have to go on, there are always more bridges to build.”

In groups, we headed into breakout rooms, and I decided to tell it from culchie perspective (and by winging it, there wasn’t a plan) – I told it as two farmers with local identities – a farmer called Murphy and a farmer called Doherty.  No prizes for guessing which two counties they bordered.  Now, this story is known all over the world, as it is a pretty good ‘bridge building’ story to get the characters to get along, but, as it happens, I ended up reading the Derry version of it, in the Derry Folk Tales book, there it was titled “What you Want is not What You Need.”

Small world.

And maybe that is the point. 

Storytelling doesn’t have borders.  It doesn’t have something which stops someone enjoying them or telling them.  It doesn’t have strict rules to obey at all times. 

What it does have is empathy.  Imagination.  The power to overcome all hurdles.  It has diversity and inclusion.  It has peace.  It has the ability to talk to anyone of any age and allow them to look both inwards and out to the world around them.  It has acceptance and understanding.

Storytelling isn’t just about talking in front of others. It’s also about listening.  To let someone tell you a story is a way for them to show you something extremely personal about themselves, but also, as the listener, to show the teller a level of trust, with your emotions being in a way under their control until the story ends. 

Over the past two weeks, the final classes, we’ve had stories from all around the world, collected by the tellers and retold in their way – it was an amazing experience, I could have sat there for hours listening.  It was funny to see at the end of today’s class, the final class with all 10 of us together, that there was a group silence at the end.  A group of 10 storytellers with not a word to say! But there was a lot said in that silence alone I think.  It was a respect for the time spent together, a respect for the stories, the memories and the experiences we’ve all shared.

So to those who took part, a thank you.  To Dalia, Swee Yean, Manuela, Sarah, Hend, Enedina, Simona, Diana, Chee Wei and David, it was a blast.  What craic we had!

This is just the end of the beginning, to quote a certain Mr Baggins, “I’m going on an adventure!”

Below is a recording from today’s storytelling, it’s my own retelling of The Looking Glass.  A Donegal tale that once I read it, I knew that was the sort of story I would want to tell.  As it turns out, there’s a Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern version of the tale too, but this is the only culchie version!

One comment

  1. Alan! Wow… It has indeed been a pleasant journey and you continue to surprise me with your many hidden talents. Well-done!
    let’s keep building those bridges through our stories 😉


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