Let’s celebrate oral storytelling

“It was a dark and stormy night when Eskimo Joe walked out to milk his polar cow…”

I don’t know the rest of the story. I don’t need to. Those 17 words, told to me on countless nights as a child on camping holidays, are enough to conjure a scene, a character and potential plot lines to know whatever happened next would be interesting.

Silhouette of a child reading. Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I’ve always listened to stories. The process of listening to stories is among my earliest memories. I remember my dad carrying me out to the car in the pouring rain one holiday so I could listen to Alan Bennett reading The House At Pooh Corner on the radio. My parents recorded themselves on tape reading a wonderful book of folk tales by Leila Berg for me to listen to. My first Walkman was red, indestructible, and my most prized possession. I had tapes of the Just So Stories and the tale of Robin Hood which I listened to on long car journeys.

I grew up in a house where Radio 4 was on from the moment my parents woke up until after tea. We had a radio in every room so you never missed what was being said on whatever programme you were listening to.

Now I read stories to my own children. There’s a world of difference between reading to yourself and reading aloud. Only the best stories stand up to being narrated time and time again. There are many fine children’s books but few that stand up to repeat reading; stories you look forward to reading for the umpteenth bedtime. My latest favourite is The Giant Jam Sandwich which I was surprised to find was first published 1972. My children got it for Christmas and it’s an absolute delight to read out loud.

National Storytelling Week, which runs until February 3, celebrates oral storytelling. I love that they chose the end of January to celebrate such an important part of human culture. We’ve been telling stories since time immemorial and the long, dark, cold winter nights are when the best tales are told. Tales of danger and courage, of magic and mischief, dark and light.

There are storytelling events taking place across the country, get along to one if you can. If you can’t make it to an official event, why not take a trip to the theatre or borrow an audiobook from the library.

Let’s keep the tradition of storytelling alive!

Rachel Extance (photo by Jemima Willcox)

Rachel Extance helps business tell their stories so they can reach a wider audience for their work and ideas. A professional journalist, she knows how to write stories people find relevant and engaging. If you would like help to get your message across, need someone who can write articles for you regularly, or you would like actionable ideas for how to tell more people about what you do, get in touch by emailing rachel@extance.co.uk or contact her on social media.

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