The stories of strangers


Mid-story, The George

November has been a month of stories. After the intimate fun of November Tales came a bigger, more public event – my debut at The Story Party, at The George Inn, Borough High Street.

I was chuffed to be asked to perform. I’ve attended a few of these events and they are good fun, attracting a crowd of people who enjoy listening to the true, personal stories shared by those who get up to talk. I wasn’t sure if I had anything to contribute, as many of the stories shared are about big, traumatic events. My life is happily boring by comparison.

But the November event was to be on the theme of friendship, and my friend Yang-May Ooi, who co-hosted the night, wanted me to tell a story, Rebecca, that I’d written in our writing group. I was excited by the thought of performing at The George, the last surviving galleried London coaching inn, which just so happens to be the scene of an early chapter in my novel. How could I resist?

That wasn’t the question I was asking myself as I waited to be introduced. I was fourth on the bill and my gin and tonic was still untouched. The previous storytellers had held the audience rapt with exotic tales of famous rock stars, Parisian dalliances and shocking childhood violence. By contrast, I was telling the tale of a safe and happy childhood, where the biggest disappointment in life was the non-appearance of my poems in the school magazine. My story seemed tameness itself.

But I’d practised until I knew this story through and through. And once I stood up, I realised that performing to a roomful of attentive strangers can be fun. I conjured up that world of early childhood, when your best friend is the most important relationship in your life, summer holidays go on for ever and other people’s families seem impossibly glamorous.

The minutes whizzed past. I heard laughter, murmurs of recognition. I took my time, knowing I tend to gabble when nervous. I took the time to pause and let a laugh build before I moved on. Before I knew it, I’d reached the end. The applause was generous and warm. I sat back down, flushed and rather thrilled. Afterwards, complete strangers came up to congratulate me, tell me I’d taken them back in time to their own childhoods.

I’m not sure I’d swap the intimacy of typing on my laptop for performing on stage altogether. Yet the immediacy of the feedback with live storytelling is exciting. Could this be the start of a beautiful friendship?


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