I’m in awe of storytellers, especially after my own modest forays into the art. To stand on stage, just yourself and your story, and hold a room rapt, seems to me a special form of magic. So I was thrilled when Mslexia magazine asked me to interview Jan Blake, a storyteller with 30 years experience, for their Spring issue (out now).
Jan was generous with her time and we talked for hours about inspirations, families, creating communities and how life experiences shape the stories we hear, the stories we tell. Jan came to storytelling as a performer rather than a writer, and her approach was so different to mine – no script! no rehearsals! no memorising! – that I left even more in awe of how much courage good storytelling seems to require.
A week later I was in the audience when Jan took to the stage of the Soho Theatre for the Crick Crack Club. She and fellow performer TUUP quickly wove a spell over the audience, using rhythm, music and sheer good humour to draw us in around a metaphorical camp fire. I loved the stories of transformation – men into hyenas, women into sea serpents. These accomplished actors brought the characters, both human and animal, hissing, shuffling, sashaying and simpering onto the stage, transforming in front of our eyes.
I thought again of the transformation stories while reading Joanna Cannon’s fabulous debut novel, The Trouble With Sheep and Goats. The way we like our monsters to wear scary monster faces. The fear that someone close to us, someone with a face we know well, may one day show us a side we don’t want to see.
I’ll end with a link to Jan telling a transformation story, the Leopard Woman, on You Tube. I loved this story so much I’ve started telling it myself, to friends and family. When we talked about it, Jan said that she loved the way the leopard/woman stands in her own power, making her husband see and respect every facet of her. It’s a short, simple story, but with an impact that lasts. A perfect story from an amazing teller.