Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin. The last week in January is National Storytelling Week.
Now that phrase makes me think of someone who sits in a big chair, perhaps a rocking chair, with cushions and a blanket across their lap. The listeners are sitting around the storyteller's feet, cross-legged, more cushions.
Of course, that is just a romantic childhood image drawn from school days at infants' school. Another one is sitting in bed while mum or dad reads a classic fairy story. All good memories. It happened to me and I continued the tradition when I became a parent and I bet it continues when I'm a grandparent.
But what makes a good storyteller? Do you have to sit in a rocking chair? Do you need the wide eyes of surprise and distinct character voices? Do you need props - glasses, hats, wigs? What about biscuits or cocoa?
Do you even need a book?
Of course we don't. With the ebook being so popular and convenient and even mobile 'phone apps, paper books are not essential. Or what about audio books - someone else can read the story. A wonderful array of storytelling options.
However, before the ebook and the printing press (so books did not exist at all in any format) what skills did the storyteller need then? Obviously the key here is a good memory. As an aid to remembering the words or at least the plot, many storytellers pre-printing press days would chant the stories in a rhythmic way. In Anglo-Saxon times stories were told using alliteration as opposed to rhyme, which became common in the later Medieval period. Think here of Geoffrey Chaucer from the fourteenth century and The Canterbury Tales. At this time stories were more like poems than the prose we think of now.
Such a structured story with metre and chanting is tailor made for musical accompaniment. And so they were, with harps, pipes made from reeds and lyres. My first experience of these types of storytellers was Will Scarlett from the Tales of Robin Hood. The Britons called them bards, in later Medieval times they were called minstrels but in Anglo-Saxon times they were called scops(pronounced as 'shops').
The hero of my novel, Teon, is a scop. He is a light and fun character befitting a storyteller and entertainer, who only gets a meal or bed for the night if his storytelling is up to scratch. He does aspire to an easy life...read on...
These days I like to read to myself, usually in bed with a mug of cocoa. But often, when I was teaching in school, I would sit on a chair and ask the students if they were sitting comfortably. Then I would tell the stories. You could hear a pin drop.
"Once upon a time there was a king called King Henry II who made his best friend the Archbishop of Canterbury. This friend was called Thomas a' Becket..."