Jess Wilson – Bleddfa Storyteller

“How do I become a Storyteller” I asked Michael Harvey at the first Bleddfa week I went to in 2008.
I remember Michael simply smiled and laughed and didn’t tell me anything that made it clear how to achieve that end.

I was asking from the point of view of how I became a nurse: I trained and then I was a nurse. As a nurse I happened to tell a story to a patient on a psychiatric ward not knowing that there was such a thing as a “storyteller”.  I just told a story I remember my Nana reading to me when I was a child, even though I had no idea how to tell a story.  When I told that story, a real feeling of excitement and joy bubbled up inside me. I had a hunger to find out more about the stories I listened to when I was a child.

I looked up “storytelling in mental health nursing” on the internet trying to find other psychiatric nurse who had used storytelling in hospitals or to find some well-trodden path so I could find out about what they were doing. I didn’t find any other nurses reporting on it, no evidence base for me to continue to use storytelling as a nurse but I did find Bleddfa and two people called Michael Harvey and Hazel Bradley who could teach me how to become a storyteller……in a week…..or so I thought.

I had chosen a fairy story to learn to tell during the week at Bleddfa, as I had been asked to do. During the week I was given loads of time to work on the story and loads of group work which I really enjoyed. I was also given one to one coaching as part of the course to learn how to internalize the story and remember it well enough to tell it at the performance at the end of the week.

After a few days I realised that the story I had chosen was too long and too deep to be able learn how to tell it in a week. The story kept me awake at night in my small tent, or was it the rain that never seemed to stop pattering on the canvas? It got to the stage that I could not get past a certain part of the story without becoming emotional which lead to me realising that I simply would not be able to tell it. I changed the story to a different simpler story.

During the week I got to know the other course participants who were all there for their own reasons and also had varying understanding of what “storytelling” means.  Some had a lot of experience and had told a story in public before. Others like me had no experience at all and had no clue what storytelling was or could be. In that week I learned that I would not become a storyteller in a week. What Bleddfa gave me was a spring board into a world of storytelling and storytellers.

Storytelling changed my world view, not like a bolt of lightning but in a gradual and real way, like growing a new skin. I learned in that first week at Bleddfa that stories from the oral tradition matter. That they are more than simply entertaining but have a real truth, if you give it time.

I learned that no one can tell you what a story means except the story itself if you listen. I also learned that no one can tell you how to tell a story.  Ten years on I’m still working on that.
Over that last ten years I have been back to Bleddfa for a second time to continue to deepen my learning and understanding of what storytelling is. I don’t know when I will become a storyteller, but I have made a path as a nurse who tells stories from the oral tradition to improve my practice and relationships with patients and hope that other nurses will find the path I have started to make and follow in my footsteps (not without passing Bleddfa) and together make a well-trodden path for others to find in the future.

Jess’s website

Phil Okwedy – Bleddfa Storyteller

Storytelling is simple, right? You have a story to tell and you tell it. Well, yes, that is right – as long as you do have a story to tell. My first afternoon at Bleddfa I didn’t have one. All we’d been asked for was a small personal story – but though I racked my brain, nothing came. Eventually I managed to draw on some memory but the process felt false. I felt like a fraud. I owned failure. Later, lying in my tent, listening to the owls screech, I wanted to curl up into a ball and let the earth swallow me whole.

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Andy Johnson – Bleddfa Storyteller

Andy Jonhnson has done both the Bleddfa Week of Stoytelling and the Intensive Performance Workshop and we were so impressed we have invited him to be one of our featured tellers for one of the public performances at this years week long course. Andy shares something of his storytelling journey below…

My storytelling journey started in March 2012 when I attended a 5 Rhythms Dancing retreat in Tal Y Bont, near Conway. One evening I was sitting with others in the lounge when some people started a singalong. There was a Scottish storyteller, Mags Smith, who said she would also tell a story but needed a few moments to sort it out. At that point a voice in my head said “Andy, why don’t you tell a story?”, as I had worked as a librarian all my working life & knew two stories I could tell.  I told one of them. People liked it & Mags came over and stated talking storytelling with me. This pleased me as I was looking for an interesting direction to take as the previous year I had taken a redundancy & retirement deal from Liverpool City Council. When I got home I googled ‘storytelling’ and top of the list was the Society for Storytelling which I knew about from my library days. There I found information about clubs, festivals and courses. All of which I have since explored.

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Cindylou Turner-Taylor

To celebrate our 25th anniversary of storytelling at Bleddfa #bleddfastory25 we have invited three storytellers who have trained at Bleddfa to work with us as featured tellers. First up is Cindylou Turner-Taylor

Whilst teaching in special schools for children with social, emotional and
behavioural difficulties, I discovered early on that the most disruptive and
disturbed children LOVED to be told stories. As soon as I ditched the book and
started just telling, they became calm, relaxed and totally held.

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The Story of Duncan Williamson and the Snail

Nicky, Duncan Williamson and the snail. Taken by Fleur Shorthouse Hemmngs

Strange things happen when storytellers gather together for any length of time. For one thing they can’t stop themselves from telling stories and as they do so strange and marvelous things begin to happen. For one of my first ever times at Bleddfa as a tutor I was privileged to spend time with the Scottish traveller Duncan Williamson, tradition bearer, inspiration to many contemporary storytellers and master of mischief.

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Remembering Sheila Stewart

Sheila Stewart came to Bleddfa for the second year I taught there. She was invited by the course founder, Jenny Pearson, and left an indelible impression on all of us. Her traveller version of the Juniper Tree (‘Appley and Orangey’) was a deep and terrifying toure de force as she wove her astonishing voice in and out of the narrative. You can hear her singing in the video below recorded when she was still a young woman.

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