Where I Find My Story-Telling Inspiration

When I was young I used to share a bedroom with my little sister and, every night, would regale her with (as she recounts it) hilarious tales of her and my adventures in school. Now the clock has turned full circle and I am able to listen to my children (aged 6 and 5) tell each other stories with similarly comedic potential.

My two are always on the lookout for an adventure

To be truthful, this is because there is a rich vein of barely veiled lunacy residing in our family and its precious archives. At tea, my father used to tell us that the gherkin which resided at the bottom of our jar of pickled onions (nope, no idea why) was a monster similar to Nessie but very shy. I spent many a tea time staring at said jar of pickled onions trying to spot the beast. If conversation lulled, father would either take his teeth out or put the tea cosy on his head and pretend to be Napoleon. If mother annoyed him, he would simply place a tea-towel over his head and impersonate a budgie.

My sister and I would frequently get our own back on father, knowing, for example, that he was terrified of snakes and spiders.  On one occasion we left a toy snake (an adder, quite realistic, from Bristol Zoo) in the upper branches of our apple tree whilst he was collecting the fruit. The resulting scream could be heard at the end of the street.

Mother was completely unphased by my father’s behaviour, probably because her father, a man we referred to as ‘Flash Harry’ was a legendary mischief-maker and storyteller in his own right. Harry was a bus driver in Plymouth who had been practically blind in one eye for many years. His favourite tale was how he passed his advanced bus driving examination despite his eyesight – hard to believe these days. He would also take my sister and me to look at the scrumpy drinkers collapsed in a heap in Plymouth Market and sing songs such as “Ain’t it grand to be blooming well dead” (Leslie Sarony, 1932) and claim he didn’t want a funeral, just to be stuck in a black bag and put out for the bin men. Nowadays, of course, he’d be stuck kerbside for a fortnight but that’s local government for you.

My mother’s grandfather was a quaint-looking little man who greatly resembled Hercule Poirot and who was an excellent violinist, despite having a wooden arm due to a farming accident. Her own mother came from a family of 11 and several of her uncles were bandsmen in the marines.

So you can see that when I have to reach into the wine o’clock reaches of my imagination to lull the kids into a state of happy peace, I have plenty of material to use. Not least my own, er, foibles and slightly worrying experiences – for example getting locked in a train toilet and having to pull the emergency cord (always a favourite tale), or during a ballet lesson as a young girl doing a pirouette (well, spinning a bit) and having one of the lenses of my black NHS specs fall out and smash on the floor.

My children love all things spooky so I claim to know all the magical healing powers of various gems and herbs. My daughter and I recently made up a ‘potion’, devised by Caitlin, which consisted of one entire apple, some springs of Rosemary and some wine vinegar plus a rock from the garden which we had left out overnight so it could be ‘charged with the moon’s power’. Is there anything truly more magical than a child’s imagination? They both love tales of the naughty goblins who live in the wood and are just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting children who wander off the path (or annoy their mother one too many times….).

Halloween is always celebrated by draping lengths of pretend spiders’ webs throughout the house, together with black plastic spiders. We have a plastic full-sized skeleton we have named Mr Bones who joins us for tea. My father’s face last year when he came for a Halloween tea was truly a picture to behold, particularly since we had made sure that there was an ample supply of spiders artfully arranged in the bathroom. This time, though, the extractor fan muffled his scream.

Storytelling, to me, is a vital ingredient in a magical childhood because a good story carries with it lessons about emotions, family, morality and even spirituality.  I was, and am still, an avid reader. I somehow managed to finish the school’s reading syllabus first out of my classmates and my English teacher, Mr Jones, would let me have free run of the book cupboard whilst the other pupils dutifully read through the prescribed texts. I can still remember reading The Shrimp & The Anemone (L P Hartley) in the warmth of the schoolroom, basking in the sun and watching the motes of dust from the blackboard chalk swirling in the air. I loved Gerald Durrell’s “My Family & Other Animals” and was lost on the moors with Cathy in Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”. Books were places were magic resided – where stories revealed landscapes as surprising and wonderful as Narnia.

I also used to write avidly. My favourite English assignment was always the essay writing tasks and I have begun to write again. My first short story is posted on my blog here. I have in mind a children’s novel too – featuring a hedgehog and his friends on a magical journey to find an enormous gem buried deep underground which is the beating heart of his woodland home.

My children’s current opus is a series of ‘programmes’ entitled “Hulk and Puppy” where a very grumpy incredible hulk (played with practically no behavioural adjustment by Ieuan) is accompanied by a small, yappy puppy (played rather fetchingly by Caitlin). Each episode involves the puppy ending up in a scrape and a subsequent rescue by Hulk bursting in and smashing things. I am required to provide the voice over and plot development as and when required.

When it all gets too much for me, I just put a tea towel over my head …..

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