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Post 16: “Twice Upon a Once”

Storytelling is something I grew up with (see post 1: “Yes, and...”) as both of my grandfathers spun marvelous tales.

My mother’s father (known as Grandpa) used to tell me stories about the movie stars of his time such as Laurence Olivier, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lorre, and Bette Davis. I didn’t know that they were celebs, I thought they were his friends. With softly spoken, German-accented English, he would describe their parties and outings, their glamorous lives.

My father’s father (known as Guv, because he was The Governor of the family) told us a combination of his version of old Russian folktales and a few of his own original stories. As well as The Dragon With The Red And Green Eyes, other favourites included The Dancing Princesses (where they wear their feet to stumps boogying the night away) and Horace (the story of a bear who eats an entire family). I think we can see where my taste for the macabre began.

My cousin Philip used to tell my sister and me his own series of stories about a character named Hopey turtle who had all kinds of adventures. Those stories were a real treat although looking back I think they had a touch of the Lord of the Flies about them.

When my children were young, I would regularly make stories up for them. Eventually, my youngest started to feel like he was being cheated and began to demand “real stories, from an actual book”.

Telling stories to children is an art and important in the development of their language and imagination. It teaches concentration skills, aids relaxation and can help with bonding. It can create a real love of words and a natural understanding of how best to put them together. I don’t think it matters whether it’s a story you made up, or grew up with, or read in a book, or learned about in class. It’s building a castle in the air and discovering how to dream.

In my line of work, I spend a lot of time working with other people’s stories and have to find ways to make space for writing my own. The plays I write all stem from my reality and the characters have found their own paths into my head, shouting until I can hear their history and tell their story. My next play is fictional but all drawn from truth, for which a huge number of people from all over the world shared their own tales. The generosity inherent in giving over your real life for someone else’s storytelling is immense. I hope I do them justice in my characters.

I hope you enjoy this very old song that really inspired me when I was younger. It contains the sort of language used by my grandfathers, some really beautiful lyrics and it was Philip who first played it for me. There are nicer versions but I like this one as it has the writer’s explanation of the background to the song.

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