Lessons in Story

It’s been a busy few months. I anticipated pauses in this blog, but the lapse shows how frenetic things have been (or how my own tiredness). But doing my best to resume with quality writing, rather than just a concession to mark a day…

Yesterday was Pagan Pride in Nottingham. The fifth year, and I’ve attended every one. So many people (always more each time), varied opinions as much as outfits, ideas and reasons for coming along.

The talk I gave was about Priesthood, but in the course of it, one small idea stuck with me. It’s still there now, and so it is being caught in a WordPress net, to share – as seems appropriate.

We all tell our stories. We live them, every day, uncertain of what will come next, but having to face the adventures as they arrive in front of us. Good or bad, and often without any sense of overarching plot or control. But these are our stories, and none are as valid or invalid as any other.

Yesterday, I spoke with so many people, listening to their stories and giving a little of my own. Today, I’m exhausted – all that energy deployed in that rush of hours and chatter, shared hugs and space.

I force myself to work, though. I have to, or I find myself dragged down with the sense of ‘should be doing something!’ So I’m picking up review books that I’ve been asked to write about.

Today’s offering has gripped me and pulled me into its world. The review will come in full, but suffice to say it’s an anthology of fiction, short stories of such breathtaking originality that every one makes me rather wish they were longer (even though that might well spoil the effect).

Stephen King said that a novel is a relationship – a short story is like a kiss. Both intimate, but in different ways. Each story I hear from people feels similar, as they open themselves just a crack to show me secrets, thoughts, anecdotes… and so I listen. I may review these in my head, but I try not to judge.

The good stories stay with us. Every one has a lesson, and not necessarily the one you might think (even a bad tale reminds us not to do things that way again!). If we pause to consider, to listen and review, we learn. That relationship touches us, just for a moment… and there lies its value.

People in front of us or via computer screen, voices from the pages of the past or across continents. Me, now. What stories do you hear today, and which do you hold on to moving forward? And what stories do you tell?

Bibliomancy

Sometimes, what is needed throws itself at you.

After writing about my proposed ‘book diet’ yesterday, my mind was clearly pondering the idea as I looked about the multitude of titles on offer in my own home. Exciting prospects, all.

As I prepared for bed, one title in particular caught my eye, almost falling off the shelf, shouting ‘Me, Me, Me!’

So this morning, I took it down and opened it up. And was caught.

‘Too often our lives automatically get channelled into narrow, secure patterns, set into deadline routines. Some of us want out…

To do this, we have to live on the edge, between the lines, somewhere between matter and spirit, masculine and feminine, darkness and light, leader and follower, stillness and motion. We venture like tightrope-walkers over the abyss of the unknown. I like it on the edge. I take others with me. This is my work.’

(From ‘Maps to Ecstasy’ by Gabrielle Roth)

Stephen King said that if a long novel is an love affair, a short story is like a kiss. An autobiographical tale is an invitation to an intimate relationship, sharing secrets and seeing parallels between your own experience and that of another person. The words contain memories, experiences and ideas, and can inspire the same in the reader with that shared truth.

I love to hear the voices of others telling their tales. I walk with them on our brief journeys between the pages. And in the case of this tremendously creative lady, I dance with her, along the edge. Her voice speaks to me precisely at the time it is needed; I am both glad and grateful.

I read on.

Everything in Moderation…

I think I might have to go on a book diet.

The shelves are heaving in every room, even after a ‘bagging for Charity’ session. Every visitor tends to leave with at least one book – that’s just the way I am, as I love to share the stories. But I can’t justify any more right now, due to space, money and time. Resolve and determination is called for…

As I rummage through the stacks, however, I can’t help but smile. I remember buying (or acquiring) each and every one of these titles, read and yet-to-be-explored. That feeling of interest at cover or blurb, flicking through the pages to feel its individual character – the font, the sensation of the pages, the scent. New and pre-loved, they are all there, patiently waiting for my attention at last.

And that, more than anything else, is what makes the proposed ‘diet’ a good thing. I picked up and kept these worlds-in-paper for a reason. Let’s go back to them and give them the time they deserve.

There will always be new worlds to explore, after all.

Now, when I drop this lot at the Charity Shop, the challenge will be to leave without looking at their shelves… 🙂

SF Bards

I’ve been reading a lot of science-fiction lately. Mostly dystopian in theme, from a variety of countries and eras.

While the ‘must be busy’ part of my brain tells me that I could be doing something more constructive, these stories are engaging me for several reasons, resulting in time actually very well spent.

It’s easy to disparage ‘genre’ fiction, but a lot of these tales are very well told, carefully considered and – yes – following in the ancient Bardic tradition. They satirise the world in which they were written, showing extremes of human behaviour and the potential consequences.

When reading pre-1970s pulp SF, hindsight gives us a certain viewpoint – the technology of The Twenty-First Century can appear ludicrous, and the ‘action’ laughable. But people are still people. Relationships and characters reflect those known to the author.

History teaches us lessons. Future history plays with that idea. Skilful storytellers demonstrate possibilities, to both entertain and make us think. As with most media, we get out what we put in… but the dime novels of the past are now themselves valuable documents. Is our present better or worse than their dream?

We hear the voices of our ancestors, and consider the voices of the future. And hope that it’s not too much like 2000AD.

Stories to Remember

As I’ve mentioned often in various places, my main passion in life has always been reading. I always have several books on the go, and tend to get fidgety and unhappy if I don’t have an engrossing tome to hand.

Recently (amongst other things, as always), it’s been the stories of others. This started a while ago with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Borgias, and Sir Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor). Rather an eclectic mix, but probably familiar. A more diverse selection was to come.

Caterina Sforza. The Mancini Sisters. Various lady mystics. Princess Alice of Greece. And today, Freya Stark – who has taken up most of my afternoon.

I’m not trying to be elitist or snobby; I’ve deliberately included links to all of these books, as they’re readily available. But none of those names are as well known as the first selection, which is a true shame – because they’re wonderful.

I’m not getting into a debate about feminism and history/herstory today. Instead, I’m being inspired by these stories, simply glad that they’re being told at all. I’ve no doubt that as many male as female lives have been subsumed to time by the more glamorous (or simply louder) ‘stars’.

I hear many personal tales each day – from those in my Inbox each morning, to words from miles away via Facebook friends… and then the printed page. Some of these will go no further than me. Others deserve to be remembered. They are our history, our ancestors, after all.

As well as reading books, I love to share their wealth. So here you go. Investigate these, if they sound interesting. Or rummage in a charity shop, look at online review pages, talk to friends… explore and discover some stories of those you’ve never heard of before. Feel free to share in the comments here as well, of course!

I feel lucky to have found these, and am excited as to what – and who – I’ll discover next. I honour those who lived those adventurous lives, and those tale-tellers who help us remember, as they inspire our lives in turn.