The Storyteller’s Story

Storyteller Deb Winter

I first met Deb Winter at a writing workshop that she was running in Bristol. Since then I have enjoyed a number of her workshops and delighted in her storytelling skills.

Recently, through a project funded by the Arts and Health programme (ACW), I have had the pleasure of a private audience with her at my home. Yes, it felt that majestic… her telling me a story in the comfort of my own home… well, me in my own home and her on my terrace, and not just the once. Deb has been to visit folks who have been isolating through the pandemic. This project,  Stories to Your Door, is run by PeopleSpeakUp, which delivers community arts for health and wellbeing.

When we had a long Zoomy chat the other day, I asked Deb what was coming up for her in terms of storytelling:

DEB: I’m so excited as I’ve been chosen to be one of four storytellers (cyfarwyddion, to use the traditional Welsh term) in a new Wales-wide project called the Mycelium Storytelling Hub, along with Phil Okwedy from South Pembrokeshire.  We’ll be working together to help storytelling in Wales to grow and flourish.

KITTY: Cyfarwyddion? Is that the Welsh name for a storyteller?

DEB: Yes, there is a tradition going back to medieval times in Wales, of the Cyfarwydd, the old Welsh storyteller.They were highly respected members of society, travelling the land and bringing news back to the courts, reflecting the society of their time through their stories. We four are described as “contemporary cyfarwyddion“, working in the communities we live in for a 12-month residency, bringing out people’s own stories, making storytelling a part of community life and mentoring emerging storytellers.

KITTY: What exactly is the Mycelium Hub?

DEB: It’s a project inspired by nature’s mycelium networks, a network of organisations and freelancers, working together to develop storytelling and nurturing less frequently heard voices, increasing diversity. It’s led by Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival, supported by Arts Council Wales’ Connect and Flourish fund. The Pembrokeshire storytellers, Phil and I, work closely with PeopleSpeakUp, one of the partners.

KITTY: Sounds really interesting. What kind of things will you be doing locally?

DEB: Each cyfarwydd/storyteller will be able to follow their own special areas of interest and I’ll be dividing my hours between “stories for mental health and wellbeing” and “green storytelling”.

KITTY: Green storytelling?

DEB: I want to lend my storytelling skills to environmental causes – the protection of wildlife and the climate emergency. I’ve already developed a new story meant to inspire people to protect our oceans. I performed it with musician Gill Stevens for the Sea Trust. Stories can really inspire people to make changes and protect the planet. I’ll be contacting environmental and wildlife groups locally and offering to support their awareness-raising work with storytelling.

 

Storytelling with Deb Winter

KITTY: Sounds exciting. What makes a good storyteller?

DEB: Every storyteller is unique. I learned by watching other storytellers and what I saw was that my favourite storytellers all made a good connection with the audience, whether large or small. Storytelling at its best isn’t just a performance, it’s communication. There’s an energy you get from the people listening to you. Storyteller and audience feed off each other. People warm to storytellers who are authentic. It’s hard to define but you know it when you hear it. Genuine in their emotional connection to the story, using their own lived experience, even if the story itself is from another land or culture. The other joy for me is crafting the language. I really like the term “wordsmith”. It is a craft, telling stories. You’re working with words the way that a good carpenter works with wood: carefully, precisely, for a particular purpose.

KITTY: You have told me that a storyteller doesn’t write down stories and read them. What does the process entail? Do you just read a story and then re-tell it?

DEB: Or hear one and re-tell it your own way. Storytellers pass traditional stories around; stories are for sharing, they belong to all of us, it’s not like writing. I will often change traditional stories, re-work them for a modern audience. Not every princess wants to marry the prince!  I invent new stories too, though, which not every storyteller does.

KITTY: So you start with finding a story or creating a story. What happens next?

DEB: For me, I walk along the cliffs or round the garden telling the story to myself until I know the “bones” of the story really well. Then I try it out on someone else and get feedback. Then walk with it again, trying out different flesh on the bones, different words, different ways of telling the same story. This could take days or even weeks.

KITTY: That sounds exciting, as though you have breathed new life into something that might have been asleep but once awake… it takes on a whole new existence.

DEB: That’s a good way to put it. Each storyteller will tell the same story differently. And we’ll tell it differently on different occasions, responding to the physical space or outdoor place, to the mood of the occasion, to the type of audience you find in front of you. If I’m feeling confident, if it’s going well, if the audience is putting out a lovely warm supportive generous energy, as many storytelling audiences do, then I find the courage to let go and improvise more.

KITTY: So the story is a living thing?

DEB: Definitely. You have to breathe the life into it, and if you are lucky it may fly!

KITTY: I believe that through the Mycelium Hub project you’re looking for new storytellers?

DEB: Yes, absolutely. Watch this space for news of local storytelling workshops in the New Year.

 

Kitty Parsons

Kitty has forgotten how long she has been here now but she loves Pembrokeshire for its beauty and it's people. She spends her time searching out stories for pembrokeshire.online, swimming in the sea , drawing and painting as Snorkelfish and eating cake. She says "Pembrokeshire.online has been an opportunity to celebrate this beautiful county and its people. Keep the stories coming. We love to hear from you."

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