I’ve now been operating as a freelance storyteller for just under 6 months and I’m really enjoying it. Setting up as a freelancer can be stressful. The regular income and pension payments are a thing of the past. Spreading the word and finding future bookings are now a huge chunk of my week. Some days I am overwhelmed with frustration. I know I deliver a really good service that is of benefit to the children and adults who use it. I am professional, hard working and the testimonials from my clients are fantastic. Plus I have some great ideas for future events or activities I would like to offer. But actually getting this message across in order to secure bookings can be really hard.
Believe me, I know what it’s like in schools. The last thing I wanted to do in my rushed and short lunch break was talk to people who were selling things on the phone. Similarly if flyers and leaflets were placed in my pigeon hole there was no guarantee that they would be read and processed any time soon. And even if by some miracle I did get time to do either of the above the first constraint to get around was always budget. So this is what I’m now up against and it’s exhausting. That aside, I can honestly say I’ve never felt happier in my work and below are the reasons why.
If children can’t inspire you nothing can! Now I get chance to inspire children and be inspired by them without having to fill in a data sheet to prove why it was worthwhile!
What’s lovely about storytelling compared to reading a book is when you look at the audience, you can see their imagination working. They are deciding what the characters look like. They are imagining the mountains and rivers I mention as the setting. They are experiencing the adventures for themselves. Last week I was in a Year 3 class telling stories about healthy eating. They were superb listeners. So much so that I decided to use an activity that I normally use with Year 5 or Year 6. I asked if any of them would like to have a go at telling a story of their own.
WOW! is all I can say. The little girl in question calmly walked to the front, selected her props and proceeded to tell an imaginative, creative and interesting story. I felt really privileged to have been part of that. That little girl, though she may not have realised it, has probably inspired everyone in the room. She certainly inspired me!
Having been ensconced in Early Years for most of my career I have to be honest and say I didn’t really know what to expect from Juniors or indeed older audiences in general. Would storytelling engage them? Would they find it a bit flat compared to computer games or sports activities. Would they show the ultimate in boredom by playing with the velcro on their shoes or even falling asleep? How wrong could I be? Children of all ages (and I include adults here) love stories! So much so that I would really like to do some evening story telling sessions for adults. And of course as the audience gets older, so the subject matter can become more diverse. Things like this keep my interest alive and drive me to learn stories from all kinds of cultures and countries with many different messages.
I have to confess here and now that I’m a bit of a history geek. As a member of The National Trust and English Heritage I love nothing better than poking around old houses and castles. I will always make a bee line for the information posts, the guided tours or the experts in the room so I can discover the tales of the families who lived there. Equally I’ll google search information about places or people I want to learn more about. This stands me in good stead when it comes to planning my storytelling sessions. As soon as I am given the list of topics by a school I get to work.
The world is full of amazing stories. Oral story telling has been a way of life in many communities since the beginning of time. Although books and computer screens have taken over to a large extent, the tradition of telling and passing on tales is still strong in some places. Thank goodness this is so as it allows me to research and discover a wealth of stories. What’s really fascinating is that no matter how different the cultures are, the underlying messages in the stories are similar.
In a week or so I will be delivering storytelling around the theme of World War 1. This has been fascinating as it’s caused me to ask questions about my own ancestor’s involvement in the marvellously mis-named Great War! On both sides of the family our involvement appears to be fairly small. There were a lot of females born to all strands of the family in the 25 years leading up to the start of the war which means the number of males eligible for fighting was mercifully low. I’ve found de-mob papers from my great, great Uncle Wright which state (and I quote here) that during the 4 years and 3 months he was in colours Uncle Wright was “very good. Hard working and steady”. I’d have thought that a gunner in the Royal Artillery facing hell on earth in France’s battle fields and trenches would have deserved something a bit more heartfelt than that vague sentence. Never has the stiff upper lip seemed so woefully out of place!
Time for Other Things
As I look back on my former self I can see that I probably wasn’t much fun to be around. Consumed and therefore obsessed with work, I missed out on many wonderful opportunities due to fatigue, work load or dread of being out on a school night.
When I did get chance to read, I stuck to books that I’d already read or were Historical Faction or Crime Fiction. Nothing too new, different or challenging for me please! Now I actually have time and more importantly, energy to try other books. I still re-read old favourites but there’s a healthy mix of new authors and genres too.
Plus, my writing has really started to become central to what and who I am. Instead of waking up in the night to jot down next year’s Christmas play or write poems and stories specifically for topics I was covering in school, I now have time to write when and what I want to. The Creative Writing Group that we’ve set up recently is a case in point. I would have loved to do something like this years ago but never felt I could commit to something that would take me away from the school work. Now I can wait for inspiration to strike and get on with the task in hand.
This is a biggy! During the last 3 years of my teaching career I have never suffered so much with ill health. Labyrinthitis struck good and proper. This is a horrible thing rendering you useless for days, weeks and sometimes months at a time. I’m no medic but roughly, crystals in your inner ear go a bit loopy and more importantly, it is almost always caused by or made worse by stress! I suffered four bouts of this in just three years. Each one leaving me exhausted and bed or sofa ridden for anything from three to six weeks at a time. Even basic activities like making cups of tea would force me to lie on the sofa for two hours in recovery. Life was put on hold, even a gentle walk around the block an impossibility.
It always seemed to strike hardest at this time of year (the run up to Christmas is one of the most stressful in schools) but since leaving the profession it has not returned. I can’t say I miss it!
Instead, I feel genuinely healthier and happier.
So although freelance work can be sporadic, irregular and frustrating, I would also have to say that it can be incredibly rewarding, energising and inspiring. And now you’ll have to excuse me as I have the start of an idea for a story…
Thanks for reading.