Final Report to the AHRC

Just a brief update! Since the initial, funded period of our project has now come to a close, we’ve recently submitted our end of year report to the AHRC. In this report we assess the efficacy of our skills training and outreach programmes, and I’m pleased to say that we were able to report that the project was a great success! I won’t bore you with the full report, but here are two highlights:

  •  “It is our perception that all participants have met these aims by developing public engagement skills. While it was impossible to evaluate the development of soft skills, we have relied on self-assessment to determine attitudes toward the training workshops. All but one (92%) of respondents to a survey (n=12) held the overall quality of training provided to be either ‘Good’ (17%) or ‘Excellent’ (75%). The remaining respondent thought the workshops to be ‘satisfactory’ (8%). Perhaps the most significant indicator of these workshops is that 100% of respondents agreed that, based on their experience of these workshops, they would be interested in taking part in a similar event in future years.”
    Indeed, the most major negative complaint seems to be that one respondent to our survey didn’t like the dressing on the sandwiches we provided for lunch– if that’s the biggest issue, we think we can definitely count this one as a success!
  • “Not only have our participants been extremely successful in providing storytelling events at a range of primary schools throughout the UK, but the training facilitated by our project has inspired a constellation of related events. Upon request from secondary school teachers, we expanded our target audience and performed to KS3 students. In addition, there have been several other events, organised independently by participants who were trained and inspired by our workshops. These included a performance at the Banbury Literary Live festival, two performances at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, a storytelling event at a London pub, a performance at a retirement home, two reflective papers at conferences in Oxford and Cork, and a conference on the theme of Stories and Storytelling in the Medieval World.”

And although our year’s funding has come to an end, the project continues to run. Through the efforts of individual participants, using the skills gained on our project, a range of events are taking place or are planned for this summer, which continue to delight children and adults alike.

Gareth Evans

Storytelling Performances in Schools

This is a quick update on the project’s outreach efforts, which have been going well over the winter. A number of participants are based in Oxford and have been regularly performing together. We have taken our tales to a number of local primary schools – for a term we took part in a regular afterschool story club, and we have also organised plenty of one-off sessions.

Initially the project was aimed at Key Stage 2 (age 7-11) schoolchildren. In addition to KS2, we have also performed for Key Stage 3 (age 11-14). We have all really enjoyed performing to both of these age groups, not least forstudents’ extraordinarily creative responses and queries about our stories. Continue reading

Storytelling at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas

On Saturday, the 25th October 2014, I held a storytelling session at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (ASNC) as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. It was a c. 15 – 20 minute story which I had written myself by distilling the essence of countless ancient tales about people’s encounters with mounds. Lore of this kind occurs across Scandinavia and Iceland, with similar stories known across Orkney, but strands of it also appear in “Celtic” mythology.

Mound-folklore survives up until the present day across the world. Before the tales were recorded on paper, however, they are likely to have already survived a long-standing oral tradition including several strands and variations. Continue reading

Simon on Storytelling

Jenny made telling stories feel like an easy and natural extension of conversation. Sat in a circle, she quietly shared with us some experiences and thoughts about storytelling, with a perpetual focus on openness and finding what works for each teller and telling.

She told us stories, with moments that still stay with me, as she embodied the fear and hope of her figures. And then, alarmingly, she asked us to do the same: what seemed so natural to her, she asked us to do. The first stories we told, we told in pairs: weirdly, I still feel a bond with the person I spoke to as we sat on the floor, cross-legged like five year olds, struggling for words. I was taught to be a teacher more than ten years ago, and this had the same sense of crushing embarrassment, pushing through the pain.

But, based on what we had seen and what Jenny had said, there were little moments ‘where every word was at home, / taking its place to support the others, / the word neither diffident nor ostentatious, / an easy commerce of the old and the new.’ And then at those moments, it felt like telling stories might just be something natural and real: I felt free: like the moment when Harry first rides a broomstick in The Philosopher’s Stone, it ‘was easy; it was fun’.

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Storytelling in the Middle Ages

Storytelling in the Middle Ages: An Evening of Tall Tales, Music and Werewolves

 “Once upon a time there was a lady spy, Ingenue Bond of Venice, who led twelve priests into temptation…” So began one of the modern adaptations of a medieval tale created by a group of storytelling workshop participants, who were challenged to retell a Breton lai in the style of a Bond film. In their hands, the Old French tale of Ignaure, a knight who wooed twelve ladies simultaneously until he was discovered by their twelve husbands, was shaken and stirred to become a dashing, Martini-quaffing adventure featuring an audacious female secret agent, twelve unfortunate priests, and a moonlit chase through the catacombs and piazzas of Venice.


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Banbury Literary Live

Five storytellers took the train to Banbury, a short journey from Oxford, to speak at a wonderful literary festival: Banbury Literary Live. This event was held at North Oxfordshire Academy. We were met at the door by friendly secondary-school students, who had been delegated to look after us while we were at the festival. We were whisked in through the gleaming, bright auditorium, past a troop of children making a racket and having a fantastic time.

We had arrived about an hour early for our performance slot… however, the children who had come along to the festival were getting tired after a long day of exciting literary events and activities and so we went on almost at once! Our audience were soon happily ensconced in bean bags, their parents sitting towards the back of the room. With no time for nerves, we launched into a sequence of stories: Continue reading

Reflections (part 1)

Storytelling workshop participants Emily Dolmans and Alex Paddock joined me (Hannah Ryley) in a presentation at the English Graduate Conference Oxford. Chaired by Britton Brooks, our panel took place first thing on Friday 6 June 2014. I began by introducing the project and its aims, and outlined progress thus far. Emily and Alex then went on to describe their own responses to the ‘Medieval Storytelling’ workshops by offering personal accounts of developing storytelling skills (Emily) and adapting a medieval tale (Alex). Collectively, our presentation responded to the conference theme by addressing the ‘marginalisation’ of Continue reading

Telling stories at the workshops

When Hannah and I came up with the idea for the Medieval Storytelling project, one of our main aims was to provide training which would develop graduate students’ and ECRs’ narrative and oral performance skills. While such skills are often taken for granted – most of us are pretty used to giving conference papers – it’s rare that these skills are explicitly taught. We thought that training in storytelling would Continue reading

‘What is story?’

Jenny Moon, one of our professional storytellers, led the first session of the ‘Medieval Storytelling: Engaging the Next Generation’ workshops. This initial session was an open discussion around the question ‘What is story?’ and sparked conversations which were continue over the course of the two days of workshops. To get the juices flowing, Jenny asked us to jot down our responses to the question on our notepads. Continue reading