Tell Me A Story

At my Writer’s Group meeting today we were talking about the personal influences on our writing. Most of us said that we all liked to read as children. Many of us were good at English at school or had English teachers with whom we’d had a positive relationship. Many of us had written for the school or University paper or had been involved in amateur theatre.

Some of us were fortunate enough to have parents or siblings who worked as journalists. Someone’s mother even had a book of poetry published in the 1960s. There were fathers who were historians and aunts who were gardening writers. One brother even worked for the Arts Australia Council, the body responsible for giving struggling writers their government grants.

I didn’t want to mention the reason I started writing from a very young age. I certainly didn’t have the auspicious beginnings or connections most of the others in the group had.

I started writing because I wanted to be like my Irish grandfather. Grandpa Jimmy O’Sullivan was a fisherman and by his own admission was nothing special. Just an ordinary, everyday bloke.

He liked a drink and a smoke and the occasional flutter on the horses. He liked a clean shirt every day and a nice roast (with extra gravy) on Sundays.

In some ways my grandpa was just an ordinary bloke. Except for one thing. He told the most extraordinary stories. Stories he made up himself. Stories about leprechauns and fairy rings and birds that flew all the way from Iceland. There was the story about the little fox who knew the way to fairyland and the hippo that thought it was a cat. I remember one instance where he held a group of six year olds enthralled as he told us the story of the enormous salmon that almost pulled a fishing boat under the sea and the fisherman who tried to catch it; his very own version of Moby Dick.

My grandpa was a weaver of dreams and imaginings. His melodious voice kept out the rain and the wind and the fear of the dark. He kept us entertained for hours. He made us believe there were such things as happy endings and magic.

A story teller. A keeper of dreams. That’s what he was. Tell us a story, Grandpa Jimmy, we used to say.

And he did. Every time. He had hundreds of stories at his disposal. Hidden away up his sleeve, he used to say. He never wrote any of his stories down, but he remembered them all in minute detail.

Telling a story is an art as hard to master as singing well, playing an instrument or painting on canvas. It takes practise and dedication.

In time I hope to be able to tell a story as well as my Grandpa Jimmy. In his honour.

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17 thoughts on “Tell Me A Story

  1. I second what Paisley said. Grandpa Jimmy was a Bard, and he passed those noble abilities to you.

    My dad is a storyteller, and I’m sure that’s where I picked up my love of a good tale.

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  2. You are one of the finest storytellers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. It’s always such a treat when you have a new story to share here on SITC. Keep them coming Sel, you add much to my days!!!

    Hugs and Happy Weekend, G 🙂

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  3. I have an uncle that would capitivate all of us with his stories. He would come up with some fantastic plots and he would have us as the characters.

    I think you are a wonderful story teller!

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  4. that is one of the best reasons for beginning to write that i ever heard. i just started because i thought it would impress girls. more fool me.

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  5. Hi Selma,

    “Telling a story is an art as hard to master as singing well, playing an instrument or painting on canvas. It takes practise and dedication”.

    I can’t remember exactly where (I think it was in one of his novels) Henry Miller writes about how he excited he is to have a received a letter from a lady friend who is one of the best raconteurs that he knows. He then writes of his disappointment when he discovers that his friend’s story writing skills don’t match her story telling skills. When I read Miller’s account, I thought of a friend of mine who was the most incredible story teller. He had a knack. He could make something as banal as making and eating a peanut butter sandwich into a compelling tale. But like Miller’s friend while he could TELL a tale, he couldn’t write one.

    And I’ve met the other side of the coin, shy, introverted, stuttering, stammering types who write the most powerful, poetic, engaging prose. Also, although I can’t personally say if it is true or not, I have heard and read many a time that a lot of novelists are not big on talking, unless they are compelled to do so.

    Great post, Selma.
    DavidM

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  6. PAISLEY:
    I really appreciate that coming from you. You are definitely a sublime storyteller yourself. Cheers, hon!

    KAREN:
    Is he? I wish you would do a post about it. That really interests me because the storytelling really influenced why I write and my love of books and so on. We are alike in so many ways!

    GERALDINE:
    Thanks so much, G. I will definitely keep the stories coming. No probs there!

    EMPLOYEE 3699:
    I love that kind of thing. Some people just have a knack for it, don’t they? Oh, that would have been so much fun.

    JASON:
    Hahaha. I am sure you have impressed lots of girls. However, the same cannot be said for me impressing boys. True story – when I was about 19 I met this guy and he said to me: ‘So what do you like to do for fun?’ ‘I write stories,’ I replied. I was confident in saying that because I’d just had a couple of short stories published. ‘Do they have any sexy bits in them?’ he asked. ‘Well, er,no,’ I replied. ‘I write about nature and magic and things like that.’ His face dropped and he completely changed the subject. Never rang me again. Sad, but true!

    DAVID:
    I can always rely on you for the acute observation. You are spot on with that one. My Grandpa was not a great writer. I have also met many people who were considered raconteurs but couldn’t string a sentence together in written form.

    Conversely, I am better at the written word than the spoken word. Many writers I know are the same way. Maybe this happens because the universe wants to share the skills around. It wouldn’t be fair if one person could do everything!

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  7. You are always telling great stories even when you’re not trying to, it’s just who you are. I know we are totally different writers, but I so love your finely honed prose. Besides life itself, I get my influence in writing from listening to non-vocal instrumental music (I am a musician) and the notes themselves convey stories to me. I’m more influenced by a person’s vibe than what they’re actually writing:)

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  8. BOBBY:
    I really appreciate you saying that. I am very much influenced by a person’s vibe (or essence) too.

    One of the great things about blogging is meeting people like yourself. Always a pleasure!!!

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  9. I’m from the north of England where he who shouts loudest gets heard … so from an early age, I took to writing down what I wanted to say, so I’d remember it for later.

    And, I was surprised at the number of people who’d read, and take notice of what I wrote … when my Grandma visited, she’d always ask especially to see my ‘journal’.

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  10. there is a beauty in the ordinary and everyday that most don’t see…. am sure grandpa jimmy saw it and me thinks you do too….. 🙂
    Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can’t wait to see your next post!

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  11. Ahem, Sel, I agree with Paisley wholeheartedly! You are in the same league, or better than most of the successful published writers from yesterday or today.

    The roots of your inspiration are far more interesting than having an uncle on some board, or parents who write. Your roots have the magic that elevates and guides you into all those fascinating places we can’t wait to read about.

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  12. TRAVELRAT:
    You obviously had the gift of writing straight away. I hope you still have that journal. What a treasured keepsake.

    PAUL:
    I know you definitely see it. I like to think I do – it’s just paying attention to the little details, you know?

    STEPH:
    What a lovely thing to say. That has made my day. 😀 😀

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  13. Beautiful post. I can completely relate. I come from a storytelling background of people with no formal education as well, different kinds of stories, war stories, but still, those are the stories that first inspired my writing and it is in their honor I write as well. I know exactly what you mean. It is a legacy that runs deep.

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  14. QUERULOUS SQUIRREL:
    It is a legacy. I really feel that. It kind of makes sticking to the writing more important. I can’t destroy that legacy!

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  15. “Telling a story is an art as hard to master as singing well, playing an instrument or painting on canvas. It takes practise and dedication.”

    Oh Boy – does it ever!

    I think your Grandpa Jimmy is VERY proud of the way you tell US all of your stories!!!

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