Review: The Natural Storyteller by Georgiana Keable

Image shows children and animals around a tree, and book title The Natural Storyteller

This brilliant review was written by Nimue Brown for Spiral Nature Magazine, and is reproduced here with kind permission. Many thanks to  them both for their enthusiasm!

I’m not a storyteller myself, but it’s something I’ve long been interested in. One of the problems storytellers face is that many people assume it’s a thing you do for children, rather than an all-ages activity, and that’s one of the many reasons that The Natural Storyteller is such a good book — it’s a book for children that demonstrates why storytelling is for everyone. pagan ancestors told stories, and storytelling has been an important part of most human cultures. These days, we all too often live in fragmented ways, as passive consumers of amusement. Storytelling is active, a lively engagement with the world and with each other, and author Georgiana Keable makes the case for why we need that in our lives, and why we are much the poorer without it. She also makes the case for the power and importance of ecological storytelling.

The blurb on the back of the book is about children and storytelling, which left me expecting this to be a book for parents and educators, but it isn’t. Once you get inside, and beyond Hugh Lupton’s foreword, this is a book written for children and addressed to them. As an adult, I still found it readable, because there’s nothing condescending in the tone. Much of the advice that is relevant for children who would be storytellers is also relevant to adults, particularly questions of how to source, learn, and present material.

The stories in The Natural Storyteller are numerous and come from around the world. Some are ancient and traditional, some are modern re-workings of old tales, and some are completely new. It’s a really good and diverse mix, which manages to include a vast array of cultures without any issue of appropriation. It’s a really good demonstration of how broad, how ancient, and how integral to human life storytelling is. There are stories about storytelling, too, getting across the idea that we all have stories, and we all have needs that can be met through the sharing of stories. Most of the stories are quite short, which makes them easy for a beginner storyteller to learn. On the whole, the stories are positive and upbeat, although there are some sad ones. There isn’t a lot of violence — these are tales where violence is a problem to be solved, rather than a solution, which I very much liked. The core message is about cooperation, compassion, care, and creative solutions.

One of the reasons I am not a storyteller myself is that I’d never figured out how to practice a story. I wouldn’t want to learn by rote — that’s a lot of work, and seems a bit dry for my tastes. What author Georgiana Keable does, in small commentaries between stories, is to ply the reader with information about how to become a teller. She writes about how to get inside a story and understand it, how to inhabit it and make it your own, how to learn it and express it. She encourages would-be story tellers to really get inside the tales they want to tell, and gives them the tools to do that. It shows that storytelling is more than a feat of memory, it’s about the stories you choose to make part of yourself and how you share them.

Many of the tales in this book capture something of the relationship between human and not-human. The need for balance, care, and respect comes through loud and clear, in traditional and modern stories alike. Part of the reason that modern humans are so destructive is that we have stories of market and economy, of growth and consumption, that let us imagine ourselves as users of the world, not as participants in it. While there are increasing numbers of voices speaking up against this, that kind of activism is hard work and often exhausting. Sometimes we can get the message across more effectively by telling stories, and by re-storying our culture with tales that help us form healthier relationships with the world we live in. This book offers many such stories, and opens the door to even more — the stories we need now are often old stories that we have let go of.

I think The Natural Storyteller is a brilliant book for young people, but it doesn’t end there. Anyone interested in storytelling as an art form, but doesn’t know how to get started, would find this an excellent place to begin. I can very much recommended it for anyone starting down the Bard path, and anyone interested in finding emotionally sustainable approaches to activism. It’s an uplifting read that will leave you with a sense of possibility and optimism — something I think we could all do with right now.

Buy the book here…

More about Spiral Nature Magazine here…

Review: Adam Curle: Radical Peacemaker by Tom Woodhouse and John Paul Lederach

From the wonderful Nimue Brown, this review of Adam Curle: Radical Peacemaker. Visit Nimue’s blog by following the link. This book is out on Thursday, and is being launched at the Adam Curle Symposium, which is running from the 4-6th September at the University of Bradford, more details here.

Adam Curle: Radical Peacemaker is published by Hawthorn Press. It’s an overview of the life and work of Quaker academic, and peace maker Adam Curle, and includes some of his most important and influential writing.

Adam Curle’s first contact with peace issues came through working with returning prisoners of war after WW2, but has taken him, over the following decades, into many of the world’s most troubled zones. His writing comes therefore from a rare mix of firsthand experience, spiritual belief, and considered academic thinking. What he has to say about peace is fascinating.

Too often, we allow peace to simply mean an absence of obvious conflict. Adam uses the term ‘unpeacefulness’ to talk about situations where there may be no overt violence, but nonetheless what’s happening is likely to lead to violence and is causing harm. Oppression, prejudice, injustice, any kind of cruel or degrading system creates a breeding ground for violent resentment. Anyone interested in genuine peace has to be willing to tackle unpeacefulness wherever it manifests.

I found it very powerful that this book recognises that sometimes it’s very hard, or impossible, for a group of people to go from unpeaceful relations to properly peaceful and constructive relations, without first having some kind of dramatic upheaval. You can’t negotiate for peace if you have no power. At the same time, the more violence there is in the transition, the harder it is to build genuine peace in the aftermath. Adam Curle is a great advocate of Ghandi’s methods – non-violent disruption, non-cooperation, and civil disobedience can be tools for radical change.

This is a book with a message that can be applied at all levels. From issues of international politics down to how we operate our individual households, peace is not the absence of violence, but a deliberate project. It’s something we can do. It’s something we can all do. As a peacemaker, the author has a lot to say about bridge building (conciliation) and mediation work to help opposing sides rethink their relationships and renegotiate for something more beneficial. He illustrates how angry narratives can become self perpetuating, but if both sides are saying ‘we want peace, but the other lot will never give up’ then there’s room for a third party to do some real good.

Some of the writing in this book dates back to the 1970s, and uses male pronouns to describe people who are doing things. There’s a certain irony here, talking about oppression and alienation and so forth in a language that explicitly excludes half the population. However, if you can grit your teeth for that bit, and chalk it up to the shortcomings of the period, what the author has to say is well worth hearing, and as we go along, the language evolves into something much more inclusive.

This book is many things. It’s a history lesson, a biography, a philosophical piece, and almost a ‘how-to’ manual for becoming an active peace practitioner. It’s not always an easy read, some of the ideas are challenging and the language is quite dense in places, but it is absolutely worth your time and effort. Highly recommended.

Read the review on the original website here…

More about the book here…

More about the Adam Curle Symposium here…