23rd to 25th September 2011

Another weekend, another time to pack the rucksack and set off on another journey as part of my sabbatical. As our youngest son was packing things for university, I was setting off for East Grinstead, for leafy Sussex. I had really wanted to be there when secondborn made his first steps into what we hope will be the longterm practice of independent living.. but maybe it had turned out for the best that I wasn’t there in person to intensify the emotion of this occasion. I had a lovely range of train journeys to enjoy on my way to Emerson College http://www.emerson.org.uk/, which is home to the International School of Storytelling http://www.schoolofstorytelling.com/. Unfamiliar with this part of England, I was pleasantly surprised by the views of soft green tree-lined landscapes outside the train windows. This was the first of four weekends entitled The Craft of Storytelling.

Emerson College is an adult education college based on the insights of the philosopher Rudolf Steiner http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Steiner

I confess to being very ignorant about Steiner, and wondered what Emerson would be like and how Steiner’s esoteric ideas would affect life lived in this place. The college is tucked away off the main road, in a beautiful setting, with space for biodynamic farming, chalet-like accommodation, and comfortable rooms. Abstract sculptures peep out around the gardens. Students come from all over the world for a range of courses, including sculpture, anthroposophy, agriculture, counselling as well as storytelling and clowning!


It was a really friendly place to be, a place, as one of our group said, “where you could really breathe”. Unobtrusive rituals wove a spirituality into the timetable: lighting a candle, sending light to particular people or places, before we began our sessions; times of silence; pausing to ask for blessings on the shared meal and remembering our connection to the earth; a collective blowing out the candle at the end of our sessions. It felt natural.

This weekend we began to look at the power of story and the tools of the storyteller, seeking to become more conscious of the practice of story. We worked in groups on folk tales, dissecting them to discover the essential bones, imaginatively creating a geography around the story, having intense conversations about meaning and messages, about ways of delivering, about eye-contact, posture and body language. I was in a group looking at what I thought was a rather challenging story by Rumi: The Prison and the Rose Garden.

We discovered ways of responding to the listeners as teller and listener allowing the story to do its work. It was a delight to share our anxieties and joys of storytelling, and to give and receive praise for the telling. We left with homework to prepare a story for our next weekend together, examining wonder tales.

It was a delight to know that we have three more weekends to continue our getting to know one another and our exploration of story, which is important work as well as joyful play.


Story is the best medicine”