Stories are everywhere. There are stories that are already told. There are stories that are re-told. There are stories yet to be told. The potential for stories is overwhelming. As human beings we love storytelling.
Whilst on holiday this year I made a resolution to set up my story radar.
Once we reached each destination I looked around the dwelling we had arrived at and scanned the telling tales of human personality. AirB&Bs are particularly good for the whimsical and quirky and far outstrip the hotel experience if you like picking up on stories. Knickknacks, wall hangings, the choice of books and so many other details all reveal storylines. The story the observer may pick up may of course not be the truth. As the receiver of a story we interpret in our own unique way what we observe as a result of our own set of experiences. My mind was well pleased with the sleuthing that I had tasked it to perform. But what was I going to do with these stories forming in my head? Those details that appealed I noted down in my daily three pages. Who knows I might use them in a piece of creative writing. But you have got to be selective with your writing scrapbook or you can be quite overwhelmed.
Sitting in a restaurant or outside watching people pass by I can’t say I was the most attentive travel companion to my partner as I was away in a world of potential stories. There was one restaurant where I was deeply involved in working out the relationship of the owning couple and my partner was getting quite fidgety! I had to turn off my story radar sometimes or I might have been left quite alone with my own devising!
Our holiday was essentially a walking holiday with a difference. The story hunt added an extra magic. When not concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other on a rocky coastal path my mind was scanning the world around me. It dawned on me that walks provide many a storyline. Just looking at the descriptions in walking books there are many tales told about aspects of the landscape, architecture and the people that lived there. Human beings leave behind a trail of story hints wherever they have settled. The best walks we did on the holiday were those that hinted at human stories. On one Dorset walk called ‘The South West Coast Path to St Adhelm’s’ we passed a garden memorial to the Royal Marines killed between 1945 and 1990, visited the 800-year old St Adhelm’s Chapel, the Coastguard Station and a memorial to the work of radar developers in the 1940s and during WWII. Plenty of stories there and potential for some to be retold.
As mentioned there are stories already told. My story radar also had a setting to locate any authors in the areas we were visiting. In Cornwall it was Daphne du Maurier. Everywhere I looked there were references to her and I found myself reading an article on her in an old edition of Cornwall Life May 2017: ‘Daphne du Maurier – Celebrate a Literary Life in Fowey’. Unfortunately we weren’t in Fowey otherwise I would have liked to have followed her trail and perhaps retold something about her life. Next time perhaps.
But it was in Dorset that a story already told but retold came to light. It was on a very misty day that I discovered the life story of Mary Anning. We had planned to go on a coastal walk near Lulworth Cover to Durdle Door – a natural stone arch created by the movement of tectonic plates during the rising of the Alps in Europe after the end of the Cretaceous period. Geology has always fascinated me. The mist was so thick and it was raining lightly so we decided to go into the visitor centre at Lulworth Cove to let the weather pass. Browsing through the books on geology and fossils I came across a couple of books on someone called Mary Anning who collected fossils from the Dorset coast in the early 19th Century. One of the books was a non-fiction account of her life and the other was fictionalised. I chose to buy the fictionalised version of her story by Tracy Chevalier called ‘Remarkable Creatures’. Simple book cover design and tantalising title! Fictionalised versions of real people’s lives are often easier to read in my opinion and this particular story about fossils might need a bit of spice to make it palatable! I had also read and rated highly Tracy Chevalier’s novel based on a famous painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ so I knew I was in for a good read. In the retelling of Mary Anning’s life in a fictional form I have been introduced to the whole new topic of fossils. Just goes to show the power of storytelling to engage us all in life-long learning.
Whilst travelling home by car I kept myself entertained with advertising stories. Whilst sitting in a long queue on motorways I discovered amongst other advertising stories that you could have a camper van that folded in half; and more intriguingly a ‘Greener Goodbye’ funeral. Glad I wasn’t driving. No danger of an accident! Not only were the vehicle advertising stories engaging but also the number plate stories people tell by forcing numbers and letters to have meaning. I was well amused but for reasons of anonymity I won’t divulge any specific number plates!
Human beings are storytellers. Our capacity with language helps us to spin tales and create the world around us and within us. Our storytelling potential is enormous. Our inner and outer worlds can be made richer or poorer by the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we see and hear. The onus is on each and every one of us to filter the stories that will benefit rather than hinder us. Not only are we storytellers but we have the ability to choose the setting on our story radar.