The International
School of Storytelling

Newsletter No 12: October 2013


Dear Friends,

This October newsletter is a special edition devoted to the Everything Under the Sun Festival that we hosted in August. It was a great celebration and we have every one of you who either came or sent your good wishes to thank for making it the success that it was. When Sue initially had the idea to create the Festival I really had my doubts that it would fly. “Who will come, Sue? Look at the costs!” and I had a couple of meltdowns. But Sue kept saying, “ Just imagine Ruskin Hall full of people,  with 50 to 60 alumni from all over the world, friends who have worked with us who will want to be there again and performances and workshops all over the weekend....” and I have to admit she was right. Holding steadfastly on to that vision and putting one foot in front of another, with the magnificent help of Yvette and her team of helpers we made it happen AND YOU CAME!

The festival opened with the keynote speech we had dreamed of from Ben Okri. It was packed with storytelling gems. Here are a few of them:

“When we tell stories the ages awaken. When we listen to stories our future takes a clearer shape”

“Stories are the highest technology of being” 

“Stories are intersections between mortality and immortality. When we tell stories the immortal self is singing in time. Remember that anything beyond time is wiser than time”

“All stories are guides for living or negative guides on how not to live” 

We are currently waiting for him to send us the full transcript of his talk but for those of you who can’t wait and have dropbox (easy to download for free) settle back and listen wherever you are!

As you can see from the pictures Ben was clearly enjoying himself and although he planned to return to London the next morning first thing, he quickly decided to stay on and attended workshops and performances throughout the next day. As Annie Blampied mentions in her review of the Festival below he said he had “found his tribe” and dashing to catch the last train back to London on Saturday night said that “he would do anything to help us.”



EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN ~ a feast of a festival

Story tellers and lovers of stories from 19 countries, gathered over the August bank holiday weekend to celebrate EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN in great festive style. Many local people dropped by to join in the fun, and feast on brilliant stories, songs, poetry and foolery.   Emerson College came alive with the joy of old and new friends finding each other. Touched on the inside by the power of real stories, I could see hearts opening in the tenderness of authentic connection.

The festival began with guest speaker and creator of stories, Ben Okri, telling the assembled company filling Ruskin Hall and stage, that he felt at home with us, because we were his tribe.  He had especially written an essay for the occasion, about story telling, which he read out (and which I hope will be available to read on the ISOS website?).  One of the things that forcefully struck me was when Ben said that we tell ourselves stories that live below our conscious awareness, that cause us, individually and collectively, tremendous suffering.  This is an idea I work with as a spiritual counsellor, but I had never heard anyone articulate it publicly before.  The evening finished with some riddles. Roi Gal-Or challenged Ben to share with us his own questions about story telling.  Questions that had no right answer, but filled the atmosphere and accompanied us throughout the weekend. Here are the questions:~

 1) Where did the words 'Once Upon A Time' come from?
2) Can you tell stories to the dead?
3) If we were teetering right on the brink of destruction, what story could save the world?

In the warmth of that dark velvet night we went outside afterwards, to be greeted by a fire dancer, in the courtyard between Ruskin and Pixton, dancing to the sound of drumming. We gathered round, quietly watching her twirling her flaming batons in the centre of a fire mandala aflame in the shape of the School of Storytelling’s logo of the sun.  During the weekend, that mandala was tended and changed, different elements appearing~ fruits, flowers, feathers, seeds, petals, twinkling night lights ~ a visual story.

Clouds gathered over Friday night, and the entire Saturday everything under the sun was drenched in pouring rain.           This did nothing to diminish the vitality and enthusiasm for all the events that ensued, but might have put off some locals from venturing up the hill.

The participants who had signed up for the whole weekend, (including me) joined workshops that ran each morning for three days.  Ever since an evening listening to Roi and Sue tell biographical stories, I had wanted to study this work with them. Here was my chance, and I joined 23 other people for the workshop with Sue.  It was a miraculous experience for me. Although I have been telling stories, on and off, for years, and even helping others do so, in three (seemingly) simple morning sessions, I crossed a threshold and found myself in a new relationship to story telling.  I can imagine that it was like that for others too, whatever workshops they had chosen to do.

Our workshop was in the Foundation Room, and I could see through the open door into Ruskin Hall on the other side of the landing, where Ashley’s morning course was taking place, the same recognizable School of Storytelling care in the creating of the space, as was in our room – a circle of chairs around a warm, oriental carpet, (from which to focus and to fly) a colourful cloth, candle, flowers, perhaps a shell, a stone, a bell, a funny hat – but most of all, the sense that those carrying the festival were working closely together, holding the space for miracles to happen. Here was where people could drop their defences and discover their innocence and joy within, and open to new meaning through the power of real story telling, threads weaving and creating fresh patterns of connection.

The attention to detail in every way about this festival was fantastic.  The segue between performances appeared seamless, but must have been an enormous amount of work, especially with shifting chairs around.  Some of the participants were also wonderfully helpful volunteers and door keepers.

There were the most delicious food stalls and cafes set up in the grounds and in Pixton, catering to all tastes, and making it possible to eat whenever you wanted, as well as going to as many performances as you wanted!  And what a feast of offerings there were!  Some of the best story tellers in the British Islands and beyond, had come to share their delights alongside some of our talented local storytellers here in Forest Row.

I found some highlights shared on Face Book, here they are:~

“Sue's fab Along the Way stories of encounter on the Camino (laughter and tears and thoughtfulness guaranteed); Ashley's gorgeous telling of the story of little Tistou - wonderful characterisation (more laughter and tears!); Abbie giving voice to the often silenced voice of women - the inspirational women from the inspirational Norselands; Roi's brilliiant Times they are a-changin' ; playfulness and power of being seen from Jamie MacLaren Lachman; and great food - loved the pizza!”

…… “Had a fantastic time ...great performances, incredibly inventive workshop with Roi Galore* creating new and relevant games and bringing an element of fun and the unexpected into storytelling. Loads of wonderful people and Sunshine.”

And here are some magic moments spoken by people from the biographical storytelling workshop about the festival.

a yellowing ash leaf becomes Titania’s earring”

(after the evening performance on Saturday) “sitting on a bench in the dark and quiet, a frog leapt into a pool of light nearby”.

The words in Malcolm and Nick’s performance Call of the Curlew,“the click of the latch on the gate” opened my imagination…..

Storytelling doesn’t get any better…entrancing, wonderful.

Hugh Lupton and Helen Chadwick received high praise for their Aphrodite and the Gods of Love, “the best telling I’ve heard in years”…… And listening to David Campbell telling in the room opposite at the same time, I experienced my breathing expanding and deepening and relaxing to his measured and loving pace.

My personal highlight was watching Louise Coigley tell stories of working as a speech and language therapist, with severely disabled or deaf children over many years, (using some wonderful and colourful props!).  I laughed belly aching laughter and wept with the poignancy of children being recognised and speaking intelligibly for the first time.  Louise told us about one child who was so severely disabled that it was hard to know if her part in the enactment of the story of the Prince of Pigs, had any impact on her. In this story this child becomes the Princess, and is taken in her sheepskin protected wooden frame which holds her up, to the Houses of the Moon, the Stars and the Sun where she is given white chocolate to eat.  When Louise had to write her formal report at the end of the year for this child, she did not know what to say about her progress, so instead she described the girl’s part in this story.  This girl’s father was so moved that he wept upon hearing the report. He said that to him, his daughter was always a princess, but to everyone else she was a diagnosis, someone with a debilitating, deadly disease . Nobody else had ever seen his daughter as a princess before.

There were so many wonderful performances and artistic gifts, I feel bad to leave any out.  They were all magnificent. There were family story tellings with Mark Bedford and Janice Witherspoon, and varieties of nature stories told outside in Emerson’s gardens; Duncan MacIntosh’s stories from Under the African skies, Rapha Rodan’s moving When Cain met Abel,  and Stella Kassimati’s passionate Rule of Dionysos amongst others.

But what better way to end the festival on Monday than with the peerless Jan Blake, accompanied by her sweet violinist Will Pearce Smith. When Jan smiles, she literally lights up the room. She told us Jamaican and African stories and made me proud to be a woman.  Jan gets the audience singing and participating in her stories, through call and response. She is a master of suspense, and communicates both a sense of tremendous power and also vulnerability in her telling.  The sun had returned shining out of a blue sky, and there we were, under the sun, satiated with stories, nurtured by friendship and encouraged to go forward with a new found trust in life. 

It is over twenty years since Ashley sat inside a mighty oak in Wales and decided to start a School of Storytelling.  This festival was a perfect celebration of that decision for all of us who took part. So many lives have been touched by the work of the school of storytelling, and long may it continue.

Just one question to ISOS, are you planning next year’s festival already?! Hope so!!! Thank you for all your hard work, Sue, Ashley, Roi,  Abbie and Yvette, and to all the people who came and told stories and who also listened to them with their full selves.

Annie Blampied


And Rachel Welsh who came all the way from Australia wrote this:

 I discovered Emerson College and the School of Storytelling online in 2003, just as my inner calling towards working with story began to beckon strongly. I planted a seed within my heart and sent out a wish on the vapour of the breath of my spoken words, “I'm going there one day.”

In 2011 I travelled from my home in Australia to New Zealand to partake of the five week Storytelling in the Community course being held by Sue and Ashley. When I heard them both speak of story and tell story, when I looked around at the fourteen strangers I would share the next five weeks with, I felt a great sense of belonging, purpose, mystery and connection.

The wish I expressed in 2003 was realised when I was able to attend the recent Alumni gathering and Festival under the Sun.

When I arrived I walked into the hall and saw a circle of some sixty chairs. Some already occupied, others awaiting their guests. An excited chorus of voices began to fill the room as people from past courses, reconnected and connected. The shy one inside panicked a little, “I know hardly anyone here.” As people gathered and the chairs were filled a silence descended, the candle was lit and we began.

 Sixty or so people and nineteen countries were represented. Tears of gratitude come back to me as I write.  I recall the honour I felt to be sitting in a circle of people from all over the world working and playing with story to nourish and grow themselves, their communities and to build a new world story.  My heart opened further and I no longer felt in the company of strangers. I felt connected.

Roi offered the question, “In a time when the world is going a little crazy, what can we do as Storytellers?”

Over the next twenty four hours through creative games and exercises we imagined ourselves within the stories of the earth, the flowers, the bees, those on both sides of local and global issues of fracking. We discovered the power within imagining to shift perceptions, create and understand differing viewpoints. We shared stories and sang lullabies to one another. We uncovered dreams and explored how to bring those dreams into creation. We listened to our feelings of despair and grief and we dreamed into being the action required to transform them.

As I slowly re enter my life here in Australia, after over six weeks of travel, I begin to listen anew and imagine. What is next? What dream is my soul wanting to call into being? How can I listen to the cry of the world soul and respond? I recall Ashley asking Roi how he creates new games. Roi replied, ““I don't know, I ask for help before I go to sleep, I ask “What if?” and I am prepared to fail.”

The word Alumni comes  from the Latin Alumnus -  “a pupil” or literally “foster son”. It comes from the verb Alere - “ to nourish”, “to bring up.”

The relationship that the School of Storytelling has with it's students is one of nourishment. Nourishment of our souls and the worlds soul, nourishment of our work as storytellers, nourishment of our connection with ourselves, our communities, our earth. Nourishment of our connection to, as PL Travers writes; “What the bee knows, the wisdom that sustains our passing life – however much we deny or ignore it – that forever remains.”

Heart felt thanks to each and every person at Emerson College, the International School of Storytelling and those at the Alumni gathering that shared their presence and bee-ing-ness with me. A special thanks to the bees who visited me regularly as I left Emerson and made my way home to Australia. They reminded me that I am a part of it all,  it is all a part of me and we are all a part of each other. 

Rachel Welsh

The Right Story at the Right Time

This month registration opens for this popular and practically based 6-week course where we explore and learn how to use the art of storytelling to engage, inspire and educate the children and teenagers of our world today. Growing up in a world of environmental challenges, global and personal conflicts, mass media and fast and digital communication, children and teens are hungrier than ever to listen to some good stories spoken with the integrity and warmth of the human voice.

This is an intensive interactive course that includes getting out there in the community telling stories to children in public schools in the local area. When you have completed the course you will not only be prepared to tell stories in many kinds of venues to children and adolescents, but you will also have put it into practice! You will have planned programs that engage students with storytelling and you will have used songs and movement activities to involve them. We are very proud of the fact that most of the students who graduated from this course in the past few years have continued to work professionally as storytellers with children and families in various settings.

Here are some experiences from the students on last year’s course:

‘The course was a mixture of magic and factual. Everybody was able to learn at their own pace from their own starting point both of experience with children and experience with stories. We were immersed in the amazing world of children and the wonder that stories can weave into their lives. With ever increasing  chaos in the world the land of stories is becoming ever more needed in children's lives and the course highlights the need for this and how important it is for each person to go out and do this on however big or little a scale. On the course we had valuable opportunities to go into schools and to organise weekly performances in the storytelling hut. (Amabel Clarke)

Since the course I have told stories at campsites, in hospitals, at a medieval fayre, at a tea shop on a hill, in schools, in pubs, with family and friends, in the woods, at a festival and there is more in the pipeline. The course was very helpful in supporting us to structure a performance while at the same time remaining flexible to whoever the audience might be…If anyone is thinking of doing this course then definitely go and do it!!' (Glenys Newton)

 ‘I fell upon the Right Story at the Right time, at just that, the Right Time! So, take the plunge, trust, and if you are meant to do the course it will happen! This theme seems to run throughout the course. You will be reminded about what is it like to be the age of  2, 3, 4 and up to 21, the wonder, awe, innocence and difficulties that come at that particular age. And you will work with fables to myths to your own creations. You will finish the course having begun a new and special chapter in your own Story, one which will only enrich and bless all children along the way'.  (Mathilda Bowen)

'Imagine a pocket of time full of children, stories and meaning. During the Right Story at the Right Time course one remembers the essence of the child, through working closely with the different ages and witnessing the magic of the imagination. Children are dynamic, playful, full of wonder and full of love for the world. When we tell stories to children we feed them timeless meaning and truth, which is hard to remember in the chaotic societies that we live in today. There's seldom pure attention and time given to the simplest and deepest things. By taking the time to tell a story to children, we remind them of dreams, adventure, joy and the art of giving. We truly show them the potential of humanity'. (Melody Brink)

We welcome on this adventure teachers, parents, therapists, coaches, and experienced and beginning storytellers who wish to learn the art of 'turning straw into gold'....

Supportive subjects include felt making, age-appropriate social games and a study of child development with matching story curriculum

 The course will run from 26th January -7th March 2014 

For more information and course content visit 

A chorus of thanks to Yvette as she takes up her new work at Emerson.

When anyone books a course with us they either send in an email or give us a call. From that point on begins a process of registration that results often months later in a circle of people smiling at one another all expectant of the next adventure ahead. Invisible at that moment is who has been holding the countless details, arrangements and conversations that have taken place to make all this possible.

Over the last three and a half years Yvette has been quietly but steadfastly holding the administrative and registration centre of our work. She has been on the end of numerous enquires and registrations, has dealt with immigration difficulties, the updates on the website,  the keeping and ordering of our accounts not to mention liaising with Emerson to ensure everyone who has come on our courses has food, accommodation and all their other needs attended to. Without her extraordinary diligence overseeing these hundreds of details we could not have delivered our work. We are immensely grateful for all she has done for us.

But time moves on and sometimes another trumpet call sounds for us.

Emerson College has, as many of you know, been trying to recreate itself so when the post was advertised for Head of Hosting and Facilities she applied for the job and was welcomed with open arms. Over the years Yvette has worked at the College under seven different administrations and has always enjoyed the team building aspect of this task. No one could be better suited to help them at this time.

Helping anyone find their true purpose is central to our work so we rejoice for Yvette and are also heartened that right at the core of Emerson itself we now have someone who knows, from the inside, the needs of any of you who have attended courses with us. So this is a massive win/win all round. In our next newsletter we will be introducing our new team.

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