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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 14:45 GMT
A story in the telling...

Telling tall tales is surely a way to land yourself in big trouble - consider the story of compulsive dreamer Walter Mitty or The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Libraries in South Gloucestershire do not agree and have decided to help adults rediscover the art of storytelling with a series of workshops.

Inez Aponte, the professional storyteller leading the sessions, says many of us feel ourselves unable to come up with a yarn worth telling.

Yawning child
Can anyone hold a child's attention?
"Wherever there's a human, there's a story. In the workshops people find all the imagination they had as a child, which has been laying dormant, can be accessed again."

Storytelling, she says, is the "cinema of the mind". But it has been forgotten in the age of modern media.

Ms Aponte says her own passion for storytelling was sparked as a girl listening to her father's bedtime tales and recommends all parents give storytelling a go.

Storytelling tips
Choose a simple story you like
Read it or have it read aloud to you
Try telling the basic story, even just to the cat
Try to visualise the story, rather than learn it by heart
Add details and descriptions you think fit your story
"Children aren't demanding, they don't want you to be a professional storyteller."

But Jane Oakhill, professor of experimental psychology at University of Sussex, warns these benefits require a certain level of effort.

"It's not so much the storytelling, it's the interaction with the child by getting them to predict the ending or make inferences about the story."

A book at bedtime
Parents don't need to rely on bedtime books
Straight-laced office types are being introduced to the art of yarn spinning at workshops in the hope of improving their presentational skills.

At the other end of the spectrum, prisoners can also benefit from mastering "oral literature", says Writers in Residence in Prisons organiser Clive Hopwood.

"There's a very high level of illiteracy and dyslexia in prison, which disenfranchises many inmates from other artistic and creative activities."

Children reading
Storytelling can prompt an interest in books
"However macho prisoners seem, they all suffer low-esteem, having been told they're failures all their lives. To tell a story is a real plus, an achievement. They can say: 'I did that'."

Mr Hopwood has also overseen the "Storybook Dad/Mum" project, which allows prisoners to record their tales on tape for their children so as to preserve at least some parental contact.

Tina Bilbé, from the Society of Storytelling, thinks no one should be afraid to try their hand at narrating.

"There are an awful lot of people who wouldn't consider themselves storytellers, but do indeed tell stories all the time, about their day, little anecdotes about people they've met."

Prison cell
Storytelling: A prison lifeline
With her own repertoire of at least 40 stories, Ms Bilbé says telling a tale should be "like describing a silent film to someone who can't see the screen".

She stresses the ancient roots of storytelling, where yarns were often used to explain as well as entertain.

"Folklore can teach us to pick ourselves up, move on and find a happy ending," she says.

"All the basic emotions remain, we all love, we all hate. Good stories have many layers and each person will hear something slightly different in them," says Ms Aponte.

How's that for a happy ending?

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23 Mar 00 | UK
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