In September 2022, Bethan James came to stay with us here at Tŷ Newydd for a Storytelling Weekend with tutors Phil Okwedy and Daniel Morden. Read on to find out more about her experience…
Have you ever been transformed over a couple of days? That might sound like something from a fairy tale, but it happened to me during Ty Newydd’s spellbinding A Tale on the Tongue Storytelling Weekend in September. This intensive course was a chance to learn how to adapt and tell traditional myths, legends, and folk stories.
Here’s my round-up of what made this experience magical…
- The venue
Before the activities started, I was given a tour of the picturesque historic house that hosted us. It’s a tranquil place nestled between mountains and sea, with sprawling grounds. I tucked into homemade cake while enjoying views of the coast and woodland, then explored the library and various book nooks. My bedroom was spacious too – lots of room for my imagination to expand!
- The tutors
The two incredible tutors, Phil Okwedy and Daniel Morden, breathed life into stories for us, and created a supportive environment. Phil is a 2021 Literature Wales Representing Wales writer. I loved his dynamic style, and he gave me this brilliant advice when I was stuck about telling a tale aloud without a script: draw a storyboard of images based on striking moments. You don’t need it written down.
Daniel is a Tir na n-Og Prize winner who’s told tales worldwide, from the Arctic to the Caribbean. A master craftsman of the spoken word. On the first night, he asked everyone to recall the voice we associate with the moment we first connected with stories. Bring that with you this weekend, he advised. Mine was the transportive memory of audiobooks helping time pass on long car journeys as a child.
- The participants
Another thing that made the weekend special was the other people taking part, and the sense of a storytelling community forming. They were a fascinating group, including TV cameramen to farmers, to therapists, librarians and more. We chatted about everything from little-known British myths, to tips on overcoming performance anxiety. Someone suggested created a confident version of yourself or persona to step into, or a hat you put on. Such a welcoming group.
- The workshops
So, I don’t want to giveaway to much here in case anyone reading this takes the course in future! But I will say that I enjoyed a drawing challenge which demonstrated how stories naturally change and adapt on retellings. Another example is Daniel and Phil told us a quick story, then we had to go away in pairs, remember the key ingredients of the tale, and retell it our own way. No pen and paper allowed! We also ran through the storytellers’ tool kit, from gesture, to expression, volume, and a host of other techniques.
- The cèilidh
This wasn’t the barn dance you might expect when you think of a cèilidh. Instead, on the first evening, we were encouraged to bring a story, poem, song or something to entertain the group. It was a marvellous evening of tales (including real-life polar bear near death experiences). I did my first ever public performance of my retelling based on the Welsh myth of sorceress Ceridwen. I’d worked on this with my storytelling mentor Fiona Collins, and it wasn’t anywhere near as scary to tell aloud as I expected.
- The food
The recipe for a great residential retreat includes nourishing the mind and stomach. How could I leave out a mention of the crumble made with freshly picked fruit that got my creative juices flowing. Or the traditional hearty stew (called ‘lobscows’ in North Wales, and ‘cawl’ to South Walians like me). Bliss.
- The promenade storytelling
A highlight of my weekend was the final day, when we got to hear the stories people had rehearsed in small groups. With the sun shining, tutors encouraged us to select outdoor locations as a setting. We began with a telling of ‘Clean Water, Dirty Water’ by the roaring woodland rive near Lloyd George’s grave. A heartfelt story of loss and renewal.
My group were supportive and bounced around plenty of ideas. We did a retelling of the French fable ‘The Enchanted Apple Tree’, about an old lady who gets an unexpected visitor. It certainly felt enchanting performing this under an ancient tree in Ty Newydd’s grounds. You can have a read of the story we adapted here.
So, what next? I’m going to check out the Society of Storytellers website directory for meet-ups in my local area. I also plan to keep in touch with the tutors and fellow newbie storytellers from the course as I continue my journey. Hopefully, I’ll make it back to Ty Newydd in 2023…
This weekend wasn’t the end of my story: it’s just beginning.
Thank you and diolch to Arts Council Wales and National Lottery Good Causes Create grant for enabling me to attend this course.