Spreading stories by Word of SidMouth

Storyteller Janet Dowling

Storyteller Janet Dowling - Credit: Archant

What is the name of your group?

Linda Williams, Anna Sutherland and Janet Dowling from the coaching group at SidMouth StoryNights

Linda Williams, Anna Sutherland and Janet Dowling from the coaching group at SidMouth StoryNights - Credit: Archant

The umbrella name is ‘Spoken Word of SidMouth’ and is a play on the term ‘word of mouth’. We invite story listeners and storytellers to indulge in the ancient art of oral storytelling.

SidMouth StoryNights for GrownUps is a performance concert to listen to professional storytellers tell either a collection of stories or one longer epic tale. The performances vary in length (from 60 to 90 minutes) and so there are some opportunities for local tellers to also tell tales. It’s generally on the third or fourth Friday of the month.

The First Tuesday Story Cafe is an opportunity for anyone to listen to or tell a story – be it personal, traditional or made up – for a maximum of 10 minutes and no reading aloud is allowed. It’s in the afternoon of the first Tuesday of the month with plenty of tea and biscuits. We have so many coming to listen and tell, sometimes there isn’t enough time for all the storytellers.

I’ve also been running a closed storytelling coaching and practice group for people who want to develop their storytelling skills. Some of them have been branching out to tell stories in the local community. I’ll be running a new group in the New Year after a beginners’ storytelling workshop during National StoryTelling Week (which is when we hold random storytelling sessions in local cafes and pubs).

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While the focus has been on oral storytelling, some writers want to cling to their carefully crafted words, so in partnership with Sarah Acton of Black Ven Poets, we are setting up some spoken word nights at the Anchor where both oral and written work is allowed to be spoken aloud. The poetry nights are ‘Black Ven’ and the story nights are ‘Red Rocks’.

When was it formed and why?

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In 2012 Clare Viner and I did two storytelling performances a year for about three years, which were well received. When I moved here permanently in 2015, there was still little other storytelling going on in Devon. The focus in Sidmouth has been to develop a local oral storytelling community for adults, to enable people to share the benefits of oral storytelling, and to have somewhere to listen to stories without travelling long distances.

How often does the club meet?

All of the events are monthly. Some people attend all the sessions – they can’t get enough of the storytelling – some people only come to one session, and others mix and match as they want to.

Where do you meet?

We are using space at Kennaway House, Twyford House and the Anchor. Each of the venues has worked with us to enable the storytelling to happen, for which we are grateful!

Who is it open to?

Many of the stories told have themes that reflect adult lives, so we say not suitable for under-14s. Otherwise it is open to anyone who wants to listen and anyone who wants to tell!

What is the membership fee?

There is no membership fee but there is a charge for individual sessions, which goes straight back into funding the range of events.

Have you had any notable members/guests?

All the storytellers at SidMouth StoryNights have performed on the international stage and are well-known in their field.

Last year we had Mike O’Connor, a superb storyteller and musician, and who also writes and plays some of the music for Poldark. This year we had Michael Dacre, renowned for winning many liar competitions, with Steve Yates, a top Spanish guitar players, telling a completely bonkers ‘Saragossa Manuscript’ which brought the place down.

Why should people join?

Story storytelling brings people together. The pictures in your head are your own unique expression and are part of the creative collaboration between storyteller and story listener. The more you use your imagination, the more flexible your brain becomes. There is a lot of evidence for storytelling for health and well being.

Storytelling is a wonderful way of letting your imagination run riot. It’s great fun!

How do I join?

Come along to any of our sessions or look for ‘Spoken word of Sidmouth’ on Facebook. Or call Janet on 07834 194215 or email JanetTells@gmail.com n

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