Essay: There Is Power In Telling Stories by Malika Booker

8698713150_85592bdfddThere Is Power In Telling Stories
By Malika Booker
 
There is power in telling stories. Nothing illustrates this better than my recent visit to Help for Heroes to run a morning workshop. The participants were wounded Service personnel who were recovering at the Help for Heroes Recovery Centre, Tedworth House – a beautiful house in stunning grounds. A perfect place to write.

They were naturally reluctant to do a creative writing workshop. This was for various reasons: it not seeming manly, the attraction of other activities like rowing and most importantly the stepping into the unknown.

I could feel the reticence in the air as we met the participants in the foyer of one of the most beautiful buildings that I had ever been in. I knew I had a hard job ahead of me. But I had come prepared. There was no plan, just the theme of stories, and I had come armed with intuition, experience, sensitivity and a great degree of flexibility. I also had a bag with odd objects collected from various charity shops.

We began with a name and action exercise. I explained that they had all told me a story and that the essential ingredients for stories were truth, lies and exaggeration. As we began to share memorable stories from our childhoods, the mood shifted from apprehension to complete absorption. The participants began to feel safe and enjoy the sessions. We then used objects to write stories. I asked them to pick an object and describe it without saying what the object looked like, then to make up a story about the object using lies and exaggeration.  

By the time we did the story circle – where we told stories using one word each, five words and lastly a sentence – the entire room was laughing and interacting and the men had bonded totally. The atmosphere was completely different to our beginning.

I found the workshop challenging initially yet it was one of the most life-changing and rewarding workshops that I have ever done. It was good to see the power of stories and the way that they can create trust, support and a sense of play in an environment where the participants were initially fragile, vulnerable and apprehensive.   

Some of my highlights are:

one participant opting to miss rowing and go for creative writing instead

one participant showed me poems that he had been crafting in secret for years stored on the internet that he did not want anyone to know about as ‘he was a soldier you know’

the object exercise was a success: it produced some beautiful writing and descriptions

one participant needed boundaries in order to complete the tasks and the way he shone and felt comfortable when he was provided with strict guidelines was beautiful

the quality of the stories produced and the intimacy of the family stories shared

and lastly the power that words like ‘there is no right or wrong’ had on the outcome of the workshop cannot be emphasized enough.

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