Interviews with Storytellers - Jamie Crawford

Jamie Crawford is based near the South Downs in Sussex in England with this wife and three year old boy. He's been tellings stories for over a quarter of a century, and professionally for the last 10 years to anyone anywhere who wants to listen. He works as a primary school teacher and has tried his hand at many things including working on a farm and at a meditation retreat centre. I started by asking him why he became a storyteller.

I started telling by accident. It began with a request, ‘Tell us a story!’ at the end of long hot school day when I was teaching overseas. The teenagers in my class did not want Cinderella. After a moment’s desperation I began stumbling my way through a poorly remembered Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Twenty minutes later and long after the bell had gone, Gawain came home to Camelot and everyone was still listening.

What do you do to develop your storytelling skills?

In the past I’ve done courses here and there but the best thing is to learn by example and take in as much good storytelling as you can, as well as immersing yourself in other art forms and disciplines.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the why and how of telling a story and letting things cook, while I’m asleep for example. I do rehearse on my own, often while walking. Increasingly I sing to get the juices flowing even if there’s no singing in the story, though more and more these days there is!

Where do you get your stories from?

They are almost exclusively traditional stories that I’ve read or heard. The internet can be very helpful, usually for picking up parallel versions. I love the great British European wondertales, myth cycles and epics.

I also love little nut-like stories that you can spring on an unsuspecting listener in half a dozen sentences. I’ll be telling both kinds at Settle!

Though my repertoire is worldwide, I increasingly feel at home with stories that have some relationship to where I live.

Do you collect stories?

As a magpie revival storyteller I have very few of those. I think I’m more in the beg, borrow and steal make it up as you go along anti-tradition, really. Of course the pretenders and the tradition bearers have both always been there and have probably been much closer than some people make out. But I am just starting to value the handful of stories I’ve heard that are not widely known because they have come to me by word of mouth. I’m telling one of those at Settle. It was collected from a teenage girl by prof. Mike Wilson and has a modern ‘urban myth’ format but is based on a very old tale type known as the singing bones.

What makes a good story and why?

The element of surprise is what I first look for, and then, I suppose, some kind of emotional truth, simple or elusive, elegantly imagined.

What is your favourite story?

King Arthur is the story I’ve put most energy into over the years, and my one man show is the result of that. I love it because it’s the great British founding myth, our very own epic, a great rich, sprawling, confused forest of a story, and because it’s so problematic no-one tells it, so I decided to.

Who is your favourite storyteller?

Hugh Lupton once said there are no master storytellers in Britain today and for me he comes closest to being the exception to his own rule. Abbi Patrix is another wearer of the laurel wreath. There are also some curiously underrated performers around. June Peters is one of those and a favourite performer of mine.

Can you give us three tips for aspiring storytellers?

  • Practise the art of listening.
  • Ask yourself what is the story of the story?
  • Use your everyday voice as a starting point for your storytelling.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished The Lost World of the Kalahari by Laurens Van Der Post, an incredible book about the last bushmen.

What did you learn last week?

To listen to what is most sacred to me.

What recent piece of news has inspired you?

They’ve just discovered new signs of water on Mars millions of years ago. I’m kidding but I do find science fascinating, partly as it’s a side of life so different to the one I normally inhabit! I couldn’t think of much other inspiring news, but that’s largely because of what the media deems to be ‘a good story’!

What's your favourite piece of music?

Well, a favourite piece is John Martin’s version of Spencer the Rover.

How do you relax?

With a glass of red wine, with friends, with books.

Finally, as you're coming up to the Settle Storytelling Festival how do you like you tea? And, would you like some Yorkshire Curd tart to go with it?

Strong enough for a mouse to dance across, milk, no sugar and yes please.