I was honoured to be the guest author at the launch of the Kids Shorts book at the University of WA yesterday to coincide with the Perth Writers Festival.
Born Storytellers is a creative writing program that has been running in some lucky WA schools for 10 years. The program gives children advanced skills in writing and culminates annually in the publication of one or more books, which are then available for sale and in the WA library service. So far the program has produced over 600 authors and dozens of published books.
Here’s the speech I made about the importance of storytelling to celebrate the book launch.
Before I start, I’d like to say thank you to Kevin and his students for allowing me to be part of this special event. This is my first appearance as a published author and I’m really proud it’s this particular event – for two main reasons. First, my own daughter Georgie has a story in the book, and second, I’ve been watching Kevin deliver the Born Storytellers program for over three years now and I am constantly amazed by the results the writers achieve through the program.
One of the things the Born Storytellers books have made plain to me over the last three years is that everyone has the capacity to tell a great story if they get the right kind of support. Most of us can tell a tale, whether it’s in a chat with a friend, an email complaint to a restaurant about a lazy waiter, a Facebook status update about your dog’s trip to the vet, or a 140-character story about Australian politics on Twitter. But telling a story well is something that doesn’t come as easily to everyone, and that’s where the value of Born Storytellers lies. I think these writers would all agree that their first drafts look quite different to the stories now printed in this book. At the start of the process, they learnt about plot outlining and the shape of stories – with a beginning, context-setting, a critical incident that builds into the story’s crescendo, and then resolution. They learnt about how to build a rich, layered character who’s more than just a name and a hair colour. And then, when they had a story draft, they learnt how to edit by answering the hard questions: are your characters behaving true to form? Do they grow? Why do they make their particular choices? Does this story have a start, a crisis and a resolution? I remember my daughter saying to me, “Kevin told us we have to read our story like a reader, not a writer.” Now that’s great advice for producing a really strong story.
My point is, where students normally get trained in how to write a grammatical and correct narrative with an introduction, middle and conclusion, the correct use of adverbs and speech tags, and basic descriptive skills, Born Storytellers gives them new powers – to build complex characters and powerful storylines. The reward at the end is to see their hard work turned into beautifully presented short stories in a professionally published book, but the real reward is this gift of being able to tell a great story.
So why is it important to be a good storyteller? One of the answers to this question is that stories bring magic to life. I’ve noticed how many of the stories in Kids Shorts are about magic, fantasy worlds and creatures from supernatural planes. The Seventh is my first published novel and it has paranormal themes, which is another way of saying it’s also about magic. I think that tells us at least one thing about the role of stories in life. Obviously, stories can enrich our lives by taking us to magical places during those times when life is feeling mundane or difficult. But they also demonstrate the human brain’s capacity to dream up new and amazing things, whether these are wonderful stories, or ways to solve human problems like disease, environmental damage, or conflict.
I was interested to note how some of the stories in Kids Shorts focus on how characters respond to the discovery of something magical, which is another important theme in real life. We’re regularly faced with things that rock us and all our beliefs, force us to question our values and practices, and have big repercussions for how we go forward. I see this theme of ‘characters discovering magic’ in stories as a way for us, as humans, to practice and prepare for those big scary moments, and try out some of the ways we could respond, both good and bad.
Life is full of little moments and events that wouldn’t make much sense without the capacity for storytelling. Storytelling is how we connect points in our lives and give our bumbling daily adventures some meaning. Stories about our lives allow us to describe how A, B, C and X, when brought together into a story, show we have achieved something – whether it’s raising a rescue kitten into a happy, healthy cat, or finding a particular Lego set for someone who really wants it, or studying a degree and then finally getting a job. Stories give us a way to express how our efforts can result in something great, or how our personal flaws can result in a big mess, or how the passing of time can change a person. Without stories, it’s just a big bunch of stuff that happens, without any meaning, and no way to learn from any of it.
So storytelling is important. It’s not just a fluffy endeavour to pass the time; it’s a critically important part of understanding our world, being a person within the world, and learning from what happens in life. By arming our children with the skills to tell great stories, we are paving the way for them to be learners, questioners, discoverers and problem solvers.
I congratulate the Kids Shorts contributors on this big achievement and ask each and every one of you to keep telling great stories, because the world needs them.
Kevin Price, Judith, Mikey, and young authors, thank you for inviting me to be your guest author.