It’s National Storytelling Week, and I have a great belief in the power of storytelling. It’s an ancient magic, a modern marvel. Something accessed by talented liars spinning a yarn around a camp fire, or tongue-tied writers like me, who spill a story in ink. We have told stories all our lives, eased into sleep with dreams of lollipop lands and candy trees, kept up by the need to read one more page. We sit around dinner tables, clutching our stomachs, because if we laugh any more we’ll explode.
And yet…stories have been shown to have a terrible power these last few weeks. The language people use, whether it’s hateful, inflammatory or condescending – stories can convince people, they can be infused with power and strength, regardless of whether or not their true. And that’s scary.
I have always been a supporter of the importance of stories, true or not, but it is the first time I have seen storytelling used so politically, so without concern for morality or allowance for doubt. Black is black and white is white, but that’s not how stories should work. This is how they try to take our colours away. Limit the language, keep the scope close. Don’t let them look away.
But stories are not all lies, even if they aren’t true. Stories tell us something either way – they tell us of intentions, of how someone wants to be seen. They tell us what the author thinks we want to hear. Stories tell us of insecurities and fears and weakness. And that gives us the power back.
I cannot focus on these fake tales, and fables. I cannot re-read Handmaid’s Tale or 1984. I cannot watch Black Mirror without a terrible sense of fear clutching at me. Does fiction reflect life, or life fiction? These fables tell of ‘might be’s, or”could be’s. Some are warnings, some are commentaries.
Every book I’ve written has started with ‘What if?’ What if a grandmother was given too much valium over her lifetime, and she didn’t know if she’d ever been happy? What if a girl wrote a blog about her crappy time serving coffee? What if a popstar left her fortune to her three childhood friends, to enable their dreams?
We are living our ‘what if’s every day. We are writing our own stories. And whether that’s marching, fighting, reading, crying or laughing until your stomach hurts, I want you to know that it’s not only the stories in books that have power. You are writing your story, right now. And it matters.
So this National Storytelling Week, make sure your story is the one you want to be living.