One of Europe’s leading performance storytellers and a bestselling children’s author, with books translated into eleven languages – the only British storyteller to have achieved this double success, Cat is an integral part of our Kahaani family!
The Kahaani Owl sat down with Cat for a long chat, over some tea and cookies, all the way in the United Kingdom, to help all you young bards to know her journey better!
This was at the Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival in the UK. The year was 1998 and I had never seen storytelling. I went along, expecting it to be for children. But the ﬁrst tent I walked into was packed with 200+ adults, listening to Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden telling Homer’s The Odyssey. I joined them and was soon spellbound too! The tellers were dressed in plain black, used no props, had no scenery, no music, no movement, no puppets. It was simply two voices. The story took centre stage.
When I emerged from that tent, two and a half hours later, my life had changed forever. I knew I was going to become a storyteller too.
I truly love the stories I tell, and I think that is critically important in storytelling. I explore myself through story. It is how I make sense of my world. Storytelling is all about connecting: connecting with the story and then connecting with the audience.
I primarily use voice (Speakerphone) to tell a story, complemented with gesture and a sense of magic.
From old books (books), either Folk Tale Collections or books on Folklore. Sometimes I hear stories. Sometimes I am given stories by other storytellers. When I create my own stories, they usually spin around a sharp central image. I also tell a lot of personal stories.
For me, the connection is generating an emotional response. That is what I want from any performance or ﬁlm. I want to be moved. I want to feel the story moving in my heart and belly, not in my head alone.
The story should always be bigger than the art form! The art form is simply the vehicle that carries it on its journey, and audience comes along for the ride.
I don’t believe there is a need to modify or adapt it. Research in neuroscience has proved that oral storytelling is a form of hypnosis. A skillful storyteller literally enchants the audience, taking them into a mental state in which time becomes suspended. Once in this state, an adult will happily listen to a two-hour story. They are so absorbed in the tale that they do not notice the time passing.
Children are different. Here it is a case of engaging all the different types of learner: visual, audio, kinesthetic and tactile. This is why storytellers use rhymes, joining-in actions and props. The younger the listener, the more frequent the ‘reeling-in’ techniques will need to be.
One movement that is proving extremely popular in the UK is true-life storytelling. Here the storytellers have a time limit of between ﬁve – seven minutes, depending on the club. Autobiographical stories perfectly ﬁt the digital age. They are a celebration of self. I work a lot in this area of storytelling, teaching and running clubs to give adults and opportunity to stand on stage and share their own stories.
We’re back to neuroscience again! Research has shown that listening to a story engages a different part of the brain to that used in standard learning. Within this heightened realm, learning becomes easier. Information embeds more readily and is retained for a far longer period than if the information is simply given as fact. Because of how we evolve, we are hard-wired to value emotion over logic.
Any subject in the curriculum can be taught via narrative, including the sciences.
I see the movement in the other direction as being equally important i.e. from the public space into the home. Kahaani plays a vital, inspirational role in this. Children need to be spoken to. It is impossible to write a story unless you can tell it ﬁrst. A child has to be able to organise their ideas and tell them sequentially to make a story. They need to hear stories to be able to do this. Stories have patterns. Once you can recognise the patterns, you can use them to create new stories. But if you don’t hear the old stories, you will never learn those patterns.
Maybe in India it is different. Maybe children are still hearing stories at home. But in the UK, there is a real and growing problem of conversational neglect as parents prioritise their phones. Computer games and TV shows (No sign on phones?) add to the noise and distraction within the home.
Children need to be spoken to and listened to. It’s very much a two-way ﬂow. So storytelling festivals and organisations are massively important in feeding children stories. They also inspire parents to share stories with their children, and be more adventurous in their telling or reading – using voices, being more playful etc
Kahaani is also wonderful in that it brings children, authors and storytellers together. For some children, meeting an author can be a life-changing experience. They can be inspired to work harder, follow their dreams and create a better future. A storyteller is a force for change.