Posts about storytelling, landscape and culture with a focus on Welsh material and places. Mostly by me but also featuring plenty of guest posts and interviews.

Jess Wilson - Bleddfa Storyteller

For the second in our series of Bleddfa Storytellers I'm really pleased to hand over to Jess Wilson. Jess is a talented storyteller who has done pioneering  and award winning work with storytelling in mental health and is leading the field in academic research in the area. MH

“How do I become a Storyteller” I asked Michael at the first Bleddfa week I went to in 2008.
I remember Michael simply smiled and laughed and didn’t tell me anything that made it clear how to achieve that end.

I was asking from the point of view of how I became a nurse: I trained and then I was a nurse.
As a nurse I happened to tell a story to a patient on a psychiatric ward not knowing that there was such a thing as a “storyteller”.  I just told a story I remember my Nana reading to me when I was a child, even though I had no idea how to tell a story.  When I told that story, a real feeling of excitement and joy bubbled up inside me. I had a hunger to find out more about the stories I listened to when I was a child.

I looked up “storytelling in mental health nursing” on the internet trying to find other psychiatric nurse who had used storytelling in hospitals or to find some well-trodden path so I could find out about what they were doing. I didn’t find any other nurses reporting on it, no evidence base for me to continue to use storytelling as a nurse but I did find Bleddfa and two people called Michael Harvey and Hazel Bradley who could teach me how to become a storyteller……in a week…..or so I thought.

I had chosen a fairy story to learn to tell during the week at Bleddfa, as I had been asked to do. During the week I was given loads of time to work on the story and loads of group work which I really enjoyed. I was also given one to one coaching as part of the course to learn how to internalize the story and remember it well enough to tell it at the performance at the end of the week.  

After a few days I realised that the story I had chosen was too long and too deep to be able learn how to tell it in a week. The story kept me awake at night in my small tent, or was it the rain that never seemed to stop pattering on the canvas? It got to the stage that I could not get past a certain part of the story without becoming emotional which lead to me realising that I simply would not be able to tell it. I changed the story to a different simpler story.

During the week I got to know the other course participants who were all there for their own reasons and also had varying understanding of what “storytelling” means.  Some had a lot of experience and had told a story in public before. Others like me had no experience at all and had no clue what storytelling was or could be. In that week I learned that I would not become a storyteller in a week. What Bleddfa gave me was a spring board into a world of storytelling and storytellers.

Jess at work

Jess at work

Storytelling changed my world view, not like a bolt of lightning but in a gradual and real way, like growing a new skin. I learned in that first week at Bleddfa that stories from the oral tradition matter. That they are more than simply entertaining but have a real truth, if you give it time.  I learned that no one can tell you what a story means except the story itself if you listen. I also learned that no one can tell you how to tell a story.  Ten years on I’m still working on that.
Over that last ten years I have been back to Bleddfa for a second time to continue to deepen my learning and understanding of what storytelling is. I don’t know when I will become a storyteller, but I have made a path as a nurse who tells stories from the oral tradition to improve my practice and relationships with patients and hope that other nurses will find the path I have started to make and follow in my footsteps (not without passing Bleddfa) and together make a well-trodden path for others to find in the future.

Jess's website

Storytelling at Bleddfa happens every summer and this year includes three courses The Bleddfa Week of Storytelling and two intensive long weekends Freeing the Storyteller's Voice and the Performance Intensive.  Sign up and find out more by using the links in red or, if you would like more information, just drop me line.