Allways Storyteller – interview with Ruth Kirkpatrick (3 August 2009)

ruthkirkpatrickIntroduction

Ruth is also involved in the upcoming Singapore International Storytelling Festival. I was asked if I would like to interview a few of the storytellers and I agreed. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing you to Ruth Kirkpatrick …


Aneeta: Ruth, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Ruth: My pleasure. I’m thrilled that the media in your part of the world is so interested in Storytelling.

Aneeta: Let’s start with you. Please tell me a little of your story – where were you born, where did you grow up, what do you do for a living and where do you live now?

Ruth: I grew up in the North East of Scotland in a small town. My father came from a farming background, my mother a fishing family. I was not a model pupil at school. I often ask children what they think I was good at in school and they rarely guess correctly-I was good at talking! Unfortunately, my great gift was not valued or channelled. At one point my mother was in despair and couldn’t imagine what I might do beyond school unless it involved talking and ‘acting the goat’ (being silly.) Luckily I have found my niche!

For the last 10 years I have increasingly developed my storytelling and integrated it into my Social work practice. It is wonderful that there has been a lot of interest in this and I  am passionate about it’s value. I now successfully run my own business, Stories Allways working all over Scotland and abroad.

I live outside Edinburgh in the Pentland Hills with my husband, 2 daughters and dog. We are very lucky to be surrounded by green woods and looking out on the hills. Perfect inspiration for a storyteller!

Aneeta: How did you get into storytelling and why?

Ruth: It’s always interesting to ask a storyteller this question as there are so many routes into this work. I was  working as a Primary Support worker in Edinburgh, trying to help children and families who were struggling in school. I worked with a whole class who were largely affected by loss and trauma. They found listening very difficult so a colleague suggested telling them a traditional story. I did, and the effect was magical. The children listened and an atmosphere of calm and ‘holding’ filled the room. They loved it and stories immediately became central in my work with them.

In recent years I have done more and more performance work and singing too and I do enjoy this now. However, the core of my motivation is always to engage, communicate and inspire people.

Aneeta: I understand that a lot of you promote storytelling as social work tool. Briefly, how does this work?

Ruth: I have found that engaging with young people as a Social Worker can be challenging. Often children can be guarded, depressed and ‘hard to reach’. What do you say to such a child? I have found that telling them a traditional story is a great way to ‘bridge the divide’. It gives you a shared journey and experience. It lets them know that you are willing to talk about difficult issues and that life is not always perfect. Also, it builds your relationship since storytelling is a great ‘glue’.

If you use it in groupwork, you can use the story to introduce and illustrate some issues, and then discuss ‘the story’ rather than the children’s personal experience directly. Therefore the story becomes a  ‘third object’ like a puppet would to help communication.

Finally stories are fun and and the plot is always meaningful and engaging, so storytelling can improve skills in listening and talking, and the ordering of information, which in turn can help mental health. One boy in a group who was described as having poor listening skills seemed to listen well during stroies and could answer any questions afterwards. I asked him if he thought he listened well to the stories and he answered “Yes because they are worth listening to!”

Aneeta: I am intrigued by one aspect of your work – storytelling for emotional literacy. What does this term emotional literary mean and how does storytelling help this?

Ruth: Emotional literacy simply means an ability to manage and express yourself emotionally and consider the emotions of others. This can, in turn, help to develop Emotional Intelligence.

Storytelling can help develop this in people as it builds a sense of empathy and understanding and offers a vocabulary for expressing emotions. Many traditional stories tell of the hero making mistakes, being weak, being misled, but then we can hear how things can be redeemed, healed and forgiven. These traditional characters provide powerful hope and role models, especially for Young People.

Aneeta: I understand that you will be part of the Singapore International Storytelling Festival this year. Have you been to Singapore before?  Are you looking forward to it and why?

Ruth: I am very much looking forward to coming to Singapore. I have visited twice before in the 1990’s. At this time my sister and her family lived there so I was able to stay for a few weeks and have a good look around. I loved the food most of all and my mouth is watering at the thought of some satay!

It seems that the festival has a wide and varied programme and I am delighted to have something to offer. I hope that I might be able to go to some of the other evens too. It’s always a pleasure to meet and hear storytellers from other places; almost like being refuelled.

Aneeta: As you know, this website caters to storytellers. What advice would you give those who would like to venture into storytelling?

Ruth: Stories are all around us and we are all storytellers. I would recommend listening to other professional storytellers and seeing different styles. There is no one way to be ‘a storyteller’ so try to find your own voice. As one of the great Tradition Bearers in Scotland, Sheila Stewart says, “You have to put ‘your’ self into the story.”

Also, I think it is important to tell from the heart, rather than the head. Think about the mood you are conveying not just the words you are using.

I often ask children what skills they think you need as a storyteller. One boy suggested to me ‘charisma’. I think this is true.

When you think about telling a story, choose one that you love not one that you think you ‘should’ tell.

Aneeta: Ruth, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Ruth: I hope this gives a flavour of what I’m about and I look forward to meeting people in Singapore.

My CD, ‘Bathing in the Sangstream’ will be available at the festival or through my website www.storiesallways.co.uk. TThe CD features stories and songs from a live performance with a Scots choir and another Storyteller, Claire McNicol. This year I hope to publish a pack of stories and complimentary activities for those working on the ‘well being’ of children. Watch my website for developments.

Aneeta: Ruth, thank you.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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