Telling Stories

Listen
“Telling Stories”, read by the author  (Also linked on the “Tell Me A Story” Page)

How Telling?

Now, how do you read the title of this story? Where are you to put the emphasis? Is it telling stories (in the sense of revealing) or telling stories? A little bit of both? Well I will let you, dear reader judge for yourself.

First of all, how did I start my story telling? And when? Well probably not that young (not as young as this photo shows), to be honest, but I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read – my mother said I was 4 when I learned – and I always enjoyed writing. When I started to tell stories, though, was not long after the time I refer to in my Mirages post. As I mentioned, my parents separated and then divorced. And I began to make up stories.

Ellie- All ready to start writing
Ellie – All ready to start writing

Making up stories

When you’re young, or at least when I was young it’s not easy to understand what’s going on in your life when your parents are no longer living together. At the time divorce was rare in Quebec, in fact it had to be an act of parliament for it to be finalized. Unbelievable, perhaps, but true. So if it was hard for me to understand that my mother had left, it was harder still to explain to other children and their parents. I thought the easiest thing was just to say I had no mother. But for some reason that wasn’t enough. People wanted to know why. So I said she had died. That seemed to work. People felt sorry for me and stopped asking about my family life. This story thing seemed to be the answer to solving a lot of life’s problems.

It was a golden pony

Then, one day on the school bus I found myself telling everyone that I was soon to be getting a pony, something that I had always wanted.

It was a golden pony... Photo by Steven Kennard
It was a golden pony, a palomino with at white mane and tail… Photo by Steven Kennard

That impressed them as I hoped it would! I told them that my father was going to get it for me soon, I just wasn’t sure when. Every day the story became more elaborate as I saw my pony in my mind. (It was a golden pony, would live in the basement of our house and would pull the little cart that had belonged to a previous owner and which we children used to play in). The trouble was that with every day, I was deeper into this lie and it became harder to get out of it. Finally someone on the bus called my bluff and asked me exactly when this pony was going to arrive. I can’t exactly recall my reply to this, but I know that I went home in tears and told my father what I had done. The next day I told the truth. I was not getting any pony. Not soon, nor probably at any point in the future. I had learned my lesson. If you’re going to tell stories, make sure they are true ones. And so, stinging from that bitter lesson, from then on I wrote about things that really happened in my world. It turned out to be easier than I expected, because I discovered that stories were all around me.

The competition

When I was 12, the teachers announced an essay competition run for school children by the local English language radio station in Montreal. Each day of the week one of the stories submitted was selected to be read on the air. My story was all about my china horse collection*. I wrote also about the display case made for me by my great aunt out of salvaged wood, the back of which was lined with autumn leaf wallpaper. I’m sure it was really tacky and I certainly thought so at the time, the way you would about a homemade gift from an eccentric great aunt who thought that plastic was the greatest invention ever. But it was where I put my china horses so it featured in the story, much to her delight.

Golden China Horse of the Story
Golden China Horse of the Story

When I heard that this essay had won one of the weekly prizes, I was beside myself with excitement as I got to read my story on the radio! Can you imagine? Out of the 4 weekly winners selected each month, one was chosen to go forward to the finals, which were held at the end of the school year. Mine was the winner for that month. And then, at the end of the competition, I got the letter telling me that I had won first prize for the year. I can still see the official envelope that arrived with the announcement and invitation!  I was absolutely thrilled as not only did I win a cash prize, but I also went on television to collect it and to read my story live. I wish I still had that essay! It seemed that telling true stories paid!

Living the stories

Many years later I got a diploma in advertising copy writing in England and worked in that industry in London for a couple of years, but that particular kind of story telling at times does not easily fit within the boundaries of truth that I had set for myself. It paid, but I really didn’t enjoy it nor the high pressure environment. After that I set my writing aside for a while and started living the experiences which were to become my stories. I treated everything that happened to me, however insignificant it might have seemed as if it contained the seeds of an adventure and stored away the feelings and thoughts and word pictures in my mind. It is very true that “Life is meaningful because it is a story”**. I treat my life as if it’s a story that keeps me wondering what will happen next. If I reflect on a day to remember what stands out and I can’t think of anything, then I know that I haven’t been paying attention.

And photography

My photography is closely linked to my writing, as often the scenes I see in my viewfinder inspire words in my head, some thought that I know will be published with them. Or this can be the reverse where an image will fit a particular piece that I have been working on. A classic example of this was my posting (Martha’s Farm) where I had a story brewing for months but needed just the right images to go with it. When I saw the old house in the frosty landscape then at last the story came together. The hands photograph I went specially to take. The words and the pictures complete the story for me and, I hope, for my readers. www.elliekennard.ca/martha/

My mother was a writer who started off as the food editor for the Montreal Gazette and so I was immersed in literature and writing from very young. When she was older she had her own byline in England and wrote poetry as well. She had her first book of poetry published when she was dying of cancer, living long enough to sign copies for the launch (but was not well enough to attend). Her second was published posthumously. This taught me that although it’s never too late to pursue your passion, it’s better to get into it when you are able to enjoy it fully.

A story is most successful for me if it brings you, my readers an added dimension, layers supplied by your own life and experiences – because our lives are all stories.

Ellie ready to write now - photo Steven Kennard
Ellie ready to write now – photo Steven Kennard

*You can read a little bit more about my china horse collection in this posting of mine: http://elliekennard.ca/golden-horses-friendship/.

**quoted from Atul Gawande

11 Responses

  1. I always follow your website and I really enjoy reading every single post ! But this one… I don’t know what did it to me, a super inspiration ?!
    Specially this sentence: “I treat my life as if it’s a story that keeps me wondering what will happen next.”
    I read it for several times !
    I’m going to take an exam next year, and I’m falling behind and I’m not making a lot of progress in my studying! I was super hopeless when I started to read your “telling stories”… but now I feel I’m full of hope and energy!
    You just saved my day or… better to say my future ! Thank you so much !!

    1. My dear friend Banafshe,
      I look forward to your comments on my posts whenever you make them and this particular one touched me deeply. I am so glad that you felt that my story made a difference in your approach to your future, at this crossroads in your life. Thank you so much for writing this as it also moved me more than I can say. It has encouraged me to keep writing, if only for that one person that is inspired in this way. Thank you!

      1. I’m the one who should say thank you! I will write more comments for sure and I’ll push away my shy side…
        I’m not the only who feels so, I believe we all readers have experienced very sweet and great moments by reading your website and that’s a pleasure for us !

  2. Amazing Ellie I love to listen to you read. It add so much more to the story. The fact that it is also based on things that happen to you adds so much to it. One can almost feel the pain you must have felt when your parents split up. It has to be very devastating to a young child. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks so much for this comment, Linda. It was painful. But it was also a long time ago, of course and we have so much more positive to look forward to. I’m glad you enjoy the listening experience.

  3. This piece is like a multi-faceted jewel, touching so many senses and emotions. Ellie you write calmly and with warmth and your writing is a joy. I’ve yet to listen to it, as I was not in the right place to do so, but I look forward hugely to the extra dimension of that experience. I’m smiling as I write this. Thank you!

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