Tales from the River

Misty, early-morning photo of Trent-side dwelling at Attenborough

The Trent is a river with stories. It’s seen Celts, Romans and Saxons settle along its banks. When the Vikings invaded, they came in boats along the Trent. Itpowered the mills, and drained the factories, of the industrial revolution.

It’s the river that flows through the town I grew up in.

Rivers are mythic actors in a landscape. They bring things. They take things away. They float boats, and drown children. They can divide two settlements a mile apart, and they can connect two settlements counties away.

It’s just water, flowing along (different water all the time) and yet the river has been there for thousands – maybe millions – of years. Rivers remind me of stories.

I love storytelling as an art form. You create whole worlds using nothing but words and the sound of your voice. It’s the oldest human form of entertainment*. Our ancestors were probably doing it round campfires, in the Lower Pleistocene.

So here’s my crazy idea. I was once interviewing a man from the Environment Agency about leisure facilities along rivers. He told me there are footpaths all the way along the Trent. He said, ‘So now you can walk all the way along the river, from the source to the sea.’

I’ve absolutely no idea what he said in the rest of the conversation. Those words were glowing in my mind.

“…walk all the way along the river, from the source to the sea…”

My mind added the words, ‘telling stories’ at the end. And me looking mythic on a hilltop, with a wizard’s staff and some flowing robes.

The more I’ve thought about it since, the more bones I’ve put on the idea. It would be called Tales from the River. And we all know, a project with a great name can’t lose. It would be about bringing stories to people, bringing people together and bringing a bit of magic to life.

Each stop would bring people together to talk about their river. I’d tell some stories (with a river theme). Then the audience would become just people, they’d tell their own stories. About the river, or other rivers, or about the area. They’d discuss, draw parallels, perhaps learn from each other. They’d experience being heard. We could record stories, and collect a folk history of the Trent.

Scientists studying the river could talk to people who’d lived alongside it their whole lives. Conservation planners could talk to pre-Roman archeaologists. Estate agents talk to art historians. Agriculturists to pub landlords. Who knows what interesting things get started when people from different groups start talking? The key thing is to get people together, fire their imaginations and give them something to do together.

The idea was first just a crazy adventure I wanted to have. Doing something useful and possibly a bit magical at the same time would a bonus. It would be such a fantastic experience, and such an honour to do, that I’m not bothered about getting paid to do it.

But there would be accommodation each night, and food. I’m wondering though if it could be a money-free project? Inns, B+Bs, hotels, or just ordinary people, offer us food and board for the night. In exchange, we do a story session in a place of their choosing.

When I say us, I’ve decided the ideal team would be my long-suffering boyfriend and endearingly quarrelsome parents. Ross is a sound engineer and would do live sound design for storytelling performances. Dad’s a singer-songwriter, Mum’s a person who gets stuff done and both of them are ex-teachers. This gives us a lot of flexibility in what we can do, and would also be hilarious.

I think bed and board in exchange for a performance is nice and traditional, and also simple. I can see it working for a lot of people. A folky type of pub may want to have a storytelling night in their bar. A hotel might want to donate their performance to the local primary school. An ordinary person might want some unusual birthday party entertainment.

I reckon we can be pretty flexible, as long as people have realistic expectations of how polished it’s going to be (not very). There’s got to be at least a few people out there who go, ‘That sounds like a crazy idea, let’s sign up.’

So what do you think? Is it a crazy idea? Good crazy or bad crazy? Have you got ideas of what we could do, people I should contact, stories I should consider? Get in touch and let’s see what happens.

*please don’t write in and argue, sex or music fans, I concede you have a point.

Photo credit: veggiesosage


7 responses to “Tales from the River

  1. Sounds like a great project, hope you have fun with it.

  2. Sounds like a Radio 4 feature waiting to be made

  3. Great idea – we are putting on a sober festival in Shepton Mallet at windsorhillwood – probably in September – lots of story telling there – you must come on down

  4. Pingback: Tales from the River, the background « Tales from the River

  5. I recently read an adapted article titled “Bridges” apparently written by you for Focus magazine in December 1999 and found if fascinating and wanted to read more. It looks like you might be the Sophia Collins who was credited with writing it and I’d be interested in seeing the original or if there was anything else along the same lines. I’m a photographer and English teacher living in Catalonia (north-east Spain) and found the text in a Cambridge Advanced English exam book.

    • Hi Trevor, yes, that was me. I did work experience at Focus magazine in the Summer of 1999. I’m afraid I don’t think I have an electronic copy of the full article, or even a paper copy of it anywhere. It’s possible I’ve got a copy of the mag somewhere at my parent’s house. I’ll look for a copy when I next go and see them, but I can’t promise anything.

      I had no idea that I featured in an exam book. Isn’t life random?

      • That would be great, but don’t worry too much if you can’t find it. I know what that’s like – I seem to have papers everywhere – and looking for one thing almost always turns up something else I hadn’t thought about in years. What goes into the river always comes out somewhere else. You might also be interested in the comprehension questions they prepared for your text, though I don’t know how I’d get them to you, other than typing them out here or maybe sending them as an attachment to the wordpress e-mail address.
        The text, by the way, is something like 800 words – I don’t know if that sounds like the full article – to save you any more digging.

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