For all the reservations I might have had about her novel, I could not fault her as someone to listen to.
Eleanor Catton, speaking at the Auckland Writers Festival, was interesting and interested. She implored her sell-out audience to think about conversations, and engaging in dialogues – not just pouring out monologues. She pressed on her audience the power of stories as contributions to discussion, not as the final rebuttal on a point.
And so Eleanor has got me thinking about stories, and their power.
We all tell stories every day, through the things we choose to discuss, and the narratives about ourselves which we re-tell and re-tell on a daily basis…‘I’m not much of a cook, my mother was the cook’, ‘I’m short but feisty…you’ll never miss me’
I started writing my own stories on this website because I realised I was writing the same tales of my life- ‘Freya stories’ – in different iterations to friends. The ‘Freya stories’ would follow a simple formula, with me as loveable yet slightly hapless heroine who was getting lost in a foreign place/ trying out some mad sports or cultural crazy/involved in some mad social experiment gone wrong (often involving unrequited love). The ‘Freya’ of the stories was a more extreme version of myself, and the emphasis was on humour. And so, when I began writing these stories down, the tales of the emails, phone and Skype calls and coffee dates became essays, and the website began.
I continued to be humbled that some of the stories I write seem to resonate with others. My pieces about my father and mother were both stories which I wrote for myself, and for them, but wasn’t sure that others would be interested. Yet these are probably the essays that I’ve had most feedback on. I suppose its simple – we all have parents, our parents all have their own stories, and their story is the first chapter of our stories. By celebrating a humble life in words, we illustrate how many of our individual stories are common to many of us.
Or perhaps readers just liked the pictures – there were some great pictures!
Stories have a current of their own, which draws the bystander in. Some criticism I have read of Eleanor Catton’s #the luminaries calls it a ‘literary cul-de-sac’, suggesting that the plot does not go anyway, or at least nowhere fast! That’s true to a point – if the plot was written down in high level bullet points, it would barely fill a page. Yet does that matter if the story – the journey – is so engrossing that the reader experiences it?
#story telling is a powerful business tool as well. The concept of ‘#content marketing’ largely considers that the consumer – the experiencer – is much more willing to engage in a brand or purchase a new product if they’ve been taken on an interactive storytelling experience: reading content, viewing content, engaging with and peer discussing this content. It is simply commercial story telling – show me why I love your brand or product, don’t give me a diatribe of why I should want it.
Some of the smartest brands have made their story part of our stories. Childhood associations with trips to fast-food restaurants leave a life time of nostalgic associations. The use of the haka in association with the All Blacks means that in the pubs of London and the backpacker hotels of Rio, the haka links us both to the national game, and to home. #new zealand and it’s story is created by the story of the land, and the stories of the New Zealanders that inhabit the land. The new ‘tool kit’ for Kiwi companies exporting themselves to the world, #new zealand story, presents not just a story of the clean, bring fauna and fiords which New Zealand has long used to market itself, but also a richer story of innovation, business sense, and attractive urban spaces. It’s an updated story, which paints New Zealanders as global peers; not just God’s custodians.
Not all stories make it to text. I still tell some of my most entertaining stories orally, tweaking the content depending on the context. Last night I was telling my current favourite ‘Freya story’ (a tragi-com anecdote of a herione defeated) over Skype, wildly gesturing and adopting character voices as necessary. After I’d finished, my friend told tales herself, of lessons learned, and of the same feelings I’d experienced. It made our conversation a dialogue, as Catton had urged, not just two people blasting life-updates through the internet to each other. It made me feel like my experiences were shared, and my story was my friend’s story too, as we each played out similar versions of the same scenes, in different cities and countries.