Above image: Writing Our Legacy

Storytelling seems to be something we crave when the nights draw in and the weather chills. Not too long ago, people clustered around the fire to tell tales on a wintry night, and a good storyteller was valuable to the family and the community.

WE ALL STILL LOVE A GOOD STORY, whether we’re wrapped up in a book, reading to children at bedtime, or watching the latest drama on TV. And we love telling stories – personal stories and gossip are estimated to make up at least 65% of our conversation. February marks National Storytelling Week, so it seems a good time to look at our rich local heritage of telling tales.

Folklore is rooted in the landscape of Sussex, from dragons skulking in knuckerholes beneath Ham Bridge to skeletons rising from the roots of the Midsummer Oak in Broadwater. Ghost stories are the most popular local folktales, closely followed by legends of bells tolling from deep underground, according to a survey by the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy.

Those oral traditions of storytelling are picking up again, with a new community group meeting at the Cellar Arts Club. Performers Amy Sutton and Joshua Crisp have started Worthing Storytellers, a monthly meet-up committed to sharing and enjoying the craft of traditional oral storytelling.

“We think storytelling is so important as a medium because it gives people a space to find their own voices. We also like to focus on ancient and traditional tales because we feel that have wit and wisdom that has stood the test of time and still rings true for us today,” explains Amy.

“Storytelling is one of the earliest forms of community, and in an increasingly disconnected world, it seems to be something more and more people crave. Stories over an evening can run the whole gamut – funny, irreverent, heart-warming, spooky, tragic, epic and everything in between – taking you all over the world and delving into myths and cultures from many different historical periods. People can even try a bit of storytelling themselves!”

However, storytellers know the tales of the everyday are just as important as the stories of heroes and gods. Folklorists refer to personal experience narratives as ‘memorates’, and these tales are something for which local cultural heritage charity Sussex Traditions is always on the hunt.

“By cultural heritage we mean the stuff that gets passed on from person to person and down the ages, over generations – typically amongst small groups and communities. It’s often the kind of thing that’s considered ‘everyday’ and commonplace until, suddenly, it’s no longer there!” says project co-ordinator Mark Broad.

This year their emphasis will be on new ‘gather and share’ project A Sussex Childhood, subject to funding, which aims to engage young and old in recording their memories of children’s stories, sayings and songs and relating them to the present, eventually weaving them into a ‘people and places’ map of the county. To contribute, email info@sussextraditions.org

Personal stories are also the, centrepiece of Writing Our Legacy, an organisation raising awareness of the voices of Black and Ethnic Minority (BAME) writers connected to Sussex. On the cards for 2019 is their Hidden Sussex project, a series of creative writing workshops created to capture stories about Sussex from the BAME perspective.

Artist and chair of Writing Our Legacy Amy Zamarripa Solis says, “Hidden Sussex is such an exciting opportunity for local BAME voices to be heard and for lesser known perspectives to be explored by everyone across our county and beyond.”

Pete Fij, who runs the Speakeasy Club at Cellar Arts Club, agrees that there is a peculiar power in the spoken word. “What I love most about Speakeasy is how often the simple act of listening to someone speak opens your mind to something you might never have given a thought to before.”
So what is driving our ongoing fascination with stories and histories, particularly those from our past? Reaching back to something familiar can be comforting in times of uncertainty.

Folklorist and Sussex Traditions trustee Steve Roud explains, “We don’t need any deep reason to be interested in the past – it is fascinating in its own right – but many people think that we can’t understand the present without knowing how we got here, and that we should not leave the future at the mercy of change for its own sake.

“As life changes around us, often for the better, we sometimes still feel that we lose some things of value, just because they seem out of date. And it is not the grand issues of life which worry us here – they can look after themselves – but the lives of the ordinary people which are often allowed to be forgotten.”

So there you go, Worthingites. Get out there and tell your stories. It’s tradition, innit.
Zoe Rhodes