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Storytelling. Or the Art of Balancing Vegetables on Your Head.

August 17, 2012
Lara balancing a fennel on her head.

Lara demonstrating one of her storytelling techniques. No fennels were harmed during this photoshot. Although they may have been eaten afterwards.

Storytelling is an ancient tradition of telling stories by word of mouth. There are many varieties of storytelling, usually involving some physical exertion. Balancing vegetables on her head would appear to be one of Lara McClure’s techniques.

But then for someone who has been known to take tea with seahorses, this may not be surprising.

She took time out of her busy life as a working mum, to disclose some trade secrets.

How did you get into storytelling?

I’ve been cooking up tall tales since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, but it’s really become a big part of my life since becoming a mum and beginning to run a toddler group in our local park about 8 years ago.

How difficult is it to make up stories?

If you start small, and focus on details – like a found object or seasonal event – you can gradually evolve a tale in layers.

I find that discussion work with children brings out so many ideas that a simple story can take on a new life.

Stories can change a lot, too, in the telling, although my own children are my most ardent hecklers, and as I merrily embroider well-loved plotlines they will interrupt with cries of ‘it wasn’t like that!’

Are there any special techniques involved?

I have been told there is something to do with balancing vegetables on your head. The vegetable-balancing began when I told the classic tale Stone Soup – in which a mysterious traveler apparently makes soup from nothing but a stone! – to a primary school class, and gave each of them a little new potato to throw into the pot at the appropriate moment. The only way to prevent them from throwing the spuds at each other was to challenge them to balance the potatoes on their heads. I ended up with a leek on mine which one child thought might channel some ideas directly from space – and I think it worked.

So props are useful?

Yes, especially when working with under-fives as it provides a physical link between them and the narrative and helps to maintain their attention span.

What sort of events has this taken you to?

My storytelling has taken us to lots of community events like park fairs and sports days; into primary schools, toddler groups and outdoor playgroups; and, most recently, has begun to get us invited to lots of local festivals. This year I’ve appeared at the Future of Music, Deer Shed, Beacons festivals around Yorkshire and I will be at the and Galtres Festival on the Bank Holiday weekend.

Why has this been good for your children?

We have attended Festivals that I otherwise would have struggled to buy tickets for. In turn this has led to my kids accessing lots of other great sessions like air guitar making, claywork, drumming workshops and magic acts as well as hearing a great variety of live music.

Any other advice for parents wanting to get into storytelling?

Don’t be shy! Get a bag of interesting objects together (seashells, feathers, quirky soft toys, a wooden spoon) and you can search for inspiration in there if you dry up.

Start with your own children – they will be your harshest critics, so if you can please them you know it’s going well!

Lara with a seahorse

Lara has a tete-a-tete with one of her friends.

There is still time to catch Lara at the Galtres festival this coming bank holiday weekend.

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