Grow Through What You Go Through's Podcast

Sal Tonge talks to Amy Douglas - Storyteller and author

December 05, 2022 Grow Through What You Go Through Episode 1
Grow Through What You Go Through's Podcast
Sal Tonge talks to Amy Douglas - Storyteller and author
Show Notes Transcript

Sal Tonge chats to Amy Douglas, about the changes she has made in her practice to accommodate new ways of working and Technology plus being a working performance artist & mum.

You can find links to find out what Amy is up to on her website via the link below

There will be a bonus session available, where Amy shares some of her current projects and her 'secret talent'  which will explain the reference to the 'delicious breakfasts'

Amy mentions her shed, this is also known as her studio

Thank you to 
Arts Council England for Supporting these podcasts.
Alex Vann Design for the artwork and Alex Vann musician for the title music.

Hello there, and welcome to the grow through what you go through podcast, artists talking about challenges and changes and how they met them and how it's informed their practice and work. My name is Sal tonge, and with my producer and editor Mandy Dyson, we offer you these conversations to inspire, strengthen, and let the light in. Your smile, you frown But you grow through, go through as you grow through what you go through. So today I'm talking with Amy Douglas. Amy is based in Bishop's Castle, South Shropshire, and is a storyteller. She started in her teenage years. And now as a mother of two, she is still spinning yarns around the world. She runs blast, which is the storytelling club in her hometown, and facilitates the online get a word in edgewise sessions. She has her own storytelling talk show, taking the tradition on where she explores ideas and practice around telling tales in our times. She's investigating virtual spaces in which to present and explore storytelling. And she's the author of two books, Shropshire folktales, and Shropshire folk tales for children, and an editor and a contributor to many, many more. Amy is a passionate advocate for live and virtual storytelling networks and spaces. And as I said, she's a busy working mom. And we're really glad that you found time to contribute to our podcasts today. So hi, there, Amy. How are you? I'm very well. Hi, Sal, thank you for inviting me. It's great to have you on. Well, Amy, I'm gonna move into our questions. And I want to ask you, can you take your mind back to when you were young? Can you remember a really early creative, artistic experience maybe that you created or that you witnessed that you were part of, can you tell us about an early artistic experience in your life, when you knew you were going to be a creative, artistic person? I, I don't think I didn't know I was going to be a creative artistic person. I just knew that I love stories. I do remember when I was eight, we had a visual artist who came into school. And I had spent a long time on this drawing. And he came and decided to show me how to do something on my drawing. And, and did a load of it for me. And I was absolutely incensed. I was so mad, and so cross and as soon as it got rubbed out everything you've done, but it's still kind of it had taken it stopped it from being mine, it taken away. My vision, my drawing I'd worked really hard on and I I vividly remember what that felt like. And I've really, that is something that is totally informed the work that I do with, with children and and and with everybody is that art should is so personal. And it should be empowering. And your vision is not somebody else's vision, and you shouldn't try and put your vision onto somebody else's work. You need to listen and try and get into their world. So I think that that was definitely a shaping moment. But I just love stories. I didn't know that storytelling existed as an art form. I used to read a lot of fantasy novels, and they would always have a storyteller in them. And I used to think why don't we have them anymore? What happened to all the storytellers. And then my parents started taking me to folk festivals. And we went to all folk around the weekend, which sadly no longer happens. But it was kind of local festival in Shropshire and Taffy Thomas was on the programme storytelling workshop. And I went along and it wasn't a storytelling workshop. He told me he told some stories. There wasn't any workshopping parts of it. But I went up to him at the end. And I said, Oh, how did you become a storyteller? And he kind of towered over me. Well, I do want to, and I kind of took a deep breath and looked up at him and said, yes, it's maybe I do. And it was, it was a statement of intent. And that was it. That was kind of my foot was really interesting living on the border. So I'm a mile and a half of Wales. And a lot of my work is in Wales. And at the moment, the education system in England and Wales is just going in completely different directions. And I'm definitely for the WellStar So Wales has just brought in the new curriculum, Donaldson curriculum and it It's all about creativity. It's about having Creative Curriculum, it's about joined up thinking, it's about being able to link things in different subjects. It's about being child led, it's about exploration. They did a really big survey. And what they realised was that we don't know what we're training our children to do. Most of the jobs that young people are going into now didn't exist when they went into the school system when they were full. So we don't know what jobs there are going to be in 20 years time. But what industry is saying is that we can train people with specific knowledge, we're going to have to do that anyway. Our workplace has a very specific set of knowledge they're going to need, what we can't do is train people to think by the time they come to us at 2025. If they haven't learned it, it's kind of too late. Really, we can't take. We need creative thinkers, we need people who can collaborate. We need people who can join up the dots who can have those intuitive leaps. We need people who can see what's over there in this area of the factory and go oh, yeah, but if we, if we combined it with what's going over there, but tweaked it a bit. That's the sort of thing. It's that creative approach. But computers can't do computers can do all sorts of things. But it's those things that as humans, we are incredibly good at the artists are really good at that they can't train people to do and so in Wales, it's it's bringing artists in. But to look at core subjects, it's about literacy. It's about numeracy, it's about digital skills. But it's about an approach and an approach that you can apply to anything. It's and it's all about the Creative Habits of Mind, which are things like collaboration, persistence, discipline, imagination, acquisitiveness, and it can develop those skills. I just love it. It's so exciting. I think this is the beautiful thing about this podcast as well, you know, it's trying to define how artists have approached change, and arrive at kind of a library of a human library of stories of people kind of growing through what they've gone through. And do you think it's because our culture is really resistant to change? Do you think we're absolutely wedded to permanence, and we haven't really got the words, and the language and the frames of reference to talk about altered states and change, we want things to be the same. I think there's a lot to be said for that. Which is ridiculous. Because it's constant, isn't it? And like, we have that cliche of, you know, old people going oh, well, back in my day, and I'm doing that now. You know, I find myself with my children going, you know, well, when I was a child, we only have three channels on the television, and you couldn't decide when to watch things. You were either there and you saw it or you didn't, you know, there was none of and they kind of Obama's going on and on about the old days again. And it was the same time I'm talking about her childhood. And it's, I mean, particularly, it seems ridiculous that we're resistant to change when we've gone through a century where I think there's been more and faster change than there has been pretty much to the rest of our history, though. I think, you know, probably maybe every generation thinks that. I mean, you look at the times of the Industrial Revolution, I mean, things are changing pretty flippin fast, then. And then. Yeah, I think we do we do assume that things are going to be the way that they are forever. And we're constantly surprised that they're not, even though our experience tells us that the only thing that is constant is Yeah, yeah, it's a real blind spot isn't it seems to be a real blind spot. So what have you had? To what, you know, what changes do you feel you've addressed in your practice? What has been the role of change in your work? Well, it's a really interesting one really to ask a storyteller, isn't it? Because I suppose the heart of storytelling, most people would maybe think is that there isn't a lot of change. I tell old stories, I tell traditional stories, I tell stories that are hundreds of years old. And the reason that I love those stories and the reason those stories have survived all of that time is because there is something really central at their core that addresses the human experience. And I suppose that is the thing is that their heart, humans don't change the things that matter to us don't change. Things like falling in love, having a children, having children, dealing with grief, dealing with heartbreak. So many initial Nicolino started off talking about teenagers, so many initiation stories of all of those young men and young women who kind of put their foot to the road and go out on that first great adventure you know, to find out who they are So, in lots of ways, that is a constant core at the heart of my work, but the way we tell those stories has to be relevant for the world around us. And so as the world changes, my work changes. And over the pandemic, I mean, I'm, I'm very lucky, because the pandemic and lockdown was an incredibly creative time for me. I had decided that I had to engage with social media before lockdown happened, I'd kind of resisted and resisted and resisted. And when I set up last storytelling club, part of the deal with the town hall was that, okay, what they've set out on their mailing list there, do some of the publicity. But I would have to do some as well, I needed to set up a Facebook page for blast, which I was completely floored by that didn't really know where to start had really not wanted to do the Facebook thing. And I managed to do that. And everybody else was sort of getting involved with Twitter and Facebook. And so much publicity started to go on to that so much about followers that and the way that cuts have gone as well, you know, theatres don't have marketing people anymore, they want you to do lots of the marketing, so much of the onus of, of who is putting you out there has gone on to the artist, other people will not do it for you, all of those jobs are being cut back and stripped. So I realised, if I wanted to stay as an artist, I was going to have to do more of that. But it didn't, I thought if I'm gonna have to engage in this, I can see that there are possibilities for actually having a real conversation about my work with people. And I can get excited about that I can get interested in that. I don't want to be one of these people who's going holding up a cup of tea and going oh, look, here I am outside my gig. And I have done that. I totally have done that. I think we all have you know, I have put those shallow posts on there. But I really not not interested in it. But when I go to an art gallery, I can go around on my own and go Well, that's lovely. That's disturbing. That's interesting. But I'll kind of walk around fairly fast. If I go with somebody who knows what they're talking about, who is enthusiastic about this subject, who can take me around and tell me about the artist tell me what they were thinking, tell me where a painting has come from. And I can really understand the emotion and the background I get I get huge amounts more from that. And I don't think we do that very much as storytellers. And so I thought, well, this is an opportunity, because I'm always there going, here's the story. Here's the story, today, I've put a load of work into it, I've worked really hard. So it looks like I haven't put a lot of work into it. And it just looks really easy. And natural just flows out just off the cuff, which is usually not the case. And the more natural it looks, probably the more work it's had to put into it. And the more time I've spent with that story. So I'd like to share some of that journey. And if I can get people interested in the beginning, if I can talk to them about the issues and the problems that I get with some stories, then when they get that final version of the story, and they've been on that journey with me, then maybe that story is going to mean more to them as well. And I'm not saying that I've achieved that yet on social media and on online. But that's what my goal is. And I think the thing all the things that I've done on that and particularly I think I'm getting quite close there with the taking the tradition on which is an in conversation with storytellers where we do we sit and have usually a specific issue or talk about their practice where we can really kind of unpack where they're coming from why they tell what they do. And I love that. And I've gained huge amounts from from taking the tradition on and I'm trying to make myself more vulnerable, and more open and sharing my work. And, and there's been so much to talk about, I mean over the pandemic, when suddenly there was an awful lot more people online, it goes up for people to engage with. And I was really lucky because I think I'd gone through the frustration. And I'd gone through the bit of throwing my computer across the wall and kind of not won't work at this boat do this. But at the end of the day I had actually chosen I'd already come to the decision on my own that I needed to go online, I need to spend more time figuring out how to do things online. They wasn't forced into it in the way that lots of people were in lockdown, and I totally and so there's a lot of artists who really grieved for for the loss of their work and the loss of things that they've been doing who just didn't have any of that choice. Because choice is such an important thing. I mean, it just it completely changed. Is your perspective. So the, the fact that I had chosen to engage with this space has just made my journey so much easier and so much more creative and so much more exciting. If I'd been forced into it, I would have dug my heels in and it would have been awful. So you're talking really that rather than reacting to the pandemic, you'd responded to what you felt was kind of a medium that in which you could sort of probably share more of the process behind storytelling in a bit like sort of Brechtian theatre, you know, sort of see the workings of something rather than just sort of the, the swan gliding smoothly across the lake. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I had acknowledged that I was gonna have to do something on Twitter and Facebook, just to kind of market things. And, and so it was just like, okay, if I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do it properly. I'm gonna like, I'm going to find what I, what is exciting about this, what can I do what can be inspiring, rather than just doing what I have to and hating every minute of it? Let's go deeper. Let's, let's find an exciting way to do this. And then it is an amazing platform, you can do really creative and exciting things here. And so I have got really inspired and it's, and it has challenged me in lots of ways. And it's made me think about my art form in lots of different ways. And then the lockdown with everybody else coming in suddenly, they were much more people to talk to about that. Yeah. Suddenly, I had been quite isolated. I start started last because it was so desperate to hear other storytellers. I had two children, I live in Bishop's castle. There isn't any storytelling here apart from me, or the wasn't enough for me to get to talk people on tour to hear other storytellers, KGB, somebody might come to Shrewsbury usually, it'd be more likely to be Birmingham, by the before locked down, my husband would leave a quarter to eight in the morning, I'd be lucky if he was back by seven. For me to leave at seven, I wouldn't get to Birmingham till nine, you know, by which point anything will be halfway through, I wouldn't get home till midnight or afterwards. And I'd still be up at six o'clock in the morning. And it just felt completely undoable. And, and I was just in a, not a cultural desert, because there are things that happen in Bishop's Castle, though, getting out with small children is always a bit tricky, but certainly a storytelling desert. So I started last, because that will if I can't get to storytelling, I just have to be storytelling to me. And that was that was scary enough, actually, because there was this whole thing of, oh, gosh, Will anybody come you know, kind of, I'm the only I'm the only storyteller in the village. I felt like that. And, you know, this is, this is the thing that I love, it's going to be, I'm going to find that quite hard if nobody else loves it. And if nobody comes in as a financial outlay, and it was, and I think you know, a lot of women find that kind of you lose a lot of yourself, when you have children, and you've had a job, you've been doing all this stuff. And suddenly, instead of, you know, being Amy, I was like, you know, Chloe and Lucy's mum. And, and, and people forget you very quickly, or just don't think that you're doing storytelling anymore, or because you've had a bit of time out. And that starting again, I think is really, really hard. And for me, doing plus was a terrifying thing to start. And then it's just been this amazing, wonderful, beautiful thing, where it's really helped me embed myself in the community and got to know more people. But I totally didn't do for this but it'd be also became a calling card to say, Hi, I'm still storytelling, I still exist. I'm still here. I still love stories and people started. Yeah, the same year, we had Amy at our club for a while or, or maybe we come back at me to do this. So although I did it, purely ready to hear storytelling actually had lots and lots of other knock on effects and, and was kind of the beginning of me, rediscovering myself and re discovering my art form and actually and starting to feel like an artist again, because I absolutely lost my confidence after having having the children and not having done very much to work particularly after my second child, I think was one child and when they're small, you can still do quite a lot. My mum and dad were young, we're sort of still capable and young enough to look after Chloe and I could get off and I could stay at their house and get to quite a lot places in time to start work at nine. But once closed started school, and I had another young one, to have one small child being looked after and then having this been able to make the school day. You can't get anywhere to work between from nine and three from Bishop's castle. And our childcare here is from eight to six at the most which again you can't do It's tricky to get anywhere to do a day's work. Yeah. And I didn't want want to put them into really long hours of childcare for me, that wasn't the point of of having children just, you know, dump them and let somebody else raise them. But it did mean that I was out of storytelling for quite a long time. And getting back in and, and everything is evolved with self being self employed, and everything having moved on to social media and all the things that you need to do with that. Coming back after children, I think was probably the most challenging bit of my, my career. Though, I also was coming back as a very different person with a lot more to give. Yeah, you know, I mean, I'd learned so much through the children and, and grown and just changed my perspective on things. So it was also really interesting coming back with with a different perspective. Yeah. And also coming back on these two frontiers, what I'm hearing you say is that, you know, there was blast and you created kind of a note, you've developed an audience, you've created a venue and a network of storytelling in kind of a rural in rural south, south Shropshire. But you've also come back in the virtual world, and you've kind of nurtured this world wide, kind of audience for your, your, the get a word in edgeways for the, your conversation podcasts. And, you know, I mean that that's a mighty comeback. And that's a response to two different circumstances really, you know, one is the opportunity of social media, which kind of made that virtual stuff possible. And the other is, you know, that work of kind of right, I need to do some work. Now, I'm a mum, and I've got to find something that that serves me and my family. It is that thing is, is kind of every now and then you just need to be selfish. And there's definitely just a point of going, I need, I need to feed me. I'm not being fed, I need to hear stories. I need to, I need to be fed. Yeah. And then the virtual stuff, really, I mean, lockdown was, was a gift for me. I mean, I know, there's lots of terrible things. And I would never wish for any of that happened. And it was a completely unexpected. But with lockdown, suddenly, lots of people came online. And suddenly there's all these amazing places to there was room for discussion spaces. There was room for kind of coffee and networking chats that I just didn't have access to before. One click of a button, then you could be talking to anybody, couldn't you? Yeah, it was amazing. And also my husband went on to furlough. So for the first time the dynamic in our marriage and our family changed. So it was just like, Okay, well, you're on furlough, you're not working. The children aren't at school, I am still working. So therefore, you can do the homeschooling I'm going to be in the shed working. And, and that was quite difficult for everyone. Because, as I've already said to him, and I'm really passionate about education, I've done a lot of work in education, there were lots of exciting things that I would quite like to try out with that with that space, and to explore the way that I could educate my own children. But Chris was used to being out all day, you know, everybody always used to say, oh, but you have the best bedtime stories in your house. Pretty good. But it's not me that does them at home at bedtime, that was one bit of the day that he could spend with the girls. So that was his thing. You know, I do daytime stories. Yeah, but bedtime stories was him. And now it was a chance for him to actually engage with the children in a different way. was quite full on and quite hard for him quite for long and hard for me to step back and keep my big mouth shut. Yeah. Which I think was really good for me as well. And really good for the children to have that that time with him. So it was it was hard. But it's been a really positive thing. But then that meant that I was in the shed and and suddenly all of these doors opened and and just international conversations and concerts and it's like being pioneer, you know, kind of this is amazing, new world, this amazing new land with all these. There's no rules yet. All these different ways of experimenting and playing. And, and there's nobody here. You know, we're not taking the land away from anybody which is about a pioneer. It's a completely new space, that we can decide what it is that we want it to be. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Beautiful. Fantastic. So I think you you've kind kind of touched on on this. But I want to kind of draw it out a bit, you know, Where Where are you headed next, you know, where where's your growth edge, where's your green shoots kind of sprouting out towards as you kind of move on from your, from from these, these these beginnings. Where next I think I've got to a point where I'm realising it's I've got big dreams. And there's there's only so much you can do on your own. And I think you know, everybody's self employed, that's the case, it's that you've got to do everything got to do all of the the admin and the accounts and the promotion and the marketing and like you're kind of going, there's supposed to be some creative time in here as well, I'm actually doing the core stuff, but everything else is supposed to go around rather than take over. And there are some big projects that I'd like to do. But the bigger they get, the more money and investment they they cost. So I've kind of been doing little projects and getting experience under my belt and kind of proving that I can do things and they steps up the ladder, but I think they really need help. So I've got a developing your creative practice bid in, I find out in a little while. So I don't know if that will happen or not. Yes, got my fingers crossed for that. And it's, in some ways it's foundation work really that it's I think as storytellers we don't go through a training process and the way that lots of artists do, there isn't a specific route that's designed for us. So I do feel like all the way through my career, I've been reinventing the wheel. And doing things from first principles that kind of everybody is already set in, there's loads of processes have been set up, that would have been really handy to have just taken off the bag. So a lot of that is is just foundational work, it's its distribution. It's about going and spending time with venues and finding those middle people. There aren't any storytelling agents, you know, trying to get other people who will take an idea and sell it here, kind of whose job it is to take work to different organisations and go Well, look, there's this person who's got this show who would be perfect for you, or who could do that and trying to establish some distributions, not just for me, but for storytelling, generally. And also just finding organisations to work with. I've got some really amazing projects that I'd like to do online, but also in physical spaces using tap using different artists. But they're going to need a team, they're going to need backing, and they're going to need lots of us to work together, they've kind of sort of feel like I'm knocking on the ceiling of what I'm able to do, just on my own. And so it's finding those people to collaborate with and to share dreams with to just be able to reach out into that next space. Yeah, yeah. I mean, we are gonna be asking people on this podcast, you know, what are their top tips for artistic, creative growth, and I've just been writing down what you've just said, you know, it seems to be we've, we're in a new era, as you say, you know, marketing people are few and far between, you know, organisations don't have their marketing people. There's freelance marketers, but, you know, so you've got to kind of suss out where, where the players are, you know, how are things formulated now, you know, especially with reorganisation that's happened through, you know, the new arts, cancelled decisions, and also through, there's going to be all that government organisations and cuts and stuff. I also think, you know, there's, there's an idea that you've come out with as well is that, you know, grow not only in the tech tech world, in the tech field, in the virtual field, but also keeping your kind of growth happening in in the real world, keeping that that just yourself fed in that very visceral way with that, that sort of companionship. And then also, the thing that I'm really hearing from you around growth is other people, teams, you know, there's only so much we can do. We've got all this wonderful tech, we've got this ability to be looked like we're 6 million people and look like with that Swan gliding along. But we need more people to support and work with, you know, have you got any other tips for artists listening in, you know, you wanted to grow? I want to grow, I want to grow, I want to expand, I want to change, I want to honour what I've been through. You know, what would your top tips be? I think collaboration is definitely the way to go. I mean, it's, I suppose it's fine. You have to find what works for you. You, I am an aural person. I know that for me, I need to talk to people, that's, it's how I think I can get much more done going for a walk with a friend, or I've got certain people that kind of overtime, I know, people who are really good first listener, so if I've got something that's new, that's still growing, that's a baby, you know, there are certain people that are phone up and try it out on and it needs to be out, I can't do it to myself, I need that first audience. But for me, that first listener, a story takes place, and it takes shape in that space between you and your listener, or listeners. And the listeners really do shape, how that story becomes the quality of their listening, and the quality of their engagement really helps grow that story. And so I'm very careful who I tell stories to for the first time, and I've, in the past, I've chosen the wrong person. And there are stories that I don't tell because they just got bound by those people, you know, so. So it is it's having having connections. So creating those people that you know, you can lean on for me, there's people that can go and tell a story to is the first time that people that I can ring up and go, I can't do this, it's driving me nuts. Can you help me, my, my top tips are, if something is driving you nuts, stop, go do something else. Like let the back of your brain deal with it and come back to it later. Don't Don't keep banging your head on a on the wall or a table because it it just doesn't work. Tech is great. But walking is also brilliant. And set it again, I think because I'm such an aural person. I didn't realise that I tap my foot a lot when I tell stories. And I keep a rhythm. And I didn't know I didn't used to know that I did that I have an internal rhythm for every story and, and walking helps create that as well. So when I'm working on new material going out and walking, it is just an absolutely crucial part of my practice. And now I talk to other people and other storytellers. And I know that that's the same for a lot of other storytellers. Because it's part of that process of telling has to happen on your tongue and in your head. It doesn't happen on a page. wrong with that. I write this I know lots of brilliant, brilliant writers. But it's a different art form. If you want it to be an oral story, it has a different feel and a different rhythm. Yeah, my top tip is is, is collaborate, I think some people kind of really try to stay by themselves for too long. And they get worried that if they, if they let other people you know, people will take their gigs. And I've always found that recommending other people having other good artists around you, particularly in storytelling, because it's such a small medium is the more storytellers the more good storytellers that are going out. We'll create our own spaces to make stories because there's so many there's so few venues that we're still kind of expanding the venues and places that storytelling can happen. If someone has a good experience of storytelling, they want to become the storyteller. So the more that you can recommend other storytellers, the more that you work together, the more that you are open hearted about it. The more you grow, the more unexpected things will come into your life, the more we all grow. And that's yeah, it just keeps coming back to collaboration. It is hard to be inspired on your own. I love it, Amy. I love it. I love it. And it's kind of it's such a hopeful place, probably to start to draw the conversation to a close, you know, you've just said, if you're open hearted, the unexpected can happen. You know, and I think it's such a lovely thing. If this podcast can remind people, you know, keep looking outwards, keep keep the windows open, keep the doors open, keep your heart open, keep your mind open. And, you know, because the fear narrative can just close all of that. So that's really hopeful note. Listen, Amy, how can people get in touch with you, you know, connect up with your podcasts connect with blast, what's the best way that listeners can link up with you? Well, everything is on my website, links to everything else. So that's the first place to start probably, which is just Amy So that's the easiest way but then I also will find links there to virtual reality and all sorts of things, but the podcasts and video casts are taking the tradition on so you'll find that on YouTube. Great, fantastic. And I think that we'll also put that in with notes so that everybody can have a quick click on that and be connected with you. Amy, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. And, you know, wishing you well with all your storytelling, and with all your delicious breakfasts and the nourishment that you give to yourself but also to your community in Bishop's castle and the whole world. So thank you very much. Oh, it's been a pleasure. Thank you. Hello, it's Amy Douglas here, storyteller, author, and podcast host. Join me for a live zoom session on Monday the 19th of December at 11am where I'll share some of the things I've explored to make my practice relevant and exciting. There's going to be a q&a but if you have any burning questions to ask me, please message the grocery what you go through Facebook page, and I will try and include them in what we talk about. Join me next time on the growth through what you go through podcast when I'll be chatting with Wolverhampton based visual and textile artist, Kanj Nicholas. See you then. You're up. You're down. You smile, you frown But you grow through watch you go through guess you grow through. You go through