Ask A Wench —about storytelling

Anne here, and today the wenches are responding to the question: Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

Little engine

Pat said:  In my case, I must accept that I was simply born with a love of books and writing. I can’t even say it’s in the genes because from what little I know of my family, my Great-Aunt Norma was the only one who wrote. She was a librarian and vanity-published a book of poems. She might possibly be the reason I love books, although that’s hard to say. For birthdays and holidays, she would sometimes send books the library didn’t want, even though they were inevitably much too old for a toddler who couldn’t read. So I’d pore over the wonderful pictures of lands far away and attempt to puzzle out what the words might say. To this day, I remember being appalled at a news announcer talking about an i-land when it was so obvious that he was talking about land surrounded by a body of water which. . . is land.

I can also remember a really old book of children’s poetry that I marked up with crayons as I sounded out the words. I don’t know how old I was at that point, but I apparently knew my letters and sounds but didn’t know better than to draw on books.

I have no memory of anyone ever reading to me, although I do remember the stories in the Little Golden Books (remember Pokey Little Puppy and the Little Engine That Could?   and kicking up a fuss until a book got tossed into the cart. Someone must have read the books to me at some point so I could follow the story later, when I tried to read it on my own.

All I really know was that I devoured every book in the house, reading and re-reading since my selection was limited. We had no library. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was buying classical English literature from the Scholastic bookfair with my tiny allowance. And since I never had enough to read, I wrote my own, filling notebooks full of stories.

EmilChristina said:  I was lucky enough to have several adults in my life when I was little who told me stories. First there was my Dad. My mother worked nights as a nurse so it fell to him to look after me and put me to bed. As I was a terrible night owl already then and didn’t want to go to sleep, he ended up telling me stories and singing to me for hours poor man. I also spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents. Grandma told me about all the magical creatures who were said to live in the deep dark forests all around us. They were folk tales she’d grown up with and I believed every word. I still look for fairies dancing whenever I see mist drifting over a field!

And Grandpa had a room full of books that I was allowed to borrow any time. He had a beautifully illustrated set of four books with the One Thousand and One Nights stories, and before I learned to I read we used to look at them together and he’d tell me simplified versions of them. (He bequeathed me those books when he passed away and I treasure them). He was also very good at reading aloud and often read Astrid Lindgren’s books to me and my brother. My favourite was Emil i Lönneberga, which is based on the countryside where I grew up. (Astrid came from the same county). Grandpa did all the voices and accents so well! Later when I was able to read (not till age 7 as children started learning late in Sweden at that time) those three adults recommended books for me, most of which I loved, and I’m very grateful for that as they gave me a lifelong love of reading.

CheaperByThe Dozen

Mary Jo here. I'm not sure–I think loving stories was in my DNA.  My parents were both readers and there were always books around and there was a good school library as well. When I was little, sometimes my mother read to us (I was the youngest of three), but she didn't read us kid books.  She favored entertaining bios or memoirs that she wanted to read herself but she didn't have much time.

I specifically remember Cheaper by the Dozen, a 1948 memoir about a family where the parents were the world's first efficiency experts, there were a dozen children, and the father was wildly colorful and kept trying his theories on the kids.  Written by two of the offspring after they grew up, it was fun for all of us to listen to. 

FifthChineseDaughterAnother book my mother read to us was Fifth Chinese Daughter, written by Jade Snow Wong, who grew up in San Francisco's Chinatown. Published in 1950, it was a bestselling groundbreaker as Wong told her story as a traditionally raised Chinese American girl who successfully moved into broader American society as an educator and ceramic artist. Since my mother had lived in China as a girl, of course she was interested and so were we.

The school library let us take out two books a day.  For years I'd check out two and read both in the afternoon until it was time to watch cowboy movies on our very small television. I also always had stories in my head, generally adventures featuring a girl my age. <G> I spun whole sagas in my mind, but it was many years until the Mayhem Consultant taught me to use a computer word processing program so I could write my stories down. I'd never imagined I could earn a living by telling stories, yet here I am! <G>

Susan says:  Before I could read, I remember sitting by a big bookcase paging through any books I could find, loving the pictures (I even drew princesses in pink crayon in the family Bible and a book of poetry – apparently I thought improvements were needed!). Mom read to us, but with four little girls, she didn't have much time. My older sister read to me until I got the knack of it; family lore says she came home crying on the first day of kindergarten because she hadn't learned to read that day. Once I started reading, I plowed through everything I could find, reading repeatedly. Two favorites rereads were Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary (Ellen seemed so much like me), and Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lundgren. I adored Pippi's spunk and goofy logic.

Pippi 2

My great-grandmother was a natural storyteller who told fascinating tales of her childhood in rural France. She could make you laugh or cry and beg to hear a story again–she just had a gift (and a darling French accent).My older sister was a great storyteller, too. At night she would make up stories in our shared bedroom that had us both laughing so hard we would be told to quiet down and go to sleep. (A favorite involved filling the neighbor boy's pool with Jell-O; hey, we thought it was hilarious). My first stories, aside from early efforts in fat crayon, were acted out in the basement when I staged elaborate dramas with Barbie and Ken–my very first adventure-romances. And I cherish what my second-grade teacher wrote on a report card: "Susie is a good little storyteller." So between stacks of books, family storytellers, and the help of Barbie and Ken, eventually I figured out how to tell my own stories. 

Andrea said: A good question! but I don’t have an exact answer—maybe it was swimming around in the genes because I’ve also seemed to have a special affinity for creating stories. I can actually pinpoint my first official foray into writing/storytelling as my mother preserved a lavishly illustrated book that I created when I was five—it was a Western about cowboys and horses on the range. (Yes, I am still a bad speller! “Horeses” was a family joke for a number of years.)  

AD horses book croppedIt’s no surprise that my creativity took the form of a book. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by books. It’s not so much that I recall being read to—though I know I was—I just felt an affinity for both words and images. Even before I could read,  I would happily sit quietly and lose myself in a book (or so I am told.)

And once I started reading . . . that sense of wonder and magic of being swept away in a story has never changed. I kept writing and illustrating throughout childhood and I I suppose it’s no surprise that I went into book/magazine design after college. (Clearly I have a left brain-right love affair with books.) But the primal storytelling urge soon got the better of me and I began writing “adult” books, beginning with traditional Regencies. (Clearly I also have a thing for Men in Boots!) 

Anne again. I don’t know where I got my love of storytelling from. I’m pretty sure that my parents and siblings would have read stories to me when I was small — my siblings were ten years older than I was. I learned some of AA Milne’s poems very young and I knew all the Winnie the Pooh stories from a very young age. My dad was a story teller, too, and used to tell stories in the car on long trips (except when the cricket was on and we all had to sit quietly while he listened to the broadcast.)

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But I’m told I used to sit in the sandpit with my teddy and various animals (live ones) telling them long, involved stories, and we left that house just before my 4th birthday, so clearly storytelling was in me by that age. And once I’d learned to read I devoured stories non-stop.

I’ve heard that a lot of writers had a relatively isolated childhood and that was true of me, to some extent. Most of the time we didn’t have neighbors and when we did they had no children, and my siblings had all left home to study long before I'd finished elementary school, so outside of school there was often just me and a dog. So I lived quite a lot in my imagination, I think. And dogs are excellent listeners.

But I never thought of becoming a writer — for some reason I assumed that ordinary people didn’t write books. I did think of it briefly in high school, but still, it was a fantasy rather than anything I could plan. It wasn’t until I took long service leave from my job, and spent a year backpacking, that stories started to come to me, and I wrote them down in exercise books. And when I can home at the end of that year, I came with a firm resolve to try to become a writer. And I did.

So what about you? Where do you think your own love of stories and/or storytelling came from?

10 thoughts on “Ask A Wench —about storytelling”

  1. I’ve wanted to write romance since I was an eleven year old secretly reading my mother’s harlequin historicals. Over years I grew in love for classics and dramaturgy, but always come back to those love stories that touched the heart of a young girl. I took up my ‘pen’ in lockdown as a way of connecting with others who love the same types of stories as me, and though still struggling to have commercial success, it’s jept me going.

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  2. My mom subscribed me to the Doubleday Children’s Book Club before birth. I was born with a nice library. I remember the Eureka! moment when reading clicked (I was 3).
    Early teachers nurtured my love of reading as well.

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  3. My Mom was an avid reader and enjoyed reading stories to us. Even on family vacations, she’d bring books for us to read and would tell stories around the campfire. The first books I remember enjoying were “Charlotte’s Web,” “Little House in the Big Woods,” and “Pippi Long Stockings.” I still enjoy reading Children’s Lit and picture books. When I was a preteen, she introduced me to Georgette Heyer and Dame Agatha Christie’s bodies of work. In the years my husband and lived with my parents, Mom and I traded books often. She loved discovering new authors to the end of her life.

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  4. Thank you, Word Wenches, for sharing your stories! I enjoyed them all.
    I don’t recall learning to read (I have a memory like a sieve), but I have loved to read as far back as I can remember. My parents likely read to my sister and me when we were young, but it was my grandmother (Oma) that I remember reading to us when we would stay with her over the Christmas/summer holiday. She would also give us three random words and encourage us to make up a story.

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  5. All the very best of good luck with your new writing career, Julia. It takes a while to build up an audience butI’m sure some of our wenchly readers will follow you up. We do love a good historical.

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  6. What a clever mom. I can’t think of a better birth gift for a child than a good library. Love that you were reading at 3. My mother tried very hard to keep me from learning to read — as a teacher of beginner elementary she was worried that if I could read before I started school I would be a nightmare for some teacher. I learned anyway and I wasn’t a nightmare at all — I was easily kept quiet and occupied — all they had to do was shove a book into my hand.

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  7. Pamela, how lovely to share books and the love of them with your mum for all that time. I also remember my mother reading “Little House in the Big Woods” and chuckling away. I’m not sure if she read it aloud to me — I don’t think so, but we certainly shared the pleasure of the stories. Once I could read I preferred to read myself. Charlotte and Pippi I read myself, borrowing them from the library. A library is such a precious thing for individuals and the community.

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  8. Kareni, your Oma sounds brilliant. I do like that task she set of three random words to make up a story. I’ve done that kind of thing with schoolkids, and sometimes you get the most wonderful stories.

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  9. When I was being potty trained my mother told me she would sit me down and give me a book to ‘read’. She said I never wanted to get off because I kept going over the book 🙂 She said I couldn’t wait to be able to read the words myself. Once I could string words together to make a sentence I was off and I’ve never stopped reading since!! It’s gotten me through some tough times. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t read books. They don’t know what they’re missing. Thankfully my three children are bookworms too, especially the middle one and she is now writing a novel. I do hope she succeeds. Very enjoyable post!

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  10. Wow, what a clever mum, Teresa.
    ” I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t read books” That’s a big part of why I’ve taught adult literacy for most of my life. I never was only interested in the practical day-to-day uses of literacy– though of course they are very important — I also wanted to share the joy of reading.
    Best of luck to your writer daughter.

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