Every story comes with a message. And when it is presented differently, it enhances the process of creative thinking. At a storytelling session organised by The Loft Forum this weekend, James Knight, writer and journalist from Australia, will underline this fact. Knight, who has three decades of experience in journalism, released his new book, Back on Track this month. Says he, “There’s a saying in journalism, ‘Don’t bring me a story, bring me an angle’.” His session will thus dwell on storytelling with a difference.
We caught up with Knight while he held two sessions at two city schools. Excerpts:
You are known for human interest stories. Any story that has stayed with you till date?
I write for Today’s Tale, a sports blog in Australia. The first story that I remember is about playing cricket with kids in Nagpur in 1996 when I first visited India as a television reporter along with my photographer to cover the Wills World Cup. I remember interacting with kids and telling them, ‘It is one thing to read the story, but when you narrate it, the story has a different emotion.’
During the same period, we flew to Kolkata (then Calcutta). Around 2 am at the airport, it was all smoky around. All I remember is, in the immigration line, there was a cat winding between our legs. My cameraman and I thought, ‘This is going to be a different journey.’
Later, we met a man and we started talking as I generally do. The man said, ‘Mr James, here, we are poor of pockets, but rich in heart’. Those words have stayed with me.
There is so much goodness around us, we need to know and tell people about it in story form. Only then they will connect and uplift themselves.
You seem to be having a special interest in education...
New doors open for anyone who is educated. The education sector is changing drastically. Gone are the days of traditional learning, although I feel it is needed for basic learning. Education is about character development, creative thinking and problem solving and storytelling processes are integral to all of these. That is why I go to schools and talk about non-fiction stories. I inspire and motivate children to ask and feel the questions through different senses. I have an eight year old son Ignacio. Through him, I follow the journey of education, I learn about the world from him.
Everything has a story, we understand and learn more about the world through stories.
You have 13 non-fiction books to your credit. Where do you pick your stories from?
Sometimes the publisher comes up with an idea, like it was with my last book, Back on Track which has around 100 interviews. At other times, I have ideas and pitch them to the publisher. But there are times when I get responses like, ‘Oh, it’s a great story but I am sorry, we can’t do it.’ Some of the best stories are shared in written form, but that is only a part of it. The same stories can also be told, and that has a different power altogether.
When you write a story, it is permanent and people can read and reread it. But when it is told, you are in that moment. You can’t go back. Storytelling has great power.
At my company ‘Story Connect’ that runs across schools and businesses in Australia, we teach how to write and have many stories that connect us. I use processes of storytelling for them to understand the world better.
How do you choose the stories to tell?
Stories are extremely special. They have many layers to them and are interpreted differently. It is important to tell a story that leaves a message, irrespective of how it is perceived by people.
As a humanist, what message do your stories carry?
I use different senses apart from listening. I observe a lot. The beauty of the world is that there are many different countries in it. In Ethiopia, along with my wife, Clare, I worked at the community centre that looked after poor families and their children. Every single day, we had different experiences that would exhaust us at the end of the day. There were times when we would cry and think as to what best we could do for the people.
On the other hand, when I would go for a run there, randomly, a few boys would happily run with me and shout, ‘Go Forengi’ which means a foreigner. We would run through the streets, they would clap and cheer me up. Goodness is always around you. Being a humanist, I feel we must take out time and have a heart to understand people. When we understand people, we relate to the differences and similarities. I have been lucky that I get to learn from and get inspired by everyone around.
ST Reader Service
‘The Stories that Connect us’ is organised at The Loft Forum, Bootee Street, Camp on July 27 from 6.45 pm onwards. The event is open for all.