I have just spent a wonderful evening with people mostly telling personal stories. These were mystical, magical, amazing, spooky and uplifting. They were also their private stories. As I came away stimulated to write, to dream, I had to give myself a really hard shake.

I love picking up new stories that I haven’t heard before. These have been in the past, folk tales or legends or poems whose copyright expired nearly a thousand years ago. The stories I heard last night didn’t fall into these categories. They belonged most definitely to the people who told them. I had no right to use them in any way what so ever.

I can see how, when listening to such stories that resonances can bounce around. Oh, animal stories from this one and that one have this in common. Bride stories from one source has a counterpoint in another. Spiritual journeys have a fascination. What if I brought them together? Perhaps I am the only one who has heard these specific stories, wouldn’t it be great to write, tell them as a set?

There is a difference in being stimulated to writing your own, telling your own, to telling someone else’s without their permission.

There are folk stories that have a deep spiritual significance for the people they belong to. To have an outsider tell them is an affront- a way of colonization by the back door.  Certain communities insist on the way a story is told- no deviation is allowed. The story is preserved down through the ages. Who tells that story is also scrutinised.

By virtue of the craft of storytelling, we change something every time we tell: an emphasis, an accent, a rush where we had strolled before or vice versa, humour inserted, pathos diverted before everyone is in tears- including the teller. We look for the truth in a story. But it is our truth, an individual truth. The kernel of the story might be the same, but we have created, crafted and combined the elements into our story. We can do this. We are entitled to do this with stories out of copyright, with our own personal stories.

When someone trusts enough to share these  magical stories that mean so much to them, we have to accept the gift they give us, appreciate, notice elements and pass on. The trouble is to keep your hands off the bits that surface later. The bits that have caught you, that keep returning until you kid yourself that they are yours. It’s a trap. Unless you have their permission, of course.