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On tents, carpets and telling stories, by Katharine Quarmby

April 7, 2011


Our group turned out to celebrate the opening of a lovely re-worked piece of greenspace, Arundel Square in Islington on Sunday (Marion Rose, Lynda Waterhouse , Paul Willcocks, and me). The actor, Rupert Graves, and his family were kind enough to lend us a bell tent (I want one now!) to read our stories in, and children drifted in and out. I took a few photos of Marion and Lynda reading (well, actually, my daughter took the best ones), and enjoyed watching the many children listening to my friends read out a few stirring tales.

 It set me thinking, as well, about the links between places and stories. I’ve been researching my next story for children, going back to my Persian roots and reworking a version of the Arabian Nights flying carpet for modern children who hail from more than one place. One of the books I’ve read during this early stage – I like this stage, when I’m reading, watching films (everyone should see Lotte Reiniger’s take on the Arabian Nights, Prince Achmed, the first ever full-length animation), talking to people about the idea, before getting grumpy and retiring with a notebook – was published by Frances Lincoln, which also published my picture book, Fussy Freya a while back. It was called Tales told in Tents, and it was a collection of stories told by nomadic peoples along the Silk Route which runs through Afghanistan, the many other Stans, Iran and, of course, China. One of the writers described the way that nomadic people there sit in tents, the women in one half of a horseshoe, the men in the other, with a fire or a storyteller in the middle. And often the place where they sit is quite precisely located by a carpet, a physical home from home which you can roll up and take with you. Stories, the writer explained, are the golden threads that connect us to each other, and down generations too. That’s particularly poignant for nomadic peoples, for stories may be the one possession that they can hold on to, especially in times such as these, when so many countries along the Silk Route are riven by war. The other interesting thing, for a writer who likes to make sure that girls get their fair share of adventure, was that there are many tales told of feisty girl heroines along the Silk Route, who save their families, friends, or peoples from disaster.

So there’s something pretty special about tents, stories and, of course, their tellers (for many peoples speak their stories, just as they weave their carpets, from memory; nothing is written down). Next time around, though, I might bring a carpet too, so we can fly somewhere together – after the grumpy stage is done, of course, and the story written.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2011 8:17 am

    Great post, Katharine.

    I was lucky enough to hear the story-teller Sally Pomme Clayton, whose collection of Silk Road tales you mentioned, telling two of the legendary Dede Korkut tales. They were wonderful and the audience was so engrossed that you could have heard a pin drop. One of the tales had a terrific heroine: tough, an expert archer, and quite capable of rescuing the hero in her turn. But, and this was a nice touch, she also went weak at the knees when she first set eyes on him.


  2. Alison Allen-Gray permalink
    April 25, 2011 10:39 am

    I remember having a special ‘story carpet’ at Primary School. It made the whole event of coming together to hear a story even more special.
    Really enjoyed this post, Katharine – it was like a story in itself. The very mention of the Silk Route is alluring…

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