Can you hear me?

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Writing my last post set me thinking more about the world of fairy tales, and perhaps Russian ones in particular.

The Russian word for fairy tale, skazka, is bound up with words to do with speech and presumably refers to the oral tradition of story telling. Indeed, a 1903 translation of a tale concerning Baba Yaga, Russia’s most notorious witch who went around instilling fear in small children, ends with the words:

“How do I know this story is true? Why, one was there who told me about it.”

A rather stilted translation, but the inference is clear: these stories were designed to be passed on by word of mouth; and Pushkin’s fairy tales were written as ballads, a series of short stanzas which relate the story in simple language in a style which has its origins in the oral tradition.

The other day, I heard Wendy Cope reciting some of her poetry on the radio, and it struck me that it was only through concentrating on the spoken word that I appreciated the pithiness of the language.  I’m not sure that the impact would have been half so great if I had merely read it.

But Wendy Cope also raised another, wider point.  She said she had stopped listening to The Archers because the scriptwriters had written out the character of Nigel Pargetter, who died after falling off his roof.  She thought the programme would have been a lot more powerful if Nigel had been retained and listeners had had the opportunity of learning what it was like to spend one’s life in a wheelchair.

I’m not a follower of The Archers so can’t comment on the artistic merits of this decision, but I do agree with the view that art forms should be as inclusive as possible, and it seems to me that a wheelchair-bound character in a popular radio soap would have done a lot to enhance our perception of and engagement with disability.

And this brings me back to the idea of listening.  It seems that a new oral tradition is growing up as audio books gain in popularity. The other day I had an email from Amazon about the benefits of having one’s books available in all formats, including audio, which brings stories to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them because, quite simply, reading is just not an option.

So, can you hear me?

Not yet, I’m afraid.

I experimented recording Minty’s Adventure a little while back, but it was fraught with problems: aircraft passing overhead, cats crashing through the catflap, and Minty herself not mewing to order.  But, to my mind, the most serious problem was that my voice isn’t trained to do these things, and however much I tried to inject passion and feeling, the end result was flat and uninspiring.

So, as they say, it’s a work in progress, but at least Minty’s Adventure exists in a large print version, thus increasing its accessibility, and hopefully I’ll soon find a way round the audio issues.

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Filed under Books, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Can you hear me?

  1. Interesting post. But we don’t all feel the same about this. Sorry to say, but I don’t like being read to, unless it is done absolutely brilliantly and not too slowly. At literary festivals I sometimes get impatient when authors read more than a few minutes – I usually prefer them to talk about what lies behind their words, the writing process, and so on. Is it just me?

  2. Barbara, I think you’re right – authors can go on a bit, but it’s not only authors: I was at a talk this afternoon and some one asked a very long -winded question afterwards, and you could hear the rest of the audience rustling in impatience. What I was really trying to get across was the fact that reading is a great joy to many people and when they can no longer do that, they can feel cut off. I was thinking of my own mother in this respect: she loves reading but had a cataract not so long ago and couldn’t read at all, so audio books would have been an ideal solution. Fortunately she has now had an operation and is devouring traditional books again at a rate I’m having difficulty keeping up with!

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