Interviews with Storytellers: Nick Hennessey

Nick HennesseyNick Hennessy is an English storyteller and musician. He will be performing in Tea and Tales at the Settle Storytelling Festival 2011.

Nick grew up in north Cheshire, in the small suburban village of Alderley Edge. It’s a place of colliding cultures in many ways, on one side the prosperous thrumming city and on the other a more mysterious elusive landscape, thick with very ancient history and rural culture. And whilst it was the ‘legend of Alderley’ (the story of the Sleeping King) that first caught his attention, he now finds that his passion is for the meeting place between the ‘long ago’ of folk story and the ‘other day’ of our modern lives. Both hold stories, each very different from one another, and yet equal in our imagination. Stories are the true landscapes of our lives.

Where in the world are you?

I live In the Lake District, not a far-cry from Kendal. It’s  a very gentle but unmistakeably wild place. Cupped by a valley yet open to the weather.

How long have you been telling stories and where do you perform?

I began telling professionally in 1998, and I perform all over the uk and Europe. I’ve performed in Canada, the usa and toured japan twice. I have strong interest in the kalevala, so I visit finland at least twice a year performing the finnish national epic in English.

Why did you become a storyteller?

The question that gripped me when I first heard a storyteller, in fact the same question that holds me still, is ‘where is the story?’ Storytelling is such a profoundly magical act, delicately holding in each hand the ‘there and then’ of the story and the ‘here and now’ of the telling. I have come to regard it as the greatest illusion, one that humans have been pulling off for many thousands of years. Stories hold so much meaning, layer upon layer upon layer of significance, and when we follow them they can lead us to the heart of our lives, to the heart of our being in the world.

Where do you get your stories from?

I began by only telling stories from the british isles, stories that were of the landscape I knew, but over the years I opened to other landscapes, however the vast majority are from northern Europe.

What advice do you have for aspiring storytellers?

A deeply enquiring mind is key to storytelling. Each story is an open question, one that we must be wary of totally answering. For me storytelling is the practice of conveying mystery, of sharing ambiguity. If we are too certain about the story we are telling then it becomes a lecture. Be open and above all be playful.

Who is your favourite storyteller?

There are a handful of storytellers that I enjoy and admire. However Daniel Morden is, in my opinion one of the best tellers in the UK at the moment. His grasp of the rhythms of the oral tradition alongside his emotional sensitivity make his work very powerful indeed.

What is your favourite story?

Invariably the stories I love the most are the ones that have been with me for a long time. The sleeping king is one of them, of course but so too is cap of rushes. I heard a jackanory version of it when I was very young and it still holds everything that I find engaging in a story. However much I tell it I still can’t get to the bottom of it.

Who is your favourite folklore/ mythological character and why?

In the story of the sleeping king there is an old man who leads the farmer into the cave of the sleeping warriors. In many ways he is the most interesting character for me, he is the one that bridges the worlds, the one that holds side by side the ‘long ago’ and the ‘here and now’, and he is the one that knows the winding paths lead into the heart of the hill. He carries the key to so much that we have lost. Perhaps that was always so. Perhaps that is his job.  He walks between worlds, crossing thresholds, and has the power to touch us deeply.

How do you relax?

I own a small woodland, so chopping wood is one of my favourite (and necessary) pastimes. There’s not much room for thinking when working physically, and I find I am open to a fundamentally different sphere of time, one of cycles and seasons. In those moments It’s a great blessing to give my physical body free reign instead of my imagination.