Naomi Reed is one of Australia's favourite writers and storytellers. With several award winning books and even more speaking appearances, it's sometimes hard to pin Naomi down for a chat. But I had the opportunity recently to ask her a few questions and, generous as always, she was eager to talk about her love of story!
Penny Reeve: You’ve been writing for 8 years now, and one of the things I’ve often heard people say about you is that you are a ‘natural storyteller’. Do you believe storytelling came naturally for you?
Naomi Reed: Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. For me, storytelling came out of desperation. We were living in Nepal, working with INF, and I was homeschooling our three boys – through our seventh monsoon and a civil war… so I started to write stories in an attempt not to go mad. And then I really enjoyed the process and I kept going. At the same time, people began to read my writing and they gave me a variety of feedback, some of it was good, some of it wasn’t. The tricky thing was that we were living on a rainy Himalayan ridge, with little internet access, or workshops to go to, so instead of googling the answers to my problems, I went hunting for second-hand books on writing, in book stores in Kathmandu. And then I kept practicing and noticing what worked and what didn’t work.
PR: So you sort of fell into it, and then realised you love it. Beautiful! I wonder if storytelling is something we all have the potential for, that it's an innate part of who we are in God's image? What do you think, can we all grow in our ability to communicate using story?
NR: Maybe the question is, do we really love telling stories? Do we delight in presenting God’s love and faithfulness in fresh and surprising ways? If we do, then we keep writing and we keep telling stories and we keep practicing because we can’t not do it. And then one day we wake up and remember that this natural thing that we do, is a gift from God himself, to be used for his glory, to be used wisely and well, in the place he’s allowed us to be. And then we want to improve even more!
PR: I've notice on your webpage that you're running several workshops titled: The Art of Storytelling. Is it your belief about storytelling that inspired you to present these workshops?
NR: Yes, I think storytelling is a wonderful means to present the gospel – to show people what it means to be known and forgiven and made right by a holy God – to show those truths with skin on. We all know that stories have the power to transport us, and delight us, and challenge us, and motivate us but they also connect us as human beings to each other and get beneath our defenses. Here we all are, in post-modern 2013, where it’s all about being real and vulnerable and connected, so we need to share our stories! And we need to do that as well as we possibly can – both the stories of God’s saving love for us and the stories of our ongoing human responses. Thirty years after reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, I can still ‘see’ her meeting the SS guard, years after the war. I can imagine her standing there, unable to hold out her hand, bitter and angry, yet praying. I can feel her hand by her side, but I can also feel God’s answer, his forgiveness, the love that comes from him. And thirty years later, after hearing hundreds of sermons on forgiveness, it’s Corrie’s story that moves me the most. It makes me realize that the world’s healing doesn't depend on my ability to dredge up nice-ness, but on God’s forgiveness through Jesus. My dream is that we all continue to tell stories like that, in ways that stay with people, that move them, that lead them into a deeper walk with God.
PR: What do you believe writers can get from attending workshops on storytelling?
NR: Practice! There’s always more to learn about storytelling, and to put into practice. I think that the more we put pen to paper, or words in our mouths, and hear the way they come out, the more we improve. We may naturally have a sense of timing and pace and conflict and resolution, but it always helps to polish it or notice how these factors are at play in our work. It also helps to get feedback and listen to each other’s stories. In these day sessions, we’ll have time to do this. In the mornings, we’ll be learning how to craft and tell Bible stories, both in third-person and first-person, and then in the afternoons we’ll work on our own stories of faith. The exciting thing is that we now have bookings for six Storytelling days this year – Rooty Hill, Sylvania, Launceston, Central Coast, Melbourne and Tamworth. Wonderful!
PR: I agree. Thank you for your time, Naomi, and the inspiration you give us to keep writing and telling the stories of faith God has given us! But now, the big question... can you give us a hint at what you’re writing now?
NR: Yes, I can give you a very small hint. It’s got something to do with olives.
PR: Hmm... sounds, tasty! I'm looking forward to it. Will you hang around our blog for a few days in case people would like to ask you a question about storytelling and your workshops?
NR: I'd love to!
Penny Reeve is a children's author currently living in western Sydney. She became friends with Naomi Reed during the years they shared in Nepal (read Naomi's No Ordinary View and you might meet Penny's husband Richard desperately escaping a swarm of bees!).
More information about Naomi Reed, her books and The Art of Storytelling workshops is available from her website.