A few days ago, Giles Abbott, Britain’s only blind storyteller, picked up the phone, and kindly told me the story of his life in the build-up to his unusual career, a story he doesn’t usually tell. Mesmerised by his smooth, soothing voice, I was not only in awe but inspired. I only hope you will be too.
At 25 and already blind in one eye, Giles Abbott lost his sight completely in the space of only four hours. In those four hours, he lost the permanent ability to read a book. It is understandable that Giles described the forthcoming months as particularly dark, noting that he was not able to recognise his best friend across the table unless he could hear him or already knew he was there. Giles described how at the end of one performance, he could hear applause. It took him a good thirty seconds to realise that the entire audience had risen to their feet.
When recalling the period following his sudden loss of eyesight, Giles remarked on his feelings at the time:
You go through an intense period of grieving for who you were and also for who you thought you were going to be.
Such adversity for such a young person can be devastating, yet Giles remained strong:
The whole point of grief is to move on, not regret. I don’t regret when I lost my eyesight because I’m happy.
The moment of realisation that the future could still be bright came one evening at a pub in West Yorkshire, where a storytelling event was taking place. At the end, the four main storytellers opened up the stage to audience members who might have had a tale to tell of their own. To his surprise, Giles’ then girlfriend, now wife, got up to tell a story. Noting how she is severely dyslexic, Giles reminisced at how brilliantly she told it despite her disability. It was at that moment that he knew he could pursue his dream career.
I thought, ‘Okay, now I know how you do this.’ The reason she could tell that story that well was because, the day before, I had told it to her. I’ve been doing this all my life. So the following month I put my name down and within a year I was performing at one of the biggest storytelling festivals in the UK.
Giles really has been doing this his whole life. As a child, he told stories to impress his father’s friends and as a student, he found joy in telling stories to fool his mates.
At university, when you arrive in a place and nobody knows you, you can say anything, can’t you? I used to play a game just to amuse myself. I realised I could have a great time by telling someone completely implausible fiction. I would start with something plausible and I would just add and add until it got so impossible that it eventually collapsed under the weight of its own absurdity. That was my goal, to see how far I could string them along. I used to tell them that my ambition was to be the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Yet storytelling is not just for jest. Giles maintains that there is huge importance in storytelling, believing that ultimately, storytelling is a function of human consciousness. In addition, stories are a way of experiencing a problem and its resolution in the safest way possible; stories help with our attempts to grapple at life, which is problem after problem after problem.
Can you think of a story where a protagonist doesn’t have to overcome a problem? There isn’t one. If Hansel and Gretel’s children were minted they’d have never kicked their children out. Without a problem to solve, no story exists.
Storytelling is not just in entertainment either. Giles works with businesses too. When a problem needs to be put forward professionally, Giles is able to train the employee to pitch with the perfect structure and poise needed to please.
Who’d have thought professional storytelling could involve working with businesses? It just goes to show how well Giles Abbott has done for himself. He found a way to make a living through circumstances that many would see as a reason to give up.
Are you inspired by Giles’s story? It is well worth taking his advice:
Serious illness, weirdly, is very liberating because it has absolved me from any obligation to do what is expected of me or what I thought was expected of me. So I thought, ‘What gives me joy? What gives me fulfilment? What do I most love to do?’ Find out what gives you the greatest happiness and if you can find a way of making a living doing that then you’ll never work again.
(Photo Credit: Colin Clarke – Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03mbmwv?ocid=socialflow_twitter&ns_mchannel=social&ns_campaign=bbc_ouch&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=news_central)