Once upon a time ….
Which isn’t, of course, how this story starts. And there are, of course, two stories. One story is my own story, the story of how I come to be doing this research in the first place, and what has been happening as a result of starting it. The other story is the story of Jaufre himself, and that’s a very, very long story.
I’ll start with my own story. I’m having a great life. I developed a huge fascination with all matters to do with King Arthur in my early teens, which spread into a love for fantasy literature and which connected to my love of folk ballads. I’ve written songs for as long as I can remember, and for as long as I can remember these have been mostly songs that tell stories, with the occasional unrequited love song and (more recently) the occasional requited and happy love song. Interspersed with some songs informed by current events and my opinion of them, of course. So the fascination with King Arthur and the preoccupation of writing songs that tell stories led to me writing songs telling stories about King Arthur, as well as other fairy tales, myths and legends. I started getting professional gigs in folk clubs and related venues in my teens and that has continued all my life. Remember this!
However, as parents and teachers told me repeatedly, that’s no way to make a living, and somewhere along the line it was clear I would need a back-up career and some qualifications, and so off I went to Warwick University to do a degree in French Studies. This left the way open to make my studies lean heavily towards medieval French studies (literature, philosophy, history …) which of course then included the writer Chrétien de Troyes who of course wrote about King Arthur. I was lucky to also have as my tutor Linda Paterson, who specialised in the troubadours, which took me into reading medieval Occitan, and one day she passed to me a copy of Jaufre, the only surviving Occitan Arthurian romance. I was hooked. It became the main subject of my MA, and an enduring fascination.
I could at this point take up a lot of your time and tell you the story of my working life, how I went from being a Careers Officer to being a career civil servant (both options highly inappropriate and happened largely because I was so surprised to be offered the jobs) and then tried again to retreat into academia part-time. I was then offered the chance to go to Lyon, France, as a lectrice, and through a series of misunderstandings finished up spending a second year there as a free lance English teacher. Which led to me becoming a teacher (I’m attempting to reduce the detail) and ultimately gaining experience with every age range along the way. As well as continuing with the songwriting and singing. Oh, and storytelling now, as well.
My last teaching job was working with pupils out of mainstream education and came to an end because the local authority decided to only pay us if our pupils actually turned up to class, which, given the pupils we were working with, was totally unpredictable, and so I took a day job (as we musos say) as a legal secretary instead. Which was no more a suitable job for me than being a career civil servant had been, for much the same reasons, so when I discovered I was actually old enough to take my state pension and that I also had a small teaching pension, and the two together made almost as much money as my day job paid – I was off!
I looked around to see where I might be able to pick up on my fascination with Jaufre ….and wondered how it would appeal to me after all of the years away from it. When I picked it up again I realised what I wanted to do. I wanted to take Jaufre back where it belonged. It had been written in the 12th or 13th century (don’t get me started on that here!) but had always been intended for reading to an audience. It comes off the page as a fresh, lively story with flashes of Monty Python-esque humour, and I decided what I wanted to do was put this story back in front of a live audience. Not necessarily read out loud, but told as a story, as it would have been before it was written down.
I started work on this in January. In August I went on a storytelling course and tried out four episodes of Jaufre with a group of people who loved stories but not necessarily Arthurian stories, and they all worked. They held the attention of the audience and they made people laugh.
And in the next section of the blog I’ll tell you all more about what happened.
If you are interested in my songs, by the way, and my first novel (which I’ve omitted to mention) you can read, see and hear all sorts of things at www.annelister.com