creativity / inspiration / reading / writing

Questions That Make You Think, by Rachel Hamilton

So, in a month’s time, Girls Heart Books will be no more. After writing a monthly blog here for the last three years, it’ll feel strange not to spend the 23rd of every month trying to come up with something interesting to blog about, the 24th getting it down on paper/keyboard, and the 25th pulling grandma faces as I try to upload it.

What will I do with that spare time? Perhaps I’ll spend it staring pensively at my screen, fondly reminiscing about former blogs. More likely, my brain will be swamped by other projects and Girls Heart Books will become a fond memory. Because things move on. And this idea of evolution is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, particularly regarding storytelling.

It started with a question from one of my favourite journalists, Lamya Tawfik. Some interview questions can be answered without engaging brain, but every so often you get a question that really makes you think, and this one did . . .

What would the world be like without books?

After my initial horror at this apocalyptic vision, I realised there was no need to panic. There will never be a world without stories. Storytelling is as essential to humans as breathing or sleeping or eating. People couldn’t survive without the possibility of escape, without dreams, without imagination. So, in a world without books, storytelling would simply evolve into a different format, just as it has throughout the ages.

The thing that intrigued me, though, was the thought that storytelling could go full circle. (Apologies for the simplified version of history below, but it’s in simplicity that interesting patterns sometimes appear.)

Storytelling originated with images. Drawings at the back of caves that recorded events and created picture tales for people to interpret.

After that came the oral tradition. Tales were told and passed down through the generations. Stories were a communal thing, changing and developing with each new telling.

Then came scribes and printing presses, typewriters and computers. Suddenly, words and narratives could be recorded for posterity, captured in unchanging form in books and documents for individuals to pore over alone. These stories were written by ‘experts’, authors had ownership, and the words were fixed. This is how we understood ‘stories’ for a long time.

But technology advanced at an incredible rate, and with the advent of the internet, smart phones and social media platforms, the way we told stories changed once more. There was a return to the more communal, democratic, evolving traditions of oral storytelling. Blogging and fan fiction threw the ownership of stories into question, and the explosion of self-publishing and the rise of digital publishing made us all ‘content providers’ as we reclaimed storytelling for the masses.

And now, perhaps, another pattern is emerging. The younger generation are moving from blogs to vlogs. Long form posts are evolving into status updates, then into minimalist tweets, then into insta-images. Pages are being reduced to paragraphs, paragraphs being reduced to sentences, sentences being reduced to words, words being reduced to characters and written text giving way to visual images. With people wanting content that can be communicated in seconds, are we are seeing a return to a world where stories become ‘drawings on the wall’, in the form of still and moving images on screens?

As I say, this is a very simplistic analysis and an attempt at pattern spotting, but I like thinking about such things. And I love the opportunities that exist for storytellers nowadays. As an author, I love the written word. As a (slightly rubbish) occasional stand up comedian I also enjoy playing with oral storytelling. And as a wannabe film maker I love telling stories with images.

Anyway, that’s more than enough from me on this, my last blog post. As my kids would probably say,  TL:DR!


About the blogger:

Rachel is a graduate of both Oxford University and Cambridge University and has put her education to good use by working in an ad age by working in an ad agency, a secondary school, a building site and a men’s prison. Her interests are books, films, stand-up comedy and cake, and she loves to make people laugh, especially when it’s intentional rather than accidental.


Her books include the Unicorn in New York series (OUP), The Case of the Exploding Brains, and The Case of the Exploding Loo (Simon & Schuster), which won the Worcestershire Awesomest Book Award and the Ossett Riveting Read Award

Twitter: RachelLHamilton

Facebook: RachelHamiltonAuthor


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