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A festival of fibs

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By Rob Parkinson — Storyteller, Author and Musician.

Rob Parkinson celebrates the ancient art of lying…

festivalfibs.jpg

In the once and never land of perhaps and maybe, they held an annual festival of fibs. Speakers would vie with each other to produce the tallest and most wildly improbable tale of the day, each wanting to win an enormous rainbow rosette and the coveted title of Fabulous Fibber. One year a pompous preacher silenced them all with a long and passionate sermon on the evils of lying. “Lying is dreadfully wrong,” he concluded. “I myself have never told a lie.” Well, it was a unanimous decision. The preacher was presented with the rosette and the title, having told the biggest fib of all.

Fabulous Fibs (story game)

  • Choose a storyteller.
  • Storyteller tells fabulous fib (eg, they visited the moon/flew on their beds) – just a sentence or two will do to begin with.
  • Group or partner asks a set number of questions (say 7) about this. Direct doubt (‘That’s impossible!’ etc) is forbidden. Questions should be open.
  • Whatever the storyteller says is true. She or he wins by answering all questions.
  • The story emerging from the game is retold.

Summarised from Tall Tale Telling (24 fun games for making and telling incredible stories) by Rob Parkinson (Imaginary Journeys 2004).

Lying all over the world

Celebrations of lying have been a tradition in diverse cultures. Tobagan singing star, Lord Nelson, tells of King Liar de Lion and a lying contest for participants across the West Indies in a famous funny calypso. In Cumbria, The World’s Biggest Liar competition is held every November at The Bridge Inn at Santon Bridge and traces its roots back to one Will Ritson, a notorious 19th century local fibber. There’s also an affinity with the old Yuletide reign of the Lord of Misrule or the Saturnalian feasts, where conventions were abandoned and mischief was obligatory.

Most societies condemn lying but, paradoxically, human beings are natural fiction-spinners. Most people not carried away by a sense of self-righteousness, as the preacher evidently was, recognise that we all do it for good or ill, that it’s part of human intelligence to be able to do it. Certainly without that ability, we’d have no stories.

A feast of fibs

A feast of fibs is a marvellous way to boost a culture of creative tale-telling in school. Making it a special event gets over any moral queasiness about promoting what most of the time you could feel obliged to condemn. It’s all made perfectly clear that ‘the rules’ have been put on one side in the name of pure fun – or indeed for charity or school funds.

I’ve known it to happen once a year in the run up to Christmas, as part of a book week or during the summer silly season. It can equally work on a more regular basis – one marvellous teacher of Year 3/4 children, now sadly retired, did it once a week with her class and produced some of the best young tellers and writers of stories I’ve ever seen.

You can generate a carnival atmosphere around the larger event, with families invited in to hear top tales – or to help with judging if you decide on a contest. You could get some good publicity in local papers and elsewhere: ‘CHILDREN LEARNING TO LIE’ is the kind of headline sub-editors love.

Yet there is more to this lying business than meets the eye; more to be gained in everyday literacy work. Very many years ago, I stumbled on this secret, inventing my first story game in which you have to make up a fantastic fib and are asked questions about it (see opposite). I soon realised that the game is a perfect illustration of the fiction-spinning mind at work. The fantasist in a person could make up just about anything. Against that, the critical faculty demands to know (for example) how they got to the moon, what made the bed fly and so on. Good fiction-making is a balance between those two sides, imagination balanced by subtle explanation and craft. Which may explain the old storytellers’ notion that, if you tell a story well enough, it somehow becomes true.

Tall stories

Taking this into classroom practice, you can build up to telling full-blown tall stories with a series of speaking and listening games for pairs and small groups as well as with the class, developing out of the one described here. For example, supposing the fib has to be about something that happened to someone else: this involves exploring the third person. Or, supposing I accuse you (‘You turned into a frog’): I would be using the second person, unusual in fiction but not unheard of.

Then, of course, there are variables: perhaps the story has to be about a strange house (see below) or about finding something amazing. As tellers become used to the idea, you can challenge them with a series of fib themes on cards to be picked from a hat.

To simulate what happens in oral tradition, after a couple of rounds of telling their own tall tales to each other, insist that they learn, exaggerate and pass on one of the stories they have been told to someone else, who will in turn pass that on.

To find out more about Rob Parkinson’s work, visit www.imaginaryjourneys.co.uk where you can also find details of the free 2010 Imaginary Journeys Tall Tales & Likely Legends Story Competition for young writers, to be judged by Welsh storyteller and author of Shemi’s Tall Tales, Mary Medlicott.

Telling is the first stage, but it can smoothly lead to writing – usually in prose, though writing free or rhymed verse ‘fantastic fibs’ also works well. Here, to conclude, is one I prepared quite a lot earlier…

My house is made of sugar
With a roof of coconut ice.
The stairs are made from nougat,
In the walls live chocolate mice.
You can eat it all,
There's a humbug hall
Every room has a liquorice door.
When I've no bread
I eat my bed
And sleep on the
marshmallow floor!

(from Tall Stories song © Rob Parkinson 1989 & 2004)

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