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Word of the Day: vertellen (to tell, part 1 Ann’s Story)

‘Luister, ik ga je een verhaal vertellen… (Listen, I am going to tell you a tale). Some ten years ago an elegant lady rang the doorbell of our institute at the Laan van Nieuw Oost-Indië in Den Haag. She told us that she was a storyteller and that she knew many stories by heart.
She told us she was born in Surinam and had come to The Hague when she was twenty. In the fifties she studied here at a college of education. She began as a teacher at a primary school and ended her career as headmistress. But all her life she had been a teller of stories. Kids of all ages loved her stories.But why did she come to us, teachers of Dutch to expats? ‘Well’, so she told me, ‘I know I am good at telling stories, but I want to publish them and I cannot seem to get the words right. On the page the stories just don’t work. You are writers as well. Can you help?’

This elegant lady’s name was Ann Harris. I had never seen her before, but her presence was impressive. Once she had started on a story, there was no escape. Her eyes had mesmeric powers. She was able to make you fly to the land of fantasy.

I looked at the stories she had written and saw that she was right. Her stories did not work. When Ann was immersed in the telling of a story, her voice, her body and her soul filled the space. However, a storyteller does not a writer make.The words she had put on the page were lifeless because they lacked…. Ann Harris!

When performing, it does not matter if you repeat a line twenty times. Story telling is like singing in front of an audience: you can improvise, varying the melody line and the emphasis. But on paper, where all you have is yourself and some letters and ink, the result can be extremely boring and even confusing.

For more than seven years Ann would come to the small writing room that we created for her. We called it Ann’s place. It was tiny but she was very happy in it, because she was able to gather her thoughts there. After a while she got the hang of it and published her stories in magazines and in books. In 2006 we proudly published her first collection of stories ‘De Goslar, Wrawrafru en andere verhalen’. We still have a few copies. If you are interested, write to us at Direct Dutch.

Why am I telling you this story about Ann? I don’t really know… Maybe it is because Anouk and her ‘birds’ in yesterday’s posting reminded me of Ann Harris. Anouk is a singer storyteller: her moving songs are chanted stories about her life. Ann was a storyteller and a talented jazz singer: her stories came to life in speech and text. Stories and songs have a lot in common. Writers must be musical and singers must be good at telling their stories.

This story does not have a happy ending. One bad day Ann told us that she had been infected by a tick, that she suffered from Lyme disease but would recover. She related this terrible news so convincingly that we believed her. We looked forward to the day that she would climb the stairs to her writing room again. She still had so many stories to tell. But in January 2012 we learned that she had died and that we had been fooled: it was not a tick that had bitten her, but the terrible monster called cancer.

Tomorrow I’ll continue with my story of this wonderful word VERTELLEN, tell, because yes, you guessed, once upon a time…..