I want to tell you a story about stories.
When I was little, my parents went to church every Sunday. After church, there would be tea and cakes and biscuits, and the congregation members and the priest would chat together. There were rarely more than a dozen people there. Often, I was the only child present, and most of the adults were older even than my parents. I'd usually get bored being around the adults, and I'd go and play outside in the gardens or the grounds of the church until it was time to go.
Some Sundays, church would be in the evening, around 7, if I remember rightly. During winter, it was too dark and cold to play out by then, so I'd be stuck in with the adults. One evening, the grandfather of one of my schoolmates began to talk to me. He was telling me a story about something, and I realised that I also had a story about the same topic. We stood there and held a conversation, and it hit me: This is how you talk to people. This is how people connect. They tell stories to each other.
I was a bit lonely as a child. Not tragically lonely - I had parents who love(d) me and siblings, although they are much older and went to boarding school, so I didn't see them a lot when I was young. And I had my imagination, and I enjoyed school, and sometimes I got to play with friends on their farms and they came to play on mine. And we had sheepdogs and some pet lambs, my two cats, and once, a pet kangaroo. Still. A bit lonely.
But I had stories. I loved stories. I loved writing them and reading them. I loved hearing them and watching them. In my made-up games, I imagined scenarios featuring treehouses and smugglers (I was big into Enid Blyton, and later, Arthur Ransome) and I pretended by myself for hours. When I was deep in the stories, I wasn't bored, and I wasn't lonely.
So talking to this granddad, who I barely knew, and with whose grandson I didn't really have that much in common, I understood for the first time, how stories could help me around other people, too.
And it has been my saving grace for my entire life. Stories have been the way I talk to people. Stories are my way to win job interviews and find common ground with potential friends and acquaintances. In a more literal (and literary) sense, they're how I make my living and how I spend my spare time. When you think about it, everyone relates using stories, we just don't think about it that much. We human beings are naturally curious to find out the what, the who, the how, why and where. We are, as one of my favourite English teachers said to me, 'story-telling creatures'.
If I hadn't found a way to connect with other people through stories, I'm not sure how I would have managed up until this point. For many of my peers, it seemed so easy to just converse, to know how to behave. I've never found that very easy, and I've always had to consciously think about it. But lucky for me, I had stories to see me through.