The Scottish Storytelling Forum (SSF) is a membership organisation, dedicated to keeping the art of live oral storytelling alive and growing in Scotland – a diverse network of storytellers and individuals supporting Scotland’s vibrant storytelling community. It’s facilitated by Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) and based at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.
The SSF blog series hopes to introduce you to the many different strands within the storytelling scene in Scotland and beyond.
This month, we hear from Marie Louise Cochrane on her new project exploring women’s stories relating to sexuality.
‘I make my living as a teller of stories. I tell stories to entertain and inspire, but as someone with a background in counselling, spirituality and health promotion I also hope that my stories can bring healing and insight to my listeners.
‘The stories I tell are often traditional tales, sometimes literary, at other times anecdotes or original stories of my own creation. These tales are usually without sexual content – in fact until now, always without sexual content, other than innuendo and the occasional Freudian slip.
‘There are of course many good reasons for this. It is a professional responsibility to use material suitable for the audience to whom I’m telling, and it would be taboo to tell such adult and intimate stories in a public setting. And rightly so.
‘But what about in private settings? My own lived experience as a woman, is that when it comes to stories of an erotic or intimate nature, factual and fictional; it’s not that easy for us to hear or share such stories, even in private settings like friendship groups.
‘For so many of us, telling our stories is a way in which we can process our life experiences, recall and celebrate happy memories, ask others for insight into puzzling or alarming experiences, or share advice and start healing from painful things that have happened to us. Hearing other people’s stories about all aspects of life is part of our education in how to be human beings in the world. For women to not have access to such stories in such an important aspect of life provokes in me a sense of loss and a desire to address the issue.
‘After some reflection and a few exploratory conversations with fellow females – and one man – I decided that perhaps there might be a place for a new project. A project around hearing, witnessing and telling women’s stories, related to sexuality, in a way that could help other women process, explore and even celebrate that aspect of our lives.
‘I realised too, that I wanted to hear stories for women and by women that addressed sexuality myself. Erotic, arousing, energising, inspiring, life-giving, sex positive, healing stories. Maybe funny, maybe edgy, but definitely not shaming or degrading. So, I went to look for some.
‘I read Anais Nin, a few collections of women’s fantasies, Mitzi Szereto’s ‘Erotic Fairy Tales’, and stories by Angela Carter. I asked about an erotic literature for women section at the library and found that in Edinburgh there is none. I looked online at sites like ‘Literotica’, where people send in their own erotic writing. I listened to podcasts. I found ‘Smutslam’, a live event where people share their sexual stories and the audience vote for their favourite and much more.
‘However, I did not find anything of the tone I was really looking for.
‘I then decided that maybe I could use my interests and skills to create or collect stories that might be of interest, not just for me but also for women like me. Perhaps there were other women who could do with a bit of stimulus to help them reflect, explore and make sense of this important part of each of our lives. Perhaps I could put together a combination of anecdotes, literary tales and perhaps even some of those traditional stories which were rewritten for children, reimagined with the sexual aspects added back in.
‘What if I could create something which would help women who might like to think positively or differently about their love lives with others and with themselves? What if I could do something with stories that put eroticism into the conversation for women in relationships who love their partners but don’t really think of themselves as sexual persons. I am so aware of this as an issue for older women for many reasons: age, stage, health issues, body image, trauma and so many more…
‘What would that look or sound like? Wouldn’t that be of benefit not only to those women, but to their significant others?
‘I was telling a fellow storyteller:
‘I said: “I want to do storytelling work around sex that’s fun and life-giving – not murky but not too wholesome either.”
They replied: “So – not so much vanilla (reference for “normal sex” as used in E.L. James’ ‘50 Shades of Grey’) – more raspberry ripple?”
‘Exactly. Raspberry Ripple. My new project.
‘I am now collecting women’s stories around sex. I have a protocol for collecting, storing and sharing the stories. My intention is to find ways to share – with permission of course – the anonymised stories, in written form or as an audio recording or podcast.
‘The first fruits of the work will be a women’s show called ‘Red Velvet Revelry’ with my Revel Sister Heidi Docherty. Piloted earlier this year, it sold out in ten days through Facebook alone.
‘The show includes warm, honest and funny sharing of our own experiences as women. From an anecdotal story about visiting an Ann Summers shop to a sensual retelling of the ‘Bride and Angus’ story. Add in some fun facts every woman should know – but may not – about their own physiology, a poem about online dating, a few suggestive songs about food, some knitted props and the evening flows in supportive company.
‘The results have been positive for those involved: lots of laughs, good fun, deep sharing, acknowledgement of great pain at times, but also a sense of healing and being heard.
‘It’s early days. It begins with my own white, heterosexual, middle class, able bodied Western perspective. As things develop, I want to include women from other social groups, whose voices are not often heard.
‘Believe me when I say this is scary work for me. It is full of potential for making mistakes on my part and risks judgement and misinterpretation from others. My sense though, is that this is important work. Not only for women, for men too.
‘So, I am doing it anyway.’
‘Red Velvet Revelry’ is on Saturday 27 July, 8pm at Bellfield (EH15 2BP)
If you would like to know more about ‘Raspberry Ripple’, or contribute to our collection of stories, do get in touch:
Marie Louise Cochrane