The refugee drama, Borderland, set in a near future Britain divided by borders, written by New Weather’s Sarah Woods, has been shortlisted for The Tinniswood Award, the UK’s leading prize for radio broadcasts. The Award, set up by the Society of Authors and Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, lists Sarah’s play as one of only three shortlisted.
The BBC described Borderlands dark, but only too plausible vision like this:
‘In the not so distant future, the UK has fragmented. Layla and her daughter are on a desperate mission across borders from England, through Wales and over the Irish Sea. Based on the stories and experiences of real refugees, Borderland is a thriller about what it means to be a displaced person in the 21st Century. It explores the rise of the UK’s various nationalisms via a nightmare future. But it also offers a unique perspective on the urgent issue of global migration – by giving British listeners a taste of what it might be like to be pushed to leave your home, in a desperate search for a better life.’
Sarah joined New Weather in 2017 for the opportunity to work with like-minded people. “Our current challenges of climate change and inequality are linked by neoliberalism and our relationship with money,” says Sarah, who co-wrote, produced and performed Neoliberalism: the Break-up Tour for New Weather. “All my work is with story, whether told through dramatic form or testimony,” she adds, “What’s exciting for me is to make story in different and vigorous ways.”
Below is a new reflection from Sarah on the power and importance of story, something also demonstrated in New Weather’s project on modern folk tales for troubling times, and it’s most recent story collection, Knock Twice.
Both anchor and raging river – the power of story
by Sarah Woods
We all tell ourselves stories. When we shut our eyes on a train or walk into a crowded room, in the moments before and after things. Some are hidden, stories we tell ourselves about ourselves that we’ve absorbed and are no longer conscious of, affected not just by our experiences, but by how we’ve dealt with them, who’s been around us, and the time and place in which we live. Other stories we have chosen, like hands to hold, like mantras, Beckett’s “voice of my own, in all this babble”.
Stories move us in a number of ways. They are central to how we connect ourselves with our world, how we create identity and community. They are essentially relational: even when we experience them alone, they are in relationship – to the world, to those around us, to change, to wholeness, to our need for a positive future. They make relationship.
Because we imagine a story, it exists within us. We’ve probably all had that experience where a moment in our childhood has been told to us so many times that we don’t know any more whether we remember it or whether we’ve so successfully imagined it from those repeated tellings that we think we remember it. By imagining it, we have created it.
Stories can offer us ways to transcend the limits of our worldview and rehearse new ways of being. They can help us explore our cultural paradigms and how they define our reality, the way we think, the ways problems are solved, what goals we pursue and what we value.
I teach playwrighting at Manchester University and I always say to my students that an important skill to develop as a writer is the ability to move in and out of your subject matter, from the micro to the macro. Being up close and empathically personal with the subject, then stepping back to appraise it as a whole. Stories enable us to do that as readers and listeners too – to travel someone else’s journey, but also to understand the world in which their journey takes place – and to hold that experience, those circumstances, up to our own.
Stories can communicate important ideas that might otherwise be alienating and difficult, they can transform complex information into something understandable that we can act on.
Stories are a powerful way to change things. We have all had our opinion of someone or something shifted by what we are told. In bigger ways, as we are seeing in a variety of extreme instances at the moment, stories can become elemental, like fast flowing water, moving us at great speed and with real momentum, affecting the way we live as individuals and societies – for bad and for good. At times like this, we can also use story to anchor us, to create a shared and safe space to pause, to reflect, to find out where we are.
To say that story is within us and without us, to say that story is a raging river and also an anchor, to say that we live in story, but that story lives in us, that it is fleeting yet eternal, moving yet stilling, makes story magical, a shape-shifter, omni-present.
And that’s because it is.
(Photo credit: Creative Commons attribution)