A Storyteller's Process: Cathy Fagg


Running and story-telling; two sisters in the same body, playing and fighting, cuddling and sulking, sometimes let out, sometimes told to keep quiet for the sake of the grown-up work-a-day world.

As a child, running and story-telling were as easy as breathing. I grew up in Kenilworth and in the long summer days I would play with my flesh-and-blood sisters in Crackley Woods, Abbey Fields and Kenilworth Castle, creating elaborate fantasies of knights and maidens, boarding schools and desert islands, battlefields and homes. Sometimes we would take these adventures into the adult world, acting out little plays and ballets to captive audiences.

Movement was story, story was movement. 

As I learnt to read and write story-telling became an exercise, submitted to a teacher for marking. Running was confined to sports fields and occasional cross-country routes. Now a teenager, it was uncool to sweat. To avoid bullying I learnt to speak with hate of what I loved. At home I took the dog for long walks; out of sight in the woods, running was our sneaky treat. On the way home I told her stories of everything that mattered to me.

Keats broke through my cool: his nightingale call bewitched me. Shakespeare crept up on me, disguised as O and A level set texts; Macbeth and Lear ploughed up my mind. The Oxbridge entrance exam concealed the wicked delights of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. I dared not tell such tales; I began to believe that story-telling, like running, was what other, greater, people did. Studying English Literature under the faded aegis of Leavis taught me to critique but not to create.

I told stories again in those gorgeous, messy, finger-painting years when my children were small. I ran with them in parks and gardens. Then they started school and I surrendered too easily to the pressures of work and parenting.

I dreamt that time of another child. A feral girl, rank and unkempt.

Unsocialised she knew no rules but she had a cat-like knowledge of cause and effect, doing what she had to do to stay alive. And like a cat, if I was quiet she would sit on my lap. I never heard her speak but her eyes, her eyes held all the truths I had forgotten. I was in therapy at that time, exploring my own story, and as I prepared to leave that space, my body urged me to run. Living in Cliftonwood, where Bristol edges up to the Avon Gorge, I would run over the Suspension Bridge into ancient woodlands, open parklands, fields and streams.

Inspired by Robert Macfarlane I searched for the wild in my everyday and found it in the greedy thrusting of life through order; dandelions in concrete, a hare in winter stubble. I joined an off-road running club and we shared adventures. I ran beyond the streetlights into darkness. I ran through streams and bogs. I ran hills. I ran barefoot. I got injured and recovered, slowly learning to trust my body, to stay with it, to love it, to listen to it.

I re-found the wild in me.

Struggling with a job in the health service that sometimes sucked me dry, I asked myself what, if I died tomorrow, would I regret. My body told me I did not write. So retired, I write and I run. When I am stuck in my story-telling I go for a run. The rhythm soothes my anxious mind. My thoughts float free. The sunlight shifts, a deer startles; I wonder, I run. If I let my mind wander my body will fall, so I trust that when ideas emerge, my body will carry those thoughts until I next sit down to write. I run on, cursing the brambles, slipping in the mud and rain, enjoying the struggle.

Running and story-telling; two sisters in the same body, rubbing along together, sometimes squabbling but knowing how to make up, sometimes playing and knowing how to make up stories together.