My Mentoring Experience with TRACS – by Phyll McBain

The mentoring program was as important to me as learning to read. I have dyslexia. Storybooks as a child were alien to me but it was Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising”, that opened up story through songs. These songs created pictures in my head which allowed me to use comic books to teach myself how to read. And at 12 I run through my Auntie’s home shouting at the top of my voice “I have Finished My First Book.”

When you struggle with reading and writing everything takes so much longer to achieve, and you spend so much of your time re doing what you have done to make it readable or understandable for others. It is too easy to get used to doing it wrong that you lose perspective.

The most important thing I was asked to do by Jackie Ross after my first mentoring session was to answer two questions. The first was – Where did I think I was as a storyteller now?

From that 12-year-old child whose world had just exploded open with the ability to read, a world of stories opened up to me. From being so close to be being expelled from school I had become a dedicated student. I listened to people telling me to write down my experiences. “You would never guess what I did at work today…” would be the conversation starter which has now turned into several wee stories you may have heard me tell, the like of “Mars, Bar, Irn Bru, and Bag of Smoky Bacon Crisps”.

Avron Foundation run residential writing course and over the years I have attended a few. At this point I am still not into Oral Storytelling, I am still banging my head off the brick wall of dyslexia. Pen and paper not cooperating! An email from Val McDermid (One of my tutors on an Avron course) who was taking part in the Orkney Storytelling Festival pointed me in the direction of GAS, the Grampian Association of Storytellers. This would give me a home to develop my oral skills and work out my own voice. A Voice which is full of all those things I learnt on creative writing courses, followed by storytelling workshops.

The best advice I got from Val was all about strip-mining. Write from what you know and use what you see and hear. Strip mine away to create interesting characters and situations. So, this wee look back to enable me to move forward into to the mentoring process was worthwhile. Little did I know that my personal Hokey Cokey had not just started with the mentoring but had been going on from when I was 12, quite a wee trip.

Now I thought I was about to enter six months of Storytelling Coaching, it turned out to be six months of self-analyses with a focus on myself which I had never experienced before or thought I would enjoy. If you ever get the opportunity to be mentored than jump at it and grab hold as you dance your own personal Hokey Cokey of aims, goals and how on earth you may be able to achieve these things. It is indeed a fascinating experience of self-discovery and it will only be successful if you are honest about where you are.

Now that second Question which I was asked by my mentor, Jackie Ross. “What are my priorities?” A question which was asked at every meeting, and it was fascinating to see that my list of priorities did not really change but the order of them moved up and down as the mentoring took shape. As I learnt how to plan towards my goals I asked myself, what was important for me? Do I have the tools in place? If not, what do I required to do to have these tools. and then also how do I achieve these goals?

My input into the process was vitally important, but the listening ear of Jackie was essential to the success. Whether it be a pointer or an answer to a question I was never spoon-fed but given options to work through myself. Being friends with Jackie beforehand was indeed an advantage, as we both know each other so well. It gave us more time to work on the important things rather than get to know each other, we already had a trusting relationship.

I can only hope I have expressed the benefits I have received from the mentoring experience. It spurred me on to start the storytelling apprenticeship as soon as I could. Right from my first apprenticeship day, it was so pleasing to feel so comfortable in my own skin. I felt that same joy I had as a 12-year-old child shouting at the top of my voice, “I have Finished My First Book.”

Now I am shouting “I am a storyteller on my way…”