“A good story can travel in time and borders; it hits you no matter where you are.”
— Hakan Nesser, Swedish novelist
By Graham Clifford.
So there I was, legs crossed, camel meat in hand and a little glass of sweet green tea on my lap.
We were in the middle of the Sahara Desert and outside our tent it was nearly 40 degrees.
In a haze of heat the air seemed to shimmer.
To avoid the hottest part of the day I, and the nomadic Western Saharans I was visiting, took to the shade and that’s when the stories started to roll.
I began to tell the yarn about how my grandfather’s older brother managed to get to America as a stowaway on a ship transporting cattle from Ireland in the 1930s.
How for weeks he hid with only one of the ship workers knowing of his daring endeavours. Food and drink would be smuggled to him late at night but he didn’t see natural light during the long voyage. He hid amongst the cattle.
He fell in with the other immigrants once the ship docked and somehow passed through immigration control at Ellis Island to start a new life in the land of opportunity.
The translator, one of the nomads, fed my story to the gathering of a dozen men one line at a time.
Their eyes wide open in anticipation. Though most of them had never even seen an ocean they could picture the waves, the boat, the ordeal.
You could sense their excitement as I disclosed one development after another. I’m tempted to say you could hear a pin drop but we were surrounded by sand so perhaps not…
Once the story finished the men chatted with each other about the crazy Irishman with only cattle for friends on the high seas. They asked questions and wanted to know more.
A few weeks later, on a cold winter’s evening, I was back at home having a pint in my local in Cork.
Somehow the issue of stowaways came up and I repeated my story to the lads at the counter. Their reaction was identical to the nomads in the Sahara. Eyes wide open.
You see a good story that’s well told comes with an around the world ticket attached.
It travels from sandy African deserts to green Isles and takes on a life of its own, repeated and embellished along the way.
Of course, it must be seasoned with vivid description and more than a touch of colour, it must flow, it must engage the listener and it must retain their focus…if told well that story will always find a home.
The same is true in business. That’s why rags-to-riches yarns always capture the imagination.
The truth is every business has such a story. Each can talk of times when a leap into the darkness was necessary, when risks had to be taken and when fortune favoured the brave.
It was my own grandfather, a storyteller himself, who told me the tale of his brother when I would sit with him by the fire as a child.
Borderless, timeless. There’s no stopping a good story.
Image: Graham Clifford in the Sahara.