Claire King


Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

A Table

Posted on: September 30th, 2017 by Claire - 7 Comments

Fifteen years ago my boyfriend and I moved to France. That winter I bought a large oak kitchen table, and two years later we were married.

These facts are not necessarily linked, although the number of times we prepared and ate meals together at that table probably have something to do with it. Food is a kind of love glue in our house. It is not surprising, then, that we are a round-the-table sort of family. In the years that followed, high chairs came and went and countless breakfasts, lunches and dinners have been eaten together around this table.  IMG_1228

Badly spelled letters have been written to Father Christmas and left on this table with a slice of Christmas cake and a carrot and a sprinkle of magic every Christmas eve for twelve years.  Friends, neighbours, parents and grandparents have sat around this table with us and talked and laughed. It has been laid and cleared and wiped down thousands and thousands of times.

This table has not been treated preciously. It has been smeared with chocolate, spilled with wine, and decorated with greasy cat footprints following a roast chicken larceny.
table 2012

I have sat at this table with bankers and lawyers and bereaved friends. Tax returns have been prepared here, the children’s dictée grudgingly practiced and it has regularly been covered in the paint and glitter and glue of creativity. Short stories and novels have been written at this table, and it also has a cameo in the opening scene of TheNight Rainbow, covered in an oilcloth.

If this table could speak it would tell you that it has heard arguments ranging from who gets a chair and who sits on the bench to the kind of words that break up families. But on balance, it is mostly kind words that have been spoken in its presence. This table has fifteen years of stories in it and every time we sit at it, whispers of those stories are there.

Table 2009_2

And that is why we brought this big, wine stained, glitter encrusted lump of wood over to England with us when we moved back here last year even though we knew our new house was really too small to accommodate it. It felt at the time as though by bringing it we were holding on to something that symbolised the heart of our family life in France. A kind of anchor.

I read this article recently where Elizabeth Luard talks about bringing her table back from Spain to London – she describes it as ‘the only thing that matters to me in my new kitchen’. I understand her sentiment exactly, which is why we have spent five seasons trying to ignore the fact it doesn’t fit in our house. We have edged around it, bumped into it’s solid corners, hefted it up against walls and back out again but the fact is, it just doesn’t fit.

So next week the table will be rehomed. It’s as solid as the day we got it, and will hopefully go on for another fifteen years at least.  I’m sad to be parted with it – it’s funny how inanimate objects can come to be so invested with emotion – and I hope that it quickly becomes more than just a piece of wood to its next family.

Food_Photo_Table 2013

We’re all antagonists now.

Posted on: April 2nd, 2017 by Claire - 2 Comments

Growing up, when my friends and I would imagine our own stories in the playground, or each others’ back gardens, there would invariably be goodies and baddies. Baddies were often witches or wolves or the cowboys in black hats and there was generally some dispute about who got to play which part, because although playing the baddie was often more fun, you knew that in the end you would be vanquished.

Now we are grown ups, and when we talk about stories we talk about protagonists and antagonists. This partly reflects our interest in the mechanics of storytelling and our understanding that – in the most simplistic terms – the protagonist is the person we are being asked to get behind – who they are and what they want – whilst the antagonist is there to try and stop them getting it (even if they don’t do this on purpose). It also, though, takes some of the judgement out of the story. Who are we to say who is good and who is bad? If we take the time to empathise with the witch, maybe we’ll see things from her point of view (see Wicked).


Here are a few things I know about antagonists:

  1. Be they redeemable or not, a story without an antagonist is not a story. Imagine Neil Gaiman’s ‘Fortunately the Milk if the dad just went to the shop, bought the milk and came home again. But the presence of one antagonising force after another amplifies both the ‘struggle’ and the story.
  2. When the protagonist gets into conflict with the antagonist, the protagonist’s character grows, usually to become stronger and wiser. Inadvertently, the antagonist has somehow cause positive change.
  3. Antagonists stay as antagonists because this is not their story. No matter what they want, this not their narrative.

Let’s think about this about this in terms of some of the real life narratives that are playing out today across the world. Just pick one you disagree with and see if the following makes sense to you:

In the era of making ideas ‘go viral’, the antagonist plays a vital role in propagating any kind of narrative. Now, because it is so easy to do with just one click, people actively share stories that they disagree with. The result of this?  Extending the reach of the original message whilst having no counteracting effect on it at all. By latching on to a narrative we disagree with, and effectively becoming the antagonist to that story, we are giving it power and in some ways validating it.

By taking up the term fake news, for example and turning it against those who use it to spread lies and propaganda, we accept and authenticate that narrative. If on the other hand we were to reject it outright, and focus on the need for transparency in positions of office and for excellent journalism, we make our own, more powerful story.

By telling those whose narratives are bigoted or racist or sexist that they are wrong, and getting vocally angry with them, we are behaving exactly as they expect us to do, and we are fuelling their fire. In their story, we are the antagonists who their supporters love to hate. By instead creating our own narratives of equality and human rights, we create our own sympathetic protagonist that others can get behind, and hopefully our story, in the end, will be more powerful.

This is not to say, of course, that protests or resistance, are useless. Of course not. But successful movements always start not by playing the antagonist, but the protagonist, and defining the positive outcome that they seek.

Are we all antagonists now, in someone else’s narrative? We don’t have to be.