Monday, January 21, 2013

Our Secret Territory: The Essence of Storytellig

By Laura Simms
Laura Simms’ email:
Published by Sentient Publications, LLC
ISBN: 978-1-59181-172-5, $14.95

Book Review By Linda Goodman

“Let us now crawl under the canopy
Of the currant leaves,
and tell stories.
Let us inhabit the underworld.
Let us take possession of our secret territory.”
Virginia Woolf, The Waves 

            Laura Simms chose the above quote to open her book, Our Secret Territory, a storytelling road map in which she shares with readers her unique understanding of the relationship between the storyteller, the story, and the listener.

            I briefly met Laura at the VASA (Virginia Storytelling Alliance) Gathering at Virginia’s Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen in 2001. In person, she was warm, articulate, and elegant. On the stage, however, she transformed into something else entirely: an otherworldly vessel, a cup made of the finest crystal, bearing wine so sweet that I wanted to drink it slowly because I did know when I might find such again.

            I did not realize at the time that I was “dreaming wide awake.” In this book, Simms introduces dreaming “not as the unconscious activity that occurs when we sleep, but as the natural process of being.” Simms constantly listens to her listeners: “It’s almost as if I think of something, they visualize it, and then I describe it.”

            I came to storytelling from the viewpoint of a writer, and I share stories that I have written. I have loved hearing the folktales, myths, legends, and fairy tales that I have heard others tell, but I myself have told such stories only sparingly. This book may change that.

            Our Secret Territory uses exposition, short tales, and quoted words of wisdom to illustrate each chapter’s theme. A longer tale, The Hen and the Rooster, is interspersed in segments throughout the book as the “route that takes us home.” Through following this tale as it wove itself from chapter to chapter, I finally discovered the key that makes me want to spend more time absorbing and sharing such tales. I suspect that you will find your key, too.

            Having said that, I must confess that the two stories from this book that I carry in my heart are from Simms’ personal story stock: The exquisite T'Boli Dreaming shares a journey to a territory of seven villages, where Simms meets a woman who tells her the secret to the survival of a culture, even if all material evidence of it is lost; In a chapter on “sudden stories” a boy soldier from Sierra Leone, who has been brought to New York to speak with the United Nations about his plight, has to return to the war after ten days of safety. Sobbing, he asks Simms to tell him a story. His deep understanding of the short tale was quite humbling to me. I heard only a simple, somewhat humorous tale. He heard the key to living life in a world where the life of a child does not much matter. His tragic tale magically takes on new meaning. Remembering it both breaks my heart and fills me with awe at the wisdom to be gained from children.

            Our Secret Territory, written by a master who generously shares her expertise and insights culled from many years of experience, is another jewel in Laura Simms’ crown. I expected much and got much more than I expected. I recommend it to both listeners and tellers, especially tellers seeking to take their tales to a deeper level.   


  1. Lovely, Linda, you really capture the essence of Laura and the book in what you've shared. It is a gem.

  2. Thanks, Marni. Good books are a pleasure to review.