Short Talks – Krishna Sen

So many good people interact with us online and walk through our doors at the Centre for Stories, and so we’re pretty proud of the little community we’ve grown. Collaborations often turn into comradeships and patrons become friends. Short Talks is a series of interviews highlighting the remarkable people who have connected with us at the Centre for Stories. Some are writers, poets, and storytellers, and others are arts workers, community leaders, and small business owners.

We invite you to get to know our friends a little more.

Krishna Sen is Indian by birth, Australian by choice and an academic by accident. She loves reading, writing and long hikes, really long – a thousand kilometres at a stretch if she has time! On 30 May 2019 at Bread & Butter, Krishna shared her story of completing the Camino Frances, a trek of over 750km.

You shared your story of walking the Camino Frances at our May Bread & Butter event. Can you tell us about how that event came about, and what you did to prepare for your storytelling?

I had been doing a blog about walking the Camino–not the usual travel-listicles, but ideas that came to me as I walked. I was then asked to share the story in the Centre’s Bread & Butter event in May. It is quite hard to talk about a long walk in 15-20 minutes over dinner. I was grateful that the Centre provided workshops for would-be storytellers! That helped me select and shape the story for the event.

You write beautifully about the experience of walking on your blog, and have said you want to spend the next 30 years “walking around the world”. For people who didn’t hear your Bread & Butter story, could you share a quick tale of a particularly memorable or significant walk you’ve done?

I am walking now on the South West Coast Path, which curls around Cornwall and Devon in the southern part of England. The coastline is craggy, wild. Think of Poldark–this is where the series was shot. The ocean is sparkling one morning, then darkly brooding under storm clouds in the afternoon. But it isn’t just beauty that makes a walk significant.

Walking on narrow paths is a lonely activity. You spend hours with your own thoughts. And it is hard to tell where a story might emerge. And some stories that emerge from the walk can be quite tangential to the location of the walk.

This blog I wrote is not about the South West Coast Path as such, but it kind of emerged at the end of a couple of very long and tiring days of slogging up and down cliffs.

Stories come from inside of us. Brenda Walker, who was Professor of Creative Writing at UWA, used to say, “Let your subconscious do the heavy lifting.” In my case, you might say, sometimes I let my subconscious do the walking and it dredges stories up!

What will you take away from your Bread & Butter experience—any lessons, or anything that surprised you?

Delight is the first word that jumps to mind. In my long career as an academic, I got very used to doing public talks. But those are always based on your expertise, supported by research notes, footnotes, overheads, and all that. To tell your own story, something you experienced, rather than learnt is quite a different experience. So I was a bit nervous beforehand. But then, I felt what a wonderful audience I had and just kind of slipped into that story-telling mode. The lesson I guess is just to trust yourself and, more importantly, trust your audience. They are there to listen to you. They will support you! Or maybe I just got lucky with the audience that particular evening. Who knows?

What does storytelling mean to you—and why is it important?

Both my grandfathers were wonderful storytellers. My father was too. I have warm childhood memories of summer afternoons with one or another of my grandfathers listening to stories from Indianan epics or history. And winter evenings with my father reading from Grimm’s fairy tales. Telling and listening to stories bonds us to each other. In a world of divisions every little act of togetherness counts, right?

What have you got coming up on the horizon?

On the South West Coast Path where I am walking, you see the horizon, over the Atlantic Ocean almost all the time. Sometime a small fishing boat, sometimes an Ocean-liner, or clouds, or just deep clear blue. I think I have just got to a stage of life where living each day, enjoying each step becomes more important than chasing that horizon, always, inevitably beyond reach. So for the moment, it is walking, reading, listening, writing, telling. As far as the eye can see.

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