click here for Jan's website





It’s a long time since I wrote anything in this blog. Truth to tell, I thought I was done. It’s four years now since I was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer—prognosis that I would possibly be dead in months. I’m alive simply because I have a mutation that’s only found in 11% of white non-smoking women (the percentage going up to 40 if you’re a female Asian non-smoker). The mutation makes me more responsive to treatment, of which I have had plenty. I kept working but somehow always with a sense of finishing things off. I’m still in a place of “who the hell knows?” but I keep failing at dying. Exciting things are happening. My job entails getting the word out. So, here we go again.

 And what is the cause of all the excitement? First, any day now, a contract for a new book will appear in the mail. The contract will be with Running the Goat Books and Broadsides located in Tors Bay, Newfoundland. The book will, I think, be called To See the Stars. It’s a collection of five short stories, linked by the central character, a young woman named Edie Murphy. She starts out little more than a child, living in an outport, in 1906. Life takes her first to St. John’s and then to the garment industry in Lower Eastside New York City. She’s caught up in some major events of the era--the first ever strike of women, a terrible factory fire. She goes places I haven’t but I know her, not just because I’ve created her but because she was born of my family’s history, far off in England but feeling so much the same.

Second, there’s Written in the Body. That's the CD I recorded earlier this year for Storytellers of Canada’s StorySave program. You can see the stunning cover image, designed by Annette Hegel and featuring me in a school play at the age of ten, above. The CD itself works through the interweaving of a literary story by the English writer Sara Maitland about a ritual in which a young man must dress as a woman to hunt seal and the tale of my own childhood longing to be a boy. Written in the Body has sparked big dreams within me. More to come on that. In the meanwhile—purchases: Digital  downloads:

Finally (for now anyway), Jennifer and I are busily planning Stories from the Ages: REDUX. Sunday evenings in January, there will be Wonder Tales, told at Peter Devine’s, a lovely pub in Ottawa’s market area. At the moment we’re in the process of lining up the tellers. More to come on that as well.

Yes, I have reduced energy. Yes, I have some pain. But life is life. It keeps on keeping on. Maybe I’ve had to learn to adjust my sights. Maybe there is grieving but grieving never will be all of everything. There are simply too many interesting things to be doing.

I guess I never got out of the game, not really. I just stopped blogging. REDUX for that also. REDUX, REDUX, REDUX!


Future Dreams and Present Undertakings 

Good news for the Two Women. All of a sudden, it’s all set. We are going to the annual FEST (the Federation of European Storytellers) gathering in Rome in June and have then been invited to present The Book of Spells at the International Festival of Storytelling Raccontamiunastoria

in that ancient city. All this on top of also voyaging to England for a performance of The Book of Spells in Brighton along with a chance for me to present Who Wants the Dress? in Surrey and Sun Horse Moon Horse in Yorkshire. Trust me, more details will follow!

In the meanwhile, of course, we’re focusing on our upcoming 2wp performances of The Odyssey with Ottawa tellers Gail Anglin and Ellis Lynn Duschenes -- the close-out to our third full season. What a success this season’s been. One more spur to our desire to bring the best that storytelling can offer to an ever-widening range of audiences. Indeed, we even have plans for the “ever-widening” part. More to follow on that too.

For the four of us, coming back to The Odyssey is almost like coming home. It’s hard to believe but this great epic has been in our lives for almost twenty years now. How good it feels to speak once more of the wine dark sea and dawn with her rosy fingers; to bring to our listeners the terrible struggle to overcome the Cyclops, the delights of Circe, the ferocious battle Odysseus must take on to rid his home of Penelope’s suitors, the tender reunion the two share. That’s my section and I have always loved it for its humanness, its clear evocation of how difficult it is for two people to come together after long separation no matter how much they love each other; how much they have yearned for just this time. 

Work with other storytellers goes on too. I wrote a blog not so long ago about the frequent need to let go of ideas and phrases, structures and images we’d thought essential in the creation of some piece. This week brought us the opposite – a portion of a planned performance that had hit the cutting room floor but which now had to be re-instated; a portion which had moved from being a pleasant but unneeded diversion to becoming an absolute necessity.

How could that happen? It happened because it had to. Because originally that portion had been pushing the whole in some direction that left too much of what was going to be important out. The teller had to get rid of it so she herself could see more clearly what her story really is.

It might easily have happened that that portion needed to stay gone but, as the teller edged up on what she hadn’t even known she wanted to be saying and discovered the means to take hold of it, the piece began to find its true voice and shape. That shape called back what had had to be omitted. As I said before, the process of creation is a mystery, a fluidity, an ever-moving target. We simply cannot afford to forget that.

The news today is still all of the Boston Marathon. How could it possibly be anything else? I’m not exactly an athlete but I do know the joys of competing, the delights of being a spectator. I’ve lived with athletes. I know their commitment, the exhilaration the rest of us get from watching them give their all. The Olympics last summer were for me a lifeline in a hard time. I watched every minute I could manage, not just for the distraction but because the beauty of the body’s strength that was made so visible gave me a touch of faith in my own. I grieve for the hideous loss of all those who have suffered but also I grieve for the marring of this wondrous event. I think we need to let ourselves feel the pain before we give any thought to powers of healing. Feeling the pain is one more way of recognizing just what has been taken from us. 

Love to each and every, Jan



Adventures Old and New

Going to the Dominican was perfect. Warm sea, wind in the palm trees, snorkeling, strolling along the beaches, riding the waves in small boats. Coming back in a snowstorm made for just the right amount of exhilaration. And we’ve had more snow and I am reveling in it. Three cross country skis now – a grand boost to my morale.

The Toronto Storytelling Festival is coming up this weekend. Jennifer is working on a new piece about nineteenth century women who longed for the exotic, the adventurous, then went out to live their dreams. It’s a show that highlights the differences between us for, although I find it fascinating, it’s not something I would have been drawn to on my own account.

I do, however, see its importance for what these women really wanted was to reach higher, to go beyond the life that was prescribed for them. Also as I listen to the rehearsals I realize that when I was a kid all the adventurers I ever heard of were men. Women who risked and dared were usually mocked in some way or other, much as the suffragettes were – chaining themselves to railings, going on hunger strikes and other footling activities!

Once more, I’m reminded of the need to get all of the stories out there, especially the ones that call to us, the ones that are particularly ours to tell.

Right now, of course, The Odyssey is also calling to us again – the last show for the 2wp 2012/2013 season. As I began to work on some of the promos, it came as something of a shock to realize that Gail, Ellis Lynn, Jennifer and I have been working on this great epic now for almost twenty years. We have it in our souls.

Always when we come back to it, there’s a freshness; always a deep feeling of satisfaction and delight. Always it strikes a strong chord with our audiences. When I mentioned that The Odyssey was upcoming in my close-out remarks to Jan Gregory’s show, I heard little sighs of anticipation and saw faces light up all around.

Yes, this is very much a man’s story. But what a story. It seems to have all of everything within it. It’s such a human tale. I have never even come close to regretting that we took it on. The resonances are for all of us. I remember after one performance talking to two women about the terrible battle of homecoming – a gut wrenching event if ever there was one, no holds barred. “We don’t like it but we do have to admit, there will be a time of ruthlessness for all of us,” one of the women said to me. “Better to face it,” the other woman agreed.

Stories of men, stories of women – always so much to think about. Another of the great joys of our lives.


Off We Go

A quickie this time because the two women are off to the Dominican Republic for some serious R&R complete with sun and sand and beaches, snorkeling, whale watching, kayaking, bird watching and whatever else is to be found. It’s our first real trip since the health horrors of the fall. We’re about as excited as it can get.

Still, I wanted to pass along the news that the Ask No Questions tour was truly a great success. Audience numbers were up in most locations. The people of Wakefield did us proud by turning out in a mega-snow storm; the new venue at Burnstown proved highly successful; our decision to move to the intimacy of Showplace in Peterborough was confirmed. Most important of all, the show lived up to expectations. Audiences were deeply moved. Talk at the intermission was all of similar family histories. At the end, one group had to be almost shooed out the door they had so much to say to one another. “I was completely enthralled and experienced the empowerment and catharsis that derives from hearing, truly hearing/receiving a profound story about what it is to be human,” one listener wrote.

Through it all, Jennifer and I had the satisfaction of watching Jan Gregory prove once more just how much is to be gained by consecutive repeat performances. There was a continuous sense of deepening with each night. How does this deepening occur? I think it’s engendered by the fact that the more times you tell a story, the greater your chance is to live it; to feel what is really happening under all the words; to be there fully -- moment by moment -- as the events unfold. This means that parts that once seemed funny suddenly don’t any more; parts that once were serious take on a new twist. It makes space for memories and connections to come flooding – from you and from your listeners. The foundations are firmed and enriched.

I leave you with a thought to ponder. Jennifer was recently in a workshop given by Alexis Roy from Montreal. It was all about stage presence and its necessity. Somewhere along the way the talk turned to The Iliad and The Odyssey. “Ah,” said Alexis. “That’s different. When you work with the fine old classical material, presence is almost not an issue. The text and the tale carry you. They’re all that’s required.”

Off to sea and sunshine. Two women journey forth.




Settling In

I am a huge fan of crosswords – not the cryptics but the other kind.  I especially like the Saturday New York Times one because it always seems to have some extra level of challenge. The thing that always amazes me is how so often I don’t know the answers and don’t know the answers and then suddenly do. I’ll go to bed at night baffled and wake up in the morning to “Yeeeees!”

I’m thinking about that because I’m fascinated with the fact that sometimes the brain has to be left to its own devices. It seems to need time to head off and work out a few things for itself – quietly, without any overt interference on my part. I came on a brilliant example of that last week when I went to Kim Kilpatrick’s reprise of her one woman show Flying in the Dark. A Blind Woman’s Story (

Anyone who was reading this blog last year will remember the intense and difficult work Kim did to find her way to shaping the second half of the piece. I think we all knew we’d gone as far as we could when the tour began. We also knew the place we’d got to was good but not quite as good as it could be. Now, there’s the remount – by Ottawa Storytellers in its regular season venue at the Fourth Stage of the NAC.

As Kim was preparing, she wrote to me. “I just can’t do the second half the way I did it. It doesn’t seem right,” she said. Off she went on another journey. The result was truly an improvement – steadier more natural – but what caught my attention particularly was the fact that really all the previous elements were there. They had just needed time to settle and become more integrated into her being so that she could bring them forth anew. Not only that, through the process, the whole evening had become richer. The first half was almost unchanged but it came to its listeners more clearly – stronger; Kim’s voice was different, more grounded, deeper as if that was more settled too.

So there it is – a call to patience; to know that sometimes we simply have to give ourselves space. We go as far as we can. We want to go further but we have to wait, live more, before we can. I’ve always loved the following quote from Shakespeare In Love for just this reason:

Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

So what do we do?

Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.


I don't know. It's a mystery.

I think mystery is important. I think we have to trust its power.

At the Fourth Stage performance, Pat Holloway OST’s trusty publicity manager was heard to say, “This show has legs.” Kim is, of course, eager to be performing it widely. Contact us at for more information about that. Also catch news about Kim’s doings at Great Things About Being Blind.

Bright, bright cold here. Winter in all its harshness and its splendour.  One of the wonders of the earth.

Jan Gregory is back with us this weekend for final touches to Ask No Questions. Watch this space.