An Interview with Lily Asch
Real Talk is both a hugely beneficial social enterprise & the fertile bedsoil of a right good yarn. The Mumble caught its founder for a wee blether…
Hello Lily, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Lily: So I’m originally from Connecticut in the USA. I moved to Edinburgh when I was 20 and have been here for the past 5 years and it has become home to me.
When did you first realise you could tell a good story?
Lily: From a very young age I was enraptured with reading, consuming anything I could get my hands on particularly fairytales and high fantasy. I think that this early immersion in story made me naturally inclined to want to tell and share the stories I learned. My Mom constantly reminds me how I’d regale my family with minute details of my day each night at dinner (whether or not the audience was that interested). However it wasn’t until I got involved with theatre at age 9 that I really honed the more performative element of sharing. While I only acted for a few years, I think those foundational telling skills have stuck with me. So it has been a journey from loving to tell to actually developing my craft and I’m presently doing my storytelling apprenticeship at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and am a part of TellYours2018, a development programme for the next generation of UK storytellers.
You are stranded on a desert island with three good books. What would they be?
Lily: Oh my, this is really hard because quite a few of my favourite books are a part of a series… If I’m being cheeky I might bring along the entire His Dark Materials Series by Phillip Pullman in one book (which does exist because I have it). I’d bring along The Door by Magda Szabo, there is something haunting about it that makes me want to read it again and again, and then lastly the entire anthology of Grimm’s fairytales for a bit of variety :]
We are here to talk about an event of yours later this week, under the Real Talk banner. Can you tell us about the organisation?
Lily: So Real Talk is a mental health storytelling social enterprise. Our vision is world that celebrates transparency and authenticity around experiences of mental ill health and actively supports wellbeing. In practice we support people who have experienced mental ill health to learn how to share stories about their lives. We have a process where we deliver two workshops that use traditional storytelling tools to help participants craft a 10 minute story. After these 2 workshops we host a community event where these stories are shared to an audience and used as an entry point to speak about mental health more widely. We’ve found the process and these events really cultivate compassion for oneself and for others.
How did you get involved?
Lily: So I’m actually the founder of Real Talk. It was born out of my own experiences with mental illness and realising the need for more safe spaces for people to talk about their mental health and for other people to listen. It started as a passion project in 2016 and over the past 2 years I’ve been slowly transitioning to working on Real Talk full time. It has been quite challenging starting up a social enterprise but also so rewarding. I’ve met hundreds of people all looking to connect about mental health and excited about the power of stories. You can learn more at www.realtalkproject.org.
I can imagine there are some emotional moments involved. Do the storytellers find it a cathartic experience or is it sometimes too much?
Lily: There are definitely some deeply emotional moments along the process. There is catharsis in sharing a bit of yourself to an audience, empowerment in being to share your story in your own words but of course the nerves and tentativeness that comes from acts of vulnerability. I think this is where the process is really important, storytelling as a creative practice is a wonderful vehicle for holding people where they are. However we always emphasise that participation is voluntary (so if people don’t want to complete the process they don’t have to) and I hold a COSCA Counselling Skills certificate and Mental Health First Aid training so am always on hand to help signpost to further support if needed.
Can you tell us about the event at the Scottish Storytelling Centre?
Lily: On Friday the 27th of July at 7.30pm, we will be hosting one of our community storytelling sessions. 7 participants will have come through the process and will be sharing 10 minute stories to a public audience. After all the stories are shared I’ll facilitate breakout discussion between the audience members before ending with an informal Q & A between the storytellers and the audience. We’ve run 11 events to date and they are always magical evenings where people come together to witness each other.
How much experience do the storytellers have?
Lily: Most of the tellers have very limited storytelling experience in a performative way, though some people definitely have experience with public speaking. For some it’s actually their first time sharing a part of their story in this way. It’s a big range but that is exactly why we have this preparatory process, so everyone has had a space to decide what story they feel comfortable sharing and how they want to do it. I’m always humbled by the creativity, bravery and strength of each speaker, even if they don’t see it in themselves.
What do you think the audience will take away from hearing the stories?
Lily: Insight, emotion, resonance, clarity, empathy. Because the audiences are diverse, everyone takes away something different but I think that having genuine insight into someone’s lived experience really breaks down stigma and barriers. Some are supporting a loved one who is suffering, so to hearing a real story helps them know how to help. Others might be suffering themselves and the power of realising you aren’t alone in your journey cannot be understated. Others are just curious and we hold safe space to talk about mental health openly, which we don’t always feel allowed to do during our day-to-day lives.
What does the rest of 2018 hold in store for both yourself & Real Talk
Lily: The rest of 2018 hold incredible potential! I’ll be working away at building Real Talk’s foundation as a social enterprise; building a team to help run it and expanding our event series. Hopefully we’ll be collaborating with other awesome organisations and supporting more people (feel free to get in touch!). Personally I’m hoping to graduate from my storytelling apprenticeship this year and start working as a traditional storyteller out with my work with Real Talk.
Real Talk: Story For Well Being
Friday, July 27th
Scottish Storytelling Centre