Phonar Task: Spoken Narrative

This task was a completely new one, with no pictures or images. The brief was as follows:

“Record a personal story to share with the group.

You should speak your story in person and it’s telling should last approx. 2 minutes (if you prefer to record and publish in advance, that’s fine, otherwise it’s delivered live in session and stays within the closed group).

You should especially consider your choice of story/subject, your audience and your verbal delivery – in terms of your script, language, pace and intonation. No accompanying soundscape.

No pictures. Just a story.”

I found it extremely hard to find a story to tell, I couldn’t immediately think of anything that had happened to me that I wanted to reveal to the class. There are a few people who know a lot of things about me but it was hard to tell them some of the stories even though I know them really well so I wasn’t comfortable about sharing these to the class. In addition to this, some of the stories I know and affected me aren’t mine to tell therefore I didn’t want to tell something that didn’t belong to me. Instead I settled on a more comedic example and decided to try and use my creative writing skills from my English A Level to try and narrate the story effectively. I picked one of my many ‘blonde moments’ that have helped me learn the hard way, this was the time when I accidentally stapled my thumbs together whilst trying to fix the stapler. With the story decided I then needed to figure out how I was going to tell it. I eventually decided on an over dramatic style to try and make the story a bit more humorous because of the obvious contrast between the writing style and the content. I wrote out the story and then sent it to a Coventry University English student to have it proof read after which I considered and made the changes that she suggested.

The final version of the story can be seen below:

Time was running out. In five minutes dinner would be ready. If I didn’t finish this Geography homework I would get my first ever detention. I was racing the hands of time. My fingers started cramping. I pushed through the pain, this had to be done. I had entered a zone where nothing could distract me. My hand sped across the page leaving trails of spiralled ink that would eventually form my essay. Three minutes left, two minutes left, one minute left… and ‘beep beep’. Dinner was Ready! I had done it. There was only one task left to complete; stapling the pages of my essay together. I reached for the stapler and pressed it down. Nothing happened. Panicked, I tried again. Still nothing. I could hear the clank of cutlery being laid on the table. Desperately I pulled the stapler back to examine the top moving my thumbs up the cold metal bar and pressed upwards to see if the stapler was working. It clicked and I felt a stab of pain in my thumbs. Dropping the stapler I gasped and look down. In my haste to test the stapler I had managed to staple my thumbs together, each pin of the staple neatly impaled in both thumbs. Crying out in shock I fled downstairs searching for the one person on Earth to get me out of this predicament; my mum. Torn between frowning and smiling she learnt forward, grasped the staple with a thumb and finger and pulled. With another yelp of pain I was free. But with two bloody holes to remind me of the dangers of staplers.

I was pleased with my story; although I am mainly interested in photography I did enjoy studying English and creative writing so it was a good chance to really engage with this written-based task. I felt confident bringing this piece of work to the Phonar session to read as I enjoyed the experience writing it so I felt I would enjoy the experience of sharing it.


When in the Phonar session it became apparent to me that the experience wasn’t really going to be as I expected, I suddenly felt really nervous and unintentionally volunteered myself to go second. I rushed my story and spoke too fast to let the concept and perhaps the comedic value to be noticed, if I had delivered this story with great confidence then perhaps I would have received some response from the audience but perhaps not as they all seemed to be too nervous to laugh. After reading my story I was able to vanquish the nerves and really listen to the other stories delivered by the class, some of which were absolutely amazing. To see a reflection on what I considered to be the most effective story please click here. There were a number of stories delivered, some read from a script, some delivered from memory and some pre-recorded and played back. Something I noticed was that I really engaged and related to the stories that came straight from the person where it was clear they had no script they were speaking from memory because I felt there was more truth behind them; the other deliverances although effective perhaps didn’t have that element of raw truth there was also an aspect of performance. This relates to the ideas from David Campbell on power, narrative and responsibility as we all made certain choices over how we were going to deliver this narrative. Perhaps a pre-recorded, scripted response allowed the teller to have more control over the narrative and make those exclusions and inclusions whereas simply speaking from memory delivered a more fragmented form of narrative which could be considered less effective. In addition to this I started reflecting on my own narrative which is a highly dramatised version of the event that happened, my narrative could be considered as completely untruthful as the style was fabricated to produce a response. I had the responsibility as a storyteller and I didn’t tell an entirely truthful account of the event that happened because in retrospect I can’t remember the precise details. These details can be considered the context of the event and without all of the information I couldn’t produce an response which was entirely accurate.

Whilst I was considering this it also dawned on me that while some of the stories were comic, most of them exposed a story that was extremely precious to them and made them feel vulnerable. This causes us to identify with how the subjects we engage with might feel when we ask them to give their story to us to tell for them. However in addition to this I realised that I found it extremely hard to share even a comical story about myself because of the feeling of exposure, so how hard would I find it to expose something extremely personal about myself? I decided to set myself a further task to try and write down something about myself that I would find hard to share. It would then be up to me to share this story, the results of this further task can be seen below:

“I found, and still find university hard. I was always uncertain about going to university to the point that I might not have ever made it; my parents did question whether it was something I really wanted to do because I was feeling daunted by the whole prospect. But I visited universities and engaged with Coventry so I chose that to be my first option. I already had it in my head that I would only ever go to Coventry however I put a second option down just for the sake of it.

I got my grades, was really pleased with them and started preparing. I had feelings of excitement but these were soon drowned by feelings of anxiety and sadness as I felt like I would be leaving all that I was living for behind. One of the hardest things to do was to say goodbye to my boyfriend for the very first time, even though I knew exactly when I was going to see him again. I cried a lot and the feelings of excitement vanished.

On the day of moving into university I was feeling detached from the situation, getting ready just felt like going through the motions of a normal day, it hadn’t really hit me that I would be moving out for the foreseeable future. The moving in process was a complete blur as my parents had a limited time to park, although I remember mum took the time to make my bed for me, probably to try and make this experience that little bit easier for me to manage. In hindsight I knew they were probably expecting me to have a stressful time as they had already had experience with my older sister. It was only when they were on the way home that I realised I was alone. I reconnected my situation immediately and it felt like I was literally hit by the anxiety. I had no family, no boyfriend, no friends, no food and most importantly: no routine. I had literally no idea what to do.

This feeling of complete helplessness continued through the freshers week and although I made friends with the best set of people I found it extremely hard to settle into my environment. I would make the choice to go out, buy clothes and be ready then a few minutes later the prospect would make me sick and I would return the clothes and retreat inside myself. The one person who I felt I could be myself with wasn’t there anymore and I was completely unsure of how to act and who to be. In the next few weeks I completely relied on my boyfriend, my family and eventually a councillor to get me to a good place again. I still feel like I need to apologise for my weakness and commend them for their strength in helping me. It has taken over two years for me to feel comfortable at university. Here in this house, with great support from everyone, with modules that I find interesting and engaging and ultimately with some self-belief and confidence, I finally feel okay.

I have gone through a big process of self-evaluation and I’m still working at it. I have identified that I love routines and feeling comfortable so when I need to feel safe I construct a plan of what I’m going to do in a day and when I’m feeling confident I let go and experience life. I feel like university has allowed me to both find myself and look at myself critically and it has benefitted me. However this experience hasn’t yet ended and I am looking at embarking on another huge journey of change when it does. But I am looking at my future with feelings of excitement that are slowly enveloping and reducing the feelings of anxiety.”

The process for writing this story was extremely simple, I simply sat at my laptop and typed. It was important to me that it came from memory and that I didn’t rely on other people to help me produce this, therefore I didn’t get it proof read, I just read through it quickly and corrected any spelling mistakes. In reflection this experience was quite easy to write as it felt very much like I was just talking to myself. I know that if I was to read this out loud in an environment like the Phonar class I would feel vulnerable. However I think I would approach this with a positive attitude having evaluated my original response and identifying that my first narrative couldn’t be considered completely truthful. This story is completely truthful and although I have made some certain exclusions for the sake of length I feel that I can present this as a truthful piece of narrative. Consequently if anyone did want to know more about my experience I feel like this piece is a good entry point, referencing the ideas from Fred Ritchin. My story is acting as the front page image and if the reader wanted to know more they only have to seek me out to receive more details.

In conclusion I feel like I have engaged with the morals behind this task, examining the feelings of vulnerability that a participant may be subjected to and the important of constructing the narrative in an honest and genuine fashion, informed by a foundation of context. When moving forward I will build on the ideas from David Campbell about power and responsibility in relation to narrative, Fred Ritchin in terms of engaging with the reader and trying to provoke and response, and finally from Wasma Mansour as she identified the importance of the subject and their feelings of intellectual and physical safety.



3 thoughts on “Phonar Task: Spoken Narrative”

  1. I really like how you have reviewed this task Becki after hearing other people’s stories and shared something of your own of what a tough time you went through, something I would have never of guessed knowing you in person! It shows how you have understood the vulnerability of the subject and put yourself in that situation. I also like how you haven’t recorded this and the flow of your story created by how just you sat and typed works really well.

    1. Thank you for that, it’s good to know that it had the desired effect. It is slightly more scary now knowing people are reading it! But that’s part of the challenge I set myself so I have to embrace that, hopefully if anyone else didn’t feel they quite engaged with it correctly the first time they will be encouraged to try it again too.

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