Religion Magazine

Nimble-fingered Words

By Richardl @richardlittleda

A review of ‘How to be brave’ by Louise Beech

Whenever I am trying to teach aspiring narrative preachers about the creative use of language, I get them to play an ancient Norse game – the creation of kennings. A kenning is new noun made up of one noun and one verb-based noun. Thus:

Skull + splitter = skull-splitter (axe)

Tree + shaker = tree-shaker (wind)

Once the concept is grasped I give a list of words to convert into kennings. They generally include preacher, prophet and storyteller. My favorite ever kenning was the description of a storyteller as a ‘word-weaver’. This term must surely apply to Louise Beech, who not only weaves words with enviable dexterity, but narratives too. This is a story set in two places, two eras and at least two dimensions. Take a sick girl, an anxious mother, an absent father and a group of dying seamen, and you would not feel that you have the ingredients for a heart-warming book. In Louise Beech’s hands you do.

The book’s title is deceptive – as it makes it sound rather like a self-help manual. Whilst it may prove to be of help to many – it is nothing so pedestrian. It is intriguing, deftly crafted and captivating. Not only that, but here is a story about stories which bears testament to the transformative power of stories.

I have a feeling that I have not read this book for the last time.


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