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Alumni of the Month December 2007
Janet Dowling (1976 Mathematics & Psychology)
1. How did you get to where you are now?
I had intended to do Clinical Psychology after leaving Keele, but alas the maths component of my joint degree meant that I didn’t make the grade to do clinical psychology, so I did an MSc in psychiatric social work instead and worked in community mental health settings. I have found that my career choices could have been the same on either path so that was OK. The Keele influence of jointness was always apparent, and most of my projects were joint mental health and social care. I took an MSc in Management and eventually worked in Social Services Inspectorate leading inspections and performance management,
However- in all this time I had always told stories in the family, in therapy settings, as a manager and as inspector. Seven years ago, when I reached a point in my life when I had achieved my professional ambitions, I decided to follow my heart, gave up the day job and become a professional storyteller! Scary- because the money is nowhere near the same and you have no idea where the next job is coming from.
Now I can be found in schools, libraries, museums, festivals and hospitals telling traditional tales to adults and children and exploring ways that storytelling can be used in therapy, organisations, education and oral history. I took an MA in children’s literature looking at the influence of folk tales on children’s literature, and have written several articles on how children’s literature reflects mental health issues. The variety is great, and I enjoy it very much! I even have my own website- www.JanetTellsStories.co.uk
2. What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Developing the local joint health and social mental care services was a big achievement as we were one of the first boroughs to do it.
As a storyteller it was getting paid £1000 for 45mins telling stories – you don’t get a gig like that every day!! But at the moment I am working on a project promoting multi-sensory storytelling with people with profound and multiple learning disabilities (pmld) to librarians across London. I get great pleasure when people with pmld respond to the stories, but best of all is that the Librarians now appreciate how much they can achieve too!
3. And your biggest mistake?
I am dreadful at keeping in touch with people- there are only a few friends from Keele that I see on a regular basis. Looking back I would have liked to have kept in touch with more people. If anyone remembers me- please do get in touch! The other thing I regret is not having done Astronomy as a subsidiary subject!
4. What are your ambitions now?
To do a PhD in storytelling, language and cognition. It’s a fascinating area, and everything that I do with story seems to be related. However- I don’t know if I will ever get to do it- but I have plenty of material!
5. What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
As a mental health worker, it’s about recognising that different skills complement each other and don’t compete.
As a storyteller- it’s to tell the stories - be it traditional from your own culture, or another, from your family or your own experience. Storytelling is thriving in this country and there are lots of places to try it out for yourself. The Society for Storytelling www.sfs.org.uk has lots of advice.
6. What made you choose Keele University?
Without doubt it was the foundation year- having the opportunity to have that range of topics in the first year, and then the joint honours and subsidiary subjects. I didn’t want to be too narrow in my final subject.
7. How has Keele influenced your life?
Undoubtedly, for the wide experience of the foundation year and the willingness to allow combinations that no one else would consider. In projects I have always been open to the not so obvious joint options- and that has worked well!
8. What is your favourite memory of Keele?
I was an avid member of the folk dance society, and supporter of Keele Rapper. I persuaded some of Keele Rapper to run a women’s rapper sword workshop- not realising that women dancing Rapper and Morris was “frowned on”. However, we later learned that we were part of the groundswell across the country at the same time to change those attitudes- synchronicity!
9. And your worst?
The worst was doing my maths finals. I was fine with psychology, but acutely anxious on the maths bit- my brain refused to cope. I really should have changed from maths at the beginning of P1 when I started to struggle. I had always been good at maths at school, but lost my way at Keele and I refused to let go of the belief that I was good at maths! From that experience I learned to listen to myself and recognise what my strengths are, and address my weaknesses! You are only as strong as you can manage your weaknesses!
10. Anything else you would like to add?
In the past year, five of my friends of my age have died and I had a minor stroke (recovered now thanks!). I am so glad that I took the decision to leave the day job and follow my dream! Storytelling has taken me places I would never have dreamed, and because I have a number of different skills I get asked to do such a variety of different projects! Family commitments might not always allow you to give up the day job, but allow yourself some space and time to follow your heart!