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A Conversation with Joanna Yates founder of SPARK, London's First True Storytelling Club

LONDON, ENGLAND- Three times a month an evening of true storytelling sparks up London’s nights. Thalo sat down with Joanna Yates, Occupational Psychologist with a passion for stories.

thalo: Joanna, you specialized in helping people in large organizations develop interpersonal skills. Why have you decided to create a storytelling event?

Joanna Yates: I’ve loved listening stories since I was a child. In 2007 I went to a little theatre in Santa Monica, the piece of paper in my lap had seven people’s names and a theme: ‘invasion’. I remember I went from thinking ‘what is this?’ to being on the edge of my seat hanging on every word they were saying. In December 2007 I decided that we had to do it in England and I created ‘Spark’ (as seen in photo 1).

th: What fascinates you about storytelling?

JY: One of the main reasons why storytelling appeals to me is that it connects people: when you know something about someone’s life it can bring you closer to them even if you have nothing seemingly in common. It creates a sense of community (as seen in photos 2 - 5). It’s also fascinating for me to see how we recollect this medley of history we carry within us. When you start looking at a story from your life you start making connections about events in your life. And by sharing it with others you can hear other people’s opinion on them, loosening the grip on what you think your story actually meant.

th: How do you choose the theme for the night?

JY: We ask the people who follow us on social media what kind of theme they want. We look at this pool of suggestions and pick one for each of our events. It sometimes happens that once we have the seven stories related to a theme other meta-themes emerge by sheer chance…. there’s a connection between the stories that is not engineered.

th: The latest theme was ‘struggles’. Do you want to tell us a little about the story you told?

JY: I remember being nine and needing to write thank you letters for all the presents I’d received for Christmas. It was a terrible task because all the presents were from aunties and I couldn’t spell the word ‘auntie’ ! I wasn’t doing much better at school. The situation only improved when the new headmaster discovered that I was dyslexic and a new English teacher taught me how to spell words using sound and visual associations. It all started to make sense. She said I could go to University- I didn’t even know what it was then!- and taught me how to spell the word ‘psychology’.

When I started thinking about my story I realized that being able to express myself, because for so long I wasn’t able to write and say what I wanted to say, is one of the reasons why I love Spark so much !

You can find out all about spark’s next storytelling event on their website:

And you can download Spark’s free story podcast here (available in the UK and US)

Photo 1: courtesy of Joanna Yates

Photos 2,3,4,5: courtesy of Habie Schwartz