The Akua Storytelling Project
The Akua Storytelling Project
Jan Blake

The Akua Storytelling Project.

Helping storytellers to find & develop their own authentic storytelling voice.

Greetings Friend

If you are reading this then you are (or want to become) a storyteller.


For reasons you can’t explain, you feel the draw to become a custodian & caretaker of folk memory & orality. To begin to tell stories or deepen the quality of your storytelling practice.

You want to answer the call to stand in your own storytelling tradition and  to carry that tradition forward with integrity, re-enlivening the culture, based on love, honour & respect.

You delight in all forms of cultural expression - from film to books to music to  cooking - and want to learn more about the ancient art of storytelling.


I’d like to invite you to consider subscribing to The Akua Storytelling Project Community.

What is that?

It is an affordable, online forum, a virtual  community where you can engage with another way of being in the world, whilst immersing yourself in the story wisdom of Africa & other cultures, which have all too often been dismissed as having nothing to offer the dominant Western cultures.

It is an invitation to use the wisdom of these stories to dig deeper into your own cultural heritage in search of the treasure which was always lain beneath your feet.

It is an opportunity for storytellers, particularly young people of colour, to be exposed to & train with one of the most respected storytellers within the African/Caribbean diaspora.

It is a community of those who delight in the enigma of stories.

I founded The Akua Storytelling Project community as a space for dialogue, for storytellers to train & develop, to amplify storytelling as a performing art and for the exploration of storytelling as a tool for transformational change.

This is a network of those devoted to preserving an oral art form which, at best is tolerated and at worst, is dismissed as having no value beyond being commodified for the business sector.

If you resonate with the above, and with an authentic and honest approach to storytelling as a performing art, as well as the notion that storytellers don’t need to step outside of themselves or take on a mantle of ‘the storyteller’ to communicate the true heart of a story, then this network might be for you…

What’s included in this subscription? 

Within the virtual canvas walls of this old tent of tales you will be able to...
  • Access a catalogue of all my online & recorded work
  • Explore the carefully curated library of storytelling resources
  • Watch exclusive storytelling performances available only within this space.
  • Engage with the various storytelling enhancing topics
  • Get Early Bird notification of scheduled trainings, workshops & performances.

This online space is also the home of:

A Body of Words 

Storyteller Training Programme.

There are a few levels of training available to you, designed to take you from being an absolute beginner, never having told a folk tale in your life, to becoming a seasoned storyteller, holding an audience in the palm of your hand as you regale them with an entire evening of traditional tales, leaving your audience beaming and full of wonder. But first...

The Core Tenets

There are certain ‘essential competencies’ to being a good storyteller and that, without them, would-be storytellers will struggle. 

So, here are:

The Twelve Basics: 

In order to be a really good storyteller, you’ll need to learn how to:

  1. Choose the right stories for you: Most people need help selecting the right story for them.
  2. Choose the right stories for the right audience: Choosing age appropriate stories is essential for a storyteller. You don’t want to show up with a story full of themes which might alienate or shock your young listener. Neither do you want to patronise a teenage or adult group by presenting them with stories which they might feel are too young for them.
  3. Research your stories: Performing stories provided by other storytellers will only get you so far. You need to explore opportunities for building your own varied & diverse repertoire. Get to know the inhabitants of your stories: People drive most narratives, even when dressed in the anthropomorphic guise of animals. These stories, no matter how ‘fantastical they might appear, are about people and their lived lives, not caricatures. 
  4. Work with your senses: Most of us experience life through our senses, so it stands to reason that our senses must be fully developed in order for the audience to have a fully immersive experience of the stories we share.   
  5. Work with your voice: The voice is the instrument, so it needs to be tuned
  6. Work with your body: Your body, in congress with your voice, is the vessel 
  7. Work with the musicality of your stories: Songs, music & rhythm can greatly enhance the stories we tell
  8. Know the landscape & language of stories you choose to tell:. Where are your stories from? What does the land they came from look like? What is your relationship with that land?
  9. Find the difference between telling for children & telling for adults: Make sure you have the right narrative for the right audience. How do their concerns differ? Can you remember being them? Are you them now. How will you respond?
  10. Building your repertoire of stories for each: Building your repertoire will help develop clarity on your likes & dislikes sharpen your appetites for which types of narratives delight you the most
  11. Hone a clear idea of your niche as a teller:Who are telling for? Which type of stories are you naturally moved to tell?
  12. Prepare and perform your story or show.

All twelve of these can enhance your storytelling and contribute to a truly immersive experience for your audience. 

But, in addition to learning how to do all those things above, there are also:

Five Core Pillars Which You Will Need: 

  • I’ve found that there are 5 more additional pillars that separate the okay storytellers from the great ones. 
  • A Philosophy: It’s so vital What a Storyteller is (and is not). It’s so vital to understand what your role as a storyteller is and isn’t - which motivations are noble and which aren’t (hint: being seen as ‘the wise storyteller’ is not a noble motivation). 
  • A Community Of Support: Having a circle of storytellers to bounce around ideas and reflect with.
  • A Good Teacher: You likely can become a wonderful storyteller but  sometimes we just need the right teacher to help us see that we can. 
  • A Good Library of resources: It’s becoming harder to find books of folktales in local libraries. Create your own, share with others, fill your bookshelves with stories.
  • My mentors in the world of storytelling were Ben Haggarty, Tuup,Grace Hallworth, Marc Matthews, Sally Pomme Clayton & Hugh Lupton. All of them had a very clear standpoint on how a storyteller needed to resource themselves. I took their example and now, my bookshelves are bulging, not only with stories but with books of topics which can enhance the storytelling experience, such as folk history, food, maps, books on flora & fauna etc.
  • A Love of Language: A love of language, etymology, word play, riddles & poetry are  all necessary tools for any storyteller worth their salt. Words are the waters upon which you will launch your story. If you don’t love them now, by the time you finish the course, you won’t be able to get enough of them.

The Nine Hard Questions:

Once you’ve learned the twelve basics and you have your five pillars in place, then come the nine hard questions. They’re not hard because they’re complicated. They’re hard because they’re simple. These are the questions most storytellers avoid and the best ones have wrestled with long and hard (and usually not alone).

  1. Why those  stories?
  2. Are they really a fit?
  3. Do you have the cultural agency to tell these stories?
  4. What are these stories asking of you?
  5. Are you equipped to tell them?
  6. What personal barriers or prejudices will you need to recognise so that these stories aren't overshadowed by them, but rather, are able to stand in their own light?
  7. Are you able to show up with authenticity, or have you been seduced by the idea of donning the mantle of ‘The Wise Storyteller,’ and the perceived status it brings?
  8. What inner resources can you draw on, to delight your audience?
  9. How can your own struggles help rather than hinder the stories you tell?

A storyteller’s  job is to approach the story with love & respect and to be in service to the people who inhabit the world of the narrative. There are people who become very confused by this point and it often shows in their storytelling.  Let me briefly outline how, below.

Eight Common Mistakes People Make When Approaching Storytelling:

  • “Performing” vs. Telling: This performative energy around storytelling can be found in people from most cultural backgrounds and is excruciating to watch, because it smacks more of needing to be seen, rather than being infused with a genuine desire to honour the story. We have been formed by stories, so we have an innate understanding of the melody of a story. A shrewd audience always feels the discordant note of inauthenticity, which can mean that they might stop being fully committed to listening to you, then you’ve lost them. It’s not about you, it’s about the story. 
  • Posturing As “The Wise Storyteller”: Too often I experience storytellers posturing; positioning themselves as ‘the wise one, who needs to bring a message to the world. You don’t. The messages are already there in the stories, that’s why the stories still exist, so let the stories have their way with you. Listen for what a story might be  trying to tell you about YOU before you tell it. Learn something about yourself. 
  • “The Velvet Clothes & Story Stick Thing”: The performative one who dresses in velvet and poses with their ‘story stick.’ Storytelling work is about the internals, and not about the externals. It's nice to wear nice clothes when you tell, but be careful about what messaging your choice of clothing might mean to your listener, especially if you want to attract an urban based audience.
  • Being “Slick” vs. Being Real”: Being a storyteller isn’t about being slick, it's about being real, it’s about being authentic, it’s about having a deep connection with the stories and with those who listen to them. There’s no need to be word perfect or totally polished. It's ok to co create the telling with the listener as you tell it. It takes poise, presence & trust, but it’s also a risk.  Take it!
  • The New-Agey Thing: You don’t need to wear pixie ears or show up as some version of a character from ‘The Wicker Man’ to be a storyteller. You don’t need to be a healer or a chakra balancer or a reiki master. You could be a cab driver, rapper or a drill artist from a housing estate in the most troubled area of your city or you could be a parent trying to find their voice. Come as you are. Do you! 
  • Imitating: Storytellers borrow from each other, this we know, we share stories and sources all the time. Some storytellers imitate their favourite storyteller,and tell their stories. but word for word imitations & copying someone else’s style is a definite no-no. Develop your own way of working; trust yourself. We all have our unique ways of being in this world. What’s yours? How can it help your storytelling?
  • Hiding Behind A Story Book: Some people stick with reading stories aloud from a book to their children, because they fell less exposed and less vulnerable. Imagine how delighted your child would be if you came out from behind that book, looked them in the face and used voices and gestures to tell them a story.
  • Sticking To Safe, Light & Funny Anecdotes: Some people stick to sharing anecdotes or jokes with their colleagues & friends. That’s fine if that’s all you want to do,  but if you really want to dive into storytelling as an artform, then you’ll need to come out of your comfort zone and wrestle with some meaty texts

My Core Philosophy: What I Believe About Being A Storyteller

My Story

I’ve been a professional storyteller for the past 37 years.  During that time, I’ve told stories at dozens of festivals, in a myriad of countries for thousands of people. I’ve even won a few awards for my work along the way.

For me, storytelling was a lifeline, but I wasn’t aware of that when I began

I was living in London, far away from home in Manchester UK.. 

I loved performing & tried to get on with theatre, but never having been to drama school I struggled with the power dynamic, and the racism which was endemic in the auditioning process. 

I needed to find a way to express my performing abilities without submitting to the idea that I should be grateful that I got an acting job, any acting job, or that my life as an actor would be determined by the narrow view of the casting potential for Black actors.

When I was introduced to storytelling a bell went off in my head. First of all,  the sense of artistic freedom and authenticity which storytelling afforded me was a welcome change from fitting into someone else's limiting thoughts about my capabilities. Secondly, I had been cooked in Jamaican folklore; I had grown up with my mother’s proverbs & idioms, my father’s riddles. The first book my mother showed me was a book of Ananse stories, which she had brought from Jamaica with her. She always sang melodies of digging songs and ring games. She was instilling in me a deep connection to her homeland through her folklore. 

Everything was starting to make sense. 

I could express my performing abilities, whilst honouring my parents & in particular, my maternal grandmother, Miss Lillian Nelson, whom I later discovered had been the village storyteller back in Jamaica. 

Folklore became the threads with which I began to stitch myself together, having become frayed by the demands of a colonially focused society that was making  life feel terrible. A hunger for & consumption of stories was feeding my soul; from researching Jamaican folklore to trying to follow the storytelling footprint of my African Ancestors, storytelling had become a healing pool, an immersion into what made me, ME, and, what had formed my people. Storytelling gave me the opportunity to show up as my authentic self, using material which spoke directly to my culture and was a delight to express.

Why do I do this work?

I believe that the folktales & myths invite us all to engage with another way of being in the world, to immerse ourselves in storytelling cultures which have all too often been dismissed as promoting outdated tropes having very little to offer a culture, dominated by online clicks and likes and an obsession with self, rather than community. A culture where people are less and less likely to look up from their screens and reach out to each other, unless it’s to confirm what we want to believe about ourselves, reflected in a cracked mirror of confusion and self hatred. 

Stories have always been one of the most direct ways to create human connection, to help us reflect on what it means to walk this earth and to be in harmony and balance with each other

My personal belief is that a storyteller should not only be able to tell a great story, but should also have something to say about the human condition. 

However, not everyone who wants to become a storyteller has a profound calling or a vocational bent to their desire to tell a story. In this instance, the storyteller should at least be able to give a story 100% of what it needs, so that the audience can be satisfied with both their experience of hearing it and the storyteller's telling of it. 

This map represents how I believe a storyteller needs to show up in order to do that.

  • LEGS: Storytellers need to be grounded; they need to be here  & there now.

  • ARMS: Storytellers need to fully embrace the audience, the story and themselves

  • HEART: Storytellers need to love everything about themselves & everything about the story

  • THROAT: Storytellers need to nurture their voice, the voice is the vehicle

  • HIPS: Storytellers need to feel the rhythm & the pulse of the story

  • BODY. Storytellers need to embody the story and all its inhabitants.

A fully integrated storyteller makes for a fully immersive storytelling experience. 

When you step out in front of an audience, they need to trust you, so you need to be grounded.

When you can fully embrace your audience without judgement, they will feel your compassion.

When you open your heart, loving everything about yourself & the story you can use everything you are to truly advocate for the people in the story.

When you discover the elasticity & range of your voice, you can give voice to the myriad amount of people in your stories.

When you connect with your hips and your sacrum, you can connect with the movement, rhythm & pulse of the story.

So, where might you start? How do we take a folktale which has been lying flat between the pages of a book, or dormant in our memory banks, and animate it? How do we breathe life into its world and its people, making the listeners’ experience engaging and memorable?


For Non-Professional Storytellers

Find & develop your own authentic storytelling voice.

1. One Day Storytelling Taster

A One-Day Taster for parents, teachers & absolute beginners who want to try on Storytelling for size.

And if you liked that, then you'll love this...

2. ‘A Body of Words’ Foundation to Storytelling

Parents, teachers and story lovers, have you ever found yourself sitting in wonder, watching a storyteller at work and thinking, ‘How do they do that?’ or ‘I wonder if could do that?’ 

A Body of Words Foundation to Storytelling is a 20 week storytelling beginner's course for you to explore & discover your own, natural-born storytelling abilities.

For Intermediate & Above

1. ‘A Body of Words’ Five Days One Story 

Personalised intensive coaching for you, intermediate storytellers out there who want to focus on that one story you've been dying to tell.
 Your five days could be over five consecutive days or five consecutive weeks. 
You decide.

For Professional Storytellers      


1. ‘A Body of Words’ Storytelling Masterclass: 

Four, self-contained weekend modules for storytellers who have been devoting themselves to the art of storytelling  for 2-6 years, have a growing repertoire of stories and would love the opportunity to sit in community with me & other storytellers, as we delve into

  • How to be an impactful presence, fully inhabit the space & create a loving connection with your audience.
  • How to fully embody the people in your stories.
  • Vocal dexterity & physical  flow.
  • Deepening your relationship with your stories.
  • Approaching each story with playfulness & joy, regardless of the content.
  • Pacing & Rhythm 
  • How the use of music and song can enhance the telling of a story

Each module will have a specific theme and will take place in a 5 meter bell tent in my garden! 

Module 1: June 23, 24, 25 Tricksters/ The Storyteller’s Stage Presence, 

Module 2: July 28, 29, 30 Shapeshifters/ The Storyteller’s body

Module 3: August 18, 19, 20 Love Stories/ The Storyteller’s Voice 

Module 4: September 22, 23, 24 Hero’s & Sheroes/ The Storytellers use of Music Rhythm & Song

A delicious & nutritious vegetarian meal will be provided each day.

Click here to apply


2. A Body of Words Storytelling Mentorship: 

A 9-month Online Mentorship for storytellers who want to WOW their audiences with traditional tales, myths & legends and show up as an  embodied,  authentic and  engaging storyteller.
 I will guide you through the landscape of your stories.Together with your fellow mentees, you will create, build, examine & explore your repertoire of stories. At the end of your mentorship journey, you will have  expanded your range, deepened your practice & created four brand new storytelling programmes. 

By joining any of these courses, you will automatically become a member of The Akua Storytelling Project, our overarching storytelling community. You’ll be able to keep up with all the learning activity for your selected course and also be able to contribute to the main Akua Storytelling Project Activity Feed, where you'll be able to interact with other members from other courses and spaces. Lets Begin!

What does Akua Mean? 

Let me tell you a story

Once upon a time, a woman called Akua went to see the Okumfo (Ghanaian fetish priest) because she was desperate to become a mother. The Okumfo instructed her to carve a wooden doll and carry it upon her back for 7 days & nights, after which time, she would become with child. Akua did as she was instructed and nine months later, to she gave birth to that much longed for baby. Ever since that time  the Akua doll has been seen a symbol of female fertility .

In  the Ghanaian language Twi.'Akua' means 'Girl born on a Wednesday,' Wednesday is ruled by the planet Mercury which is the planet of communication.  

I was born on a Wednesday, hence,

 'The Akua Storytelling Project.'

About me

I'm a storyteller of African & Caribbean origin. As one of Europe's leading storytellers, I have been performing worldwide for 37 years. 

In 2011, I was the first non- German recipient of the biannual Thüringer Märchen Preis, awarded to scholars or performers who have devoted their lives to the service of storytelling. In 2013 I was awarded the Outstanding Female Storyteller prize by the British Awards for Storytelling Excellence (BASE). 

As part of the World Shakespeare Festival in 2012, I was the curator for Shakespeare’s Stories, a landmark exhibition that explored themes of journey and identity, in conjunction with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. 

In 2013 I was awarded a further BASE award for my acclaimed show, The Old Woman, The Buffalo, and The Lion of Manding created and performed with Ivoirian musicians Kouame and Raymond Sereba.

Specialising in stories from Africa, the Caribbean & Arabia. I believe that the folktales & myths which I tell, particularly those from the African continent, invite us all to engage with another way of being in the world, to immerse ourselves in cultures which have all to often been dismissed as having nothing to a offer the dominant culture. I want to take these stories, dive deep into their wisdom and offer them as a healing balm.


1. Gauri Raje: Storytellerfounder of Silent Sounds (India/Scotland)

'No other storyteller embodies and promises to reconnect you with your joy of storytelling, in the way that Jan does. And through it to find one’s voice and power. That was awesome!!!!'  

2. Alice Fernbank: Storyteller (Scotland)

'Jan is as powerful a teacher as she is a storyteller. She has guided me to the heart of storytelling with her acute insight and wisdom. She has helped me to lift the veil of uncertainty that has shrouded my performances in the past, revealing a deeper truth and authenticity in my work' 

3. Simon Hodges:  Storyteller, founder of Storyourself (The Netherlands)

'Jan provides a constant standard of integrity and skill that guides and furthers my craft. She is uncompromising yet full of love, helping me see through the artifice in my storytelling to cherish the pure gold at its depth. I'm more self aware in my telling, more at ease yet more controlled, more present to the story to let its genius unfold into the room.  Direct contact with Jan has been an unrelenting gift. Whenever I think of her, I'm filled with gratitude and warmth.'  


4. Jordan Campbell: Storyteller (UK/Jamaica)

Working with Jan has been a huge step forward to understand and trust myself as a storyteller. Jan helps us to have high expectations for ourselves, yet makes us feel at ease and is so sensitive, that you can miss all the work she’s putting in. That is, until you finally tell the story you've been working on and everything falls into place!  She encourages us to work in our mother tongues; I once watched a fellow student tell her story in a language no one else spoke and we were all moved to tears. This is powerful stuff. Working with Jan, you quickly gain a deeper respect for stories and the art form. Alongside the teaching, Jan has a way of creating space for fostering friendships and building community. Our cohort is still in touch with each other 3 years later!                                                            

5. India Rose: Musician (UK)

Jan's storytelling and capacity for holding space is like a huge warm hug which envelopes you in its mystery and adventure. From the moment I experienced her story telling I knew I wanted to study with her. I was blessed to be offered an energy exchange place on her Foundation to Storytelling Course. I felt a comfort and aliveness awaken within me. Reconnecting to my storyteller within and being carefully and playfully led through different exercises that brought me and my chosen stories to an intimate and natural place of sharing and knowing. 

Not only am I able to share a great story but I feel my ability to connect with other humans has also expanded. So much to learn and so many amazing stories to share, the world needs storytellers!

If any or all of this resonates with you, then you can join this storytelling community for less than £20 per month!

Ps: Just so you know; you don’t have to become a subscriber to access any of the courses here but you might want to consider it because

Subscribers receive 10% discount on all courses!

"As the world gets more confused, storytellers should become more centred. What we need in our age are not more specialists, experts, spin-doctors. What we need are people deeply rooted in the traditions of their art, but who are also at ease in the contemporary world."

"Storytellers are the singing conscience of the land, the unacknowledged guides."

Ben Okri, The Mystery Feast: Thoughts on Storytelling