The story of how Lois Cliff embraced her voice – and started using it her own way.
When Lois Cliff went to take her driver’s license the second time round, she wound up with the same instructor she’d had the first time. The third time she tried for it, she failed again. Then, on the fourth go, she passed with flying colours. It doesn’t draw immediate connotations to ‘Most impactful moment of my life’ – or even stories that’s shaped someone into the person they are today.
For Lois, though, being a master of symbolism and unpacking the deeper meaning of stories, it is, in fact, a pillar of her persistence. And of her attitude that Plan B, or Plan C, or Plan D, for that matter, is by no means inferior to Plan A.
I had the test that was first thing in the morning, and we set off at 8 o’clock – so rush hour traffic. I got to the big motorway roundabout, with four lanes, and there was an articulated lorry broken down in the middle of the round about. Hell yeah. That was all I needed. Because, you know, you’ve got to drive (…) And that was the test. Of all the things that could have happened, that was what I needed. It should have been disastrous, too. But then that was the one that went, ‘Actually, Lois, you’ve got this.’
She has got it. It’s been a big year for Lois. Between a global pandemic and working on figuring out the sort of life she wants to be leading, it’s been a massive one. Backtrack about 10 months, and she was an English teacher, as she had been for 25 years. Then, one day, Lois decided that she wanted to do something else, and she quit. She doesn’t shy away from her teaching background, though – in fact, it’s still a part of her business – as it’s given her an immense catalogue of experience with storytelling. As she commences on her new career as a writer, the teacher in her is essential to her linguistic marvels.
I mean, I’ve done 25 years or so in classrooms, with kids who love stories. And if you have to sell something that’s Dullsville – like full stops and comma usage, for example – tell a story. Make it interesting, make it amusing, make it a bit wacky. People remember that stuff. And if you can sketch a really dodgy cartoon at the same time, you’re winning.
Stories are how we understand life. Look at your day. Break it down. In fact, it’s a series of stories. And Lois is a master of telling them. From her intricate, mouthwatering renditions of her lunch (words like hummus, red onion, garlic, tomatoes and sourdough are regularly featured), to her reflections on a recent learning she’s experienced or a grand philosophical moment, Lois speaks in stories. It is her language. Add in the fact that she has an immense command of English vocabulary, and what you’re left with is a moulded, groomed, ever-learning storyteller.
It took her a while to embrace this fact, however – and Lois would probably argue she’s still working on embracing it fully. Having taught for two and a half decades, it wasn’t an easy decision to step out of her existing identity frame to re-examine and create something new. But she remembers her instigator well.
I think I had a moment of recognition in my life at birthday 49. Which put me into my 50th year on this planet. So I didn’t have a big 50th party, but having reached 49, I thought ‘I don’t like the way my life is.’ And it needed to change. So I committed to doing something every month for myself. Something I wanted to do, something that was just for me (…) And, you know, I am famous for Plan B. So my business, in many ways, became that. I still teach in my business today. It’s just that I do it for me, my way.
A classroom full of kids and a corporate audience is a lot more similar than you might think. Through her increasing experience with telling stories to adults, in their professional contexts, Lois is beginning to recognise how alike the two actually are. And how, in fact, children seem to possess more in the way of playing – and so in the way of appreciating life. By tapping into our inherent need for play, for being swept away to distant lands and marvellous adventures, professionals are given a chance to rediscover how important stories actually are to their work-life happiness.
We’re just kids in wrinkly old bodies, aren’t we? But we sort of lose the child. We lose the fun. And that’s really sad. And I think when you tell stories you get back to a space, maybe, inside yourself – whether it’s in your head or something a bit more fuzzy – and it’s a way you can reconnect with something you used to have, used to be, used to know. And I think we have to work on maintaining that. The fun. Cause when you lose that, you ain’t no good to anyone.
At Bee-Loud, Lois tells stories. She calls herself a writer with buzz, and every piece of work she undertakes is an explosion of words; a Jackson Pollock of vocab. By tapping into her library of synonyms, syntax and symbolism, Lois tackles everything from full-length fiction to marvellous LinkedIn posts. Her storytelling is by now means always loud – but it is powerful, and it is honest. Kind of like Plan B’s.
(Stories) are ways to see things that are true of life – and ways to explain things that are mysterious in life. Ways of making sense, I think.