Tell me a story

Kirstin Innes discovers that storytelling isn’t just a bygone tradition.


We don’t have much time for folklore these days. The oral tradition of storytelling, while it has contemporary parallels in performance poetry and the sprawling narratives of rap, seems anachronistic in an age of YouTube and email forwards. We don’t seem to be interested in things that go bump in the night unless they’ve come off a killer Japanese videotape, and tend to dismiss traditional storytellers as eccentrics steeped in peat smoke and obsolete folk history. In the run up to the Winter Solstice, though, with long nights and increasingly sinister shadows, huddling up round a fire to spin old yarns about witchcraft and fairies begins to sound far more agreeable than another stressed night of consumerism.

Deep in the bowels of the GoMA Library, the Scottish Federation of Writers have constructed a (fag free) Victorian smoking-room, complete with fireplace and easy chairs, for a whole day’s worth of storytelling

‘It’s aimed at adults who haven’t lost sight of their childhoods,’ says Marc Sherland, organiser of Seasonal Tales for a Victorian Fireside. ‘There might be stories about trolls and goblins, or more modern comic pieces. We’ve tried to recreate the atmosphere of a small intimate gathering, even though we’re expecting well over sixty people this year.’ He’s already confirmed appearances from Glasgow author Anne C Clarke and Ayrshire Makar Sheila Templeton, but stresses that storytelling experience isn’t necessary for participation.

Over in Edinburgh, master storyteller Duncan Williamson will be holding court at the Guid Crack Club in the appropriately time-warped surroundings of the Waverley Bar. Williamson is a traveller and champion of the oral tradition who estimates that he knows over 3000 stories - telling tales of selkies, kelpies and trickery on the roads.

Go on. Suspend your thoroughly modern disbelief. It’s Christmas. We can’t guarantee that somebody won’t dredge up the one about the escaped maniac on the roof of the car, though.

Seasonal Tales for a Victorian Fireside, Glasgow, Thu 21 Dec. The Guid Crack Club Yulefest, Edinburgh, Fri 15 Dec.

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