Raspberry Ripple: Giving a voice to women’s stories around sexuality

The Scottish Storytelling Forum (SSF) is a membership organisation, dedicated to keeping the art of live oral storytelling alive and growing in Scotland – a diverse network of storytellers and individuals supporting Scotland’s vibrant storytelling community. It’s facilitated by Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) and based at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

The SSF blog series hopes to introduce you to the many different strands within the storytelling scene in Scotland and beyond.

This month, we hear from Marie Louise Cochrane on her new project exploring women’s stories relating to sexuality.

‘I make my living as a teller of stories. I tell stories to entertain and inspire, but as someone with a background in counselling, spirituality and health promotion I also hope that my stories can bring healing and insight to my listeners.

‘The stories I tell are often traditional tales, sometimes literary, at other times anecdotes or original stories of my own creation. These tales are usually without sexual content – in fact until now, always without sexual content, other than innuendo and the occasional Freudian slip.

‘There are of course many good reasons for this. It is a professional responsibility to use material suitable for the audience to whom I’m telling, and it would be taboo to tell such adult and intimate stories in a public setting. And rightly so.

‘But what about in private settings? My own lived experience as a woman, is that when it comes to stories of an erotic or intimate nature, factual and fictional; it’s not that easy for us to hear or share such stories, even in private settings like friendship groups.

‘For so many of us, telling our stories is a way in which we can process our life experiences, recall and celebrate happy memories, ask others for insight into puzzling or alarming experiences, or share advice and start healing from painful things that have happened to us. Hearing other people’s stories about all aspects of life is part of our education in how to be human beings in the world. For women to not have access to such stories in such an important aspect of life provokes in me a sense of loss and a desire to address the issue.

‘After some reflection and a few exploratory conversations with fellow females – and one man – I decided that perhaps there might be a place for a new project. A project around hearing, witnessing and telling women’s stories, related to sexuality, in a way that could help other women process, explore and even celebrate that aspect of our lives.

‘I realised too, that I wanted to hear stories for women and by women that addressed sexuality myself. Erotic, arousing, energising, inspiring, life-giving, sex positive, healing stories. Maybe funny, maybe edgy, but definitely not shaming or degrading. So, I went to look for some.

‘I read Anais Nin, a few collections of women’s fantasies, Mitzi Szereto’s ‘Erotic Fairy Tales’, and stories by Angela Carter. I asked about an erotic literature for women section at the library and found that in Edinburgh there is none. I looked online at sites like ‘Literotica’, where people send in their own erotic writing. I listened to podcasts. I found ‘Smutslam’, a live event where people share their sexual stories and the audience vote for their favourite and much more.

‘However, I did not find anything of the tone I was really looking for.

‘I then decided that maybe I could use my interests and skills to create or collect stories that might be of interest, not just for me but also for women like me. Perhaps there were other women who could do with a bit of stimulus to help them reflect, explore and make sense of this important part of each of our lives. Perhaps I could put together a combination of anecdotes, literary tales and perhaps even some of those traditional stories which were rewritten for children, reimagined with the sexual aspects added back in.

‘What if I could create something which would help women who might like to think positively or differently about their love lives with others and with themselves? What if I could do something with stories that put eroticism into the conversation for women in relationships who love their partners but don’t really think of themselves as sexual persons. I am so aware of this as an issue for older women for many reasons: age, stage, health issues, body image, trauma and so many more…

‘What would that look or sound like? Wouldn’t that be of benefit not only to those women, but to their significant others?

‘I was telling a fellow storyteller:
‘I said: “I want to do storytelling work around sex that’s fun and life-giving – not murky but not too wholesome either.”
They replied: “So – not so much vanilla (reference for “normal sex” as used in E.L. James’ ‘50 Shades of Grey’) – more raspberry ripple?”

‘Exactly. Raspberry Ripple. My new project.

‘I am now collecting women’s stories around sex. I have a protocol for collecting, storing and sharing the stories. My intention is to find ways to share – with permission of course – the anonymised stories, in written form or as an audio recording or podcast.

‘The first fruits of the work will be a women’s show called ‘Red Velvet Revelry’ with my Revel Sister Heidi Docherty. Piloted earlier this year, it sold out in ten days through Facebook alone.

‘The show includes warm, honest and funny sharing of our own experiences as women. From an anecdotal story about visiting an Ann Summers shop to a sensual retelling of the ‘Bride and Angus’ story. Add in some fun facts every woman should know – but may not – about their own physiology, a poem about online dating, a few suggestive songs about food, some knitted props and the evening flows in supportive company.

‘The results have been positive for those involved: lots of laughs, good fun, deep sharing, acknowledgement of great pain at times, but also a sense of healing and being heard.

‘It’s early days. It begins with my own white, heterosexual, middle class, able bodied Western perspective. As things develop, I want to include women from other social groups, whose voices are not often heard.

‘Believe me when I say this is scary work for me. It is full of potential for making mistakes on my part and risks judgement and misinterpretation from others. My sense though, is that this is important work. Not only for women, for men too.

‘So, I am doing it anyway.’

‘Red Velvet Revelry’ is on Saturday 27 July, 8pm at Bellfield (EH15 2BP)
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If you would like to know more about ‘Raspberry Ripple’, or contribute to our collection of stories, do get in touch:
Marie Louise Cochrane 

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Air Iomall – 21st August 2019 @ CCA, Glasgow


From Scottish duo Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach, and Filmmaker Hamish Macleod, Air Iomall (Gaelic for On the Edge) is a film and suite of new music, inspired by now uninhabited islands deep in the North Atlantic – some of Scotland’s most remote, and remarkable, places.

Travelling aboard the Dutch tall ship Wylde Swan, the duo visited and wrote music inspired by the histories, people, and landscapes of these mysterious, wild places, including: The Shiant Isles, North Rona, The Flannan Isles, Sula Sgeir and St Kilda.

Macleod’s film documents the duo on this once in a lifetime experience, providing a visually stunning, sensitive insight in to these under-documented and enigmatic landscapes. It culminates with a concert of their new music on St Kilda – the most remote part of the UK, on the 88th anniversary of the evacuation of its native population.

Accompanying the film, is the duo’s release of a studio album of the same title, which features their live performance on St Kilda in its entirety.

The evening celebrates the launch of project with a screening of the film, and performance by the duo.

Tickets here.
Read a fantastic blog by Hamish Macleod, about the making of Air Iomall here.


Mull of Kintyre Music Festival, 21st – 25th August 2019

MOK Fest Rocks Wee Toon

The Mull of Kintyre Music Festival looks set to rock the town with some of the best bands and performers from across Scotland in its 27th year. The 5 day event which runs from Aug 21 – 25, has yet another great line-up including Manran, Dougie MacLean, Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band, Chris Stout and Catriona McKay, Ainsley Hamill and Slainte Davaar Allstars.

Aug 21st – Festival Gaelic Concert £10

Ainsley Hamill & Toby Shaer
Tarbert Folk Group
Riabeart MacCallum
Alec MacKinnon
Christine Macintyre as Bean-an-Tigh

This year’s Gaelic Concert in Ceol Campbeltown, Seafield on Wednesday August 21 will headline with Gaelic singer Ainsley Hamill who also plays in the band Barluath accompanied by Toby Shaer. Joining them will be Iain MacPherson, Tarbert Folk Group, Riabeart MacCallum Alec MacKinnon and a host of local artists with Christine Macintyre as Bean-an-Tigh.

Ticketweb link:

Aug 22nd – Young Folk Night £7

Firm festival favourite, The Young Folk Night starts the events in the Heritage Centre on Thursday 22 featuring some of Kintyre’s finest young musical talent.

Ticketweb link:

Aug 23rd – Festival Ceilidh £18 / £9 for under 12’s

Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band
The Dalriada Connections Band
Kintyre Schools Pipe Band

On Friday Aug 23 the Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band make their debut at the Festival Ceilidh Night. The west coast ceilidh band includes stalwarts from across the traditional music world who are as at home playing large concert venues around the world as intimate bothy cèilidhs and are guaranteed to get everyone dancing. Also playing are young folk fusion band Eriska featuring artists from Argentina, Italy and USA, this will be the second time the band have played at the event having previously performed on the Festival Club in 2017. The Dalriada Connections Band featuring students and tutors for Campbeltown Grammar School alongside a core group of musicians open the concert sets. The evening starts with a rousing performance by the Kintyre Schools Pipe Band.

Ticketweb link:

Aug 24th – Traditional Concert with Dougie MacLean £20

Dougie Maclean
Ceann Tir
Arthur Johnstone

Headlining the Traditional concert in the Heritage Centre on the same night isScotland’sinternationally renowned singer songwriter Dougie Maclean making his third visit to the town Dougie who was originally famed for writing the song Caledonia will perform in the Campbeltown Heritage Centre for the first time. Scotland’s internationally renowned singer songwriter Dougie MacLean headlines the concert in the Heritage Centre on Aug 24th. Dougie making his third visit to the town was originally famed for writing the song Caledonia and will perform in the Campbeltown Heritage Centre for the first time.

Support band is Ceann Tir featuring a host of young music talent from South Kintyre who have come through the MOK Fest music development project with Campbeltown Grammar School. Band members

Arthur Johnstone will MC the concert.

Ticketweb link:

Aug 24th – West Coast Rocks Concert £25

Heron Valley

On Saturday Aug 21 the festival launches its exciting new event, The West Coast Rocks Concert with new sponsors Glen Scotia Distillery and a great west coast lineup of bands.

Folk-rock legends Manran making their debut at the festival will headline with supported by Heron Valley who are now headlining events across Scotland and are making a much requested return. Local outfit Rhuvaal will open the concert that promises to give us the full on west coast festival experience in the Victoria Hall

Ticketweb link:

Aug 25th – Mitchell’s Glengyle Dalriada Connections Concert £12

Chris Stout and Catriona McKay
Western Sound
Na Smeòraich
Scooter Muse

The Dalriada Connections Concert in the Campbeltown Heritage Centre on Sunday August 25 will again be sponsored by Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery. This popular Pan Celtic concert headlines with Chris Stout and Catriona McKay. Chris is from Fair Island, one of the Shetland Islands and Catriona is from Dundee and have played together for around 20 years including internationally acclaimed band Fiddlers Bid.

From Northern Ireland we have three piece band Ceólta who will be joined by Western Sound, Na Smeòraich, Scooter Muse, Ross Conner Trio, Frank Rochford and the usual mixture of local and visiting musicians.

Tickets include a free sponsors miniature at this event.

Ticketweb link:

Aug 25th – Survivors NightConcert £22

Slainte Davaar Allstars
Matt McAllister Band

The legendary Survivors Night later that night will feature Campbeltown super-group Slainte Davaar Allstars who continue to come up with a fantastic set of new tracks each year.

Rhuvaal will also perform along with we.R.soul, Gilchristians, SessionA83 and more acts across the night. This year Alison M Leith takes over as MC.

Ticketweb link:

Tickets and further info:

Tickets for all concerts will be available locally from A.P. Taylors, Main Street Campbeltown and on-line from Ticketweb at or phone 08444 771 000. For more updates go to or email

Ticketweb link to all events:


Hamish Henderson Celebrated: Summer School, Ceilidh & Theatre Showcase Scotland’s Folk Legend

Maker, ye maun sing them…
Tomorrow, songs
Will flow free again, and new voices
Be borne on the carrying stream.
(Hamish Henderson)

Scotland's Voices ImageTraditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) presents the Hamish Henderson Summer School which reflects the visionary spirit and diversity of the founding father of Scotland’s 20th Century folk renaissance, offering inspiration and enjoyment of the traditional arts against the backdrop of Alexander Moffat’s striking ‘Scotland’s Voices’ canvas.

TRACS is proud to present a programme of activities in celebration of Scotland’s folk traditions, delivered by contemporary singers, musicians, activists, poets and thinkers inspired by Hamish, allowing you to dive deeper into Henderson’s life, work and legacy, to get to the root of “Why Hamish Matters”!

Fred Freeman
Fred Freeman

There has been a resurgence of interest in Henderson’s extensive body of work since the release of a documentary feature in 2016, produced by Bees Nees Media. Fred Freeman effortlessly puts Henderson’s life and work into context, interspersed with recordings written by his friend and colleague, at ‘Hamish Henderson’s Carrying Stream’ on Wednesday 31 July, 5pm, as he states:

11th November, 2019 marks the centenary of the birth of Hamish Henderson, a man who personally accepted the surrender of Italy during WWII; who wrote award-winning war elegies (which bear comparison with Sassoon or Owen); who was a prime mover in founding of The School of Scottish Studies; and influenced, quite directly, the course of 20th-century history. 

Tina Jordan Rees
Tina Jordan Rees

Fred’s insightful talk is followed by a private viewing of Alexander Moffat’s exhibition – giving context to the pivotal figures captured on canvas which are accompanied by preparatory studies – ahead of ‘The Ceilidh House: Come All Ye’ at 7.30pm which showcases the joy of traditional arts live. Featuring Jess Smith (singer & storyteller), Charlie Grey (fiddler), Tina Jordan Rees (dancer) and David Francis (MC & caller) there’s chances to participate in jovial company or just soak it all in, as Programme Manager, Daniel Abercrombie states:

The ceilidh house was (and is) where the traditional arts of dance, music and story come together to be shared and enjoyed. TRACS exists to encourage the practice of those arts and to make them accessible to all. Our event aims to capture the spirit of the old ceilidh house where all are welcome!

Thursday 1 August and Friday 2 August tap into Scotland’s cultural riches with Summer School sessions from Ray Burnett, Donald Smith, Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre, Erin Farley, Steve Byrne, David Francis, Ewan McVicar, Fred Freeman, Stan Reeves, Mairi McFadyen and Stuart McHardy exploring international and local connections through the folk lens.

Geordie McIntyre & Alison McMorland
Geordie McIntyre & Alison McMorland

Then, as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, enjoy Theatre Objektiv’s ‘Hamish Henderson: On the Radical Road’ (2 – 26 August), an evocative drama sculpted from the poetry, music and songs of Hamish with a dynamic, ensemble delivery.

Scotland’s folk revival continues, and these events are the perfect opportunity to stimulate!

  • Wed 31 Jul | 5pm – 6.15pm | £5
    Hamish Henderson’s Carrying Stream
    Fred Freeman highlights the inspiration of Hamish Henderson’s song, story, music and dance.
  • Wed 31 Jul – Tue 27 Aug | Free
    Scotland’s Voices
    Exhibition by Alexander Moffat gathers the pivotal figures of Scotland’s Folk Revival.
  • Wed 31 Jul | 7.30pm – 9.30pm | £10 (£8)
    The Ceilidh House: Come All Ye
    Welcome to The Ceilidh House, where people meet to dance, sing, play music and share stories.
  • Thu 1 Aug | 10.30am – 5pm | £20
    Poetry, Song & Solidarity
    Explore the upsurge of folk song in Scotland, its connections with poetry and the international political values that connects Scotland with the wider world.
  • Fri 2 Aug | 10.30am – 5pm | £20
    Sustainable Cultures
    Scotland taps into its cultural riches of content, styles and creative methods. Where is this heading and what will a sustainable cultural future look like?
  • Fri 2 Aug – Mon 26 Aug (not 5, 12, 19) | £12 (£10)
    Hamish Henderson: On the Radical Road
    Exhilarating ensemble theatre enacting and embracing Henderson’s vision from Theatre Objektiv.

Book Launch: Hebridean Step Dancing by Mats Melin

On Friday 12 July 2019, it was 140 years since dancing master Ewen MacLachlan passed away in Daliburgh, South Uist. He left a legacy of solo dances which were kept alive by a number of people over the years including Fearachar MacNeil of Barra, John ‘Iain Ruadh’ MacLeod and Donald ‘Roidein’ MacDonald both of South Uist, among many others.

To celebrate these wonderful dances and their historical background Mats Melin launched his book Hebridean Step Dancing during the fiddle and dance evening at Ceòlas Summer School on Friday 12 July 2019.

Hard and digital copies available at


Living Stories & Folk Traditions Showcased at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

August is one of the busiest times of the year in Scotland’s capital, with an unbelievable amount of inspirational art and culture on display. The Centre will be welcoming 22 unique shows as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, showcasing stories in all their forms, from entertaining, to thought-provoking, experimental, inspiring and well-loved, there’s a tale for everyone.

We know you’re probably wondering what’s hidden behind some of the creative and visionary show titles and how to #MakeYourFringe to ensure you’re not missing out on any fantastic events! Who better to ask for a tour of the Centre’s Fringe showcase than the man in charge of our events programme, Daniel Abercrombie!

‘Throughout the year the Scottish Storytelling Centre offers a platform for storytellers, musicians, dancers and all creative minds to explore cultures and traditions in Scotland today. For the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, we have curated a high-quality programme, produced by companies and performers who fit with our ethos of inclusiveness and openness and who reflect the energy and variety in our year-round programme.’

‘The Centre is well-known as a thriving, yet peaceful, haven of activity in the middle of the frantic Fringe. This August we are partnering with the Year of Conversation project to encourage visitors, performers, staff, tourists and locals to take 10minutes away from your phone or the Fringe buzz and have some human connection in our Conversation booth. You never know what you might discover or who you might meet!’

‘Before you enjoy a show, drop-in to the Storytelling Café for a re-fuel or engage with our exhibition and children’s Storywall in the Storytelling Court. We host three fantastic and varied children’s shows this year, with Celeste’s Circus (perfect for babies), Wee Seals and Selkies (storytelling and music) and Feast of Fools (foolish and fun stories).’

‘Our Fringe programme offers audiences of all ages the chance to experience and celebrate our shared cultural heritage with a contemporary twist by encouraging ownership and slamming stereotypes. Hamish Henderson: On the Radical Road uses Henderson’s work to outline his legacy, whilst Burns for Brunch revives the nation’s bard with a contemporary twist and The Night with… Evenings showcase new work by Scottish composers and poets.’

‘Throughout this programme there is a sense of humanity, with many performers exploring and reacting to the challenges we face in the world today, often delving into turbulent contemporary waters. For example, when ancient mythology and modern storytelling collide in an exploration of our colonial past from Mara Menzies in Blood and Gold, or poet Jenny Lindsay challenging us to rewrite This Script by discussing #MeToo and ageing in a gendered world. The heart-warming environmental tale of The Man Who Planted Trees reminds us how just precious our planet is, whilst BBC Folk Award winner Rowan Rheingans reveals family secrets from 1940s Germany in Dispatches on the Red Dress, a troubling yet defiantly hopeful elegy for our times.’

‘We are delighted to host award-winning shows and two Made in Scotland showcase events, alongside an exciting list of new performances and the return of some sell-out favourites from previous years, such as TumbleDry Theatre’s A Trilogy of Horrors Vol I & II, Nordic myths with Walk the Oars and a dazzling horror-comedy from Fringe First winner Alan Bissett in The Red Hourglass. The inspirational Loud Poets are our nightly closing act, showcasing the very best spoken word and poetry in their Best of The Fringe extravaganza, which makes for a perfect night out during the festival.’ (Daniel Abercrombie, Programme & Events Manager)

Daniel Abercrombie

Join us and discover our programme of story, song, music, theatre, spoken word and fun as some of Scotland’s best storytellers and performers create new conversations around live issues or reflect on past events which resonate fully in the present.

The Centre is the perfect place for families, tourists and locals to meet, with a warm, community welcome and a creative and authentic Edinburgh experience. We look forward to welcoming you, as you #MakeYourFringe.

Book Tickets


Mountain Melodies returns to St Margaret’s, Braemar this July for musicians aged 14-17

St Margaret’s Braemar, in partnership with Live Music Now Scotland, will host a week-long music and composition project during the 2019 Summer holidays called Mountain Melodies, for talented young musicians from the local area, combining composition workshops, one-to-one tuition, talks, seminars and performances.

A few places are remaining for the project running from Monday 8 to Sunday 14 July 2019 in Braemar. Application deadline extended to Friday 28 June 2019. 

To apply contact Kirsten Hunter for an application form:

Musicians should have a keen interest in Scottish traditional music, be aged 14–17, and of Grade 4 or above* standard on one of the following instruments: fiddle, pipes, piano, whistle, guitar, bouzouki, voice.

*Age range and level are for guidance, and participants need not have sat exams at Grade 4 level – if this is the case, students should discuss with their teacher if they would be suitable.

Participants will work with award-winning Scottish traditional band Barluath and composer Simon Thoumire to develop instrumental skills and work together to create new music – inspired by the local area – that will then be performed in community venues and in a public performance in St Margaret’s Braemar.

The project is being offered completely free-of-charge to participants, but those taking part should be available for the whole period: there is also performance from Barluath on Wednesday 10 July, and a final performance on the evening of Sunday 14 July 2019. Please note accommodation is not available for participants.

Barluath is a diverse and innovative Scottish folk band that embraces both the traditional and contemporary music of Scotland, Ireland and America. The band has delighted many audiences since forming in 2010, and is well-known on the traditional circuit, having made appearances at festivals such as Celtic Connections (where they won the 2012 Danny Kyle Award), Linlithgow Folk Festival and PipingLive!,as well as in Germany, Denmark and Belgium. In November 2011, the band was invited to Washington DC as part of the ScottishGovernment’s St. Andrews Day celebrationsin the USA, culminating in performances at The National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the British Embassy.

Simon Thoumire is a virtuoso concertina player and composer originally from Edinburgh now living in Glasgow. He has performed across the world playing Scottish music and new compositions, both as a soloist and with bands including the Simon Thoumire Three, Simon Thoumire and David Milligan and Keep It Up. Simon wrote the first Celtic Connections New Voices in 1997 and went on to write Music for a New Scottish Parliament, The Scottish Requiemand more recently writing new music for the Strathspey and Surreal Society. Simon also works with Hands Up for Trad – a development organisation that promotes Scots traditional music across the world.

St. Margaret’s Braemar is considered to be one of Scotland’s finest churches, designed in the late 19th century by renowned Scottish architect Sir John Ninian Comper. The St. Margaret’s Project is a partnership between The Scottish Redundant Churches Trust and the St. Margaret’sTrust. Its primary aim is to restore and develop the building into a renowned, high quality performance and arts venue which will attract local, national and international performers and audiences. The project also aims to record and celebrate the rich cultural heritage and history of the building and the surrounding area.

Live Music Now was established in the 1970s by the violinist Yehudi Menuhin and is now theUK’s foremost music outreach organisation, reaching into the heart of local communities, working in old people’s residential and day care centres, adult resource centres, secure units and schools –including for those with additional support needs, and rural areas. In Scotland, Live Music Now works with around 100 musicians in chamber groups across all musical genres delivering around 750 performances a year, as well as a programme of training and professional development.


Violin Tutor Required: Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop

Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop is small fiddle workshop based at Strachur on the Cowal peninsula.

They are seeking a traditional tutor for their adult classes, ranging from beginners to competent players.

Hours offered will depend on uptake of members – previously classes were held on two evenings over 26 weeks, however this may reduce to one evening if numbers fall.

For further information please contact Alison Duncan on


Marketing and Communications Assistant – TRACS

Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) are looking for a Marketing and Communications Assistant to carry out a range of marketing and communications tasks, who can also bring their creative flair and passion to engaging with the Traditional Arts Networks in fresh ways.

Creative with a sound knowledge and interest in the rich tapestry of Scotland’s traditional arts scene, you will be an excellent communicator with sound copywriting, editing and proofreading skills. Ideally you will have experience in a similar role with exposure to databases, social media, marketing e-tools and CMS.

A team player who can also work independently, you will have proven organisational and time management skills, as well as the ability to work under pressure to tight deadlines, with a varied and demanding workload.

Closing Date for applications: Thursday 20 June, 5.30pm
Late applications will not be accepted.

Interviews will be held on Wednesday 26 June at the Scottish Storytelling Centre (EH1 1SR)
If you know this date is a problem for you, please flag with your application and we will do all we can to accommodate your situation.

To apply – please send your CV and a Cover Letter, outlining your interest in the role and relevant experience, utilising the responsibilities and requirements in the job description, to:

Lindsay Corr
Marketing and Communications Manager

Email     with “M&C Assistant Application” as subject line
Post                TRACS, 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1SR
Enquiries        0131 652 3272 (Lindsay or Annemarie)

Download Job Description


Voice of Youth: The Next Generation of Storytelling

The Scottish Storytelling Forum (SSF) is a membership organisation, dedicated to keeping the art of live oral storytelling alive and growing in Scotland – a diverse network of storytellers and individuals supporting Scotland’s vibrant storytelling community.  It’s Facilitated by Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) and based at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

The SSF blog series hopes to introduce you to the many different strands within the storytelling scene in Scotland and beyond.

This month, Ailsa Dixon, a young storyteller and student from Aberdeenshire, tells us all about her wonderful mentoring experience with storyteller Lari Don, as part of the Scottish Book Trust’s ‘What’s Your Story?’ scheme, a development programme for 14-17-year olds from across Scotland interested in telling stories.

‘Many people believe storytelling is the preserve of grandparents, or that it faded out of our culture at the point when an average adult began to spend more time on electronic devises than asleep. But when another young person responds to my love of stories with a story of their own, I know that nothing could be further from the truth.

‘I’m a 16-year girl from Aberdeenshire, and I do normal, teenage things – revise for exams, listen to music, watch YouTube, have sleepovers with friends, walk the dog – but I love storytelling. Completely and absolutely. And having young people who are obsessed by finding, telling and reworking stories is essential. As a young person, I understand the value of being listened to when so often you’re dismissed as irrelevant, hormonal or immature. The power of storytelling, particularly as a teen, is the power of being listened to, the joy of sharing something integral to you with another human being. This power is transformative – it makes you feel worthwhile and reaffirms the fact that teens do have something important to say. And storytelling is so often the best way to say it.

‘Unfortunately, for young people, especially those who live outside the central belt, storytelling can be a hard thing to get into. The art of storytelling relies on learning from those more experienced, perfecting your technique through others criticism and, above all, constant practice. This is easier said than done, especially for young people who rely on public transport, juggling exams and social lives, as well as usually lacking the confidence to believe that they might have a place in the centuries old tradition of simple, human imagination and creativity.

‘Originally, I got into storytelling through music. I love trad music, and since late primary I have sung at local folk clubs and played cello with ceilidh bands. (The current project is learning Clarsach, which is progressing slowly!) Karine Polwart has always been one of my contemporary trad heroes, and while obsessively listening to ‘A Pocket of Wind Resistance’, the album of her sensational stage show ‘Wind Resistance’, I began to marvel at the way she weaved words through her music, and how the stories she told seemed old and relevant at the same time. Gradually, I began to realise that the stories she told were part of a whole different world.

‘Around the same time that I was obsessively listening to this album, as well as trying to find out about more stories, I applied to a fantastic scheme run by the Scottish Book Trust called ‘What’s Your Story?’ This is an intensive development programme that selects seven 14-17-year olds from across Scotland interested in any form of telling stories – from short stories and novels, to poetry, blogs, podcasts and illustration – for intensive mentoring by a professional in their medium, as well helping plan events like Storycon and culminating in a showcase.  Somehow, I managed to get selected and was paired with the ever wonderful Lari Don (storyteller, author of the ‘Spellchasers’ series, ‘Fabled Beast’ Chronicles and a variety of trad story collections).

‘Mentorship is a unique thing. It’s somewhere between guidance and teaching, and Lari was amazing. For a whole year, she allowed me to ask stupid questions, lent me books, told me stories, read my manuscripts and suggested alterations, read and answered rambling, exclamation mark filled emails, gently coaching me through the first stumbling blocks of storytelling.

‘I spent two days in Inverness at Moniack Mhor where I got my first taste of how effective well honed, polished storytelling could be. Its wild, fluid, iridescent, and feels like breathing. Good storytelling is planned and practiced, with an almost imperceptible rhythm, but feels both to the teller and the listener like something brand new being born out of thin air. Its power can overtake you, which I found when you’ve pretended to kill a dragon in the middle of the Starbucks queue and quite a lot of people are looking very confused – but they are intrigued, and this is the key to human interaction. I learnt to find stories from books, (Otta Swire, Ian Stephen, Tom Muir and Patricia Monaghan, you have my thanks), and from other storytellers, I learnt how to plan and imagine a story or whole other world from a snippet in a book and, perhaps most importantly, that it’s OK to change a story.

‘Perhaps this is what young people are best at – changing things up. Maybe it’s why we need more young tellers. As a young woman, some stories I encountered just felt wrong, like ‘The Selkie Bride’. For those of you who don’t know the myth, it’s about a man who tricks a female selkie into becoming his partner through lies and deception. Parts of the story personally felt uncomfortable but some aspects, like the selkies playing in the moonlight, I really loved. Thousands of people know it, it’s in countless anthologies and collections, but it’s a tale old enough to look after itself and I realised my updated version – where the selkie’s sister rescues her and hits the fisherman over the head with his own violin – is not going to bring the ancient traditions crumbling down around my head.

‘Despite this, when performing at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival (SISF) in October 2018, I still felt nervous about sharing a remastered version of ‘The Five Sisters of Kintail’ (who want to stay young forever to have fun, be free and not have to marry) in case it was against a previously undiscovered storytelling bylaw. However, even though I was the youngest performer there and the only school age person to attend the storytelling in education workshop, everyone was incredibly lovely. If I didn’t already know that storytelling was my passion, SISF told me. It felt like an extended family – everyone knew everyone else, happily showed you about and introduced you to new people, shared stories and offered advice. I essentially lived in the Scottish Storytelling Centre Café for a week – with my wonderful mum, now also a convert to the storytelling cause – soaking it all in, performing, learning, reading and generally trying to make a permanent imprint of it all on my brain.

‘What’s Your Story?, Lari Don and my amazing experience at the SISF taught me so much about storytelling, but I still have lots to learn. At some point in the future I’d love to take part in the Storytelling Apprenticeship, and work towards getting on the Directory of Storytellers, and I hope to study Scottish Ethnology at university. Currently, it’s hard to get opportunities to tell stories as a young person outside your school environment, and within school it can also be hard – I’d be very grateful to anyone who could persuade my teachers that storytelling is a worthwhile thing to be doing with your life. Very grateful indeed! Exams also seem to eat time (I should probably be studying instead of writing this, but maths should always be balanced out by stories. That should probably be the law).

‘Currently I’m working on a project that is essentially my response to Brexit. With a Dutch mum and an Orcadian dad, sometimes I feel like I’m being split in half. This feeling of dissonance between my two passports has grown in the last few years, and I realised that while I tell numerous Scottish trad tales, my knowledge of Dutch folklore was obscure to say the least. When I was investigating Dutch stories, I began to wonder how many of my Polish, French, German and other myriad nationalities of friends and acquaintances knew any stories from their own countries.

‘I am asking my friends, teachers and acquaintances for their childhood stories as well as their own personal stories, and to share them out – a German story to my Polish friend, a Dutch story to a French teacher. It’s fascinating as through this process I’m hearing more and more of my teenage friends, who never understand why I spent my evenings researching, practicing and telling stories, share stories of their own. I’ve told my English class a tale from Ecuador, heard Syrian folktales and stories of flying into Aberdeen for the first time on bonfire night with fireworks in the sky. Also, a friend once made my cry by telling me five wonderful polish folktales as a birthday present.

‘I’m not entirely sure where this project is going. All I know is that more and more young people are beginning to find their stories and share them. More and more young people are beginning to connect through story to people from different continents and cultures. And right at this moment, the more connected we are, the better. Scotland is the Scotland it is today – music, story, infrastructure, food, dance, culture and beyond – through people from different places sharing their knowledge and imagination. And I want to be able to tell that story.’

Ailsa Dixon is from Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire and enjoys storytelling and writing around her studies. She was on the long list of the annual Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2017 and was selected for Scottish Book Trust’s coveted What’s your Story? mentorship in 2018.

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