Stories on the Way – a Q&A with our Apprentice Storytellers

Scotland has a vibrant group of new storytellers, honing their skills and developing their craft with the help of the Centre’s Storytelling Apprenticeship, led by Janis Mackay. On Friday 22 April, the group will perform their favourite tales at Stories on the Way, a showcase of the skills and stories they’ve developed over the course of the programme. We spoke to five of the apprentices – Anne Hunter, Beth Hamilton-Cardus, Mark Borthwick, Kirsty Thomson and Rowan Morrison – about what brought them to storytelling, their favourite tellers, and which stories they’ll be sharing with us next Friday.

What is the Storytelling Apprenticeship?

Rowan: A storytelling apprentice is someone who is passionate about honing the craft of traditional oral storytelling and aspires to becoming a registered storyteller at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. They are engaged in a process of peer education and share their skills and stories with the other apprentices and are guided in this process by the wonderful Janis MacKay.

What brought you to Storytelling?

Mark: I grew up in the Merry Neet tradition of the North of England, and as such I was exposed to a lot of storytelling in ceilidhs and shepherding circles. I knew I wanted to be part of performances which made people think and feel in an involved way. I tried a number of mediums, and after a while I realized storytelling was the common thread running through them all. So I decided to cut the fluff and tell more stories!

Rowan: My grandmothers were both great storytellers and singers, so I was brought up listening to a range of stories and songs and it was this legacy that inspired me to learn stories in the hope that these old traditions would be passed down and kept alive for future generations.

Beth: My friend and colleague Andrew Coull, who’s also performing at Stories on the Way, introduced me to storytelling – I’m a writer and performer and loved how storytelling let him bring these two skills together. Eventually I got the confidence, in a large part due to the Scottish Storytelling Centre apprenticeship programme, to really give it a go myself. I still really look up to him as a storyteller (but don’t tell him that!).

Kirsty: I was brought up listening to great biblical stories in church; then, as a teacher, I found the joy of sharing historical stories to young people. I’m also a children’s storyteller for ‘It’s in the bag’, where I tell creative and magical stories to under 6s.

Anne: A journey through time and space!

What was the first story you remember telling – to one person or more – and who did you tell it to?

Anne: When I was twelve years old, I told the girl next door that I was an identical twin. Swearing her to secrecy, I explained that my parents’ poverty had forced them to send one of us to America for adoption. Emily, my twin sister, visited us only rarely, and, because of my parents’ shame spent her visits confined to the house. Our only distinguishing feature was a small red birth mark under Emily’s chin. Upstairs in my bedroom I applied the said birthmark with my elder sister’s lipstick and emerged, complete with American accent, as the unfortunate, but effervescent, sister Emily.

Rowan: The first story I remember telling was at a family gathering, when I was about 10. I dressed up as an old woman called Nellie and told a very tale tall. I still remember the laughter that filled the room that rainy day.

Beth: I started telling stories when I was really wee, usually to my mum (my grandad was always a willing audience too) – I didn’t know much about the oral tradition then, being under 5, but I liked telling my own versions of whatever I was being read at bedtime, so I think I added to the Chronicles of Narnia with pretty careless abandon.

Kirsty: I set upon my storytelling journey in my second year as a history teacher in 2002, when Bea Ferguson taught us The Princess With the Cold, Cold Heart. I was singing in a choir at the time and in the break I was teaching the altos the actions and telling the story. 

Mark: I was probably about thirteen. I had heard the story of Brother Jacuntus from a costumed entertainer at a Roman fort somewhere and thought it was so brilliant that I told it at Sue O’Connor’s birthday Ceilidh the next week. I can’t remember if I was invited to or not. If you’re reading this, Sue, I’m sorry!

If you could pick anyone to swap stories with, who would it be and why?

Beth: I really enjoy Duncan Williamson‘s stories and so would love to hear anything he would have told – I don’t think I’d have had much to offer back but hey, storytelling is all about participating. Duncan Williamson’s stories are my favourites for telling to children as they really tap into a range of emotions and moral issues and are great for getting a discussion going.

Mark: Tom Waits! He has such a strong mythos surrounding his person yet no-one knows anything about him. He lives in seclusion in California and it’s pretty clear he wants to be left that way. What is it like to be the living progenitor of the great American songbook? That man is going to take some extraordinary stories to his grave. If I could have a beer with anybody it would be him for sure.

Rowan:  It would have to be Oscar Wilde, as I loved his stories when I was a child.

Anne: My mother. She always listens with love in her heart and her stories remind me to try and be the best person I can.

Kirsty: Mother Theresa – her ability to see hope in hopeless situations, to bring life where everyone else saw death – I’d like to hear her stories and walk in her shoes as she shared her life.

What can we expect to hear from you on Fri 22 Apr?

Anne: A tale of love and sorrow, trial and endurance, lily leaves and transformation.

Mark: I’ve been working my way through the archive of Duncan Williams recording and I’m love love loving the Scottish traveller tales at the minute. Such a rich tradition! This weekend I also went to a storytelling masterclass at Settle Festival with Martin Shaw. I’m so enamoured with his rhythmic, measured and thoughtful style of telling. He leads the listener from one thing to the next with such ease. I’d love to combine the two, and put some new meat on those old bones.

Beth: I’ll be telling The Giantess and the Plook – it’s a story that originally comes from Skye but I’ve reset it on the Forth. I’m from Fife but lived in Edinburgh for years, so I may be playing up to certain stereotypes about the two areas… 

Rowan: I’ll be telling a version of a story called the Dream Makers – you’ll have to come along on the night to find out more about this Celtic tale.

Stories on the Way takes place at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Fri 22 Apr, 7.30pm. Book tickets.