Tuesday, 10 March 2009


This photograph shows the great Scottish storyteller, Duncan Williamson on a visit to the small Norfolk school where I was teaching in 1992. Here's a quote from Hugh Lupton about him:

It was Duncan who told me that when you tell a story, or sing a song, the person you heard it from is standing behind you. When that person spoke, he, in turn, had a teller behind him, and so on, back and back and back. I love this idea, the story has to speak to its own time, but the teller has also to be true to the chain of voices that inform him or her.

You can read more from Hugh Lupton about storytelling here. I was lucky enough to spend a whole day with Duncan, listening to him telling the children story after story, interspersed with songs and tunes on the harmonica, and I often tell stories that he told that day, hearing his voice in my head. He had a very special way of beginning a story so that you were aware that it was part of that chain of voices. Here's an example from The King and the Lamp from Fireside Tales of the Traveller Children.

Now, I want to tell you a good story, and I hope you're going to like it. The story is one my daddy used to tell me when I was wee, because I was very fond of a story and I used to say to him, "Tell us some stories Daddy!" See, when we were carrying on and being wild, Daddy used to say, "Come on and I'll tell you a story!" So you be quiet and listen. And some day when you're big and have wee babies, you can tell them the same story I'm telling you!"

No one can resist that invitation - "Come on and I'll tell you a story." Children who are angry, fed-up, bored or even out of control go quiet. They want to know what happened. Somehow, by telling a story you give it weight, because it's coming directly from you. There's a kind of mystery about where the story comes from, which is the mystery of memory, a direct expression of ourselves like singing or dancing, and I think that's what children (and adults) respond to.

Duncan Williamson died in 2007. You can read about his life here.

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