This year, for me, has been all about Scottish Traveller, Duncan Williamson. I’ve been working on a project, digitising and listening to his recordings of traditional stories and songs as well as reminiscences about his life. I’ve had time to think about what I learned during my storytelling apprenticeship with him, why stories are so important and consider how best to take the tradition on.
One of the many new connections and friendships I’ve made through the project is with Heather Yule. Heather is working with another great Scottish Traveller tradition bearer’s material, Stanley Robertson, in a similar way to my work with Duncan’s stories and songs. Both Stanley and Duncan had a huge repertoire of Jack tales. Jack is a central figure in all Western folklore, but particularly to the Travellers. He is fundamental to the values, ethics and soul of The Travelling People. It happened one time that Heather was telling a Jack story at an event. A woman came up to her afterwards to ask, “Why Jack? Why is it always Jack? Why can’t we have a female heroine?”
This made Heather – and me – think. Neither of us had ever had a problem with Jack. Jack is Jack. But we both began to question our relationship with those stories. Continue reading “The Cradle of All New Jack Tales”
When I talk to anyone about Duncan and ask what he was like, I hear all kinds of stories, but everyone always ends up talking about how generous he was. Duncan was many things to many people, but all agree about his great heart and that he really did have a soul of generosity.
Duncan was the original Jack. Jack, like Duncan, is many things – quick-thinking, self-reliant, adventurous – but at his core, he is generous. So many stories start with Jack’s mother giving him the choice of ‘Take a whole bannock with my curse, or half a bannock with my blessing’.
Jack would never take the whole bannock – the curse or blessing is almost irrelevant – he would never take extra for himself, to leave his mother with less. When Jack sits down to eat his half bannock and a stranger appears, he shares his meal without thought or hesitation. It’s an accepted line in a story. It rolls off the tongue and we accept it as part of the formula. I think it’s rare that the storyteller or listener ever stop to think about it very much, except that Jack has followed story protocol and will probably be rewarded for it later. But when you do stop and think, it is an enormous act of generosity, done without regret or bitterness. Jack shares his food with a smile. They sit, eat, talk and share company together and when Jack walks on, he has nothing left in his pockets. Whatever happens later in the story, this is the act of a hero. He has no idea where or when he will next be able to find something to eat or drink. He has faith in the world and his own abilities. When tomorrow comes, when hunger comes, then he will deal with it. How many of us could do that? Share our last meal and not begrudge the giving of it in some small part of ourselves? Continue reading “Generosity: A True Act of Heroism”
I am sat on a rather beaten up train, each person sat near me staring into phones, tablets and laptops, plugged into the digital world. I’m on my way home from a Digital Skills for Storytellers Sharing Day put on by Beyond the Border in Cardiff. Digital skills and digital storytelling is a fiery topic in the storytelling world. Some storytellers dig their heels in and have as little to do with technology as possible, eschewing mobile phones and televisions; resisting the threat of any dilution of the intimate connection of live storytelling. Most have ventured as far as maintaining a website and FaceBook page. Some intrepid few are launching themselves into the world of live streaming, Facebook events and Skype storytelling clubs. Personally, I think it is almost impossible to put on any event without interacting online… and as I try to reduce the plastic in my life, replacing the process of laminating posters and driving to various remote notice boards with facebook events seems like the ethical way to go (even though I know there are moral issues with Facebook!). But that barely brushes the edge of using digital tools. The possibilities opened by technology are huge! While I find the prospect daunting – the time eaten by technology and the array of constant new skills demanded, I’m determined that if I’m going to enter this brave new world, there’s no point unless I embrace it wholeheartedly, play with it and make use of the myriad opportunities rather than dabbling in the shallow (on every level) waters. Continue reading “Digitial Skills for Storytellers Sharing Day”