"Become aware what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart

07 December 2014

From the Furnace of Failure

"10,000 failures are worth more than one success." Thomas Edison

I want to share a story with you. But only read it if you know what it’s like to feel a failure. If you know that feeling, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Back in 2007, my world collapsed. My 25-year marriage had come to a devastating end. Suddenly, I was alone. My wife was gone; my kids; my in-laws; and many of our friends. I had to move away from the community I had come to love and call home.

Don’t feel sorry for me. It was my call. I was desperate and I made what I thought was the right decision and I didn’t make it lightly.

I moved into an empty flat, which a friend had recently sold. I had a month to get my life together before the new tenants moved in.

To make matters worse, I had given up my full-time teaching job two years earlier to develop my dream of being a storyteller and coach. In addition to no longer having a family, I had no clients and few prospects. My confidence, my self-esteem, and my bank account were at an all-time low.

I started myself telling an age-old story—that I was being punished, that I was a failure, that the world was against me. And guess what? I believed it because that's exactly how I felt. My choice of story was disempowering me, making me feel sick and depressed. I made myself the "hero" of my tragic tale. I sealed myself up in a fortress of failure of my own making.

Then, in November 2008, I received a call to adventure—an invitation to join a small band of international storytellers who’d been invited to the Middle East to work with groups of Arabs and Jews and perform at a storytelling festival in Galilee.

But there was a catch—it would cost me all the money I had left.

I applied only to learn that the deadline had passed weeks earlier. But several days later, I received a call from the organisers informing me that someone had dropped out and would I still like to come. I said YES!

That experience was to become transformative. It was the beginning of my "new story".

Working with Israelis and Palestinians and listening to their stories was a humbling experience. Experiencing the power of story to bring people together, to listen to one another, to try and understand one another, was so moving.

When I returned to Scotland from the Holy Land, I was living my passion for storytelling and eager to help others share their stories too.

I set up my StoryCoaching business and started advertising. I travelled to Canada and gave talks on my Middle East experiences. I wrote about them, published them on my blog and in a few magazines, and gave radio interviews. I also started giving storytelling workshops and talks about my passion for story.

Soon, people started coming to me interested in learning more about storytelling and wanting to share their stories. They came from different walks of life—business, education, health, government, religion & spirituality, art and culture—but all had one thing in common: the willingness to venture into the world of story and discover their voice.

And as my story changed, so did my fortune. I received generous support from Creative Scotland which enabled me to travel back to Canada to coach young people in storytelling skills, then to go to Denmark to work with the renowned psychiatrist and storyteller Lewis Mehl-Madrona. I sought out coaching, undertaking a three-year online training with American storytelling coach Doug Lipman. I was given support and practical advice from motivational coaches and storytellers like Brendon Burchard, Michael Margolis, Laura Simms, Shawn Callahan, and Lisa Bloom. And importantly, I received support to begin a year-long mentorship with David Campbell, one of Scotland’s premier storytellers.

I learned a great deal from David during our afternoon talks over lunch, and in our sharing of stories with one another. He watched and listened to me carefully and gave constructive feedback. I reciprocated with his tellings. Together we delved deeper into the nature of storytelling, revealing our inner landscapes from which our stories were born. He shared a wealth of experience gained during the years of his friendship with Traveller storyteller Duncan Williamson and he listened intently as I shared my life experiences.

During those conversations, I began to see my failure as a marriage partner and father in a different light. I was not casting my responsibility into the shadows, but rather finding new meaning in my emerging story. It served no one for me to live an old story of failure and self-loathing. It had only taken me down a long, dark tunnel of despair. But by deepening my understanding of and commitment to my inner storyteller, I was beginning to see my failure as an important catalyst to change. Out of the crucible of my mistakes, misjudgements, and melancholy a new story was taking form and I was being transformed by it. And in his way, David was an important witness to that transformation.

And that’s when it hit me.

We all need a witness, someone willing to create the space and time to listen, someone who will listen to your story “eye to eye, mind to mind, and heart to heart,” as the Travellers tell us.

A StoryCoach provides that time and space to his clients. I listen to your stories, I ask you questions, I reflect back what I hear and experience, and I open a window into the world of story.

When you work with me, I help you hone your natural talents like voice, gestures, and body movement to tell a story with confidence and deep understanding. I give you time to find the meaning in your story. Together, we turn your passion and life experiences into engaging, inspiring, and transformative stories that you can use in your life and work. You become a more communicative and effective leader, artist, teacher, coach, parent, or whatever role you take on in the world.

In 2012, an Aberdeen-based leadership consultancy invited me to co-facilitate the Aberdeen Leadership Forum, a group of oil and gas executive leaders interested in exploring the transformative power of business narrative. Over a year, we set out on a heroic journey, sharing our experiences and crafting stories out of them. We gained a deeper understanding of the mythical and narrative patterns in our lives, of archetypes, and how these applied to our leadership roles. Each member created a powerful public narrative embedded with values, with character, and with purpose, presence, and passion. With coaching, each member learned to tell those stories with an authentic voice, confident and true.

I’m a successful StoryCoach today not because I failed my marriage and my family, but because of what I did with that failure. When an old story stopped working and threatened my well being, I was forced to create a new one. It required taking risks—like spending money, embracing conflict, seeking the help of mentors and coaches—and stepping across the threshold into the unknown.

If this story resonates with you, then I suspect that you too are standing at the threshold, ready to make a change, ready to discover your voice, your story.

The fact that you’ve read this far tells me you hear your call to adventure.

As Lao-Tzu reminds us, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Begin by answering this question in the comments section below:

“What difference would it make to your business and your life, if you were living and telling the story that really mattered to you?”

I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks!


20 November 2014

New Storytelling Resources

Are you a creative artist in the fields of dance, song, music, or storytelling? Looking for resources to help you plan workshops and trainings? or to extend your repertoire of activities?

Then go no further than http://www.tracscotland.org/tracs/resources where you'll find dozens of helpful activities, exercises and other ideas all free to download as .pdf files. (You'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read them).

For you storytellers, you can download my resource "Storytelling for Young People" right here, right now.

After you've downloaded your free resources, take time to explore the TRACS website to learn more about these wonderful traditional arts.

05 November 2014

Changing Your Inside Story

#StoryCoaching is all about helping people find the right stories to tell and tell them effectively. This is especially important when going for the all-important job interview.  You've read through the application and job description. The employer has told you some of their story in the information they sent you, but what story are you going to tell them? Much depends on the story you're telling yourself.

As a story coach, I encourage my clients to recognise the narrative thoughts that threaten to sabotage their success, what Susan Whitcomb calls ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts). Then, I help them create a new story, one that is positive and affirming.

The following "tips" are taken from Susan Britton Whitcomb's article "Changing the Inside Story: the Story You Tell Yourself is More Important than the Story You Tell Your Employers" (http://www.quintcareers.com/changing_inside_story.html). In it, Susan offers a few tips for the prospective job candidate, which can help manage the "inside story". Both coaches and clients will find it invaluable. It was prepared for Job Action Day 2014 (Nov 3rd).

Consider These Tips for Managing Your Inside Story

Notice the narrative without judging yourself. It's important that we not deride ourselves further for the narrative thoughts, because that only exacerbates the situation. Just notice the thoughts, such as, "I hear those ANTs again [Automatic Negative Thoughts]. Interesting. I hadn't realized what I was thinking."

Shift out of the Narrative Network. Get into a different network -- the Experiential Network -- a state where we are very aware of ourselves and our surroundings, taking in information through our five senses. For example, "I notice that I'm hungry; I can hear the fan of my computer kicking on; the sky is an interesting shade of blue right now."

Go for gratitude. Gratitude can change the chemistry inside our bodies, releasing serotonin, dopamine, and other neurochemicals that make us feel good. Speak your gratitude aloud, even if just to yourself. Extend gratitude not just for the people in your life, but to yourself, as well. For example, I am grateful for the strengths I have that are helping me manage this transition.

Write a new story with a happy ending. Rehearse it. Positive visualizations create new neural wiring in our brains, which makes it easier for us to repeat the same success in the future. For example, "I can see myself meeting with my networking contact this afternoon. I walk in with shoulders back, head held high, smile on my face. I am using my strengths as a researcher to connect with him and understand his background and his needs. I listen and respond in ways that create trust so he's more comfortable referring me to others."

Click here to read the entire article.

If you have any thoughts on managing the "inside story", leave your comments below. I'd love to hear from you.

30 October 2014

A Hallowe'en Story; or what Samhain means to me

This weekend, millions of pumpkins and turnips will be transformed into devilish-grinning lanterns lighting the way for millions of children to haunt the streets in their ghoulish costumes seeking sweets, bobbing or “dooking” for apples, and playing pranks of one sort or another.

It is, of course, Hallowe’en.

And while it may not be apparent to many children (or even their parents) “Hallowe’en” is actually a contraction for “All Hallows Eve”, a day in the Christian calendar when traditionally we remember the departed. But the story is older and deeper than that.

Hallowe’en is a Christian re-imagining (or re-appropriation) of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sah-when), a word from the Old Irish meaning “the end of summer”. Thus, it came to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new year, winter, the time of darkness. As in many cultures that mark these important transition times, fires were often lit and various rituals carried out to cleanse and purify and prepare for the season of death and dying.

It was also a time when it was thought that the veil between this world and the next became thin and more transparent. In Celtic mythology, it was a time when faeries and other spirits could more easily enter into the mortal world. Even the souls of the dead were thought to be able to return to visit their homes and families. Thus, it was important to appease these spirits with offerings of food and drink. Families would set a place at their table for their departed ones. Masks or disguises were worn to ward off the mischievous fairy folk. Folk went from door to door reciting song or verse in exchange for food or perhaps a chunk of coal for their fire. Often, they carried hollowed out turnips or “neeps” with a candle placed inside to use as lanterns. This tradition led to the story of the “Jack-o-lantern”.

The Story of Jack O’Lantern
Jack, the story goes, was a rather rakish, thieving fellow who frequently took what wasn’t his (he had a fondness for turnips) and committed all sorts of crimes against his fellow man. Such was Jack’s craftiness that he even outwits the Devil, causing the old fellow to ban Jack from Hell. Later, Jack dies while stealing turnips. He suddenly finds himself before St Peter at the pearly gates. However, St Peter makes it clear that Jack is not welcome in Heaven and sends him on his way to the underworld. Jack arrives and knocks on the iron door. When the Devil sees Jack, he chases him off, telling him to return to the upper world. When Jack complains that he can’t find his way in the darkness, the Devil throws him a lump of burning coal, which Jack places inside the turnip he’s still carrying — thus the origin of the “Jack of the lantern”. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see how these stories and customs evolved into our present-day guising and dressing up in ghoulish costumes.

And if you think these stories are just a bit of harmless fun, I can tell you that they still have power to offend and create anxiety. A few years ago, I was invited to a Scottish primary school to tell Hallowe’en stories. When I arrived, the Head Teacher took me aside, as we were about to enter the room full of expectant children, and asked me not to tell any stories that mentioned “death” or the “Devil”!

I told a few innocent stories about pumpkins and witches before coming to my key story — the story of Samhain and the old Celtic tale of Jack O’Lantern. The children listened carefully and quietly as I unveiled this ancient festival and its customs before settling down to my story of Jack O’Lantern, a story I learned from the telling of the great Traveller storyteller Duncan Williamson.

I’m not saying I was right in telling the story against the instructions of the Head Teacher. I made an intuitive choice. I felt the story was part of our shared Celtic heritage, a link to our ancestors. I wasn’t there to glorify Devil-worship or overthrow moral authority. I was simply going to tell an ancient story which partly explained what was behind the plastic pumpkins on the shelves around them, the silhouetted witches on broomsticks tacked on their walls and the little cloth ghosts that hung from their ceiling. You may have done otherwise; I wouldn’t judge you. But I believed in the story and that it was right to tell it.

When I got to the part of the story that mentioned the Devil, the teacher glared at me. The children simply laughed at Jack’s wit and the Devil’s stupidity. When I finished the story, the children applauded; many spoke out saying how much they enjoyed it. One little girl in the front row put up her hand to get my attention. “My Grandad’s told me that story,” she grinned, “and he says at Hallowe’en that the barrier between this world and the other one is very thin . . .” Suddenly, the teacher intervened, “Quiet Heather (not her real name), I’m sure Mr Williams doesn’t want to hear that nonsense!”

Immediately, the girl shrunk under the weight of the teacher’s authority. I knelt down in front of Heather and said (loudly enough for the teacher to hear), “Actually, I’m pleased to hear that. I’m glad that your Grandfather tells you stories. I’m sure he’s a wise man.” Heather gave me a little smile while at the same time keeping an eye on her disapproving teacher. As the teacher escorted the children from the classroom, Heather and a few other children lingered behind to say how much they enjoyed the story and ask me if the story was true. I said, as I often do to such a question, “The story may not seem true on the outside but there is truth on the inside if we look for it.”

Needless to say, I was never invited back to that school. Perhaps you’ll feel I had no right to defy the Head Teacher’s request, that it was unprofessional and jeopardised the possibility of the School hiring other storytellers in the future; or you might feel, as I did, that the story was an important one to tell in the context of the Hallowe’en festival that was being celebrated. I also based my decision on my experience over many years as a counsellor and child care worker, working with children and young people in therapeutic settings. In my experience, children need to talk about death, about things that frighten them, about the mysteries of what lies beyond this world just as their ancestors did centuries ago. When adults deny these realities or refuse to discuss them openly, children become even more anxious. It seems to me that Samhain was an expression of our Celtic ancestors’ questions about death and what lay beyond this moral coil.

For me, Samhain is a time to reflect on my attitude to death and dying and particularly on my relationship with those in my life who have gone on before me. It’s a time when I remember—as do many cultures—my ancestors and dear departed friends. That’s why on this All Hallows Eve or Samhain, I have invited friends to join me around the fire to share stories and memories of our dear departed friends and relations. We will invite their spirits to be present with us, for I believe they’ll love a good story as much as anyone does. After all, no one is truly dead as long as he or she is remembered and their stories told.

Blessings for a meaningful, story-filled Samhain/Hallowe’en/All Hallows Eve.

I’d like to leave you with this poignant poem by the late Irish poet John O’Donohue.

On Passing A Graveyard

May perpetual light shine upon
The faces of all who rest here.
May the lives they lived
Unfold further in spirit.
May the remembering earth
Mind every memory they brought.
May the rains from the heavens
Fall gently upon them.
May the wildflowers and grasses
Whisper their wishes into the light.
May we reverence the village of presence
In the stillness of this silent field.

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara
see also www.johnodonohue.com

I welcome your comments. If you are interested in furthering your own exploration of story and storytelling, contact me to enquire how storycoaching might assist you.

22 August 2014

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Recognise those lines above? They appear over and over on blogs, websites, inspirational literature and speeches. You may have used them yourself. I have. And I, like many others, attribute them to Germany's "Shakespeare", Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The trouble is, they're not by Goethe at all, but rather contrived by a Scottish mountaineer and writer, William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996).

Cover of Murray's
posthumous autobiography
I say "contrived" because Murray himself suggests that they were by Goethe, at least, he recalls them as a couplet from something Goethe wrote. But according to research carried out by the Goethe Society of North America in the late 90s, Goethe never wrote such words. There is no German source for them.

According to this research, Murray attributed this quote to Goethe in his 1951 book The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (J.M. Dent & Sons, London). In it, Murray recounts leading the Scottish mountaineering team on their first expedition to the Kumaon range in the Himalayas the year before when they succeeded in climbing five of the nine peaks attempted. According to Wikipedia (I admit, not always a reliable source itself), near the beginning of his book, Murray writes:
... but when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money— booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!
While Goethe would no doubt have echoed Murray's sentiments (he comes close in Faust), the German writer did not write these particular words attributed to him. So who did? That's still an open question. It has been suggested that Murray mis-remembered them from a early 19th-century 'loose' translation of Goethe's work by John Anster but this is not conclusive.

Until such time, perhaps we can attribute them to the Scottish mountaineer who climbed to great heights in the Himalayas. At least you can point to a printed source although it will cost you a small fortune to obtain a copy of your own. It's been reported that Murray's book is out of print and commands prices in excess of £100 from antique book sellers.

But the point is, sources are important. Until we can identify a source, we can't honestly attribute words to anyone without misleading the reader or listener. That's why I urge storytellers to acknowledge the source of their story -- where did you find the story or from whom did you hear it? It's just common courtesy to recognise those upon whose shoulders we stand. I think even Mr Murray would have appreciated that.

Learn more about W.H. Murray and Scottish mountaineering at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._H._Murray and http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/m/whmurray.html

07 August 2014

Teller and the Tale with guest storyteller Elly Crichton Stuart

Elly Crichton Stuart
This week on The Teller and the Tale, I catch up with Scottish storyteller Elly Crichton Stuart to talk about her life as a storyteller and to hear her share one of her favourite stories.

Elly is a mindfulness practitioner who is passionate about storytelling, performance and poetry as tools for transformation. Working with heart, humour and creativity, Elly aspires to lead people on a journey towards wholeness.

Elly trained at Arts Educational Drama School and worked as a performer and workshop leader for many years.

In 2003 she left The Unicorn Theatre for Children, where she had worked for 6 years, to go to The School of Storytelling at Emerson College. In 2006 she returned to Essex University (M.A in Art History 1980) to study The Tale with Marina Warner.

Elly has toured the UK as a performer since 1987 and worked all over the world as a storyteller since 2004. She is currently training adults and young people in Scotland as storytellers, and running self-development workshops for adults on Nourishing ourselves through the senses and story, and Storytelling for forgiveness. (More about Elly at www.ellystoryteller.com)

Listen to Elly on The Teller and the Tale only on Blues and Roots Radio (www.bluesandrootsradio.com) at the following times:

Sunday 10 August at 7am EST (Canada/US) and 12 noon BST (UK/Ireland)

Tuesday 12 August at 8pm EST (Canada/US) and 1am BST (UK/Ireland)

Thursday 14 August at 4pm EST (Canada/US) and 9pm BST (UK/Ireland)

Go to www.bluesandrootsradio.com and click on the "Listen Live" button.

More about the Teller and the Tale at www.thetellerandthetale.com and at www.facebook.com/thetellerandthetale.

03 July 2014

Whose stories do you miss?

Geschichtenerzählerin ("The Storyteller")
by Karl Joseph Brodtmann (1787-1862)
Living here in Scotland, I've come to appreciate how storytelling is such a rich part of the cultural fabric here. The travellers, in particular, have nourished the storytelling tradition over generations.

Growing up in Canada, I never thought of myself being part of such a "storytelling" family or culture. I grew up on stories "told" through television and books.

Yet recently, I've become more acutely aware of the stories told in my own family, particularly by grandparents, aunts and uncles. In fact, now that both my parents have passed on, I find myself not only missing them, but missing their stories. No matter how old I got, I never tired of listening to my Mom tell the story of my birth or stories of my childhood. I miss my Dad's stories of the Depression and growing up through the War. And I miss the jokes, anecdotes and funny stories shared by my grandparents, aunts and uncles at family parties. Most of all, I miss being able to call my Mom or Dad and asking them about the past, about things that happened, about relations that I can't recall but know that they would know. I miss their stories, their memories.

I'd be interested in your thoughts and reflections on your storied past. Whose stories do you miss?
Leave your comments below.

01 July 2014

The Teller and the Tale with guest storyteller Calum Lykan

This week, the Teller and the Tale presents Edinburgh storyteller Calum Lykan. Calum is one of Scotland's up-and-coming young storytellers; he's also a highly sought-after tour guide who knows his way around the narrow closes and wynds of Edinburgh's Old Town as well as the stories that haunt these secret places.

Recently, Calum has teamed up with artist Chris Rutterford to stage a 2-week performance in the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. Entitled "An Audience with Bannockburn", Calum and Chris transformed the Storytelling Centre into their private fiefdom, resplendent with period costume, banners, and a battle re-enactment video installation. The public has also been invited to have their portraits included within a huge mural depicting the Scottish troops.

3 Questions for the Storyteller Calum Lykan

1. Who or what called you to storytelling?
Although I’m relatively new to telling I still sometimes struggle to remember what brought me to this path and started me on the journey. I drifted for many years without focus or even an idea of what I wanted from life. Then one day I was put on a stage to deliver a historical talk (absolutely terrifying) but afterwards I realised I was still in one piece and the world hadn't ended and actually I rather enjoyed the experience. So I sought out other avenues to perform which brought me to Tour Guiding. Telling gruesome and grisly tales of old Edinburgh was my first telling experience and I saw how the stories captivated and entranced the audience, it was like casting a spell.

From this I started to attend courses and performances of Storytellers and my love for the tell began. Couple this with some of the most wonderful storytellers who were more than happy to help a young pup out with advice and kind words of encouragement. To them I will be eternally grateful as without the support I may never have continued.

2. What was the last story you performed or told?
I love to tell traditional Scottish Folk and Fairy tales but recently I have experimented with one or two of my own invention. So the last tale I told was about the Great Kilt which I wear and how it can sometimes get you in to trouble or just plain cause you embarrassment.

3. Who's your favourite storyteller?
Difficult question which could cause me to become a pariah in Edinburgh. So I’ll answer honestly. I do not have a favourite. My favourite storyteller whose tales I use most often is the late great Duncan Williamson. However active tellers that I love listening to as each delivers a tale so differently and uniquely are David Campbell for his use of language which is exquisite and the emotion of his delivery, yourself Michael Williams for the tone and delivery of a tale as it just settles the audience in to a wonderful evening, Donald Smith if your lucky to hear him, passionate and humorous with a laugh that can shake walls and Gerry Durkin for the energy, humour and sheer joy he brings to stories.

Don't miss my conversation with Calum Lykan on the Teller and the Tale, beginning Sunday morning June 29th at 7am EST (Canada/US) and 12 noon BST (UK/Ireland), only on Blues and Roots Radio (www.bluesandrootsradio.com).

The show will be repeated on Tuesday July 1st at 8pm EST (Canada/US) and 1am BST (UK/Ireland) and again on Thursday July 3rd at 4pm EST (Canada/US) and 9pm BST (UK/Ireland).

Remember, if you miss the show you can catch up at the end of the week at http://tellerandthetale.blogspot.co.uk/  where you can listen again to past programmes.

20 June 2014

Teller and the Tale with guest storyteller Alette Willis

Storyteller Alette Willis
Born in the UK, brought up in Canada, and now living in Edinburgh, Scotland, Alette Willis is a world-class storyteller.

She was awarded a PhD in Human Geography from Carleton University in Ottawa in 2008 and later moved to Edinburgh where she works as a narrative researcher and teacher at Edinburgh University's Dept of Counselling and Psychotherapy. "My research," she explains, "focuses on how people use narratives to give meaning to their lives and to make ethical choices, both in crisis moments and everyday life."

In July 2014 she teams up with storyteller and psychologist Steven Killick to host the colloquium "Storytelling in Health and Well-Being" at the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling, University of South Wales in association with the Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival.

Alette's also an award-winning author, winning the 2011 Kelpie Prize for Fiction for the novel How To Make a Golem (and Terrify People) (Floris Books).

In addition to her academic and writing talents, Alette is a creative and engaging storyteller with strong interests in the environment and ecology. She's been a regular contributor to the Royal Botanical Gardens "Talking Trees" storytelling project and has taken part in numerous science festivals where she uses story to explain cosmological concepts.

You can learn more about Alette and her work by visiting http://restoryingtheearth.com/ and http://www.nutshell-videos.ed.ac.uk/alette-willis-researching-stories/. . . .
. . . and, of course, listen in to our conversation on The Teller and the Tale where you'll hear Alette share a story about the little creatures that hold our universe together! It all starts this Sunday June 22nd at 7am EST (Canada/US) and 12 noon BST (UK/Ireland). You can also listen again on Tuesday June 24th at 8pm EST and 1am BST and on Thursday June 26th at 4pm EST and 9pm BST. All of this storytelling magic on Blues and Roots Radio. Simply go to www.bluesandrootsradio.com and click on the "Listen Live" button. Sit back and enjoy.
And if you miss it or want to listen again, you can always go to my blog at http://michaelwilliamsstoryteller.blogspot.com and catch up. You'll also find my previous shows and learn what I'm up to in the world of storytelling.

In the meantime, please go to the Teller and the Tale Facebook site and "Like" us and leave us a message.

And don't forget to drop in on Blues and Roots Radio for the best Celtic, folk, singer-songwriter, and blues (and storytelling) this side of heaven. Check out their Facebook page too and leave us a comment. We'd love to hear from you.

13 June 2014

The Teller and the Tale with guest storyteller Tracey Milliner

Storyteller Tracey Milliner
Next week on The Teller and the Tale, my guest storyteller will be Tracey Milliner. Tracey was born and raised in London, England. She grew up surrounded by a nurturing Jamaican community and has deep roots in the music and story of that culture.

However, her interests also branch into English and Celtic cultures. These different cultures intersect in her storytelling and writing. She has recently developed a children's character "Rastapixie", a mixed-race little girl from a Rastafarian background who travels to the land of the pixies to earn her wings. Tracey hopes the story will develop into a series of children's books. Judging from the writing and the illustrations I've seen we'll soon be seeing and enjoying her books soon.
Tracey Milliner's Rastapixie

When Tracey isn't busy writing, she can often be found singing and DJ-ing. Her family is musical and those influences have rubbed off on her-- funk, hip-hop, soul, Soca, African and, of course, reggae are all part of her repertoire. She's also a singer-songwriter too.

Learn more about Tracey and "Rastapixie" at www.traceymilliner.com or 'Like' her Facebook page at facebook.com/rastapixie.Rastapixie

Listen to my conversation with Tracey and hear her first "Rastapixie" story on The Teller and the Tale, starting Sunday June 15th at 7am EST (Canada/US) and 12noon BST (UK/Ireland), Tuesday June 17th at 8pm EST (Canada/US) and 1am (Wed) BST (UK/Ireland), and Thursday June 19th at 4pm EST (Canada/US) and 9pm BST (UK/Ireland).

Teller and the Tale on Blues and Roots Radio. Go to www.bluesandrootradio.com and click on "Listen Live".

06 June 2014

Teller and the Tale with guest storyteller Karen Gummo

Storyteller Karen Gummo

Karen Gummo lives in Calgary, Alberta in Canada. She is a storyteller and visual artist and has been a dedicated listener and lover of story for all of her days. Since 1986 she has been sharing favourite tales with willing audiences. Her Danish and Icelandic heritage provide her with countless sagas of the Vikings and of the humble folk of Scandinavia. Family members have been generous too in sharing tales of their adventures and so Karen continues to honour and to hone those remarkable stories.
Karen is very much involved in her local storytelling community. She's been instrumental in organising World Storytelling Day events and has been a long-standing member of both T.A.L.E.S. (The Alberta League Encouraging Storytelling) and the Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada). She's be attending the latter's annual conference in July 2014 at Summerside, Prince Edward Island.

3 Questions for Karen

Who or what called you to storytelling?
My inner need to share joy and love with others; a deep love of story instilled by my parents and a need to time travel and find out who I am; the witnessing of the power of listening circles to give voice to all and the low barrier of entry into the art – find a story you love and a willing listener...
What was the last story you performed or told?
My own personal tale of how the Dragon had possessed me to be a fool for storytellling! Before that it was the tale of Sigurd and Fafnir from the Volsung Saga.
Who's your favourite storyteller?
Too difficult to pick only one. I would say Bonnie Logan because she joins us through love to laugh deeply at ourselves.
Listen to Karen Gummo in conversation with host Michael Williams on the Teller and the Tale beginning Sunday June 8th at 7am EST (Canada/US) and 12noon BST (UK/Ireland), Tuesday June 10th at 8pm EST (Canada/US) / Wed 1am BST (UK/Ireland) and Thursday June 12th 4pm EST (Canada/US) and 9pm BST (UK/Ireland). Check out Blues and Roots Radio for times in your area and for other great programmes.

01 June 2014

Teller and the Tale with Margot Henderson

Margot Henderson is a Scots-Irish poet and storyteller, Her background lies in community education, integrative art therapy, creative writing and storytelling theatre. She has trained in both Shamanic and Buddhist traditions. Since 2002 Margot has been storytelling Fellow for Aberdeen and Writer in Residence for the Cromarty Arts Trust. She teaches Mindfulness Meditation and Creative Writing and is a Cultural Creative specialist with Nature Culture Scotland.

Sunday 1 June 2014 at 7am EST (Canada/US) and 12 noon BST (UK/Ireland) -- Tuesday 3 June 2014 at 8pm EST and 1am BST -- Thursday 5 June 2014 at 4pm EST and 9pm BST

Go to www.bluesandrootsradio.com and click on 'Listen Live'.

23 May 2014

Teller and the Tale with former animator, philosopher and storyteller Roger Way

Animator and storyteller Roger Way
Roger grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Canada's capital city Ottawa. Blessed with some artistic talent, he left school and fell in with Ottawa's local film community. Later he moved to Montreal where he got involved with the National Film Board and such artists as Bill Mason and Blake James.

During the mid-60s Roger moved to London, England where he landed a job as an assistant animator with the director Richard Williams. Roger worked on such films as Williams' neglected classic "The Thief and the Cobbler" and Robert Zemekis' "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". I caught up with him at the Ramnee Hotel in Forres, Scotland.

Roger loves to share stories of those days and to philosophise about life. He now makes his home in the north of Scotland where he's an elder of the Findhorn Community. I'm proud to call him a friend.

Catch the show on Blues and Roots Radio on Sunday May 25th at 7am EST (Canada/US) and 12noon BST (UK/Ireland) and again on Tuesday May 27th at 8pm EST and 1am (Wed) BST and once more on Thursday at 4pm EST and 9pm BST. After that you can come back to my blog at michaelwilliamsstoryteller.blogspot.co.uk and listen again to the show.

(This programme was first broadcast at the end of August 2013.)

17 May 2014

Teller and the Tale with guest storyteller Daru McAleece

Storyteller Daru McAleece
(photo credit Graeme Nisbet)
The Teller and the Tale with Daru McAleece
Daru McAleece is a Druid storyteller, performer and visual artist with a strong love of Nature, science-fiction and Celtic mythology. Although he was born and raised in Edinburgh, Daru has strong ancestral links with the Scottish Borders where he now lives. He currently works as a Forest Schools practitioner and is the founder of the Bardic Grove storytelling project.

When we last caught up with Daru, we posed a few questions put forward by our listeners --

• Who or what called you to storytelling?
My background is as an artist and designer, and my interest in storytelling began when my love of my love of narrative and image fused together in graphic novels by artists and writers such as Bill Sienkiewicz, Alan Moore, Dave McKean, Steve Bissette and Neil Gaiman. I actually got drawn towards becoming a storyteller through discovering the path of Druidry. This began with me going out to explore and learn more about my local landscape, especially learning more about the kind of trees present there. This experience culminated in my attending a Druid camp where I found a very supportive community, and took the leap to perform my first story in an evening session in a yurt, and was so inspired by the experience I have been telling stories ever since.

• What was the last story you performed or told?
The last story I told was based on a personal story in my life. Recently my partner's mother Maureen passed away and I was asked to share her story and celebration of her life by the family at her service. Out of this I recently performed the story of experiencing her passing and the road trip into Wales, the amazing (and even at times funny) journey of her family and meeting the West Wales community, characters and landscape as we created her service. The story woven also touched on memory, stories we tell and the nature of storytelling itself, and is one of my deepest experiences of creating a performed tale out of personal experience.

• Who's your favourite storyteller?
I am going to go non-traditional here and say Eddie Izzard. I find his butterfly mind quite wonderful and magical, as well as adoring his use of voice and characterisation. I saw him way, way back before he was a stand-up during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as a street performer - where I remember him in the middle of a slightly odd (and failing) escapology act where he threatened to cut the head off a teddy. Something about his style of verbal delivery hit the right note for me though and it was great to see him then make the leap to stage stand-up. Actually I don't see him as a comic at all, but someone who weaves together massive, rambling stories out of the odd and bizarre, pop culture, history, film the small moments of life - all peppered with sharp observation, albeit from a different angle.

Listen to my conversation with Daru, starting on Sunday 18th May at 7am EST (Canada/US) / 12noon BST (UK/Ireland) and again on Tuesday 20th May at 8pm EST (Canada/US) / 1am BST (UK/Ireland) and Thursday 4pm EST (Canada/US) / 9pm BST (Canada/US).

Blues and Roots Radio for the best in story and music from the independent artist.

02 May 2014

The Teller and the Tale with guest storyteller Allison Galbraith

Storyteller Allison Galbraith
Born in England to Scottish parents, Allison now lives in Lanark, south of Glasgow. [She also has Canadian connections -- her great, great grandfather Hugh Campbell emigrated in the 1920s settling in my hometown of Hamilton Ontario. His sister later married into the Emslie family, so if there are any Emslies reading this or listening to the show next week, get in touch.]

Allison started storytelling back in the 1980s when she started telling stories to Travellers' children in the Midlands. Since then, she's taken her passion for storytelling all over the UK. She has a wide repertoire of stories and accents with which to tell them. She loves nature stories and revels in tales of the faery folk from the Celtic tradition.

Learn more about Allison and her stories, beginning next week (beginning May 4th, 2014) on the Teller and the Tale on Blues and Roots Radio (www.bluesandrootsradio.com). Sunday at 12noon BST (UK/Ireland), Wednesday at 1am BST (UK/Ireland) and Thursday at 9pm BST (UK/Ireland). Check Blues and Roots Radio for times in your area.

Listeners of The Teller and the Tale asked 3 questions of our storytellers. Read on for Alison's answers.

1. What called you to storytelling?

In my first proper job - a part-time, community librarian - I used to entertain the local travelers' children, by reading them stories in the dinky one-room library. It was a very sad, rough depressed part of Wolverhampton, and these kids used to abscond from school and come into the library to see me. People were generally awful to these kids, they suffered from a lot of prejudice, and I've always had a huge instinct to support and love the underdog, no matter what, animal or human! So reading stories in the library was my first attempt to tell a story as part of a job.

When I moved to Glasgow in 1988, I was lucky enough to meet, befriend and share several flats with an American woman named Kate Kramer MacDonald. Kate had come to Glasgow as a musician and storyteller, and she opened my eyes to the world of story as an art form in its own right. Kate herself, had learned from a First Nations woman from the Ojibwa tribe in Minnesota, where Kate lived for some time in her own Ti-pi. Inspired by Kate I went on to tell stories for Glasgow libraries in the early 90s. I then spent a fantastic weekend learning to tell with the Conyach (travelers word for heart/soul), with a famous Scottish traveler and singer, called Sheila Stewart, at her home in the Highlands. At last I had learned to put the books down and tell the story, ''Eye to eye, heart to heart, mind to mind' (traveler saying).

Through the various transitions in my career, storytelling has always been present, as a performer, theatre director, dancer, drama lecturer, and finally - now - quite plain and simply as a freelance professional storyteller and workshop leader.

2. What was the last story you told?

I have been telling Spring stories outdoors (yes, outdoors in Scotland in March!) for the last four days. The last story was to a about forty toddlers, wee children and their parents, and is called, 'Two Birds in a Beard' I learned this from a CD by Mary Medlicott, a lovely Welsh storyteller. Its a very funny tale about why birds build their nests in trees and not beards - I always have some fun with anyone in the audience sporting a beard with this one.

3. Who's your favourite storyteller?

My favourite storyteller is probably Hugh Lupton, although I still have thousands more tellers to hear before I can really make my mind up for sure. I adored Duncan Williamson, while he was still alive and telling.

Thank you, Alison!

25 April 2014

Teller and the Tale with guest storyteller Peter Snow

Storyteller Peter Snow
This week's guest on the Teller and the Tale will be Edinburgh storyteller Peter Snow.

Peter is a former Steiner School teacher, poet, musician and ex-psychiatric nurse. Oh yeah, he was also once a goatherd! And he lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Our listeners have sent in some questions which I put to Peter recently and here are his answers.

1. What called you to be a storyteller?
Storytelling for me arose out of teaching, but I was knocked out by a storytelling performance by Ashley Ramsden, and went on a short course that he led many years ago.

2. What was the last story you told?
The last story I told was that of Parzival the Grail Knight.

3. Who is your favourite storyteller?
My favourite storyteller? Too wide and various a selection to choose from, but I like Michael Williams, David Campbell, Ruth Kirkpatrick, Claire McNichol, Janis Mackay, Andy Hunter, Noel Cochrane, Daniel Allison especially.

All the best!


If you want to learn more about Peter and hear him tell a cracking good story, listen to The Teller and the Tale, beginning Sunday at noon BST (UK/Ireland) and 7am EDT (Canada/US) on Blues and Roots Radio (www.bluesandrootsradio.com).

Simply go to the website and click on "Listen Live".

And don't forget, the show is repeated on Tues/Wed at 8pm EDT (Canada/US) and 1am BST (UK) and again on Thursday at 4pm EDT (Canada/US) and 9pm BST (UK/Ireland). 

Peter and I look forward to your company!

Happily ever after!

Michael Williams
Host of the Teller and the Tale
Check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheTellerAndTheTale

16 April 2014

Journeys with M.E.: Action for M.E. Digital Storytelling Project

Action for M.E.

Monday May 12th will mark National M.E. Awareness Day in the UK. M.E., or myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a long-term, chronic illness that affects more than 20,000 adults and children in Scotland. Symptoms include persistent fatigue, muscle and/or joint pain, sleep disturbance, problems with concentration, headaches and other flu-like ailments. Frustratingly, there is no diagnosis, no blood test to detect it and worse, there is no cure.

For far too long, there has been little understanding of the disease and scant sympathy for those suffering it. From some quarters of the media the illness is mocked as 'yuppie flu', sufferers scorned as 'shirkers'. Some doctors treat their patients as if they're suffering a psychological rather than a physical illness. As a result, many retreat into shame and guilt, their stories unvoiced.

A year ago, Action for M.E., a national charity that campaigns on behalf of M.E. sufferers, approached me about facilitating a digital storytelling project. The National Director Sonya Chowdhury and Scottish Director Katrina Allen were passionate about encouraging and empowering those with M.E. to share their stories. Thanks to funding from the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland's Self-Management Impact Fund, the project took form.

The purpose of the project was to encourage participants to engage in the art of storytelling, video technology and the internet to tell their stories and raise awareness of the illness. Given that most participants had little or no media experience, I decided to take a 'low-def' approach, using readily-available technology such as digital cameras, smartphones and laptops with which most people were familiar. We took advantage of free software such as Windows Movie Maker and Apple's iMovie for editing purposes, and used video-sharing sites such as Vimeo and YouTube.

Two groups were formed - one in Edinburgh, the other in Fort William - and the first storytelling workshops were held last summer. Sharing stories led to creating storyboards and plans for filming, taking photographs, recording narration and selecting music to accompany their stories. I enlisted the help of film-maker Paul Maguire from the Edinburgh Art College to provide technical advice and assistance. Over the months, we supported the participants through the creation of their videos, while sharing our expertise with the view that these film-makers would go on to share their new-found skills with their support groups.

Despite the ever-present spectre of ill-health which occasionally slowed us down, I'm pleased to say the project has been a success. Nearly everyone who joined the project finished their video and some went on to undertake a second one. One of our participants in Fort William became so enthused during the project that he enrolled in an Open University course in film-making; one of the women has used her storytelling and video skills to create a blog; and another has turned her media and storytelling talents to training doctors and health care professionals toward a better understanding of M.E. The project will also share its learning through a web toolkit, available through the Action for M.E. website, to encourage and enable others to tell their stories.

To celebrate the completion of the project and National M.E. Awareness Day, we are showcasing a selection of the short videos at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Monday May 12th from 7pm-8:30pm. There will be an opportunity to meet and talk with some of the film-makers, the project organisers and, of course, to learn more about M.E. The evening event is free but you must book your place with the Centre. There will also be an afternoon workshop facilitated by myself and Kate Craik, one of the project's participants. We particularly invite anyone currently suffering or who has suffered from M.E. or who wants to learn more about this debilitating disease. Cost for the workshop is £8/£6 concession. Come and share your story.

Action for M.E. Digital Storytelling Project Facilitator

12 April 2014

Margaret Atwood explores forms of storytelling

Margaret Atwood explores forms of storytelling

Appeared in The Observer, the student-run daily print and online newspaper serving Notre Dame and Saint Mary's in Indiana, USA.

11 April 2014

Teller and the Tale - featuring Canadian storyteller Dean Verger

Start your Sunday morning with a story. Listen to the Teller and the Tale on Blues and Roots Radio. Next week my guest is Ottawa storyteller Dean Verger.

Listen to how Dean managed to shrink a whale of a story in Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" down to a humorous one-hour storytelling performance. And don't miss his telling of "Hair", a personal reminiscence of a boy's crossing into adulthood. A follicking-good time guarantee!

06 April 2014

Let's Ask the Storyteller -- Dean Verger

"Let's Ask the Storyteller" is a new feature, whereby I ask listeners of my radio show The Teller and the Tale to send me questions to ask of my storytelling guests.

Canadian storyteller Dean Verger came to the world of storytelling as a writer. He began by telling his own original works, then added traditional tales for all ages from all over the world.

He has acted with Ottawa's Theater For Children, Orpheus, and Ottawa Little Theater. He has appeared at Centrepointe Theater, on stage at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage, and in the Museum of Nature. He has performed his original works on both radio and television and across Canada at festivals, cafes, and libraries.

Who or what called you to storytelling?
In my early days of school, in Ottawa and in Toronto, I was involved in the arts. I was in the school choir, I played music, and I was in theatre. There was no concept of storytelling. After my formal education, with a business degree, I opened my own restaurant, a little café called Rasputin’s. Being interested by the arts, in the early 80’s I co-founded the Ottawa Storyteller’s Workshop for Children. We were writers, as opposed to performers. I then found out about a Storytelling course given by the Toronto School of Storytelling. I took a weekend off, and took their introductory course. From this I added storytelling to our Sunday Brunch.

In the café, during the evenings’ quiet moments, I would pull out my guitar. Friends brought their instruments and we would jam. This lead to me building a stage, and beginning what we called an Open Stage. We hosted music, poets, and actors. And then I met Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cayley. I was still programming content for the stage. I asked if they wanted to bring storytelling to the evening stage? And they countered with the now famous Epic Series, a series that ran for over 12 years. This addition to my café’s programming introduced me to the storytelling community and my life-partner, Ruth Stewart-Verger. I have been actively performing, developing, and supporting other tellers for over thirty years.

What was the last story you performed or told?
My last project was a one-hour storytelling adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. In the early stages of the development of the tale (as opposed to tail) I told select snippets at the Ottawa Storytellers’ monthly Swap. Then I performed it at house concerts, the Tea Party, Collected Works, the Ottawa Fringe Festival, and then finally in British Columbia. There I told to high school students during the day, and adults during the evenings.  During the BC tour I brought along my mandolin, and used music to bridge the transitions between the episodes.

I am presently partnered with a brass quintet. Myself and a second storyteller will be telling stories about the Rideau Canal. Each story will be bracketed by music.

Who's your favourite storyteller?
There are a number of tellers who catch my attention. And all for different reasons. Sometimes it’s the voice. Sometimes it's the physical delivery. And sometimes it’s the selection of tales. Right now my two favourite tellers are Marta Singh and Jan Andrews. Both bring a lot of thought to each presentation. They think about the story, the characters, their own movements, voicing intensities, and interpretations. They dive deep, past the words, and create motivations, background, and emotions from which they then launch their performances. Both are Ottawa Storytellers. Marta is originally from Argentina, and Jan from England. Each can tell traditional tales, or true personal stories that snare the audience and draws them through an emotional labyrinth.

Dean's latest project is a one-hour re-telling of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Learn more about Dean at http://www.rasputins.ca/dean.htm.

02 April 2014

The Teller and the Tale -- Listen Again

Did you know that you can listen again to previous sessions of the Teller and the Tale?

Go to the 'Teller and the Tale' link on my website and scroll down to find a selection of 'play it again' audio players and listen to your favourite storyteller or discover one you didn't know before. Each episode is only available for a limited time but each week, another new guest will be featured so come back often. Bookmark the page or subscribe to the blog and never miss out on an update.

In the meantime, why not check out Blues and Roots Radio, which broadcasts the Teller and the Tale three times a week (Sunday, Tuesday and Friday). You'll find a host of shows dedicated to the blues, roots and Celtic music and the latest in singer-songwriters and, of course, storytelling.

Recent additions to my audio players include shows with storytellers Owen Pilgrim (originally from Newfoundland), singer Laura Smith (from Nova Scotia), and Sudha Umashanker (from Chennai, India).

And don't forget to listen to the Teller and the Tale next Sunday when I introduce my guest storyteller Nils Ling from Prince Edward Island, Canada.

The Teller and the Tale on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheTellerAndTheTale

Blues and Roots Radio www.bluesandrootsradio.net

01 April 2014

Let's Ask the Storyteller -- Fiona Herbert

Storyteller Fiona Herbert
"Let's Ask the Storyteller" is a new feature, whereby I ask listeners of my radio show The Teller and the Tale to send me questions to ask of my storytelling guests.

Fiona Herbert is a storyteller, writer and comedienne who performs for adults and older children (from aged six upwards). She also runs storytelling and creative writing workshops. 

1. Who or what called you to storytelling?
The form itself. Its immediacy and connection with the listeners. I enjoy writing, inventing my own tales and my own versions of established stories. Storytelling grants me the buzz of seeing their effect on the listeners, whether they are moved to tears, laughter, a new understanding or a mix of all three. It connects people, and we all need more of that these days.

2.What was the last story you performed or told?
The "Ring of Brodgar" at Aberdeen Arts Across Learning Festival, in front of one of the panels of the Tapestry of Scotland which shows these standing stones. In my version the stones were drunken eedgits who stayed too long at the party. The perils of alcohol...

3. Who is your favourite storyteller?
David Campbell. He can tell beautiful old Celtic tales of love and sorrow, and follow that with a cracking tale about farts.

Learn more about Fiona Herbert by visiting her website www.fionaherbert.co.uk.


"We have received only very positive reports of your workshop, and must thank you for being so flexible and responsive both before and in the course of implementing the workshop. It has been lovely to work with you. . . . We are hopeful this project will give rise to future storytelling endeavours, and would be very happy to work with you again if the opportunity arises!" Muireann Crowley, At Home in Scotland, University of Edinburgh, May 2014 ("Storytelling, Research and Public Engagement" workshop)

Michael Williams is a a storyteller of compelling skill. He is also a fine human being who engages in all situations and draws people into the warmth of communication and shared experience." Donald Smith, Director, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Scotland

"Michael's understanding of storytelling within a leadership and business context has helped us provide a great service in helping leaders determine their personal and organisational destiny and legacy. Working with Michael is inspiring and fun; and pulls you to be fully engaged from start to finish." Norton Bertram-Smith, Managing Director and Leadership Consultant for On Purpose.

Kamink: the little boy who grew into a giant of a man

Blues and Roots Radio

Blues and Roots Radio
Check out my weekly storytelling radio show, The Teller and the Tale on bluesandrootsradio.com.

Creative Scotland

Creative Scotland
I'm grateful to Creative Scotland for its support.