Scottish Storytelling Festival promises to inspire

John Muir, the 'father of modern conservation' at Mirror Lake in Yosemite.
John Muir, the 'father of modern conservation' at Mirror Lake in Yosemite.
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NOMADS, explorers, pilgrims and voyagers will take people on a mythical adventure during this year’s Scottish Storytelling Festival.

Once Upon a Journey – inspired by real-life travellers throughout the centuries – will celebrate Edinburgh’s rich storytelling history and how it is linked to the rest of the world.

The ten-day event will engulf the Capital with live 
storytelling, oral traditions and cultural diversity, bringing together an assortment of Scottish and international writers and musicians.

The extravaganza takes place next month at venues across the city, from the National Museum to Calton Hill, with organisers hoping it will harness the community by drawing on tales, anecdotes, music, songs and ballads.

Donald Smith, director of the Storytelling Centre, based on the High Street where many activities will be held, says the theme explores the contribution of many of the city’s greats on a worldwide scale.

“It is very much about celebrating the city as a festival city, incorporating all the fantastic places we have and sharing their stories,” he says.

“Travelling inspires stories and stories inspire journeys. We have shaped the festival so it is like going on a journey.

“Our first weekend gets off to a lively start with the National Museum events where there is a multiple set of performances and workshops.

“On the Sunday at the Botanics, there will be a tented story-telling village and storytellers will be going on journeys, following different stories in the gardens.

“These are family events but the following weekend we’re back at the Botanics with the poisoned arrow show. It follows the story of John Kirk, a botanist who, when he was in Africa, was shot at repeatedly with poisoned arrows. Being a botanist, he was interested where the poison came from so took the arrow heads and sent them to the Botanics. The plants are there now.”

Scottish storytellers have been commissioned to explore the legacy of the likes of David Livingstone, John Rae, Mary Slessor, Martin Martin, John Muir and St Columba.

Other big traditions such as Highland Cattle Droving and seamanship in the Western Isles will also be explored, with artists including Ewan McVicar, Ruth Kirkpatrick, Marion Kenny, Daniel Allison, Claire Hewitt, Martin MacIntyre, Ian Stephen and Andy Cannon involved.

International guest storytellers are being welcomed from Newfoundland, the Cree nation, South India, Botswana, Portugal and the Sami culture of northern Scandinavia. They will present themed performances, and share in Open Hearth evening sessions weaving song, music and story in a fireside tradition.

“When we decided on the theme of ‘journey’ we thought we have got anniversaries of David Livingstone and John Rae, who found the Northwest passage,” says Donald. “We started thinking how could we connect that and thought that one of the groups he worked with were the Cree first nation, storytelling people from Canada, so we have got them coming.

“John Muir was not just an amazing traveller but an ecological pioneer, going from West Lothian and becoming the founder of America’s national parks.

“His sense of ecology has a very strong connection with the older story traditions and the human connection to nature, which again connects to the final weekend of the festival where there is a whole environmental theme to it.”

With Hallowe’en Hoedown puppetry workshops and tales for children, organisers have ensured there is plenty of affordable entertainment for families.

Landscape plays a significant role in the festival, with many outdoor events, including Natural Journeys at the Botanics and a day of storytellers sharing the tales of the fascinating Calton Hill monuments.

Tell-a-Story Day, on October 25, invites communities to join in by organising their own events, with resources downloadable from the Scottish Storytelling Centre website.

The 2013 Festival also marks the start of an international project, Seeing Stories, which will lead into the 2014 Storytelling Festival programme. Working in collaboration with Germany, Italy and Portugal, the festival will take a lead role aimed at the recovery of urban and rural narratives, reflecting our sense of identity.

This year’s festival was launched by Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop MSP. “The 2013 Scottish International Storytelling Festival will give us all an excellent opportunity to celebrate Scotland’s pioneering spirit, global influence and the great work of some our most historic Scots,” she says.

“Guest storytellers from across the world will add to the rich variety of events on offer and give us valuable insight into how the selfless acts of people, including David Livingstone and Mary Slessor, are still relevant generations later having shaped the proud nation we are today.

“The festival is a vital showcase of the great Scottish tradition of storytelling and that is why the Scottish Government provides support through our Expo fund, ensuring new talent and creativity flourishes in Scotland and internationally.”

• Once Upon a Journey will run from October 17 to 27. A full programme events will be available at www.scottish