Everyone likes a good story. Whether you’re sitting down with a good book, or you’re in front of the silver screen, our appetite for a tall tale doesn’t ever seem to diminish.
Here in Orkney we can trace our storytelling roots back through the centuries. Folk tales were used as a way to escape from everyday life and tales of sea serpents, fairies, heroes and monsters captivated avid listeners then as they do now.
The Orkney Storytelling Festival aims to continue that tradition. ‘Orcadians have always been fond of telling stories,’ said Tom Muir, President of the Orcadian Story Trust. ‘We’re famous for writing about our islands and all that comes from a storytelling tradition. It’s hugely important they’re told and shared in the years to come’.
The Festival was re-launched in 2010 and has become a real autumn highlight in the islands. More people visited last year than ever before, and hopes are high for a strong turnout once again later this month.
‘We’ve had folk from all over the world coming along to our events. Some happen to be in Orkney at the time, others head here specifically for the Festival,’ said Tom. It’s really heartening to see. But we’re still a small Festival, with all the benefits that brings.’
It’s a small Festival, but one with a packed programme. This year the theme is ‘Dare to Dream’ which will give visiting and local storytellers the chance to explore tales of pure escapism, wonder and fantasy.
Visiting this year will be storytellers from Scotland, Ireland and Brazil. Old favourite David Campbell returns along with first time visitors Fran O’Boyle and Ana Maria Lines. They’ll be joined by regular contributor Erin Farley and award-winning traditional singer Scott Gardiner, as well as Orkney’s own pool of talent, including Fran Flett Hollinrake, David McLaughlin and Tom himself.
‘We do try to ensure that there is a local representation at a number of our events,’ said Tom. It’s important that we play our part and there’s the added bonus of hearing and sharing stories with our visiting guests as well, which helps to keep the tradition alive.’
Now, if you think that the Festival will focus on group sittings in community rooms or halls you’d be very, very wrong. A real effort goes into bringing events out to smaller communities and new, unique locations.
Opening the Festival this year will be a walk around the stunning graveyard at Warbeth, just outside Stromness – the perfect location for stories about the sea, the old maritime town and the old characters of Stromness itself.
The Old School in Quoyloo will be transformed into a venue full of tales of spirits, magic and ghosts during the Festival. There will also be a tour of Flotta with folktales from the island and a look at its military history. Add in a children’s workshop, a look at the future of storytelling and the chance to hear the work of local writers, there really is something for everyone – which Tom says is vital to the future of the Festival.
‘It’s good to spread things around as much as possible. We don’t have a base as such, and there are many special venues available to us in Orkney. Getting folk out to the isles is important, as well as the mainland parishes.’
A big part of storytelling is hearing something new. Everyone has a different take, a different style. That’s why Open Mic nights form a major part of the Festival. There are three sessions for people to take to the stage – and it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds!
‘Anybody that wants to get up and tell a story or sing a song is more than welcome. We try to encourage folk to take part, and this is the perfect time to try it!’ said Tom. ‘Everyone is so encouraging and supportive.’
It’s a theme that runs through the Festival. It’s a warm, friendly and original event that can give a real glimpse into Orkney’s past. Some stories from the islands have themes in them from the Bronze Age. No-one knows how old they are, but that adds to the mystery and wonder of them.
Storytelling plays an important part in Tom’s life and he firmly believes it’s a cornerstone of Orcadian culture. ‘I really think they’re as important to our culture as the Ness of Brodgar or Skara Brae. It’s part of what makes us, us.’
‘You’re transported to another world and I just love the stories for what they are. They can be loved and enjoyed by generations to come, as much as they were by generations that have gone.’
The 2016 Orkney Storytelling Festival will be held between the 27th and 30th of October. Find out more about the events and how to get tickets via the official website. You can also follow the Festival on Facebook and Twitter.
For more information on life in the islands visit Orkney.com or sign up to our mailing list.