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Article published 11/10/2022

022 was Scotland’s Year of Stories. It spotlighted, celebrated and promoted the wealth of stories inspired by, written, or created in Scotland. Each month we heard from people with a passion for stories and got an insight into their work. 

We spoke to Donald Smith, storyteller and author. He told us about his life and role as Director of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival .

What is your job and how did you get into this line of work?

I am Director of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, and previously of the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Nearly forty years ago I became convinced that Scotland's storytellers were neglected, and almost invisible. I set about to do something about that, and we have made some progress.

Why do you think stories are so important?

Storytelling is human scale communication. Stories connect us through memory and shared experience. We can empathise once we have heard someone else's story. Also, everyone can tell a story, though some have also raised it to a high art.

What’s in store at this year’s Scottish International Storytelling Festival?

Events all over Scotland from Shetland to Dumfries, free events in schools and community centres, Interpreting Scotland commissions, family events, and the Tales, Tongues and Trails series celebrating Scotland's cultural diversity. Have a browse and see what catches your interest live or online.

Family Samhuinn at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival
Family Samhuinn at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival
Image credit Roberto Ricciuti

The Map of Stories project is also part of the festival, what can you tell us about it?

Map of Stories is a major legacy project for Year of Stories. It brings together archive film of Scotland's older tradition bearers and new footage of storytellers today. There will be a website, and during the festival events combining film with live performance.

You’re also an author. What have you been working on recently?

I have two new books for Year of Stories. Storm and Shore-A Bardsaga is set in mainland Argyll in the recent past. It uses fiction to show how storytellers connect with landscape and nature, sometimes in dramatic and unexpected ways. Saut and Bluid- A Scotsaga is more historical and opens up the Norse aspect of Scotland's culture - through sagas, folktales and gutsy Scots versions of Norse myths. Very few people realise how big the Norse is throughout Scotland. I am very grateful to my publisher Luath Press for pushing these books through for launch events at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival.

Beyond the Storytelling Festival, what other events have you enjoyed this year and are there any still to come that you’re planning to attend?

I have been non-stop storytelling throughout the year. Mary Queen of Scots in the silent movies at the Boness Hippodrome; family storytelling with art and music at St Conan's Kirk on Loch Aweside workshops and blogs for the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches archives to show how much great narrative material they have; Folktales from the Garden at the Dandelion Festival in Inverness; the Merlin Conference in Moffat;, the ASLS education conference for Year of Stories in Glasgow. I have had a ball, and the Storytelling Festival has not even started! The spread of events is remarkable.

What are some of your takeaways from this Themed Year?

First there is something in it for everyone. The response and the participation levels have been gobsmacking. Secondly the dawning realisation in many quarters that this is a vital part of our diverse heritage, and our contemporary creativity. We are giving communities back what belongs to them, and supporting what they want to do locally, nationally and internationally. There are many longer-term lessons in all this - and a great legacy to pass on from Year of Stories. Finally, there is the great teamwork between many organisations that makes these years shine.

Find out more about the Scottish International Storytelling Festival on their website.

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