Laureate to help storytelling live happily ever after

New role created to boost oral literary tradition

By Mike Glover
Sunday 01 November 2009 01:00

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin. Britain is to have its first laureate for storytelling. Taffy Thomas has been waxing lyrical, spinning yarns, telling tall tales and holding children and adults spellbound with his repertoire of 300 stories culled from oral sources for the past 30 years.

Now the 60-year-old, who was made an MBE for his linguistic prowess, is to have his skill at the oldest literary form further recognised by being given the honorary role, which will be launched at the British Library in London in January as part of National Storytelling Week. During his two-year term of office, Mr Thomas, who lives in Cumbria, will travel the length and breadth of the UK to spread the word.

The former street entertainer, who founded the folk-theatre company Magic Lantern, turned to storytelling in his mid-thirties as part of his recovery after a massive stroke.

Yesterday, Mr Thomas was dusting off his spooky tales in preparation for a Halloween session near his home in Grasmere. The key to successful storytelling, he says, is forming a bond between teller and listener.

"The essential components are a storyteller, a listener and a good tale," he said. "The teller and the listener bring something of their own life experience to the moment. Together they're both making the same journey. A warm relationship grows between the two through that storytelling moment. A good story well told has the potential to draw together a very disparate group of people."

Mr Thomas believes success in his new role will be to leave behind both stories and storytellers: "If someone can tell a story they can also speak at a job interview... or even in a court of law. The art of storytelling empowers a person."

The position of laureate is the brainchild of a group of artists and writers, including the poet Brian Patten, the former children's laureate Michael Rosen and the artist Adrian Johnson.

"Stories inspire and encourage us at critical moments in our lives, and with the brilliant success of the poet laureate and other regional projects the time seemed right to honour the oral tradition of storytelling and those that tell them," Mr Johnson said.

The role comes with a small stipend of seven "wonderful objects": a bag of dried beans, a compass, a packet of love hearts, a clear glass bottle, a tall white candle, a silver lucky charm bracelet and a whistle.

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