Do you have any early memories of being attracted to storytelling?
I always loved reading and stories but I don’t remember storytelling as something I was aware of in my childhood. I studied radio production and drama at university and when I graduated I came out and started work on a project with the School of Oriental and African Studies looking at various communities in Camden. In particular we were looking at folk tales and I think we were looking to modernise them. That project led me to fall in love with folk tales and through that I found storytelling.
I remember being in a library somewhere in London and I discovered Kate Corkery, a London based storyteller, she ran storytelling at the London Irish Centre in Hammersmith. She is originally from Cork and when I saw her she was fantastic. Seeing her was what really led me to take storytelling more seriously. That was around 2005.
There is quite a substantial history of storytelling, it is very big in the US, it had a renaissance in Britain in the 1970’s and in Northern Ireland, a woman called Liz Weir (MBE), through Armstrong Storytelling, has been highly influential. They started storytelling in Tullycarnet library about 30 years ago and have been building the organisation ever since, the basic premise being to bring storytelling and yarnspinning to local communities. They have continued to do that and to train new storytellers, so that now there is a community of storytellers in Northern Ireland.
What happens then?
I came out of university wanting to work in children’s literature and ended up living in Northern Ireland as a full-time storyteller. I worked in all sorts of areas before I decided to concentrate on storytelling; and, as a lot of writers will tell you, to make a living from your writing you have to have quite a diversified approach to the work you do.
I deliver sensory storytelling for children with special needs and in early years settings, I take writing commissions, I am working on a C2K commission at the moment, I am working on writing stories for various organisations, I am also a trained teacher so I do some tutoring as well.
Most of my work is project work and it can be quite varied. I’m currently working on a National Lottery funded project with Triangle Care Homes which is a sensory storytelling project working with adults with learning difficulties, GCSE students in a SEND class and Mencap staff. I’m also working with Ulster University gaming and animation departments on a separate digital project and doing some literary consultancy for an advertising company. So it’s all quite varied.
Did you have to build this approach by yourself?
I didn’t study storytelling or creative writing in any educational setting, so I have had to learn pretty much by myself through my own processes and taking courses. I did some training courses, one with BBC Northern Ireland which looked at scriptwriting, a novel writing course with IWC, another with the Scottish Storytelling centre and other storytelling organisations.
I have had a lot of support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, especially during lockdown where I was able to find mentors to help me develop my skills. I have been developing my craft to work with adult audiences and I find that allows me to move the storytelling to a level where I can incorporate myths and poetry and a wider palette of themes and ideas.
Is there a distinction between writing stories for children and writing for adults?
I came to storytelling, as I said, wanting to write for children. That was my natural inclination. And when you are writing for children the central thing is that there has to be a nice resolution to the story. You want to leave the children with beautiful or comforting images and you certainly don’t want to be too dark, or sad, with the themes and ideas.
Children also need to be involved in the process and so I am always looking to bring the children “in” to the story, find the areas where they can participate and connect with the story. That is important because you need to centre the children, especially the very young children, in order to maintain their connection and engagement with the story.
When you are working with adults, you move into a much deeper territory, there is far more description, much time given to character development and backstory, more opportunity to bring in metaphor and to explore humanity, the themes and the power within the story.
For more information about Vicky McFarland’s work see the link below.
also see the following:
2 Royal Avenue on Saturday June 4th June – telling stories to families as part of the Jubilee celebrations.
Omagh Library on Saturday 2nd July – with NI Libraries telling stories of Science and Innovation to children.
Online with NI Libraries in July and August.
The Dome will be presented to audiences at the end of June at 2 Royal Avenue in Belfast (date tbc – follow fb page for details)
Part two of this interview is here