A new Children’s Book and Storytelling Festival begins at The Haining in Selkirk this Saturday from 10am to 4pm.
“We’ve such a heritage of oral history and ballads in the Borders,” festival organiser Anne Harkness told TheSouthern, “I suggested to The Haining we host a storytelling and book festival.”
Writer and artist Mairi Hedderwick, best known for her Katie Morag series of children’s picture books, set on the Isle of Struay (Coll), starts the day at 11am by telling stories and secrets about Katie – and some of her other characters, such as toddler Peedie Peebles.
“Katie Morag is so popular in Scotland, I think every Scottish child knows about the Isle of Struay,” Mrs Harkness said. “We were delighted to get Mairi through her connection with friends in Selkirk.”
“She’s a writer and illustrator of adult books too,” the retired Galashiels Academy Engligh teacher added, citing Sea Change, a travel book about Hedderwick’s voyage down the Caledonian Canal out to sea, and An Eye on the Hebrides: an illustrated journey through the Hebrides, visiting forty different islands from Arran to Lewis.
The festival also stars two of the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s best storytellers and writers: Allan Burnett at 1:30-2:30pm, and Jess Smith from 2:30-3:30pm.
“As a teacher,” Anne explained, “I know how much the Scottish Storytelling Centre can teach children about the traditional art of storytelling. Passing these skills to young people can give them a new voice and confidence.”
Allan’s gory, blood spattered ‘And All That’ series of Scottish history books – considered Scotland’s answer to the popular ‘Horrid Histories’ – are described as ‘hysterical history for children, stuffed with illustrations and fantastic facts’, and cover subjects ranging from William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Macbeth, St Columba and Scots’ inventions.
The ‘Scottish traveller, hawker, gypsy, ‘gan-about’ and author Jess Smith is steeped in the storytelling and stories of Scotland’s wandering folk.
Introducing Sookin’ Berries, her collected stories for children, Smith said: “I have been a gatherer of tales for most of my life, and I suppose it all began when I was a wee girl. I lived a different sort of life from most other children, because ‘home’ was an old blue bus. We were known as tinkers or travellers, descendants of those who have wandered the highways and by ways of Scotland for two thousand years’.”
Jess is on a mission to pass on the stories she heard as a girl to the young readers of today: “If you are aged from around 10 going on 100, then you’re a fine age to read, enjoy and hopefully remember forever these ancient oral tales of Scotland’s travelling people. I want you to imagine that, as my friend, you are by the campfire listening to the magical Scottish stories that have been handed down through generations of travellers.”
At noon there’s a storytelling and painting workshop with Sheila Mullen, whose artwork illustrated books of Border ballads and Scots poems, and all through the day, visitors can also enjoy an exhibition of local schools’ stories, poems, paintings and models on a theme of Scottish stories.
“We’re trying to involve as many of Selkirk’s young people as possible,” Mrs Harkness said, “with a Scottish story-based competition of local school children’s work at The Haining.”
Pupils from Kirkhope Primary School have chosen Thomas the Rhymer, the 13th century poet from Earlston, while Yarrow Primary School found inspiration in the grounds of The Haining itself. “The children had a great time visiting the bear and wolf pits, and the dungeon and the cells,” the valley schools’ head teacher Mo Brown told TheSouthern.
Which Scottish stories and storytellers inspired children from the other schools in and around Selkirk, such as Philiphaugh, Knowepark and Lilliesleaf primary schools and Selkirk High School, will remain a secret until their exhibition on the day.
“It will be lovely to see these displayed in The Haining,” Mrs Harkness added.
The children’s bookstall is supplied by the Forest Bookstore, and the music is courtesy of Selkirk High School.
“I hope it brings another audience to The Haining” she concluded, “and it would be a lovely thing to happen annually, so fingers crossed!”
Child tickets cost £2.50, and accompanying adults enter free. Tickets for unaccompanied adults cost £3.