BLOG Anna Beyer

NWR Issue 113

Collective Creation: The Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival

Inspired by Y Mabinogi Project 2015, this festival took place over four days and never saw a dull or unfulfilled moment. Bringing together storytellers, musicians, visual artists, academics, and creative enthusiasts from near and far, it provided a valuable opportunity, for those with the inclination, to explore the transformative power of narrative to gather together as a community — to meet one another, share stories, inspire each other and to learn more about themselves and the people and world around them.

Although this type of event appears to attract a specific type of person, the festival was filled with more than enough variety to appeal to everyone — young or old, local or foreign. The weekend began on 9 March with a book launch hosted by the town's Medina restaurant. Peter Stevenson recounted a tale from his book Welsh Folk Tales and Cath Little regaled the crowd with a story from her own Glamorgan Folk Tales for Children. The rest of the evening was spent in festive merriment while local musicians shared their talents with the assembled.

The next day, 10 March, was the most intensive day of the Festival — a twelve-hour Storytelling Symposium. While there was no requirement to attend all of the sessions, very few people left once they’d arrived. After all, with an event like this, the audience plays an active rather than a passive part. And, although many of the presentations and sessions were based around the Mabinogion, each of the renditions retained its own distinctive air of originality.

Recorded during the Middle Ages from centuries-older oral storytelling traditions, a significant portion of the Mabinogion details the epic history of the British Isles. These narratives are collectively known as the four branches of the Mabinogi. (For more information, explore Will Parker’s website.) Since the stories contained within the Mabinogion are directly linked to the mythology of Britain, it’s unsurprising that many of the storytellers chose to engage with these particular narrative; however, extensive knowledge of the Mabinogion was not necessary for enjoyment of or engagement with the weekend.

The concluding session was perhaps the festival’s finest achievement. Led by Gwilym Morus and named ‘New Cloth from Old Thread’, the session was in many ways, an unexpected departure from the routine of the weekend. Here, rather than listen to a rendition of a story or storytelling event by Morus, the session turned out to be a rousing group activity in which every single person in the room became joint participants in the search for the fifth branch of the Mabinogi. There is, of course, no existing fifth branch of the Mabinogi — hence the necessity for everyone to band together to create a potential one.

It was remarkable how easily the ideas came, how quickly they fit together, and with so little argument. Within the first few minutes, the group had unanimously agreed on a protagonist: Cigfa (Pryderi’s wife and recurring minor character from the third branch), and by the end of the hour we had sketched a decent, fully formed framework of the series of events that needed to happen — what she would have to learn, how she would need to find her way to Gorsedd Arberth, even what the potential ending of her story would be. There was debate, of course, but each new idea offered only added fuel to the fire of inspiration — each additional direction making the developing story more compelling, brimming with more potential.

It was a most fitting end to the weekend, encouraging everyone involved to continue to search for stories, to create them, and to share them with others: providing true inspiration for the storyteller in us all.

Anna Beyer is an MA student in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University/

Artwork by Maria Hayes


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