Strange Tales, the latest collection from Welsh storytelling doyen Daniel Morden, is made up of stories from folklore across the globe. Having told some of them to audiences for over a decade, he’s crafted a collection which, he tells Hari Berrow, he hopes will have something for old and young alike.
“What I wanted to do was make a book of stories that were easy to read aloud or tell, and that had something to ponder afterwards as well,” explains Daniel Morden. “Not like junk food, I wanted there to be something nutritious in it.” He’s describing Strange Tales, a book of eight dark yarns adapted from the folk and fairy idioms and published this month.
“I’m a bit of a gossip about these stories. I just think they’re so good, and more people ought to know them – ought to be enjoying them, telling them, thinking about them, and drawing sustenance from them.”
When compiling the collection, Morden wasn’t hoping for anything more than good stories, fun for young readers – but found he’d compiled stories reflecting his own interests, including in fate and the cards we are dealt, following his own brush with life-threatening illness.
“I wanted stories that were easy for a primary schoolteacher to read aloud to children. I also wanted the stories to have something in them that was worth thinking about and mulling over. I wasn’t looking for a general theme. When I was proofreading, I was struck by how many stories were about luck and chance and fate. That wasn’t deliberate, but a lot of them are about different ways of framing.
“That’s what luck is: it’s chance that we dress up as a story. Something happens and most of the time, it’s a random thing. We might have increased the chances of it happening slightly, but a lot of the time it’s just a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. How do we respond to that? I think quite a few of these stories address that question.”
Morden, active on the storytelling circuit since the 1980s, encourages anyone wanting to try their hand at storytelling to use his books as inspiration. “The thought that things I’ve put down on paper are now being told across the world and in other languages – I’m just absolutely delighted. When I started, I tended to tell stories I’d heard from other people because I wasn’t that confident about what I was doing; I’m now putting something back into that bank of stories I drew on, and that’s wonderful.’
Making stories accessible to everyone is a major priority of Morden’s, and – if you’re wanting to try your hand at telling the stories in the book for yourself – he encourages you to do the same.
“My hope is that people are entertained, that’s the priority. Everything after that is icing on the cake. My son used to go to the skate park, and this older lad there said to him, ‘Is your dad the storyteller?’ My son was like ‘Oh no…’ The lad says, ‘He’s great! He wrote the only book I ever read through for myself!’ Later that night he got texted a photo, of a shelf with one book on it – my book. For me, that is a total result.
“If you enjoy a story in this book, then tell it,” continues Abergavenny-based Morden. “Don’t be afraid to adapt for your audience, or make it more about the aspect of the original story that interested you. There’s this description of tradition, ‘peer pressure from dead people’… but actually, a tradition is an ongoing conversation with the material, whether it be music, words or something else. Don’t be afraid to make it speak to now.
“I would take great delight if someone sets a story in 19th-century Venice, or swaps the genders, or puts a same-sex relationship in. It’s up for grabs, I’m just delighted that people think it’s interesting enough to want to.”
Strange Tales is published on Thurs 28 Sept by Firefly Press. Info: here
Find Daniel at danielmorden.org
words HARI BERROW