MY NEW book comes out next week. It’s called Midlothian Folk Tales for Children, and follows the format of my earlier book, East Lothian Folk Tales for Children.

A folk tale is usually a story handed down from generation to generation, with the original author being unknown. Often there is more than one version of such tales, as the stories change and adapt each time they are told around the fireside.

Some are ancient, some are rooted in myth or fairytales, some are historical, some are woven around fragments of older legend. Many were eventually written down, and these written tales are often cited as the original versions.

But, of course, even old compilations of folk tales are themselves a small and selective collection of what once was. When a tale has many variants, how can we determine the true origin, and does it really matter anyway?

The sad fact is many folk tales were written down because folklorists and others interested in the oral tradition understood that the tradition itself was beginning to die out and the stories were in danger of being lost forever.

For generations, the stories were contained in people’s heads and hearts, and regularly told and listened to, then retold. It was a living tradition.

But changes in society and technological developments transformed the way people communicated and entertained themselves. Capturing the stories in written form was a way of preserving the stories– at least, certain versions of them.

I love reading these old tales but, as a storyteller myself, I can feel the difference between reading a story and “telling a story from my head”.

There is an old proverb that captures the essence of this experience, saying a story should be told “eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart”.

In this way a story, even a traditional story, is recreated and refreshed by the teller but also reimagined by the listener.

The way of telling a tale differs with each teller, the meaning and significance of a story can differ with each listener, and so the tradition evolves.

In this way, a story should be a can opener, not just a sealed tin of unchanged contents. It’s the dynamic art of storytelling and story creating, as much as the stories themselves, which make it so central to what it is to be human.

That’s why I love that the storytelling tradition has been rekindled in our country. It has taken the old stories from the pages of books and made them dance with new ones, created by the dynamic between teller and listener.

But don’t get me wrong, I love books too. I’m rarely without one, and often it’s a book of stories, folktales, history or myths and legends.

For me, that’s a mixture of both work-related reading and reading for pleasure. But when it comes to writing folktales, I’m torn. Do I rewrite what’s already written, or do I recreate something new? If I do the latter, how do I keep faith with the tradition?

These are the angsts of many storytellers, and within the storytelling community there will be differing opinions. But, for me, I see no conflict between old and new folk tales, because folk tales need life, and each generation has its own truths.

And so, in writing my books on local folk tales for children, I’ve let tradition guide me but not limit me. I have used old stories or fragments of tradition, but it’s the wisps of my children’s imagination, and the imagination and feedback of many children in different schools, which have guided my pen.

In the years of being a storyteller I have come to understand the powerful impact stories have.

They help us to navigate through the challenges in our lives because they show us that life is not always easy, but that fortitude, determination, wisdom, creativity and accepting help can enable us to reach our goals.

Stories often exemplify empathy and kindness and expose greed and selfishness. In so doing, they can reveal we are all conflicted, that none of us is perfect, and they can teach us to be a better version of ourselves.

But local tales need a home, a place to visit and feel close to the story. So before writing the stories I spent time at the locations, and let the places speak to me. Sometimes the place made the story, sometimes it was the other way round.

One parent told me that when she and her daughter visited the locations mentioned in East Lothian Folk Tales for Children, they’d sit at the location and make up their own stories inspired by the place.

Wow, I thought. . . that’s a perfect way to honour the tradition and keep it alive for the future! Because I’m not the storyteller, we’re all storytellers!

  • Midlothian Folk Tales for Children is released on June 14. Tim is having a book launch event at Waterstones, Fort Kinnaird, Edinburgh, on Saturday, June 22 at noon, when he will tell stories and sign his books