Books and other sources of inspiration and insight.




Leaving aside those storytellers and life experiences that have provided inspiration for many of the stories told in the Narrative Arts Club but cannot easily be referenced, the following is a selection of books and other resources that may be of inspiration:

The Arabian Nights, by Husain Haddawy (Translator), Muhsin Mahdi (Editor)
A clear and powerful translation of these classic tales of tyrants and djinns, of imprisonment and liberation, of misogyny and, above all, of the feminine ingenuity of the storyteller Shahrazad, who tells stories to save herself and the women of the kingdom from the jealous emperor Shahrayar.
Every storyteller with an interest in international classics must read this story about the power of storytelling.

The Arabian Nights II : Sindbad and Other Popular Stories, by Husain Haddawy
Another powerful translation of medieval tales of the Middle East by Haddawy. The unabridged version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is particularly powerful in its depiction of the resourceful cook, Mariana, who, like a wrathful goddess of the hearth, almost single-handedly defeats the robbers who threaten the household.

The Aran Islands, by John M. Synge, 1907
Synge documents the thoroughly international nature of traditional "Irish" stories, as recounted in Gaelic in the west of Ireland at the start of the 20th century:
"It gave me a strange feeling of wonder to hear this illiterate native of a wet rock in the Atlantic telling a story that is so full of European associations.
"The incident of the faithful wife takes us beyond Cymbeline to the sunshine on the Arno, and the gay company who went out from Florence to tell narratives of love. It takes us again to the low vineyards of Wiirzburg on the Main, where the same tale was told in the middle ages, of the Two Merchants and the Faithful Wife of Ruprecht von Wiirzburg.
"The other portion, dealing with the pound of flesh, has a still wider distribution, reaching from Persia and Egypt to the Gesta Romanorum, and the Pecorone of Ser Giovanni, a Florentine notary."

It is in this spirit that the Narrative Arts Club so eagerly embraces new influences from abroad, such as the Arabian Nights. Paradoxically, there is nothing new in this approach.

The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter
New tellings of old tales, dealing mostly with girls becoming women. The Lady of the House of Love is the story of a lonely vampire maid whose appetite for blood is shaken by the arrival of an innocent young British soldier on a bicycle. The Tiger's Bride is the story of a maid whose gambling father loses her at cards to a strange, snarling Italian nobleman known as La Bestia.
The whole collection will be of great inspiration to anybody who wants to compose new versions of old tales.


Cath Maige Tuired - The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, edited by Elizabeth A. Gray, Irish Texts Society Volume 52.

One of the key texts of the mythological cycle of Irish storytelling, the story of the epic battle between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomoire.

‘Lift up my eyelid, lad,’ said Balor, ‘so I may see the talkative fellow who is conversing with me.’

The lid was raised from Balor's eye. Then Lug cast a sling stone at him which carried the eye through his head, and it was his own host that looked at it. ...


The Crick Crack Club approach to storytelling.

Cogent thoughts about performance storytelling and its relationships to the fireside tradition and the conventional theatre, from one of the most influential storytelling clubs in the United Kingdom. These provide deep insight into where storytelling has come from, and where it is in the industrialised world right now.
An ambitious attempt to present a comprehensive new model of dramaturgy that might be used in storymaking of any kind, be it for film or live performance storytelling.

The Dramatica website includes a comparison with various other dramaturgical models, including diagrams to explain the models used by Linda Seger, Syd Field and Christopher Vogler.

Early Irish Myths and Sagas, translated by Jeffrey Gantz, Penguin Classics

Excellent, unbowdlerised source of ancient Irish tales, with insightful commentary on the relationship between storytelling and the ancient manuscripts. Gantz' edition of The wooing of Étaín, with its skilful presentation of the complexity of the characters of the anti-hero Midhir and the not entirely innocent Éadaoin, is a tonic for those who are weary of editions best suited to children.

Icelandic Saga Database
The Icelandic sagas are prose histories of the struggles and conflicts that arose amongst the Norse and Celtic inhabitants of Iceland in the 10th and 11th centuries AD.
The Story of Burnt Njal gives the Irish reader a new perspective on the Battle of Clontarf, and the signs and wonders experienced by Brodir and his men in chapter 155 offer an evocative image of the fate that awaits those who pursue power through aggression.

Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, by Keith Johnstone
Insightful and riotously funny book about acting and storytelling. Paradoxically, this volume is probably more inspiring and useful to storytellers than Johnstone's later volume, Impro for Storytellers.
See also the Keith Johnstone website:

Iron John: A Book About Men, by Robert Bly
A Jungian exploration of the Brothers Grimm tale, Iron John, as an archetypal model for the healthy development of manhood.

Making A Good Script Great, by Linda Seger.
Cogent discussion of key concepts of dramaturgy, with particular focus on the relationship between plot and character development. Although this is intended primarily for screenwriters, storytellers may also find the principles useful in making their own stories.

Myter og sagn fra Grønland, by Knud Rasmussen, compiled by Jørn Riel. Four volumes.
Greenlandic myths and legends in Danish by one of the great explorers of the Arctic. Riel has prepared this series of new compilations of Inuit stories first collected by Rasmussen and published in the 1920s.

Once Upon a Time. Designed by Richard Lambert, Andrew Rilstone, James Wallis. Published by Atlas Games.
This is a delightful storytelling card game of improvised fairytales that meet and diverge in quest of different endings.
Each player has a number of cards identifying characters, places, objects and aspects that must be incorporated into the tale, and a randomly selected ending card, which determines the direction his/her plot must take. The rules specify circumstances under which one player may interrupt another, so as to turn the plot towards a different ending.

Poetics, by Aristotle. Translated by S.H. Butcher.
If we ignore details that apply specifically to ancient Greek poetry, this fundamental work offers profound insight into key principles of western dramaturgy, such as empathy with the tragic hero, cause and effect, and reversal of situation, that still apply to our appreciation of dramatic works today.

Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, by Syd Field
Influential book about dramaturgy for screenwriters. The same principles may be useful for storytellers who wish to construct their own stories.

The Seven Basic Plots: why we tell stories, by Christopher Booker
In this very detailed work, Booker has analysed a vast range of folktales, novels, plays and films to identify seven of the most powerful plots that have served as dramaturgical models for a diversity of storytellers, writers and filmmakers down through the ages, all around the world and in different media. 

The Storytelling FAQ, maintained by Tim Sheppard
A good place for practical advice about how to develop a career as a professional storyteller.

The Warrior Song of King Gesar, by Douglas J. Penick
A literary version of the Tibetan epic of the shape-shifting warrior and his wonder horse, Kyang Go Karkar. When the young herdboy Gesar wins the kingdom of Ling in a horse race, he soon finds himself compelled to fight the demons of the four directions, starting with the scaly, black, twelve-headed demon of the north, Lutzen.

The Woman with Two Vaginas, by Denise Duhamel
A collection of poetic retellings of erotic Inuit tales.
As this is out of print, you can either try to buy a copy of the book secondhand, or read it on the web here:

Women who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The Jungian analyst and cantadora brings the reader on an inspiring and enchanting tour of a selection of folktales to illustrate different aspects of the archetype of the Wild Woman. No better book to gain insight into the symbolic significance of old tales.

World Tales, by Idries Shah
An anthology compiled to illustrate how the central motifs of international folktales recur in the oral traditions of different cultures around the world, and in written texts in different languages down through the centuries. This is an excellent antidote to the popular tendency to label folktales by nationality or ethnicity (e.g. "This is an Irish / Celtic folktale."). If we disregard superficial details such as names of characters and locations, perhaps every folktale is an international folktale.

The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler
Inspired by mythologist Joseph Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Vogler presents the mythic journey as a template for writing a screenplay. Conversely, the key stages of the journey may serve as useful signposts for the storyteller, e.g. the call to adventure, meeting the mentor, supreme ordeal and return with the elixir.
Read a summary here: