The art of storytelling exists across the world. From Hans Christian Andersen to the Apache, people have always passed down their knowledge, experiences and traditions through the spoken word.
Every land has its own take on tales but many have the same basis.
Since she was a little girl Senga Munro has been listening to and telling stories. Named after and inspired by her grandmother Agnes, Senga said she has always been interested in folk, fairy tales and the Scottish tongue. As well as hearing them “straight from the mooth” of her grandmother her father Walter, a miner at ‘the Dubbie’, was also a great storyteller.
Walter was the founder of Fife Fancy Canary Club and he spent a lot of time telling tales about birds including the pheasants in ‘Danny Champion of the World,’introducing his daughter to the world of Roald Dahl.
Now regarded as one of Scotland’s finest storytellers, Senga attended Dysart Primary School and Kirkcaldy High School before taking up teacher training at Moray House in Edinburgh.
The first in her family to go into further education, Senga was gifted with the ability to express herself well. What was not known at the time is that she is also dyslexic.
Despite having no ability to create visual imagery in her own head, Senga has no trouble using words to describe things and her oral skills have enabled her to overcome this difficulty.
Her dyslexia was also no barrier to her becoming a primary teacher, first at Dunearn Primary School in Kirkcaldy and after taking a break to get married she took up a post at Smithy Green where she taught for four years before moving to Castlehill Primary in Cupar.
It was at Castlehill after teaching several P6 and P7 classes that she took on a learning support role and realised that she had particular skills for teaching children with specific needs.
By then Senga had four children - all boys - and now a single mum, after separating from her husband, was appointed headteacher at Dunino Primary School.
However, after six years she decided that the management side of education wasn’t for her and that she wanted to go back to teaching.
This was when she was asked to take on the education of Travellers’ children who were due to move in to the Tarvit Mill site near Cupar.
This was the late 1980s and the travelling people were pretty much completely unschooled. Senga said their arrival there was the first time many of them had stayed on a permanent site.
However, Senga with her background in folk tales and aptitude for being able to talk to anyone and listen carefully, soon established a relationship with the community. Her small class in a portable cabin soon flourished.
She said that her biggest difficulty was persuading the men that their children, including their daughters, should have a secondary education as well. As a result, one of her pupils has an HND in Theatre and Fashion Make-up and is working in the fashion show industry.
Senga said: “It wasn’t easy but as they became more used to me the mothers began asking me if I could teach them to read better and then some of the fathers too so together with the Fife Adult Literacy Service, I organised literacy lessons. The community lived in caravans and used the chalets for washing etc. Their income came from hawking clothespegs etc and they were excellent tinsmiths but their world had changed and they knew they needed to be able to read and write.”
Senga worked with detached youth workers from Fife Council to involve the children in activities including cooking, art and drama and they spent time at Buckhaven Youth Club. They also integrated with children at Castlehill and St Columba’s primary schools in Cupar and this helped their transition to High School.
She said: “I also arranged for the children to have swimming lessons in conjunction with sixth year pupils at Bell Baxter High school and links were soon established. A lot of this took time, especially persuading their parents while at the same time being sensitive to their traditions and values.
In 1998, after her retirement, Senga received an MBE for her efforts. She now devotes much of her time to the group she helped found, ‘Blether Tay-Gither’ which also includes St Andrews storyteller Sheila Kinninmonth.
Both Senga and Sheila are also members of the Scottish Storytelling Centre.
Senga is also involved in the thriving west Fife group, Kingdom Tales.
Senga has also travelled extensively and picked up more takes along the way. Howevever, she maintains that the art of storytelling means you don’t need to travel; the world can come to you.
For more information on Blether Tay-Gither visit www.blethertaygither.org.uk and the Scottish Storytelling Centre visit www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk