by Kevin Walker
As a professional oral storyteller, researching, creating and writing a collection of Buddhist folk tales, was an exciting prospect. I have been telling stories for a living for well over twenty years but only writing since 2018.
My first book, also published by The History Press, is a collection of short stories entitled Queer Folk Tales and I relished creating and writing those original stories.
Buddhist Folk Tales was a totally different project. Most of these tales are retellings of stories already told by one of the greatest storytellers ever known, Buddha himself. They were originally written down in Pali, an ancient language, two and a half thousand years ago, and as I don’t speak Pali, I used the translations of a Victorian academic, Robert Chalmers, who published an edition of the stories in 1895. The collection is called The Jataka Tales and contains 547 stories told by Buddha about his past lives. They are a fascinating read and give an extraordinary picture of thought and teachings from the early years of Buddhism.
I chose a selection of these stories to tell in my voice. As an oral teller myself, with a Yorkshire accent (the north of England), I have developed a way of telling that fits my personality and performance style, and I wanted my written versions of the tales, to reflect this. Many friends comment on reading my collection that they can ‘hear’ me as they read. There again, I didn’t want to stray too far from the original narrative.
‘Prose simple and clear like water, these folk tales hold the interest effortlessly, and stay with you when you’ve finished reading.’ (Reader review)
There are just over forty stories for you to read. About ten are not from The Jataka collection.
My publisher also asked me to create a cover image and thirty black and white illustrations. As I wrote, my mind considered images to add.
All the work on the book happened between 2020 and 2022. Do you recognise those years? Yes, they were the incredible times of Covid. Times where we were advised to stay away from human contact, we were bewildered, even scared. I had just had a diagnosis of heart failure too….oh joy, they were ‘interesting’ times.
I would go into my little studio in the garden and create. Some days I had to force myself, other days it was a joy to escape the madness. My little old dog would keep me company, my husband would bring me tea whilst my first ever statue of Buddha himself looked down upon me from the bookshelf.
I chose stories from The Jataka cycle that made the most impact on me, but I also looked for stories that would tell well. I wanted the book to be a good read but be a collection of tales that storytellers, teachers, parents, in fact, anyone, could dip into, and perhaps tell themselves.
I also researched other stories from the Buddhist tradition, stories from other cultures that were Buddhist in feeling, and wrote a couple of original ones too.
As I wrote, physical images began to appear in my mind and on my sketch pads. The illustrations had to be black and white, and I hit upon a style quickly that looked attractive and were fun to create. Some stories just cried out to be illustrated. The cover image was a little harder to create and I finally came up with two….an acrylic painting of a hare, (an image from one of the most well-known stories), and a more generic, calming, peaceful, treescape, made from cut paper and acrylics. Unable to decide, I put it to my on-line followers, and they chose the tree. Luckily, my publisher agreed too.
There are short passages of personal thoughts, plus a handy synopsis of each of the tales for reference.
And so, I present Buddhist Folk Tales to you. A very personal account of my Buddhist thoughts through story. A labour of love. Something that encouraged and motivated me through the worst of times, and I hope you find it interesting, entertaining, and motivational too.
MEET THE AUTHOR
KEVIN WALKER has worked as a performance storyteller for over twenty years, working in schools, historic and literary venues, theatres, clubs and festivals. His first book of short stories, Queer Folk Tales, a collection of original and adapted tales featuring LGBTQ characters, was published in 2020. Originally from Yorkshire, Kevin recently settled in rural Suffolk with his husband Martyn. He is also an artist and is currently working on a folk tale-based novel.
BUDDHIST FOLK TALES BY KEVIN WALKER, published by The History Press, illustrated paperback (192 pages).