Rab Fulton is a well-known Galway-based and Glasgow reared storyteller and author, whose published works includes his books “Transformation” and “Galway Bay Folk Tales”, published in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
However, he is best known by many culturally-conscious individuals from Galway (and beyond) for his lively and humorous storytelling sessions.
After attending one of his storytelling sessions on Thursday, 2nd July, Rab kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his life story and his influences on his work.
What influenced you to start writing stories, and what influenced the stories that you did write?
My extended family and neighbours were great talkers, so I was always surrounded by narratives of some sort or other, whether it be stories, tall tales, family history, Glasgow history, politics or down right lying with aplomb.
I was also aware as a child of the different voices around me, and what a variety of words were used among the talkers. The Scots language, that curious cousin of English, with its fusion of words echoing German, Nordic and Gaelic – as well as words that seemed to have no connection to anything whatsoever – were a huge part of the aural landscape surrounding me.
Having a library ticket was also important. I loved adventures, history books, dinosaurs and more adventures. The curious thing was that all those books I read were written in English and when I first attempted to write my own work as a child, it was in English. I guess because it was one step removed from the words I lived with and in that I enjoyed being able to analysis and use English as a tool to express myself.
What was your time in school like?
Scots words and phrases would seep into my written work. I remember in primary school teachers would circle some of my words with red ink and tell me that the words did not exist or that they were bad English. And yet those words did exist, they were part of my everyday experience – yet according to my educators these were non-words. It was embarrassing and I tried hard to eradicate them from my writing.
But I had no sooner finally got a grasp of primary school then I was off to secondary, and that was not a pleasant experience. Education in Scotland in those days was a very surreal experience. As well as Scotland not having any languages other than English, it had no history but British history.
We were taught about King Alfred and his cakes and the origin of place names such as Wessex and Essex and such like. No mention of Scottish kings and queens; no mention of the fact that the city I lived derived its name from Gaelic.
Scottish education existed in some weird and twisted and occasionally violent parallel universe of its own. For me, school was about cultural destruction and physical harm, with my hands receiving the tender administrations of a leather strap just about every day.
No, Scotland was not a good place to be educated in. It was a place where those who spoke well did well; middle class children were given all the support they needed to get them into university.
For the rest of us, there were less choices. Once a year the British military would come round and fill all our heads with wonderful tales of the army and the navy. It was a very real option for me, but fortunately I was too stoned to sign on the dotted line.
I did enjoy art classes. Slowly creating images on a blank page was not unlike going for a long walk, filled with reflection and calmness. With art I also needn’t worry about what language I was using. Art is its own language. I excelled in art classes. My art teachers hoped that I could go to art school, but it was something my family could not afford.
I made a vow then, which I have stuck to ever since. If I could not create pictures with paint and charcoal, then I would create them with words. I would write pictures as vivid as any of the paintings by Van Gogh or Paul Gauguin. That’s what I set out to do and that’s what I’m doing still.
How did your writing develop after you left school?
Much of my Scottish work was filled with the colour, energy and humour of the life and passion of what was going on in Scotland at the time. I count myself very lucky to have lived through the 1990s, that incredible decade of dissent in Scotland, which is still impacting on what is going on in Scotland now.
As well as my poetry and prose, I wrote political articles, edited an anarchist zine, and churned out press releases. I loved engaging with other writers involved in creative dissent; writers like Sandie Craigie or Jim Kelman.
Then I had some legal problems with a couple of my poems – they were declared sub judice because they described events that I was arrested for. This really knocked me mentally, that anybody could stop me articulating my poetry. But of course the best response to the law being an ass is simply to defy it.
At the next open air anarchist gig I got up and read the poems out. It was a fun time the naughty nineties. But by the end of it I was completely burnt out, physically, mentally and creatively.
Was this around the time you decided to come to Galway?
Well, I arrived in Galway 16 years ago. I’d just met a student in Wales and we figured it might be fun to go somewhere together. We opened a map of Britain and Ireland, closed our eyes and stuck in a pin. The pin embedded itself in Galway Bay.
So off we went, got lost and ended up in Cork. It was a couple of days before somebody was kind enough to tell us we were in the wrong city. So finally we got a bus, arrived in Galway and here I am sixteen years later, still enjoying the romance and the rain.
One of the first things I read in Galway was Mike McCormack’s Crowe’s Requiem; the way Mike plays with ideas and words shaped the way I approached writing in English. Rain on the Wind by Walter Macken was another great influence on my prose, while reading the poetry of Rita Anne Higgins is always a refreshing experience.
I guess I’m best described as a Jackdaw, constantly picking up shiny new materials to weave into the messy nest of my creativity.
I also have fun collaborating with other artists in Galway: Storytelling with Clare Murphy; theatre work with Fionnuala Gallagher and Sandra Coffey. My latest collaboration is with the illustrator Marina Wild. We’re publishing a children’s book this year about pirates and mermaids.
Next year will see another of my adult book published, the sci fi novel Marcus Marcus and the Hurting Heart. After that, who knows?
To find out more about Rab and his storytelling sessions, check out his website at rabfultonstories.weebly.com.