Tina's Story

Tina Bilbé : Writer and Storyteller

Berkshire born (in Battle Hospital) and Berkshire bred (on the northern outskirts of Caversham), I grew up surrounded by snippets of information about my home county. At primary school I was told that the county was shaped like a goat in a rocking chair, and when I read “Alice through the Looking Glass” I knew instinctively that the goat in the railway carriage was somehow the same goat that formed the county where I lived. One of the songs we learned in music was “Summer is a’ coming in” and wandering round the Abbey ruins there it was on a plaque, the earliest recorded secular song in England, recorded here. My mother kept me entertained with a wealth of stories about growing up with her two sisters, between the wars in Bristol. Both my grandfathers had died long before I was born, but Uncle Bob, who lived next door, was as good as any grandfather could have been. We watered the garden together on summer evenings, both of us ending up as wet as the plants, and he told me wonderful stories.

As I grew older the public library fed my love of stories, but it wasn’t till after the birth of my son Edward that I again encountered oral folk tales. I had been working as a branch library supervisor and part of the job was to organise an under-fives story time. I saw an advert for a storytelling evening class. I signed up, thinking this would be about using finger puppets and flannel boards, using funny voices and reading upside down. I soon discovered how wrong I was. We did memory exercises, picked the bones out of traditional stories, memorised them image by image, and then retold them in our own words. I saw stories I thought I knew take on new life in the mouths of this group of fledgling storytellers and I was hooked. I began hunting for storytelling events and courses. When there weren’t enough locally I organised my own. Eventually I was drawn into the organisation of the newly formed Society for Storytelling, from which I have just retired.

When David approached me regarding doing research on a book of Berkshire folk tales I was able to combine by library skills with my love of traditional stories – I found far more than David could use and at some time in the not too distant future I hope to produce an academic source book for storytellers who wish to return to the original texts as recorded at the turn of the 20th century. (I have a book on the history of Kingsnorth Airship Station, where my father’s father served during the First World War, to finish first).