John Wheeler started life in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire. Granny and father were the family storytellers, and everybody sang. Trained in choral singing and science, fascinated by wildlife, cosmology and why mathematics and other things work he studied philosophy, went to the sea-side, rented out deck-chairs, drove lorries and imported rock crystals. !n 1973 he moved to the hills of Dyfed, renovated stone buildings, and was caught by the magic of the Welsh language and the world of The Mabinogion. After a year on the Canadian Pacific coast he and his young family arrived in Galloway in May 1980. John worked as a joiner, learned and practiced clowning and went to work and live on the land as a member of Laurieston Hall Housing Co-operative. Here he told stories, cut wood, made cheese, grew a lot of vegetables and set up Hatrick & Friends - the family street theatre and circus-workshop company that he directs to this day. It was his children's enthusiasm for oral stories that paved his way to becoming a professional storyteller in 1991, starting with a residency at Carlisle’s first Telling Tales Festival. John now lives in Kirkland, tells stories and gardens for Allanton Peace Sanctuary, sings in Cairn Chorus, co-organises the Moniaive Folk Festival and enjoys visits with his Glaswegian grandchildren. He travels far and wide to work with adults and children at festivals, ceilidhs, libraries, universities, care homes, castles and especially schools, around fires, indoors and out in Scotland and abroad.
[ Portrait by Katharine Wheeler ]
About writer's work
In stories of cunning, compassion, discovery, beauty and magic in the 'real' world John tells (and sings) of earth, sea and sky, tricksters, fools and elders, courageous girls and unlikely heroes. This is traditional storytelling, coloured by John's theatre work and background in music, with time enough between the tales for chat about stories, storytelling and pictures in the mind.
The stories are an international collection of legend, myth, folk-tale, fable, ballad and contemporary anecdote mostly from Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England, Greece, The Middle East, North America and Japan, chosen to suit the occasion, audience, date, place and whatever else is relevant on the day.
John’s tendency to step into his characters and make music with penny whistle, jaws-harp, voice or guitar is particularly appreciated by those with deafness, ADS or other differences. Happy with nursery upwards, he prefers working with the 8 to 17 year-olds who keenly engage with the challenges, quandaries and questions of honour that often feature in myth and legend. For any storytelling session John is happy to discuss themes.
Current events and projects
Projects: War, Peace, Justice & Potatoes, a project for which John was awarded a bursary by the SAC in 2005, brings together world-wide tales of wise and quirky approaches to peace making and negotiation. With further funding the project became a pillar of the 2008 Dumfries & Galloway storytelling Festival. Children from three schools were taken out on the hills to experience horse-drawn farming and stories that make strong connections between man and animal, land and food, machinery and local smiddy, resources, needs and conflict, playground negotiation and clan history. The grand finale event also served to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the Catstrand arts centre in new New Galloway.
John’s Eagle, Owl & Oak, Deer, Frog & Salmon project, started in 2009, inspires children to care for and respect the Natural World.
Laurieston Fire Festivals 1999 and 2003. Based on an old Borders legend told in the village school John dreamed up and, with the help of many villagers, directed two delightfully memorable Halloween fire festivals that lit the whole village and engaged and brought together residents and visitors of all ages.
Other work includes, Storyteller in residence at first Oslo Storytelling and Scottish Folk Festivals. Book Festivals: Edinburgh International and Ardnamurchan (residency). Multiple appearances in Scottish International and North Ayr Storytelling Fests. Storytelling for most of Scotland’s Library Departments. In-service workshops for Glasgow and Dumfries Library and Education Depts. Co-direction of SAC-funded storytelling development projects across Dumfries & Galloway. Work in primary and secondary schools all over Western and Central Scotland and Cumbria. First entry on SAC/BTS Writers List: 1999. Member of Equity.