The Craft of Storytelling

Three of the country’s best storytellers will soon descend on Whitehorse for the Northern Lights Writers’ Conference. The conference features Terry Fallis, author of Best Laid Plans; Douglas Gibson, editor and publisher of luminaries such as Alice Munro; and hometown hero Ivan Coyote. The theme is The Storytellers.

Douglas Gibson wasn’t always a storyteller by trade. If you had told him six years ago he would be a professional storyteller he wouldn’t have believed you. But a chance encounter at a literary festival convinced him to perform stories about the authors he has worked with. Two books and more than 100 performances later, Gibson now travels across the country telling tales of Robertson Davies (“man of letters, oracle and ugly duckling”), W.O. Mitchell (“character and creator of characters”) and Alice Munro (“not bad short story writer”).

His latest role is similar to his former role as publisher: he gets to boast about great Canadian authors. However the shift was a large and sometimes difficult one. “The screen is still blank every day. It doesn’t care what you did before.”

Like Gibson, Terry Fallis did not become a storyteller until later in life. He trained as an engineer and ran his own communications firm. He helped clients shape their own stories, but a love of books and language drew him to write stories of his own. Especially funny stories.

“It was hard to find books that made me laugh,” Fallis says.

Writing humour is particularly difficult, he says, because unlike film or theatre, “all you have are black letters on a white page.”

But he’s particularly good at it. He has twice won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour – in 2015 and 2008.

Fallis relishes his new life as a professional storyteller.  

“I love the whole world it has opened up.”

Fallis is a popular speaker, with more than 100 speaking engagements each year. He is also at work on his sixth book.

Ivan Coyote, on the other hand, has worked as a professional storyteller for more than 20 years.

“I knew right away there was something about it that fit for me,” Coyote says. “I could feel it in my stage bones.”

Coyote has become renowned for speaking and writing on the themes of gender identity and sexuality. With six collections of short stories, one novel and countless performances to their credit, Coyote is, as The Globe and Mail described, “a natural-born storyteller.”

So what makes for a great storyteller? According to Ivan, “it’s a combination of belonging on the stage without being arrogant, a surety in your words, a love of being there, and a respect for the crowd…”

Great storytellers can be found in all walks of life. Coyote’s favourites include authors Joseph Boyden, Richard Van Camp and singer Joni Mitchell.

Come see these celebrated writers present at the Northern Lights Writers’ Conference on Jan. 23 and 24 at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. They may inspire you to put pen to paper or to take a mic in hand and start telling stories of your own.

What and When:


Workshops run from 10: 30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m

Douglas Gibson’s show at 7:30 p.m (Old Firehall)


Presentations begin at 1 p.m.

Battle of the Books at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre at 3 p.m.

Ivan Coyote at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre at 7 p.m.

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