Leicester PhD student publishes book on traditional British ballads

PhD student Kevan Manwaring from our School of Arts is publishing a new book based on his Creative Writing PhD research which will appeal to people passionate about folk music and storytelling.

The book, entitled ‘Ballad Tales: an anthology of British ballads retold’, is published by The History Press, with a launch showcase planned for 9 June in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

A ballad is a song that tells a story and many traditional British ballads contain fascinating stories – tales of love and jealousy, murder and mystery, the supernatural and the historical.

Kevan instigated and commissioned the project and recruited 20 contributors to take part. He also illustrated and edited the anthology.

The anthology brings together nineteen original retellings in short story form, written by some of the country’s most accomplished storytellers, singers and wordsmiths.

Kevan said: “Ballad Tales is an exciting byproduct of my research into folk traditions here at the University of Leicester (the focus for my Creative Writing PhD has been the writing of a novel dramatizing the cross-fertilisation of song- and tale-cultures between the Scottish Lowlands and the Southern Appalachians).

“With the help of a PGR Fund grant I was able to conduct archival research at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, Cecil Sharp House, London. I hope readers will take away from this anthology a sense that a ballad is a movable feast -- resilient and adaptable -- which can be adapted into all kinds of forms, in this case short fiction.

“19 ballads were selected, but many more remain -- Ballad Tales is an invitation to engage with these folk artefacts in radical ways. Future editions may look at transcultural connections or focus on particular themes.”

Among the ballads are retellings of ballads such as ‘The Pretty Ploughboy’, ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ‘The Marriage of Gawain’, shedding fresh light on British folklore.