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"Last Storyteller" Delaney knows how to get attention

By Andrea Burzynski

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Frank Delaney knows a surefire way to capture a person's attention. In fact, the New York Times bestselling author and former BBC broadcaster claims he can do it with only eight words.

"You say, 'Listen, I have a story to tell you,' and everybody's looking," he told Reuters.

In the "The Last Storyteller: A Novel of Ireland", being published on February 7, Delaney does just that -- grabs readers simply by telling stories. The final book of his historical fiction trilogy interweaves ancient legends with stories from his characters, while protagonist Ben McCarthy learns to make sense of his life by telling his own tales and those of others.

The novel follows McCarthy, a collector for Ireland's Folklore Commission, as he traverses the landscape of his country seeking stories. Along his journey, he tries to reunite with his estranged wife and falls into an uneasy friendship with an IRA gunrunner. Ben hears many myths and legends - often from an old masterful storyteller whom he seeks to emulate - and finds versions of these ancient tales playing out in his own life and in the lives of those around him.

"Legend echoes life, and life echoes legend all the time," Delaney told Reuters. "That's the theme of the book - that our own stories, no matter what they are, can be found always in legends and mythologies."

Delaney said the legends he incorporated into the book came from a variety of sources, including his own imagination.

"Some of the stories are from the very ancient past, some of them I embellished, and some I just plain made up," he said. "They're all there for a purpose, and they all move the story along in one way or another."

OLD STORIES, MODERN TALES

"The Last Storyteller" is the third title in a series that included "Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show" and "The Matchmaker of Kenmare", which also feature McCarthy as the key character. Though his most recent book completes the trilogy, Delaney said he wrote "The Last Storyteller" as its own novel for readers who don't know the previous two.

The book takes place during the 1950s, which was a time of political uncertainty, poverty and violence in Ireland. In some ways, that volatility mirrors society today.

And Delaney acknowledges that the appetite for stories can be bolstered by tough times, although he believes storytelling is a universal and timeless art.

"When times are tough, we almost need story more than any other time," he said.

Stories can be a way to escape reality during hard times, he said, pointing to the number of movies based in fantasy or exaggeration since 2008's global recession led to lost jobs and weak economies.

Delaney noted that storytelling traditions of the past are being carried on today through movies, television, books and online media. He calls Hollywood action movies "a mutation of the fireside dragon story".

He cites the movie "Moneyball" with Brad Pitt and the "Harry Potter" books by J.K. Rowling as examples of good contemporary storytelling, saying that any well-told tale compels its audience to find out what happens next.

Whether told by a fireside, in a book, or on a movie screen, Delaney hopes that "The Last Storyteller" will lead to a lot of first-time storytellers.

"The way you tell your story cannot be done by anybody else," he said. "It's the one unique thing we have, our own personal private culture. The purpose of this particular book is to show us how to use that culture."

(Reporting By Bob Tourtellotte)

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