My friend and colleague Grace Hallworth, who has died aged 93, was a storyteller, librarian and writer. Born in Trinidad to Mary and Adolphus Byam, she lived with her aunt, older sister and cousin – all teachers – and attended Bishop Anstey high, an Anglican girls’ school.
Grace told stories to family and friends, a habit she continued in her first job setting up libraries in Tobago. A scholarship to carry on with her studies in Canada followed and she then moved to Britain, where she met Trevor Hallworth, a civil engineer. They married in 1964. Together they travelled extensively, often visiting Ireland, where Grace was warmly welcomed.
Fellow storyteller Nuala Hayes says Grace believed that in sharing each others’ tales we share our common humanity. If she liked a story, she would ask permission of the teller to pass it on. In this way, she was part of an old tradition that stretches across the world from the Caribbean to Connemara.
As children’s librarian for Hertfordshire from 1957 to 1985, she inspired others through her Youth Libraries Group work, eventually appearing on television and radio both as a storyteller and contributor to media discussions of multiculturalism and books. Grace published several books of folk tales, with Down By the River nominated for the Kate Greenaway medal. She began to promote storytelling outside libraries, participating in the London Narrative Group with Harold Rosen and Margaret Meek.
After leaving Hertfordshire libraries, Grace continued as a professional storyteller. She mentored many of today’s leading proponents of the art and helped to establish The Society of Storytelling.
I persuaded Grace that her stories were perfect for the Cambridge reading series that I was developing. Gracie’s Cat, Sleep Tight, and Dancing to the River were three of her works, each one a gem, with her characteristic rhythms and sense of humour. Patrick Ryan, a fellow storyteller, remembers that in her retelling of James Joyce’s The Cat and the Devil she insisted that the devil was, of course, a Guardian reader, like herself.
For the past 10 years, Grace had been working on an as yet unpublished novel for young people and adults, Undersea, set in Tobago. It’s a wonderful mix of myth and contemporary fiction.
There was a strong spiritual aspect to Grace’s life, and she and Trevor shared an interest in Buddhism.
He died in 2010. Grace is survived by her nephew, Eugene, and other family members.