Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Read more about me

 
live in Brixton in South London with my husband Paul. We also spend a lot of time at our home in the village of Mathri in my native North Pembrokeshire. We both love walking, books, young people, singing, the theatre, cats and our many friends.
 


Getting going
 
I started storytelling in the early 1980s when I was supposed to be writing  a book on feral children. While stuck on how to conclude the book, I stumbled across the Storytelling Scheme that was being run at that time by Lambeth Libraries.The scheme was looking for more storytellers to pay regular visits to local Under-5s groups and entertain older children in holiday times. I felt at once that this was something for me.
 
A hilarious audition led to a small part-time job which I pursued with growing commitment and interest over the next four years. By the time I left to explore new storytelling opportunities, I knew I was far from alone: this thing called storytelling was going on elsewhere too. What was later recognized as the Great Storytelling Revival had begun.


My new storytelling ventures included my first visits to local schools and, with the support of Lambeth Adult Education, putting on courses and workshops in storytelling. Lambeth's ethnic diversity  together with the resonance and general appeal of storytelling were reflected in the variety of people who attended, all bringing stories from their different backgrounds.
 
These sessions led to further new ventures - training sessions for local authorities all over London, storysharing courses for Asian women in Tooting, storytelling courses for parents in Redbridge and, importantly,  the creative storytelling workshops for adults that I ran with fellow storyteller Karen Tovell at the Drill Hall Arts Centre in Central London and the Holborn Centre for the Performing Arts over the ten-year period from 1986 to 1996.

Developing the work

 

By the mid-80s, the National Oracy Project was drawing attention to how storytelling assists in developing childrenís speaking and listening and releasing their creativity. A powerfully innovative force in childrenís education, the project provided me with a great deal of employment as well as significant new challenges such as  working with very young children and creating techniques for working with children for whom English is a second language. Although the sudden emergence of the National Curriculum and, subsequently, Literacy Hour prevented the Oracy Projectís achievements from coming to full fruition at that time, the experience proved crucially helpful to me and other storytellers in the development of our work.


By Word of Mouth - booklet cover
1990 saw the airing of By Word of Mouth, the four-part TV series on storytelling Iíd proposed to Channel 4. This was my attempt to show the variety and colour of what was now going on in storytelling in this country. Limitations on time and budget meant no filming outside the London area. But as well as presenting an overview - traditional storytelling for adults, therapeutic storytelling, storytelling in schools Ė the series tried giving a sense of what storytelling means to human beings and the powerful place it holds in our lives. The accompanying booklet became Channel 4ís best-selling booklet to that date.

New developments
 

Since 1990, many important developments have taken place in the UK storytelling world. One was the formation of the Society for Storytelling in 1993. I became an active member from its inception. Between 1994 and 1996 when I was Deputy Chair and then Chair, I was one of the team that spearheaded a significant Storytelling in Education campaign. This included a document that went out to all schools in the country and a nationwide programme of related events. I also helped initiate the Artisan, Oracle and Papyrus series of booklets and continued to edit these until the SfS decided to digitalise them, a project that sadly remains unachieved. Altogether, seventeen booklets were published on various aspects of storytelling including papers by Kevin Crossley-Holland, Ben Haggarty, Dick Leith, Hugh Lupton, Daniel Morden, Rob Parkinson, Simon Heywood, Sally Pomme Clayton, Grace Hallworth and Alida Gersie.


Performance work

Planning Storysharing in Tobago
The development of storytelling as a performance art brought another arena of activity with guest performances at festivals and clubs throughout the UK and abroad, including the Festival at the Edge in Shropshire, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh, the Yarnspinners Clubs in Belfast and Dublin, the North Pennines Storytelling Festival, the Bay of Islands Festival in New Zealand, the Glistening Waters International Storytelling Festival in New Zealand, the Baxter Theatre Storytelling Festival in Cape Town and the Tobago Storysharing Festival.
 
During my trips abroad, I have also worked widely with schools, colleges and community groups, including becoming the first woman to speak publicly in the then newly opened Maori marae in Rotorua. Other international engagements include the first performances of a specially commissioned work for choir and storyteller, Lifting the Sky, composed by Victor Davies, with the North American Welsh Choir in the USA.
 
I have performed as storyteller in residence at numerous museums and galleries including the British Museum, the Royal Observatory and Somerset House in London.

I have worked collaboratively with other artists including musician Kathie Prince and painter Catrin Webster. (To see an account of Catrin's and my Laugharne Boathouse Project click www.oriel.ysgolccc.org.uk/boathouse). I have also toured several one-woman shows including Travels with my Welsh Aunt which is based on the tales and travels of my Aunty Mali (who wasnít actually a blood relation). Another of my shows, Shemiís Tall Tales, tells the stories of Shemi W‚d, the North Pembrokeshire tall-tale teller who died in 1897 and whose stories I have retold in my book of the same name.  

Storytelling consultancy

In 1992, as a storytelling consultant, I organised the Barbicanís Fairy Tales weekend, Tender is the North. In 1998 as one of the partners in The Whole Story consultancy with Sally Tonge and Mike Wilson, I set up and performed in the week-long Take the Story Trail Festival in Dorset. In 2004 I devised a major storytelling programme for the Rowntree Foundation to celebrate their founder, the philanthropist Joseph Rowntree. With The Whole Story, I have also carried out major consultancies for library authorities and arts organizations on provision of storytelling and storytelling training. More recently, I was one of the Advisory Committee that helped with the formation of the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling at the University of Glamorgan. 

Television and radio

Storytelling has brought me a number of broadcasting opportunities. My work featured in Common Bonds, the video of the National Oracy Project. My radio programme on storytelling for BBC Wales Education's Fun with Words was broadcast in November 1999. Since the airing of my TV series, By Word of Mouth, I have appeared on BBC TVís Breakfast News Extra, Film Educationís Mulan Ė Filming Folktales and in Radio 4ís documentary on Eric Carleís The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Writing

I am a regular reviewer for School Librarian and have written widely on storytelling. As well as articles for newspapers and magazines including the Times Educational Supplement, Nursery World, Under 5, Early Years Educator, English in Wales, Facts and Fiction Magazine and Storylines, I have written two storytelling books for adults working with children. The Little Book of Storytelling and Stories for Young Children and how to tell them! arose out of my Early Years training work. The latter includes a CD of me telling the stories in the book. My booklet, Tell It, now out of print, was published under my own Storyworks imprint as a guide to storytelling across the Primary-age range.
 
Writing Voices by Teresa Cremin and Debra Myhill, published in 2012, includes a mini-chapter by me on storytelling in schools. I also have a chapter in the important new book on storytelling and sustainability, Storytelling for a Greener World, which was edited by Alida Gersie and others and published in 2014. 

Training work

Another major aspect of my work as a storyteller has been in helping other people - teachers, librarians, nursery staff, parents and other storytellers - to develop confidence in storytelling and storytelling skills. I have carried out regular training for organisations including the Institute of Education in London,  the Maria Montessori Training Organisation and a wide range of local authorities including Manchester, Barnet, Croydon, Waltham Forest and Pembrokeshire. I have given storytelling workshops at TES conferences up and down the land and have carried out major Early Years training programmes for Enfield, Merton, Barnet and other authorities and organisations, including Sure Start. I have given seminars at Guardian Education Days and have also worked with students, for instance in sessions over many years at the University of Warwick. I have conducted storytelling workshops at festivals and conferences throughout England and Wales and have often appeared as keynote speaker.

Schools' work

By today, I have completed dozens of residencies and many hundreds of one-off visits in secondary, primary and nursery schools across England and Wales. Some of the work has been straight performance. Some has involved workshop activities to develop children's storytelling abilities. All of it has been about encouraging children in a love of stories and the creative imagination. Some years ago, I also began working through the medium of Welsh, thus achieving a lifetime ambition after a childhood when I hardly ever spoke in Welsh despite understanding and reading the language. In Wales, many of the programmes I have carried out, for instance on local legends, have been designed to further the Cwriciwlwm Cymreig and the children's experience of Welsh culture.

Recent writing

One of the biggest challenges in my life since starting to become an oral storyteller was getting back to creative writing. During the 1990s, I edited several popular anthologies of stories collected from other storytellers (Time for Telling and Tales from Africa).

Then in 2003 I published my first childrenís novel, Open Secret , which is set in South-West Wales. Elephant Luck, my second childrenís novel, travels from my own birthplace in Fishguard to Kenya, the country where I worked as a VSO after leaving school.
 

Shemi

My latest publication, Shemiís Tall Tales, is my retelling of the stories and life of the tall-tale teller, Shemi W‚d, whom I first learned about from my father. The book has brought together many of the threads in my own life. I hope that, through writing the book as well as through telling Shemi's stories to new audiences today, I am helping him and his stories to come back to life for future generations.

I am also attempting to give Shemi new life through the lecture on him and his stories which I have developed. The lecture is an opportunity to share my research on how we know about Shemi and my experience of what has become of the oral tradition that grew up around him. My most recent delivery of this lecture was in October 2014 at the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling at the University of South Wales in Cardiff.

Awards and nominations and events

2010 was my year of dealing with lymphoma. Since that time, I've done rather more writing than storytelling. I have completed a book of short personal tales - A Long Run In Short Shorts - and have been writing my weekly Blog, Storytelling Starters. I have also begun writing in Welsh, an exciting development for me.

On the storytelling front, memorable events over the last few years have included performances as part of the London Welsh Literary Festival, my annual visit to the University of Warwick, performances in Llandudno and Llangollen, participation in the celebrations of Dylan Thomas at the 2014 Fitzrovia Festival and a number of school visits. In 2013, I was honoured to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from BASE (British Awards for Storytelling Excellence) and also to be nominated as a storyteller for the highly prestigious Astrid Lindgren Award.


 
© Mary Medlicott & Storyworks 2017 | site by knowHowe Ltd