Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Adults’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Stew

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Last week this blog was a pot-pourri. This week it’s more by way of a stew.

Item 1:

Item 1 must be my new book which will be out in only four days’ time. Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years will be available to buy on my website and I’ll say more about it here next week. I do hope it encourages early years staff and parents (and what about grandparents?) to realise that, next to food and love, stories are vital to the growth of healthy children. In fact, they are part of the food and the love. It seems that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, agrees. A few days in advance of this year’s World Book Day, in a piece in the Sunday Express that was in turn reported on the BBC and then re-reported in the Guardian, she described how much joy it gave her as a child that her father had read stories with her. She went on: “Reading to our children and our grandchildren is something we can all try to do every day of the year. Not only does it give us pleasure but it leads them on a voyage of discovery and enrichment that only books can bring.”

Item 2:

Item 2 has to be about the personal tale. On the 10th March, the word ‘storytelling’ appeared in another piece in the Guardian. Of course, it caught my eye. The piece reported former President Obama’s senior adviser, Eric Schultz, having told the New York Times: ‘President and Mrs Obama have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire. Throughout their lives they have lifted up stories of people whose efforts to make a difference are quietly changing the world for the better.’

And why was Eric Schultz saying this now? Because, evidently, there’s a possibility that Barack and Michelle Obama might be on the verge of signing up to present a series of high-profile shows on Netflix. Hence the connection with storytelling: ‘As they consider their future personal plans, they continue to explore new ways to help others tell and share their stories.’

On Tuesday this week, the Obamas’ possible plan came back to my mind during a visit to St Peter’s School in Hammersmith. As twice before, I was there to do a day’s storytelling for their Arts Week and it felt very encouraging  that lots of the 300 children I saw in the course of the day remembered those previous visits. Until this year, however, I’d never made a conscious choice to tell a personal story in any of my sessions. This time with Years 5 and 6, it was a spontaneous but very conscious choice. I was planning to tell two main stories, each somewhat scary in its way. One was going to be that Indian story about the barber and the ghosts that I recently told in this blog. The other was going to be the strange and thought-provoking story by Richard Hughes, The Glass Ball. (You can find it in my blog for November 29th, 2014.) A story about war – and, yes, the Year 5 and 6 children were very aware of war from the TV – it begins with the ever-present fear war brings of being trapped and hurt or killed and the wonder of it when peace is found.

£8.50 (£10 inc UK postage)

On the hop, because I’d be telling these two scary stories and felt suddenly aware of the scariness ahead – I began with the story that comes first in by book of personal tales, A Long Run in Short Shorts. The experience, as I explained, had been a bit scary for me. For as I’d started down that hill in Wales, on my own and, as daylight darkened, not looking forward to shaded places on the road back home, I’d initially been very startled by the sight of those two strange men coming up the hill towards me. Jowly faces, thin bare legs, very short shorts, knobbly knees: who could they be and why would they be coming up that hill towards me at that time of the evening? And would I have to be following them on my way home?

After my personal tale, I went on to the barber story and then suggested a minute’s visualising to the 60 or so young people before me. A scene from the barber story was what I proposed they choose. And when, after a minute or so had elapsed, I invited anyone who wanted to report what they’d ‘seen’, quite a lot of children put up their hand But only one  described a scene from the barber story. All the others for whom there was time came up with something personal, something a bit scary that had happened to them. It was a real reminder to me of the power of the personal story and the importance of including our own lives in the wider context of storytelling. It was also a lesson to me to perhaps make more time for that kind of telling with that age-group in future.

Item 3:

The third item in my stew again involves reference to a Guardian piece (you can tell it’s the paper I read!) This was the three-page obituary of Stephen Hawking that appeared there on Thursday. Written by his colleague Sir Roger Penrose, the majority of the piece was about Hawking’s scientific thinking and the extraordinary advances he made in the science of space.

Alas, I understood only those parts of the tribute that referred to Hawking’s life and personality. But the stuff about his science brought back to mind the last session of my day at St Peter’s.

That last session was with the 7 to 9 year-old in Years 3 and 4. It included a telling of the West African story, How Sun and Moon Got Into the Sky. You know the one? (If not, you can find it in my blog archive for January 14th, 2012.) Briefly, it tells how Sun and Moon once lived down here on earth. They were married and in the house where they lived, Moon used to do lots of polishing (for of course, these were the olden times before female emancipation) whereas Sun used to go out to chat with his friend Water. On one occasion, Sun inquired why Water never came to visit him and why he, Sun, always had to go and see Water. Water’s response was to enquire whether Sun had enough room in his house for him. ‘After all,’ said Water, it’s not just me. There’s an awful lot in me. (Fishes, sharks, seaweed … the story gives lots of space for participation).’

So Sun went and extended his house. (Again, the idea of extensions gives plenty of room for contributions). Finally, the invitation was confirmed. Water would come to tea. On the appointed day, Sun and Moon were ready. They heard Water coming. But of course the results were truly world-changing.  As Water flooded into the house with all that was in him, Moon followed by Sun had to run upstairs and climb out onto the roof. But even that wasn’t going to be enough. Soon Moon was saying, ‘I must go, I must jump.’ And when she did, Sun said, ‘Wait for me!’ So that’s how they both got into the sky and, of course, they’re still there (though some of us do say that, in the immensity of space, they still meet whenever there’s an eclipse and others remark that they had lots of children, namely the stars).

The response to this story on Tuesday amazed me. How much those children knew about space! It all came out in questions and comments. Wouldn’t Water have got evaporated by Sun when Water came to the house? How did Sun and Moon manage to jump into the sky considering that gravity would have held them back? Considering that Sun is so massive, how could Sun have had a house big enough to live in here on earth?

Naturally, the awareness of science those children showed, together with their capacity to think about it, came back into my mind yesterday when I read the obituary of Stephen Hawking in the Guardian. What an astonishing mind he had, a mind as big as a planet. And reading about him, I felt very aware that all that thinking had to have started somewhere. Conceivably the challenges provided to a modern mind by an ancient West African story can help such thinking to begin.

PS: Illustrations this week speak for themselves. Hope you enjoy the stew!

Storytelling Starters ~ Pot-pourri

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word pot-pourri in its first recorded usage in 1725 referred to a stew or a hotch-potch. Not long later in 1749 it was being used, as now, to describe a mixture of dried petals of different flowers mixed with spices. But of course it can also have the figurative meaning of a musical or literary medley. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Mirror, mirror

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

What happened became something I’d never forget as the young Masai moran stared at the camera, stared again, then summoned the others to come and look. One by one, they took turns to do so.. And why? What the first young man had seen was a reflection of himself in the camera lens. Now everyone else had to have a look too. Camera had become mirror. And this was fascinating to those Masai people for, at that point anyway, they had no mirrors.

This encounter occurred during a weekend safari trip made by myself and my then boyfriend at some point during the nine months I spent in Kenya as a VSO (Volunteer for Service Overseas) before I went to University. At that time, the VSO scheme was for school-leavers in the belief that the time those accepted onto it spent in developing countries would have a powerful and probably beneficial effect on them and also, in terms of what they could do to help, on the communities they went to. They were certainly right in regard to myself and the long-term effect. (more…)

Storytelling starters ~ We are painters

Saturday, February 10th, 2018

Fascinating how what is true in one art form can have such meaning for another! On Wednesday, we went to the Wigmore Hall in central London to be in the audience for a Masterclass given by Thomas Quasthoff with four young baritone singers.

Quasthoff is a bass baritone of extraordinary eminence, all the more extraordinary because he was born with such severe birth defects as to make him under 5 feet tall. Also his arms are severely foreshortened. These defects result from the fact that when his mother was pregnant with him, she was prescribed thalidomide, the drug which was afterwards realised to have such horrendous effects. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Moving the chairs

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

‘Imagination,’ Grace said, picking up on the final word of the story I’d just told. ‘Imagination is ..’.: and her thought continued, ending in an invitation to anyone present to tell a story. Specifically, she turned towards a neighbour in the home where she now lives whom she knew had a story to tell.

And so the Story Sharing began, the second part of a day that had been arranged to honour Grace Hallworth at the end of the month of her 90th birthday. Grace remains a much-loved figure in the storytelling world. She became the first Chairperson of the Society for Storytelling, the SfS, when it was formed back in 1993. She’s told her stories at festivals, schools and storytelling events all over the UK and elsewhere. She has published a large number of books of her stories both for adults and for children. Most of all, she has been a powerful voice for the value of stories in allowing us to discover, express and share our innermost selves as human beings. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Trouble with love

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

On Thursday this week, there was an email from an old American friend which consisted of just four words: Happy Saint Dwynwen’s Day. January 24th? I hadn’t remotely remembered about Saint Dwynwen.

So I looked her up. Like the story of Saint Valentine, it’s a tragic tale! Standing up for the right to love and the cause of lovers but ending up sadly alone: that’s the story of Dwynwen. And like so many old tales of this sort, this story makes my hackles rise. The power of wealth, the power of men over women, fathers over daughters: my goodness, it makes you wonder why we still celebrate such stories.

The story of Dwynwen:


Storytelling Starters ~ Decluttering

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

Short blog today. Too much going on.

Clutter, decluttering … words are words. Dealing with what they represent is another kind of thing that involves effort and determination and a sense of purpose. Personally, I can’t decide what’s more urgent – decluttering rooms, shelves and boxes of paper or decluttering my mind.

All around me, friends are talking about decluttering their houses. From one I got a sense of great mounds of stuff, bags of no-longer-needed belongings and boxes of papers (not all of them his) and finally making his way past them to a cupboard in which hung clothes that had hung there unworn for many years, taunting him with images from the past. From another I got the sense that, looking around her house, she simply didn’t like the sight of anything she saw. What was she to do? What are any of us to do? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Regenerating

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

I’ve never been an assiduous follower of Doctor Who. But down in Wales with a guest who loves it, we did watch the Christmas episode. It contained a wonderful example of regeneration as Peter Capaldi who has been the twelfth doctor spiralled through turning circles of time and space to become the thirteenth, a woman played by Jodie Whittaker.


Regeneration is a good theme for this point of the year. At the end of this particular year, it feels especially apt when so many people I’ve talked with have confessed that, for them too, 2017 has felt like a year we want to see the back of.

So, much like Doctor Who spiralling into a new emanation, images of regeneration have been swishing round in my mind. Wasn’t there a girl sent out into the woods by a cruel stepmother who had demanded to be brought strawberries for supper? What ever was the girl to do? It was the depth of winter, the end of the year, and not the time for strawberries (except in supermarkets!).  Rescue came in the bitter night when she met a man in the woods who brought her to a blazing fire around which sat a ring of men of all ages from very old to very young. And didn’t those men stand and chant the year forwards, regenerating winter into summertime so that the poor girl was then able to gather the strawberries her cruel stepmother required? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Further thoughts on reading

Saturday, December 16th, 2017

Last week’s  theme on reading continued popping up this week and in several different ways.  First came a comment on last week’s blog from storyteller Janet Dowling in which she said she often gets asked to do readings. And it seems the reason people ask her is because she’s a storyteller. When you come to think about it, perhaps that’s not surprising. Bill yourself as a storyteller and people can be fairly confident about several important points. First is that you’re used to speaking to an audience. Second is that you probably have a voice that is used to speaking with expression. Not everyone who gets to read aloud has that!

Second this week, I noticed a contribution on reading in the regular blog put out by the London Review of Books (a fortnightly journal of which I’m an avid reader). The blog piece from Gill Hartington was evidently prompted by a visit she made to The Hague’s Museum Meermanno, ‘the House of the Book’. In the museum was an exhibition which makes use of screens, moving images, sound and all kinds of other data to explore and examine the act of reading. According to Gill Partington, The Art of Reading: From William Kentridge to Wikipedia is not so much an exhibition of contemporary book artists as an attempt to use their work to ask what reading is. ‘What does it mean to see written marks and transform them into meaning, or into speech? Does reading take place in the mind, the eye, the body, or in the digital devices on which we increasingly rely?’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Breaking the rules

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

This week, I’m owning up to breaking what has always seemed to be a rule among storytellers. When first I fell into storytelling, it was the early days of the storytelling revival. At that time, as I wrote in this blog a while ago, even such a thing as including a poem in a storytelling session was regarded as not allowed. Ever since, I’ve also felt aware that, as a storyteller, I should never expect or be expected to read something in public. No. My role, I felt, was to maintain the distinction between reading and telling and to bring to the fore the art of telling without a script.

Doing readings:

So let me admit to breaking that rule on two London occasions (and also, I’ll now admit, a year ago down in Pembrokeshire too).  The second London occasion happened last Sunday evening; the first had taken place in December a year ago. On both these London occasions, my husband Paul was giving a concert at Clapham Omnibus Theatre in aid of Crisis, the homelessness charity. Paul does the singing with his friend Steve playing the piano and this year, I’d say, they outshone what they did last year and in their first Crisis concert the previous year too. It was during this year’s event, as during last year’s, that I did readings. (more…)