Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Adults’ Category

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…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Making peace

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Two linked stories form my blog this week. One concerns the ancient Welsh cycle of stories, the Mabinogi. The second was reported in the Guardian newspaper on 25th November. The theme of both is the redeeming of lives from the terrible destructions wrought by the human need to take revenge. The link is provided by a place in Pembrokeshire, my home county, which is commonly known as Narberth today. It’s Arberth in Welsh and in the Mabinogi. And the reason the link has come about is because of a very good book which I’d like to tell you about as an introduction.

Introduction:

The other day I was in the London Library checking the New Books shelves when, among the larger tomes, I spotted a slim, red-covered book with The Mabinogi on the spine. ‘What can this be?’ I wondered. ‘Too slim to be the stories or a commentary on them!’ Well, my goodness, the book turned out to be a fantastic new version of the Mabinogi in poetry written by a poet called Matthew Francis and recently published by Faber & Faber.

Concise, rugged, colourful, sharp: Matthew Francis’ poem makes a vivid new thing of that magical cycle of stories. Wholly written in the present tense and focusing on key moments and scenes, it gives the mind and imagination of the reader an entirely fresh perspective that at the same time pays great service to the marvellous old tales. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Just checking

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

This week has been all about checking. It’s a fiddlesome, pernickety job and it has reminded me of some of the feelings I had when, years ago I got involved in storytelling, I was struggling to finish a book on the fascinating subject of wolf-children. I’ve written before about the problems I had – how I used to agonise about getting the wordings right as well as making sure I had the correct information and was ordering it in sensible ways.

A Talking Book?

Soon I began to fantasise. How much better it would be to be a Talking Book in a library. People who came into the library could come over and talk to me about my subject. In the subsequent conversation, I could take their personal interests into account and direct my talk accordingly. There could be other advantages. The library might take care of my clothing (my covers). They might even give me board and lodging.

My fantasy must have been a premonition. Eventually came the day when I almost literally bumped into the poster in my local library calling for storytellers to join the Lambeth Libraries Storytelling Scheme. Immediately I started the work, I found myself relishing the fact that, telling a story, you didn’t have to fix your words. You could improvise, re-phrase, say things twice but in different ways, enjoy the freedom of your words going into the air and not having to be checked. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Talk about remembering!

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Storytelling workshops I used to run had one noticeable effect on some of the people who attended. They’d suddenly acquire a new interest in their own past. No doubt this was partly prompted by the fact that I take a wide view of story: in my storytelling world, personal and family story co-exist with myth and folk-tale and legend. The new interest of people coming to workshops would doubtless arise from a fresh perception of how influential memory is in our lives and how strongly it is linked with imagination.

I remember several who attended workshops subsequently deciding to investigate their own parents’ lives and perhaps write books about them. Now I’m hoist with my own petard. Or should I put that differently and say similarly challenged? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Memory, remembering and memorizing

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Thought-provoking thoughts about memory and memorizing came from a blog reader, Peter, this week in a comment he sent on a blog I’d written back in July, 2013 (for of course you can go back to previous posts in the archive).  Replying, I made the point that memorizing the words of a story is not something I do as a storyteller. Yes, there was once a Russian story about an egg that came in the form of a poem. I remember learning that by heart. And of course some stories include a phrase or a rhyme that needs to be remembered word for word. Otherwise, memorizing is no longer much part of my life.

Memorizing: the weekly task

Yet Peter’s comment made me think about the huge amount of exact memorizing I used to do as a child. In Fishguard Primary school, we all had to learn two poems each week, one Welsh, one English. Each week, our teacher would test us on them. Then every now and again, our horrible headmaster would arrive in our classroom, call someone out front with their exercise book in which were written the poems we’d learned, select one poem from the many and then ask the poor child to speak it. What a bullying thing to do! (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Storytelling Ventures

Saturday, October 28th, 2017

Two different ventures are my subject this week. One involves one of the readers of this blog – Swati Kakodkar.

Becoming a storyteller:

Swati lives in Bangalore in India. She became interested in storytelling when she lived in America and started taking her young son along to her local library. She loved seeing and hearing the storytelling sessions that were held there and she loved how they involved her son.

So when Swati moved to Bangalore, she took up storytelling herself. She enrolled at an institute in Bangalore which gives training and knowledge in storytelling. She also arranged to go regularly to tell stories to a children’s group.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Sands of Time

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

The first time I had cancer, I was visited by an old friend of Paul’s family, a fine and loveable man who died earlier this year. To the end of his life, he retained his simply expressed but deep sort of wisdom. You could see it in the smile in his eyes. So there was I back then, worrying whether I should be seeking out different sorts of treatment from the one I was being offered. What this friend said in sum was this: ‘Mary, why don’t you allow yourself to be a package that can be looked after and handed along by those who know what to do?’

The second time I had cancer, back in 2010, I received a card with a story enclosed from a storyteller who’d become a good friend some time before during the week-long storytelling course I ran with Shonaleigh for the Festival at the Edge. I came across the card and story again while sorting through papers in my study this week. The story touched an important nerve in my thoughts during this third time of my being treated for cancer.

The story is The Tale of the Sands.  It’s to be found in Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah, the author and teacher who devoted his life to key works from the Sufi tradition, conveying and adapting them to the needs of the West. In my own words, The Tale of the Sands says something like this: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Secret places

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

Secret places have a strong attraction for many of us. It would be hard to say why. Whatever words are used to explain it, there’s always something that remains inexplicable, mysterious beyond any kind of explanation.

My story this week is about such a place. It’s a fable from China told or retold by T-ao Ch’ien. I’ve loved the story for a very long time and in fact have included it in this blog twice before in 2013 and 2015. But I’ve not previously included a haunting poem that relates to the story. I saw the poem again this week while looking for something else in one of my storytelling notebooks. It felt like re-meeting a very old friend. Written by a poet called Wang Wei who lived from A.D. 699 – 761, it captures both the beauty of the story and, for me, the feeling behind it.

The story:

A fisherman one day was rowing upriver and became so absorbed by the flow of the water that he rowed for a very long time, looking up only when he saw beautiful reflections in the water in the shapes and colours of flowers. When he looked up he saw he was in the middle of a peach blossom forest. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Finding a Line

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Finding a line is what I do. But what does focusing on the line leave out? Last week’s story here in this blog was about two girls who were transformed by the King of the Deep into seagulls, eternally destined thereafter to fly between land and sea.

The two birds began to make a little line in my mind. By Thursday, delving into nursery rhymes for a piece I am writing, I found myself considering that clever little verse, so fascinating to children when it’s done with hand actions:

Pete and Repete sat on a wall.
Pete flew off.
Who was left?
Repete.

There are numerous variants of this rhyme. But whatever one is used, one thing is certain. With children, it has to be repeated again and again.  And again. So, my child’s heart still present within me, it was lovely for me yesterday morning when Paul called me to the bedroom window in our house here in Wales. Crows were flying into and over the big old tree in our neighbour’s back yard. Always they arrived in pairs, settling in the tree, then perhaps moving position, then apparently in the shared whim of a moment sailing out into the windy grey air. Paul commented on how they must be enjoying their aerodynamics – or was it aerobatics? (more…)