Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Adults’ Category

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…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A Surfeit of Stories

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

The life of the storyteller and story-writer has been a fruitful one in my experience of it. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that sometimes there’s a feeling of surfeit. Too many people going by, too much awareness of all the stories they’re part of, too many ifs and buts in every direction. And with all that, not enough time for digesting things and making something of them, not enough real satisfaction.

That’s how I feel right now after two months of hospital appointments when I’ve been one of so many people walking in and out of  the hospital’s foyer or sitting waiting to be seen by a doctor or a nurse. In hospitals, it’s as if the whole world is swishing around you as you try to deal with your own main story yet are aware of being profoundly distracted from what you consider to be your own real life.

That’s how it is. That’s how it’s still going to be for me for a while. Yet over the next fortnight, there’ll be some respite. A fortnight in Wales feels like a blissful prospect providing some welcome fresh air and rest before the three weeks of radiotherapy treatments that will form the last part of the treatment for my breast cancer.

An odd little coincidence

So it feels rather strange that yesterday an odd little coincidence occurred in my life. I love coincidences. They make good stories. I don’t believe they necessarily have profound meaning. The probability factors in the world around us may just as well account for some or all. Yet I do generally think that coincidences have value. The value is simply that they make us notice them. They give us points of meaning and, because human beings appreciate meaning, we realise the value of noticing.

So yesterday I was in Guy’s Hospital yet again for the CT scan which was needed for setting up my radiotherapy arrangements. At the end of the session, I was given the list of dates and times for the fifteen sessions that are to start in three weeks’ time. I looked at the list and then I smiled at the lovely radiographer who’d been seeing to me.

‘I have an extraordinary little story to tell you,’ I said. ‘Seven years ago, I had to have radiotherapy as the final part of the treatment I was given for nasal lymphoma. The last of those radiotherapy sessions happened on October 23rd which is my birthday. So now I’ve just looked at the list you’ve given me for the appointments I have to have this time round. And what do I see? The last date on the list is – guess what? –  October 23rd which is my birthday.’

‘Wow,’ said the radiographer. ‘That’s amazing.’ I agree. It is. But it’s not as amazing as that the sun comes up every morning even when it doesn’t shine through the clouds. Nor is it as amazing as the skill of surgeons and radiographers or the friendship that good friends show. What’s also very fine is a nice cup of tea.

PS: My photo this week is of the South American story-doll I was once given by Kevin Crossley-Holland after I’d edited a paper he’d written for publication by the Society for Storytelling. The doll seems to me to acknowledge not only the multiplicity of the tales which are part of a storytelling life but also the potential burden the storyteller carries in carrying them around.

Storytelling Starters ~ Getting the ending right

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Critic says, ‘How could you ever forget such a crucial part of the story?’

Self replies. ‘I know, I can’t bear it. All I can say is that story’s got two endings and at least I remembered the main one. ’

Critic continues: ‘But that’s really not good enough. If that boy hadn’t asked, your audience would have gone away without ever knowing the other ending.’

Self replies, a bit more assertive now: ‘Perhaps I can be partly forgiven? After all, it was a very big story, it was my first time to tell it and the children were so attentive. It held them for the whole of the hour we had and I probably got carried away by my feeling of pleasure that I was able to bring it together with just enough space for the silence with which I think all stories should end and then a few comments from them.’

Critic persists, a little more leniently now: ‘So how did you feel when that boy so urgently asked what had happened to the two jealous sisters?’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Finding a voice

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

A most poignant story came into my knowledge this week. It has made me realise all over again why storytelling workshops became so important a part of my work and why I’ve always tried to take an open approach to storytelling with children and adults. It’s quite simply the huge importance of giving people a voice.

The story cropped up in a very fine book I finished reading during the week. Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey is a history of several generations of the Fitzwilliam family, the fabulously wealthy owners of Wentworth House in the North East of England, and of the desperately poor mine-workers in the collieries they owned. One of many incidental stories in the book is of the son of a poor young woman by the name of May Bower who lived and worked in Wentworth village. Her son Edgar was believed to have been one of the numerous illegitimate children fathered by Billy Fitzwilliam, the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam.

A man without a voice:

(more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ How weird is that!

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Anyone who’s read A Long Run in Short Shorts, my recently self-published book, will know that synchronicities of all kinds are one of my interests. How do they come about? What do they mean?  Wowee! Thinking about two comments that arrived this week on two different postings I’d written, one last year, one this, produced a connection that made my mind go ping!

Two Comments: No. 1

The first comment to arrive was about the haunting poem, The Grey Dog of Rhu Arisaig, which I’d put into my blog of August 20th, 2016.  I’d seen the poem in a frame on a wall in Arisaig on the west coast of Scotland and, a number of times thereafter, had made it the centre of storytelling sessions with older children. Written by Roy Ferguson, the poem refers to the turbulent time of the Highland Clearances when crofters were cleared off the land by land-owners. Evidently, one of the local families that were evacuated by boat from Arisaig accidentally left behind a favourite collie dog. Afterwards, it was often said in the area that, at dusk on certain evenings, the grey ghost of the dog would appear, searching the shoreline for the family that had left it behind. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ On reflection

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Looking anew at a story in the light of new information can cause a bit of reflection. This happened to me this week. I’d been looking through my files of stories and had come across one I like a lot that I’ve sometimes told to younger children. It’s about a tiger and a mouse and you very likely know it already.

The Tiger and the Mouse:

So this tiger is marching through the forest when he almost trips over a little mouse.

‘Ha,’ says the tiger. ‘You got in my way. I’m going to eat you up.’

‘Oh, don’t do that,’ the little mouse replies. ‘You never know, one day I might be able to help you.’

‘You? Help me?’ blares the tiger. ‘You’re very small and weak. I’m very big and strong. How could you ever help me?’

(more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Walking

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

Ever tried it? You think of a walk you like to take. Or one you regularly took in the past. Then you take the walk again, this time sitting in an armchair or lying down. To start, you summon up a sense of where the walk begins, the moment you feel aware of what lies ahead. Then you continue, envisaging the next bit and the next and the next. And so you go on, also thinking about the pausing points – the meadow where there are sometimes cows and the part that’s often wet underfoot so that you have to negotiate your footsteps, the smells of the wooded part of the walk with its wild garlic and soggy leaves and also such sights as that of the strange fairy doll that must have been pushed by someone, who knows who, into the hollow trunk of a fallen tree.

So you continue and when you reach the long tangle of intertwined boughs just before that stone pillar, remains of a long-ago project that would have created a vast harbour here, you know you are now within the  smell and sound of the sea. So as you reach the narrow path that leads down to the pebble banks, you are full of anticipation, eager to see what kind of waves there will be and whether anyone has left some strange tower of stones somewhere along the length of the beach as a kind of tribute to the wind and the weather.

Once again, you fill with gratitude as you realise that this is one of your places. Gratitude for the walking and the being able to do it, gratitude for the fact that the place is still here, gratitude for the memory that enables you to recall it at will if you want to on any of the days that you’re actually there. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The good companion

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

A story I heard a long time ago told of a man who, for some reason I can’t now remember, had to make a very long journey. After a long time of walking along the road he needed to take, he began to feel very weary. Even as he became dispirited, however, he came upon another man who was walking the same path as him. That other man proved a good companion, constantly cheering him both with his talk and his companionable silence and helping him when he got into difficulties. Even so, with such a long way to go, the traveller became more and more tired, so much so that, one night, he felt he could no longer continue. Everything became a blur as he passed out.  (more…)