Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Dealing with Stories’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Marking the day

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

At least it’s not raining on this extra Leap Day – at least not yet. Tomorrow is St David’s Day and, in memory, that was always a day of celebration when, at school, we girls all wore a daffodil pinned to our jackets and the boys wore leeks (which they’d diligently chew almost to nothing over the course of the day).

To celebrate St David’s Day every year in St David’s, an Eisteddfod is held in the City Hall. Eistedd in Welsh means sitting and fod (mutated here from bod) means being. So yesterday, two days in advance of the day itself, there we were, Paul and me, sitting in St David’s City Hall as two of the hall-full of people ready to participate in a whole day of competitions of many kinds, among them reciting and dancing and singing alone or in groups. Paul and I won a number of prizes – alas, no firsts – and so came home with a handful of little prize-bags made from the beautiful woollen cloth donated by Tregwynt Woollen Mill.

The tradition:

Evidently, the first known Eisteddfod took place in Cardigan in 1176 under the aegis of the Lord Rhys. It’s a tradition that has persisted all over Wales, though not necessarily on St David’s Day. For many, many youngsters it becomes the route to a future in musical performance or, since prose and poetry competitions are usually included – literary success. Bryn Terfel is just one of the many performers who rose to success in this way. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Power of Place

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

From time to time over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking, writing and singing about Llansteffan, the estuary village on the coast of Carmarthenshire. This morning, as Llansteffan popped into  my mind yet again, a new thought came with it. What about thinking back on your life not in terms of what you were doing there or who else was present, but simply by place?

If you did this, you’d be focusing less on yourself, more on the places where you’d spent time. What did those places look like? What was the atmosphere? The weather? Focusing less on yourself, you’d be concentrating more on the places themselves. Landscape, atmosphere, weather, any other people that are there and their ways of talking: you could almost try leaving yourself out of the picture altogether. This way, you might find greater richness in your memories than you’d expected. Come to think of it, it might work in a similar way to the piece of advice given to me once by my sister-in-law. She is a superb photographer. And her advice? Always look round the edges of the scene in your viewfinder when you’re about to take a photo. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Busy

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

As my website reports, they’re here. They arrived on Thursday. Five cardboard boxfuls of them were pushed into the house. Held  on to a  heavy palette by thick plastic which had to be cut away with a big pair of scissors before any box could be opened to reveal my new book, The Uses of ‘a’ … and other stories. The first person to see them, along with Paul and me, was storyteller Meg Philp who lives in Australia and was staying with us at the time.

The book contains 24 stories. These range in subject from a refugee desperately searching for her children to a wandering minstrel on his way to praise a prince to a young woman in the throes of deciding whether or not to make a Christmas cake (spoiler alert: she does!). These stories were written over the last few years whenever one came into my head. I really enjoyed the writing of them and then eventually realising that I had what I could call a collection. I hope you might like to purchase a copy. See the end of this blog for how to order.

A special pleasure of deciding to self-publish a book is getting it designed. What an art that is! The size of the book, the design of the cover, the choice of font and all the little details such as, in this case, the two little birds that appear to be flying away at the end of each story. My thanks again to my very special book designer, Olwen Fowler, who was the designer of my previous book, A Long Run in Short Shorts. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Blade and bell

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

A week ago, Paul and I went to a Memorial Service for a great and important person – the world-renowned tenor, Kenneth Bowen. We’d got to know him because of my Aunty Mali (yes, the redoubtable one). Kenneth used sometimes to go to call on her when he visited Fishguard, where he’d spent many family holidays in his youth. One huge love they had in common: music. And one aspect of music in particular: voice.

Qualities of voice

At the Memorial Service, each of Kenneth’s two grandsons sang. I was immediately reminded of the qualities of Kenneth’s voice.  How it could command attention. What an edge it had. (I think this is what singers know as blade.) But also what tenderness it could have, what beauty, what resonance, as if it was holding you within its embrace. (And this, I think, is what singers call bell.) (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Wales and Whales

Saturday, September 14th, 2019

It was a storytelling project in Outer London. The theme was local legends. A girl in one of the groups put up her hand and asked if we knew about the elephants under the line of local hills.

Suggestive shapes:

Often it’s the shape of hills that gives rise to legends about them. Above a small place called Wolfscastle in the middle of Pembrokeshire are two high rocks that, as children, we knew as The Lion and the Lamb. By today, these rocks have eroded so that I wouldn’t be able to say which looks more like a wolf, which more like a lamb. Even as a child I wasn’t sure. But I could imagine very clearly that one was attacking the other. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Remembering

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

 ‘Tennyson is crossing the desert!’ A few days ago, that was the strapline on one of the emails in my Inbox. It was followed a day or so later by ‘Tennyson has crossed the desert!’

Such a headline does make you think. For me, it brought to mind a grand-looking poetic figure, bearded and with hair reaching down to his collar: what could he be doing walking the desert? And on his own? Perhaps dreaming up new poems along the lines of The Lady of Shalott or Enoch Arden?

Tennyson, the cuckoo

Well, no! The Tennyson that had succeeded in crossing the desert was not the Victorian poet-laureate but a cuckoo, one of this year’s tranche of cuckoos named and sponsored under the auspices of the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), its movements tracked as it flies alone across the vast distances that bring it into Central Africa and then back again to the UK where, of course, we think of it as ‘our cuckoo’ even though it’s in the UK for only a few weeks. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Forgetting

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Forgetting is the other side of remembering. It has its value. Not remembering unpleasant things can be very health-giving, something which eventually allows unhappy events, emotions or people to slip away.  Sometimes the forgetting happens of itself. Sometimes the techniques for forgetting have to be learned.

The pain of forgetting:

But it’s that involuntary forgetting that can be so annoying. Perhaps it’s the same in many different circumstances or professions. You need to remember. You simply can’t bring whatever it is to mind. You set about trying to find the book or paper or person that may be able to supply the missing piece of information. And when you can’t find it? It’s a pain. Especially, say I, when you’re a storyteller. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ From nature and awareness

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

What a beautiful singer! Watching the Cardiff Singer of the World competition on TV on Thursday evening this week, Mingjie Lei was obviously going to be the clear winner of the Song Prize. He sang in such an unforced way, giving time and space and feeling to the words and emotions of his songs. His performances put me in mind of the kind of storytelling I like best.

The storytelling I like best can’t be described as entirely natural. And yet natural it is. For wherever it has reached, it has resulted from a combination of awareness and study but also continues to derive from a natural love of the medium.

A Natural Art:

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Storytelling Starters ~ Frog talk

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

Human minds! You see something, it reminds you of more. Since yesterday, it’s been frogs for me.

The frog in the park:

 

Going for a walk in Brockwell Park, all part of my recovery programme (and thanks to everyone for good wishes) we were greeted near the entrance by a very large wooden frog, arms endearingly outstretched towards us. Of course, this frog  brought back to my mind all kinds of stories (well, it would, wouldn’t it?).

One was of Lil who used to live down the road with her sister Sarah. Lil would call out to you on the street, ‘Ere, Missis Whatsisname?’ Then she’d follow up with something like, ‘Yer got no idea what ’er upstairs as gorn an done now.’ On one occasion she came to my door and quietly murmured, ‘Sarah says as can you come down and get the frog (frog as in frawg) outa the kitchen.’ Of course I went armed with rubber gloves and a bucket. I remember it well.

Then there’s the little frog folk-tale I used to tell.

 

Frog talk:

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Storytelling Starters ~ Recycling

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

It’s my second chemotherapy session on Tuesday. I do not look forward to it or its aftermath. But some nice things keep the spirits raised: kindnesses from friends, the freshly blooming Mary Rose in the garden, the pleasure of the Great Tit at finding our bird feeder tubs have been refilled and, of course, stories.

Where’s the creativity?

Whenever I read about the state of schools across the country – how some teachers are voluntarily buying food or books for children with money from their own pockets or, just as bad or worse,  how so many teachers feel that all emphasis on creativity has been lost as a result of focus on exams – I find myself wanting the children to have more stories. Young people are disillusioned, turned off, self-harming, depressed. I want them to hear stories, do self-motivated work that is based on stories, talk about stories, tell their own stories. Who is a storyteller to say this should happen? Well, all of us storytellers who’ve seen what powerful effects it can have. Particularly this last week, I’ve been recalling the attention and engagement that  hundreds of children have shown to the daftly innovative stories of Shemi Wâd.

The story that follows is one I found in the handwritten book of Shemi stories I was recently lent. The stories in it were written down by Bili John who had himself known Shemi since boyhood. He wrote down the stoies in Welsh.  The one that follows is in my English version.

The big clock and the tricycle:

One day Shemi dug out from his garden a wooden box that contained what looked like the wheels of a clock. Shemi had never seen anything quite like these wheels before. They were very big – as large as saucers – and without more ado, he got ready to use them to make a clock. (more…)