Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Follow-up activities’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ On the journey

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Here we’ve been going flat out all week, me in what feels like constant contact with the very fine Marketing Manager at Jessica Kingsley (everyone there has been exceptional) and with husband Paul helping throughout by casting an editorial eye over stuff I’m writing in pursuance of sales for Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years. An article with an edited extract from the book for such-and-such-magazine… A blog for an Early Years organisation… Emails to editors of Early Years journals… Messages to anyone and everyone I can think of who might be able to help spread the word… One step at a time, I have to tell myself.

Meantime: School Librarian

Meantime I’ve also been doing the necessary reading to be able to write my seasonal batch of reviews for School Librarian. 1987 is when I started reviewing for School Librarian. It’s a labour of love in every sense of the term. But I enjoy it and it means I get to read some very interesting books I might not otherwise come across. Hence the next item in this week’s journey.

Plus: a good book for storytellers

Georgiana Keable: I’d forgotten the name until her book arrived for review. Then I vaguely remembered hearing about her long ago. In the early days of the Storytelling Revival, she was a member of the West London Storytelling Unit along with Ben Haggarty. Subsequently she was  one of the tellers in The Company of Storytellers. I never met her and never heard her. What I do recall hearing at some point was that she’d gone off to live somewhere abroad. As I now learn from her book, Norway is where she went. In Norway, she became a kind of storytelling queen of the forest, an ambassador for trees and wildlife introducing children to nature’s riches.

Her book is called The Natural Storyteller. It contains 48 stories. Some are stories from real life experience. Most are folktales from a wide variety of countries and one of these is her retelling of The King with Dirty Feet, the lovely Indian story that Sally Pomme Clayton sent me for my collection of stories, Time for Telling. The Natural Storyteller (subtitle Wildlife Tales for Telling) is aimed at older children and throughout it treats them as Apprentice Storytellers, giving helpful ideas on how to absorb stories and maybe make new ones from them.

The Natural Storyteller comes from Hawthorne Press. I recommend it. Here, briefly retold in my own words, is one of the stories in it that struck me most strongly and that I will surely tell.

An inspiring story: The Blind Little Sister

In a village in West Africa, there were two sisters. One was blind. The other was married to a hunter and whenever this hunter went out hunting, the blind sister said she’d love to go with him. The hunter always refused. ‘What use is a hunter with no eyes? Besides you’re a girl.’ But the married sister always said that her blind sister was the wisest person: ‘She sees with her ears.’

So it turned out. One day, the hunter relented. In the jungle, the blind girl suddenly stopped. ‘Shhhh, there is a lion! But the lion will not bother us, it’s eaten its fill and it’s fast asleep.’ The blind sister proved to be right. The hunter couldn’t see it at first but soon they came across a mighty lion fast asleep beneath a tree.

Further on, the same kind of thing happened. The girl said, ‘Shhhhh! An elephant. It’s washing itself. It won’t bother us.’ As with the lion, the hunter asked, ‘How did you know about it?’ As before, she said the same thing: ‘It’s simple. I see with my ears.’

Before leaving the jungle that day, the hunter suggested that he and the blind sister should both set a trap. Next day they could return and see what they’d caught.

Next day on their return, the hunter saw his trap had caught a little grey bird. The blind sister’s trap had caught a bird whose feathers shone with scarlet and gold. Thinking she’d never know the difference, the hunter took the scarlet and gold bird as his own and handed the grey bird to the girl.

But on the way home, the hunter posed a question to the girl. ‘If it’s true as my wife says that you are so wise, tell me why there is so much war and violence in this world.’

The blind girl replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who take things that are not theirs.’

The hunter felt very ashamed. At once, he took the little grey bird from his blind sister-in-law’s hands and gave her the bird with red and gold feathers that had been caught in her trap. He said, ‘I’m sorry.’

Then as they walked home in silence, the hunter asked another question. ‘If you are so wise, and people are selfish, how is it there is still so much love and kindness in the world?’

The girl smiled and replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who learn by their mistakes.’

One way a story can make its mark:

Sometimes a story comes at the right time – like a keyhole to put your key into. As I was reading Georgiana Keable’s book, I received an invitation to an event soon to take place at the offices of ADD, a charity which I support. ADD represents ‘Action Aid for Disability’. The organisation works by identifying and supporting people, themselves disabled in one way or another, who can become Disability Activists in the countries where ADD operates. Last year I wrote a story for them based on the life of one such activist, an Ugandan man with albinism who, from all I have learned about him, is a powerful advocate for people with disability and an extraordinary man of great wisdom and kindness. His albinism has meant that he is almost blind. He’s going to be at the gathering. I can’t wait to meet him.

A riddle to end:

Like a good story, a good riddle is cheering and makes you think. A friend put this one to me one evening this week.

Question: Why do anarchists prefer herbal tea?

Answer: Because proper tea (property) is theft.

PS: Tracks across the sand, a path through a forest, a beautiful keyhole in a door: I hope my choice of photos makes some sense. Anyway, the choosing of them is always fun.

Storytelling Starters ~ Looking up

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

P1070076Here’s a story I remember with laughter and delight every time I think about Laugharne, the place where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas lived and wrote and also where the novelist and story-writer Richard Hughes had his writing-room high up in the castle walls. This story was created orally by a small group of 11-year old children.

The story:

Merlin was watching over the wall of his castle. Beside him was his favourite seagull. As he looked down, Merlin saw a family of parents and children, obviously tourists, walking along the foreshore of the estuary below. All were munching – crisps from crisp bags, chocolate from wrappers. Then as they passed, one by one they dropped their plastic wrappers onto the ground. Merlin was horrified. When the family had gone by, he sent his favourite seagull down onto the shore to bring him something else that was messing it up. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A helping hand

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

The day was bright and the school, inside, looked fresh and clean with several new classrooms and corridors added from last year. Four little scenes remain in my mind from the day.

A storytelling day: four memories

P1070779Most striking was the boy that came out front to describe his visualisation from the story I’d just told his class. It was the story (recounted here last week) where Kaa the Thunderbird expresses his jealous anger for Earth Mother Nokomis whom he believes is more loved than him. What I won’t forget is this boy’s conviction as he painted his word pictures of Kaa and Nokomis at the beginning of the story. I could see he really had seen them, especially when he described Kaa with his strong claws gripping the edge of the mountains and his ‘electric wings’ outspread (and then as he quietly added, turning to me, ‘you know, the electricity that comes from them’).

Funniest was the response of the oldest class when I wondered if any of them remembered my visit last year. All over the room there was nodding assent as one girl spoke out, ‘Is it you who told us that story of the glass eye?’ Ah yes, I thought, I’m not surprised they’ve remembered that one. (It’s the gruesome story included in my posting for February 13, 2016). 

Most thought-provoking was the boy who, as his class was coming into the hall, was described to me by a member of staff as someone who is always causing trouble and who simply cannot concentrate. This boy made at least four sensible contributions to questions I asked and he listened throughout.

Most dramatic was the moment when, on the first of the two sessions in which I told The Great Rain,  all the pots of daffodils ranged on the window ledges behind me landed with a whoosh and a clatter on the wooden floor, pots and flowers and water and all. ‘Whoo!’ was the response from all in the room and not just because of what had happened but because of its timing. To introduce the story, I’d led the children in making rain with clicking fingers and tapping hands, and by now I was describing the storm that was brewing as Kaa’s rage mounted to the point of exploding. The strong gust of wind that blew those daffodils over must have been fully aware of where the story had got to!

Of course, after such a day in a school, the storyteller thinks back. Did I choose the right stories? Can I judge their effect on the children? Will anything have been remembered by the children or their teachers?  And what kind of difference would I like to have made?

As it happens, thinking those thoughts from Monday, I feel conscious of what is perhaps a new aspiration that comes from the totally different kind of day I experienced this Wednesday when I had my second cataract operation.

A hospital day: a lasting effect

Stones - stepping stonesThe eye surgeon on Wednesday was hugely impressive in a very quiet and straightforward way. He introduced himself clearly and with no sense of self-importance. When I was lying down ready, he told me quite clearly what he wanted me to do but also said that, if there was anything different that was needed as he proceeded, he would tell me and also that if I needed anything, such as to move, I could say so to him.

During the operation, he told me from time to time, quietly, simply and very briefly, what he was going to be doing next. At some point, he said we were now about half way through. And on several occasions, he said, ‘You are a wonderful patient’. I’m sure he says the same thing to all his patients but I found it wonderfully reassuring.

But the thing that affected me most is that, as I sat up when the operation was over, he put out his hand to help me up onto my feet and then, instead of handing me over to a nurse, himself led me out of the operating room and all the way to the waiting room. It was only a short walk. But the experience of him doing that affected me greatly both at the time and since. What a humility of approach, what a kindness.

And what a difference it has made. Following the quiet simplicity of that surgeon’s approach, the particular kindness of that hand is something I will never forget. It helped me back into the day and it has helped me see quite clearly the kind of path I’d like my storytelling to follow.

 PS: My camera takes snapshots and I hope can represent the sort of snapshots you get from a storytelling day. Stepping stones making a path into a wood can, I hope, represent my idea of a storytelling path that I’d like to follow. 

Storytelling Starters ~ What’s In a Blog?

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

Ships 1This week,  a query arrived from a storytelling friend (Hilary, this is you!). Among her storytelling stuff, she’d come across some clipped-together folded and cut papers. What could they be? She remembered they were connected with a story I’d once told her students. Something about a sea-captain? Could I remind her of it?

Now when it comes to blogging, I am a veritable infant. I love writing this blog, I know how to put in my pictures and I know how to post the blog each Saturday. Beyond that, I don’t know very much at all except I do also know how to look up stuff I’ve posted in this blog in the past. So I thought I’d pass on that information to anyone reading this now. If nothing else, it could be a useful reminder that you can use this blog as a kind of archive.

Storyworks Blog References

So. Look at the Search boxes on the top left of the blog. In the box marked Storyworks Blog References, put in a word or perhaps two that relate to a subject you might be interested in. Maybe you want to check up on a story you faintly remember reading here in the past. Maybe you’re interested in finding a new story on a particular theme – apples or ghosts or soul or wild man. If it’s something that’s been in this blog, the title and date of the relevant posting (or several)  will come up on your screen when you’ve entered the word. Press on whichever one you want to check out and hey presto. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Think of a tree

Saturday, October 1st, 2016

Think of a tree: draw a tree

15Tree barkDraw a tree. This tree is you. You can think of the trunk as yourself in your daily life. You can think of the roots in terms of where you come from, family and place and social class. You can think of the branches in terms of your aspirations and interests.

Call this an exercise or consider it as a chance to think and connect. I’ve done it quite a few times with storytelling groups and for  the occasional person, it doesn’t appeal. For others, it becomes deeply engaging as their tree fills out, becoming ever more rich and elaborate.

Think of a tree: recall a personal experience

This week was the end of an era. For years, my husband and I have looked out of our bedroom window at a beheaded tree a few gardens away. The original tree had become very high and wide and heavy and whoever it was, I don’t know who, obviously decided it must be cut. But only the top part got cut, not the trunk. Afterwards, it looked like something on Easter Island or a totem pole in the making. Then, over time, the headless tree became a lookout place for our local magpies and a climbing frame for our local grey squirrels. Gradually, it lost all colour, its trunk hollowed out and it became a ghost tree. One day this week, it was cut down. Now it’s not there. It’s gone.

Think of a tree: recall a story for telling (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Questions

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

Here’s a question. What would you do if someone you thought of as a very good friend brought you a present of two identical apples and when you gavMany apples compresse one of these apples to your dog (who loved apples), your dog instantly fell down dead? What would you do with the other apple?

That is the question which the prince in The Parrot and the Tree of Life is obliged to answer.

The Parrot and the Tree of Life:

The prince in the story did not hesitate for a moment. He answered the question without hesitation by taking  hold of the friend and wringing her neck. Then he took hold of the second apple and threw it out onto the grass outside his throne room, banning anyone from going near it.

Over the succeeding years, an apple tree grew where the second apple had fallen and this tree bore the most delicious-looking fruits. Of course none of the prince’s courtiers would eat them because they were banned from doing so. The  tree became known as The Tree of Death. However, when an aged couple who were the prince’s gardeners felt they wanted to die together, they decided to go the tree. There, they took an apple each and ate it. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Ibanang Story 2

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Last week’s story was The Swallowing Drum, the story of a girl called Ibanang. This week, I promised some ideas about telling and working with it. Before getting going, however, I must emphasise my belief that a simple, straightforward telling can also work very well. Often, however, participation is both appropriate and helpful for enriching the story and making it stick in its listeners’ minds. What follows are some well-tried ideas.

Steph's drumsJoining in with sound and action:

The drums Ibanang encounters on her way into the forest provide a brilliant opportunity. Pretend you are beating the drums with drum-sticks and repeat what the drums say a number of times and in different tones of voice – high for the little drum, medium-voice for the middle-size one, low for the big one. By the time you get to the middle-size drum – and I recommend leaving it to the children to join in when they want to – I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have your whole group doing the same as you.

If you know some kind of celebratory song, add it in at the end of the story when people are celebrating the end of the evil drum. And sing it several times over, with verve.

Getting children to volunteer their own ideas:

Some storytellers worry that the session will get out of control if you provide opportunities for children to say things in the course of the storytelling. Perhaps this is why some adults only ask very limited questions (eg do you know what colour of coat Red Riding Hood put on?) (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Best story ever (for young ones)

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

DSCN5231For any storyteller, it’s a heartening moment when you learn that a story you’ve told has succeeded in engaging a child. It’s even better when the story has become part of a kind of chain. You told it to a group of adults and it’s one of them that passed it on to the child concerned.

This week I had one such moment when I received the following message from Hilary Minns at Warwick University. Hilary has for many years been running a module on Stories and Storytelling for people pursuing Early Childhood studies. The story she refers to is one I’ve told there a number of times.

Hilary’s message:

A little story: one of my students has a group of seven children with special learning needs. Among them is a 6 year old autistic boy who, she says, dislikes stories intensely and who wriggles and squirms around at storytime. But she told him Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle, complete with actions, and he was transfixed. He then asked her to make the characters into Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle and said they had to change houses. At break time she observed this boy retelling the story to a friend!

  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ What works, what does not

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

P1070774How did it go? Most storytellers, I guess, look back at any event they’ve been involved with, formal or informal, and consider if it lived up to how they’d have liked it to be. For me, that process happened twice yesterday. The morning held a long interview on Skype with a storyteller in Bangalore in India. I’ve never been a great aficionado of Skype but this conversation was really magic. My interviewer’s list of questions was very much to the point and during it, she asked what advice I’d have for a new storyteller. My answer included what long ago became a motto I gave to myself: forgive yourself if you feel your storytelling didn’t go as well as you’d have hoped. There is always a next time and you have to learn from your mistakes.

The afternoon involved the birthday party I spoke briefly about in last week’s blog.  In the event, 14 girls turned up, one or two of them rather quiet, the rest of them very excited. An initial activity involved them thinking up a magic power, a magic food and a magic creature. Then it was over to the storytelling. After a name game to help all  feel included and an introductory story about a frog that happily made them all laugh, we went immediately into that story from Grimms’ Other Tales, the story of Catharinella.  The children settled into it quickly, though I realised from the looks on one or two faces that even at 7 years old, the idea of an ogre that might eat you up can feel a tad alarming. Where necessary, you have to go easy.  Then as we went on, I felt really glad that, in my advance preparations, I’d  become aware of some unresolved features in the story as written. My thoughts about how to resolve them proved very productive and that felt nice.

The story in brief: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A Stitch in Time

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

Sewing boxOK, I admit it, I’ve been darning. It’s not a fashionable thing to do. But when warm clothes come out of storage as winter hoves into view, that’s when you spot the frayed ends and the tears – and also in my case the moth holes, moths being a plague in South London.

Hence the darning. It’s something I was taught as a child and, to be honest, I enjoy it. It’s satisfying, it saves on money and shopping and it makes me love my clothes all over again.

Yesterday while sitting darning in a spot of sunshine, I was reminded of the story below. But it wasn’t only the darning that brought it to mind. Among my emails had been a message from someone who’d come on a storytelling course of mine ages ago. I recognised her name as it popped up in my Inbox. We’d exchanged emails for a while after the course was over because she’d wanted to tell me how much she was enjoying becoming a storyteller to children in the school where she worked. And hey presto, she’s still doing it! Her message this week lets me know how much the storytelling means to her following some personal troubles she’s suffered. She describes it as ‘healing’.

No wonder today’s story about a sewing box popped into my mind. I’m fairly sure it wasn’t one that we did on the course she attended. But it’s one I’ve often told to Primary children – sometimes with the effect that afterwards I’ve heard that they’ve been sewing story-titles too!

The story: A Stitch in Time (more…)