Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Managing problems’ Category

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 ~ 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 ~ The problematic tale

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

I don’t believe in reincarnation. Not in any specific way. Yet I’m still inclined to proclaim that I’m going to come back as a seagull. I just love the way seagulls ride the air currents. I’m wooed by the haunting sound of their call, how it always speaks of the sea even as it flies over land.

On Thursday in North Pembrokeshire, I was watching the tide rippling onto the foreshore down at the little harbour of Abercastle, (Abercastell in Welsh). The ocean beyond distinctly heaving, I watched a seagull on the wet, stony beach. It stood among the reflections for ages, its eye sometimes turned out to sea, sometimes onto the spot where it stood.

Watching the seagull has brought back to mind a story I once came across in a collection of stories from Wales. It’s a ‘How the Seagull Became’ kind of story. Details in the version I read, including the names given to its characters, have long since gone from my mind. This has never bothered me. Because I feel deeply unhappy with a central aspect of it, it’s not a story I’ve ever felt inclined to retell. Yet – and doesn’t this happen sometimes? – the story still holds me a bit in its thrall. (more…)

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 ~ Settling into a story

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Roses 3Do stories need explanation? And what kind of explanations might be needed for a story from an unfamiliar culture? I did wonder a bit about these issues while preparing The Tale of Farizad of the Rose’s Smile for telling to the older children in Wolfscastle School this last Monday. No wide cultural diversity there except for that between Welsh and English. Probably little awareness of Muslim culture. No great variety among children’s names. Certainly nothing like Farid, Faruz and Farizad.

But what explanation does a good story need? I plumped for just going ahead, telling the story without explanation. First I’d told the wonderfully daft story of Shemi and the Enormous Cabbage. Older they might be but they enjoyed that a lot. Then I came to the Farizad story. This is in a very different vein and how it begins is rather a shock. For it tells how, over the course of the three years following the marriage of the King of Persia to the youngest of three sisters, the king is told that his queen has given birth to a dead dog, a dead cat and a dead mouse. Can this be true? No, these are just lies. The queen has actually given birth to three babies and it’s her jealous sisters who have made up the stories.

Would they stick with it? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The truth of the matter

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

The question comes up quite often and I feel privileged whenever it does. Usually it gets asked by someone in a Year 5 or 6 class who is therefore one of the older-age children in a Primary school. Almost always,  a silence has fallen before it’s asked and invariably it’s asked in a quiet, thoughtful way. The question is: ‘Is that story true?’ On one unforgettable occasion, I’d just finished telling a most unbelievable Japanese story about a lazy liar who deserves a comeuppance.  

A Japanese story: The Magic Nose-Fan

P1010704One day, lolling under a bush, Kotaro is offered a magic nose-fan by a tengu who is a kind of mischievous Japanese troll-type figure usually recognisable by his very long nose. Our anti-hero accepts the nose-fan in return for the dice he’s been idly tossing about and it’s this same magic nose-fan that leads to the story’s final denouement in which Kotaro is left dangling off a far-distant planet, his little legs no doubt kicking around in the air.

What happens in between is that our anti-hero discovers that, when one side of the nose-fan is turned towards a nose, the fan will make the nose get longer. When its other side is turned nose-wards, it makes the nose get smaller again. With judicious use, it can return the nose to its normal size.

And how does our anti-hero make use of the tengu’s gift? Why, when he sees the local princess taking the air in the royal gardens, he wanders casually by and uses his fan to make her nose get long. Panic and pandemonium ensue. What is to be done? Doctors are called. Creams are deployed. Nothing works until our lazy no-good-boyo presents himself at the palace and, in a darkened room, returns the princess’ nose to its regular size. In return he gets to marry the princess as his reward and that enables him to lead an even lazier life than before.

But here comes the comeuppance. (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 ~ Return to sender

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

You give a person a present. The person later  dies and in the process of sorting that follows, the present you gave is offered back to you because it had come from you in the first place. This has happened to me more than once. It happened again this week. What came back on this occasion brought enormous delight for several different reasons, primarily that some of the books involved can now become presents all over again. Among the bounty were the following:

Time for Telling1 copy of Time for Telling (the book of children’s stories from around the world that I compiled and edited back in 1990)

1 copy of The River That Went To The Sky (the book of African stories I compiled and edited in 1995) 

I copy of By Word of Mouth, the 43-page booklet on storytelling which accompanied the four-part TV series of the same name I devised for Channel 4 in 1990

There were other things too in the pile. But these three meant a great deal to me.

Time for Telling:

Time for Telling had proved hugely popular when it was published and is evidently still being much used today both here and in other countries. (I know this from the twice-yearly records I receive from ALCS of photocopies people have made from it.) I myself ran out of copies of it quite a while ago for it’s not been in print for some time either in its original hard-back form or in the two paperback versions it afterwards became, The King With Dirty Feet and The Big-Wide-Mouthed Toad-Frog. Now I’ll be able to give the hardback copy that’s been so thoughtfully returned to me as a gift to one of the precious young children who have since come into my life.

The wonderful thing about Time for Telling is that the stories it contains came from working storytellers and were specially written down for the collection by them. Telling these stories, they had made them their own. Pomme Clayton, Duncan Williamson, Patrick Ryan, Amoafi Kwapong, James Riordan, Eric Maddern, Jane Grell, Helen East … what a roll-call of persons who have proved important and influential in the storytelling world. In my own work as a storyteller, I then saw the effect their stories as they had written them down for me were having. Many teachers  I came across were using Time for Telling with their pupils. Indeed, one school I visited had turned their entire October Book Week into a Storytelling Week in which children explored how to tell stories and then practised performing them to each other, to whole classes and in assemblies. Time for Telling was their starting point.

The River that Went to the Sky: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ What’s new? What’s true?

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

P1070490Last week I asked this question: What did Iron-Age people have? Karen’s response was: ‘They’d have had each other.’ The elements were what  had been in my mind – earth, air, fire, water. With characteristic insight, Karen thought about the people. Her response has been helping me think through one of the issues that arose from my training day at Castell Henllys on Monday. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Risky Business

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

Taking risks is not easy. You push yourself out of your normal groove. Then you see where you’ve got to. Sometimes you like it, sometimes you don’t. But whichever the outcome, hopefully there can be a morsel of learning.

A step on the road

For instance, I’ve never much liked photographing people, certainly not strangers in the street or the park. I feel a bit superstitious about it, like the Masai tribespeople I once encountered on a remote journey in Kenya. They didn’t want their pictures taken: they felt it was robbing them of their spirit. I feel a bit the same, as if taking something from people unawares. Last Sunday, however, I discovered I’d found a way to try it out.

We were sitting in Battersea Park by the river. A constant stream of people went walking by and I became fascinated. I liked the variety of clothes and ways of moving. I liked the rhythms of walking and the regularity of the steps. Suddenly I found myself with my camera raised, pointing at trees the other side of the path. Then I clicked whenever people crossed my camera screen. I liked the fact that it felt anonymous and that, on the whole, I was photographing people from the back. I include a few of the results today: evidence of me taking a risk. (more…)