Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Preparing’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Spot the common factor

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

27 ShemiAny storytelling booking obliges you to think. What stories will you do? How might they accord with an overall theme? And how might you relate to the particular audience? All such questions are heightened for me when it’s a booking with children.

This next Monday, it’s to be two sessions at Wolfscastle School, a delightful little North Pembrokeshire Primary school which I’ve visited on several previous occasions. But those occasions were some years ago and by now all the children I saw will have moved on. How will I try to engage my two different groups on Monday? What comments might they make? What questions might they ask?

Planning has been energising. For the younger group, I’ve decided on three favourite stories that accord with the particular theme which, said the headmistress, has been the school’s theme this term. I don’t know if you’ll spot what it is. 

Story One: 

The first story to come to my mind was one of the tall tales of Shemi Wâd, a local storyteller from the 19th century who remained a well-known character in North Pembrokeshire memory at least until the mid-20th century. When I published Shemi’s Tall Tales, I discovered that children – not just here but everywhere – absolutely loved them. One of the tallest and most enjoyable is The Enormous Cabbage. Here it is (in brief): (more…)

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 ~ Mind as Hold-all

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

21993900-oriental-umbrella-isolated[1]Links have been a major theme in this blog over recent weeks. And by links I mean the kinds of associations that make themselves felt between stories  and things that crop up in real life. But as I settled to think about this week’s posting, I began feeling very aware that, so much of the time, we have to simultaneously hold in our minds all kinds of things which have no apparent connection. Maybe a small link pops up between some of them, maybe no link at all. Yet with or without threads to connect them, we still have to keep these diverse things in mind. Namely, mind as hold-all.

A 100th birthday:

This week, for instance, my mind was full of my friend Ella who, this Wednesday, reached the grand age of 100. On her actual birthday, she hosted a party for about 60 friends and I know we all felt full of admiration as she stayed standing to receive her guests and when it came time to cut her cake, walked across to it without any help of a stick. Ella’s memory and pleasure in life are intact. What Paul and I had made to give her was a Dear Ella book, a small recognition of the many memories of times past and present which she has shared with us. 

Umbrellas:

But meantime I’d  also had to get serious about umbrellas. This was because, this coming Monday I’ll be doing a storytelling day in a London school where their  Arts Week is going to centre on the painting by Renoir known as The Umbrellas. My only regret about the booking is that, since I’ll be there at the very start of the week, I won’t learn what the children will have made of the theme by the end of it. But never mind. What stories to tell has made an interesting challenge. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Seeing it out

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

Cropped paperweightProfessor Ruth Finnegan is a specialist in oral tradition. I remember being especially moved when I read her 1981 book on storytelling among the Limba people of West Africa. One storyteller she wrote about told her he’d need several days of preparation before telling her a particular long story she wished to hear. I won’t get the exact words he used quite right at the moment (the book is not to hand) but, as I remember it, what he said was that, in order to be ready for his telling, he’d need several days alone in his hut ‘seeing the story out’.

What especially interests me about that Limba storyteller is that he was blind. He was one of a number of renowned Limba storytellers of that time who were blind. 

Eyes and eyesight are currently much on my mind. Just before Christmas, I received a date – it’s next week! - for a cataract operation on my left eye. The right eye will. I hope, be attended to soon after. Both operations are now much needed: my sight has become foggier and blurrier as the days have gone by.

My personal situation has made me think a lot (and not for the first time) about the links between sight and storytelling. Perhaps the story in my repertoire that feels closest to me is the one that was entitled The First Storyteller in the book where I first came across it. It’s a Chinese myth about an Emperor’s son who was born blind and, in consequence, abandoned. In the absence of sight, the boy grew up becoming acutely attuned both to the world of nature and of people. What he heard, felt and experienced were what made him into a storyteller. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Haunted!

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

A story has been haunting me, going round and round in my mind. It’s kept returning over the last few weeks and, each time I find myself thinking it over, I wonder why it is there. OK, I love the story. And I love who I heard it from, storyteller friend Debbie Guneratne. But why is this story from her in my mind now? So many questions. But first let me tell you the story.

The Pointing Finger:

P1070076It was hot. So hot that even the air felt hot and, beneath his bare feet, the hard ground of the village square felt as if it was scorching his skin. The young man felt thirsty. He also felt worried. What was he ever going to do? His studies in the town were going well, his teachers said he was clever. But how was he going to complete his studies on so little money and with so little hope?

All these questions were turning over in the student’s mind as he sat on the bench in the village square that hot morning. Suddenly, there came the stir of voices and movement on one of the roads that came into the square. It looked like someone important arriving, surrounded by attendants and awed onlookers.

It was some kind of prince, that was obvious. His robes were richly embroidered, his hair was glossy, his beard well-tended and round his neck was a garland of flowers. The prince, if that’s what he was, swept into the square and looked around. There was very little to see – a tree that looked like it needed water, a fountain from which rose too little water to enable it to look like a fountain should.

As he walked grandly round the square, the prince suddenly stopped. His eyes, evidently, had fallen on the student who by now was walking along to the side of the prince, staring avidly at him‘What do you want?’ the prince suddenly said, stopping in his tracks as if he’d only now become aware of the student. For a moment, the student was silent, as if had no idea what to say. Then he quietly replied, ‘Anything … something … whatever you can give.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ In praise of the personal tale

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

P1080273A tale that I told my brother this Monday was of an occasion a few summers ago when Paul and I were climbing back up from Pwll Strodyr to the lane. With us were our friend Eddie, who’d been down at the beach for his regular swim, and also his dogs and his cat, all of whom used regularly to accompany him there. 

On this occasion as often, the field was full of cows. Before we reached the part of the field where the cows were grazing, Eddie stopped and told us to stop as well. ‘Now watch this,’ he said. What we then saw was amazing. As Eddie explained how his cat hated cows, his two dogs ran ahead through the herd, creating an open pathway between them. As soon as the open path appeared, the cat, who’d meantime been sitting on its haunches in front of us, suddenly took off.  Whoosh! Like a bolt of lightning, she ran straight through the channel the dogs had created to the safety of the gate.

Wow! We were full of admiration and I remain full of admiration whenever I remember the incident. And whenever I recount it to someone else, they are always impressed. On Wednesday, same thing when I told it to my brother. So of course it’s one of the stories I love telling and I know Eddie doesn’t mind because Eddie loves telling stories too. In fact, he is a treasure house of tales and, not surprisingly, his grandchildren love him for it.

The result of all this was that yesterday I set my mind to thinking more generally about what can make personal stories work.

What makes personal stories worth telling: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Another question of truth

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

P1060450Beach-cleaning is one of two topics that have been in my mind this week. The other one – and they make an unlikely combination – is what makes a story stick in your mind and eager for you to tell it.

The beach-cleaning came up because a recent episode of Springwatch on BBC 1 showed clips from TV coverage of the horrendous oil-spill off the Pembrokeshire coast that, some years ago, caused mayhem to sea-birds and coastal ecology. The area has long since recovered from that. But, as Springwatch pointed out, continual damage is being done by the plastics that get onto beaches and into seas. The message of the programme was simple: if you see plastic, pick it up, dispose of it properly.

Well, we’ve been in Pembrokeshire over Easter and this week, we ended a long walk along Newgale beach with quite a horde of stuff  – one huge piece of green plastic tarpaulin and one small bag full of bits  of plastic fishing line, including a tangled clump from the skeleton of a sea-bird that had obviously died from getting caught on it.

What’s found on beaches: a Scottish folktale

Another recent reason for thinking about what you find on beaches came up because of a Scottish folktale I came across ages ago in a book called Thistle and Thyme. In the story,  a young mother has lost her baby and when it turns out that the baby has been stolen by fairy folk, she is determined to get him back. But how? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Natural justice

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

P1060289This coming Monday, I’ll be at St Stephens Primary School in Shepherds Bush. They’ve asked me back over several years as part of their Arts Week and I’m looking forward to it. The children there really appreciate stories and among the ones I’m thinking of telling are some I’ve told to classes there in the past. (Children everywhere seem to love picking up on stories they’ve heard from you before).

One of the new tales I’m planning to tell is one I’ve hardly ever told before. Which age-group I’ll tell it with will depend on atmosphere and how things go at the time. First, let me give you an idea of the story. Then I’ll outline some of my thoughts on how and why I might tell it. 

The characters of the story:

1. An old woman (very poor and very kind)
2. The Little Red Rooster (he belongs to the old woman) (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Train-world dreaming

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

R01Yesterday I spent a good part of the day on a train coming down to Wales. The reason for my trip? I’ve been invited to a 100th birthday celebration lunch. The person who has reached such a wonderful age lived with her family at the end of my street when I was growing up. Her husband ran the chemist’s shop on the corner. We children played with her children.

On the train, I was reminded of a piece of writing I did recently – not about birthdays but about being on trains. I don’t know if you find the same kind of thing when you’re on a train (and I think it’s not the same on buses or planes or in cars). My mind goes into itself. Often I find myself thinking about a story and that’s what I wrote about. I’d be fascinated to know if any of you who may read this blog have the same kind of experience.

Train-world dreaming: (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…)