Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Symbolism’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ The Tiger-Mouse Tales etc.

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

Quite a lot of years ago, I wrote a set of children’s stories. I called them The Tiger-Mouse Tales. Each of three main characters had its own story. The tiger-mouse was an enchanting creature that could turn itself into a tiger when it wanted or needed to do so or, equally, turn back to a mouse. The blue flamingo was a beautiful bird, tall, quiet and very serene. The sea-ling was an academic busy-body of a bird, very talkative and with plenty to say. He looked like he wore a black gown as my headmaster father used to do in school.

These three creatures, the tiger-mouse, the blue flamingo and the sea-ling, had literally appeared to me in a dream. It was because I was so fascinated by them that I wrote that set of stories about them, printed them out and gave copies to various children I knew. But I never did anything else with them.

This week, the stories have returned to my mind. They did so because, the other day, my cousin on my mother’s side of the family asked me about the grandfather we have in common. Neither of us had consciously ever met him. But I was delighted to tell her what I knew of him from my mother for he always sounded to me like a delightful man. He was Scottish, he grew up in Oban on the West coast of Scotland and, like his father before him, he became a journalist renowned for the speed and clarity of his shorthand. The long latter part of his working life was spent working on the Pembrokeshire newspaper, the Western Telegraph. (more…)

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 ~ Dream and Reality

Saturday, April 27th, 2019

It was raining. I was lying on my bed thinking about what I’d write in this blog this week. My mind (or whatever passes for it these days) was wandering about, touching on all kinds of things that happened this week. One was the visit of a friend, a local historian, who came to show and lend me two old manuscript books full of stuff about Shemi, that 19th century storyteller I was writing about last week. This reminded me of my father many years ago telling me about a handwritten exercise book full of Shemi stories that he’d been shown and then, suddenly addressing himself to the ether, asking: ‘I wonder where that book is now.’ Strange to think the book he was speaking about may now be in my house.

Yet another was the beautiful butterfly that had somehow got into my bedroom. I’d finally managed to urge it out of the window with the deft use of a sheet of newspaper. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Props 2: The storyteller

Saturday, January 26th, 2019

So here I am, thinking about props and the usefulness of them. Props attract attention, they hold attention. Interesting objects, puppets, dolls together with fascinating bags and boxes: all can be part of the art of the storyteller. Last week, I wrote about the single object that may set the scene for a story. But a set of objects can also be good as well as fun to put together.

A set of objects sets the scene in a different way. It reflects the fact that there will be different scenes in the story and is very helpful for younger children. Showing the objects one by one before the story begins gives them an initial sense that the story will progress through different scenes. Then showing them again at the end is a great way to remind them of the story. Perhaps you do this as you put the props away in the bag or box from which they’ve emerged. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Props 1: inviting response

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Last week brought lovely comments on my thoughts about audience. So this week – and over one or two following weeks as well – I’ve decided to write about props. It’s a subject that interests me a lot. Why use a prop or props? Do they help or hinder a storytelling or indeed the storyteller? How many props might one use in a session and how is best to deploy them? And where might one obtain them?

Props stimulate questions:

Placed on a theatre stage, props can intrigue the audience. Props arouse subliminal questions. Why is that object there? Who is going to use it and when and why? But storytelling is generally less theatrical. So why would a storyteller make use of a prop or props? An immediate answer has to do with the very nature of a prop. A stick, a stone, a badge, a flower: a prop is some kind of object that has been selected with a view to intriguing or informing the audience. Perhaps it is itself going to be the subject of a story. Perhaps its colour or shape is going to be significant. Perhaps it’s a matter of who owned it, where it came from. Props stimulate questions. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Pointers

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Ever noticed how a particular theme can crop up as if from nowhere and make itself felt over a period of your life? How does that theme begin? Where does it come from? What makes it continue? Is there something in our individual minds that is seeking out the kind of meaning the theme can make? Perhaps these are good questions for storytellers to consider.

New friends:

Over the last ten days, Paul and I have been visited by two very lovely, very different young women that we feel we’ve somehow inherited from their parents. One is one of the twin daughters of two Kenyan friends I made when I was 18 years old and in Kenya to do Voluntary Service Overseas. By now, both of the parents have died. But somehow – and it feels quite wonderful that this is so – the friendship is being renewed and continued by the children of those two friends, and not only on visits that one or other of them has needed to make to the UK but also by email and Facebook. Sadness and regret at the loss of the parents is thus transformed into something new. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Sussurations

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

Funny how one does – and doesn’t! – do things. Yesterday I took the step of entering Peach Blossom Story in my Google search box. Up came numerous links to a restaurant called Peach Blossom. But there were also listings that led to one of my most treasured stories. I know it as Peach Blossom Forest. I’ve long been aware that it’s a very ancient  Chinese story and in my almost as ancient and extremely scruffy storytelling notebook are five or six lines of translated-into-English Chinese poetry that are associated with it.

Peach Blossom Forest is one of the two main stories I told at our Summer Enchantment performance at Peppers in Fishguard this last Wednesday evening. (The other was last week’s story, The Stolen Child.) But – and this is perhaps the odd bit – I’d never until yesterday felt I needed to know anything more about this story than the story itself. Indeed, I’ve long treasured it almost as my own tale, so personal and private that I’m not sure I’ve ever told it before. But yesterday, reflecting on the tale as if from afar after reading about it on Google, I realised how strongly my private feelings about the story – more generally known, I see now, as Peach Blossom Spring – reflect the story itself. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Arresting time

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

The Tide Clock in our Welsh house tells us what to expect. It opens up in advance an important aspect of the view we’ll see when we get to the beach, clarifying what will be there in regard to the margin between land and sea. When we were kids, we didn’t need it. Frequent experience created a tide clock in each of our minds. Get out of school, rush home for swimming things, meet on the square to run down the hill to the quayside and already, as we went, we’d know what to expect. We’d know because we’d been there before. Yesterday. And the day before that. So we’d know where the tide would be and, more important, if it would be good for jumping into it off the quay wall.

Time moves on

(more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Regenerating

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

I’ve never been an assiduous follower of Doctor Who. But down in Wales with a guest who loves it, we did watch the Christmas episode. It contained a wonderful example of regeneration as Peter Capaldi who has been the twelfth doctor spiralled through turning circles of time and space to become the thirteenth, a woman played by Jodie Whittaker.

Regeneration

Regeneration is a good theme for this point of the year. At the end of this particular year, it feels especially apt when so many people I’ve talked with have confessed that, for them too, 2017 has felt like a year we want to see the back of.

So, much like Doctor Who spiralling into a new emanation, images of regeneration have been swishing round in my mind. Wasn’t there a girl sent out into the woods by a cruel stepmother who had demanded to be brought strawberries for supper? What ever was the girl to do? It was the depth of winter, the end of the year, and not the time for strawberries (except in supermarkets!).  Rescue came in the bitter night when she met a man in the woods who brought her to a blazing fire around which sat a ring of men of all ages from very old to very young. And didn’t those men stand and chant the year forwards, regenerating winter into summertime so that the poor girl was then able to gather the strawberries her cruel stepmother required? (more…)

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…)