Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Visualisation’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Walking

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

Ever tried it? You think of a walk you like to take. Or one you regularly took in the past. Then you take the walk again, this time sitting in an armchair or lying down. To start, you summon up a sense of where the walk begins, the moment you feel aware of what lies ahead. Then you continue, envisaging the next bit and the next and the next. And so you go on, also thinking about the pausing points – the meadow where there are sometimes cows and the part that’s often wet underfoot so that you have to negotiate your footsteps, the smells of the wooded part of the walk with its wild garlic and soggy leaves and also such sights as that of the strange fairy doll that must have been pushed by someone, who knows who, into the hollow trunk of a fallen tree.

So you continue and when you reach the long tangle of intertwined boughs just before that stone pillar, remains of a long-ago project that would have created a vast harbour here, you know you are now within the  smell and sound of the sea. So as you reach the narrow path that leads down to the pebble banks, you are full of anticipation, eager to see what kind of waves there will be and whether anyone has left some strange tower of stones somewhere along the length of the beach as a kind of tribute to the wind and the weather.

Once again, you fill with gratitude as you realise that this is one of your places. Gratitude for the walking and the being able to do it, gratitude for the fact that the place is still here, gratitude for the memory that enables you to recall it at will if you want to on any of the days that you’re actually there. (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 ~ 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 ~ 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 ~ Tree-thoughts

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

15Tree barkSit under a tree awhile and listen and I bet you’ll hear it speaking to you in the rustle of its leaves and branches. OK, it’s not speaking in any tongue of  humankind. But in its own way, it’s speaking, perhaps of the wind or the seasons, perhaps of its place in the landscape, rural or urban, perhaps of the scenes it has witnessed over the length of the time it has been there. Walk past a long line of trees, it’s the same, though now you’re listening to what I hear as the trees’ conversations  with each other. Each time you go past, you can tune in. Their talk will be there – except, of course, when the trees are gone.

Ariel’s story in The Tempest:

This week, two experiences made me think about the way we humanise trees – or perhaps I should say the way they humanise us. One occurred in a fabulous performance of Shakespeare’s late play, The Tempest, at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse at the Globe Theatre. Pippa Nixon was superb as Ariel, making her feel like pure spirit brought into human form. When Prospero, the magician and manipulator who conjures all the events of the play into reality as if from thin air, reminded her of the plight she’d been in when he first came to the island, it created a horrifyingly poignant image that made immediate sense of her demand that he now set her free from having to serve him and do his bidding. When first on the island, Prospero told Ariel, he’d found her imprisoned in a tree. The evil witch Sycorax had trapped her in it, a cloven pine, and because the witch subsequently died, Ariel had had to remain trapped there and groaning for a whole dozen years before Prospero  released her and made her into his servant. (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 ~ Read/tell/read/write

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

P1040754Ever feel uninspired? Empty of ideas and spirit? I hope so – but only in the sense that I hope it’s something we can all admit to. Certainly, after a week of editing work, completely uninspired is how I felt about the prospect of writing this blog today. I was convinced I had no stories to tell and nothing to say. 

Then on Thursday evening, I happened to turn up a little piece I’d written a month or two ago in the aftermath of reading a number of books by novelist and short-story writer, Ali Smith. Re-reading my piece, it made me wonder. Could I put that piece of mine on my blog?

Ali Smith has had a big effect on me. There’s daring in how she writes, a willingness to experiment and take risks. So why not, I’ve wondered since Thursday? Why not take the risk? As a storyteller, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy going on about the powerful link between the oral and the written and how one can inspire the other. So why shouldn’t I confess to a passion for writing? Moreover, as I approach my dotage, I think I love doing it more and more. So here goes – a piece I wrote which is a bit of an experiment in visualisation, more of an idea than a story.

The uses of ‘a’

Come. Stand outside with me on a cold, clear night and I’ll show you how to experience one way to expand your sense of life. Preferably it’s cold because that makes you feel things more deeply. Preferably it’s in a part of the country, like on a small hill in Wales, like in my village of Mathri, where there’s little or no light pollution. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ In need of sunshine

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

Sniffle …snuffle … sneeze. Snuffle … sniffle … sneeze. I’ve had a horrible cold. I’ve still got a horrible cold and it has made me remember a Kenyan story I once came across which I’ve always enjoyed telling to children.

P1010187A Kenyan story: In search of Sun

There was once a boy called Kabebe (though in Jan Knappert’s African Mythology, he’s a man and not named).

Kabebe’s family always had colds. His brothers got colds, his sisters got colds, his mother and father kept getting colds. So one morning early, Kabebe got up (too many sniffles and snuffles around him to sleep?) and, standing by the door of his house, he saw the sun climbing up into the sky. It seemed to rise from a far-distant mountain (imagine the colours, imagine the sight).

‘I’d like to find that mountain,’ Kabebe said to himself. ‘I’d like to see where the sun rises from and I’d like watch as it goes into the sky.’

Without any ado, Kabebe set off. (Imagine the journey – a river with crocodiles in it? Another river with very strong currents? Night falling and the sound of hyenas?) By the time Kabebe reached the bottom of the mountain he’d been aiming to find, the day was over and night was falling. He settled down to try and sleep. (Noises he heard? The fears that he felt?)

As day was returning next morning, Kabebe woke and started climbing the mountain. But by the time he got to the top, the sun was already way up in the sky. (Disappointment?) Yet there on the top of the mountain, what do you think Kabebe saw? A golden palace! (Big? Glowing? I’ll leave the words to you.)  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Catch the magic

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

P1070369In Pembrokeshire (again), I’m starting to prepare some workshops for Pembrokeshire National Parks. They’ll be training sessions for wardens, rangers and volunteers. But more of that anon. This week’s unmissable experience was another kind of storytelling – an art installation in Narberth.

Place of magic

Narberth – or Arberth in Welsh – is a crucial place in the Mabinogion, the epic cycle of medieval Welsh stories.  It’s where the stories and their magic begin. Today, Narberth is a dynamic little town where many varied artistic events take place – including oral storytelling. But the installation I went to see is an unique work of storytelling of another kind –  in painting, carving, words, animation and film.

Magic-makers

Sarah and Tim Williams are the makers. Sarah is becoming well-known throughout Wales as an artist. I’ve known her since she was born and value her work very highly. Tim is an enormously skilled craftsman in wood and also a musician. Tim and Sarah got married a few years ago and Tim recently persuaded Sarah to sing with him on one of his albums, thus revealing that she also has a fine voice.

Together, Sarah and Tim have created an extraordinary, gallery-filling piece about their Pembrokeshire world. Sarah’s place of upbringing is in the north of the county, Tim’s in the south. Their new work brings both parts together in a circular installation which you enter to view. (Tim used a portable swimming pool as its basis).

The installation (more…)