Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Folktales’ 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 ~ A cup of tea

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

P1000260A story has been haunting me. Over how many weeks, it has popped up in my thoughts. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s ever happened to you. But it does feel odd. Has the story been hanging around in my head, waiting to get into my blog? But why? Does it think it’s got a message for me? But what exactly?

I’m not sure where I found the story – whether someone told it to me or if I found it in a book. I don’t remember how long ago that was – but I think it must be quite a few years. As I recall, it’s an Indian story but I can’t be sure. Here it is.

A cup of tea:

A man who was searching for wisdom heard about a greatly-respected teacher, a guru who lived a simple life on a hillside in a remote valley. The seeker had already visited many other teachers and had learned a great deal from them. Now he determined that he must find this much-respected guru who lived such a simple existence. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A step at a time

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

P1000133There’s an extraordinary message for us all in Two Old Women, the big Alaskan story from the Gwich’in people that  I recently told in the Fishguard Story Club in Pembrokeshire. As it begins, the two old women of the story have just been left behind in the ice and snow of a very hard winter by the group of people of whom they’ve been part. The pain of their leaving is intolerably sharpened for the older of the two women by the fact that her daughter and grandson were among those who left. Inside herself, she knows that fear would have been why they did not protest. At least, the grandson left her his  hatchet and the daughter a bundle of babiche, the plant used by the people for so many purposes. Nonetheless, it was a barely tolerable pain that the daughter and the grandson did not defend her.

Ch’idzigyaak, the older of the two women, is still sitting on the ground weeping for what has happened when Sa’, the other woman, comes over to her and says. ‘Well, we can sit here until we die. It wouldn’t take long. Or we can die trying.’

When Ch’idzigyaak finally raises her head, she says in reluctant agreement, ‘Yes, we can die trying.’

Trying: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Magic eyes

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

P1000058Cast up onto the pebbles this week on one of my Pembrokeshire beaches were lots and lots of dead crabs – big ones, small ones, ferocious-looking ones, ones that made me go Oooh. I took quite a few photos with my new camera, bought because the zoom on the old one had broken, and the sight of the crabs through the camera lens reminded me of a story I’ve always loved telling to Primary-age children. I first came across it many years ago in Twenty Tellable Tales by the excellent American storyteller, Margaret Read MacDonald. In this collection, the stories are set out almost like poems making it easy to see those chant-like parts that are often repeated and where an audience can join in.

It’s the removable eyes in this story that got me. Children also love them, especially when you make spectacle eyes with your hands, moving them out in front of you and then back again as you do crab’s magic chant. Such eyes, Margaret Read MacDonald points out in her notes on the story, are usually associated with Native American Indian culture. However, it’s from South America that this tale appears to have come. Here it is more or less as I tell it except that this is in shortened form. The elaborations and exaggerations I leave to you.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Kith and kin

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

Friends can be a great comfort in times of sadness. So can an awareness of nature, especially in a Spring as mild and lovely as this. The visit of two friends from New Zealand who came to stay this week made me fetch out a newspaper story I’d kept from last Friday. The story was from New Zealand. Its stirring headline had said, River is awarded same legal rights as a person.

Whanganui_River[1]The River: Te Awa Tupua

For a very long time, according to the newspaper story, the Maori tribe of Whanganui in the North Island has fought for the recognition of their river, Te Awa Tupua. The court case that ensued has finally ended with the granting of the same recognition to their river as to a human ancestor.  Thus, if someone now abuses or harms the river, it would be considered by the law as equivalent to harming the tribe. This judgement is of great importance in relation to such matters as water pollution. The wellbeing of the river has now been officially linked to the wellbeing of the people.

Wow! If only such a ruling could be extended to all of the world’s natural resources. It put me in mind of a Maori story which has long stayed in my mind. I believe it was my friend and colleague, Karen Tovell (Karen is that right?) who introduced me to it. It’s a story about a tree and it felt specially relevant to me on Wednesday morning this week when I woke to the rasping sound of a chain-saw somewhere in the gardens behind us. (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 ~ 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 ~ The Story Stone

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Stone Crop 1Funny that. Whenever anyone has asked me what I’d try and save if my house was burning down, I’ve always replied, ‘My stones.’ In all shapes and sizes and colours, I have so many of them, picked up and brought home from walks over beaches. Yet on reflection, that’s a daft thing to say. If anything was to survive a fire, surely my many pebbles would be the things to do it.

Walking across a favourite Pembrokeshire beach on one of the brighter days this week, I started thinking about stones and pebbles all over again. Heart of stone, stone cold sober … stones are usually associated with coldness. Yet when you handle a pebble, it’s more likely to be warmth that you feel. Besides, the individuality of pebbles – size, shape, colour – warms your imagination. It’s  why I’ve often taken a bag of them on a storytelling visit to a school. For when you look at children looking at pebbles, it’s often as if they’ve never previously seen such things. Quite probably, many haven’t. Given the chance, they tend to look at them with enormous care, noticing their individual features – for sometimes a stone can look like a face, as if it has eyes to look back at you with. Or sometimes it may have cracks or holes that make it look like living things might hide inside it.

Besides, it’s rather nice to imagine that a stone can be alive, can even be hungry and have plenty to say. It’s why I’ve always liked telling children the following story which, as I recall, comes from South America.

The story stone: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ How amazing is that!

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

IMG_20170203_142128_resized_20170210_114149557People who’ve been reading A Long Run in Short Shorts have been sending me lovely comments. Many have noticed how I love coincidences. And they’re right. I do. I’ve been thinking a lot about why. One reason, I’m sure, is that they simply bring pleasure. ‘How amazing is that,’ we say and, suddenly, it feels like the universe isn’t completely chaotic or random (which it certainly isn’t as any physicist will point out). More than that, as one friend put it only this morning on the phone, ‘it makes you feel like there’s a little connecting network in life that pulls us together.’

So it’s what they mean to you that matters. For me, the pleasure and surprise they bring leads, I hope, to a deeper awareness of what I value in life. In this connection, what follows are two tales where coincidence is important. One is a West African folktale – I’ve mentioned it before so I’ll make my retelling  brief. The other is an incident that happened to me in Cardiff last week.

The Three Brothers – a West African folktale

One by one, three brothers receive from their father the money he has kept for them. Each in turn goes off to see the world. Each in turn buys something of great interest to him. Then, after a time, they all decide to head back home. Amazing! It seems that entirely by chance, the three of them meet at a crossroads.

Now what happens? Each shows the others that object of great interest which he has bought in the course of his travels. The objects are a telescope, a prayer mat and a ritual whisk of the kind used back home in religious ceremonies. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Short and Sharp

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

P1050194A Long Run in Short Shorts has been getting some very nice things said about it. An old friend from University days made me laugh with her comment:

“You manage the shortness very impressively.”

To encourage you to get hold of the book – and there’s plenty of copies left – here are some comments that arrived from people in the storytelling world:

“I’m savouring each story. It’s rather like unwrapping another chocolate – I’ll just have one more…”
Dr Hilary Minns, lecturer and storyteller, Warwick University

“These written versions of your personal stories have also challenged me to stand by the stories I tell, because of what they mean to me … their values are part of me.”
Meg Philp, professional storyteller, Brisbane, Australia

“Each story has made so many pictures and provoked memories of my own.”
Jean Edmiston, professional storyteller, Scotland

Such comments are enough to warm anyone’s heart – even when, this week, it has been so cold. In keeping with the weather here in London, here are two very short, sharp stories. I think I remember that the first one comes from North America (which, of course, is in all of our conversations right now): (more…)