Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Folktales’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ On the journey

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Here we’ve been going flat out all week, me in what feels like constant contact with the very fine Marketing Manager at Jessica Kingsley (everyone there has been exceptional) and with husband Paul helping throughout by casting an editorial eye over stuff I’m writing in pursuance of sales for Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years. An article with an edited extract from the book for such-and-such-magazine… A blog for an Early Years organisation… Emails to editors of Early Years journals… Messages to anyone and everyone I can think of who might be able to help spread the word… One step at a time, I have to tell myself.

Meantime: School Librarian

Meantime I’ve also been doing the necessary reading to be able to write my seasonal batch of reviews for School Librarian. 1987 is when I started reviewing for School Librarian. It’s a labour of love in every sense of the term. But I enjoy it and it means I get to read some very interesting books I might not otherwise come across. Hence the next item in this week’s journey.

Plus: a good book for storytellers

Georgiana Keable: I’d forgotten the name until her book arrived for review. Then I vaguely remembered hearing about her long ago. In the early days of the Storytelling Revival, she was a member of the West London Storytelling Unit along with Ben Haggarty. Subsequently she was  one of the tellers in The Company of Storytellers. I never met her and never heard her. What I do recall hearing at some point was that she’d gone off to live somewhere abroad. As I now learn from her book, Norway is where she went. In Norway, she became a kind of storytelling queen of the forest, an ambassador for trees and wildlife introducing children to nature’s riches.

Her book is called The Natural Storyteller. It contains 48 stories. Some are stories from real life experience. Most are folktales from a wide variety of countries and one of these is her retelling of The King with Dirty Feet, the lovely Indian story that Sally Pomme Clayton sent me for my collection of stories, Time for Telling. The Natural Storyteller (subtitle Wildlife Tales for Telling) is aimed at older children and throughout it treats them as Apprentice Storytellers, giving helpful ideas on how to absorb stories and maybe make new ones from them.

The Natural Storyteller comes from Hawthorne Press. I recommend it. Here, briefly retold in my own words, is one of the stories in it that struck me most strongly and that I will surely tell.

An inspiring story: The Blind Little Sister

In a village in West Africa, there were two sisters. One was blind. The other was married to a hunter and whenever this hunter went out hunting, the blind sister said she’d love to go with him. The hunter always refused. ‘What use is a hunter with no eyes? Besides you’re a girl.’ But the married sister always said that her blind sister was the wisest person: ‘She sees with her ears.’

So it turned out. One day, the hunter relented. In the jungle, the blind girl suddenly stopped. ‘Shhhh, there is a lion! But the lion will not bother us, it’s eaten its fill and it’s fast asleep.’ The blind sister proved to be right. The hunter couldn’t see it at first but soon they came across a mighty lion fast asleep beneath a tree.

Further on, the same kind of thing happened. The girl said, ‘Shhhhh! An elephant. It’s washing itself. It won’t bother us.’ As with the lion, the hunter asked, ‘How did you know about it?’ As before, she said the same thing: ‘It’s simple. I see with my ears.’

Before leaving the jungle that day, the hunter suggested that he and the blind sister should both set a trap. Next day they could return and see what they’d caught.

Next day on their return, the hunter saw his trap had caught a little grey bird. The blind sister’s trap had caught a bird whose feathers shone with scarlet and gold. Thinking she’d never know the difference, the hunter took the scarlet and gold bird as his own and handed the grey bird to the girl.

But on the way home, the hunter posed a question to the girl. ‘If it’s true as my wife says that you are so wise, tell me why there is so much war and violence in this world.’

The blind girl replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who take things that are not theirs.’

The hunter felt very ashamed. At once, he took the little grey bird from his blind sister-in-law’s hands and gave her the bird with red and gold feathers that had been caught in her trap. He said, ‘I’m sorry.’

Then as they walked home in silence, the hunter asked another question. ‘If you are so wise, and people are selfish, how is it there is still so much love and kindness in the world?’

The girl smiled and replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who learn by their mistakes.’

One way a story can make its mark:

Sometimes a story comes at the right time – like a keyhole to put your key into. As I was reading Georgiana Keable’s book, I received an invitation to an event soon to take place at the offices of ADD, a charity which I support. ADD represents ‘Action Aid for Disability’. The organisation works by identifying and supporting people, themselves disabled in one way or another, who can become Disability Activists in the countries where ADD operates. Last year I wrote a story for them based on the life of one such activist, an Ugandan man with albinism who, from all I have learned about him, is a powerful advocate for people with disability and an extraordinary man of great wisdom and kindness. His albinism has meant that he is almost blind. He’s going to be at the gathering. I can’t wait to meet him.

A riddle to end:

Like a good story, a good riddle is cheering and makes you think. A friend put this one to me one evening this week.

Question: Why do anarchists prefer herbal tea?

Answer: Because proper tea (property) is theft.

PS: Tracks across the sand, a path through a forest, a beautiful keyhole in a door: I hope my choice of photos makes some sense. Anyway, the choosing of them is always fun.

Storytelling Starters ~ Stew

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Last week this blog was a pot-pourri. This week it’s more by way of a stew.

Item 1:

Item 1 must be my new book which will be out in only four days’ time. Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years will be available to buy on my website and I’ll say more about it here next week. I do hope it encourages early years staff and parents (and what about grandparents?) to realise that, next to food and love, stories are vital to the growth of healthy children. In fact, they are part of the food and the love. It seems that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, agrees. A few days in advance of this year’s World Book Day, in a piece in the Sunday Express that was in turn reported on the BBC and then re-reported in the Guardian, she described how much joy it gave her as a child that her father had read stories with her. She went on: “Reading to our children and our grandchildren is something we can all try to do every day of the year. Not only does it give us pleasure but it leads them on a voyage of discovery and enrichment that only books can bring.”

Item 2:

Item 2 has to be about the personal tale. On the 10th March, the word ‘storytelling’ appeared in another piece in the Guardian. Of course, it caught my eye. The piece reported former President Obama’s senior adviser, Eric Schultz, having told the New York Times: ‘President and Mrs Obama have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire. Throughout their lives they have lifted up stories of people whose efforts to make a difference are quietly changing the world for the better.’

And why was Eric Schultz saying this now? Because, evidently, there’s a possibility that Barack and Michelle Obama might be on the verge of signing up to present a series of high-profile shows on Netflix. Hence the connection with storytelling: ‘As they consider their future personal plans, they continue to explore new ways to help others tell and share their stories.’

On Tuesday this week, the Obamas’ possible plan came back to my mind during a visit to St Peter’s School in Hammersmith. As twice before, I was there to do a day’s storytelling for their Arts Week and it felt very encouraging  that lots of the 300 children I saw in the course of the day remembered those previous visits. Until this year, however, I’d never made a conscious choice to tell a personal story in any of my sessions. This time with Years 5 and 6, it was a spontaneous but very conscious choice. I was planning to tell two main stories, each somewhat scary in its way. One was going to be that Indian story about the barber and the ghosts that I recently told in this blog. The other was going to be the strange and thought-provoking story by Richard Hughes, The Glass Ball. (You can find it in my blog for November 29th, 2014.) A story about war – and, yes, the Year 5 and 6 children were very aware of war from the TV – it begins with the ever-present fear war brings of being trapped and hurt or killed and the wonder of it when peace is found.

£8.50 (£10 inc UK postage)

On the hop, because I’d be telling these two scary stories and felt suddenly aware of the scariness ahead – I began with the story that comes first in by book of personal tales, A Long Run in Short Shorts. The experience, as I explained, had been a bit scary for me. For as I’d started down that hill in Wales, on my own and, as daylight darkened, not looking forward to shaded places on the road back home, I’d initially been very startled by the sight of those two strange men coming up the hill towards me. Jowly faces, thin bare legs, very short shorts, knobbly knees: who could they be and why would they be coming up that hill towards me at that time of the evening? And would I have to be following them on my way home?

After my personal tale, I went on to the barber story and then suggested a minute’s visualising to the 60 or so young people before me. A scene from the barber story was what I proposed they choose. And when, after a minute or so had elapsed, I invited anyone who wanted to report what they’d ‘seen’, quite a lot of children put up their hand But only one  described a scene from the barber story. All the others for whom there was time came up with something personal, something a bit scary that had happened to them. It was a real reminder to me of the power of the personal story and the importance of including our own lives in the wider context of storytelling. It was also a lesson to me to perhaps make more time for that kind of telling with that age-group in future.

Item 3:

The third item in my stew again involves reference to a Guardian piece (you can tell it’s the paper I read!) This was the three-page obituary of Stephen Hawking that appeared there on Thursday. Written by his colleague Sir Roger Penrose, the majority of the piece was about Hawking’s scientific thinking and the extraordinary advances he made in the science of space.

Alas, I understood only those parts of the tribute that referred to Hawking’s life and personality. But the stuff about his science brought back to mind the last session of my day at St Peter’s.

That last session was with the 7 to 9 year-old in Years 3 and 4. It included a telling of the West African story, How Sun and Moon Got Into the Sky. You know the one? (If not, you can find it in my blog archive for January 14th, 2012.) Briefly, it tells how Sun and Moon once lived down here on earth. They were married and in the house where they lived, Moon used to do lots of polishing (for of course, these were the olden times before female emancipation) whereas Sun used to go out to chat with his friend Water. On one occasion, Sun inquired why Water never came to visit him and why he, Sun, always had to go and see Water. Water’s response was to enquire whether Sun had enough room in his house for him. ‘After all,’ said Water, it’s not just me. There’s an awful lot in me. (Fishes, sharks, seaweed … the story gives lots of space for participation).’

So Sun went and extended his house. (Again, the idea of extensions gives plenty of room for contributions). Finally, the invitation was confirmed. Water would come to tea. On the appointed day, Sun and Moon were ready. They heard Water coming. But of course the results were truly world-changing.  As Water flooded into the house with all that was in him, Moon followed by Sun had to run upstairs and climb out onto the roof. But even that wasn’t going to be enough. Soon Moon was saying, ‘I must go, I must jump.’ And when she did, Sun said, ‘Wait for me!’ So that’s how they both got into the sky and, of course, they’re still there (though some of us do say that, in the immensity of space, they still meet whenever there’s an eclipse and others remark that they had lots of children, namely the stars).

The response to this story on Tuesday amazed me. How much those children knew about space! It all came out in questions and comments. Wouldn’t Water have got evaporated by Sun when Water came to the house? How did Sun and Moon manage to jump into the sky considering that gravity would have held them back? Considering that Sun is so massive, how could Sun have had a house big enough to live in here on earth?

Naturally, the awareness of science those children showed, together with their capacity to think about it, came back into my mind yesterday when I read the obituary of Stephen Hawking in the Guardian. What an astonishing mind he had, a mind as big as a planet. And reading about him, I felt very aware that all that thinking had to have started somewhere. Conceivably the challenges provided to a modern mind by an ancient West African story can help such thinking to begin.

PS: Illustrations this week speak for themselves. Hope you enjoy the stew!

Storytelling Starters ~ Pot-pourri

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word pot-pourri in its first recorded usage in 1725 referred to a stew or a hotch-potch. Not long later in 1749 it was being used, as now, to describe a mixture of dried petals of different flowers mixed with spices. But of course it can also have the figurative meaning of a musical or literary medley. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ In the falling snow

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

‘You know a story for everything,’ a kind reader of this blog has written to me. Nice thought. But no, it’s not true. Instead, I’m constantly amazed at how many stories other storytellers know, ones I’ve never heard before. But what is true, I think, is that people who work with stories – and, of course, it becomes our job – develop an ear for links. A small thing that is said or seen will remind us of a story we heard long ago. Off we go to search it out, ringing up the person we think told it to us or looking for the book in which we found it.

That’s just happened to me. Even as I sat here in front of my computer, looking out at the snow on the street outside, my mind started to wander to the homeless man on the TV news last night, his head covered in a hood, his nose bright pink from the cold. He was trembling from the horror of the incredible coldness. And somehow now my mind settled briefly on hats. Hats are needed, warm, all-encompassing hats. Hats and plenty of kindness. And that’s when I thought about the Japanese statues I’d read about once.

Wow! I went straight to it. The book on my shelves called The Sea of Gold is a collection by Yoshiko Uchida of folktales from Japan. In it are two tales I’ve told innumerable times, namely the title story, The Sea of Gold, and The Tengu’s Magic Nose-Fan. And here now was the story that had just flicked into my mind.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Cough, sneeze, spit, blow

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Cough. Sneeze. Spit. Blow. Reach for another tissue. Sneeze. Cough. Spit. Blow. Take another couple of Lemsip capsules. Cough. Cough. Cough. Cough. Consider going downstairs to make a new hot water bottle.  The process becomes unending. Get out of bed. Boil the kettle. Refill the hot water bottle. Make a hot drink.  Revert to the bed. Wonder how long this is going to last. What about the jobs that need to be done?

Strange how all sense of urgency subsides when the bugs have taken over. My new book, Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years, officially  comes out on March 21st. Even as the Marketing Department at Jessica Kingsley swings into action, there’s loads to do to get ready. A new day dawns. Send stuff to Early Years magazines? Write a piece I’ve promised for the Pre-School Leadership Alliance? Do some new recordings to put on my website? Make a list of personal contacts in the field to alert? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Mirror, mirror

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

What happened became something I’d never forget as the young Masai moran stared at the camera, stared again, then summoned the others to come and look. One by one, they took turns to do so.. And why? What the first young man had seen was a reflection of himself in the camera lens. Now everyone else had to have a look too. Camera had become mirror. And this was fascinating to those Masai people for, at that point anyway, they had no mirrors.

This encounter occurred during a weekend safari trip made by myself and my then boyfriend at some point during the nine months I spent in Kenya as a VSO (Volunteer for Service Overseas) before I went to University. At that time, the VSO scheme was for school-leavers in the belief that the time those accepted onto it spent in developing countries would have a powerful and probably beneficial effect on them and also, in terms of what they could do to help, on the communities they went to. They were certainly right in regard to myself and the long-term effect. (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 ~ 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 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…)