Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Folktales’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Recycling

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

It’s my second chemotherapy session on Tuesday. I do not look forward to it or its aftermath. But some nice things keep the spirits raised: kindnesses from friends, the freshly blooming Mary Rose in the garden, the pleasure of the Great Tit at finding our bird feeder tubs have been refilled and, of course, stories.

Where’s the creativity?

Whenever I read about the state of schools across the country – how some teachers are voluntarily buying food or books for children with money from their own pockets or, just as bad or worse,  how so many teachers feel that all emphasis on creativity has been lost as a result of focus on exams – I find myself wanting the children to have more stories. Young people are disillusioned, turned off, self-harming, depressed. I want them to hear stories, do self-motivated work that is based on stories, talk about stories, tell their own stories. Who is a storyteller to say this should happen? Well, all of us storytellers who’ve seen what powerful effects it can have. Particularly this last week, I’ve been recalling the attention and engagement that  hundreds of children have shown to the daftly innovative stories of Shemi Wâd.

The story that follows is one I found in the handwritten book of Shemi stories I was recently lent. The stories in it were written down by Bili John who had himself known Shemi since boyhood. He wrote down the stoies in Welsh.  The one that follows is in my English version.

The big clock and the tricycle:

One day Shemi dug out from his garden a wooden box that contained what looked like the wheels of a clock. Shemi had never seen anything quite like these wheels before. They were very big – as large as saucers – and without more ado, he got ready to use them to make a clock. (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 ~ Gold

Saturday, April 6th, 2019

When you think about it, it’s sometimes very hard to say what makes a particular topic come to your mind. For instance, I have no idea what started me thinking about nightingales this morning. Not blackbirds but nightingales. Or perhaps instead of nightingales (plural) I should say nightingale (singular). For to my knowledge I’ve only ever encountered one. And it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

My personal experience:

It was on the island of Iona off the north-west coast of Scotland. Paul and I were visiting Oban on the mainland (my maternal grandfather hailed from Oban). In the course of our visit, we took a trip across to Mull and thence on to Iona where we were able to spend a few days staying in a remote little guesthouse where, each night, our host would call upstairs to say that the electricity was about to go off because he was about to turn off the generator. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Cat-you-like

Saturday, March 30th, 2019

Are you familiar with the story of how the cat got its purr? I was reminded of it while thinking about the elegant black, beautiful cat who came up to our room  in my husband’s arms a couple of days ago. Paul had been out on the doorstep, talking with our neighbour. Meantime, our front door was open, the cat emerged as if from nowhere and promptly walked into our house. Paul followed it in, picked it up and brought it up for my admiration.

Wow! The cat was obviously ‘owned’ – if ever a cat can be owned – with a smart collar and bell. He was in the most beautiful condition and at once I was reminded of all our past cats and how I’d like to have a cat again. After the death of Minky, our last lovely cat, we felt we couldn’t replace him with another. Then time went on and, several years later, we remain catless. Perhaps that beautiful black cat will bring about a change here. Who knows?

How the cat got its purr: the story

Meantime, that story of how the cat got its purr has winkled its way back into my mind. The story tells of how one of the animals, perhaps it was cat, somehow got hold of a big beautiful drum. Whoever he was, he loved to play it and when he did so at parties, the other animals were full of envy of the sounds it made. So envious did the other animals become that one of them – was it fox? – wanted to get it for himself. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Seeing the audience, seeing yourself

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

We all know the syndrome. The start of a new year makes you eager to sort things out, throw things away, clean your cupboards and your shelves, pursue new objectives and resurrect plans you’d half forgotten about.

For me, this new year has done all those things. It has also brought the satisfaction of seeing that  Nursery World, the magazine that specifically deals with working and living with early years children, has now brought out the big piece on storytelling with early years children that it commissioned me to write towards the end of last year.

Seeing the photos:

Writing my Nursery World piece made me aware all over again how important it is for us storytellers to keep our flame burning by helping new generations of potential tellers to know what storytelling can do.  The new pleasure has been seeing the wonderful photos that were taken to go with the piece. Anna Gordon, the freelance photographer extraordinaire who was commissioned to take the photos, has generously agreed to my using two of them to illustrate this blog today. My thanks to her and to Nursery World and to the centre where the photos were taken. Actually seeing the photos – and in the top one here I’m holding up what I know as my rainbow cloth – makes me very aware of how the children are responding. In fact, seeing the photos made me think a lot about audiences and how important it is to the storyteller to think about the different ways in which they respond. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Following links

Saturday, December 15th, 2018

A story that quite often returns to my mind is the West African story of three brothers who, each in turn, ask their father for the portion of money he has saved for them because they now want to leave home to go their own way. One by one, the three set off. All travel far afield, each creating his own journey, until the day they independently decide to return home. Strange isn’t it that, travelling home, they happen to meet at a crossroads?

Naturally when the three brothers meet, they embrace and sit down and talk. Naturally, too, in the course of their talk, they become keen to show each other the extraordinary objects that each has acquired on his travels.

What the first brother brings out of his bag is a fine old telescope. But as each of the brothers takes a look through the telescope, they all see their father lying desperately ill and near to death. What are they to do? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Visiting, revisiting

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

During a visit I made to Grace Hallworth this week, she kindly gave me a book of Arab folktales. Even as I glanced through it at that time, my eyes alighted on this clever little tale. (I’ll give it a new title: No-brainer.)

No-brainer:

One morning, two woodcutters on their way into the forest noticed the spoor of a lion on the path. (The spoor, by the way, is the animal’s trace or track.) (more…)

New encounters

Saturday, October 27th, 2018

After the ceaseless activity of our week in Toronto, we are now coming to the end of my birthday week in the quieter surroundings of Lakefield. The Autumn colours have been gorgeous, a beautifully patterned snake soaked up the last of the sunshine on one of the trails we walked. But these last days have been greatly shadowed by news from New Zealand of the massive stroke that has been suffered by one of our dearest friends. We await more news. The distance from here to there feels immense. 

Storytelling has figured during this last week in an unexpected new way. Wherever I’ve come into contact with First Nation people – in their communities, centres, shops or books – I’ve been struck by the indications of the importance to them of storytelling. Their stories are a central part of their current efforts to gain proper respect for their rights and their culture. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Where Corals Lie

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

Years ago in a project at the Commonwealth Institute as then was, the wonderful Kathie Prince was the musician, I was the storyteller. It was a brilliant time and, for me, one of its most enriching aspects was how much I learned from Kathie. For instance, I learned the involvement with audiences of varying age that can be brought about through little songs where the audience can help create new verses by offering fresh ideas t0 fit in the pattern. Or where involvement is deepened through the use of differently fascinating instruments. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Connections

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

And the foot bone’s connected to the leg bone…. And the leg bone’s connected to the hip bone…. And the hip bone’s connected to the back bone….

And so on. We used to chant that song of connection as kids on the school bus coming back from events away. Another similar one comes to mind: the one about the old woman who lived on her own who would sit a-spinning of a night bemoaning about how lonely she felt….

Then in came a pair of great big feet – And set themselves down in front of the fire…. And still she sat and still she span, And still she wished for company…. Then in came a pair of thin, thin legs … etc etc etc.

Also what comes to mind is that wonderful story from Aboriginal Australia about the hand that goes for a walk and when she gets to a hill longs for a leg up. So one leg comes and then another etc etc etc (more…)