Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Myth and Legend’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Serious stuff

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

This week, down in Pembrokeshire, I saw a boy sitting on a stone pillar at the back of Abereiddi beach. He was probably about 10 years old, in his hands was a book, a proper book, and he was reading. When we left the beach an hour or two later, he was still there, still reading. The sight felt emblematic to me of those things that make me feel joyful.

On Thursday evening on S4C (that’s the Welsh channel), there was an equally hope-inspiring item on a programme about the Llangollen International Eisteddfod. A choir from Indonesia was performing and a background item from Indonesia itself focused on a school where dance and music and other arts items play as prominent a part in the curriculum as any other subject. I think it was the Principal of the school who, in an interview, said how important the arts are considered to be all over her country. ‘We feel they give the children sensitivity.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A ball of thread

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Dear blog reader, I hope that what happened to me this morning doesn’t often happen to you.  I came to some kind of consciousness far too early, mind in an absolute spin. Still half asleep, I watched the spin going round, like watching clothes in the washing machine or feeling my mind had turned into a tangle.

A family funeral:

One item in the mix was the funeral in Plymouth on Thursday of an older cousin of Paul’s. During the service a fine account of his life was given by one of his sons. It included a vivid account of a glorious goal his father had scored in a football game in his young days. His other son picked up on that love of sport. Matching the story of the glorious goal, he told about how, on the whim of a moment while on a holiday on the Isle of Man, his father not only entered an 800 metre race that was about to be run but, shoeless and with rolled up trousers, actually won it to the roaring acclaim of the crowd. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Moving the chairs

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

‘Imagination,’ Grace said, picking up on the final word of the story I’d just told. ‘Imagination is ..’.: and her thought continued, ending in an invitation to anyone present to tell a story. Specifically, she turned towards a neighbour in the home where she now lives whom she knew had a story to tell.

And so the Story Sharing began, the second part of a day that had been arranged to honour Grace Hallworth at the end of the month of her 90th birthday. Grace remains a much-loved figure in the storytelling world. She became the first Chairperson of the Society for Storytelling, the SfS, when it was formed back in 1993. She’s told her stories at festivals, schools and storytelling events all over the UK and elsewhere. She has published a large number of books of her stories both for adults and for children. Most of all, she has been a powerful voice for the value of stories in allowing us to discover, express and share our innermost selves as human beings. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Trouble with love

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

On Thursday this week, there was an email from an old American friend which consisted of just four words: Happy Saint Dwynwen’s Day. January 24th? I hadn’t remotely remembered about Saint Dwynwen.

So I looked her up. Like the story of Saint Valentine, it’s a tragic tale! Standing up for the right to love and the cause of lovers but ending up sadly alone: that’s the story of Dwynwen. And like so many old tales of this sort, this story makes my hackles rise. The power of wealth, the power of men over women, fathers over daughters: my goodness, it makes you wonder why we still celebrate such stories.

The story of Dwynwen:

(more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Making peace

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Two linked stories form my blog this week. One concerns the ancient Welsh cycle of stories, the Mabinogi. The second was reported in the Guardian newspaper on 25th November. The theme of both is the redeeming of lives from the terrible destructions wrought by the human need to take revenge. The link is provided by a place in Pembrokeshire, my home county, which is commonly known as Narberth today. It’s Arberth in Welsh and in the Mabinogi. And the reason the link has come about is because of a very good book which I’d like to tell you about as an introduction.

Introduction:

The other day I was in the London Library checking the New Books shelves when, among the larger tomes, I spotted a slim, red-covered book with The Mabinogi on the spine. ‘What can this be?’ I wondered. ‘Too slim to be the stories or a commentary on them!’ Well, my goodness, the book turned out to be a fantastic new version of the Mabinogi in poetry written by a poet called Matthew Francis and recently published by Faber & Faber.

Concise, rugged, colourful, sharp: Matthew Francis’ poem makes a vivid new thing of that magical cycle of stories. Wholly written in the present tense and focusing on key moments and scenes, it gives the mind and imagination of the reader an entirely fresh perspective that at the same time pays great service to the marvellous old tales. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Secret places

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

Secret places have a strong attraction for many of us. It would be hard to say why. Whatever words are used to explain it, there’s always something that remains inexplicable, mysterious beyond any kind of explanation.

My story this week is about such a place. It’s a fable from China told or retold by T-ao Ch’ien. I’ve loved the story for a very long time and in fact have included it in this blog twice before in 2013 and 2015. But I’ve not previously included a haunting poem that relates to the story. I saw the poem again this week while looking for something else in one of my storytelling notebooks. It felt like re-meeting a very old friend. Written by a poet called Wang Wei who lived from A.D. 699 – 761, it captures both the beauty of the story and, for me, the feeling behind it.

The story:

A fisherman one day was rowing upriver and became so absorbed by the flow of the water that he rowed for a very long time, looking up only when he saw beautiful reflections in the water in the shapes and colours of flowers. When he looked up he saw he was in the middle of a peach blossom forest. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Beware the storyteller

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

P1000220This week in Wales, we’ve had visitors, two friends from New Zealand. Showing them the delights of North Pembrokeshire, I’ve felt very conscious of the myriad  stories that come to my mind – stories from growing up here and from many years since, stories from my father who loved retelling the local legends, stories from the Sloop Inn in Porthgain where storytelling at the locals’ table is as important as the ale (-well, just about). 

Memory Walks:

Last week I talked about Memory Walks. What I didn’t say then is that they’re something Paul and I quite often do after a walk we’ve taken. Sometimes we make a written note of our respective memories, sometimes we just say them to each other. Over time, the doing of this is a wonderful way to increase the noticing that makes walks so worthwhile. This week, one thing we’ve especially appreciated is the stunning fulsomeness of the foxgloves, standing upright like sentinels on all the local hedges. Another was seeing Storm, the dog who regularly makes his own way through the woods to our local beach. A few times lately, we haven’t seen him (he’s getting old). This time, we were so happy to see him again, the dog that befriends all and sundry to the extent that he wears a medallion which says something like, ‘I am not lost. Do not take me home with you.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Old, Bold, Gutsy and Wise

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Inuit womanI don’t know much about Alaska. One thing I do know, however, is an extraordinary story about two old women who were abandoned by their people in the ice and snow of a very hard winter. The story tells how these two women survived and the enormous wisdom they showed when their people, filled with shame at what they’d done, eventually searched them out to find that they were still alive. 

Two Old Women has been retold in print by Velma Wallis, a woman who’d heard it told many times as a child. Is it a legend or is it true? In a way, the question is irrelevant. I think the story has a striking relevance for us today. It insists that skills that have been learned in the past and the experience that is gained over a life-time can be of life-saving value, reviving memory,  self-respect and determination.

Old, Bold, Gutsy and Wise:

As guest storyteller for the evening, I’ll be telling this story this coming Wednesday at Fishguard Storytelling/Straeon Gwaun, the monthly story club organised by Deborah Winter at Pepper’s in West Street in Fishguard, North Pembrokeshire. The only other time I’ve told it was years ago at a Secondary School in Chelmsford where one of the main responses of my audience was astonishment at hearing of a world and a time where there were no computers and no mobile phones and where the two old women, when abandoned, had no contact with anyone at all other than each other. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A story in waiting

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Garden daffsThis week the Book Group I belong to met to discuss The Vanishing Man, the new book by the art critic Laura Cumming. The book tells an extraordinary double story. On the one hand, it’s the story of a man who thought he had acquired a lost painting of the future Charles I by the Spanish painter, Velazquez. On the other, it’s the story of the painter and the paintings he made. I was especially interested by a section of the book that made me think about what happens to stories.

Laura Cumming lists all the possible things that can happen to paintings which in turn can make life difficult when you’re trying to trace one of them. Paintings can get destroyed by fire. They can fade, they can be painted over. They can repose, forgotten, in some dusty dark attic or be squirrelled away by a possessive collector who does not want the world to know about them. So many millions of paintings, so many possible problems, there’s also the fact that, until comparatively recently, individual paintings did not necessarily have fixed titles. One painting of the future Charles I could get mixed up with another.

What happens to stories is equally variable, equally fascinating. Certainly they can get lost. I remember a story collector who appeared in my TV series, By Word of Mouth, back in 1990. This particular collector used to go over to Ireland each year to work with an old man who knew many, many stories. One year, this old Irishman said to him, ‘I’ve still got lots of stories you haven’t heard. So if I’m no longer here when you come next year, come over to the graveyard and I’ll tell them up to you.’

Countless stories have come into being in the past. Countless more are arising right now. And if they’re emerging by word of mouth rather than in print, they won’t have titles by which to fix their place in the world. It’s an essential part of the nature of stories that they change, get mixed up, merge with another. Besides, stories are stories. Reaching out like the Ancient Mariner, they can get a grip on the listener that far outweighs questions as to where they came from or whether they are true. (more…)

Storytelling Starters – Where Words Can Take You

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

Walking across Green Park a few days ago, a friend and I were bemoaning how dusk comes too early at this time of the year. Then we cheered up by reminding ourselves that, by now, the days are already drawing out.

CockerelA journey of words:

Cam ceiliog is the phrase that was always used by the mother of my Welsh friend, Beryl. No sooner had the shortest day gone by than she’d be reminding us how, from now on, the days would be drawing out. Cam ceiliog is Welsh for the cockerel’s step, the general inference being that, while the days get longer only bit by bit, we can all be certain that the steps do happen.

On our walk through Green Park, the Welsh phrase caused some discussion. Could there be any connection with the Scottish word, capercaillie which so brilliantly summons up the idea of stepping? Next day – for the friend in question was the renowned translator, Margaret Jull Costa – I got an email from her elucidating this question. Any connection between ceiliog and capercaillie? ‘No,’ she said, detailing the relevant etymologies, ‘no connection at all.’

However, word-expert and word-forager as my friend is, I received another email from her a day or two later. This one referred to the fact that, on our walk,  I’d happened to say that ceiliog, the Welsh word for cockerel, reminded me of Kellogg’s, the company that makes Cornflakes and so many other breakfast cereals.

Ah now! Margaret had pursued this link and was now writing to tell me it wasn’t just me that had seen a connection between that Welsh word for cockerel and Kellogg’s. Someone else had done exactly the same quite a few years ago: none other than the world-famous harpist, Nansi Richards, who died back in 1979. Evidently, during a harp-playing tour in the United States, Nansi Richards had at one point visited the home of Will Kellogg who, at the time, had been looking for a marketing emblem for his company.

And what had he finally chosen? Why, a cockerel. And why did he choose it? Well, according to the story, because Nansi Richards had told him how his surname, Kellogg, reminded her of the Welsh word, ceiliog. So that’s how the cockerel became the Kelloggs emblem and although Wikipedia says the story may be apocryphal, I like it – and even more so  because that same Wikipedia entry led me to another intriguing association. (more…)