Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Personal Tales’ Category

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 ~ Talk about remembering!

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Storytelling workshops I used to run had one noticeable effect on some of the people who attended. They’d suddenly acquire a new interest in their own past. No doubt this was partly prompted by the fact that I take a wide view of story: in my storytelling world, personal and family story co-exist with myth and folk-tale and legend. The new interest of people coming to workshops would doubtless arise from a fresh perception of how influential memory is in our lives and how strongly it is linked with imagination.

I remember several who attended workshops subsequently deciding to investigate their own parents’ lives and perhaps write books about them. Now I’m hoist with my own petard. Or should I put that differently and say similarly challenged? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A Surfeit of Stories

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

The life of the storyteller and story-writer has been a fruitful one in my experience of it. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that sometimes there’s a feeling of surfeit. Too many people going by, too much awareness of all the stories they’re part of, too many ifs and buts in every direction. And with all that, not enough time for digesting things and making something of them, not enough real satisfaction.

That’s how I feel right now after two months of hospital appointments when I’ve been one of so many people walking in and out of  the hospital’s foyer or sitting waiting to be seen by a doctor or a nurse. In hospitals, it’s as if the whole world is swishing around you as you try to deal with your own main story yet are aware of being profoundly distracted from what you consider to be your own real life.

That’s how it is. That’s how it’s still going to be for me for a while. Yet over the next fortnight, there’ll be some respite. A fortnight in Wales feels like a blissful prospect providing some welcome fresh air and rest before the three weeks of radiotherapy treatments that will form the last part of the treatment for my breast cancer.

An odd little coincidence

So it feels rather strange that yesterday an odd little coincidence occurred in my life. I love coincidences. They make good stories. I don’t believe they necessarily have profound meaning. The probability factors in the world around us may just as well account for some or all. Yet I do generally think that coincidences have value. The value is simply that they make us notice them. They give us points of meaning and, because human beings appreciate meaning, we realise the value of noticing.

So yesterday I was in Guy’s Hospital yet again for the CT scan which was needed for setting up my radiotherapy arrangements. At the end of the session, I was given the list of dates and times for the fifteen sessions that are to start in three weeks’ time. I looked at the list and then I smiled at the lovely radiographer who’d been seeing to me.

‘I have an extraordinary little story to tell you,’ I said. ‘Seven years ago, I had to have radiotherapy as the final part of the treatment I was given for nasal lymphoma. The last of those radiotherapy sessions happened on October 23rd which is my birthday. So now I’ve just looked at the list you’ve given me for the appointments I have to have this time round. And what do I see? The last date on the list is – guess what? –  October 23rd which is my birthday.’

‘Wow,’ said the radiographer. ‘That’s amazing.’ I agree. It is. But it’s not as amazing as that the sun comes up every morning even when it doesn’t shine through the clouds. Nor is it as amazing as the skill of surgeons and radiographers or the friendship that good friends show. What’s also very fine is a nice cup of tea.

PS: My photo this week is of the South American story-doll I was once given by Kevin Crossley-Holland after I’d edited a paper he’d written for publication by the Society for Storytelling. The doll seems to me to acknowledge not only the multiplicity of the tales which are part of a storytelling life but also the potential burden the storyteller carries in carrying them around.

Storytelling Starters ~ How weird is that!

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Anyone who’s read A Long Run in Short Shorts, my recently self-published book, will know that synchronicities of all kinds are one of my interests. How do they come about? What do they mean?  Wowee! Thinking about two comments that arrived this week on two different postings I’d written, one last year, one this, produced a connection that made my mind go ping!

Two Comments: No. 1

The first comment to arrive was about the haunting poem, The Grey Dog of Rhu Arisaig, which I’d put into my blog of August 20th, 2016.  I’d seen the poem in a frame on a wall in Arisaig on the west coast of Scotland and, a number of times thereafter, had made it the centre of storytelling sessions with older children. Written by Roy Ferguson, the poem refers to the turbulent time of the Highland Clearances when crofters were cleared off the land by land-owners. Evidently, one of the local families that were evacuated by boat from Arisaig accidentally left behind a favourite collie dog. Afterwards, it was often said in the area that, at dusk on certain evenings, the grey ghost of the dog would appear, searching the shoreline for the family that had left it behind. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ What’s in a story?

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

What’s in a story? Things that are normally hidden? Things of remarkable beauty? Keys to the future? One of my main occupations at present is writing a book about doing stories  with Early Years children. It’s a subject I’ve thought about a lot about over the years because I’ve done so much of it, not only with children themselves but with their teachers and parents too.  Writing the book has been bringing back to my mind all kinds of little tales. Here are three.

Story One:

This story was reported to me by my storyteller friend, Debbie Guneratne. It’s about an incident that occurred to her some time ago during a period when she was in Australia, working in a hospital for children.

One day, she started telling a little boy in the hospital the story of The Yellow Blob. Debbie had heard this particular tale (it’s one I created) on a storytelling course I’d been running. The little boy was a child who didn’t speak and his attention span was very poor. So Debbie was delighted to see that he kept listening intently as he heard how the Yellow Blob lived in an entirely yellow world until one day when he climbed to the top of a yellow hill and saw a blue lake below.

Suddenly at this point of the story, and much to Debbie’s regret, a nurse turned up to take the little boy for some treatment he was due to receive. Debbie was naturally very sorry he hadn’t been able to stay to hear the end of the story. Come the end of the day, however, Debbie was on her way out of the hospital when she heard a voice calling her name. Turning round, she saw the nurse hand in hand with that same little boy standing at the top of the hospital steps.

‘Debbie, stop,’ the nurse called out. ‘He wants to hear the end of the story.’ (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 ~ Findings

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Imagine. You’re walking along through woodland and you see a large sheet of corrugated iron with something lumpy sticking out from underneath. You pull the corrugated iron away and suddenly what you’re seeing is a huge plaster model of a man. It looks like it’s been there a very long time, strands of ivy are growing across it, parts of the legs are falling away. Who is this? And why is it here?

Well, the answer to the first question is Sir Francis Drake in the form of a plaster cast of him. The answer to the second is not known. But this last weekend, coming across the bones of the story, I was as much struck by all the unknowns as by what I’d learned of the tale.

Sir Francis Drake:

The finding took place in 1999 on Haldon Hill in South Devon. I haven’t had time to find out who was involved, whether it was one lone walker or two or more, or what action they then took. I do know that, whatever the string of events that then occurred,  the massive plaster model turned out to be what had been used in the casting of the impressive bronze statue of Drake that now stands on Plymouth Hoe and also of the other identical statue of him, which was in fact cast first – the one that stands in Tavistock where Drake was born.

How I came to know these facts is that, during a short stay in Plymouth over the weekend, we’d already walked past Sir Francis looking grandly out to sea in statue-form on the Hoe when we subsequently went on a visit to Buckland Abbey. Buckland Abbey, by then no longer an abbey, had become Drake’s home for fifteen years  from 1580 and in it are a lot of items that belonged to him, including his drum. By now alerted to the man himself and having walked past him on the Hoe, we were especially fascinated to come upon the restored plaster model of him as well as a whole lot of information on Drake’s career. The model is enormously imposing, all the more because of the pale cream colour which makes it look rather spectral. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ An Inspirer

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

Harold RosenMonday evening saw a celebration of  Harold Rosen, the inspiring educationist who passed away in 2008. Harold Rosen was unique. His wit was dry, his language succinct. He spoke the truth as he saw it. He did not appease. At an important debate in the Society for Storytelling in its earlier days , the question at issue was whether the Society should exclusively support the traditional tale or whether it should also represent other forms of story such as the personal tale or the written story. Speeches were impassioned – I made one myself. Then Harold stood up. Both as an eminent educationist and as a respected Patron of the SfS, what he was about to say felt extremely important. What he did say was brief. At its centre was the pungent point that the desire to establish boundaries usually arises ‘from those that wish to patrol them’.

End of story. The truth in Harold’s remark was clear as daylight. Thinking about it anew this week, the question it addresses feels extremely apt for our world right now. As Donald Trump plans physical boundaries against Mexican immigration and paper walls against Muslims, the question is going to remain critically important. In this day and age, does America really want to be patrolled? Does it want to be patrolled by Trump and his chaotic team? But Harold Rosen’s thinking forms an equally pertinent and powerful challenge to much current educational and social strategy here in the UK. The value now given to league tables and targets, the stifling emphasis on exam success, the narrowing effect of these viewpoints on what and how children are taught: all these would have been anathema to Harold Rosen. (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…)