Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Children’s stories’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Looking up

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

P1070076Here’s a story I remember with laughter and delight every time I think about Laugharne, the place where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas lived and wrote and also where the novelist and story-writer Richard Hughes had his writing-room high up in the castle walls. This story was created orally by a small group of 11-year old children.

The story:

Merlin was watching over the wall of his castle. Beside him was his favourite seagull. As he looked down, Merlin saw a family of parents and children, obviously tourists, walking along the foreshore of the estuary below. All were munching – crisps from crisp bags, chocolate from wrappers. Then as they passed, one by one they dropped their plastic wrappers onto the ground. Merlin was horrified. When the family had gone by, he sent his favourite seagull down onto the shore to bring him something else that was messing it up. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ In two worlds

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

Last weekend, a wonderful story was read to me over Skype by a seven-year-old girl in Australia. I felt lucky to be able to  hear it and see it – her drawings were brilliant.  The story was entitled  The Magic World and the Tragic World. It first talked of the dragons who inhabited each of these worlds. Then one day, it said, everything changed: the dragons of the Tragic World attacked those of the Magic Wall of creepersWorld. Happily, by using and testing their magic, for instance to grow themselves wings, the Magic World creatures became able to pacify their attackers. 

Some human problems are harder. I think in particular of all those people who become obliged to leave the world where they grow up to go and live in another. War exacerbates the problem.  Among all those millions of Syrian refugees now desperately seeking a new safe place where they can live in peace, so many are reported as saying that where they’d most like to be is back home. Is there any prospect at all that they will ever be able to return?

This problem speaks to me personally because, like so many people today, I feel conscious of living in two worlds. But I am fortunate. Coming from one place (north Pembs), settling in another (London), I’ve been able to move easily between the two and increasingly over the years, and massively helped by my storytelling, have been more and more able to integrate the two. But what if you cannot ever go back? Perhaps you have to learn to live with the idea of carrying your sense of home in your heart. It’s the idea expressed in a very beautiful Welsh song, Paradwys (Paradise) which my husband is currently learning.  Its final line expresses the theme with the thought that the key to your paradise lies in your own heart. A similar thought underlies a Chinese story I came across a long time ago which I refer to as The Peach Blossom Forest. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Ground of our being

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

P1040896This Thursday night, I attended an event in a fine old house in Hackney. The house was Sutton House, a Tudor manor house that now belongs to the National Trust. The event consisted of two authors, Rob Cowen and Dominick Tyler, talking about their relationship with nature and landscape. Some of what Dominick said was personally recognisable to me: I’ve known him since his childhood in Cornwall. What both authors said about the impact of nature made me recall an important theme in story work I’ve done.

Rob Cowen’s book, Common Ground, is about the Yorkshire edgeland near where he grew up. One of those strangely absorbing places on the fringes of towns and cities where you can still find yourself immersed in the world of nature, he rediscovered his childhood edgeland as an adult. In Dominick’s book, Uncommon Ground, you see remarkable photos of landscape features and read about the terms for those features that have fallen almost completely out of knowledge. Finding the terms and the places which illustrate them was Dominick’s way of reconnecting with nature for behind his book, as with Rob Cowen’s, was his strong realisation of how much he’d lost in becoming urbanised as an adult.

And so to stories:

In story work I’ve done in schools, it’s always proved productive with pupils in the 10 – 13 age-range to ask them about places they value. I start with an invitation: ‘Think about somewhere you’ve enjoyed going to play, somewhere you like to lurk about.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Passing it on

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Duke Street with Shemi superimposedA set of tall tales that were told by the old Welsh storyteller Shemi Wâd provided the theme of the Research Seminar I gave this week at the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling in Cardiff. I loved preparing and giving the lecture.  An added pleasure was when a veritable posse of Cardiff storytellers turned up to join the academics in the audience.

One question that came up after my talk was whether the motifs of Shemi’s stories were shared with other storytellers of his time (he died in 1897) or whether they were special to him. A mixture of both, I’d say. As a sea port, Goodwick where he lived and its twin town Fishguard had plenty of sea-captains among their residents. And, as we all know, stories travel.

Certainly Shemi didn’t get his ideas from books. He was illiterate. The only book in his tiny cottage was a leather-bound copy of the Book of Revelation and, from one of our main sources on Shemi, the eminent Welsh writer Dewi Emrys,  we know that Shemi used it only to strop his razor every other day. When Dewi Emrys was a boy –  for, as a boy, he used to hang out with Shemi – he opened the cover of that leather-bound book and an enormous great cloud of the dust of ages flew out.

How a tradition grows: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Taste and tell

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

P1060818Blackberry tart and storymaking: what’s the link? Probably none at all except that both figured strongly in my past week. The blackberry tarts followed a blackberry-picking expedition down near one of my favourite Pembrokeshire beaches. One of three tarts that resulted was delivered to a favourite person of mine, now 98, who has lived alone since her brother and sister died and whose attitude to life is strikingly positive. The second went to John Knapp-Fisher, another great friend, now over 80, who is both well-known and widely-loved for his paintings of the Pembrokeshire landscape. The third tart we ate at home for supper, breakfast and lunch. It was delicious.

Storymaking came into my mind when, thinking back to my moon-poems in last week’s blog, I remembered two children in a Llanelli school who, quite a few years ago now, created a wonderful story that involved the moon. The children in the class were working in pairs in our workshop. The boy in one pair was quiet and thoughtful and, in the storymaking exercise, he was working with a girl who talked non-stop, not always rationally. One of the many admirable aspects of their resulting story was how the boy made use of her contributions.

The children’s story (as remembered by me):

Once upon a time, there was an old man who came to a long winding path up a hill. When he climbed up the path, he came to a cave and in the cave he saw an oil lamp. When he picked up the lamp and rubbed it, out of the lamp came a genie. The genie said he could wish for three things.

First the old man wished for a pair of boots that could jump as high as the moon. Then the old man wished for a rake. (And if you think that was an odd thing to wish for, it was the contribution the girl in the storymaking pair offered most clearly.) (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Dog-poo and Dylan Thomas

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

dylan thomasHave you ever visited Laugharne? Is so, you’ve surely walked along the shore of the estuary at the foot of the high walls of Laugharne castle and looked along towards the Boathouse where Dylan Thomas used to live.

Dylan Thomas is a wonderful poet and, rightly, the subject of lots of talk this year, the hundredth since his birth. The other night, I was reminded of the children who attended The Boathouse Project a few years ago. It was a week of workshops for all the top Juniors and Year 7s in the area with me and artist Catrin Webster.

The children showed great interest in Dylan Thomas’s work and also in Laugharne. Good stories and good art resulted. The other evening, talking about Dylan Thomas with friends, I was reminded of one of the stories. It was inspired by indignation at the amount of litter and dog-mess – dog-poo in children’s lingo – the children had noticed along the foreshore when we were collect impressions on what I call a Memory Walk.

Here’s the story. I can’t remember what its creators called it. I’m entitling it A Warning to All Litter-Droppers. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Getting Participation/ 2

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

My current series of postings is about how to get children actively participating in stories. As the basis of today’s tip, I’m focussing on a well-known nursery rhyme. It’s come back to mind because of what’s been going on recently in the outside world. The pot-holes in my road have been overflowing with it. People at London bus-stops have been moaning about it. Friends have asked glumly if it’s ever going to stop. And of course the ‘it’ has been the rain. Here’s the nursery rhyme:

     Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
     In a shower of rain
     He fell in a puddle
     Right up to his middle
     And he never went there again.

Because of the incessant rain – and today’s clear skies in London serve as a reminder of how bad it’s been – this rhyme could be a good one to include in Story-time soon. It may even be an advantage if the rhyme is already familiar to the children. Handled in a different way from usual, it can help you build up your techniques for getting participation from them. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ BASE Awards

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

This evening I’m off to the BASE Awards event in Wolverton. And if you don’t know where Wolverton is, it’s right next to Milton Keynes.

Ancient Egypt and Us

Milton Keynes is a resonant place-name for me. I once worked with a brilliant class of 10-year olds there. One of the topics in their class at the time was Ancient Egyptians. The other was Ourselves. Their teacher wanted a project to bring the two topics together.

Of course, it’s possible to tell stories from Ancient Egypt. I did – and the children loved them. But how is it possible to imagine the length of time that has passed since the Ancient Egyptians existed? These children certainly couldn’t. Like most children of their age, they had little sense at all of time passing. So I came up with the idea of a Memory Chart on which each child would use hieroglyphs of their own design to notate one memory for each year of their lives so far. We made an exception for their first four years: most people have few recollections from that period. So those years, we decided, could be lumped together and occupy just one box in each person’s chart.

Memory work

The children were brilliant. When we did the initial memory work, there was a lot of jotting down, telling and retelling of what had happened. Then came the making of the memory charts. Each person creating their own, the hieroglyphs designed by the children were fun and inventive. Last came the bit of the project when, working in small-ish groups, the children worked out clever creative ways to tell their small stories as a group. One group, I recall, created a fascinating audio-spiral of their stories where each different year in their memories was signalled by the sound of a gong.

Milton Keynes again

So Milton Keynes it will be tonight. The BASE awards organisers have worked very hard. I hope their Awards event proves a lovely, sociable success. What’s more, I hope it helps to promote and encourage all aspects of the art of storytelling. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Subversives wanted

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Monsters make an excellent theme for developing children’s creativity. Monsters appeal to young people – there’s something essentially subversive in both.

So whether you’re a parent, teacher or children’s club leader – and whatever the age of the children you work with – you can get a lot out of monsters.

Here’s a programme for pursuing a Monsters theme:

• Find one or two good monster stories – for instance the Greek story of Typhon with older children 

• Prepare the stories for telling, then tell them to your children, be they in class, at home or in some kind of children’s club

• Allow time for the children to come up with comments and questions (in class or clubs, working in pairs or groups is best)

• Ask the children to suggest some modern-day monsters – you might be impressed by their ideas – and make a list of the monsters

• Invite them to draw, paint or make models of the monsters they’ve thought of (this gives them useful thinking time)

• Give them the time to make up a story about their particular monster (working in groups is best in a class)

• Get them to tell their story (each group can tell in turn to the others)

Fantastic!

This whole enterprise could take a full morning or evening session or be spread out over several sessions. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Noticing the Dog-Poo

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

A Memory Walk is a fantastic thing to do with children. This week I was reminded of its potential while thinking about Dylan Thomas whose work is to be celebrated this coming Saturday, October 5th, in the evening entertainments at the London Welsh Literature Festival that follow my performance of my storytelling piece, Travels With My Welsh Aunt.

Dylan Thomas lived in Carmarthenshire in the village of Laugharne. Back in 2001, I was asked to join with Welsh artist Catrin Webster to run The Boathouse Project. This was to be a week-long project to explore Dylan Thomas, his work and the place where he lived, with Top Juniors and Year 7s from Carmarthenshire schools. Catrin would work with them through the medium of art. I would work with them through storytelling.

The Memory Walk I used with the groups of children attendeding was one of the best techniques I’ve ever invented to prime children’s language and their storytelling. With each new group at the beginning of each day session, I began by talking a bit about storytelling, telling a couple of stories and introducing some of Dylan Thomas’ characters and story ideas. A lot of people liked the thought of Captain Cat in Under Milk Wood, also the grandfather in A Visit to Grandpa’s who imagines every night that he’s driving a cart and horses when actually he’s sitting in bed. The idea of a boathouse proved inspiring too and so did the Voices of the Drowned that also figure in Under Milk Wood. Whose voices could they be today? And when might we hear them? (more…)