Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Creating’ Category

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 ~ Gibberish

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Summer holidays coming up has reminded me of several alphabet games we used to play as kids – in the car coming back from the beach, in the caravan before going to sleep. It feels like a good idea to share them. You may be able to use them too.

Going Away:  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Good things

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Hooray!!! Now you can subscribe to my Blog. See below for what to do. What a pleasure this facility has now been sorted – all thanks to the ever-helpful Tim Howe. Comment, Warwick, Poems, Subscription – it’s been a week of good things.


Little Bear crop 2A comment from a reader always feels good to get. Jo had been enjoying my recent series on Getting Participation. She loves creating stories with children. She describes sitting with a piece of material and allowing the children to choose any object around the room. ‘We decide where we are, the material for example could be blue and shiny, maybe we are at the bottom of the deep dark blue sea. Each child takes a turn describing what their object may be: a cotton reel becomes a pirate ship, the pencil is the mast, the ship has sunk, the button becomes the treasure …’ And so, as Jo points out, they end up with their own story.


On Wednesday evening, a hearteningly warm and engaged response came from the students on Hilary Minns’ excellent Storytelling Module at Warwick University. I’ve been going as guest storyteller to Hilary’s course for about ten years now. The students are all studying child development for a Foundation Degree. One of the stories I did with them was Little Bear on the Long Road. (The prop I always use for this story is on the right in a painting I made of him when I was in hospital four years ago.) On this visit, it was brilliant to meet the person responsible for setting up a similar course at Telford who had come along for the session.  I believe, and have always said so, that such courses should be available nation-wide. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Shopping List

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

WIPs is the name we give to a group to which I belong. There’s no flagellation involved. WIPs stands for Works in Progress. Today, 30th November, we are having a long Saturday session in which all kinds of different things will be presented – songs, readings, piano pieces, a cello piece, some pots which one of our members has made, a sculpture another is creating and a piano duet that has been newly composed by the same group-member who is playing the cello.

For my part, I’ll be reading Shopping List, the story I mentioned last week. At the end of it (which will be just before tea), I’ll be asking the group if they can work out from the story what the shopping list had on it. For me, the experience will be a test of how well my story held their attention. For it’s a very true thing – it’s almost a storyteller’s rule – that you certainly won’t remember what you didn’t listen to in the first place.

Last week I said I’d include Shopping List in this week’s blog. But since the whole thing is four pages long in total, I’ll confine my offering to the first section. I do hope you enjoy it. I should add that it’s part fiction, part childhood memory, part current life. Items from the shopping list are in RED. 

The Shopping List Story:

It was early, but not THAT early, and already it felt like there was too much to do. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Plotting

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

A few weeks back now, after an evening with a group of friends, one of them sent me a very nice email. It said he’d really loved a story I’d told and that he’d love listening to me even if I was just reading a shopping list. I was properly flattered and suddenly reminded of a couple of ideas I’d come across once when looking into memorisation techniques.

The ancient Greek technique

One idea from ancient Greece is an exercise for remembering a group of items. You start by mentally associating each item with an object in a room that you know. You have to really focus, making each association as intense or funny or fantastic as you can. After you’ve done that, you should be able to remember your group of items whenever you want to. Just take a mental walk round that room. As you catch sight of the objects in it, the associations you made should flood into your mind – and with them the items you wanted to recall.

The Shopping List Story

The shopping list technique is similar except that it involves creating a story. Perhaps you’re about to go shopping and you haven’t got any paper to make a list. Or maybe you’ve just got vast holes in your brain like I sometimes have these days. (It’s age!) Don’t panic. Mentally assemble the items you want to remember to buy and then start devising a story that connects them up. It can be any kind of story – as ludicrous, fantastical or realistic as you like. The activity could be a fantastic exercise for a class of children (aged about 7 or upwards?) Or equally satisfying with a gaggle of grand-children (Liz – could this be one for you?) Or maybe it’s just what is needed if you’re on your own (in bed with a cough).

Give it a whirl!

This week I’ve had plenty of time. The cough I’ve had for nearly three weeks suddenly became absolutely pernicious and I’ve have had to spend more than one day in bed. Boring. So I got out the two shopping lists my friend had sent me after I’d emailed him back. I hadn’t told him why I was asking him for a shopping list. I’d just said it was for a project I had in mind. Kindly, he sent me two. One was a list of ingredients for a Christmas cake. The other was an ordinary sort of list consisting of 17 different items.

Sitting in bed, I set about my story which I intend as a kind of present for him. I didn’t do much with the Christmas cake list – too long and complicated. But I didn’t entirely ignore it either. Come back next week and I’ll tell you what resulted – or part of it at least. Meantime why don’t you also give it a go? The full 17-strong list is below. If you’re doing it with a class of children, you could always suggest they select just three or four items for their storymaking.

The Shopping List:

Milk….Eggs, medium….Butter, unsalted….Orange juice….Cucumbers….Carrots….Green beans….Lemons….Limes….Diced stewing steak….Cream cheese….Andrex toilet roll….Persil non-bio washing powder….Dettol antibacterial surface cleaner….Stainless steel polish….Vitamin C/Zinc tablets….Tea tree and Mint shower gel

PS: Good luck!

Photos this week are pretty obvious. Cows to represent milk (and, yes, I’ve chosen these particular cows because they were the  most fetching I’ve ever photographed and in the most fetching place in New Zealand). And wooden eggs to represent real eggs (and isn’t it lucky they’re wooden since our cat takes the greatest pleasure in pawing them off their little dish whenever he jumps onto my desk). (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…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Little worlds

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

You often come across them on beaches: little worlds that have been lovingly made and left to their subsequent fate by their creators. These little worlds may be excavated pools surrounded by sand-castles and carefully decorated with shells, pebbles and feathers.

Or they may be Stonehenge-type arrangements of rocks. Or maybe, amazingly, lifelike figures created from an arrangement of stones.

I remember making such things as a child.

Fairy pools

So it was a great delight this week to come across a little world in the very process of being created down at Pwll Strodyr, our favourite tiny Pembrokeshire cove. Hardly anyone goes to Pwll Strodyr, which is one of the reasons we love it.

This week, on a beautifully warm early evening, a man and a woman and their young daughter were there. ‘We’re making fairy pools,’ said the man when we greeted him as we arrived. ‘That’s nice,’ I replied. ‘It means you could get some fairies visiting and they’ll probably bring some luck.’

When I went swimming a little while later, I was careful to collect some long strands of green seaweed which I offered to the little girl as mermaid’s hair. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ August days

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

August days are times to relax, take your shoes off, go for a swim. They’re also times off for your mind, opportunities to notice things in a different kind of way, mull them over and allow the seeds of a story to sprout in your mind.

Years ago, Paul and I went on holiday to the isles of Mull and Iona. We were intrigued, on Mull, by the number of mail-boxes we passed. Again and again there they were on the road-side at the turn-off to farms and houses. Contraptions where the postman could leave people’s post, they came in different colours, shapes and sizes. Many looked like little houses. We couldn’t help noticing and commenting on them. In a flash, Mr Beaton existed.

The mail-box story (more…)

Storytelling Starters~ Summer Holiday Games

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

It’s the summer holidays – just the right time for some storytelling games. On your own, you can deliberately set out to develop all kinds of alternative scenarios to situations in traditional stories or that are happening in your own lifstorytelling games are fun in pairs or in groups.

Storytelling games develop imagination, relish quirky ideas, treasure inventiveness of language. They’re most fun in pairs or in groups.

This week I came across an excellently ridiculous story that came out of a session I ran way back in 2001. The session was with one of my friend Debbie Guneratne’s Small Tales Storytelling Clubs. I found my note of what happened while sorting through my shelves of old diaries, storytelling journals and books of stories I’ve written. The aim of my sorting was to be throwing stuff away. I can’t say I did much chucking. But I loved the reading and reflecting, particularly in regard to my journals.

The date was Saturday, 17th March 2001. First we played my Empty World game in which, as the game goes on (there’s lots of rhythm and repetition), each participant chooses an item whose name begins with the same first letter as their own first name. Afterwards, I had the idea of suggesting that we try to make links between the items that had been put into our Empty World. On this occasion, these were as follows: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Necklace of pearls

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

On Thursday four wonderful stories were told by participants on my Kensington Palace storytelling course for parents. I’ve mentioned some of the stories before. For me, the making of them was one marvellous element of the course. Other elements included my imparting some of the techniques of storytelling with Early Years children, such storytelling essentials as visualization and, of course, aspects of the history and life of Kensington Palace including the 18th century mural by William  Kent and other objects and paintings in the palace which in turn gave rise to our storymaking.

 All the stories we heard on Thursday were made up by the parents working in groups, all revolved around an object real or imagined and what follows is one of the four. It’s a Cinderella-type story and I hope I can do it justice. Its makers said they were willing for me to retell it but the retelling is in my own words.

The necklace of pearls

Once there was a king and a queen who had a son. When the son grew up, his royal parents decided it would be good if he got married. So they announced a great ball to be held at the palace. At the ball, they were thinking, he might meet a suitable bride.

After the ball was announced, there was a great deal of preparing. Extra people were brought to the palace to help – cooks, cleaners, hat-makers, musicians.

One person who was sent to help at the palace was a quiet, shy and good-hearted young girl. The job she was given was to assist with the cleaning. On the morning of the ball, she was sent to clean a particular room in which was a beautiful painting. The painting was of a lovely-looking woman with a little girl beside her who looked as if she was her daughter. Both the woman and the girl in the painting were wearing necklaces made of pearls.

But the painting was very dusty. The cleaning maid took out her duster and carefully started to dust it down. She began at the top – dusting, dusting, dusting – and it was when she came to the face that she experienced a very big surprise. As she dusted the face of the woman, the woman in the painting began to smile. Then as the cleaning maid continued, the woman’s necklace began to glow and slowly, gradually, it came out of the painting and clasped itself round the cleaning girl’s neck.

Just then, a strange creaking noise came from the wardrobe that was the only other thing in the room and when the maid turned round, she saw that the wardrobe’s doors had opened and inside was a most beautiful ball-gown. Then she heard a woman’s voice speaking. It was the woman in the painting. ‘You must put on this dress,’ the woman said, ‘and wear it with the necklace to the ball tonight.’ (more…)