Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Telling and Writing’ 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 ~ Tell it/Write it

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

scissorsThe differences between writing and telling a story are well worth thinking about – and from both points of view. Here are some of my observations.

Cutting:

A told story can feel long-winded if it’s written in the same way as it’s told. In the telling, it has to feel like no uncomfortable gaps are made in the narrative of it. So for a start, if you’re writing it down, it’s best to prune out the ‘ands’ and the ‘buts’ you’d commonly use to fill the gaps when you’re telling. I learned this back in 1990 when I was putting together Time for Telling, the collection of children’s stories from around the world I’d been asked to make by Kingfisher Books. I assembled the collection by asking practising storytellers from all kinds of cultural backgrounds if they’d send me a favourite  best story. A really good one that arrived from Scottish traveller storyteller, Duncan Williamson, needed to be pared quite a lot. He was, par excellence, a teller.

Elaborating:

Conversely, when you’re writing a story, you can afford to elaborate in the description, perhaps using more studied and literary phrases than when you’re in the act of telling. Telling, you’re taking the kind of pace that allows people to visualise things as you go. You want to leave room for them to see things for themselves. Writing, you can afford to do something different. You want to give your story the distinctive character that can only come from you. I’ve often observed this when writing down stories I tell, often to give as reminders to people in workshops or for the purpose of this blog. In those situations, I tend to keep the story to the minimum, emphasising the action. If I were writing the same story for a published book, I’d expect myself to beautify it, giving free rein to my own visualisation of it. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Enduring Friendships

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

P1080298Two wise sayings ring through my mind as I write this. The first I heard earlier this week. I was  coming out of my local Sainsbury’s shop with a copy of the day’s Guardian newspaper under my arm. The front-page headline was about Donald Trump and when the Security Guard at the shop door saw it, he made a suitably disparaging remark which led to us having a long conversation.  The conversation came to an end with this remark, all the more memorable for the rich Jamaican tones in which it was said:

‘No one is intelligent by size but by heart and by reason.’

The second of my wise sayings was said to me on 24th October exactly ten years ago. And why do I remember the date so well? Because 23rd October is my birthday and this remark was made to me on the following day. You’ll see why from the story below. It’s a personal tale, one of a collection of such tales I’ve been writing. Enduring Friendships is the title I’ve given this one – and with a modicum of intelligence you’ll be able to work out from it exactly how old I’ll be tomorrow. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Train-world dreaming

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

R01Yesterday I spent a good part of the day on a train coming down to Wales. The reason for my trip? I’ve been invited to a 100th birthday celebration lunch. The person who has reached such a wonderful age lived with her family at the end of my street when I was growing up. Her husband ran the chemist’s shop on the corner. We children played with her children.

On the train, I was reminded of a piece of writing I did recently – not about birthdays but about being on trains. I don’t know if you find the same kind of thing when you’re on a train (and I think it’s not the same on buses or planes or in cars). My mind goes into itself. Often I find myself thinking about a story and that’s what I wrote about. I’d be fascinated to know if any of you who may read this blog have the same kind of experience.

Train-world dreaming: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Read/tell/read/write

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

P1040754Ever feel uninspired? Empty of ideas and spirit? I hope so – but only in the sense that I hope it’s something we can all admit to. Certainly, after a week of editing work, completely uninspired is how I felt about the prospect of writing this blog today. I was convinced I had no stories to tell and nothing to say. 

Then on Thursday evening, I happened to turn up a little piece I’d written a month or two ago in the aftermath of reading a number of books by novelist and short-story writer, Ali Smith. Re-reading my piece, it made me wonder. Could I put that piece of mine on my blog?

Ali Smith has had a big effect on me. There’s daring in how she writes, a willingness to experiment and take risks. So why not, I’ve wondered since Thursday? Why not take the risk? As a storyteller, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy going on about the powerful link between the oral and the written and how one can inspire the other. So why shouldn’t I confess to a passion for writing? Moreover, as I approach my dotage, I think I love doing it more and more. So here goes – a piece I wrote which is a bit of an experiment in visualisation, more of an idea than a story.

The uses of ‘a’

Come. Stand outside with me on a cold, clear night and I’ll show you how to experience one way to expand your sense of life. Preferably it’s cold because that makes you feel things more deeply. Preferably it’s in a part of the country, like on a small hill in Wales, like in my village of Mathri, where there’s little or no light pollution. (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 ~ Elephant Luck

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

 

A girl pushes her fingers down the back of the rear seat of an abandoned Renault car in the scrapyard near her home. As she exlores the hole her fingers have found, she feels the hard-edged corner of what is surely a box. Determined to get it out, whatever it is, she returns to the scrapyard a day or two later. This time, she succeeds. She sees that the top of the box is covered with fabric which could be Indian or Chinese and inside, when she opens it, she finds a shining glass figurine of what looks like an elephant man. The elephant man will turn out to be a statuette of Ganesh, the Hindu god. But even before the girl finds that out, her questions have begun.

Questions on World Book Day:

At Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd in Newtown, Powys, on World Book Day this week, the children were brilliant at thinking what those questions might be. How had the box got down the back of the seat? Who put it there? Why? Who did it belong to? What might the figure be worth? How old could it be? Where was it made? Did it have any special significance? How much might you get if you put it on eBay? How long had it been in the Renault? Could you trace its rightful owner?

Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Giant Children

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

I’m currently reading a Welsh novel, Y Storïwr, by the journalist, broadcaster and author Jon Gower. Published in 2011, its title, translated, means The Storyteller and I’m fascinated. For one thing, the baby that’s born at the start of the book is so like the baby Taliesin in the ancient Welsh story I told at the London Welsh Centre as part of the Bloomsbury Festival just a couple of weeks ago. In the old Welsh legend, the little Taliesin is found inside a leather bag floating on the waters of a magical weir and he begins to speak almost as soon as he’s found. First he declares his name – and then, since he is destined to become a renowned Welsh poet, when he goes on speaking he naturally does so in the recognisable metres of Welsh poetry.

A Magical Future?

In Jon Gower’s novel, the baby that emerges to the working-class world of an extremely character-full South Wales village is born with the birthmark of a dragon. His future is obviously destined to become extraordinary and he is certainly surrounded by a cast of legend-like people. How will the baby turn out? I have few clues yet except that, on his first day in school, having already acquired through diligent research a quite phenomenal vocabulary and having already demonstrated a striking capacity for unusual speech, the little boy aged only four stands up when the teacher is going round her class asking children their names and tells a long, gripping story (in theory about an ancestor). For doing this – not altogether surprisingly – he earns the hatred of the other children.

What is going to happen to Gwydion, for that is what Jon Gower’s hero is called, he having been named because of his birth-mark after the magician figure in the Mabinogion?

I shall be finding out. Meantime, for some reason – perhaps the preternatural flash of intelligence, perhaps something about being associated with the giant figures of Welsh mythology – Jon Gower’s book has reminded me of an incident with an Early Years class of children in Pembroke which I think I’ve mentioned in this Blog before. It’s one of the pieces of evidence I would put into any dossier of evidence I assembled about the value of storytelling in education. Now I’ve written it up as one of the true-life tales I’ve recently been focusing on. I’ve called it – not surprisingly – Giant Children.

Giant Children

The morning was part of one of my storytelling training courses for Pembrokeshire teachers. I loved these courses. Each involved a small group of teachers coming together from different schools. The work was immediate, practical and engaging and – one of the things I liked most about it – it was always up to the teachers how they interpreted it and carried it on when they were back in their own classrooms. Another thing to be appreciated was that, luxuriously by current standards, we were able to meet on so many occasions, five half-day sessions over the course of a term. It was a brilliant way to embed the work and on each occasion of meeting, before and after going into the classroom, the teachers had time to share with me and each other what they were making of the stories and the telling.

This was one of the classroom sessions where the participating teachers would come with me into a classroom to observe me telling the day’s story to the particular class of children which had been selected as the focus for that particular course. It was a Reception-age class, so they were all young children of about four years of age, and now they were gathered on the carpet before me in the regular place we’d established for our storytelling. The visiting teachers had dotted themselves round the edges and I was sitting as usual on a low child-size chair, higher than the children but not so far above as if I’d been on an adult-size chair.

The story on this day’s occasion was one I always refer to as Little Bear on the Long Road. It’s a good one for this age-group and, whenever I tell it, I feel grateful to the person from whom I originally heard it. This was the wonderful Japanese storyteller, Kyoko Matsuoka, who told it to me on an occasion when we’d arranged to meet to talk about the work of Eileen Colwell, the pioneering English storyteller who’d been an inspiration to both her and me and, of course, to so many others.

So there we were in the British Library Tea-room, (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Reflections on Telling and Writing 3

Saturday, March 24th, 2012
Stop Press:
An RSS feed is now installed on this blog. This means that if you subscribe to the feed (check it out on the left), you will automatically receive updates on your computer. A number of people have asked me for this. Sorry it’s taken so long.

Reflecting on sound:

After attending two wonderful concerts over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the power of sound. (Reflections again!) One of the concerts was Claudia Aurora, a Portuguese fado singer. The other was Tord Gustavsen, the Norwegian jazz pianist, with his amazing ensemble of saxophonist, drummer and double-bass player. Both concerts had great intensity of feeling and a powerful and associated sense of the musicians listening deeply to the sounds they were making.

Music has led me to thinking this week about the power – or should I say powers – of language.

Reflecting on language:

The varying powers of language come very much to the fore when you’re thinking about telling and writing. In last week’s blog I suggested that telling is often much more informal. It’s perfectly possible to recount a story to audiences of adults or children just in the same way you’d tell it to friends over supper.

Yet at its best, telling a story also means paying attention to the kind of language you’re choosing. So you want it to be informal? That’s fine. Formal or casual, using the present tense or the past tense, there are always choices to be made. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Reflections on Telling and Writing 2

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

It’s frog time. During the week, I saw several in the garden – one in a bucket of water and one in an empty pot right next to the kitchen door. (I hope you like my portraits of them below.)

More frogs!

One evening during the week, another frog was spotted sitting on its haunches in our study, looking for all the world as if it wanted to talk. When and how it got into the study we had no idea. It was me who was deputed to be the one to remove it. So I performed the usual trick of fetching a plastic bowl, popping it suddenly over the frog, then sliding a piece of card underneath, thus temporarily trapping the frog inside. Out in the garden, it hopped quickly away.

Next day my email inbox included a message from the artist who runs the Drawing Club in my local park. This week’s session, she announced, would be at the pond where we could have fun drawing the frogs: ‘Always the best session of the year!’

So frogs became the theme of my week. (more…)