Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Telling and Writing’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Connections

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

And the foot bone’s connected to the leg bone…. And the leg bone’s connected to the hip bone…. And the hip bone’s connected to the back bone….

And so on. We used to chant that song of connection as kids on the school bus coming back from events away. Another similar one comes to mind: the one about the old woman who lived on her own who would sit a-spinning of a night bemoaning about how lonely she felt….

Then in came a pair of great big feet – And set themselves down in front of the fire…. And still she sat and still she span, And still she wished for company…. Then in came a pair of thin, thin legs … etc etc etc.

Also what comes to mind is that wonderful story from Aboriginal Australia about the hand that goes for a walk and when she gets to a hill longs for a leg up. So one leg comes and then another etc etc etc (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Tour d’Amour

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

It sounds odd to say it. But it was so. In the early days of what became the Storytelling Revival in the UK, there was a distinct whiff of opposition to writing. Storytelling was, and is, very different from reading aloud and different too from writing: we storytellers felt at that time that, in public at least, we had to proclaim, reveal and uphold the differences.

By now, a good number of well-known storytellers in the UK – Hugh Lupton, Sally Pomme Clayton, Daniel Morden among them – have published books. I’ve published books too, nine in all, and I feel I can now admit to enjoying both the differences and similarities between the two forms. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Being Special

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Last week it was a Symposium focusing on refugees. This week it was a dinner event in honour of five Disability Activists from Uganda, Tanzania and Bangladesh. Each occasion has given me much cause for thought, widening my sense of the special importance of a person’s own life story – and how much more that may be so when that person has been up against it in their life.

Thursday’s event was organised by ADD International, a charity I’ve supported for a number of years. ADD links with disability organisations in Africa and Asia to identify and give support to people who can become leaders in their own communities. To the organisation’s great delight, five of the Disability Activists they work with had been able to travel to the UK this week to attend meetings and publicise their work. What had helped make this possible was the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which has been happening this week in London and the fact that one theme of this year’s gathering has been disability issues. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Just checking

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

This week has been all about checking. It’s a fiddlesome, pernickety job and it has reminded me of some of the feelings I had when, years ago I got involved in storytelling, I was struggling to finish a book on the fascinating subject of wolf-children. I’ve written before about the problems I had – how I used to agonise about getting the wordings right as well as making sure I had the correct information and was ordering it in sensible ways.

A Talking Book?

Soon I began to fantasise. How much better it would be to be a Talking Book in a library. People who came into the library could come over and talk to me about my subject. In the subsequent conversation, I could take their personal interests into account and direct my talk accordingly. There could be other advantages. The library might take care of my clothing (my covers). They might even give me board and lodging.

My fantasy must have been a premonition. Eventually came the day when I almost literally bumped into the poster in my local library calling for storytellers to join the Lambeth Libraries Storytelling Scheme. Immediately I started the work, I found myself relishing the fact that, telling a story, you didn’t have to fix your words. You could improvise, re-phrase, say things twice but in different ways, enjoy the freedom of your words going into the air and not having to be checked. (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 ~ 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…)