Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Breaking the rules

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

This week, I’m owning up to breaking what has always seemed to be a rule among storytellers. When first I fell into storytelling, it was the early days of the storytelling revival. At that time, as I wrote in this blog a while ago, even such a thing as including a poem in a storytelling session was regarded as not allowed. Ever since, I’ve also felt aware that, as a storyteller, I should never expect or be expected to read something in public. No. My role, I felt, was to maintain the distinction between reading and telling and to bring to the fore the art of telling without a script.

Doing readings:

So let me admit to breaking that rule on two London occasions (and also, I’ll now admit, a year ago down in Pembrokeshire too).  The second London occasion happened last Sunday evening; the first had taken place in December a year ago. On both these London occasions, my husband Paul was giving a concert at Clapham Omnibus Theatre in aid of Crisis, the homelessness charity. Paul does the singing with his friend Steve playing the piano and this year, I’d say, they outshone what they did last year and in their first Crisis concert the previous year too. It was during this year’s event, as during last year’s, that I did readings. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Health and Hope

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

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Dear friends, this is to wish you a Happy Christmas and a healthy and hopeful New Year. The photo above was taken this week on Whitesands Beach in North Pembrokeshire. The two children in it are standing on a rock which I’ve been seeing since my own childhood. Last year, a storm had scoured out so much sand from the beach that we saw how huge the rock is when you can see all of it.  We saw the very bottom of it. By now, it is just that smallish hump of stone again. I like to think that Dewi Sant, the Patron Saint of Wales, must have seen this rock too. When I think about him, I like to remember that, at the end of his life, he told his friends to remember to do the little things. What he meant, I think, was to remember the kindnesses we can all do. This feels like an important message to us all amid the upheavals and horrors of our world today. I pass it on with my best wishes and love. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Time of contrasts

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

EightIt’s a time of contrasts. On the one hand is the thought of coming days of peace and enjoyment. On the other, my mind is abuzz, thinking not only of things that have to be done but also about people who are in trouble, people fleeing bombardment, who haven’t got a home to be at home in, who haven’t got enough to eat, who haven’t got any money to buy things  – people like the woman I met on the street the other day. When she asked for some money for something to eat, I asked what she was hoping to get. ‘Anything,’ she said. ‘You know you can get a packet of crisps for 20p. Sometimes I get four packets. They make me feel full for the whole day.’

Then I had to start thinking about this week’s posting. What could I possibly write about? What my mind settled on – needs must! – is something merry and participative for children, namely the Christmas chant I created some years ago. It’s based on Going On A Bear Hunt, the traditional chant I’m sure you all know. Just change the words a bit and this is how my Christmas chant turns out: 

Going to See Father Christmas: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Taking a risk

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

apple-star[1]I took a bit of a risk on Thursday evening. We were giving the second in our Enchantment series of Songs and Stories concerts at Pepper’s in Fishguard. This was Winter Enchantment. During the second half, I was going to do two readings – one from A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, the second the hilarious Twelve Thank-You Notes of Christmas, originally written by I’ve no idea who.

But in the first half, I’d decided to tell three short stories. The third was Baboushka, the poignant story of Russia’s Mother Christmas. (Put Baboushka into the Search box on the left of this blog; you’ll come up with my posting for December 17, 2011).  The second story was The Pointing Finger which I recounted here a few weeks ago on November 5, 2016.  The first was the story I call Star Apple.

Star Apple was a risk because I think of it as a story for children. But this was an audience of adults. Granted, I’ve told it at this time of the year to any number of teachers’ or parents’ workshops. ‘It’s a great story to tell to children,’ I say. ‘It’s easy to remember. It has the great advantage that it needs a prop (always a help because it gives you something to focus on). Besides it is about a star – and that is very seasonal as we think about Christmas.’

Why I decided to take a risk on it at Winter Enchantment is that the story is simple and magical and I thought some of my audience might be inspired to retell it at family gatherings over Christmas. Why not be ready with a story to entertain whoever is present? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Light and dark

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

It’s strange how stories come to mind – sometimes after a very long gap. Yesterday morning, I was wondering what I could write about this week. Suddenly I remembered a story I haven’t thought about for ages. It feels like it fits with the extremely troubled times we’re all living through at present.  

The story:

Christmas Lights 1In this story, which I’ll say more about below,  there was a country that was riven by war. One frightened family – a young girl and her parents – had finally found refuge in a ruined tower in a rocky part of the land.

One day, an old man approached the tower. He asked the parents and their daughter if they would give him shelter for the night. They thought he seemed a kindly man. So they gave him some tea and some of the little food they had and showed him a tiny room with a bed where they said he could spend the night. That evening as they were sitting together, the stranger opened his leather satchel and brought out a glass ball. The glass ball shone in the gloom. Then, as he got up to go up to his room, he handed the glass ball to the little girl. ‘Keep hold of this,’ he said to her, ‘and it will keep you safe.’

As they went to their bed that night, disturbed by the presence of someone they didn’t know, the parents looked in on their guest. Lying asleep in the small room they’d given him, he looked different from before. He looked young. Beside him, hanging from the bedstead, they saw what they now realised was a false beard.

The parents felt very worried. Who was this man who had come to disturb them? Their sleep that night was troubled. But when they woke in the morning, they found that the man had gone. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Star Inside

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Once again, it’s the time of year to tell the Star Apple story. It’s one of those stories that can be infinitely adapted to suit your audience. I love it. I also love hearing (as I did on the recent occasion when I got that Lifetime Achievement Award) that one storyteller who’d come across the story on this Blog then told it with great effect to an audience and absolutely loved the response. My great thanks to Sal Tonge who first told it to me.

Star Apple

A little child (make it a boy or a girl) is always saying, ‘I’m bored’. The child’s mother has plenty of answers – ‘tidy your bedroom’, ‘do your homework’ or ‘go and play with your toys’ – but the child keeps coming back with the same complaint. Then one day (probably sometime about now!) the mother says, ‘Well, why not go and find a little green house with a chimney on top and a star inside.’

The child is suitably mystified. He or she goes and searches the toy box. There’s nothing that fits the description.

Then the child goes out to the street. Up and down the street he or she goes, peering at all the houses one by one in case one has turned green, gained a chimney and developed a star inside. No luck.

At that point, the child goes to call on Granny who lives next door. ‘Gran,’ says the child. ‘You know Mum?’ ‘Yes,’ says Gran in that strange way that adults do. ‘Well,’ says the child. ‘Mum’s gone made. She said I’ve got to find a little green house with a chimney on top and a star inside. And there isn’t one.’

‘Well,’ said Granny. ‘Have you looked really hard?’ ‘Yes,’ says the child. ‘And there isn’t one.’

Then Granny says, ‘Well, Let’s go in the kitchen and we’ll have a look there.’

In the kitchen, Granny takes a green apple out of the fruit bowl and says, ‘See, here’s a little green house. And look,’ she says, wiggling the stem, ‘it has a chimney on top.’

‘But it’s supposed to have a star inside,’ says the child. ‘Well, let’s have a look,’ says Granny.

So Gran picks up her knife (be careful, don’t leave the knife hanging around).

And when she cuts the apple in half (and when you do it, don’t cut downwards but across the middle), she reveals the star inside.

Try it and see. Any children you know will be amazed and delighted. In my experience, so will the adults.  And that’s the end of the story except, of course, you could now cut up the apple and share it around.

Happy Christmas! Enjoy the magic. Enjoy the stars. And enjoy the prospect of a whole new year ahead.

P.S. I’ll be taking a holiday from my Blog over the next couple of weeks except perhaps for putting up a picture or two. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ In the Deep of the Night

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Why is it that the stars in the sky especially draw our attention in winter? In the deep darkness of this part of the year, they seem to shine all the brighter.

As well as playing a prominent part in the story of the birth of Jesus, stars are present in so many of our Christmas traditions – at the top of the Christmas tree, in street decorations, on Christmas cards. For me, they are a vital theme in stories for this time of the year.

Stars are about the magic of looking up into the sky and feeling an immensity that’s beyond our imagining. Yet our imaginations lengthen and widen in the very act of looking.

Loawnu Mends the Sky: a Chinese story

One star story I love telling to children is about how the stars first got into the sky. I came to know it in a beautifully written version which was sent to me by Vivienne Corringham for possible inclusion in my collection of stories, Time For Telling.

Time For Telling came out in 1991. It proved very popular and  ‘Loawnu Mends The Sky’  deserved its place there.  It’s very well worth looking up. If you can’t find Time For Telling, (it’s out of print but is still held by many libraries), you might be able to track down the two paperback volumes into which it was later divided. Loawnu Mends The Sky’ is included in the volume entitled, The Big-Wide-Mouthed Toad-Frog. What follows is my summary of it – but it’s really not difficult to imagine how to fill it out for a full telling. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Path of Light

Saturday, December 7th, 2013

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat and it’s time to tell some good winter stories, the sort that give us the kinds of symbols we need at this time of the year. Light in the darkness. Kindness to others. The beauty of giving presents. Getting together and making good cheer.

So between now and Christmas, I’ll be doing what I usually do – reminding myself of some of the stories I’ve found it good to tell in the lead up to Christmas.

My story today is really about the power and comfort of light. It has no specific link to Christmas. Yet it feels as if it fits. For as my South African god-daughter noticed when she came here the first time – it was what made her feel the British winter was special – lights in the darkness are magical things. Candle-light, firelight, the sparkle and dazzle of Christmas lights in the trees – even the Oxford Street lights this year, lights within giant white snowballs, are enough to bring a sense of wonder and cheer.

So here it is, a Chinese story about a young man who gets lost in the darkness on his way home after finishing work late one very cold winter night. The young man is called Kuan Lo and my name for the story  is The Path of Light.

The Path of Light

It was very cold and very dark and very late when Kuan Lo started walking home. Worse still, when Kuan Lo was crossing the moor that he had to cross in order to get home, he suddenly realised he didn’t have a clue where he was. Somehow or other, he’d lost his way. Then, just as he was wondering what he could possibly do, he saw the flames of a fire ahead and from the same direction came the sound of laughing voices.

When Kuan Lo reached the fire, he saw a most surprising sight. Sitting very comfortably on the ground round the fire were a whole lot of big men. They looked just like wrestlers usually looked and Kuan Lo felt a little bit worried. What if they started to fight him?

Instead when the men saw him, they called out in the friendliest way. ‘Come and have a drink with us!’ So Kuan Lo sat down and at once they were all chatting and laughing. The men were extremely sympathetic when Kuan Lo said he was lost and then after a while, they said they’d like to show him a trick that they had. Kuan Lo wondered what they were going to do.

Well, each one of the wrestlers stood up – they were very big men with big, fat stomachs – and in an instant they were climbing on each other’s shoulders, one after the other, until they’d made a high tower of people. It seemed to reach up to the stars. Kuan Lo looked up at it in amazement. Then, oh dear, it started to wobble and suddenly the tower of people was falling. And it fell, but very slowly and gently, until it was lying flat on the ground.

But when Kuan Lo looked where the tower had fallen, he saw no people, just a long path of white light. At once, the path of white light began moving slowly, gradually, over the moor. Kuan Lo was amazed and started to follow. And do you know what? That path of white light took him all the way home. It didn’t seem to take long to get there and when Kuan Lo saw his own little house, he felt very glad and grateful. ‘Those wrestlers made a path of light and it’s brought me safely home,’ he said to himself as he opened his front door and stepped inside. ‘I’ll never forget them’.  And he never did. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Wintering Out 4

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Red is for Father Christmas’s costume. Red is for berries and for robin redbreast. And red is for my photos this week. Red stands out against grey skies and fresh snow. And red is for Red Internacional de Cuentacuentos, the international storytelling network which this week posted me a fascinating blog all about Mo Yan, the Chinese storyteller who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature 2012. Why it engaged me so much is that MoYan thinks of himself first and foremost as a storyteller.

‘I am a storyteller’

‘I am a storyteller. It is telling stories that earned me the prize,’ Mo Yan said in his speech to the Stockholm Academy when he was awarded the prize. He described in detail how his storytelling began. One day, as a child, he sneaked off to listen to a storyteller who came to his local marketplace. His mother was unhappy with him for forgetting his chores. ‘But that night, while she was stitching padded clothes for us under the weak light of a kerosene lamp, I couldn’t keep from retelling stories I’d heard that day. She listened impatiently at first, since in her eyes professional storytellers were smooth-talking men in a dubious profession. Nothing good ever came out of their mouths. But slowly she was dragged into my retold stories, and from that day on, she never gave me chores on market day …’

As repayment for his mother’s kindness and a way to demonstrate his memory, Mo Yan would retell the storyteller’s stories for her in vivid detail. And it wasn’t long before he began to embellish them and introduce other people’s stories too. And that was that: he never stopped. It makes a wonderful irony of his name which, translated, means ‘Don’t Speak.’

You can read Mo Yan’s full speech on the official website of the Nobel Prize:  When you get to the site, click on Literature Prize, Mo Yan and go to Nobel Lecture. It gives a real insight into the mind and life of a storyteller and, for me personally, makes me think yet again of the Chinese myth of the First Storyteller. This has been absolutely central to my own storytelling because it is about the way storytellers finds inspiration in the people and the world around them.

A journey for the imagination

Back to Father Christmas – that’s a journey for the imagination. This week, I’m repeating from last year my Going To See Father Christmas chant. This is an excellent way of taking children on an imaginary journey and finding what they’re looking for, then bringing them back home with the ability to think about that journey again and again. (more…)

Storytelling Starters – In the Spirit of Christmas 3

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Just one week to go before Christmas Eve, which was my mother’s birthday. Each year the day brings memories of hilarious hours in the kitchen with my mother stuffing the turkey and massaging it with butter, making extra supplies of mince pies and sausage rolls and preparing vegetables for the Christmas dinner.

Another feature of my growing-up Christmases was getting out of bed in the shivering cold in time to get to Plygain, the 6 a.m. Christmas service at the chapel we used to attend, which was Tabernacl Chapel in St. David’s. Plygain is a traditional service which still takes place at cock-crow in quite a few different parts of Wales. On your way to Plygain, the sky is still dark. By the time you come out, wishing everyone “Nadolig Llawen”, “Happy Christmas”, the light is just coming into the sky.

By tradition, anyone who comes to the Plygain service in St. David’s can take part if they wish by giving a reading, a prayer or a Christmas carol. The last time I told the Baboushka story, which is my offering here today, was at a Plygain service.

Baboushka

The Baboushka story is Russian, ‘baboushka’ being the word for an old woman who, in a sense, is everyone’s grandmother. I love the story because it’s not just about giving, though this is its central theme. It’s also about the ability to change. ‘I’m too old to change,’ my father used often to say after he retired. Then in the last years of his life he began saying a different thing: ‘You’re never too old to change.’ It seems to me this is a useful approach in these difficult times. (more…)