Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Nature stories’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ On the journey

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Here we’ve been going flat out all week, me in what feels like constant contact with the very fine Marketing Manager at Jessica Kingsley (everyone there has been exceptional) and with husband Paul helping throughout by casting an editorial eye over stuff I’m writing in pursuance of sales for Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years. An article with an edited extract from the book for such-and-such-magazine… A blog for an Early Years organisation… Emails to editors of Early Years journals… Messages to anyone and everyone I can think of who might be able to help spread the word… One step at a time, I have to tell myself.

Meantime: School Librarian

Meantime I’ve also been doing the necessary reading to be able to write my seasonal batch of reviews for School Librarian. 1987 is when I started reviewing for School Librarian. It’s a labour of love in every sense of the term. But I enjoy it and it means I get to read some very interesting books I might not otherwise come across. Hence the next item in this week’s journey.

Plus: a good book for storytellers

Georgiana Keable: I’d forgotten the name until her book arrived for review. Then I vaguely remembered hearing about her long ago. In the early days of the Storytelling Revival, she was a member of the West London Storytelling Unit along with Ben Haggarty. Subsequently she was  one of the tellers in The Company of Storytellers. I never met her and never heard her. What I do recall hearing at some point was that she’d gone off to live somewhere abroad. As I now learn from her book, Norway is where she went. In Norway, she became a kind of storytelling queen of the forest, an ambassador for trees and wildlife introducing children to nature’s riches.

Her book is called The Natural Storyteller. It contains 48 stories. Some are stories from real life experience. Most are folktales from a wide variety of countries and one of these is her retelling of The King with Dirty Feet, the lovely Indian story that Sally Pomme Clayton sent me for my collection of stories, Time for Telling. The Natural Storyteller (subtitle Wildlife Tales for Telling) is aimed at older children and throughout it treats them as Apprentice Storytellers, giving helpful ideas on how to absorb stories and maybe make new ones from them.

The Natural Storyteller comes from Hawthorne Press. I recommend it. Here, briefly retold in my own words, is one of the stories in it that struck me most strongly and that I will surely tell.

An inspiring story: The Blind Little Sister

In a village in West Africa, there were two sisters. One was blind. The other was married to a hunter and whenever this hunter went out hunting, the blind sister said she’d love to go with him. The hunter always refused. ‘What use is a hunter with no eyes? Besides you’re a girl.’ But the married sister always said that her blind sister was the wisest person: ‘She sees with her ears.’

So it turned out. One day, the hunter relented. In the jungle, the blind girl suddenly stopped. ‘Shhhh, there is a lion! But the lion will not bother us, it’s eaten its fill and it’s fast asleep.’ The blind sister proved to be right. The hunter couldn’t see it at first but soon they came across a mighty lion fast asleep beneath a tree.

Further on, the same kind of thing happened. The girl said, ‘Shhhhh! An elephant. It’s washing itself. It won’t bother us.’ As with the lion, the hunter asked, ‘How did you know about it?’ As before, she said the same thing: ‘It’s simple. I see with my ears.’

Before leaving the jungle that day, the hunter suggested that he and the blind sister should both set a trap. Next day they could return and see what they’d caught.

Next day on their return, the hunter saw his trap had caught a little grey bird. The blind sister’s trap had caught a bird whose feathers shone with scarlet and gold. Thinking she’d never know the difference, the hunter took the scarlet and gold bird as his own and handed the grey bird to the girl.

But on the way home, the hunter posed a question to the girl. ‘If it’s true as my wife says that you are so wise, tell me why there is so much war and violence in this world.’

The blind girl replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who take things that are not theirs.’

The hunter felt very ashamed. At once, he took the little grey bird from his blind sister-in-law’s hands and gave her the bird with red and gold feathers that had been caught in her trap. He said, ‘I’m sorry.’

Then as they walked home in silence, the hunter asked another question. ‘If you are so wise, and people are selfish, how is it there is still so much love and kindness in the world?’

The girl smiled and replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who learn by their mistakes.’

One way a story can make its mark:

Sometimes a story comes at the right time – like a keyhole to put your key into. As I was reading Georgiana Keable’s book, I received an invitation to an event soon to take place at the offices of ADD, a charity which I support. ADD represents ‘Action Aid for Disability’. The organisation works by identifying and supporting people, themselves disabled in one way or another, who can become Disability Activists in the countries where ADD operates. Last year I wrote a story for them based on the life of one such activist, an Ugandan man with albinism who, from all I have learned about him, is a powerful advocate for people with disability and an extraordinary man of great wisdom and kindness. His albinism has meant that he is almost blind. He’s going to be at the gathering. I can’t wait to meet him.

A riddle to end:

Like a good story, a good riddle is cheering and makes you think. A friend put this one to me one evening this week.

Question: Why do anarchists prefer herbal tea?

Answer: Because proper tea (property) is theft.

PS: Tracks across the sand, a path through a forest, a beautiful keyhole in a door: I hope my choice of photos makes some sense. Anyway, the choosing of them is always fun.

Storytelling Starters ~ Kith and kin

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

Friends can be a great comfort in times of sadness. So can an awareness of nature, especially in a Spring as mild and lovely as this. The visit of two friends from New Zealand who came to stay this week made me fetch out a newspaper story I’d kept from last Friday. The story was from New Zealand. Its stirring headline had said, River is awarded same legal rights as a person.

Whanganui_River[1]The River: Te Awa Tupua

For a very long time, according to the newspaper story, the Maori tribe of Whanganui in the North Island has fought for the recognition of their river, Te Awa Tupua. The court case that ensued has finally ended with the granting of the same recognition to their river as to a human ancestor.  Thus, if someone now abuses or harms the river, it would be considered by the law as equivalent to harming the tribe. This judgement is of great importance in relation to such matters as water pollution. The wellbeing of the river has now been officially linked to the wellbeing of the people.

Wow! If only such a ruling could be extended to all of the world’s natural resources. It put me in mind of a Maori story which has long stayed in my mind. I believe it was my friend and colleague, Karen Tovell (Karen is that right?) who introduced me to it. It’s a story about a tree and it felt specially relevant to me on Wednesday morning this week when I woke to the rasping sound of a chain-saw somewhere in the gardens behind us. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Three Sisters and a Great Occasion

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

IMG_20160805_142445_resized_20160805_070831215Today, I’ll be doing something I’ve never done before – telling a story at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. Two storytellers who live in Wales, Marion Oughton and Cath Little, have invited me to join them in the storytelling session they’re giving in the Welsh Learners’ tent on the Eisteddfod field. This will be a pleasure. The National Eisteddfod is an annual event, held in a different part of Wales each year and oscillating between the north of the country and the south. This year it’s being held in Y Fenni (known in English as Abergavenny) and it’s proving extremely well-organised and highly successful. In the two days I’ve been here already, I’ve loved it.

My story: Three Sisters

The story I intend to tell – in Welsh of course – is a story about three of Wales’s best-known rivers. At the start, we meet three sisters living on top of a mountain in mid-Wales (and therefore not far from Y Fenni). They make their clothes out of birds’ feathers. They wash in the limpid pools of water left on the mountain top by the rains. When they look into the distance they can see the sea and sometimes they get a scent of it. They fantasise. What would it be like to go to the sea?

Fantasy in this story turns  into a definite plan as the sisters decide that the very next day they will go and visit the sea. What will the seashore be like, the oldest sister wondered. Will the sea shine? the middle sister asked. Would they see silver fish in the waves asked the youngest.

In the morning, the eldest sister woke early and decided to go some of the way down the mountain at once to see what the journey would be like. She dressed and washed and then, putting her feet in a pool of water,  drew the water behind her as she started down the mountain. But the countryside around her was so lovely,  she completely forgot her plan to return for her sisters and, instead, went smoothly on. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Other worlds – Part One

Saturday, May 21st, 2016

Stories reappear in all kinds of different forms in all kinds of different places. A couple of weeks ago when I raised this theme before, an appreciative comment came through. It’s a recognisable theme with infinite potential. As memories are sparked, one story can end up as a chain of tales. So I wonder if the story I’ve got for you this week will produce some parallels. It popped into my mind while I was mentally sifting through Pembrokeshire tales ready for my session at Waterstone’s bookshop in Piccadilly next Thursday, 26 May. (Details of the event are at the top of my website. Do come along.)

The story:

P1070228A fisherman was out at sea. It was a lovely sunny day and he thought he’d take a rest. So he dropped his anchor over the side of his boat. A minute later, he was very surprised when he heard a cross voice shouting at him. When he looked over the side of his boat, he saw a little man climbing up his anchor rope. The little man looked extremely angry and he kept on shouting loudly. ‘You’ve dropped your anchor onto my house and it’s come through my sitting room ceiling.’

The magic:

So that’s the story. My father used to tell it to when I was a small child. To be honest, he kept on telling it to me every now and again until he died, aged 92. Sometimes he’d elaborate a tiny bit, describing how the little man shook his fist at the fisherman when he got to the top of the rope. Sometimes the fisherman may even have said, ‘I’m sorry. ’ But that’s all. The tale remained short.

So why did I love the story so much? Why do I love it still? (more…)

Storytelling Starters: Birdland

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

NZbirdcompressI’m visiting booming bittern territory this weekend. Will I get to hear one? If I’m lucky. The booming bittern has been one of the most threatened bird species in the UK. Evidently, it’s now making a bit of a comeback. It belongs in the heron family, lurks in reed beds and is extremely secretive. It’s the male that makes the extraordinary noise. When I heard one in the same area a few years ago, it really did BOOM.

And then there’s the blackbirds. So intense and tuneful is their singing, morning and evening, here in our part of South London, it fills the air around us. It is pure joy. 

But  for this week’s blog, I promised a story about how birds came to live in trees. This story was originally told to me by a woman from Thailand in an Adult Education class in storytelling I was running at the time.  Apologising profusely for her poor English, she then told the story to great effect. I’ve retold it in this blog once before, back in 2011. It bears repeating. I think it works well with Primary-age children.


Storytelling Starters ~ Touching base

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

Good news. David is back in Tregaron. Tregaron is a town in West Wales and David is the cuckoo I sponsor, one of the clutch that are being tracked by the BTO (the British Trust for Ornithology). It’s  reassuring that my cuckoo is not only back but busy. Sadly another tracked cuckoo, Vigilamus, also managed to make the 4,500 mile journey back to his previous breeding ground, in his case in Yorkshire, but then almost immediately succumbed to the near-Arctic conditions in that part of the country last week. 

Back to base:P1070361

In getting back to Tregaron this year, David has successfully completed his fourth migration cycle. I think of this with a sense of wonder. It’s one of those stories of nature that are really worth telling: they force you to stop and think about their many implications.

For David will not remain in the UK for long. If all goes well, he will already be back in Africa by the start of August or soon after. There, if he does what he usually does, he’ll spend the winter in the tropical forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Then, next January, he will set out – and cuckoos always fly alone – on his migration back north. It’s a very, very long way, taking him north into West Africa, then across the Sahara desert and over the Mediterranean before heading back through Spain and France to arrive back once more in the UK.

Where is home? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Tree-thoughts

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

15Tree barkSit under a tree awhile and listen and I bet you’ll hear it speaking to you in the rustle of its leaves and branches. OK, it’s not speaking in any tongue of  humankind. But in its own way, it’s speaking, perhaps of the wind or the seasons, perhaps of its place in the landscape, rural or urban, perhaps of the scenes it has witnessed over the length of the time it has been there. Walk past a long line of trees, it’s the same, though now you’re listening to what I hear as the trees’ conversations  with each other. Each time you go past, you can tune in. Their talk will be there – except, of course, when the trees are gone.

Ariel’s story in The Tempest:

This week, two experiences made me think about the way we humanise trees – or perhaps I should say the way they humanise us. One occurred in a fabulous performance of Shakespeare’s late play, The Tempest, at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse at the Globe Theatre. Pippa Nixon was superb as Ariel, making her feel like pure spirit brought into human form. When Prospero, the magician and manipulator who conjures all the events of the play into reality as if from thin air, reminded her of the plight she’d been in when he first came to the island, it created a horrifyingly poignant image that made immediate sense of her demand that he now set her free from having to serve him and do his bidding. When first on the island, Prospero told Ariel, he’d found her imprisoned in a tree. The evil witch Sycorax had trapped her in it, a cloven pine, and because the witch subsequently died, Ariel had had to remain trapped there and groaning for a whole dozen years before Prospero  released her and made her into his servant. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ And all the while…

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Trees near TrefelynThose little stories that make a particular point can sometimes prove tricky. The last few days, the weather has been lovely in London – cold but sunny enough to bring a smile to our faces and quite a change from incessant grey skies and rain. On one of my walks, remembering the great winds that blew over Christmas, I thought about that famed competition between Sun and Wind.

Sun and Wind fight it out:

Just as children sometimes do, and sometimes even grown-ups too, Sun and Wind were having an argument about which of them is stronger. Sun proclaimed:  ‘It’s definitely me.’ Wind thought differently, ‘No, it’s me.’

Sun and Wind decided to test out their claims.

‘See that young man walking down that street,’ said Sun. ‘I guarantee I can get his jacket off him quicker than you.’

‘It’s a deal,’ said Wind. ‘But I’m going to win.’

Without wasting a moment, Wind began blowing. Before he could even start roaring, the young man walking down the street pulled up the zip on his jacket. Then as Wind began roaring, he put his arms round himself, drawing his jacket even closer. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Flying, falling

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

No good signals have been received from Chris the Cuckoo since 5 August. At that point, Chris the Cuckoo was crossing the Meditarranean Sea after stopping in the Po Valley area of Italy on his annual migration south to Africa to the Congo.  Four complete migratory cycles of his have been recorded by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) using the tracking device with which he was fitted. Now it is feared he has died and the probable reason is the severe drought the Po Valley area has been experiencing this summer.  

Falling – poor cuckoo!

P1070575Severe drought is also what’s causing enormous problems for salmon in the Vancouver area of Canada. As we were hearing from a friend there this week, the rivers are going dry and salmon trying to get upriver to reach their breeding places are not going to be able to do so.

For salmon and cuckoos, it’s a sorry tale. Already the Po Valley area drought is thought to have been responsible for the probable deaths of several others of the cuckoos that the BTO has been tracking this year. To discover the difficulties migrating cuckoos are facing is precisely why their tracking programme was devised. Drought, of course, is one of the worst of the problems: it means the feeding places where the cuckoos stop on their journeys cannot provide them with the sustenance they need for their onward flight.

The cuckoos were much on my mind when we went for a walk around the lovely North Pembrokeshire village of Nevern this week. The 6th century saint, Saint Brynach, founded the church in the village and, among the ancient yew trees leading to the church entrance is the famous Bleeding Yew that attracts many visitors. Nearer the entrance is the beautiful Celtic cross which figures in a sad little local legend in which the cuckoo is central.

 On St Brynach’s day each springtime, according to the legend, a service used to be held around that Celtic Cross. Every year, the vicar and the congregation would  gather for the service in front of that Celtic Cross and wait until, as invariably happened, a cuckoo would fly down and settle on top of the cross. At that point, the service could begin. One year, however, the people waited and waited until they were on the point of despair. Just as they were about to give up, a very wind-blown and battered cuckoo arrived and settled briefly on the cross only to fall dead on the ground below it as the service started. 

Flying – lovely swifts! (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Crucible of Story

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

P1070464A castle, wherever it is, is a story in itself. When was it created? Why? By whom? Inevitably the story continues to the people who have lived there, the conflicts they may have provoked or suffered, the enmities and love affairs its silent walls may have witnessed. And so it goes on, suffering ravages of time and weather as decisions are made to extend, rebuild, refurbish or abandon until eventually, it reaches today and the people who decide to go and see it in its old age and those who have become its carers now.

Carew Castle

Carew Castle is a staggeringly beautiful creation. It has existed in one form or another since 1100 or shortly thereafter…., first as some kind of stone tower with wooden palisades, in Tudor times taking on aspects of a mansion, today almost completely floorless except for a couple of large rooms. Several of the participants who attended the storytelling training day I ran there on Thursday for Pembrokeshire Coast National Park are people who do guided tours around it. What a huge story it provides for them to tell! Architectural, archaeological, historical, social, Welsh, English, the story has so many aspects, including what visitors add. I loved what one young woman said to me about it as our training day concluded and we were walking away. ‘It’s a crucible we have here,’ she said. ‘Every day it’s different, always transforming. Whatever you put in, there’s always more. It’s always changing.’

On reflection, I think these could be very good words for describing stories and storytelling. Whatever you put into the crucible, it’s always changing, it’s never full, and for that reason it’s life-enhancing. It  leaves you with new perspectives and new questions. (more…)