Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Seasonal Tales’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Old, Bold, Gutsy and Wise

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Inuit womanI don’t know much about Alaska. One thing I do know, however, is an extraordinary story about two old women who were abandoned by their people in the ice and snow of a very hard winter. The story tells how these two women survived and the enormous wisdom they showed when their people, filled with shame at what they’d done, eventually searched them out to find that they were still alive. 

Two Old Women has been retold in print by Velma Wallis, a woman who’d heard it told many times as a child. Is it a legend or is it true? In a way, the question is irrelevant. I think the story has a striking relevance for us today. It insists that skills that have been learned in the past and the experience that is gained over a life-time can be of life-saving value, reviving memory,  self-respect and determination.

Old, Bold, Gutsy and Wise:

As guest storyteller for the evening, I’ll be telling this story this coming Wednesday at Fishguard Storytelling/Straeon Gwaun, the monthly story club organised by Deborah Winter at Pepper’s in West Street in Fishguard, North Pembrokeshire. The only other time I’ve told it was years ago at a Secondary School in Chelmsford where one of the main responses of my audience was astonishment at hearing of a world and a time where there were no computers and no mobile phones and where the two old women, when abandoned, had no contact with anyone at all other than each other. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Easter Egg

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

What follows is a rhythmic, chant-like story from Russia which I came across in one of my box-files this week while riffling through them with Easter weekend in mind. It’s been in this blog before on two different occasions but I think it’s worth repeating. I can’t now remember where I found the tale. I do remember telling it – and with lots of accompanying sounds –  in storytelling sessions with children I once did at Somerset House to accompany a fabulous exhibition of Russian art and artefacts that was being held there. The exhibition included some of the gorgeously jewelled eggs made for a number of Russian tsars between 1885 and 1917 by Russian jeweller, Carl Faberge. (Sorry can’t get my computer to do the accent on this name.) Anyway, the egg  in my story is more mundane. But it makes a good tale.

The Easter Egg: a Russian tale

This is a story about a little Russian girl who lived with her father and mother right next to her grandmother’s farm. This little girl would often help her granny by feeding the animals or collecting the new-laid eggs. One day, just before Easter, her mother was making bread in the kitchen while her father, who was the local priest, was in the church preparing his Easter service.

Then this happened. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Short and Sharp

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

P1050194A Long Run in Short Shorts has been getting some very nice things said about it. An old friend from University days made me laugh with her comment:

“You manage the shortness very impressively.”

To encourage you to get hold of the book – and there’s plenty of copies left – here are some comments that arrived from people in the storytelling world:

“I’m savouring each story. It’s rather like unwrapping another chocolate – I’ll just have one more…”
Dr Hilary Minns, lecturer and storyteller, Warwick University

“These written versions of your personal stories have also challenged me to stand by the stories I tell, because of what they mean to me … their values are part of me.”
Meg Philp, professional storyteller, Brisbane, Australia

“Each story has made so many pictures and provoked memories of my own.”
Jean Edmiston, professional storyteller, Scotland

Such comments are enough to warm anyone’s heart – even when, this week, it has been so cold. In keeping with the weather here in London, here are two very short, sharp stories. I think I remember that the first one comes from North America (which, of course, is in all of our conversations right now): (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 ~ Haunted!

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

A story has been haunting me, going round and round in my mind. It’s kept returning over the last few weeks and, each time I find myself thinking it over, I wonder why it is there. OK, I love the story. And I love who I heard it from, storyteller friend Debbie Guneratne. But why is this story from her in my mind now? So many questions. But first let me tell you the story.

The Pointing Finger:

P1070076It was hot. So hot that even the air felt hot and, beneath his bare feet, the hard ground of the village square felt as if it was scorching his skin. The young man felt thirsty. He also felt worried. What was he ever going to do? His studies in the town were going well, his teachers said he was clever. But how was he going to complete his studies on so little money and with so little hope?

All these questions were turning over in the student’s mind as he sat on the bench in the village square that hot morning. Suddenly, there came the stir of voices and movement on one of the roads that came into the square. It looked like someone important arriving, surrounded by attendants and awed onlookers.

It was some kind of prince, that was obvious. His robes were richly embroidered, his hair was glossy, his beard well-tended and round his neck was a garland of flowers. The prince, if that’s what he was, swept into the square and looked around. There was very little to see – a tree that looked like it needed water, a fountain from which rose too little water to enable it to look like a fountain should.

As he walked grandly round the square, the prince suddenly stopped. His eyes, evidently, had fallen on the student who by now was walking along to the side of the prince, staring avidly at him‘What do you want?’ the prince suddenly said, stopping in his tracks as if he’d only now become aware of the student. For a moment, the student was silent, as if had no idea what to say. Then he quietly replied, ‘Anything … something … whatever you can give.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Life as a dream

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

A few days ago, completely unexpectedly, I bumped into my friend the photographer Francesco Guidicini. Francesco used to lodge with us once and he was a most brilliant person to have in the house. He cooked the best risottos and pasta dishes ever, he loves conversation and he’s interested in stories. One day, he told me this tale when I’d been asking him about his home city, Bologna.

Life as a Dream:

P1080091Francesco’s story began with him describing how, often in Autumn when he was a student in Bologna, he’d be sitting having coffee with friends in one of the old squares in the University area when mists would start swirling into the square, creating a strange, romantic atmosphere. One Autumn of many such mists, Francesco and his friends became aware of a dramatic figure who’d sometimes walk by as they talked. A lonely wraith of a person, this figure was always dressed in the same tailed coat, white tie and black trousers. His face was pale, his body slender, and he invariably wore a top hat and white gloves like a character from the circus or out of the films.

Sometimes Francesco and his friends would see this man several times in a week. Other times, a week or more would go by and they’d wonder if he’d gone away from the city. Then one day late in the afternoon, one of the friends was at home in his digs not far from the city centre when he became aware of someone walking into his hallway from the street. When he looked up from the book he was reading, it was to see the strange apparition of the white-gloved, tail-coated man standing in front of him in his room. The man seemed restless and very nervous. ‘I beg of you to help me,’ he said. ‘You see, I am not as you see me. I’m not the person you think that I am and you can have no notion of the distress I suffer. It has weighed on me far too long. Now I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I have to take action. That’s why I have to tell you about it.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ From the street

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

P03‘Why don’t you go round making a tape-recording of the stories of the street?’ That was the question of the tall young man at the party we went to on Thursday night. ‘Then you could offer it to the Lambeth Sound Archive,’ he said.

The party had come about in an unusual way. About a fortnight ago, two lovely young women had turned up at our door with a bunch of invitations. Although the street is, in my view, a very friendly and neighbourly street, I had never consciously seen either of these two before. Now here they were inviting us to a Winter Warmer.

And what an excellent occasion it turned out to be! The talk and the stories flowed. A particular part of the fun for those of us who’ve lived in the street for a while – and some of us have lived here an extremely long time – was when we got on to telling some of the stories of the street.

For instance, there’s the scaffolding story.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Eggy Tale

Saturday, April 19th, 2014


Happy Easter – and here’s my Easter gift to you: a Russian rhyming story about an egg. I put it into this blog for Easter 2012 but I think it’s worth repeating (with a repeating photograph too).

The story:

Bunny and hornIn grandmother’s shed
Lived a speckled hen.
On the day of my story, it laid an egg.
The egg rolled down
From shelf to shelf
Until in the end it found itself
In a little keg made of aspen wood
In a dusty corner where the donkey stood.
A mouse ran by too near the keg,
Wiggled his tail, and broke the egg!
At this great catastrophe
The farmyard donkey began to cry,
The fat old pig let out a sigh,
A startled chicken rose to fly;
The gateposts shrieked,
Bunny and hornAll doors creaked,
The milk-churn leaked;
And the priest’s daughter,
The little girl in my story,
Carrying water
Broke her bucket.

All in a dither
She came to her mother
And said:
Mother, mother, have you heard the news?
In grandmother’s yard
Lives a speckled hen.
Today, she laid an egg;
The egg rolled down
Bunny and hornFrom shelf to shelf
Until in the end it found itself
In a little keg made of aspen wood
In the dusty corner where the donkey stood.
A mouse ran by too near the keg,
Wiggled his tail, and broke the egg!
At this great catastrophe
The little donkey began to cry,
The fat old pig let out a sigh,
A startled chicken rose to fly;
The gateposts shrieked,
All doors creaked,
The milk-churn leaked;
And I, the priest’s daughter,
The little girl in this story,
Bunny and hornCarrying water,
Broke my bucket.

When she heard this story,
The wife of the priest
Dropped her yeast
And seeing her dough fall to the floor
She headed straight
Through the churchyard gate
And said:

Husband, husband, have you heard the news?
In grandmother’s shed
Lives a speckled hen.
Today, she laid an egg;
The egg rolled down
Bunny and hornFrom shelf to shelf
Until in the end it found itself
In a little keg made of aspen wood
In the dusty corner where the donkey stood.
A mouse ran by too near the keg,
Wiggled his tail, and broke the egg!
At this great catastrophe
The little donkey
Began to cry,
The fat old pig let out a sigh,
A startled chicken rose to fly
The gateposts shrieked,
All doors creaked,
The milk-churn leaked;
And our dear daughter,
Bunny and hornThe little girl in this story,
Carrying water,
Broke her bucket.
And I, your wife,
Dropped my dough to the floor!

When he heard all this,
The holy priest with a terrible look
Tore the pages out of his book
And scattered them on the floor.
And do you know what happened then?
The wind came and blew the pages across the farmyard into the river
And the river-waters carried them off
And that’s why I can’t tell you any more of the story.

Happy Easter!

Storytelling Starters ~ Time to tell

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Do I dare call myself a storyteller? Hallowe’en is a popular time for storytelling. Yet I absolutely hate Hallowe’en – not because of the spectres, witches, zombies and demons but because of the commercialisation. Fancy-dress clothes get hired, kids run round knocking on doors, then look at you blankly when you appear, not sure what to say or quite why they’re there.

Baba Yaga

I don’t like Hallowe’en but I like Baba Yaga, the ugly old hag of Russian fairytale. She seems entirely the sort of ambivalent character we could do well to remember at this time of the year. A creature who inhabits the shadows, she lives in the depths of the forest in a hut with chicken legs that spins endlessly round. To get in to the hut, indeed to survive Baba Yaga at all, you have to know the correct thing to say. According to Afanas’ev, the Russian story-collector, she uses her very long nose to poke the fire and her sharpened iron teeth to devour young, tender victims.

But it’s often possible to outwit Baba Yaga. In fact, sometimes you feel she’s got something extremely insightful about her – for if you have courage and a good, kind heart, she ultimately respects it and will spare you. And when she spares you, you will afterwards be all the stronger for it.


Last week, I encountered Baba Yaga when I went with one of my god-daughters to see a play called HAG at the Soho Theatre in London. Produced by The Wrong Crowd company, the play generally followed the pattern of Vasilisa the Beautiful, one of the most well-known of Baba Yaga stories. It made strong use of puppets but was by no means aimed at young children. From its hilariously satirical approach to the stepmother character and her two mocking daughters (these were shown as a bodiless, twin-headed puppet), I could sense how it would appeal to the teenage audiences for whom it’s apparently at least partly intended. The play’s main character is a sweet-natured girl whose mother has died. With so heartless, vain and cruel a stepmother, she has in consequence to face some of the worst demons this world can throw up.

Coming out of HAG, it was particularly nice to encounter a large group of young women who, it turned out, had been brought to see the play by their English teacher. They had obviously got a lot from it.

So let me recommend Baba Yaga stories for audiences young and old. Plenty can be found on the Internet and, for young children, there are a number in picture-book form. In these, quite suitably for the age-group, Baba Yaga is usually presented simply as a witch who has to be fled. HAG reminded me that Baba Yaga’s significance can be more complex and, as such, her appeal far wider.

And meantime remember your clocks …

Yes, do remember to turn your clocks back on Saturday night or Sunday morning.

I well remember the occasion when Paul and I were in Italy on holiday and, over several days towards the end of our holiday, were surprised to notice that our hotel dining room was virtually empty each time we turned up there for dinner. Not until the morning that we left did we understand why.

Because of the earliness of our departure, we’d organised with the hotel-owner the night before that he would be up early in the morning to sort out our bill. We got up. He wasn’t there. Indeed, he had to be sent for and when we finally saw him coming up the road, he was still doing up his trousers and repeatedly calling out ‘Mama Mia’ in a long-suffering voice as if he couldn’t quite believe what these mad British people were up to. Shortly afterwards, we realised why. Days before, the clocks had gone back. We’d been completely oblivious.

Got any similar stories? The theme’s a good one for story-sharing. (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…)