Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Themes’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Settling into a story

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Roses 3Do stories need explanation? And what kind of explanations might be needed for a story from an unfamiliar culture? I did wonder a bit about these issues while preparing The Tale of Farizad of the Rose’s Smile for telling to the older children in Wolfscastle School this last Monday. No wide cultural diversity there except for that between Welsh and English. Probably little awareness of Muslim culture. No great variety among children’s names. Certainly nothing like Farid, Faruz and Farizad.

But what explanation does a good story need? I plumped for just going ahead, telling the story without explanation. First I’d told the wonderfully daft story of Shemi and the Enormous Cabbage. Older they might be but they enjoyed that a lot. Then I came to the Farizad story. This is in a very different vein and how it begins is rather a shock. For it tells how, over the course of the three years following the marriage of the King of Persia to the youngest of three sisters, the king is told that his queen has given birth to a dead dog, a dead cat and a dead mouse. Can this be true? No, these are just lies. The queen has actually given birth to three babies and it’s her jealous sisters who have made up the stories.

Would they stick with it? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Spot the common factor

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

27 ShemiAny storytelling booking obliges you to think. What stories will you do? How might they accord with an overall theme? And how might you relate to the particular audience? All such questions are heightened for me when it’s a booking with children.

This next Monday, it’s to be two sessions at Wolfscastle School, a delightful little North Pembrokeshire Primary school which I’ve visited on several previous occasions. But those occasions were some years ago and by now all the children I saw will have moved on. How will I try to engage my two different groups on Monday? What comments might they make? What questions might they ask?

Planning has been energising. For the younger group, I’ve decided on three favourite stories that accord with the particular theme which, said the headmistress, has been the school’s theme this term. I don’t know if you’ll spot what it is. 

Story One: 

The first story to come to my mind was one of the tall tales of Shemi Wâd, a local storyteller from the 19th century who remained a well-known character in North Pembrokeshire memory at least until the mid-20th century. When I published Shemi’s Tall Tales, I discovered that children – not just here but everywhere – absolutely loved them. One of the tallest and most enjoyable is The Enormous Cabbage. Here it is (in brief): (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Findings

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Imagine. You’re walking along through woodland and you see a large sheet of corrugated iron with something lumpy sticking out from underneath. You pull the corrugated iron away and suddenly what you’re seeing is a huge plaster model of a man. It looks like it’s been there a very long time, strands of ivy are growing across it, parts of the legs are falling away. Who is this? And why is it here?

Well, the answer to the first question is Sir Francis Drake in the form of a plaster cast of him. The answer to the second is not known. But this last weekend, coming across the bones of the story, I was as much struck by all the unknowns as by what I’d learned of the tale.

Sir Francis Drake:

The finding took place in 1999 on Haldon Hill in South Devon. I haven’t had time to find out who was involved, whether it was one lone walker or two or more, or what action they then took. I do know that, whatever the string of events that then occurred,  the massive plaster model turned out to be what had been used in the casting of the impressive bronze statue of Drake that now stands on Plymouth Hoe and also of the other identical statue of him, which was in fact cast first – the one that stands in Tavistock where Drake was born.

How I came to know these facts is that, during a short stay in Plymouth over the weekend, we’d already walked past Sir Francis looking grandly out to sea in statue-form on the Hoe when we subsequently went on a visit to Buckland Abbey. Buckland Abbey, by then no longer an abbey, had become Drake’s home for fifteen years  from 1580 and in it are a lot of items that belonged to him, including his drum. By now alerted to the man himself and having walked past him on the Hoe, we were especially fascinated to come upon the restored plaster model of him as well as a whole lot of information on Drake’s career. The model is enormously imposing, all the more because of the pale cream colour which makes it look rather spectral. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Casting an eye

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

P1080269Do you get times when your mind is zooming about, travelling at the speed of light from one  remembered experience to another, let alone between remembered stories,  no doubt trying to make sense of things? As I write, my mind is doing just that. It makes for quite an adventure. But underneath, there are an  awful lot of feelings trying to settle themselves into some kind of equilibrium. Here’ a sample of where my thoughts have been.

For instance – and I know I’ve told the story in this blog in the past – my mind briefly touched down on that North American Indian story  – I know I’ve told it here before – in which there’s a hero who has survived and conquered all kinds of terrifying situations. Zombies. The underworld. Flames. And there he is, recounting his adventures around the camp fire, when he feels something strange on this arm. He looks down – it’s a spider – and he nearly jumps out of his skin. He can’t stand spiders.

Then again, there’s something that happened for real yesterday. My husband was working at his computer (it’s a fairly new one with a touch screen). Suddenly, as he reported to me later, the cursor on the screen appeared to have gone puzzoowee. It was jumping about all over the place. He couldn’t think why – not until he saw that there was an incredibly tiny spider walking across the screen.

It just goes to show how sensitive a touch-screen can be. But for me the story made sense because that’s just how my mind has been behaving since the cataract operation on my left eye on Wednesday. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ What next?

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

P1080494When things are rough, you sit tight. That’s the conventional wisdom. Yet when things are tough, you surely must also keep your eye on possibilities for improvement, the chance for things opening up.

It’s completely clear from the newspapers and TV that, for many of us, it feels like it’s been a horrible year. Syria, Brexit, Trump – whatever your politics, it feels like the world has got itself into the most horrendous mess. Frightening too. Maybe it’s all in the stars, the personal mirroring the public and vice versa, but numerous friends have also been declaring of late that it’s been a tough year in their own lives too.

So at first I felt completely flummoxed when I began thinking about this week’s blog. What could I possibly say? What story might there be? What pictures? Then, most unexpectedly as I floundered around, a little tale popped into my mind. It’s a tale of personal experience, though not my own. I heard it a long time ago and it’s got nothing at all to do with New Year as such. Yet as I thought about it, the story felt to me like just the right thing. For what could be better for this New Year than the idea that something wonderful might occur,  something that could bring a sense of a new dimension of life and hope?

The story: Opening Up (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Quandary

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

ParrotWhat do you do when you don’t know what to do? Quandaries come in different sorts. One I’ve experienced as a storyteller is when I simply can’t decide what story or theme to choose.

What to choose?

As I began thinking about this week’s posting, various different possibilities began to swirl through my mind. Yet none of them felt quite right. Whether the choice is for my blog or for some performance, I normally like there to be some reason for the stories I choose, some link to things I’ve been doing or thinking about or to something going on in the world about me.  This week, trying to plan what to write about, nothing would settle.

Parrots, I thought. Currently there are four of them in different houses in our street and when they get taken outside for an airing, they create a whole new soundscape. It’s weird. Sometimes they sound like strange metallic devices. Sometimes it feels like you’re in a tropical forest. Thinking about these parrots this morning reminded me of a story. But what was that story? Wasn’t it entitled something like The Parrot and the Tree of Life? Might I not track it down and retell it?

Or what about foxes? Our neighbourhood is full of them. Our gardens are full of them. Not long ago, six fox-cubs were cavorting on our neighbour’s lawn. Often we see one asleep in the sun on the roof of a nearby shed. Thinking about this strange population, so alien and yet now so normal, reminded me of a powerful song about Mr Fox that was composed by my old storytelling friend, John Pole. It’s a very dramatic piece. I used to sing it. Might I not look that out? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Connecting

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

It’s odd. You rack your brain for a story on a particular theme, conclude that you don’t have one, then suddenly realise that of course you do. It’s just that you’ve never seen it before from the perspective of that particular theme.

A dog story?

P1020007This week the problem occurred to me in relation to dogs. There I was on Abermawr beach when up came Storm. Storm is a black and white collie. His owner lives about half-an-hour’s walk from the beach. But Storm is always on the beach. For ten years or more, I’ve seen him whenever I go there. One day, I even spotted him from high on the coast path quite a distance away. A black and white dog? Yes, it was Storm.

Storm wears two tags on his collar. One says his name. The other says, ‘Please leave me on Abermawr beach.’ He loves that beach. He walks up and down it and in and out of the sea as if he just has to let you know what a fine place it is. This week, though, he looked less energetic. We could see he’s getting old. If and when he’s not on that beach, it won’t ever feel quite the same.

Storm started me thinking I’d like to write about him. And that led to me wondering if I know any folktale-type stories about a dog. No, I thought, I do not have n a single one. Then it dawned on me. I do. There’s a dog in a story I’ll be telling next week as part of Enchanted Evening, the evening of songs and stories my husband and I will be doing at Pepper’s in Fishguard with David Pepper as Paul’s accompanist.

Lifting the Sky is the story. It’s one that means a lot to me. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Good experience

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

P1080034Sometime between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day this week, I watched a film called Ten Canoes. The film was made in 2006 among an Aboriginal people of the Northern Territories of Australia. It tells two stories, one of which – the story within the story – is presented as a very old, true story from the time of the ancestors. In its content and the way it was told, it made me feel conscious once again of the power and effects of storytelling.:

In Ten Canoes, a young Aboriginal man fancies a beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, she is already one of the three wives of the young man’s brother. To alert the young man to the dangers and folly of what his fancy could unleash, he is told the story – and this becomes the story within the story – that comes from the ancient time of the ancestors. Of course, the story that he is told is one that exactly matches the situation he is in. It shows how the similar desires of the young man in the earlier story resulted in suspicion, warfare and death. I found all of this quite fascinating – and for several different reasons, not least that storytellers so often try to find a story to tell that has relevance to now.

The storytelling:

The first fascinating thing about Ten Canoes for me was the slowness and stillness of the storytelling. The ancestral story within the more recent story was compared by its narrator with a small tree which slowly reveals itself as it grows and as more and more branches are seen. As this happens, it is pointed out, everything becomes more complex. You want to understand exactly what happens, you want to follow every branch. This feeling struck a chord witme. I too believe that storytelling has a slowness and inner stillness to it from which comes its power. And that’s not all …  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Quiddity

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

P1070781On 19 November, the Guardian newspaper ran a very interesting piece about the author Will Self leading a walking tour of Bristol. On the tour, evidently, he was encouraging participants to take in the uniqueness of our ordinary urban places. ‘Feel the wall,’ he urged, ‘its coldness, its integrity, its quiddity, its this-ness.’

I like Will Self’s words. (Quiddity feels especially good.) For it’s true. You can make what you think of as a commonplace walk and, if you really look, you can see so much. It can be like walking through stories. Often, the full stories are hidden. You end up wanting to know more.

Last Sunday, I took a bus from Brixton to the Kennington/Vauxhall area with a plan for a variation on something else I do from time to time, namely set out from my house on what I call a spoke. This means choosing a direction, then walking briskly for an hour in that direction and seeing how far I get before taking a bus back home. On Sunday, my aim was just to walk around an area that is not familiar to me, seeing whatever there was to be seen.  And I did see so many interesting things – the huge round building that houses the Oval Cricket Ground, the site of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens that were such a draw for Londoners back in the 18th century, several little art galleries I felt I’d like to visit (all closed, alas, because it was Sunday) and some delightful-looking community cafes.

But the treasure was Bonnington Square. Coming towards it unawares, my camera was already clicking, senses increasingly struck by the greenery and flowers outside front doors and along the pavements.  Admiring the inventive ways in which things had been planted, I then came upon the garden. What a miracle of creation! Information boards on the outside fence had caught my interest even before I went into the garden as they told me how, some years ago,  this small area of land had been rescued, derelict, from Local Authority plans to build upon it. The surrounding community had rallied to what they called the Paradise Project and, as I saw when I went inside, the garden they made became a little haven of beauty with a play space for children and several different areas where people can sit in sanctuary below lovely trees surrounded by plants. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Round and round

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

Grim news from Paris. What is to be done? What can we do? Whatever it is – stop the warring in Syria? –  we agreed this morning that one thing we have to do is make the best we can of our time. So here is the blog I’d prepared for today.

Round and Round:

P1070114Odd how themes that come up in a life can come back, round and round, circling in on themselves. Black people who’ve changed the world by challenging people’s perceptions have been a recent theme in this blog. This week the theme returned several times – and, in one case, in a most unexpected way.

Last week I’d mentioned that, after  retelling here that wonderful story I’d first heard told some years ago by an Aboriginal Australian storyteller – hands, legs and head finally working together –  Meg from Brisbane had written in to let us know that she’d heard this story told by the very woman who created it, Maureen Watson. Evidently, a specific point in Maureen Watson’s mind had been for it to help teach children about the importance of working together. Then during this week came another follow-up message from Meg. She wrote again to say that Maureen Watson had died in 2009 and that information about her life can be seen on the following link:  https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Maureen_Watson. Having now read the link, I can thoroughly agree with Meg: ‘She was an amazing activist and advocate.’

Then on Thursday at the theatre, a world away from Maureen Watson but in spirit very close, I met another emanation of Francis Barber, the Jamaican freed slave I wrote about last week who’d become manservant and companion to Samuel Johnson in 18th century London. We’d gone to the theatre to see Mr Foote’s Other Leg, a play about the real-life actor and impresario, Samuel Foote, who’d lived and worked in London in the same era as Johnson. For me, a main reason for wanting to go to this play was that Simon Russell Beale, one of my most admired actors because of how he makes his parts so real, was playing the part of Foote. Another attraction was that the play was set in Georgian London (why has Georgian London become a theme that’s popping up all over the place in London at present?). (more…)