Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘True tales’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Remembering

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

 ‘Tennyson is crossing the desert!’ A few days ago, that was the strapline on one of the emails in my Inbox. It was followed a day or so later by ‘Tennyson has crossed the desert!’

Such a headline does make you think. For me, it brought to mind a grand-looking poetic figure, bearded and with hair reaching down to his collar: what could he be doing walking the desert? And on his own? Perhaps dreaming up new poems along the lines of The Lady of Shalott or Enoch Arden?

Tennyson, the cuckoo

Well, no! The Tennyson that had succeeded in crossing the desert was not the Victorian poet-laureate but a cuckoo, one of this year’s tranche of cuckoos named and sponsored under the auspices of the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), its movements tracked as it flies alone across the vast distances that bring it into Central Africa and then back again to the UK where, of course, we think of it as ‘our cuckoo’ even though it’s in the UK for only a few weeks. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Call of Stories

Saturday, July 13th, 2019

Being on cancer treatment makes for a kind of half-life. Getting to the hospital, sitting through the chemo transfusion (typically for me about eight hours from sitting down to getting out), feeling strange for several days afterwards with not much else going on because of the after- effects. Sometimes getting up much earlier than usual, sometimes very much later and rarely going out in the evenings because of generally feeling knackered.

Brightening things up:

But always there are kind contacts from friends and neighbours, phone calls and cards with enquiries as to how it’s all going and many messages of goodwill. In the odd way that illness produces, there’s even the brightening of relationships with some long-term neighbours in the street. Never before on particular talking terms,  having learned what’s going on, they now always enquire how things are going.

Meantime, you’re looking for more ways to make life feel brighter. Crosswords and word wheels are good, but I find they can only last a relatively short time. Reading is a must but you need other things too.

Missing the storytelling:

And I miss the storytelling. I ask myself if it will ever come back. Programmes of stories begin to form in my mind, stories for children, stories for adults, ideas of stories I’d like to tell and how I’d like to tell them. Short ones, long ones, quirky ones, ones that have happened in my own real life: they present themselves to my attention, swirling out from choppy seas or clouds of mist and wanting to get acknowledged. Writing them down is one thing. Telling them is quite another. I hope I’ll get or make the chance to be telling them again.

(more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Gold

Saturday, April 6th, 2019

When you think about it, it’s sometimes very hard to say what makes a particular topic come to your mind. For instance, I have no idea what started me thinking about nightingales this morning. Not blackbirds but nightingales. Or perhaps instead of nightingales (plural) I should say nightingale (singular). For to my knowledge I’ve only ever encountered one. And it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

My personal experience:

It was on the island of Iona off the north-west coast of Scotland. Paul and I were visiting Oban on the mainland (my maternal grandfather hailed from Oban). In the course of our visit, we took a trip across to Mull and thence on to Iona where we were able to spend a few days staying in a remote little guesthouse where, each night, our host would call upstairs to say that the electricity was about to go off because he was about to turn off the generator. (more…)

Storytelling Starters: On the wing

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019

Last week I ended with the thought – or is it more of an observation? – that, in storytelling, you as the storyteller are your own prop. This applies whether you’re a professional doing your storytelling from a stage or in a group, with adults or with children, or whether you’re telling your stories informally. What you have in your repertoire is not only your stories but yourself, your voice, actions, sound-effects, expressions.

Promptly last week came a comment from a reader in New Zealand (Pamela, this is you). She and her family had just attended a storytelling session being given by Tanya Batt, a New Zealander whom, as it happens, I remember meeting years ago in North Wales. As well as the stories and how Tanya was dressed, what had made an enormous impact was her great range of sound-effects and actions.

Yes, sound-effects and actions. But there’s something else too which can enormously help a storyteller. It’s developing a range of little add-ins (and I’m calling them add-ins as opposed to add-ons). The sort of add-ins I mean can include all kinds of things that, over time, become a staple, but not inevitable, part of your repertoire. They’re things you can throw in, perhaps in the earlier part of a session when you’re introducing yourself and getting going. Or even later, perhaps between stories or even in the middle of one, a kind of throw-away that can recapture attention. So what do I mean by add-ins? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Jumping In

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

Perhaps it’s always like this at this time of the year. Christmas is over. New Year is coming. So you  start sorting through the detritus on your desk, clearing space for the future. You get out your new diary and, going through last year’s, note into the new one the birthdays of your friends and family for which you must send cards. Then as you continue the sorting, you perhaps turn to My Documents on your computer and, looking down through the list of folders, become engaged by all the items you can’t remember putting there. Or in my case just now, you start searching for something you definitely remember storing there but now can’t find because you can’t recall precisely in what folder you filed it away.

Specifically I started looking for Jumping In. It’s a piece I remembered writing a few years ago in which I tried to describe one of the favourite activities of myself and my friends when, as a child, I still lived in Fishguard.  Throughout the summer – indeed, from as early as April if I could get round my mother – we’d go down to the harbour in Lower Fishguard and, when the tide was sufficiently high, spend many happy hours jumping into the sea from the top of the quay. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~Making memories

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

“We never thought of telling him a story”: the comment came from a smiling young couple with a boy in a pushchair after a talk I’d given at a nursery school. It will always ring in my mind. Stories, memories, family tales: they are not always happy but they are always important.

Going on holiday

As for actual events … well, by the time you read this blog, dear reader, I will be in Corfu. Hooray! A whole week’s holiday, hopefully in lovely warm sun. The weather forecast for Corfu seems pretty confident it’s going to be glorious there. But whatever the weather it’ll be time to read, swim, lie about, be reminded of the taste of ouzo and perhaps make one or two forays to admire the scenery.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A ball of thread

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Dear blog reader, I hope that what happened to me this morning doesn’t often happen to you.  I came to some kind of consciousness far too early, mind in an absolute spin. Still half asleep, I watched the spin going round, like watching clothes in the washing machine or feeling my mind had turned into a tangle.

A family funeral:

One item in the mix was the funeral in Plymouth on Thursday of an older cousin of Paul’s. During the service a fine account of his life was given by one of his sons. It included a vivid account of a glorious goal his father had scored in a football game in his young days. His other son picked up on that love of sport. Matching the story of the glorious goal, he told about how, on the whim of a moment while on a holiday on the Isle of Man, his father not only entered an 800 metre race that was about to be run but, shoeless and with rolled up trousers, actually won it to the roaring acclaim of the crowd. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Smorgasbord

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

That word smorgasbord always suggests outside eating to me, a delicious-looking range of dishes set out on a summer-time table strewn with flowers. A couple of sunny days this week suggests that, despite all the indications, spring and summer might actually be on their way. Some smorgasbording might occur!

So here’s a kind of storytelling smorgasbord to go with the imagined food.

1. Sharing stories

Did you know it’s National Share-a-Story Month? Among all the other National Thises and National Thats, I hadn’t specifically registered it until alerted by the delightfully efficient Marketing Manager at Jessica Kingsley Publishers who has been handling my new book. Might I do a piece on story-sharing to go on their blog? Answer: Yes of course I will. Story-sharing is so right up my street, it’s in my house and in my study and in my heart. The irony is, of course, that National Share-a-Story Month is organised by the National Federation of Children’s Book Groups. (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 ~ Stew

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

Last week this blog was a pot-pourri. This week it’s more by way of a stew.

Item 1:

Item 1 must be my new book which will be out in only four days’ time. Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years will be available to buy on my website and I’ll say more about it here next week. I do hope it encourages early years staff and parents (and what about grandparents?) to realise that, next to food and love, stories are vital to the growth of healthy children. In fact, they are part of the food and the love. It seems that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, agrees. A few days in advance of this year’s World Book Day, in a piece in the Sunday Express that was in turn reported on the BBC and then re-reported in the Guardian, she described how much joy it gave her as a child that her father had read stories with her. She went on: “Reading to our children and our grandchildren is something we can all try to do every day of the year. Not only does it give us pleasure but it leads them on a voyage of discovery and enrichment that only books can bring.”

Item 2:

Item 2 has to be about the personal tale. On the 10th March, the word ‘storytelling’ appeared in another piece in the Guardian. Of course, it caught my eye. The piece reported former President Obama’s senior adviser, Eric Schultz, having told the New York Times: ‘President and Mrs Obama have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire. Throughout their lives they have lifted up stories of people whose efforts to make a difference are quietly changing the world for the better.’

And why was Eric Schultz saying this now? Because, evidently, there’s a possibility that Barack and Michelle Obama might be on the verge of signing up to present a series of high-profile shows on Netflix. Hence the connection with storytelling: ‘As they consider their future personal plans, they continue to explore new ways to help others tell and share their stories.’

On Tuesday this week, the Obamas’ possible plan came back to my mind during a visit to St Peter’s School in Hammersmith. As twice before, I was there to do a day’s storytelling for their Arts Week and it felt very encouraging  that lots of the 300 children I saw in the course of the day remembered those previous visits. Until this year, however, I’d never made a conscious choice to tell a personal story in any of my sessions. This time with Years 5 and 6, it was a spontaneous but very conscious choice. I was planning to tell two main stories, each somewhat scary in its way. One was going to be that Indian story about the barber and the ghosts that I recently told in this blog. The other was going to be the strange and thought-provoking story by Richard Hughes, The Glass Ball. (You can find it in my blog for November 29th, 2014.) A story about war – and, yes, the Year 5 and 6 children were very aware of war from the TV – it begins with the ever-present fear war brings of being trapped and hurt or killed and the wonder of it when peace is found.

£8.50 (£10 inc UK postage)

On the hop, because I’d be telling these two scary stories and felt suddenly aware of the scariness ahead – I began with the story that comes first in by book of personal tales, A Long Run in Short Shorts. The experience, as I explained, had been a bit scary for me. For as I’d started down that hill in Wales, on my own and, as daylight darkened, not looking forward to shaded places on the road back home, I’d initially been very startled by the sight of those two strange men coming up the hill towards me. Jowly faces, thin bare legs, very short shorts, knobbly knees: who could they be and why would they be coming up that hill towards me at that time of the evening? And would I have to be following them on my way home?

After my personal tale, I went on to the barber story and then suggested a minute’s visualising to the 60 or so young people before me. A scene from the barber story was what I proposed they choose. And when, after a minute or so had elapsed, I invited anyone who wanted to report what they’d ‘seen’, quite a lot of children put up their hand But only one  described a scene from the barber story. All the others for whom there was time came up with something personal, something a bit scary that had happened to them. It was a real reminder to me of the power of the personal story and the importance of including our own lives in the wider context of storytelling. It was also a lesson to me to perhaps make more time for that kind of telling with that age-group in future.

Item 3:

The third item in my stew again involves reference to a Guardian piece (you can tell it’s the paper I read!) This was the three-page obituary of Stephen Hawking that appeared there on Thursday. Written by his colleague Sir Roger Penrose, the majority of the piece was about Hawking’s scientific thinking and the extraordinary advances he made in the science of space.

Alas, I understood only those parts of the tribute that referred to Hawking’s life and personality. But the stuff about his science brought back to mind the last session of my day at St Peter’s.

That last session was with the 7 to 9 year-old in Years 3 and 4. It included a telling of the West African story, How Sun and Moon Got Into the Sky. You know the one? (If not, you can find it in my blog archive for January 14th, 2012.) Briefly, it tells how Sun and Moon once lived down here on earth. They were married and in the house where they lived, Moon used to do lots of polishing (for of course, these were the olden times before female emancipation) whereas Sun used to go out to chat with his friend Water. On one occasion, Sun inquired why Water never came to visit him and why he, Sun, always had to go and see Water. Water’s response was to enquire whether Sun had enough room in his house for him. ‘After all,’ said Water, it’s not just me. There’s an awful lot in me. (Fishes, sharks, seaweed … the story gives lots of space for participation).’

So Sun went and extended his house. (Again, the idea of extensions gives plenty of room for contributions). Finally, the invitation was confirmed. Water would come to tea. On the appointed day, Sun and Moon were ready. They heard Water coming. But of course the results were truly world-changing.  As Water flooded into the house with all that was in him, Moon followed by Sun had to run upstairs and climb out onto the roof. But even that wasn’t going to be enough. Soon Moon was saying, ‘I must go, I must jump.’ And when she did, Sun said, ‘Wait for me!’ So that’s how they both got into the sky and, of course, they’re still there (though some of us do say that, in the immensity of space, they still meet whenever there’s an eclipse and others remark that they had lots of children, namely the stars).

The response to this story on Tuesday amazed me. How much those children knew about space! It all came out in questions and comments. Wouldn’t Water have got evaporated by Sun when Water came to the house? How did Sun and Moon manage to jump into the sky considering that gravity would have held them back? Considering that Sun is so massive, how could Sun have had a house big enough to live in here on earth?

Naturally, the awareness of science those children showed, together with their capacity to think about it, came back into my mind yesterday when I read the obituary of Stephen Hawking in the Guardian. What an astonishing mind he had, a mind as big as a planet. And reading about him, I felt very aware that all that thinking had to have started somewhere. Conceivably the challenges provided to a modern mind by an ancient West African story can help such thinking to begin.

PS: Illustrations this week speak for themselves. Hope you enjoy the stew!