Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

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Storytelling Starters ~ Towards Eternity

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

Here is a poem by Emily Dickinson. It’s one of her poems I’ve been reading a lot of late, and it’s especially in my mind right now. On Wednesday this week, my nephew, Tom Pelham, died of a rare form of cancer. He was just 36 years old, a young Baptist Minister, and he leaves behind his wife and three lovely young children, grieving parents and family and countless friends. I can think of no consolation except that he is no longer in pain. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A helping hand

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

The day was bright and the school, inside, looked fresh and clean with several new classrooms and corridors added from last year. Four little scenes remain in my mind from the day.

A storytelling day: four memories

P1070779Most striking was the boy that came out front to describe his visualisation from the story I’d just told his class. It was the story (recounted here last week) where Kaa the Thunderbird expresses his jealous anger for Earth Mother Nokomis whom he believes is more loved than him. What I won’t forget is this boy’s conviction as he painted his word pictures of Kaa and Nokomis at the beginning of the story. I could see he really had seen them, especially when he described Kaa with his strong claws gripping the edge of the mountains and his ‘electric wings’ outspread (and then as he quietly added, turning to me, ‘you know, the electricity that comes from them’).

Funniest was the response of the oldest class when I wondered if any of them remembered my visit last year. All over the room there was nodding assent as one girl spoke out, ‘Is it you who told us that story of the glass eye?’ Ah yes, I thought, I’m not surprised they’ve remembered that one. (It’s the gruesome story included in my posting for February 13, 2016). 

Most thought-provoking was the boy who, as his class was coming into the hall, was described to me by a member of staff as someone who is always causing trouble and who simply cannot concentrate. This boy made at least four sensible contributions to questions I asked and he listened throughout.

Most dramatic was the moment when, on the first of the two sessions in which I told The Great Rain,  all the pots of daffodils ranged on the window ledges behind me landed with a whoosh and a clatter on the wooden floor, pots and flowers and water and all. ‘Whoo!’ was the response from all in the room and not just because of what had happened but because of its timing. To introduce the story, I’d led the children in making rain with clicking fingers and tapping hands, and by now I was describing the storm that was brewing as Kaa’s rage mounted to the point of exploding. The strong gust of wind that blew those daffodils over must have been fully aware of where the story had got to!

Of course, after such a day in a school, the storyteller thinks back. Did I choose the right stories? Can I judge their effect on the children? Will anything have been remembered by the children or their teachers?  And what kind of difference would I like to have made?

As it happens, thinking those thoughts from Monday, I feel conscious of what is perhaps a new aspiration that comes from the totally different kind of day I experienced this Wednesday when I had my second cataract operation.

A hospital day: a lasting effect

Stones - stepping stonesThe eye surgeon on Wednesday was hugely impressive in a very quiet and straightforward way. He introduced himself clearly and with no sense of self-importance. When I was lying down ready, he told me quite clearly what he wanted me to do but also said that, if there was anything different that was needed as he proceeded, he would tell me and also that if I needed anything, such as to move, I could say so to him.

During the operation, he told me from time to time, quietly, simply and very briefly, what he was going to be doing next. At some point, he said we were now about half way through. And on several occasions, he said, ‘You are a wonderful patient’. I’m sure he says the same thing to all his patients but I found it wonderfully reassuring.

But the thing that affected me most is that, as I sat up when the operation was over, he put out his hand to help me up onto my feet and then, instead of handing me over to a nurse, himself led me out of the operating room and all the way to the waiting room. It was only a short walk. But the experience of him doing that affected me greatly both at the time and since. What a humility of approach, what a kindness.

And what a difference it has made. Following the quiet simplicity of that surgeon’s approach, the particular kindness of that hand is something I will never forget. It helped me back into the day and it has helped me see quite clearly the kind of path I’d like my storytelling to follow.

 PS: My camera takes snapshots and I hope can represent the sort of snapshots you get from a storytelling day. Stepping stones making a path into a wood can, I hope, represent my idea of a storytelling path that I’d like to follow. 

Storytelling Starters ~ Word walk

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Words are key in storytelling. They create pictures, they make you think, they open doors. So I’ve been thinking about their importance. What follows is something of a miscellany – words I noticed during the week and how and where I noticed them.

In my own thinking:Key 5 compress

I was making some notes about using props with young children and trying to work out why it’s so useful to do this. For some reason, my mind immediately focused on keys as an example. Why keys? Well, they’re everyday things, they come in different shapes and sizes, I’ve got some very nice ones in my Story Bag and keys appear in several stories I tell.

So what happens when I’m storytelling? Well, get out a key, show it to an audience of young children and ask what it could be for and almost immediately answers start coming.  It could be the key to a treasure box … a secret room … a giant’s castle …the door to your house.

Immediately such ideas come out of individual children’s mouths, the shared world of the audience’s imagination is starting to expand.

On a board outside a local café: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Voices Beyond Division

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

cofThe concert I went to on Thursday evening opened with a story – one of those timeless types of stories with an underlying meaning. The concert was  in St James’ Church, Piccadilly and filled with parents and supporters of all the young people taking part. It was appropriately named Voices Beyond Division. The aim was to proclaim the need and desire for peace in the Middle East.

I can’t retell the story fully because it contained four words I don’t know from four of the languages of the Middle East. Essentially, though, this is it: 

A bunch of grapes

Four people who’d found themselves travelling together came to a market in a busy town. Between them they had a little money but no shared language and, faced with the market, each said what he’d most like from the market to eat, naming what he wanted in his own language. But what if their money did not stretch to four different things? Soon they started to squabble, each determined to have what he wanted.

Then another man came along. Hearing what each of the travellers wanted, he stopped their squabbling by saying he’d go and buy it for them. There’d be enough money, he assured them. So he went into the market and when he returned he had with him a huge bunch of grapes. For that is exactly what each man had wanted. They’d used four different words to name it but what they’d all asked for was grapes. 

Same thing: four different languages. And as the storyteller put it, the message of this story can be applied more deeply. Often what we want is the same thing though we may say it differently depending on our language. Bringing together people of different languages and faiths, this particular concert was all about a shared desire for peace.

Voices Beyond Division (more…)

A Long Run in Short Shorts

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

A Long Run in Short Shorts is here. And it feels exhilarating. 40 short personal tales make the contents – tales about all kinds of things, strange coincidences, extraordinary encounters, childhood adventures, wise things people have said. Some I’ve told in my work or to friends.  Many have not been previously aired.  And one reason I’m proud of the collection is that it feels like a declaration of the value I’ve always given to the personal tale in the course of my storytelling.

Writing the stories was just the start. A Long Run in Short Shorts is self-published by Storyworks Press and it feels like the realisation of a long-thought idea. After actually writing the stories – hence all my stuff about telling and writing last week – they sat in my filing cabinet for a couple of years, quietly protesting. Then one day I got them out and worked on them again, editing and refining. After that, I sent them to a few agents and publishers, though not with much hope of success. They’re probably too quirky for mainstream publishing and, anyway, publishers are apparently not taking much on right now. 

So why not publish them ourselves? The idea came up just a few months ago. It has involved a lot of work – beautiful work on the part of our book designer, Olly Fowler, a friend who is a professional book designer in Wales, and also the long-suffering organisation of the printing and marketing process on the part of my brilliant Paul. The printing has been done by excellent Gomer Press, the Welsh press that printed my two children’s novels and also Shemi’s Tall Tales.

So now the book is here and ready for sale. We haven’t put it on Amazon (a bit too complicated for us at this stage). We won’t be selling it through book-shops (apart from a few local ones in London and Pembrokeshire). We’re doing the selling ourselves and hoping we’ll eventually cover our costs. More important than that, we’re hoping the book will bring readers pleasure. So if you’d like a copy – and maybe another to give as a present – you can purchase the book right here on my website. If you are overseas, however, drop me a line first so I can get your address, let you know how much the postage will be and suggest how you can pay. And – I nearly forgot! – you can listen to one of the stories from my book by clicking on Listen to a Story on the website. (more…)

“A real gem of a book!”

Sunday, November 27th, 2016
£8.50 (£10 inc UK p&p)
£8.50 (£10 inc UK p&p)

A Long Run in Short Shorts is the first book published by my own imprint: Storyworks Press. It’s a collection of my own personal tales. Some are short, some very short. Some I’ve told, some I haven’t. But I hope these mini-memoirs show how our personal tales are an essential part of how we create the story of ourselves. 

To buy a copy simply click here on A Long Run in Short Shorts and follow the instructions.

An ideal present, you will also be able to request for copies to be sent direct to family and friends.

Storytelling Starters ~ Saying it how it is

Saturday, September 10th, 2016

I wrote P09a piece about sorting this week – sorting photos, papers, clothes, stuff. Sorting raises issues of many kinds. Sometimes these feel like demons. Is the item you’re considering of any financial value? Is it worth keeping because of the memories behind it? Is anything worth keeping except what you really need now? In wanting to keep things, are you simply leaving aside problems for someone else to have to sort out later?

And so the questions go on. One answer is to cherish what you’ve got. This week, looking through old notebooks and journals (and deciding they’re far too interesting to throw away), I came across some very good quotes and sayings that at one time or another I’d decided to keep.

What follows is a selection from what I found. I offer them here on the basis that if you’re interested in storytelling (or completely passionate about it as many of us are), other people’s thoughts on the subject can be a great support. Who knows when you may have to give a talk about why you do it or love it? Or write some kind of piece about the art? Or try to identify why, as a subject, it’s so deep? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Flotsam and jetsam

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

03A beachcomber is what I’ve become. These days, when back in Pembrokeshire and going to a beach for a walk, I go with a bag and spend some time walking along the tide-line picking up bits of plastic rubbish. It’s amazing how much gets found – large and small lengths of plastic twine, sodden old plastic bags, broken flip-flops, fishing gear. Plastic is poison to sea-creatures. It is good to get rid of it.

Yesterday, collecting along the long length of Newgale beach, it occurred to me that this beachcombing is not unlike something I do as a storyteller. I don’t know if you do the same – namely, collect odd bits of story. They may be overheard pieces of conversation, sometimes perhaps just a single exclamation. Or they may be odd coincidences that happen over the course of a day or a week.

A hot-water bottle from the past: 

For instance, at an event in my native Fishguard at the beginning of this week, I met a young Welsh woman who’d also grown up in the town. As well as making me feel very happy by recounting the effect my storytelling had had on a young pupil of hers some years ago (always nice to hear such a thing), she recalled the person I knew as Aunty Mali although she wasn’t a blood relation. This young woman’s particular memory was of Aunty Mali often turning up at chapel in the winter with a hot water bottle for putting on her knees beneath a small rug she also carried. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Recycling

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

Flag-of-Wales-thumbnail[1]OK, I admit it. Over the last few weeks, I’ve become a devoted football fan. Obviously that’s because I’m Welsh and the Wales football team did so brilliantly in the Euros. It wasn’t easy seeing them get knocked out against Portugal in their semi-final this Wednesday. Yet, especially in this post-Brexit world, it’s an inspiration that the team believes so much in the strength of playing as a team, they pay such high regard to their fans and the support they get from them, they speak with such warmth of their country and they have been so good-humoured during their time away in France.

Besides, Gareth Bale is drop-dead gorgeous, both to look at and in his manner. I’m not sure I’ll keep following football as avidly now as I have been, but I’m sure I’ll be following him and the wonderful Welsh team.

It’s surely all this football stuff that caused a familiar phrase to pop up in my mind this week and with it the story from which it comes. The phrase is ‘extendable legs’. And the story it comes from is one I told in this blog on 21st July, 2012. To read a full version of it, you can look back at that blog posting. Simply fill in the words Chinese Brothers in the Storyworks Blog References slot on the top left side of the blog. Then press Search and up it will come.

The story itself is one children love to remember. An example occurred earlier this summer when I said to the two children in a family we know that I had a special story to tell them. Because the 10-year old sister is potty about mermaids, this was going to be a mermaid story. But somehow or other the promise of a story immediately made the 7-year old brother remember  The Five Chinese Brothers which I’d told to them it must be three years ago. Volunteering that they still had the colourful Chinese pin-cushion I’d taken them as a present to go with the story, he started recalling the magic powers that are at its centre.

The Five Chinese Brothers: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Twists of thought

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

P1070231It’s sensuous and sexy. It can be a crowning glory and it can be a nightmare, dreadful if you lose it, awful if you can’t get it right. And this week, it came up as a theme when, I can’t remember why, I was recounting how my Aunty Mali (subject of my storytelling piece, Travels With My Welsh Aunt) would remove the hairs from her hair brush after she’d finished her nightly brushing. Then she’d carefully twist the hairs together into a loop before twisting them into a piece of tissue paper which she then threw into her waste bin.

‘My mother used to do the same,’ said the new friend with whom I was having coffee. ‘Not the bit about the tissue paper. But the bit about removing the hair from the brush and making it into a twist.’ Conversation then turned to the interesting observation, put forward by her scientist husband, that each strand of hair with its root is a record of your DNA. This seemed to make some kind of sense of my Mali’s oft-repeated saying: ‘Scatter your hair and you throw away your thoughts.’

This then reminded me  – it’s the way my mind works! – of a conversation which had occurred on the occasion of Enchanted Evening, the evening of songs and stories that Paul and I did in Fishguard on June 15th. (And yes, we’re now planning another similar evening, in fact two – one back in Fishguard, one in London.)

A memory of hair:

Out of the blue, a woman who stayed on for the supper after Enchanted Evening surprised me very much by saying, ‘I know you.’ Perhaps not as surprising as all that: I’ve had a long association with Fishguard having lived there for the first fourteen years of my life.  ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I was a Learning Assistant at the Junior School when you came to us to tell stories.’ But then the real surprise emerged. (more…)