Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

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Storytelling Starters ~ From fame to folly

Saturday, August 1st, 2020

Pwllderi is a cove on the North Pembrokeshire coast.  The way down into it is dauntingly steep. I’ve never climbed down there myself. But many times, I’ve spent time above it. The view from the top is long, all the way to the tip of the St David’s Peninsula,  and the peace is so deep that you can’t avoid feeling it deep inside you.  Funny then that a memorial plinth near the edge of the cliff  quotes lines from a poem which is all about voices. They’re the voices recalled from the boyhood of the man who wrote the poem. His name was Dewi Emrys and he grew up not far away.

Dewi Emrys wrote in Welsh and became one of Wales’ best-known  writers. After winning the Bardic Chair at the National Eisteddfod for the fourth time, the Eisteddfod rules were changed to limit the number of times you could enter. But Dewi Emrys was still a boy, 7 or 8 years old, when he came to live in Pembrokeshire at Rhosycaerau on the Strumble Head peninsula. The reason for his coming there was that his father had become the minister at Rhosycaerau Chapel. Dewi went to school first in Goodwick, then Fishguard (where I was born). When he left school, he was taken on as apprentice journalist at the Fishguard Echo. However, when illness obliged his father to give up being minister at Rhosycaerau, Dewi Emrys had to leave his beloved Pencaer area and move to Carmarthen where he got work on the Carmarthen Journal. Then, after getting very involved in reciting poetry at big Eisteddfods in South Wales, he quite suddenly changed direction when he decided to become a preacher like his father. It was an ominous move in view of the alcoholism that would later ruin his life. Meantime, so popular did he prove as a preacher that it is said that when working in Flintshire, the local miners set about arranging for a phone line to run from his pulpit down into the pit so they wouldn’t miss his sermons. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ So much going on

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

It’s that thoroughly wet kind of day here in Wales (where I currently am). So it feels like an excellent time to return to the subject of story-spreading by  introducing Fiona Collins. Fiona is one of the most active story-spreaders I know and, as it happens, she has for some years lived in North Wales.

Years ago, Fiona was a teacher at the Primary School in Lambeth in London which my foster-sons used to attend. After getting into storytelling, she moved to North Wales where today she leads a very busy life as a professional storyteller.  As the piece she has kindly written for this blog shows, she is also a story-spreader supreme. Not all storytellers are! Some focus entirely on their own performing. Others, like Fiona, also focus on helping others become storytellers too. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Perfect Pleasure

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

As a child, I was given a small patch of garden to tend. I remember the delight when marigold seeds produced marigold flowers. Making cakes felt wonderful too. Fairy cakes, Welsh cakes or a kind of bread-cake called Bara One-Two – all very nice. My mother, an excellent seamstress herself, also got me sewing and was always at the ready to sort out mistakes or help with the hard bits like putting in zips. My father would set me word games, for instance writing a long word at the top of a piece of paper and setting me the task of seeing how many smaller words I could find in the long word. Then when I was older he’d always be agreeable to taking me into his study to search out from his bookshelves a good book for me to read. When it looked like a grown-up one with lots of difficult words, I was secretly proud and pleased that he trusted that I would and could give it a go.

Simple Gifts:

All these things I regard as gifts my parents gave me. There were many others, my mother for instance sitting patiently against the rocks down on the Parrog beach in Goodwick while I practised swimming after she’d taught me to do it. Or, years later, my father patiently sitting by my side in the car as I learned to drive it and then when we went out for driving experience, requiring me to drive at a steady 30 miles per hour just as he’d had to learn to do when driving a tank in the war. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The boredom

Saturday, April 18th, 2020

I’m currently doing a lot of cleaning of shelves, a job that also involves sorting whatever lives on those shelves.

I’m making phone-calls to friends, some to friends abroad I don’t often get to speak to, some to elderly friends I think might be feeling lonely in the current circumstances.

I am continuing with my writing. The story I’m working on right now is about a man who, as a boy, was conspicuously shorter than his friends and stayed shorter than the norm as the years went on.

I am thinking about which publishers to contact to see if I can interest one or other in taking on the collection of stories in my recently self-published book, The Uses of ‘a’.

I am walking round our garden, enjoying seeing what’s coming up, admiring what is already up and attending to the occasional weed.

I am taking a daily walk. It’s generally a short one because my left leg remains painful. But, hey, at least it’s a walk.

I am turning to the Guardian crossword each day. It’s the Quick Crossword I attempt, sometimes with good success, sometimes with almost none.

I am also doing some reading. The book I’ve just begun is another Thomas Hardy novel, A Laodicean. It’s one of his least known. I’d never been aware of it at all until recently.

I cook supper every evening. The cooking is currently not inventive, but at least I put my mind to it.

And, dear friends, I am bored. I can admit it. I must admit it. Bored out of my mind. It’s the staying at home that does it – or as close to home as the powers-that-be have instructed. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Renewables

Saturday, March 14th, 2020

After this last Monday, I feel renewed in my conviction of the value and interest of storytelling for elderly people.  And come to think of it, aren’t I classifiable as an elderly person myself?

The elderly people on Monday were all residents of the St Mary’s Care Home, Chiswick. About 15 women and one man joined the session  which I was doing at the invitation of a good friend, Julia Langdon, whose mother had been a resident here in the last part of her life. Julia had asked me if I would come to tell them stories.

I hugely enjoyed it. They sat in their chairs round the sides of the room and listened intently and laughed quite a bit. The woman sitting next to me leaned against her left arm throughout, head down and eyes closed. When we had a short break she apologised saying that, though her eyes were closed, she was listening to every word. With her as with the others, it felt like she was missing nothing. The woman sitting opposite me frequently tapped her arms on her knees with a kind of excited pleasure.

I told a variety of stories, including the Chinese story of The First Storyteller which I’d first come across in a book laid out on a table in a shop in Covent Garden many years ago and also a really soppy one about the Prince of the Earth falling in love with the Princess of the Moon. The latter is one I specially enjoy because I’m good at making frog noises and here it’s Frog who makes it possible for the two lovers to meet.

But I started the session by telling a story I haven’t told for a long time. I imagine it’s a well-known story among storytellers. In this version, it’s about a dressmaker but it can also be about a tailor making a coat or a jacket. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Marking the day

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

At least it’s not raining on this extra Leap Day – at least not yet. Tomorrow is St David’s Day and, in memory, that was always a day of celebration when, at school, we girls all wore a daffodil pinned to our jackets and the boys wore leeks (which they’d diligently chew almost to nothing over the course of the day).

To celebrate St David’s Day every year in St David’s, an Eisteddfod is held in the City Hall. Eistedd in Welsh means sitting and fod (mutated here from bod) means being. So yesterday, two days in advance of the day itself, there we were, Paul and me, sitting in St David’s City Hall as two of the hall-full of people ready to participate in a whole day of competitions of many kinds, among them reciting and dancing and singing alone or in groups. Paul and I won a number of prizes – alas, no firsts – and so came home with a handful of little prize-bags made from the beautiful woollen cloth donated by Tregwynt Woollen Mill.

The tradition:

Evidently, the first known Eisteddfod took place in Cardigan in 1176 under the aegis of the Lord Rhys. It’s a tradition that has persisted all over Wales, though not necessarily on St David’s Day. For many, many youngsters it becomes the route to a future in musical performance or, since prose and poetry competitions are usually included – literary success. Bryn Terfel is just one of the many performers who rose to success in this way. (more…)

On the Memory Estuary

Saturday, January 18th, 2020

When you write a regular blog – and this one’s been going for over 5 years now – you get used to the idea of tags. Tags refer to the particular themes mentioned in the blog that you’ve written. However, I frequently find that a process very like tagging starts to happen in my mind before the writing even begins. It does so in response to the inevitable question: what shall I write about this time?

This week I was thinking I might write about WiPs (that’s the Works in Progress group to which I belong – eleven of us who, when we meet, each give a short presentation of something we do, namely write stuff or sing or sculpt or play the piano, clarinet or violin). Our next WiPs is due this Sunday and I’m planning to sing a Welsh folk song about the Carmarthenshire village of Llansteffan.

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Storytelling Starters ~ What’s to come

Saturday, December 28th, 2019

Not many words, just an enormous big wish: that you face the New Year and the coming decade with as much hope as you can summon and as much love as you can give.

My message comes via Whitesands, the beautiful Pembrokeshire beach from which St Patrick set out for his mission to Ireland and which I have  loved ever since the very first time, many years ago when I was little, when I spent a holiday there with my family in a gypsy caravan parked immediately above the sand. Today although it often now gets quite busy there, the car park full and surfboarders in the sea, it’s where I most find peace and quiet whether I visit it in mind as I often do in London or, as this week, in person.

Happy New Year! Happy New Decade!

Storytelling Starters: A Piece of Advice

Saturday, November 30th, 2019

An American friend once told me about a literary seminar at which she’d been present.  The subject of discussion was a very long poem that had been written by one of the students in the group. The eminent writer leading the group – John Berryman as I recall – asked the student to read out the whole of this poem. Then, at the end, having listened intently, he quoted one small phrase from the poem and said, ‘Now that was good!’

Well, you could take that several ways. Quoting an actual phrase from the poem, however small, showed that the eminent writer had really listened. At the same time, the fact that he praised just one tiny part could be taken to mean that he’d really not rated much of the rest of it.  Yet hearing his praise of that one phrase  would surely have concentrated the minds of all who were present. What was especially good about that particular bit.

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Storytelling Starters ~ On the bright side

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

In prospect, a hospital appointment for physiotherapy felt like more than I needed. What a surprise was in store! The session proved an energising mix of exercises, some with simple equipment, some without, and all of it supervised by a very nice young chap who made it all feel straightforward and do-able.

Another treatment session the previous week had felt equally unwanted in prospect. Another journey on the bus, another half-day used up on a hospital visit … but that, too, had proved an absolute pleasure because it turned out to be a foot reflexology session with a really lovely woman who even sent me away with something you might call a smell-stick to help induce a peaceful sleep each night.

How lucky I feel that we have an NHS that has dreamt up such a range of services which it offers for free. How different it would be if I had to walk miles through the heat along dusty roads to a health centre or hospital where there might not even be a doctor, let alone exercise equipment or a smell-stick. (more…)