Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ A cup of tea

June 10th, 2017

P1000260A story has been haunting me. Over how many weeks, it has popped up in my thoughts. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s ever happened to you. But it does feel odd. Has the story been hanging around in my head, waiting to get into my blog? But why? Does it think it’s got a message for me? But what exactly?

I’m not sure where I found the story – whether someone told it to me or if I found it in a book. I don’t remember how long ago that was – but I think it must be quite a few years. As I recall, it’s an Indian story but I can’t be sure. Here it is.

A cup of tea:

A man who was searching for wisdom heard about a greatly-respected teacher, a guru who lived a simple life on a hillside in a remote valley. The seeker had already visited many other teachers and had learned a great deal from them. Now he determined that he must find this much-respected guru who lived such a simple existence. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Beware the storyteller

June 3rd, 2017

P1000220This week in Wales, we’ve had visitors, two friends from New Zealand. Showing them the delights of North Pembrokeshire, I’ve felt very conscious of the myriad  stories that come to my mind – stories from growing up here and from many years since, stories from my father who loved retelling the local legends, stories from the Sloop Inn in Porthgain where storytelling at the locals’ table is as important as the ale (-well, just about). 

Memory Walks:

Last week I talked about Memory Walks. What I didn’t say then is that they’re something Paul and I quite often do after a walk we’ve taken. Sometimes we make a written note of our respective memories, sometimes we just say them to each other. Over time, the doing of this is a wonderful way to increase the noticing that makes walks so worthwhile. This week, one thing we’ve especially appreciated is the stunning fulsomeness of the foxgloves, standing upright like sentinels on all the local hedges. Another was seeing Storm, the dog who regularly makes his own way through the woods to our local beach. A few times lately, we haven’t seen him (he’s getting old). This time, we were so happy to see him again, the dog that befriends all and sundry to the extent that he wears a medallion which says something like, ‘I am not lost. Do not take me home with you.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Looking up

May 27th, 2017

P1070076Here’s a story I remember with laughter and delight every time I think about Laugharne, the place where the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas lived and wrote and also where the novelist and story-writer Richard Hughes had his writing-room high up in the castle walls. This story was created orally by a small group of 11-year old children.

The story:

Merlin was watching over the wall of his castle. Beside him was his favourite seagull. As he looked down, Merlin saw a family of parents and children, obviously tourists, walking along the foreshore of the estuary below. All were munching – crisps from crisp bags, chocolate from wrappers. Then as they passed, one by one they dropped their plastic wrappers onto the ground. Merlin was horrified. When the family had gone by, he sent his favourite seagull down onto the shore to bring him something else that was messing it up. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ A step at a time

May 20th, 2017

P1000133There’s an extraordinary message for us all in Two Old Women, the big Alaskan story from the Gwich’in people that  I recently told in the Fishguard Story Club in Pembrokeshire. As it begins, the two old women of the story have just been left behind in the ice and snow of a very hard winter by the group of people of whom they’ve been part. The pain of their leaving is intolerably sharpened for the older of the two women by the fact that her daughter and grandson were among those who left. Inside herself, she knows that fear would have been why they did not protest. At least, the grandson left her his  hatchet and the daughter a bundle of babiche, the plant used by the people for so many purposes. Nonetheless, it was a barely tolerable pain that the daughter and the grandson did not defend her.

Ch’idzigyaak, the older of the two women, is still sitting on the ground weeping for what has happened when Sa’, the other woman, comes over to her and says. ‘Well, we can sit here until we die. It wouldn’t take long. Or we can die trying.’

When Ch’idzigyaak finally raises her head, she says in reluctant agreement, ‘Yes, we can die trying.’

Trying: Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Magic eyes

May 13th, 2017

P1000058Cast up onto the pebbles this week on one of my Pembrokeshire beaches were lots and lots of dead crabs – big ones, small ones, ferocious-looking ones, ones that made me go Oooh. I took quite a few photos with my new camera, bought because the zoom on the old one had broken, and the sight of the crabs through the camera lens reminded me of a story I’ve always loved telling to Primary-age children. I first came across it many years ago in Twenty Tellable Tales by the excellent American storyteller, Margaret Read MacDonald. In this collection, the stories are set out almost like poems making it easy to see those chant-like parts that are often repeated and where an audience can join in.

It’s the removable eyes in this story that got me. Children also love them, especially when you make spectacle eyes with your hands, moving them out in front of you and then back again as you do crab’s magic chant. Such eyes, Margaret Read MacDonald points out in her notes on the story, are usually associated with Native American Indian culture. However, it’s from South America that this tale appears to have come. Here it is more or less as I tell it except that this is in shortened form. The elaborations and exaggerations I leave to you.  Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Old, Bold, Gutsy and Wise

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Fantasy and reality

April 29th, 2017

Isabella The Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park is now in full dress, azaleas and rhododendrons a riot of colour. As four of us walked around it, one asked ‘Why is it called the Isabella Plantation?’ Well, said I, I think it’s called that after Queen Isabella though I have no recollection of when she lived. Having given that answer, my mind went on to rehearse how Isabella’s husband, the king, had been so besotted by her that he declared he would give her a gift of anything at all that she wanted. What he didn’t yet know was that in Isabella’s secret mind she had a notion of an enormous garden that would be all hers and would be a riot of colour. So she didn’t ask him for a new palace, a priceless painting or a ruby. She told him she’d like a piece of Richmond Park which would be made into a very large garden where she might walk and admire the colours.

Of course, the king was rather horrified. This wish of his wife’s meant giving up some of his precious hunting grounds. But for his beloved Isabella, he’d do it. And so the garden began to become. Of course it has taken many centuries to come into its full glory. But by now it is certainly there and well worth a visit

Fantasy:

So stories come into being. But that one above is codswallop, rubbish, no more than a passing fantasy of mine. An information board in the park explains more routinely that the name Isabella comes from isabel which is a word that means yellow brown in colour. My Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says a bit more. Isabel, it says, is a small variety of the Pouter pigeon, so called from its colour. And isabella, it says, means greyish yellow, light buff, and is not associated, it points out, with the Archduchess Isabella and the siege of Ostend (1601-1604). The word, evidently, is also applied to certain sorts of fruits, including a kind of peach and a species of North American grape. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Findings

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Easter Egg

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Kith and kin

April 8th, 2017

Friends can be a great comfort in times of sadness. So can an awareness of nature, especially in a Spring as mild and lovely as this. The visit of two friends from New Zealand who came to stay this week made me fetch out a newspaper story I’d kept from last Friday. The story was from New Zealand. Its stirring headline had said, River is awarded same legal rights as a person.

Whanganui_River[1]The River: Te Awa Tupua

For a very long time, according to the newspaper story, the Maori tribe of Whanganui in the North Island has fought for the recognition of their river, Te Awa Tupua. The court case that ensued has finally ended with the granting of the same recognition to their river as to a human ancestor.  Thus, if someone now abuses or harms the river, it would be considered by the law as equivalent to harming the tribe. This judgement is of great importance in relation to such matters as water pollution. The wellbeing of the river has now been officially linked to the wellbeing of the people.

Wow! If only such a ruling could be extended to all of the world’s natural resources. It put me in mind of a Maori story which has long stayed in my mind. I believe it was my friend and colleague, Karen Tovell (Karen is that right?) who introduced me to it. It’s a story about a tree and it felt specially relevant to me on Wednesday morning this week when I woke to the rasping sound of a chain-saw somewhere in the gardens behind us. Read the rest of this entry »