Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Open the door

January 13th, 2018

It’s a new year. I’ve got a new chair. So I started thinking about chairs and how much time we spend sitting in them, the books we read while sitting in them, the talks we share with other people. Then I started to wonder about chairs in stories, thrones and little elfin chairs, and also about the chairs that craftsmen make for storytellers to sit in. But I’ve never liked sitting in a big chair when I’m telling stories. I’d rather a low stool if it’s with children or, if it’s lots of children or adults, I’d rather stand up.

Chairs took me on to doors. I started looking for a story where a chair might figure. Maybe there’d be a figure of a person sitting in the chair. Who would it be? What I came across instead was the poem, The Door,  by the Czech poet, Miroslav Holub. In the version I have in my file-box for poems, his poem is in a translation  by Ian Milner and George Theiner. It seems to me like a jolly good poem for a new year.

The Door

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
a garden,
or a magic city. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Decluttering

January 6th, 2018

Short blog today. Too much going on.

Clutter, decluttering … words are words. Dealing with what they represent is another kind of thing that involves effort and determination and a sense of purpose. Personally, I can’t decide what’s more urgent – decluttering rooms, shelves and boxes of paper or decluttering my mind.

All around me, friends are talking about decluttering their houses. From one I got a sense of great mounds of stuff, bags of no-longer-needed belongings and boxes of papers (not all of them his) and finally making his way past them to a cupboard in which hung clothes that had hung there unworn for many years, taunting him with images from the past. From another I got the sense that, looking around her house, she simply didn’t like the sight of anything she saw. What was she to do? What are any of us to do? Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Regenerating

December 30th, 2017

I’ve never been an assiduous follower of Doctor Who. But down in Wales with a guest who loves it, we did watch the Christmas episode. It contained a wonderful example of regeneration as Peter Capaldi who has been the twelfth doctor spiralled through turning circles of time and space to become the thirteenth, a woman played by Jodie Whittaker.


Regeneration is a good theme for this point of the year. At the end of this particular year, it feels especially apt when so many people I’ve talked with have confessed that, for them too, 2017 has felt like a year we want to see the back of.

So, much like Doctor Who spiralling into a new emanation, images of regeneration have been swishing round in my mind. Wasn’t there a girl sent out into the woods by a cruel stepmother who had demanded to be brought strawberries for supper? What ever was the girl to do? It was the depth of winter, the end of the year, and not the time for strawberries (except in supermarkets!).  Rescue came in the bitter night when she met a man in the woods who brought her to a blazing fire around which sat a ring of men of all ages from very old to very young. And didn’t those men stand and chant the year forwards, regenerating winter into summertime so that the poor girl was then able to gather the strawberries her cruel stepmother required? Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ What next?

December 23rd, 2017

Sprouts, turnips, carrots, potatoes – the cooking is all getting mixed up with the cards and the delivering of our last local cards is suffering from a profound desire on my part to go to sleep. Meantime, the merriment of Christmas is mixed with a profound sense of sorrow for all the people in our world who have no home and no food. It almost feels wrong to be sending greetings at all – except that remembering friends and all the joy (and sometimes problems) they bring is also essential. So too is preparing and publishing this Saturday’s blog. It comes with my very best wishes to all readers and with great thanks for being my friends in storytelling.

So here below is the Christmas card Paul and I have been sending out on email under the title, Onwards and Upwards. It’s, a photo of ‘Walls & trumpets’, the sculpture by Ofra Zimbalista near Guy’s Hospital.

And if you’d also like to have a laugh by looking at one of the two little presentations I gave at Paul’s recent fundraiser for CRISIS just click 12 Thank you notes of Christmas

Storytelling Starters ~ Further thoughts on reading

December 16th, 2017

Last week’s  theme on reading continued popping up this week and in several different ways.  First came a comment on last week’s blog from storyteller Janet Dowling in which she said she often gets asked to do readings. And it seems the reason people ask her is because she’s a storyteller. When you come to think about it, perhaps that’s not surprising. Bill yourself as a storyteller and people can be fairly confident about several important points. First is that you’re used to speaking to an audience. Second is that you probably have a voice that is used to speaking with expression. Not everyone who gets to read aloud has that!

Second this week, I noticed a contribution on reading in the regular blog put out by the London Review of Books (a fortnightly journal of which I’m an avid reader). The blog piece from Gill Hartington was evidently prompted by a visit she made to The Hague’s Museum Meermanno, ‘the House of the Book’. In the museum was an exhibition which makes use of screens, moving images, sound and all kinds of other data to explore and examine the act of reading. According to Gill Partington, The Art of Reading: From William Kentridge to Wikipedia is not so much an exhibition of contemporary book artists as an attempt to use their work to ask what reading is. ‘What does it mean to see written marks and transform them into meaning, or into speech? Does reading take place in the mind, the eye, the body, or in the digital devices on which we increasingly rely?’ Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Breaking the rules

December 9th, 2017

This week, I’m owning up to breaking what has always seemed to be a rule among storytellers. When first I fell into storytelling, it was the early days of the storytelling revival. At that time, as I wrote in this blog a while ago, even such a thing as including a poem in a storytelling session was regarded as not allowed. Ever since, I’ve also felt aware that, as a storyteller, I should never expect or be expected to read something in public. No. My role, I felt, was to maintain the distinction between reading and telling and to bring to the fore the art of telling without a script.

Doing readings:

So let me admit to breaking that rule on two London occasions (and also, I’ll now admit, a year ago down in Pembrokeshire too).  The second London occasion happened last Sunday evening; the first had taken place in December a year ago. On both these London occasions, my husband Paul was giving a concert at Clapham Omnibus Theatre in aid of Crisis, the homelessness charity. Paul does the singing with his friend Steve playing the piano and this year, I’d say, they outshone what they did last year and in their first Crisis concert the previous year too. It was during this year’s event, as during last year’s, that I did readings. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Making peace

December 2nd, 2017

Two linked stories form my blog this week. One concerns the ancient Welsh cycle of stories, the Mabinogi. The second was reported in the Guardian newspaper on 25th November. The theme of both is the redeeming of lives from the terrible destructions wrought by the human need to take revenge. The link is provided by a place in Pembrokeshire, my home county, which is commonly known as Narberth today. It’s Arberth in Welsh and in the Mabinogi. And the reason the link has come about is because of a very good book which I’d like to tell you about as an introduction.


The other day I was in the London Library checking the New Books shelves when, among the larger tomes, I spotted a slim, red-covered book with The Mabinogi on the spine. ‘What can this be?’ I wondered. ‘Too slim to be the stories or a commentary on them!’ Well, my goodness, the book turned out to be a fantastic new version of the Mabinogi in poetry written by a poet called Matthew Francis and recently published by Faber & Faber.

Concise, rugged, colourful, sharp: Matthew Francis’ poem makes a vivid new thing of that magical cycle of stories. Wholly written in the present tense and focusing on key moments and scenes, it gives the mind and imagination of the reader an entirely fresh perspective that at the same time pays great service to the marvellous old tales. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Just checking

November 25th, 2017

This week has been all about checking. It’s a fiddlesome, pernickety job and it has reminded me of some of the feelings I had when, years ago I got involved in storytelling, I was struggling to finish a book on the fascinating subject of wolf-children. I’ve written before about the problems I had – how I used to agonise about getting the wordings right as well as making sure I had the correct information and was ordering it in sensible ways.

A Talking Book?

Soon I began to fantasise. How much better it would be to be a Talking Book in a library. People who came into the library could come over and talk to me about my subject. In the subsequent conversation, I could take their personal interests into account and direct my talk accordingly. There could be other advantages. The library might take care of my clothing (my covers). They might even give me board and lodging.

My fantasy must have been a premonition. Eventually came the day when I almost literally bumped into the poster in my local library calling for storytellers to join the Lambeth Libraries Storytelling Scheme. Immediately I started the work, I found myself relishing the fact that, telling a story, you didn’t have to fix your words. You could improvise, re-phrase, say things twice but in different ways, enjoy the freedom of your words going into the air and not having to be checked. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Talk about remembering!

November 18th, 2017

Storytelling workshops I used to run had one noticeable effect on some of the people who attended. They’d suddenly acquire a new interest in their own past. No doubt this was partly prompted by the fact that I take a wide view of story: in my storytelling world, personal and family story co-exist with myth and folk-tale and legend. The new interest of people coming to workshops would doubtless arise from a fresh perception of how influential memory is in our lives and how strongly it is linked with imagination.

I remember several who attended workshops subsequently deciding to investigate their own parents’ lives and perhaps write books about them. Now I’m hoist with my own petard. Or should I put that differently and say similarly challenged? Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Memory, remembering and memorizing

November 11th, 2017

Thought-provoking thoughts about memory and memorizing came from a blog reader, Peter, this week in a comment he sent on a blog I’d written back in July, 2013 (for of course you can go back to previous posts in the archive).  Replying, I made the point that memorizing the words of a story is not something I do as a storyteller. Yes, there was once a Russian story about an egg that came in the form of a poem. I remember learning that by heart. And of course some stories include a phrase or a rhyme that needs to be remembered word for word. Otherwise, memorizing is no longer much part of my life.

Memorizing: the weekly task

Yet Peter’s comment made me think about the huge amount of exact memorizing I used to do as a child. In Fishguard Primary school, we all had to learn two poems each week, one Welsh, one English. Each week, our teacher would test us on them. Then every now and again, our horrible headmaster would arrive in our classroom, call someone out front with their exercise book in which were written the poems we’d learned, select one poem from the many and then ask the poor child to speak it. What a bullying thing to do! Read the rest of this entry »