Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ The Blessing of Friends

March 16th, 2019

Ten days out of hospital and still rather confined to base,  I’m reflecting on the blessing of having friends. Here’s a list of some of the things I feel:

Friends bring company and, almost invariably as part of that company, there’s laughter and gossip.

Friends bring cake and when you’re constantly feeling a bit peckish like me over the last ten days, different sorts of cake are very, very nice. 

Friends bring variety and variety is certainly the spice of life when you’re not able to get out and about. Being indoors and not terribly mobile can get incredibly boring. Friends alter the feel of things at once.

Friends bring remembrances of times past… ‘When we all went to that play …’ or ‘Do you remember when you had that party ?’

Friends bring news – news of what they themselves have been doing or places they’re about to be going to visit. In this way they make the world feel wider again. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Occupying the mind

March 9th, 2019

On Monday about 5 p.m., I got back from St Thomas’s Hospital after my hysterectomy op.  Since then, I’ve spent quite a lot of time asleep. But as the need for sleep has lessened, I’ve also spent a lot of time going back into my past, especially into childhood.  I think of it as a kind of ‘jumping off’ – including into my childhood years and all the different ways my friends and I used to spend our time.

Playing jacks, for instance. The front porch of our terraced house, No 16  Vergam Terrace, Fishguard, was ideal for this. Whether with friends or on my own, endless hours of throwing and catching the jacks never seemed to hurt our hands.

Salesmanship:

Then again, the short gap between the front window ledge of our house and the railings on the pavement wall provided an excellent opportunity for salesmanship. A board could be leaned between the railings and the front window ledge and on this board could be arranged all kinds of choice items gleaned from the house to tempt passers-by into buying. The selling was not for self gain but in aid of some charity, usually Dr Barnardo’s. When the moneys collected were sent off, the cash having been exchanged for a postal order, I’d receive a little certificate from the charity which I’d take down to Mr Thomas the Chemist’s Shop at the end of our street where Mr Thomas would sellotape it onto the front door.

Other games:

Another vital function of the front window sill was to give place to sit for the serious business of Collecting Car Numbers (something that, the way my friends and I used to do it, would be a lot harder today).  First, you’d write out all the numbers up to 999 in a notebook. Then you’d sit on the front window sill, pencil in hand, and wait to spot the number plate of any passing car. Needless to say, there weren’t that many passing cars and, in those long-gone days, number plates were much simpler. Spot the number – we didn’t care about letters – and it would be crossed off your list. Slow business!

Other childhood games were played in the side street round the corner from Mr Thomas the Chemist’s shop. Gather a group together and you’d likely be playing Mr Wolf in which one person took the part of Mr Wolf and, from his or her position on one side of the street, would call to all the rest of us a colour. If you were wearing something of that colour, you had to start across the street and beware of Mr Wolf jumping out to catch you. If you got all the way across without being caught, you could be Mr Wolf.

But if there wasn’t a group of us kids to be gathered, the side wall of Mr Thomas’s Chemist’s Shop offered the opportunity for endless batting of balls against the wall.

Halcyon days:

Oh those halcyon days! There was very little traffic, we all felt safe in our own company and if we were wanted back home, we could easily be fetched. But because we were an adventurous lot, we’d also go off to other places – up to Lota Park to play on the swings, the slide and the roundabout, or down to the quarry to look for frog spawn or, in our cycling days, riding along the long empty road to Windy Hall.

I’m so grateful for that time. It suited my spirit for, as I recognise it now, I’ve always needed to go ‘jumping off’. This last week, sitting or lying in bed, the ‘jumping off’ has had to be of the mental sort but it’ s been no less enjoyable for that.

See you next week, by which time I hope to be back on my feet.

PS: The two photos are of me looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth and, of course, at rather younger ages than the childhood years of outside games and adventures. The little child in the bottom photo is my brother, seven years younger than me.

Give me the strength!

March 2nd, 2019

When in doubt, think of Aunty Mali. That’s what I’m telling myself today. I’m feeling less than myself. But Aunty Mali was a strong and determined woman, meticulous in her ways of doing things. You could have called her a fusspot. My foster-sons, then aged eight and nine, used simply to say she was ‘extra’.

Aunty Mali aimed for excellence in all things, whether it was in her method of storing a pair of leather gloves (blow into the glove after taking it off, then stretch out each finger and lay it flat) or in the way a person should walk onto a stage (neither in a show-off way nor with overdone modesty).

She came into my family’s life when we moved into Vergam Terrace in Fishguard, number 16. She lived in number one in the big, imposing house that had since become the first in the terrace. Her house was full of magic and mystery with a great number  chests of drawers that were full of things that I, as a child, was desperate to look at and handle, including delicate pieces of lace, each wrapped in its own piece of tissue paper with a note as to where and when it had been acquired.

Aunty Mali had taken us over when we moved into her street. Unmarried herself, she must soon have seen us as a family  she could adopt.  I used to go over the road to stay the night or the weekend with her. She took me away on many trips in her Morris Minor, introducing me to all kinds of people I remember to this day.

Read the rest of this entry »

A room with a view – again

February 23rd, 2019

Hello – Paul here. As she predicted last week, Mary’s in hospital getting over a hefty operation and she’s asked me to guest write this week’s blog.

The first storm is passed – a long and complex operation followed by two nights in post-op intensive recovery care attended throughout by the most wonderful degree of focused, dedicated and cheerful nursing. The surgeons have expressed themselves so far satisfied and Mary is ensconced back in the Gynaecology Ward feeling, to be frank, pretty horrible.

The picture is what she can see from her bed. And the picture – appropriately I think for a Storytelling blog – prompts a story which is too circular to be left untold.

Nearly forty years ago when I was working as David Steel’s Press Officer I would come out onto the Terrace of the Houses of Parliament at 11 am – often with Lobby Correspondent friends – to wave to Mary across the Thames in the very same ward on the eighth floor of St Thomas’ Hospital where she was being treated for cancer #1. And then I’d walk over Westminster Bridge with coffee for her and she was able to follow my progress and I could see her at her window. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Three items to entertain you

February 16th, 2019

I’ve been sorting. Sorting is a very satisfying thing to do at any time but especially at this time of the year. My file box labelled Songs, Poems, Sayings has produced three items I’d love to share with you.

Item 1 – part of a poem:

When a day passes it is no longer there.
What remains of it? Nothing more than a story.
If stories weren’t told or books weren’t
written, man would live like beasts – only
for the day.
Today, we live, but by tomorrow today
will be a story.
The whole world, all human life
is one long story.

These lovely lines come from Naftali and His Horse, a children’s book by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ It never rains but it pours!

February 9th, 2019

That’s what we used to say: it never rains but it pours. And boy was it raining (literally) as I started thinking about this blog yesterday.

The window-pane disaster:

A week ago as described in last week’s blog, I heard that extraordinary crash of sound which, second time of going round the house, led to me seeing the smashed window pane in our bedroom. No sign of a dead bird inside or out. But it must have been a bird that did it. I don’t imagine that, despite its extraordinary speed of running up and down the drainpipe from ground to roof, our bonkers squirrel could have got there.

Fortunately Paul taped up the window most effectively and by Monday lunchtime that particular trouble was ended. The window had been re-glazed by a lovely young guy from Eastern Europe. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters: On the wing

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? Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Props 2: The storyteller

January 26th, 2019

So here I am, thinking about props and the usefulness of them. Props attract attention, they hold attention. Interesting objects, puppets, dolls together with fascinating bags and boxes: all can be part of the art of the storyteller. Last week, I wrote about the single object that may set the scene for a story. But a set of objects can also be good as well as fun to put together.

A set of objects sets the scene in a different way. It reflects the fact that there will be different scenes in the story and is very helpful for younger children. Showing the objects one by one before the story begins gives them an initial sense that the story will progress through different scenes. Then showing them again at the end is a great way to remind them of the story. Perhaps you do this as you put the props away in the bag or box from which they’ve emerged. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Props 1: inviting response

January 19th, 2019

Last week brought lovely comments on my thoughts about audience. So this week – and over one or two following weeks as well – I’ve decided to write about props. It’s a subject that interests me a lot. Why use a prop or props? Do they help or hinder a storytelling or indeed the storyteller? How many props might one use in a session and how is best to deploy them? And where might one obtain them?

Props stimulate questions:

Placed on a theatre stage, props can intrigue the audience. Props arouse subliminal questions. Why is that object there? Who is going to use it and when and why? But storytelling is generally less theatrical. So why would a storyteller make use of a prop or props? An immediate answer has to do with the very nature of a prop. A stick, a stone, a badge, a flower: a prop is some kind of object that has been selected with a view to intriguing or informing the audience. Perhaps it is itself going to be the subject of a story. Perhaps its colour or shape is going to be significant. Perhaps it’s a matter of who owned it, where it came from. Props stimulate questions. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Seeing the audience, seeing yourself

January 12th, 2019

We all know the syndrome. The start of a new year makes you eager to sort things out, throw things away, clean your cupboards and your shelves, pursue new objectives and resurrect plans you’d half forgotten about.

For me, this new year has done all those things. It has also brought the satisfaction of seeing that  Nursery World, the magazine that specifically deals with working and living with early years children, has now brought out the big piece on storytelling with early years children that it commissioned me to write towards the end of last year.

Seeing the photos:

Writing my Nursery World piece made me aware all over again how important it is for us storytellers to keep our flame burning by helping new generations of potential tellers to know what storytelling can do.  The new pleasure has been seeing the wonderful photos that were taken to go with the piece. Anna Gordon, the freelance photographer extraordinaire who was commissioned to take the photos, has generously agreed to my using two of them to illustrate this blog today. My thanks to her and to Nursery World and to the centre where the photos were taken. Actually seeing the photos – and in the top one here I’m holding up what I know as my rainbow cloth – makes me very aware of how the children are responding. In fact, seeing the photos made me think a lot about audiences and how important it is to the storyteller to think about the different ways in which they respond. Read the rest of this entry »