Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Recycling

May 4th, 2019

It’s my second chemotherapy session on Tuesday. I do not look forward to it or its aftermath. But some nice things keep the spirits raised: kindnesses from friends, the freshly blooming Mary Rose in the garden, the pleasure of the Great Tit at finding our bird feeder tubs have been refilled and, of course, stories.

Where’s the creativity?

Whenever I read about the state of schools across the country – how some teachers are voluntarily buying food or books for children with money from their own pockets or, just as bad or worse,  how so many teachers feel that all emphasis on creativity has been lost as a result of focus on exams – I find myself wanting the children to have more stories. Young people are disillusioned, turned off, self-harming, depressed. I want them to hear stories, do self-motivated work that is based on stories, talk about stories, tell their own stories. Who is a storyteller to say this should happen? Well, all of us storytellers who’ve seen what powerful effects it can have. Particularly this last week, I’ve been recalling the attention and engagement that  hundreds of children have shown to the daftly innovative stories of Shemi Wâd.

The story that follows is one I found in the handwritten book of Shemi stories I was recently lent. The stories in it were written down by Bili John who had himself known Shemi since boyhood. He wrote down the stoies in Welsh.  The one that follows is in my English version.

The big clock and the tricycle:

One day Shemi dug out from his garden a wooden box that contained what looked like the wheels of a clock. Shemi had never seen anything quite like these wheels before. They were very big – as large as saucers – and without more ado, he got ready to use them to make a clock. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Dream and Reality

April 27th, 2019

It was raining. I was lying on my bed thinking about what I’d write in this blog this week. My mind (or whatever passes for it these days) was wandering about, touching on all kinds of things that happened this week. One was the visit of a friend, a local historian, who came to show and lend me two old manuscript books full of stuff about Shemi, that 19th century storyteller I was writing about last week. This reminded me of my father many years ago telling me about a handwritten exercise book full of Shemi stories that he’d been shown and then, suddenly addressing himself to the ether, asking: ‘I wonder where that book is now.’ Strange to think the book he was speaking about may now be in my house.

Yet another was the beautiful butterfly that had somehow got into my bedroom. I’d finally managed to urge it out of the window with the deft use of a sheet of newspaper. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Good wishes

April 20th, 2019

The daffodils are over, the lovely bunch of tulips we were brought has withered, the roses in our garden are only just coming out. So here, instead, is a lovely camellia to wish you a happy Easter.

Easter brings so many things to mind. Holidays, chocolate, Easter bunnies, resurrection: may I wish you good experience of whatever takes your love, your interest or your fancy.

All I can add is that the sun is shining most liberally over us in Brixton. I hope it’s still shining over Pembrokeshire tomorrow. For if we can get ourselves going (and following my first chemo treatment for my current cancer this last Tuesday, getting going feels a bit hard), that’s where we’ll be headed.

How I look forward to the hedgerows, the beaches and the salt air! But wherever you will be tomorrow, my very best wishes for good things that you love and, as always, my thanks and appreciation that you’re reading this blog.

 

Storytelling Starters: The link

April 13th, 2019

Some books sell thousands,  millions, of copies. If you’re the author, it must be wonderful to experience such success. But to me right now, it feels like it’s the personal links that are the most wonderful thing.

My story from yesterday:

In yesterday’s post arrived an envelope containing two hand-written postcards and a photograph. The photo was of two boys, Ethan and Isaac, standing in front of a gravestone. The two boys had written one each of the cards, the writing in both cases carefully done along pencil lines ruled onto the cards.

The boys were writing to tell me how much they’d enjoyed the stories in a book by the name of  Shemi’s Tall Tales which I’d published a few years ago. The stories in the book were all ones originally told by an old North Pembrokeshire character known as Shemi Wâd. All of them are very daft and marvellous tales and in my experience of telling them in schools, they are especially loved by boys.

Two boys and a grandfather: 

Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Gold

April 6th, 2019

When you think about it, it’s sometimes very hard to say what makes a particular topic come to your mind. For instance, I have no idea what started me thinking about nightingales this morning. Not blackbirds but nightingales. Or perhaps instead of nightingales (plural) I should say nightingale (singular). For to my knowledge I’ve only ever encountered one. And it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

My personal experience:

It was on the island of Iona off the north-west coast of Scotland. Paul and I were visiting Oban on the mainland (my maternal grandfather hailed from Oban). In the course of our visit, we took a trip across to Mull and thence on to Iona where we were able to spend a few days staying in a remote little guesthouse where, each night, our host would call upstairs to say that the electricity was about to go off because he was about to turn off the generator. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Cat-you-like

March 30th, 2019

Are you familiar with the story of how the cat got its purr? I was reminded of it while thinking about the elegant black, beautiful cat who came up to our room  in my husband’s arms a couple of days ago. Paul had been out on the doorstep, talking with our neighbour. Meantime, our front door was open, the cat emerged as if from nowhere and promptly walked into our house. Paul followed it in, picked it up and brought it up for my admiration.

Wow! The cat was obviously ‘owned’ – if ever a cat can be owned – with a smart collar and bell. He was in the most beautiful condition and at once I was reminded of all our past cats and how I’d like to have a cat again. After the death of Minky, our last lovely cat, we felt we couldn’t replace him with another. Then time went on and, several years later, we remain catless. Perhaps that beautiful black cat will bring about a change here. Who knows?

How the cat got its purr: the story

Meantime, that story of how the cat got its purr has winkled its way back into my mind. The story tells of how one of the animals, perhaps it was cat, somehow got hold of a big beautiful drum. Whoever he was, he loved to play it and when he did so at parties, the other animals were full of envy of the sounds it made. So envious did the other animals become that one of them – was it fox? – wanted to get it for himself. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ The Blessings of Memory

March 23rd, 2019

I can’t remember now what prompted the idea. But a few days ago, Paul and I got the idea that we might both write about our fathers. He’d write about his, I’d write about mine and, since we were each very fond of the other’s, each of us would write a bit about that one too.

Of course this determination has set me off down memory lane, remembering all kinds of little incidents involving my father, the many stories he himself would tell and also his characteristic ways. These were very comparable to those described of the typical Irish storyteller in Frank Delaney’s lovely novel, Ireland. In other words, my father would always to be found sitting in his usual chair, waving his pipe around as he apparently casually asked you a question which he obviously intended to answer himself.

One of the stories my father loved to tell – and it often comes back to my mind – was one that happened during the Second World War. He was being invalided out of Italy and was very bored on the tanker on which he was being transported. As he would tell it, he was desperate to find a book to read – any book. By his account, he searched the whole of the ship, including the captain’s cabin. Nothing. Then one day, idling around on the deck, he noticed an iron ring sticking up out of the planks. Wondering why it was there, he bent down and pulled it.  Under the trapdoor which came up was a small hideaway space and in that space there were two books. One was a book by Erich Maria Remarque. The other was Great Expectations. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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