Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Out of currency?

 A surprise arrived in the post this week. The message inside said, ‘This is your Christmas card, Mary.’ But what was inside was not a card. It was a book written by one of the people who has most inspired my storytelling life  – Betty Rosen. Her book contains a fine selection of her poems and prose pieces. Its intriguing title is I Have a Threepenny Bit and Some Other Things.

Betty was the wife of Harold Rosen. They both came into my life during the early days of what can now be described with capital letters as The Storytelling Revival. Under the leadership of an excellent local authority English adviser by the name of Alastair West, the Borough of Redbridge had become a pilot authority for the Oracy Project. The Oracy Project was about the development of spoken English across all ages of children in education in the UK. Betty and Harold were often called upon to introduce people to what it was all about not only in Redbridge but up and down the land.

As an academic who had brought wide attention to the necessity of valuing young people’s everyday language and experience, Harold would give the keynote speech at teachers’ conferences. As a former teacher with invaluable experience of storytelling with her pupils, Betty would give the workshops. I was hugely stirred by them both and, ever since, have counted Betty as probably the most engaging storyteller I have ever heard.

Funny how things happen, isn’t it? Only a couple of days ago, I was thinking about Betty and wondering with some impatience at myself why I haven’t been in touch with her lately. (The answer, alas, is feeling swamped by too many other things over the last many months.) But the good thing is that so many of the things I learned from her have never left me. The way emotion was so strongly felt in her storytelling and the manner in which she enabled those attending her workshops to achieve and express that same depth of emotion: those were some of the lasting learnings from personal contact with her. Others came from her two excellent books about storytelling. And None of It Was Nonsense describes her experience of using storytelling with boys in the secondary school where she had taught. The examples of work the boys produced are so inspiring they would shame any educational system (like the current one!) that did not encourage such work as a matter of course. Betty’s second book, Shapers and Polishers, describes itself in its subtitle, Teachers as Storytellers. The tragedy is that so many teachers today have never even become aware of oral storytelling let alone tried it out.

Is it possible that one of the prejudices against oral storytelling is that, in some way, it might inhibit or even prevent the development of writing as a mode of expression? The brilliant thing about Betty’s third book with its affecting prose pieces and poems is that, if anything could ever show how oral and written work may come together from the same spring of observation and feeling for language, this is it. What a Christmas card!

PS: I tried looking for images of the threepenny piece – there are lots on the internet. And they instantly reminded me how much we loved getting threepenny pieces as children! Then I came across the image of a pile of different coins that are no longer in currency. Somehow this reflected my sense that oral storytelling may be going out of currency too. Our job to help bring it back?


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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Out of currency?”

  1. Pam Says:

    Hi Mary, I lived in England in the early sixties and I’m sure I remember threepenny bits! I have just ordered And None of it was Nonsense. Betty Rosen sounds a gem!

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