Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Pure pleasure

‘Pleasure is a really profound form of attention.’ This thought-provoking remark was made this last Thursday in a lecture by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Award-winning children’s book author, co-creator of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics, Professor of Reading at Liverpool Hope University, he was delivering this year’s Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture.

Magic door croppedWide-ranging and enormously funny, Frank’s lecture –  Homerton College, Cambridge was the venue – focussed on what can happen when we listen to something being read to us. How it draws us in. How it makes us expectant. How a reason it can affect us so much is that it doesn’t oblige us to do anything else. It doesn’t require us to speak or answer or write – nothing at all except take it in. As Frank said, it’s a profound form of attention, and that can be a most profound pleasure.

And what can ruin it? Make us freeze up or only partly respond? As the audience to the lecture was offered a list of what can only be described as enemies to real attention, we all sighed in recognition. Being told in advance that we’d be asked questions about what we’ve heard? Dreading that we’d be expected to write something creative in immediate response? Or even not being given enough of the reading in the first place?

One great effect of Frank’s lecture for me – and it was full of told stories, his own personal stories about his grandmother and her room full of ticking clocks, his grandfather who was born with a caul round his head, the children and the youths that he’s met – was that it made me feel the deep kinship between what he described as the effects of reading and what I know as the effects of storytelling. They are so much the same: it’s the enormous power of story (good story) to move, awaken and deeply educate.

Enough said. Except it does have to be said again and again, more clearly and in ever more places where, especially in education today, there is so little recognition of its truth. How many times have teachers said to me, ‘We don’t have time for stories in our school’? How many times have parents said, ‘I’d forgotten about all this kind of thing’?

Another lovely effect of Thursday for me, as I’m sure for many others present, was, not surprisingly, to make me remember Philippa Pearce. I thought about how she’d come up to me after a talk on storytelling I once gave (in Homerton College, as it happens). In the course of thanking me, she exactly quoted a particular phrase I’d used. ‘That was good,’ she commented in her clear, emphatic way. Nowadays, I laugh whenever I remember that. Although I don’t think she meant that the rest was rubbish, it made me so much appreciate the sharpness of her attention.

Magic door uncroppedI also remembered Philippa’s book, Tom’s Midnight Garden, and how the idea of a secret garden has always intrigued me. Hence my photo(s) this week. (The top one is a crop from the bottom one.) Taken by my husband, Paul, it comes from an occasion when we were visiting relatives. Sitting in the kitchen (and in the bottom picture you can see the edge of the kitchen window and a bit of the kitchen table) I was looking out at the garden when I suddenly saw a door in the garden’s end wall. I knew I’d never seen it before. It shone as if jewelled. It shimmered with promise. It looked like somewhere I just had to go. Then I began to realise that what I was seeing, what we were all now seeing, for I’d already drawn attention to it, was a reflection of the front door of the house in which we were sitting. The front door was way behind us, at the end of the corridor behind the kitchen. The reflected door was (still is in memory) the most magical thing. We talked about how stories might arise from it. So here it is: the magic door.

P.S. Memory is its own magic door. I felt very happy as a result of a Comment that came in this week. It made me remember Eileen Colwell standing on a stage at her 80th birthday celebration given by the Society for Storytelling. From the stage, a small, slight and most engaging figure, she told us the story of Elsie Piddock. I hope the sender of the Comment won’t mind me quoting his message here. 

Our children, and now grand children, love the told “Elsie Piddock” story. Increasingly I have found it better with the under 5-s to tell it without reading directly, but looking at the audience to hold their attention. Can you tell me whether Eileen Colwell read this verbatim from the book, or whether she would improvise, adapt or shorten it, for example for  younger listeners? 

From what I know from and of  Eileen Colwell, my answer to the question above is that she had absorbed the Elsie Piddock story (Elsie Piddock Skips in her Sleep) so deeply I feel sure she knew it word for word as Eleanor Farjeon wrote it. But also she used to tell it so much from herself – she was tiny and lively like the Elsie of the story – you would never have known if at any point she was putting it in her own words. She was utterly convincing. Knowing how sensitive she always was to her audience, she might well have adapted it on occasion. She certainly never read it. She told it. And how!

Tags: , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Pure pleasure”

  1. Felice Tombs Says:

    What a magical photo. I have a mirror in the shape of the sun that leans against a pot plant in the garden and sometimes I see it reflected on the garden shed that is at the opposite end of the garden and not at all in the same line of sight. The sun hits it, bounces off a window in the house and then off to the wall of the garden shed. It is quite fantastic and very mysterious. Mary, I look forward to your posts, they are always thought provoking and enjoyable. Love Felice x

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Felice
    And it’s always such a pleasure to hear from you. I love your description of your magic mirror and the thought that those reflections are ‘very mysterious’. It’s when one realises that there are many layers to our vision and our understanding. Please, I’ll quote your Comment in my next Blog as I did before. Love, Mary xxx

Leave a Reply