Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Quandary

ParrotWhat do you do when you don’t know what to do? Quandaries come in different sorts. One I’ve experienced as a storyteller is when I simply can’t decide what story or theme to choose.

What to choose?

As I began thinking about this week’s posting, various different possibilities began to swirl through my mind. Yet none of them felt quite right. Whether the choice is for my blog or for some performance, I normally like there to be some reason for the stories I choose, some link to things I’ve been doing or thinking about or to something going on in the world about me.  This week, trying to plan what to write about, nothing would settle.

Parrots, I thought. Currently there are four of them in different houses in our street and when they get taken outside for an airing, they create a whole new soundscape. It’s weird. Sometimes they sound like strange metallic devices. Sometimes it feels like you’re in a tropical forest. Thinking about these parrots this morning reminded me of a story. But what was that story? Wasn’t it entitled something like The Parrot and the Tree of Life? Might I not track it down and retell it?

Or what about foxes? Our neighbourhood is full of them. Our gardens are full of them. Not long ago, six fox-cubs were cavorting on our neighbour’s lawn. Often we see one asleep in the sun on the roof of a nearby shed. Thinking about this strange population, so alien and yet now so normal, reminded me of a powerful song about Mr Fox that was composed by my old storytelling friend, John Pole. It’s a very dramatic piece. I used to sing it. Might I not look that out?

Or cuckoos, maybe? I’ve written here about cuckoos before. Isn’t it time for an update? The particular cuckoo I sponsor at BTO (British Trust for Ornithology)  – it’s the one they call David – is even now almost at the end of his annual migration to the Democratic Republic of Congo. If he successfully returns to West Wales next Spring, he will have completed five whole migrations. What a story!

Also clamouring for possible attention this morning was a highly innovative book I was sent this week to review for the School Librarian. The Fairytale Times by Zanib Mian, is to be published on 3rd October. A stylish large-format paperback book, it’s written like a whole lot of newspaper stories with such tempting headlines as : Shoemaker becomes overnight Millionaire; Princess proposes to Frog; Wicked Queen Faces 15 Years for Attempted Poisoning.

Then, perhaps rather oddly, another children’s story that offered itself up as a possible subject for this week’s posting was a story I myself wrote a few days ago. Normally in this blog of mine I write about storytelling, not about things I’ve been writing (if you see what I mean). But this particular story of mine did intrigue me when it came out of my pen because it emerged quickly, as if out of the blue,  as a strangely old-fashioned piece. It contains strange phrases like ‘Brisk it’ and ‘Quick it’ as things which are said by the sister in the story to her brother as they make their way through the forest with a basket of cakes for Granny.

FoxQuandary becomes the theme:

By now, you’ll appreciate how perplexity itself became my subject as my morning went on. In one sense, there were too many things to write about. In another sense, no single one of them felt like enough. Such a quandary perhaps deserves recognition as one that can easily happen to a storyteller. For what story do you settle on when you’ve got a choice? What theme do you pick when so many appeal?

I remember how dreadfully tormented I was by such a dilemma on one occasion early on in my storytelling life. I was on a train on my way to a school and struggling to decide which of two stories to tell. ‘Well,’ I eventually said to myself, ‘if you know both of them well enough to tell, why don’t you decide when you get there?’ Another time, my solution was to offer my audience a menu of titles. When the children didn’t choose what I’d expected, I actually felt more stimulated by the story they did choose.

So what do you do when you don’t know what to do? Perhaps you just have to stop worrying and allow the question to settle itself. At the very least, my quandary of this morning has led to me tracking down that parrot story, The Parrot and the Tree of Life. When I finally found my copy of it in my  file of stories from India in my Stories G – I file-box, I realised all over again what a mystical story it is. Maybe I’ll retell it here next week. Or maybe not. We’ll see.

 PS: My photos this week are self-explanatory. But I should add that, yes, the beautiful parrot lives in our street. As for the small fox, he’s as comfortable as can be on our lawn – until someone or something disturbs him. Then he’s away.

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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Quandary”

  1. Steph Bent Says:

    Hi Mary I too have been in a quandary lately about what story to choose to tell.
    I wrote to you In July asking for any suggestions that you had for telling a story about a hero as the starter for some black history month workshops. Thank you again for the ideas and suggestions that you gave. I actually decided that I’m going to tell the story of the lion in the well.
    The rabbit in the story tricks the lion into believing that there is another lion in his jungle and leads him to a well where he sees the ‘other’ lion and dives in to fight Him and drowns (when in fact it’s his reflection. )this meant that the other animals could go about their business without living in fear of being gobbled up for lunch. I think that children might consider the rabbit to be a hero .
    I think this’ll be a good way to get the children involved as they can act as the echo when the lion calls down into the well and gets angry at the responses he hears, not realising that it’s meerly his voice echoing .

    Best wishes
    Steph Bent

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Hi Steph. Nothing like resolving a quandary – and I hope you have great fun with the story of the lion in the well. If it’s young ones you’re telling to, or older ones too, I think they’ll love joining in. I can imagine there’ll be plenty of discussion, including from those who really love lions and feel sorry that the one in the story dies. Best of luck and do let us know how it goes. Mary

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