Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ School’s back

Life moves on. School is back and this week I’ve been getting ready for a storytelling day this next Monday at Craig Yr Hesg Primary School in Pontypridd. As well as actually doing the preparing, I’ve been thinking about what the process of preparing means to me. All working storytellers have their own approach. But this is what it’s like for me.

Mind-mapping ~

At Craig Yr Hesg, it will be stories from Wales I’ll be telling. I’ve made my usual mind-map in the style of Edward de Bono  and along its branches I’ve noted some of the possible approaches and stories that are coming into my mind as possibilities. A lot of my sense of this arises from having had a chat on the phone the other day with the person responsible for organising Monday, in this case the headmistress. Emails are all very well. But it’s a personal chat about the arrangements – when and how to get there, the programme of sessions, content of sessions, the children, the approach – that gives me that crucial and immediate sense of the school which, personally, I couldn’t manage without.

Mind-mapping ~ possible stories

So the mind-map is where I’ve marked down my thoughts about what I’m going to do on the day. They’re suggestions to myself rather than fixed expectations since, on this kind of occasion, I’m well aware, I have absolutely no need or desire to decide in advance exactly what I’m going to do. I remember learning that lesson – that it’s perfectly possible to decide on the moment – one day early on in my storytelling career.  I was on a train to the school whose headmaster was at that time Chris Brown who for so many years has given his free time to being Reviews Editor of The School Librarian. As I agonised about about which of two stories I was going to tell to Chris’s own class, it suddenly dawned upon me that, if I knew both stories well enough to be able to tell either of them, I didn’t need to decide in advance. It was an exhilarating moment of liberation!

With Classes 3 and 4 at Craig Yr Hesg (that’s the Junior end of the school), my expectation is that I’ll focus on my Shemi stories. These stories were originally created and told by the remarkable Shemi Wâd, a North Pembrokeshire storyteller from the 19th century. I retold them in my book, Shemi’s Tall Tales. Apparently Classes 3 and 4 are boy-dominated and very lively. Experience tell me they will love Shemi. He’s Welsh. He’s eccentric. He’s brilliantly funny. Besides, Class 3’s theme as term begins is Flight, so I expect they’re going to love hearing how Shemi got flown across to Ireland by seagulls and shot back to Wales from a cannon. Besides the theme allows me to talk a bit about storytellers and to explore with the children the idea that we all have stories. Some of us get told them, some of us don’t, but we all have them inside us and in the world around us.

In my first sessions of the day with Classes 1 and 2, I’ll possibly tell a Shemi story or two or maybe a Pembrokeshire legend. Or, if the children in Class 1 look like they need something simpler, I’ll possibly tell them Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle. It will get them joining in and although I’ll mainly tell it in my usual, English version, since it’s Wales I’ll also take the chance to introduce some of it in Welsh.

Kay sera sera (as my mother used to say). Whatever will be will be. That’s why I love storytelling so much. You never know what’s going to happen. But genuine spontaneity can only really occur when you are mentally well-prepared and open to the occasion. That’s why I find it essential to spend enough time beforehand ‘getting into the zone’.

Mind-mapping ~ possible activities

On my mind-map I’ve also put down some reminders to myself of points where, if necessary, I can get the children involved in specific activities – things that would involve them talking in pairs to each other or coming out front to describe their ideas. For instance, when Shemi falls so hard onto an Irish cliff that he somersaults off the edge, what does he fall onto and where does it take him? It’s the kind of quick question that produces smart imaginative snap-shots that can always be developed later if the teacher feels like follow-up activities. Besides, if the classes are engaged and lively, this will be fun for them and brilliant for me (and possibly revelatory for their teacher, too, because the individual children who actively respond are not always the ones the teacher expects to do so).

Mind-mapping ~ the props

Lastly on my mind-map, I’ve got some reminders of what to take with me in my storytelling bag.

A copy of Shemi’s Tall Tales. An original photo of Shemi I’m lucky enough to possess (it’s a postcard produced for tourists back in the 1880s or 90s). My memory-stick with my Power Point on Shemi in case there’s a chance to show it. Some brilliant portraits of the man as imagined by Secondary School children in Fishguard. Some of my standard storytelling props – including my Magic Music pipe – in case I need them especially with the younger children.

Oh, and some Medjool dates to keep me going in between sessions.

And by the way ~ 

There’s still no sign of the new BASE website with voting procedures for the BASE storytelling awards. Maybe next week? I’ll keep you posted.

I’d also like to mention that on Thursday this week, Malorie Blackman gave this year’s Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture  at Homerton College in Cambridge. Her subject was the opportunities offered to writers and readers of children’s literature by the new technology.  She was a lively, compelling speaker. My concern as I listened to her – and it’s a concern I expressed in a question at the end – is that the overwhelming flood of already visualised material (in e-books, interactive videos, games, Youtube clips etc)  is undermining or even preventing the individual visualising which is so central in the development of every child’s independent imagination. It’s worth noting how Malorie began her reply: immediately she mentioned the fact that, when she was a child, her parents and grandparents had told her stories.  With writers, it’s so often so. Personally I’d like the same to be true for all children.





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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ School’s back”

  1. liz richards Says:

    love following your blog.
    I find it so interesting and quite inspiring for me to get on and do some writing which I am afraid has not been very forthcoming.
    LIz Richards

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