Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Spot the common factor

27 ShemiAny storytelling booking obliges you to think. What stories will you do? How might they accord with an overall theme? And how might you relate to the particular audience? All such questions are heightened for me when it’s a booking with children.

This next Monday, it’s to be two sessions at Wolfscastle School, a delightful little North Pembrokeshire Primary school which I’ve visited on several previous occasions. But those occasions were some years ago and by now all the children I saw will have moved on. How will I try to engage my two different groups on Monday? What comments might they make? What questions might they ask?

Planning has been energising. For the younger group, I’ve decided on three favourite stories that accord with the particular theme which, said the headmistress, has been the school’s theme this term. I don’t know if you’ll spot what it is. 

Story One: 

The first story to come to my mind was one of the tall tales of Shemi Wâd, a local storyteller from the 19th century who remained a well-known character in North Pembrokeshire memory at least until the mid-20th century. When I published Shemi’s Tall Tales, I discovered that children – not just here but everywhere – absolutely loved them. One of the tallest and most enjoyable is The Enormous Cabbage. Here it is (in brief):

The Enormous Cabbage (in brief)

Shemi decided to keep sheep and bought a nice fat ewe. But it soon disappeared from his garden. Gone! Instead he decided to keep cabbages. When he’d done his planting, one of his cabbage plants kept on growing. Eventually, it became so enormous, that when he went to cut it, he had to use a ladder and a saw. And when he finally succeeded in cutting it open, what did he see inside? His lost sheep. And what was there beside her? A little lamb.

Story Two:

The second story that came to my mind has always reminded me of an old man who used to live near my grandparents’ smallholding. He lived alone and used to scare me a bit. But he did have a fantastic garden which links for me with the old Welsh folktale that follows.

The Old Man and the Washing-Up Water (in brief):

Once long ago there was an old man who always used to throw his washing-up water over the wall outside his kitchen. He carried on doing that until the day when he heard a loud, angry voice shouting at him from over the wall. ‘What do you think you are doing? Come over here and see the mess you are making.’ When the old man looked, he could see nothing unusual. ‘Come on,’ said the voice. ‘Come over here now.’ When the old man climbed over the wall, he saw a very tiny, very angry little man and when this little man stepped up onto his shoe, the old man also saw a tiny farmhouse and garden and tiny fields and animals, all of them soaked with soapy water. Also, a very cross little woman shouted at him out of a window. ‘You’re a bad old man to keep making such a mess.’ The old man felt very sorry. He promised never to throw his washing-up water over the wall again. And he didn’t. Instead he threw it on the part of his garden where he used to grow leeks. And from then on, surprise surprise, his leeks were the biggest and the best he’d ever seen.

Cover compressedStory Three:

the third story to come to my mind is an old Welsh folktale my father used to tell me. It’s a favourite story of mine, perhaps because it connects in my mind with an occasion when, as a child, I went exploring and found a wood full of beautiful daffodils.

The Door in the Hillside (in brief):

A girl who went playing in the hills one day saw a door in the hillside. The door opened onto a tunnel and, when she went through the tunnel, she saw a lake and a little boat and, in the middle of the lake, an island. When she rowed across to the island, she met lots of little fairy people and, after eating and dancing at their party, she said she wanted to go exploring. The little people said she could go where she wanted but she mustn’t pick any flowers on their island. In her exploring, the girl reached a daffodil wood full of beautiful flowers and she couldn’t resist picking just one flower. Immediately, she realised what she’d done. So she ran and she ran … and when she got back home, she put the daffodil in a bottle of water. After that, two surprising things happened. First was that the daffodil she’d picked didn’t get brown and die – not for ages. Second was that when she went looking for that door in the hillside, she never ever found it again.

Three stories: Common theme

I’m looking forward to seeing whether those younger children will spot the link between the stories. I’m planning to help them by taking with me a cabbage, a leek and a daffodil. And I’m looking forward to their suggestions as to how Shemi’s lost sheep got into the cabbage, why the old man’s leeks grew so big and strong after he started watering them with his washing-up water and why the door in the hillside vanished. Subsidiary questions about the third story might be where that door might have gone and what could happen if it turned up somewhere round here. What fun!

PS: Shemi’s Tall Tales was illustrated by the brilliant Welsh illustrator, Jac Jones. He modelled his pictures of Shemi on an old postcard photo of the old man which provides the first illustration in this blog.  The second shows Jac Jones’s front cover for Shemi’s Tall Tales (still available from me if you go to My Publications on my website).

PSS: As to what I’m planning to tell to the older group at Wolfscastle School on Monday, well that’s a whole other story.

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6 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Spot the common factor”

  1. Liz Richards Says:

    I hope you enjoy your story telling in Wolfscastle Mary as that is where 9 of my grandchildren are I am sure I will hear all about it EnjoyxLiz

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Liz, Both Wolfscastle classes were a pleasure and a particular pleasure was seeing your grandchildren. I was delighted that they introduced themselves to me and spoke about you. What a treat. I hope they enjoyed it.
    Very much love, Mary xxx

  3. Meg Says:

    Hi Mary
    Love Shem’s photo. That hat says a lot!
    His cabbage story is so satisfying. (I was always convinced there were fairies at work in my grandma’s garden.)
    Hmm .. growing things, fairies, gardening.
    These kids are in for a good time!

  4. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Meg
    Yes, Shemi’s hat says a lot – and the children yesterday loved hearing about him and his cabbage. As always, storytelling with children makes me feel all over again how fascinating it is to hear their responses and how valuable it is to do it. Much love, Mary xxx

  5. Jean Says:

    Dear Mary
    Loved seeing the stories of Shemi on the blog
    tho i always know exactly where my copy of ‘Shemi’s Tall Tales’
    is on the bookshelves. A book with a smile i think oh and a wink from Shemi.

    The group of apprentice storytellers I’m mentoring — are very enthusiastic —
    full of dreams and hopes for their storytelling futures —
    I was telling them about my own discovery of storytelling and the workshops
    with yourself and Karen in London
    and of course
    “By Word of Mouth ‘ the TV series and booklet — still inspiring – storytelling is eternal after all.
    Do you by any chance have any copies of the booklet left for sale — a couple of the group would love a copy
    and is the series on dvd or downloadable from anywhere – sadly my VHS copy was ‘borrowed’!
    I’m certain the children of Wolfscastle Primary will love the sessions – wow – what a name for a school — a whole other story
    i bet.
    Much love — talk soon
    Jean x

  6. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Jean,
    So good to hear from you. Your group of apprentice storytellers are lucky to have you as their mentor. It’s great to know you are still spreading the joys of storytelling. Your question as to whether there’s a dvd of By Word of Mouth will act as a nudge to action for me. For a while now, I’ve thought of seeing if I can get the series onto YouTube. It means checking with Channel 4 as to whether there’s any copyright problem. If not, then the next job will be getting the technical side of things sorted. I’ll see what I can do. Meantime, when I’m back in London, I’ll check to see if I have any copies of the booklet left and let you know.
    Much love – and yes, talk soon. Mary xxx

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