Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Visiting, revisiting

During a visit I made to Grace Hallworth this week, she kindly gave me a book of Arab folktales. Even as I glanced through it at that time, my eyes alighted on this clever little tale. (I’ll give it a new title: No-brainer.)


One morning, two woodcutters on their way into the forest noticed the spoor of a lion on the path. (The spoor, by the way, is the animal’s trace or track.)

Come the end of the working day as the two men discussed which path to take out of the forest, this evidence of a lion in the vicinity seemed not to bother one of the two. The other, worried, took a different route home while the apparently unbothered one took the same path out of the forest as they’d both taken that morning.

No worries? All too soon, the apparently unworried man saw a lion sitting right in the middle of the path ahead.

‘I’m very hungry,’ announced the lion. ‘I need to eat the brain of a man.’

‘Ah hah!’ said the woodcutter to give himself time. Then, thinking quickly, he continued: ‘Well, I’m sorry, I’m not your man. I have no brain at all. You see, when my mate and I came this way this morning, we saw your spoor on this path. Now, at the end of the day, if I had any brain at all, I’d surely have gone another way home. But I didn’t. This proves that I am brainless.’

The lion paused a minute. ‘Ah ha!’ he said. ‘Then where’s your mate?’

‘Oh,’ replied the man. ‘He’s taken the other rocky path that goes over the mountain.’

‘Goodbye,’ said the lion as he scampered away to the rocky path over the mountain.

Visiting Grace:

As always, visiting Grace was a most enjoyable experience. By now into her 90’s, she is as hospitable as always and as keen as ever to engage deeply in conversation, particularly of the storytelling sort.

This time, because Paul and I had so recently been in Toronto, I was keen to find out more about the visit I knew Grace had made to Toronto some time in the past. Why had she gone there? How long had she been there? Was I right in remembering, though vaguely, that Toronto had been somehow important in the storytelling world?

What Grace said in reply has given me a fascinating new insight into early connections that would prove so fertile for the revival of storytelling that took place here in the UK in the latter part of the 20th century.

Early connections:

When Grace was starting out as a young librarian in her native Trinidad, she was sent to Boys’ and Girls’ House in Toronto to get a good grounding in ways of working with children. Boys’ and Girls’ House was known for its work in this field and especially for its storytelling provision.

Grace was at Boys’ and Girls’ House in Toronto for a year. While there, she met Eileen Colwell, then visiting from England, and also a Hertfordshire librarian who decided she wanted Grace to come and work in Hertfordshire. So the seeds were sown for two important developments. The first was that, a short time after returning to Trinidad, Grace was on her way to the UK to take up the post, newly created for her, of Schools Librarian in Hertfordshire. And, of course, it was in that role that Grace did so much for storytelling. Soon she was becoming known not only for her storytelling in schools but as a storyteller for all.

Here in the UK, furthermore, Grace and Eileen Colwell became firm friends. Their mutual passion for storytelling became a hugely important inspiration in this country when the storytelling revival was taking root in the early 1980s. Grace was to become the first Chair of the Society for Storytelling. Eileen was to become one of its first patrons. Each as they went about the country stirred the interest of many of the people, including me, who would soon become professional working storytellers. Evidently, Boys’ and Girls’ House in Toronto no longer exists. But it has left its mark. I’m glad I asked Grace about it on Wednesday.

PS:  My first illustration this week is of a Story Doll I saw in a shop window, I no longer remember where. I like the reflections in the background of people walking by. The second illustration is of a card I made for Grace’s 80th birthday. It includes pieces of photos I took when visiting her in Tobago to do some storytelling work with her during a period when she was living there. In the part of the collage that is of a storytelling workshop we did, Grace is the person nearest to the camera.



Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply