Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ We’ve all got them!

Last week, I was so chilled out – or rather, so warm and relaxed – on holiday on the island of Lanzarote, that I felt I had nothing to say. By today, I’m positively burning to go on about the value of personal links. After all, we’ve all got them in one form or another.

Good days, personal links:

MJ as child cropOne of our best days on Lanzarote involved a visit to an astonishing Cactus Garden. Another was a pilgrimage to the house of José Saramago, the Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize Winner who spent the last 18 years of his life on the island. Both days arose because of personal links, the first because, back here in London, my husband has an amazing collection of cactuses, the second because a very good friend of mine was Saramago’s English translator and, because of her, we have read his books.

Personal links create that extra degree of interest which can make you bother to take journeys, actual and symbolic. I became doubly aware of the truth of that this week when my main task and pleasure has lain in preparing the talk I’m to give next Monday to the Historical Society in St David’s. The society was founded by my father and the link with him is one reason for my sense of anticipation.

Shemi the storyteller

27 Shemi

 But, more than that, the subject of Monday’s talk is Shemi Wâd, the tall-tale-teller my father used to tell me about. As well as retelling his stories in  Shemi’s Tall Tales, I also recounted some of Shemi’s personal story there. Now, revisiting the sources I drew on for that in order to put together my talk for Monday – for, after all, it’s the Historical Society and the stuff has to be right! – I’ve realised how keenly my interest in the material derives from my personal associations with it.

For instance, one of my main sources of evidence on Shemi as a person was a transcript I tracked down during my research of a radio programme about him that had been made and transmitted way back in 1936. Shemi had by then been dead for nearly 40 years. Yet the transcript was full of the liveliest detail. It was a record of a conversation between an old man called Bili John who’d grown up at Shemi’s feet and who obviously idolised him and the Welsh writer and patriot, D. J. Williams, whose stories are brimful of his love for the people and animals in his own childhood. D. J. Williams was steeped in oral tradition.

And to think that, before coming across that transcript in the National Library of Wales, I’d been completely unaware that Shemi had been the subject of a radio programme. It was a major find and when I first read it, I was all the more enthused because, as a very small child, I’d actually lived across the road from D. J. Williams. I’d continued to know him as an adult too. He was always kind and encouraging to me and I’ve always felt appreciative of the interest he showed.

Following your nose:

11 DJWIt’s as if personal links can lead you to more. And that’s why, when anyone asks me what they can do to develop themselves as storytellers, I suggest that they follow their own nose when it comes to trying to find out what kind of stories to tell and how to tell them. At least, that’s as good a place as any from which to start. For you may not have had a father who told you stories, you may not have strong roots in any particular landscape, but you’re far more likely to be spurred on by things that excite you than by pursuing things out of some sense of duty.

“You never know where it may lead,” was the comment a friend of mine made when I first got involved in storytelling. As far as next Monday is concerned, I’m delighted the storytelling is leading me back home.

My photos this week:

The first is of me when I was small. The second is Shemi, the tall-tale-teller, in a photo that must have been taken back in the 1890s. It was then reproduced as a postcard for tourists. The third is my childhood friend and inspiration, the great Welsh writer, D. J. Williams.

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