Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ What’s a story No. 2

What’s a story? I asked this question a few weeks ago. Now I’ve returned to it to ask what you might make of the following two items:

Item 1:

There was a bear that he standed on his head.

Item 2:

Mr Hatfull was a taxi driver. One day in Redbridge, he was called to a house to pick up some trays of cream cakes to take them to a party which was due to take place later that day. On his way, Mr Hatfull had just drawn to a halt at some traffic lights that were on red when a very smart-looking man, obviously in a great hurry, ran across to his cab, opened the passenger door, jumped in and sat down Plop! – right on top of the cream cakes.

What’s a story? I guess you might decide that Item 2 is a story while Item 1 is not. But perhaps we have to think again.

About Item 1:

What I’ve quoted as Item 1 comes from Vivian Gussin Paley’s by now world-famous book, The Boy Who Would Be A Helicopter. She describes it as a one-sentence story, the first story that was offered by a little three-year old girl in her class who was hugging a teddy-bear as she told it. In Vivian Gussin Paley’s  way of thinking, it is as much a story as anything else we might describe as a story.

What Vivien Gussin Paley had come to understand in her work with Early Years children in America is that children are full of stories and the stories are real and important to them. What she had to learn as the adult who was their teacher was to listen to their stories whatever they were and to help provide ways for them to express and explore these stories with each other.

Vivian Gussin Paley saw the stories the children told as essential in their development of language and understanding of the world. So she set up a regular place in her classroom where their stories could be told and scribed by her and also a regular place where the children could dramatise their stories, acting them out with each other.

About Item 2:

What I’ve quoted as Item 2 is a story told by Mrs Jacqueline Hatfull, a participant on the storytelling courses for parents I led many years ago in the Outer London Borough of Redbridge. The courses took place one afternoon every week for a term. Many participants came back for more. All were encouraged to go into their local schools to tell stories with the children if they wished to do that.

Mrs Hatfull’s true story was hugely enjoyed when she first told it on the course. She subsequently told it many times over on classroom visits and, by all accounts, her audiences were very stimulated by it both to draw and write it and to tell their own stories too.

So what’s the story?

This week off and on, in between hospital visits, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether a story has to have some kind of conclusion or whether it can be more like a beginning. So many incidental tales get told while you’re seeing people who are doing things to you whether it’s measuring your blood pressure or preparing to give you a general anaesthetic. At the same time, looking around in the numerous rooms where you wait to be summoned, there are so many stories that do not get told or not completely, stories that lie deep inside you, stories you don’t necessarily even recognise as stories, stories that are more like impulses of fear or thought or desire.

Now I’m into day four of recovering from my lumpectomy operation on Wednesday, I must admit to being tired and bored. My mind goes into the doldrums, seeking something to occupy it. Then it stirs itself into some semblance of flight, trying to make sense of what it does and doesn’t want, what can and cannot be done. In this condition, I suppose as good an occupation as any is to think about what makes a story. Who knows what might come to mind?

PS: Top photo is of a drawing I made of my Little Bear storytelling prop, done when I was needing to occupy myself in my hospital room during my second bout of cancer. Bottom picture is an image of a London taxi of more or less the sort Mr Hatfull used to drive.

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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ What’s a story No. 2”

  1. Meg Says:

    Hi Mary.
    Story is such an all- embracing term. Its the unique effect on the receiver that’s fascinating. It can stop me in my tracks trying to make sense like story number one, or have me flying off into my imagination. These days I don’t do enough whimsical wondering.
    Went to hear cartoonist Michael Leunig talk about his work recently. Have you read his poems? There’s some images of his work on the www too!
    http://www.leunig.com.au/works/poems
    Kind Regards
    Meg

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Just to say how much I love your term, whimsical wondering. Thanks for all the richness of your comments. Mary

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