Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Posts Tagged ‘Audience response’

Storytelling Starters ~ Seeing the audience, seeing yourself

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

We all know the syndrome. The start of a new year makes you eager to sort things out, throw things away, clean your cupboards and your shelves, pursue new objectives and resurrect plans you’d half forgotten about.

For me, this new year has done all those things. It has also brought the satisfaction of seeing that  Nursery World, the magazine that specifically deals with working and living with early years children, has now brought out the big piece on storytelling with early years children that it commissioned me to write towards the end of last year.

Seeing the photos:

Writing my Nursery World piece made me aware all over again how important it is for us storytellers to keep our flame burning by helping new generations of potential tellers to know what storytelling can do.  The new pleasure has been seeing the wonderful photos that were taken to go with the piece. Anna Gordon, the freelance photographer extraordinaire who was commissioned to take the photos, has generously agreed to my using two of them to illustrate this blog today. My thanks to her and to Nursery World and to the centre where the photos were taken. Actually seeing the photos – and in the top one here I’m holding up what I know as my rainbow cloth – makes me very aware of how the children are responding. In fact, seeing the photos made me think a lot about audiences and how important it is to the storyteller to think about the different ways in which they respond. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Rag-and-Bone Man

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

Last week it was bags. This week it’s rags, namely things which are so well-worn that, in times gone by, they were  generally only good for passing on to the rag-and-bone man. One such used to come round our streets with his horse and cart collecting big old items such as an old mattress and bags full of unwanted small items too. I remember the tone of his cry though I never worked out quite what he was saying.

My well-worn stuff this week is a joke, one which has been told so many times by me that it could well qualify as good only for the rag-and-bones man except that it possesses the extraordinary quality of still being able to make people laugh. (more…)

Storytelling Starters – Bringing Up The Evidence

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

Last Sunday morning, inspired by the previous day’s episode of Clare Balding’s Ramblings on Radio 4, we didn’t hang about. We got going quickly on our way through London and down the A13 to seek out Rainham Marshes and, specifically, the RSPB Centre there.

The day was a terrific adventure. Clare Balding had been talking on her programme with the actor Sam West, a passionate birder and frequent visitor to the Rainham Marshes Centre. Together they did an excellent job of inspiring me for one. But in my particular case they were only part of the inspiration. Even while listening to the programme, I’d been remembering that, years ago (in fact in 1997) I’d done a storytelling project with some Rainham children as part of a much larger project on Local Legends with children in Havering schools.

The inspiration of secret places

One of my aims in my Local Legends project had been to get the children thinking and talking about their locality by remembering their secret places where they liked to spend time. I wanted them to think about these play places both as an end in itself and as a springboard to creating new stories of their own. The aim bore fruit: it was evident how greatly they seemed to enjoy this approach. One particular boy – and I’ve never since forgotten that he was from Rainham – showed a degree of pleasure that gave me some pause for thought. His passion for Rainham Marshes moved me. I loved the sense of secret adventure he communicated as he talked about the wetlands, the intimacy of the love he felt for the dens he’d made there and the pride with which he used his private knowledge to create a new story around his experience.

So when we set off for Rainham on Sunday, that boy was vividly in my mind. Then as we got to the area where I thought the RSPB Centre must be, I began to get another very strong feeling as we drove back and fore along Wennington Road, trying in vain to find the place. We’d been so keen to set off, I hadn’t even looked up directions or a specific address! We were still searching when, suddenly on Wennington Road, I spotted a school called Brady School. ‘I’m sure I’ve worked in that school,’ I told Paul. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Body stories

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Only a week to go. The Olympics are about to begin, London is getting ever more crowded and already it’s becoming quite a bodily skill to manoeuvre a way through the crowds. Meantime, newspapers and TV are full of the physical skills of the athletes. There’s also lots about the psychology of competing and the determination and persistence involved in increasing bodily prowess, let alone the mental skills required to stay focused and cool. It’s absorbing.

I won’t be going to the games myself. I’ll be watching on TV at home while devoting my mind to thinking about physical skills and bodily parts. For that’s my theme for the next few weeks.

I’m starting today with one of my favourite stories. I call it Five Chinese Brothers. It’s a marvellous story for adults to tell and children to hear. Like the extendable legs in the story, it somehow seems able to stretch up the age-range from children of about five years old to children of eleven or twelve. And as you’ll see when you read the story, extendable legs are just one of the story’s magical powers. But first, here’s a bit of background about how I first came to hear this tale.

Five Chinese Brothers – some background

I first heard the story from Beulah Candappa, the inspirational storyteller from Burma who was one of the first full-time storytellers I got to know in London during the 1980s when storytelling as an art was reviving.

Beulah was the daughter of a headteacher and chieftain. She’d turned from teaching to full-time storytelling because she so strongly believed in the necessity for people to have stories. Stories had been part of her own life since childhood. She was generous in the way she shared them. Always calm and serene in her manner, she would carry with her baskets of fascinating folk objects and set these out in the course of her tellings, creating a wonderful theatre of the imagination.

Beulah has influenced me a lot. Once in a conversation on the phone, she memorably described storytelling to me as ‘the art of time and silence’. And when she wrote a piece for the booklet that accompanied By Word of Mouth, my Channel 4 TV series on storytelling that was shown in 1990, it was enticingly entitled, A Crackle of Excitement.

That’s Beulah – a wonderful combination of quiet serenity and an electric buzz of excitement. I think of her whenever I think of this tale, which I’ve probably adapted in various ways in the course of dozens of tellings over the years.

Five Chinese Brothers – the story (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Aaargh!

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Funny, isn’t it? Storytelling can give such great satisfaction yet is often so full of terrors. 


This last Wednesday, I was at Warwick University doing a workshop with a lovely group of people taking a module in Storytelling for their Foundation Degree.  (Hello to anyone who was there. It was so good to meet you. I thought you said some amazing things.) One topic that came up in discussion was the fears we can all feel about our storytelling. It made me think that, in this week’s blog, I’d take a look at some of these and try and lay a few ghosts. I thought Edward Munch’s famous painting, The Scream, would make a suitable accompaniment.

The fears:

1. Other adults 

Especially when you’re working with children and those other adults are somewhere on the sidelines, they can feel most alarming. What are they thinking of you? Are they laughing behind your back, whispering that you’re rubbish and they could do much better? Are they thinking you’re childish or boring or silly or, god forbid, that your nose is too big? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Stories for Younger Children No. 4

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Next Saturday’s blog will start a new series. So far, I haven’t decided the subject. Anything you’d like to see? Please jot a note in the Comment box at the end of this blog and I’ll try to respond.

Next Thursday, March 1st, it’s going to be World Book Day, St David’s Day and my next WIPs meeting all on the same day. World Book Day speaks for itself – a day to celebrate the book, it’s usually a busy one for authors and storytellers. St David’s Day, in case you don’t know already, is the national day of Wales. It marks the death of our Patron Saint. As for WIPs, that’s a group of us who meet every couple of months to present something creative we’ve each been working on. Among us are singers, pianists, an oboe player, writers, a composer of music and a sculptor. Next Thursday, I’m planning to do a story set in Wales.

Here meantime is another Welsh story, the last in my series for younger children and an ideal story for telling next week.

The Door In The Mountain

Once there was a girl who loved singing and running. One day when she was playing hide and seek with her friends, she ran away from the rest to look for a place to hide and came across a door in the mountain. The door was ajar and she went inBehind the door was a tunnel and at the end of the tunnel was sunlight. So Betsy Bankhouse – for that was her name – crept through the tunnel until she came out on the other side and there she discovered she was in a new world that she’d never seen before.

As she looked round, Betsy saw a big blue lake and in the middle of the lake she saw an island. She desperately wanted to go there and when she got down to the edge of the lake, she saw exactly what she needed. It was a boat.

So Betsy got in and rowed that boat across the water till she came to the island. As she started climbing out, she noticed there were lots of little people looking out at her from the reeds. They said, ‘Welcome to our island, Betsy Bank-house.’ ‘That’s funny,’ thought Betsy, ‘how did they know my name?’ (more…)