Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Posts Tagged ‘Kensington Palace’

Storytelling Starters ~ To inspire

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

The essential point of any storytelling workshop or course is to inspire and impart – not to disempower. Participants can be enthused in different ways and with diverse outcomes. They may become tellers of stories in their family lives. They may start telling, making and hearing stories with people they work with. They may even conceive the ambition to develop themselves as professional or semi-professional storytellers.

Palpable excitement

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, I felt particularly conscious of this multi-faceted effect. On Wednesday, I was at Warwick University doing one of my annual sessions with students on Hilary Minns’ storytelling module for people working with children. Thursday was the final session of my Kensington Palace course for parents. Both times, I felt the palpable excitement of people who have already started to experience the effects of their storytelling on children. And not only children. One Kensington Palace mother read us a story she’d written during the week. Beautifully written it was too. During the course, she told us, she felt she’d discovered a new facility for writing. She reported how affected her husband had been by this.

New skills, new confidence, new powers of invention: the KensingtonPalace crowd will, I feel sure, go on to great things. Already they are well into planning storytelling clubs for the children in the schools their children attend. I have offered my help in getting these going.

As for the Warwick University students, they’ll soon be planning and writing their end-of-course dissertations. In doing this, they will be using and recording their own new awareness of the effects of stories on children.

Leading workshops – a particular skill

But it’s an important point to make: leading workshops in such a way as to produce these effects is a particular skill of its own. I know I’m good at it (I should be by now!) and of course I know it’s not the only way of working as a storyteller. (I love the other ways, too.) But it does require a particular set of qualities – knowing how to put participants at their ease; activities that can involve all in the group, including the shyest; a storytelling style that does not show itself off but encourages people to feel they can do it too; a way of working that recognises and develops people’s individual interests, skills and styles. And last but not least, a love of employing and sharing the ‘secrets’ of the storytelling art.

The need today

It’s a tall order. And it represents one of my current concerns about what’s happening with storytelling in education today. Right now, we badly need more storytellers who want to foster this way of working so there can be more parents, more teachers and more childcare workers spreading the joys and wisdoms of storytelling. Is enough happening to fund this kind of development? Are enough people aware of the need? What happens if and when this kind of workshop-running dies out? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Feast

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Storytelling Cookbook was the title I gave the first little book I put together with stories for children and hints on telling them. No doubt the name came to mind because I can’t help thinking of cooking and eating in connection with storytelling. Listening to stories or people talking about them just feels like participating in a feast. A traditional Scandinavian tale-ender gives the idea another twist:

 ‘And all I know is, that if they are not yet done feasting, then they are probably at it still.’

In other words, when a story ends well, it’s not hard to imagine the characters in it sitting long into the night , chewing things over in more ways than one. When I’m finishing a story with children, I often bring in that idea of eating afterwards – it’s a little bit of a tease.

A tale from India

For instance, in that marvellous Indian tale, Bhambhutia,  (you can find it in The Singing Sack by Helen East), an old lady is threatened with being devoured on her way through the forest to visit her daughter.

The story describes how she succeeds in getting back home inside a life-size clay pot she constructs. But the old lady is clever enough to stay in the pot till the animals who still want to eat her have gone to sleep and are snoring around her. It’s when she hears their snores that the old lady knows it’s safe to climb out and quickly run into her house. But that’s not quite the end of the story. Next morning, she gives the pot its reward for bringing her safely home. Either it can go round the world or it can stay with her.

It’s a good point for a bit of discussion. In my experience, lots of children say they’d choose to go round the world – and in multi-ethnic Britain, many say they’d visit the countries where their families originated. Equally, lots of children decide that, if they were the pot, they’d stay at home with the old lady. We talk about it. Then I end the discussion like this: ‘Well, in the story, it says the pot decided to stay with the old lady. And I know that’s what it did because the last time I went to have tea with her, it was still there.’

The proof of the pudding – Kensington Palace revisited

The proof of the storytelling pudding lies in the eating. Thursday was the 6th session of my Kensington Palace storytelling course for parents. It was intended as an opportunity to reflect on what has happened up till now and what might happen after this. The parents’ reports provided a feast. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Necklace of pearls

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

On Thursday four wonderful stories were told by participants on my Kensington Palace storytelling course for parents. I’ve mentioned some of the stories before. For me, the making of them was one marvellous element of the course. Other elements included my imparting some of the techniques of storytelling with Early Years children, such storytelling essentials as visualization and, of course, aspects of the history and life of Kensington Palace including the 18th century mural by William  Kent and other objects and paintings in the palace which in turn gave rise to our storymaking.

 All the stories we heard on Thursday were made up by the parents working in groups, all revolved around an object real or imagined and what follows is one of the four. It’s a Cinderella-type story and I hope I can do it justice. Its makers said they were willing for me to retell it but the retelling is in my own words.

The necklace of pearls

Once there was a king and a queen who had a son. When the son grew up, his royal parents decided it would be good if he got married. So they announced a great ball to be held at the palace. At the ball, they were thinking, he might meet a suitable bride.

After the ball was announced, there was a great deal of preparing. Extra people were brought to the palace to help – cooks, cleaners, hat-makers, musicians.

One person who was sent to help at the palace was a quiet, shy and good-hearted young girl. The job she was given was to assist with the cleaning. On the morning of the ball, she was sent to clean a particular room in which was a beautiful painting. The painting was of a lovely-looking woman with a little girl beside her who looked as if she was her daughter. Both the woman and the girl in the painting were wearing necklaces made of pearls.

But the painting was very dusty. The cleaning maid took out her duster and carefully started to dust it down. She began at the top – dusting, dusting, dusting – and it was when she came to the face that she experienced a very big surprise. As she dusted the face of the woman, the woman in the painting began to smile. Then as the cleaning maid continued, the woman’s necklace began to glow and slowly, gradually, it came out of the painting and clasped itself round the cleaning girl’s neck.

Just then, a strange creaking noise came from the wardrobe that was the only other thing in the room and when the maid turned round, she saw that the wardrobe’s doors had opened and inside was a most beautiful ball-gown. Then she heard a woman’s voice speaking. It was the woman in the painting. ‘You must put on this dress,’ the woman said, ‘and wear it with the necklace to the ball tonight.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Contrast and Connection

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Contrast and connection are this week’s themes. On Wednesday when my husband Paul returned from his trip to Australia to go to his godson’s wedding, the huge contrast in temperature – 29 degrees down to 2 – was just one aspect of what we talked about. Looking at his photos – sunny beaches, a kangaroo with baby in pouch, the vegetation – I felt highly aware of the massive contrasts he’d experienced in culture, landscape and general style of life.

One detail that particularly struck me was his description of the feel on his hand of the delicate claws of a kangaroo mother.

The power of touch

Then, Wednesday evening, I had my own extraordinary experience of touch. In a workshop at the Interfaith Centre in Queens Park, the participants were asked to spend ten minutes talking in pairs (five minutes each) about how we are involved in narrative work. A crucial factor about the results for us all was that, as requested, we’d each spoken to each other with eyes closed, hands touching. It made us all highly aware of the essence of the other.

Connection! That Wednesday evening experience was part of the second Forum event arranged by St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Since conflict resolution is the very specialised field of work of a number of those who were present, I sometimes felt conscious of the comparative ordinariness of my 30-years of work as a professional storyteller working in schools and with groups of adults. Yet the very next day, back at Kensington Palace for Session 4 of my parents course in how to tell stories, I felt once again conscious of the extraordinariness of it – how, because of the people, it is full of meaning and value. And also, always, a sense of potential.

Points of connection

Here are some of the things I experienced on Thursday.

1. During a synchronised retelling of one of the stories I’ve taught to the group (Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle), I became extremely aware of the big, beautiful eyes of a tiny toddler who had been brought along by his mother. My voice, my face, the story, the atmosphere? Whatever it was that engaged him so much, the little toddler was gripped. He sat looking up at me with such attention, it felt entirely obvious that he knew what was going on, and that in some way it was entirely for him. Connection!

2. With another bigger boy – a four-year old also there with his mother – I saw at once from the way he joined in, though often looking at her not at me, that the story was already familiar to him. So I knew his mother must have told it to him. I was delighted. It’s one of the aims of the course – to get parents telling stories to their own and other children. Connection!

3. During a break in the session, one of the Arabic-speaking mothers showed me a lovely jewellery box she’d brought in from home. She also showed me part of the story her 8-year old daughter had created and written about it. I got the sense that this story was something very new for the girl: her teacher in school had evidently been very impressed by what she’d done. For my part, I was impressed by the mother. Last week, we’d used the magic of objects as an inspiration for making new stories. She’d clearly passed on the magic and in so doing had engendered another example of the potency for change that can arise through story. Connection! (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Magic of Objects

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

You know a story is working its magic when a listener says they were really inside it. That’s what child after child reported this Wednesday in one of the classes where I was telling stories at St Stephen’s Primary School in Shepherds Bush. I’d asked them what they’d felt during a story I’d told them. ‘As if I was in it.’ ‘Like I was there.’ ‘I felt like it was happening to me.’

The same kinds of thing were said on Thursday at Session 3 of the Parents’ Storytelling Course at Kensington Palace. The parents on the course are a terrific group of people, all of them mums except for one dad. One said this week, ‘This storytelling course is really changing my life.’ It was the greater depth of their response to the world around them that several had noticed – like they were going more deeply into the things around them. One had done lots of Internet research on historical personages linked with the palace. Another is now bringing some of our storytelling techniques into the nightly storytelling she does with her children.

‘It makes them really involved,’ she said. ‘My son is aged nine. Now he is paying more attention.’

Making things happen (more…)

Storytelling Starters – Recycling

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Recycling has to happen quite often when you’re a storyteller. Stories have to be re-made, themes and ideas adapted to the present need. This is partly because motifs in stories are, by nature, constantly recycling themselves, reappearing in some other similar form, maybe in a new story you’re making. Partly, too, it’s because you’d never have enough time or energy or imagination to make everything completely new every time.

So in Session 2 of my parents’ storytelling course at Kensington Palace this week, some recycling had to go on.

Item 1: name game

First there was another name game. We’d had one last week but this week a few new parents had joined. It was important to re-establish the friendly, inclusive atmosphere we’d created in Session 1. This week’s name game was one I’ve used many dozens of times before. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Matters of truth

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

On Thursday this week I was asked a very pertinent question. It referred to the 40 or so people portrayed in William Kent’s mural that winds up the side of the King’s Grand Staircase in Kensington Palace. ‘But these are historical people,’ my questioner said. ‘How can we make up stories about them?’

Storytelling at Kensington Palace

At the time, we were standing at the top of the staircase as a class of schoolchildren rushed noisily down it and I was telling my group of adults something of what is known and not known about the characters in the mural. This was all part of the first of six sessions of a Storytelling course I’ve been employed to lead at the Palace – a course which is in turn part of the considerable Outreach work regularly carried out by the Palace with schoolchildren, parents and others.

The Storytelling course has two aims. One is to get the participants telling stories and learning and enjoying the techniques. On the other side is the challenge to create some new stories suitable for telling to quite young children. The stories to be made up will relate to the Palace and the idea is to take as a starting-point one or other of the characters in William Kent’s mural. All were real historical people in the court of King George I and they include such known persons as Mrs Tempest, Queen Caroline’s milliner, who is shown in the mural in a seductive black hood. Also there are Mustapha and Mohammed, the two Turkish servants who were closest to the king. It was their job to dress him and manage his bedchamber. As such, they were the cause of considerable envy and rumour among other courtiers. (more…)