Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Posts Tagged ‘Pembrokeshire’

Storytelling Starters ~ Another question of truth

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

P1060450Beach-cleaning is one of two topics that have been in my mind this week. The other one – and they make an unlikely combination – is what makes a story stick in your mind and eager for you to tell it.

The beach-cleaning came up because a recent episode of Springwatch on BBC 1 showed clips from TV coverage of the horrendous oil-spill off the Pembrokeshire coast that, some years ago, caused mayhem to sea-birds and coastal ecology. The area has long since recovered from that. But, as Springwatch pointed out, continual damage is being done by the plastics that get onto beaches and into seas. The message of the programme was simple: if you see plastic, pick it up, dispose of it properly.

Well, we’ve been in Pembrokeshire over Easter and this week, we ended a long walk along Newgale beach with quite a horde of stuff  – one huge piece of green plastic tarpaulin and one small bag full of bits  of plastic fishing line, including a tangled clump from the skeleton of a sea-bird that had obviously died from getting caught on it.

What’s found on beaches: a Scottish folktale

Another recent reason for thinking about what you find on beaches came up because of a Scottish folktale I came across ages ago in a book called Thistle and Thyme. In the story,  a young mother has lost her baby and when it turns out that the baby has been stolen by fairy folk, she is determined to get him back. But how? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The truth of the matter

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

The question comes up quite often and I feel privileged whenever it does. Usually it gets asked by someone in a Year 5 or 6 class who is therefore one of the older-age children in a Primary school. Almost always,  a silence has fallen before it’s asked and invariably it’s asked in a quiet, thoughtful way. The question is: ‘Is that story true?’ On one unforgettable occasion, I’d just finished telling a most unbelievable Japanese story about a lazy liar who deserves a comeuppance.  

A Japanese story: The Magic Nose-Fan

P1010704One day, lolling under a bush, Kotaro is offered a magic nose-fan by a tengu who is a kind of mischievous Japanese troll-type figure usually recognisable by his very long nose. Our anti-hero accepts the nose-fan in return for the dice he’s been idly tossing about and it’s this same magic nose-fan that leads to the story’s final denouement in which Kotaro is left dangling off a far-distant planet, his little legs no doubt kicking around in the air.

What happens in between is that our anti-hero discovers that, when one side of the nose-fan is turned towards a nose, the fan will make the nose get longer. When its other side is turned nose-wards, it makes the nose get smaller again. With judicious use, it can return the nose to its normal size.

And how does our anti-hero make use of the tengu’s gift? Why, when he sees the local princess taking the air in the royal gardens, he wanders casually by and uses his fan to make her nose get long. Panic and pandemonium ensue. What is to be done? Doctors are called. Creams are deployed. Nothing works until our lazy no-good-boyo presents himself at the palace and, in a darkened room, returns the princess’ nose to its regular size. In return he gets to marry the princess as his reward and that enables him to lead an even lazier life than before.

But here comes the comeuppance. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Encapsulating honeysuckle

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

P1070435I wish I could encapsulate the honeysuckle growing in the next street from me and somehow include it in this blog so you could smell it as you read. Maybe some day that’ll become possible. Meantime Iron-Age forts have been on my mind.

Why Iron-Age forts? Because next Monday I’m doing some storytelling training for guides at Castell Henllys, the Iron-Age fort in North Pembrokeshire. It’s the only such place which today has roundhouses on the exact site of the ones that were there back then.

The length of time:

What strikes me, thinking about that long-ago time is the very length of the time from then to now. And how can you possibly get that across? Almost as hard as electronically encapsulating the honeysuckle, the challenge reminds me of how I once had to try to make a class of 10-year old Stevenage children conscious of Ancient Egypt at the same time as taking into account their other current project – Ourselves Now.

Miraculously – for the results were fantastic – I got the idea of giving the children some sense of the passage of time by coming up with memories from each year of their lives and then creating hieroglyphs to represent them like the hieroglyphs from Ancient Egypt they’d already been learning about. This led on to them making memory charts and this then led to them telling their personal stories and deciding (this was entirely their own idea!) to punctuate each of the 10 years for which they had stories with the sound of a gong.

What the Iron-Age had: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Local call

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

P1040981One lunchtime in the New Year before we came back to London, we went down to the Sloop Inn, the pub in the village of Porthgain. It’s a popular pub. Over the years, we’ve spent many enjoyable hours there, sometimes sitting inside, sometime out. It’s a place where you can let time be easy.

As we usually do these days, we went to sit at the table in the corner by the bar that’s set aside for locals. Sadly, the number of these has declined of late but, I’m glad to say, I’m still regarded as a local even though I spend more time in London than Pembrokeshire. After all, I grew up in the area and I’m back there  often.

We were just finishing some fantastic crab rillette (it made me think of those poor crabs last week) when my old friend Morgan came and joined us at the table. Morgan has long been the manager of the Sloop and a fantastic job he does of it too. Like Eddie of last week’s crab story, Morgan also has a fund of hilarious tales. Many are descriptions of events in which he himself was involved. Many are stories you could call jokes. Whatever the sort, he makes them all seem so real. The particular story Morgan told on this occasion is a gem in my opinion and his telling of  it accords delightfully with my current thoughts on storytelling.   (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Crab for your tea

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

IMAG3051‘Did you bring anything back from your holidays?’ It’s a good question for inviting stories from children as well as adults. But beware! Whatever little treasures you acquired yourself, they’re likely to remain in your home for a very long time. They start off precious and they go on being precious and they also add to the stuff you’ll one day feel you need to get rid of. Take my word for it. I know.

Meantime, I remain dazzled by the sun-bleached crab shell I picked up from one of my Pembrokeshire beaches on one of my forays back home from London. Its delicacy and intricacy capture my admiration every time I look at it. It has the additional attraction that  it reminds me of one of my favourite Shemi stories.

Shemi’s stories are ones that children of all ages get absolutely hooked by. The fact that Shemi was real – he died in 1897, a well-known tall-tale-teller in his locality (North Pembrokeshire) and by all accounts much-loved – only adds to the huge attraction. So here’s that particular tale of his of which I’m reminded by my crab-shell. You can find it in a fuller version under the title, Crab Meat for Supper, in my book Shemi’s Tall Tales. (And you can order Shemi’s Tall Tales from me if you wish by clicking on My Publications on my website).

Shemi and the Enormous Crab

One day when he was out fishing, Shemi pulled a huge big sewin out of the river. But as soon as he’d hauled it up onto the river-bank, a great big heron flew down and swallowed it whole. Shemi shouted at the heron: not only had his sewin disappeared into the heron’s gullet, his fish-hook had gone there as well.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Engaging

Saturday, March 15th, 2014


It’s arrived. Storytelling for a Greener World is an important new book about how to engage people in our natural environment through stories and storytelling. The official launch date is April 11th and the foreword is by Jonathon Porritt of Friends of the Earth. The inspiration came from Alida Gersie and a wide range of storytellers provide the contents. The essay I feel privileged to have contributed is on the effects on teachers and children of working with a Pembrokeshire legend about the Preseli hills.

Storytelling for a Greener World is meticulously designed to provide a really helpful, inspiring resource. For details for buying it, see below.

My key word:

The key word for me is engagement. I increasingly realise it’s why I do what I do. Again on Wednesday, I felt its impact when spending the day at St Stephen’s Primary School in Shepherds Bush. The children remembered. They remembered me, they remembered my stories. I’d been there last year in their Arts Week. I’d gone there again a few weeks ago on their special day for celebrating stories. Now on Wednesday, their wish to let me know that they remembered came out strongly in all the groups, none of them more than the youngest. The little red monkey, Matty Treweller, Nokomis of the great rain … characters and themes from stories they’d previously heard from me were called out with great joy as each session began. It felt like the children were keen for me to realise that we’d already established a common bond through participating together in the world of story.

Where there’s been one story, there’s always another. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Little worlds

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

You often come across them on beaches: little worlds that have been lovingly made and left to their subsequent fate by their creators. These little worlds may be excavated pools surrounded by sand-castles and carefully decorated with shells, pebbles and feathers.

Or they may be Stonehenge-type arrangements of rocks. Or maybe, amazingly, lifelike figures created from an arrangement of stones.

I remember making such things as a child.

Fairy pools

So it was a great delight this week to come across a little world in the very process of being created down at Pwll Strodyr, our favourite tiny Pembrokeshire cove. Hardly anyone goes to Pwll Strodyr, which is one of the reasons we love it.

This week, on a beautifully warm early evening, a man and a woman and their young daughter were there. ‘We’re making fairy pools,’ said the man when we greeted him as we arrived. ‘That’s nice,’ I replied. ‘It means you could get some fairies visiting and they’ll probably bring some luck.’

When I went swimming a little while later, I was careful to collect some long strands of green seaweed which I offered to the little girl as mermaid’s hair. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Wintering Out 1

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

The evenings are getting darker and I’m starting a new series of postings. Wintering Out is the title and it starts with Dark, Dark Tale, a Story Chant that’s great with children and also with adults as a piece of fun in workshops. Next week and in the run-up to Christmas, I’ll bring other seasonal tales and chants into the mix.

Storytelling in Education: good news and bad news 

But first, to continue my recent theme of Storytelling in Education, let me give you my week’s good news and bad news. Both came in the same email from a Literacy Adviser in Pembrokeshire for whom I’ve done loads of work in the past, including a series of extended teacher courses. On one of those courses, now quite a few years ago, I told the Pembrokeshire legend of Skomar Oddy and I remember how much it appealed to one of the teachers. The children in her class  loved this particular story and she based lots of writing and art work on it.  Well, my Literacy Adviser’s email told me that when she recently went into that school, there was a whole new fresh display on the Skomar Oddy story. This was music to my ears. It shows that teachers who fall in  love with storytelling can make really good use of it year after year and that a good story never goes out of fashion.

The bad news was that, in these current times, there’s no longer any central funding in Pembrokeshire for the kind of storytelling in education work that I did so much of there. It’ll now be down to individual schools. That’s it – at least until people realize once more how important it is to fund this kind of work! Another worrying and retrograde step.

Dark, Dark Tale: a Story Chant for Winter

Once upon a time there was a dark dark wood.
In the dark dark wood, there was a dark dark path.
Along the dark dark path, there was a dark dark gate.
(Shall we go in through the gate?)

Behind the dark dark gate was a dark dark garden.
In the dark dark garden, there was a dark dark house.
In the dark dark house, there was a dark dark door.
(Shall we go in through the door?)

Behind the dark dark door, there was a dark dark hall.
Along the dark dark hall, there was a dark dark room.
In the dark dark room, there was a dark dark box.
(Shall we open it up?)

Oh my goodness! What was that? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Giant Children

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

I’m currently reading a Welsh novel, Y Storïwr, by the journalist, broadcaster and author Jon Gower. Published in 2011, its title, translated, means The Storyteller and I’m fascinated. For one thing, the baby that’s born at the start of the book is so like the baby Taliesin in the ancient Welsh story I told at the London Welsh Centre as part of the Bloomsbury Festival just a couple of weeks ago. In the old Welsh legend, the little Taliesin is found inside a leather bag floating on the waters of a magical weir and he begins to speak almost as soon as he’s found. First he declares his name – and then, since he is destined to become a renowned Welsh poet, when he goes on speaking he naturally does so in the recognisable metres of Welsh poetry.

A Magical Future?

In Jon Gower’s novel, the baby that emerges to the working-class world of an extremely character-full South Wales village is born with the birthmark of a dragon. His future is obviously destined to become extraordinary and he is certainly surrounded by a cast of legend-like people. How will the baby turn out? I have few clues yet except that, on his first day in school, having already acquired through diligent research a quite phenomenal vocabulary and having already demonstrated a striking capacity for unusual speech, the little boy aged only four stands up when the teacher is going round her class asking children their names and tells a long, gripping story (in theory about an ancestor). For doing this – not altogether surprisingly – he earns the hatred of the other children.

What is going to happen to Gwydion, for that is what Jon Gower’s hero is called, he having been named because of his birth-mark after the magician figure in the Mabinogion?

I shall be finding out. Meantime, for some reason – perhaps the preternatural flash of intelligence, perhaps something about being associated with the giant figures of Welsh mythology – Jon Gower’s book has reminded me of an incident with an Early Years class of children in Pembroke which I think I’ve mentioned in this Blog before. It’s one of the pieces of evidence I would put into any dossier of evidence I assembled about the value of storytelling in education. Now I’ve written it up as one of the true-life tales I’ve recently been focusing on. I’ve called it – not surprisingly – Giant Children.

Giant Children

The morning was part of one of my storytelling training courses for Pembrokeshire teachers. I loved these courses. Each involved a small group of teachers coming together from different schools. The work was immediate, practical and engaging and – one of the things I liked most about it – it was always up to the teachers how they interpreted it and carried it on when they were back in their own classrooms. Another thing to be appreciated was that, luxuriously by current standards, we were able to meet on so many occasions, five half-day sessions over the course of a term. It was a brilliant way to embed the work and on each occasion of meeting, before and after going into the classroom, the teachers had time to share with me and each other what they were making of the stories and the telling.

This was one of the classroom sessions where the participating teachers would come with me into a classroom to observe me telling the day’s story to the particular class of children which had been selected as the focus for that particular course. It was a Reception-age class, so they were all young children of about four years of age, and now they were gathered on the carpet before me in the regular place we’d established for our storytelling. The visiting teachers had dotted themselves round the edges and I was sitting as usual on a low child-size chair, higher than the children but not so far above as if I’d been on an adult-size chair.

The story on this day’s occasion was one I always refer to as Little Bear on the Long Road. It’s a good one for this age-group and, whenever I tell it, I feel grateful to the person from whom I originally heard it. This was the wonderful Japanese storyteller, Kyoko Matsuoka, who told it to me on an occasion when we’d arranged to meet to talk about the work of Eileen Colwell, the pioneering English storyteller who’d been an inspiration to both her and me and, of course, to so many others.

So there we were in the British Library Tea-room, (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Nature Stories

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Well, the photos this week are of birds – three of a pigeon in Venice plus a picture out of my photo archives of seagulls over the Thames.

But the theme of the words is not just birds but cuckoos.

Why cuckoos?

A while ago, a good friend of mine who is also a storyteller got me interested in sponsoring a cuckoo. To do what, you might very well ask? The answer is that the British Trust for Ornithology is keen to find out why cuckoo numbers in Britain have been on the decline and why cuckoos from Scotland and Wales have been doing rather better than cuckoos from England. So they’ve been tagging cuckoos and, by tracking them on the fantastic journeys they annually make from the UK, down across Europe into Africa and back again to where they set out, they are hoping to discover what problems the different cuckoos face.

Last season, I sponsored an English cuckoo who’d been awarded the name of Kaspar. Alas, he didn’t return from the 16,000-miles or more that  these cuckoos normally travel. This season I’ve sponsored a cuckoo from Ceredigion  in Wales who is yet to be awarded a name. I’ve written in, along with many others, to suggest what name might be chosen for him.

My suggestion is Taliesin. Taliesin was one of the earliest Welsh poets. He lived in the second half of the 6th century and I’ve often told audiences the magical legend about him that appears in the Mabinogion.

Taliesin still sings, I said in my email, and hopefully the soon-to-be-named cuckoo will sing for a long time too.

I recommend the BTO website. Like the tree-sign in my last week’s blog, the material on cuckoos (and other birds too) is a story in itself.

A cuckoo legend:
By tradition, it’s on April 7th that the first cuckoo’s song of the year is heard each year in Pembrokeshire which is my native part of Wales. The 7th April is St Brynach’s Day and, in the village of Nevern where St Brynach eventually settled after making a pilgrimage to Rome and spending some years in Brittany, people would wait for the cuckoo to come and fly down to the old Celtic Cross that is St Brynach’s Cross. And it’s there, they say, that the cuckoo would sing.

One year, the bird was late arriving. Waiting eagerly for it to come, the priest was reluctant to start the service until he’d heard the cuckoo’s song.

Eventually the gathered congregation saw the cuckoo fly down through the trees in the churchyard and settle on St Brynach’s Cross. But the bird looked terribly battered and tired and, after singing for one brief, glorious moment, it fell from the cross and died. (more…)