Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Posts Tagged ‘Shemi’

Storytelling Starters ~ Recycling

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

It’s my second chemotherapy session on Tuesday. I do not look forward to it or its aftermath. But some nice things keep the spirits raised: kindnesses from friends, the freshly blooming Mary Rose in the garden, the pleasure of the Great Tit at finding our bird feeder tubs have been refilled and, of course, stories.

Where’s the creativity?

Whenever I read about the state of schools across the country – how some teachers are voluntarily buying food or books for children with money from their own pockets or, just as bad or worse,  how so many teachers feel that all emphasis on creativity has been lost as a result of focus on exams – I find myself wanting the children to have more stories. Young people are disillusioned, turned off, self-harming, depressed. I want them to hear stories, do self-motivated work that is based on stories, talk about stories, tell their own stories. Who is a storyteller to say this should happen? Well, all of us storytellers who’ve seen what powerful effects it can have. Particularly this last week, I’ve been recalling the attention and engagement that  hundreds of children have shown to the daftly innovative stories of Shemi Wâd.

The story that follows is one I found in the handwritten book of Shemi stories I was recently lent. The stories in it were written down by Bili John who had himself known Shemi since boyhood. He wrote down the stoies in Welsh.  The one that follows is in my English version.

The big clock and the tricycle:

One day Shemi dug out from his garden a wooden box that contained what looked like the wheels of a clock. Shemi had never seen anything quite like these wheels before. They were very big – as large as saucers – and without more ado, he got ready to use them to make a clock. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Spot the common factor

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

27 ShemiAny storytelling booking obliges you to think. What stories will you do? How might they accord with an overall theme? And how might you relate to the particular audience? All such questions are heightened for me when it’s a booking with children.

This next Monday, it’s to be two sessions at Wolfscastle School, a delightful little North Pembrokeshire Primary school which I’ve visited on several previous occasions. But those occasions were some years ago and by now all the children I saw will have moved on. How will I try to engage my two different groups on Monday? What comments might they make? What questions might they ask?

Planning has been energising. For the younger group, I’ve decided on three favourite stories that accord with the particular theme which, said the headmistress, has been the school’s theme this term. I don’t know if you’ll spot what it is. 

Story One: 

The first story to come to my mind was one of the tall tales of Shemi Wâd, a local storyteller from the 19th century who remained a well-known character in North Pembrokeshire memory at least until the mid-20th century. When I published Shemi’s Tall Tales, I discovered that children – not just here but everywhere – absolutely loved them. One of the tallest and most enjoyable is The Enormous Cabbage. Here it is (in brief): (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Seeing: a tribute to John Knapp-Fisher

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Early last Saturday morning, a very old friend of mine passed away – the artist, John Knapp-Fisher. John lived in the North Pembrokeshire village of Croesgoch. He had his gallery and studio there, all part of his home, and I knew him for almost 50 years.

Knowing John and seeing his work over time has given me a lot to think about. Principally he made me think about seeing. John was primarily a landscape artist. His painting and drawing drew attention to the world as he saw it and felt it. In the strong way they did that, they became a means for other people to see it too.

e 26 old GoodwickOne afternoon a few years ago, John and I drove together to Goodwick to look at where the 19th century Welsh storyteller, Shemi Wâd, had lived. The street has long gone. But John and I had studied a photograph of it – it’s the photo I’m including here – and for an hour or two we walked around, looking at where that street had been from every conceivable angle. I noticed what exact attention John paid to the details of seeing, the lie of the land, the different perspectives.

I didn’t know it at the time but the painting that emerged not very long later must already have been starting to live in John’s mind. It was a painting of Shemi and his street, a kind of view into an imagined past and also a recognition of how the past lives on.

I cherish the memory of that afternoon, as of so many other times with John. It made me think about how visualisation may work for an artist – different in some ways than for a storyteller but in some central ways the same. It strengthened my awareness of the powerful links between memory and imagination and that both are part of seeing. It also made me realise more fully than ever before how consistently John worked, his mind in a constant engagement with the world around him, its colours and shapes, how it changes and how it stays the same. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Laughter and tears

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

Many bluebells“The world is very beautiful and it’s very sad I will have to die.” So said the grandmother of José Saramago whose house on Lanzarote we recently went to see. The grandmother was very old when she said that to him and he was still a child. I feel I know what she meant for this week, down in Wales, the hedgerows, the sky, the bird-song, the bluebells – all have been so beautiful, I can’t bear the thought of ever leaving them.


Tears are close to laughter and they’ve both been present several times in recent days. Tears were there after the Memorial Service to our friend Simon Hoggart in which the whole gathered throng were kept constantly laughing by the many tributes to him, all in some way or other recalling his sense of humour.

Tears have been there too on hearing about the illness of a number of friends. Yet, as I said, tears and laughter often come close together. Two people have remarked on this to me in the last few days. One was speaking in general about storytelling when he said, “If you can get them laughing at the beginning, you can get them crying at the end.” Then a member of the Welsh class in St David’s which had invited me to go and talk to them about storytelling this last Wednesday made a similar point with a vivid personal recollection. In Botswana back in the mid-60s, he said, people in the place where he was living would gather every Friday evening beneath a very big tree (same tree each week) and they’d listen to the storyteller (same storyteller each week, a man who wore a jacket with many medals on it). At first, they’d be uproariously laughing. By the end, they’d often be weeping. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ We’ve all got them!

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

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 (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ School’s back

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Life moves on. School is back and this week I’ve been getting ready for a storytelling day this next Monday at Craig Yr Hesg Primary School in Pontypridd. As well as actually doing the preparing, I’ve been thinking about what the process of preparing means to me. All working storytellers have their own approach. But this is what it’s like for me.

Mind-mapping ~

At Craig Yr Hesg, it will be stories from Wales I’ll be telling. I’ve made my usual mind-map in the style of Edward de Bono  and along its branches I’ve noted some of the possible approaches and stories that are coming into my mind as possibilities. A lot of my sense of this arises from having had a chat on the phone the other day with the person responsible for organising Monday, in this case the headmistress. Emails are all very well. But it’s a personal chat about the arrangements – when and how to get there, the programme of sessions, content of sessions, the children, the approach – that gives me that crucial and immediate sense of the school which, personally, I couldn’t manage without.

Mind-mapping ~ possible stories

So the mind-map is where I’ve marked down my thoughts about what I’m going to do on the day. They’re suggestions to myself rather than fixed expectations since, on this kind of occasion, I’m well aware, I have absolutely no need or desire to decide in advance exactly what I’m going to do. I remember learning that lesson – that it’s perfectly possible to decide on the moment – one day early on in my storytelling career.  I was on a train to the school whose headmaster was at that time Chris Brown who for so many years has given his free time to being Reviews Editor of The School Librarian. As I agonised about about which of two stories I was going to tell to Chris’s own class, it suddenly dawned upon me that, if I knew both stories well enough to be able to tell either of them, I didn’t need to decide in advance. It was an exhilarating moment of liberation!

With Classes 3 and 4 at Craig Yr Hesg (that’s the Junior end of the school), my expectation is that I’ll focus on my Shemi stories. These stories were originally created and told by the remarkable Shemi Wâd, a North Pembrokeshire storyteller from the 19th century. I retold them in my book, Shemi’s Tall Tales. Apparently Classes 3 and 4 are boy-dominated and very lively. Experience tell me they will love Shemi. He’s Welsh. He’s eccentric. He’s brilliantly funny. Besides, Class 3’s theme as term begins is Flight, so I expect they’re going to love hearing how Shemi got flown across to Ireland by seagulls and shot back to Wales from a cannon. Besides the theme allows me to talk a bit about storytellers and to explore with the children the idea that we all have stories. Some of us get told them, some of us don’t, but we all have them inside us and in the world around us. (more…)