Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Teenagers’ Category

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 ~ Out of currency?

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

 A surprise arrived in the post this week. The message inside said, ‘This is your Christmas card, Mary.’ But what was inside was not a card. It was a book written by one of the people who has most inspired my storytelling life  – Betty Rosen. Her book contains a fine selection of her poems and prose pieces. Its intriguing title is I Have a Threepenny Bit and Some Other Things.

Betty was the wife of Harold Rosen. They both came into my life during the early days of what can now be described with capital letters as The Storytelling Revival. Under the leadership of an excellent local authority English adviser by the name of Alastair West, the Borough of Redbridge had become a pilot authority for the Oracy Project. The Oracy Project was about the development of spoken English across all ages of children in education in the UK. Betty and Harold were often called upon to introduce people to what it was all about not only in Redbridge but up and down the land. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ On the journey

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Here we’ve been going flat out all week, me in what feels like constant contact with the very fine Marketing Manager at Jessica Kingsley (everyone there has been exceptional) and with husband Paul helping throughout by casting an editorial eye over stuff I’m writing in pursuance of sales for Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years. An article with an edited extract from the book for such-and-such-magazine… A blog for an Early Years organisation… Emails to editors of Early Years journals… Messages to anyone and everyone I can think of who might be able to help spread the word… One step at a time, I have to tell myself.

Meantime: School Librarian

Meantime I’ve also been doing the necessary reading to be able to write my seasonal batch of reviews for School Librarian. 1987 is when I started reviewing for School Librarian. It’s a labour of love in every sense of the term. But I enjoy it and it means I get to read some very interesting books I might not otherwise come across. Hence the next item in this week’s journey.

Plus: a good book for storytellers

Georgiana Keable: I’d forgotten the name until her book arrived for review. Then I vaguely remembered hearing about her long ago. In the early days of the Storytelling Revival, she was a member of the West London Storytelling Unit along with Ben Haggarty. Subsequently she was  one of the tellers in The Company of Storytellers. I never met her and never heard her. What I do recall hearing at some point was that she’d gone off to live somewhere abroad. As I now learn from her book, Norway is where she went. In Norway, she became a kind of storytelling queen of the forest, an ambassador for trees and wildlife introducing children to nature’s riches.

Her book is called The Natural Storyteller. It contains 48 stories. Some are stories from real life experience. Most are folktales from a wide variety of countries and one of these is her retelling of The King with Dirty Feet, the lovely Indian story that Sally Pomme Clayton sent me for my collection of stories, Time for Telling. The Natural Storyteller (subtitle Wildlife Tales for Telling) is aimed at older children and throughout it treats them as Apprentice Storytellers, giving helpful ideas on how to absorb stories and maybe make new ones from them.

The Natural Storyteller comes from Hawthorne Press. I recommend it. Here, briefly retold in my own words, is one of the stories in it that struck me most strongly and that I will surely tell.

An inspiring story: The Blind Little Sister

In a village in West Africa, there were two sisters. One was blind. The other was married to a hunter and whenever this hunter went out hunting, the blind sister said she’d love to go with him. The hunter always refused. ‘What use is a hunter with no eyes? Besides you’re a girl.’ But the married sister always said that her blind sister was the wisest person: ‘She sees with her ears.’

So it turned out. One day, the hunter relented. In the jungle, the blind girl suddenly stopped. ‘Shhhh, there is a lion! But the lion will not bother us, it’s eaten its fill and it’s fast asleep.’ The blind sister proved to be right. The hunter couldn’t see it at first but soon they came across a mighty lion fast asleep beneath a tree.

Further on, the same kind of thing happened. The girl said, ‘Shhhhh! An elephant. It’s washing itself. It won’t bother us.’ As with the lion, the hunter asked, ‘How did you know about it?’ As before, she said the same thing: ‘It’s simple. I see with my ears.’

Before leaving the jungle that day, the hunter suggested that he and the blind sister should both set a trap. Next day they could return and see what they’d caught.

Next day on their return, the hunter saw his trap had caught a little grey bird. The blind sister’s trap had caught a bird whose feathers shone with scarlet and gold. Thinking she’d never know the difference, the hunter took the scarlet and gold bird as his own and handed the grey bird to the girl.

But on the way home, the hunter posed a question to the girl. ‘If it’s true as my wife says that you are so wise, tell me why there is so much war and violence in this world.’

The blind girl replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who take things that are not theirs.’

The hunter felt very ashamed. At once, he took the little grey bird from his blind sister-in-law’s hands and gave her the bird with red and gold feathers that had been caught in her trap. He said, ‘I’m sorry.’

Then as they walked home in silence, the hunter asked another question. ‘If you are so wise, and people are selfish, how is it there is still so much love and kindness in the world?’

The girl smiled and replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who learn by their mistakes.’

One way a story can make its mark:

Sometimes a story comes at the right time – like a keyhole to put your key into. As I was reading Georgiana Keable’s book, I received an invitation to an event soon to take place at the offices of ADD, a charity which I support. ADD represents ‘Action Aid for Disability’. The organisation works by identifying and supporting people, themselves disabled in one way or another, who can become Disability Activists in the countries where ADD operates. Last year I wrote a story for them based on the life of one such activist, an Ugandan man with albinism who, from all I have learned about him, is a powerful advocate for people with disability and an extraordinary man of great wisdom and kindness. His albinism has meant that he is almost blind. He’s going to be at the gathering. I can’t wait to meet him.

A riddle to end:

Like a good story, a good riddle is cheering and makes you think. A friend put this one to me one evening this week.

Question: Why do anarchists prefer herbal tea?

Answer: Because proper tea (property) is theft.

PS: Tracks across the sand, a path through a forest, a beautiful keyhole in a door: I hope my choice of photos makes some sense. Anyway, the choosing of them is always fun.

Storytelling Starters ~ Don’t look back!

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

Music has such evocative power. On Tuesday, both sadness and joy were present in spades during the Proms performance in the Albert Hall of Monteverdi’s Orfeo.  Now regarded as one of the earliest operas, Orfeo tells the story of the marriage of Orpheus and his subsequent quest. Throughout it, you’re aware of Orpheus as the hero whose singing had such beauty, it was said, that it had the power to attract the wildest of beasts and even to move inanimate things.

Orpheus’ marriage:

GondolaFor all his other adventures, the high point of Orpheus’  life was his marriage to Eurydice. So ecstatically happy did she make him that he was cast into the uttermost depths of grief when, running away from a would-be lover, she was bitten by a snake and died from the poison. After her death, Orpheus became completely unable to imagine living without her. In his bereavement, he determined to do what had never previously been done by any living mortal: try and find a way into the darkness of the Underworld, there to plead either to be given  back his wife or, if his pleas failed,  to be allowed to stay there with her.

Orpheus’ quest:

Orpheus set off on his mission and found his way to the river Lethe, the border between the lands of the living and dead. There with his lyre and his singing, he managed to lull to sleep the boatman, Charon, who rows the souls of the dead across the river. After penetrating Hades, the world of the dead, Orpheus came into the presence of Pluto, its king, and his wife Persephone.  With all his power, he began to plead to be allowed to take Eurydice back to the land of the living. Eventually, he succeeded. Pluto granted she might go with him on the condition that, on the way, he must not once look back at her until she had come into the full light of the sun.

Well, we all know what happened – or at least, we should for it was the most heart-rendingly human thing. Just as he was about to emerge from the gloom of the Underworld, something made Orpheus turn. Was it a sudden noise? A moment of self-doubt? Was his wife really behind him? Whatever made him do it, he turned and as he did so saw the form of his beloved fade and dissolve into the shades of the Underworld. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Riddle-me-See

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Cropped paperweightRiddle-me-See: this week it’s eyes. Riddle-me-See is a deliciously gruesome story. When I told it, ages back, to storyteller Kate Portal who is blind, she said she loved it, she’d add it to her collection of eye stories. But first, a word about the Comments that flooded in response to last week’s Blog.

Empathetic, innovative, optimistic, creative, sentimental, thoughtful and deliciously perfumed: so many qualities made themselves felt in the answers to Riddle-me-Rose. Look back and you’ll see.

The answer to the question – how did the gardener know which rose was his wife? – is, of course, down-to-earth. He’s a gardener. He knows that, in early morning, the blossoms in the rose-bed will sparkle with dew. The rose that is his wife does not. She’s been inside the cottage with him long enough for any dew-drops to disappear.

Karen, I think, might have known or guessed but gave her answer an innovative twist in making dew-drops into tears. Delicious clouds of perfume emanated from nearly everyone else – Jean, Claire, Sal, Larry – and, Larry, the Shakespearean reference feels very apt. Liz thought he knew his wife by looking into the eyes of the flower, for it’s in the eye that you see another person’s soul. As for Annalee’s suggestion – that the wife was the rose with a name-tag – it immediately reminded me of that extraordinary occasion some ten years after I got married when, in the course of weeding my garden, I pulled out a piece of columbine and saw, hanging from its root,  the wedding ring I’d lost eight years before. The ring glistened. I felt amazed.

Eyes: a riddle (more…)