Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Double wow!


When coincidences happen, they often come as pleasing surprises. ‘How amazing is that!’ But coincidence itself is far from being unusual in stories. Indeed, it’s extremely common, a key element in what makes a story into a story. Whether it’s a traditional tale or a personal one, coincidence creates a sense of purpose,  a feeling of something meant. Thus when three brothers in an African story go off to explore the world, each goes in a different direction. But when all three eventually decide to go home, what happens? Completely without any plan to do so, they happen to meet at a crossroads and it’s as a result of their apparently accidental meeting that their story takes shape and develops its point.

I love coincidences. I look out for them. (I think storytellers may be prone to them!) So how about this for a good one? Actually, it’s a two-part coincidence – what you might call a double wow!

Last Friday, I was about to set out for Castell Henllys, the iron-age fort in North Pembrokeshire where I’d done a training day back in the summer. The event this time was to be an Author Tea and in my bag were copies of each of the various books I’ve either written or compiled. Just as I was about to leave the house, the telephone rang.

On the phone was my husband ringing to wish me well and also to tell me about an email he’d just picked up from one of the twin daughters of our great Kenyan friend, Ben, who died a few months ago. The email contained a photo of a most striking African woman with a pile of books on her head. Here’s why Ben’s daughter was sending it to us.

Ben’s daughter now lives in Johannesburg where she works at the African Leadership Academy. Only that morning, walking along the main corridor in the Academy, she’d stopped to look closely at the photo she was sending us of the woman with the pile of books on her head. Many times before she’d seen it hanging on the corridor wall. Never before had she observed that the bottom book of the pile in the picture had my name on the spine. It was a copy of The River that Went to the Sky, the book of African stories I’d published back in 1995. And what Ben’s daughter didn’t know when sending her email and what my husband didn’t realise when ringing to tell me about it was that I was about to set out with a copy of that very book in my bag. 

Part two of this coincidence happened during this week. After writing back to Ben’s daughter, I quickly received another email from her. This one contained an internet link  – you’ll find it at the bottom of this blog – which, she said, would take me to some information about the photo she’d sent (there it is above). The person in the picture, she said,  is one of 21 people who were chosen as South African icons and she wanted me to be able to read about her. When I did click on that link, I was bowled over. The woman in the photo – I hadn’t recognised her, it’s over 20 years since we met – is Gcina Mhlophe, the fabulous South African storyteller I met in Johannesburg at the start of the 5-week storytelling tour I’d been invited to make of South African schools, colleges and festivals shortly before the first post-apartheid election. Naturally, when I was back in London, Gcina was one of the people I contacted when Kingfisher Books asked me to make what became The River that Went to the Sky,  afterwards republished in paperback as Tales from Africa.  

So now my story has developed its point and, courtesy of the link Ben’s daughter sent me, you too can listen to Gcina Mhlophe talking about storytelling with all her characteristic animation. I very much hope you will click on the link. I feel sure that if you do, you’ll be completely delighted and inspired. Here it is:


Tags: , ,

One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Double wow!”

  1. Jean Says:

    Dear Mary
    Wow indeed – what a great photo and a great coincidence – stories and storytellers love coincidences I agree. Of course I immediately had to go the shelves and read her story of the brave tortoise again in ‘Tales from Africa’ – a favourite book over the years . I found the photo on the link you sent – but was unable to access the talk – I’ll try again tho. Enjoying the autumn colours here and especially the RED.
    Jean X

Leave a Reply