Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Moving the chairs

‘Imagination,’ Grace said, picking up on the final word of the story I’d just told. ‘Imagination is ..’.: and her thought continued, ending in an invitation to anyone present to tell a story. Specifically, she turned towards a neighbour in the home where she now lives whom she knew had a story to tell.

And so the Story Sharing began, the second part of a day that had been arranged to honour Grace Hallworth at the end of the month of her 90th birthday. Grace remains a much-loved figure in the storytelling world. She became the first Chairperson of the Society for Storytelling, the SfS, when it was formed back in 1993. She’s told her stories at festivals, schools and storytelling events all over the UK and elsewhere. She has published a large number of books of her stories both for adults and for children. Most of all, she has been a powerful voice for the value of stories in allowing us to discover, express and share our innermost selves as human beings.

Story Sharing:

Story Sharing is the term I most associate with Grace. An important paper she wrote about her idea of it appeared as
The Call of Stories, one of the 17 booklets which the SfS published when it was still doing such things. Edited by myself and Mary Steele, another of the participants in last Sunday’s event, Grace’s paper appeared under the Oracle imprint.

Another of my personal experiences of what Grace means by Story Sharing was represented throughout a week’s storytelling work in Tobago which Grace invited me to come and do. This was during the period of years after she’d returned there to live with her husband Trevor who, by then, felt in need of the warmth of its climate. Grace had grown up in Trinidad. The early part of her career as a librarian had been spent in Tobago where, already, she’d started telling stories. Then, after coming to the UK and meeting and marrying Trevor, she’d begun to be known as a storyteller while continuing her career as a librarian. Her influence as a storyteller has been profound, and it has been widely extended by the many books of stories she has published, both for adults and for children.

Some of the reasons for Grace’s influence were evident on Sunday. The first part of the day had been a restaurant lunch, organised by a small group of us professional storytellers who regularly go to visit Grace in Berkhampsted.  This is where she and Trevor had lived and now, in the aftermath of his death,  she’s moved to one of the flats in a splendid home for the elderly. The second part of the day was the Story Sharing which was held in the spacious and comfortably furnished sitting area inside the entrance to the home. About a dozen of Grace’s fellow residents had come along. Together with the seven of the storytelling party, this made what could have been an uncomfortably large number. But chair-arranging accomplished, it all felt right. As we settled, it was time for me to get the ball rolling. After words of tribute to Grace, a welcome to everyone present and thanks to the home for enabling the event to happen, I also knew I should tell the first story. ‘I’ve got two stories for you,’ I said to Grace. ‘One comes from where you grew up, one from where I grew up. Which one would you like?’  At once she replied: ‘The one from where you grew up.’

So the event began with my story of the St David’s gravedigger who was able to reach the Isle of the Blessed, a floating island not normally seen except by those who discover one of the two places from which it can be seen. One, according to legend, is in the cemetery in St David’s: a small piece of turf which the gravedigger of the story discovered. But having accidentally found it, the gravedigger had to work out the precise way (not easy) in which it could lead him to the floating island he’d spotted. The fact that he achieved it was a mark of his native wit and persistence. And when he got there, he found it very refreshing. Not only that. Knowing how to get there, he was of course able to return to it again and again.

So that was the end of the story except that I had to add – because it is part of the story – that according to legend, there are, two secret ways to reach the Isle of the Blessed. ‘And as I happen to know,’  I concluded, ‘the other is one that  we all can find because it lies in a place we all can access and share and that is our imagination.’

‘Imagination! ’ Grace sitting opposite me immediately picked up on the word and the concept and, from then on, her voice as strong as ever, she led that Story Sharing session with all of her renowned warmth of feeling and her innate ability to communicate with others and involve them.

Afterwards we in the storytelling group felt really satisfied that it had all gone so well. Thanks to Grace and in honour of Grace, the spirit of Story Sharing had been in the room. Yet unless they are well arranged, such events don’t always go well. I’ve been to some ghastly ones in my time. In this case, the arranging of the room beforehand had been a significant factor. One resident of the home had looked distinctly discombobulated as she’d watched me and the other storytellers silently heaving chairs around. I went over to speak to the woman concerned. ‘Do you know?’ I said. ‘I’ve worked as a storyteller for over thirty years, and in that time, one of my main jobs has always been moving the chairs.’ She smiled.

PS: The top photo is a collage I made of photos from my Tobago trip: palm leaves, Grace to the left of some of the people at a story sharing session and the balcony overlooking the sea at her home. The lower photo is of Grace at the lunch last Sunday.



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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Moving the chairs”

  1. Fiona Says:

    What a lovely picture of Grace – she looks just the same as when I last saw her -which was before she and Trevor went back to Tobago ….. How wonderful that you all went to celebrate with her and her friends. Thank you for keeping in touch with her.

  2. Caribbean Stories - Wendy Shearer Says:

    […] part of my research, I’m arranging to speak with renowned Trinidadian author and Storyteller Grace Hallworth, who will be turning 92 next year. I remember reading her first book, Cric Crac, a collection of […]

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