Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Think of a tree

Think of a tree: draw a tree

15Tree barkDraw a tree. This tree is you. You can think of the trunk as yourself in your daily life. You can think of the roots in terms of where you come from, family and place and social class. You can think of the branches in terms of your aspirations and interests.

Call this an exercise or consider it as a chance to think and connect. I’ve done it quite a few times with storytelling groups and for  the occasional person, it doesn’t appeal. For others, it becomes deeply engaging as their tree fills out, becoming ever more rich and elaborate.

Think of a tree: recall a personal experience

This week was the end of an era. For years, my husband and I have looked out of our bedroom window at a beheaded tree a few gardens away. The original tree had become very high and wide and heavy and whoever it was, I don’t know who, obviously decided it must be cut. But only the top part got cut, not the trunk. Afterwards, it looked like something on Easter Island or a totem pole in the making. Then, over time, the headless tree became a lookout place for our local magpies and a climbing frame for our local grey squirrels. Gradually, it lost all colour, its trunk hollowed out and it became a ghost tree. One day this week, it was cut down. Now it’s not there. It’s gone.

Think of a tree: recall a story for telling

P1010396Joe was such a lively guitarist that he often got called on to play at parties. Sometimes those parties were a distance away and Joe would usually get a lift home. But one time, very late, there was no-one to take him. Joe realised he’d have to walk. The trouble was this: Joe knew his way would take him past a particular hill on the top of which was a single tall tree. People used to say that, in the past, men had been hanged from that tree. No, Joe didn’t fancy it at all. So when he came near it, he hurried his steps, trying his best not to look. Yet, you know what it’s like, he couldn’t help looking. And what he saw made him tremble.

It was almost as if the tall thin tree had turned into a tall, thin figure. For this tall, thin figure came away from the tree and walked down the hill, straight towards Joe. Joe’s eyes saw that the man looked worn. Joe’s nose smelled a musty smell from his clothes. Then the man’s long, thin hand reached out to Joe’s guitar and asked if he could have a go.

Well, when the thin man played that guitar, the music that came out of it was so enchanting that Joe was no longer aware of walking. And always the music kept changing as they went along.  Sometimes Joe felt like dancing. Sometimes Joe felt like crying until, quite suddenly, Joe found himself right next to his home. At that point, Joe thanked the thin man for his music and told him how much he admired his playing.

‘Oh thank you,’ the thin man replied with a rueful smile. ‘But I wish you could have heard me while I was still alive.’

Think of you telling a story: draw the telling as a tree 

So if I was to draw my telling of the story of Joe, somewhere in the roots I’d have to record that the story comes from the Caribbean. I got it from Mouth Open: Story Jump Out, one of the books by my friend, Grace Hallworth. Grace is a marvellous storyteller. She comes originally from Trinidad and, naturally when I first read the story, I heard it in her voice and with a sense of the Caribbean.conker wide view

As for the trunk of the tree, I suppose I’d have to think of the trunk as me, the storyteller on this occasion, experiencing all kinds of trees, including the ghost tree that is no more, and passing on all kinds of stories including the one of Joe the guitarist which nowadays I think of as if it was located in Wales.

And what about my favourite time of telling the story? Would that become one of the tree’s branches, reaching out to others? Or should the experience go onto the trunk? I’m not sure. Anyway, it took place at a Senior Citizens Day Centre in Derbyshire on a sleepy afternoon. After my first few stories, I said to the old folks, ‘But I don’t yet know what sort of stories you really like!’ The wake-up call worked a treat. A tall, thin woman sitting right opposite where I was standing responded: ‘Well, what are you offering?’

Now we were off into what became one of the best afternoons of my storytelling life. And when I told Grace Hallworth’s story of Joe, it brought one of the biggest, heartiest laughs I’ve ever got from an audience. I feel it ringing in my ears even now.

 PS. Photos this week are of – what else? – trees. The first is bark (it comes in such an extraordinary variety). The second is the trunk of a tree with amazing bark. The third is a little tree in my local part and, in front of it, the giant wooden conker carved by someone very clever. Children absolutely love this conker. I’ve heard them ask, ‘Is it real?’

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