Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Word walk

Words are key in storytelling. They create pictures, they make you think, they open doors. So I’ve been thinking about their importance. What follows is something of a miscellany – words I noticed during the week and how and where I noticed them.

In my own thinking:Key 5 compress

I was making some notes about using props with young children and trying to work out why it’s so useful to do this. For some reason, my mind immediately focused on keys as an example. Why keys? Well, they’re everyday things, they come in different shapes and sizes, I’ve got some very nice ones in my Story Bag and keys appear in several stories I tell.

So what happens when I’m storytelling? Well, get out a key, show it to an audience of young children and ask what it could be for and almost immediately answers start coming.  It could be the key to a treasure box … a secret room … a giant’s castle …the door to your house.

Immediately such ideas come out of individual children’s mouths, the shared world of the audience’s imagination is starting to expand.

On a board outside a local café:

The words were handwritten on the board. This is what they said.

          The key to success is trial and error.

          Mainly error.

         A ton of error.

Well, reading such a thing as you’re walking along, it doesn’t half stay in your mind for the rest of your journey. Besides, it has the useful function that it reminds you of the café where you saw it.

In conversation with the decorator painting my study window:

rinpa_tcm9-174175Our decorator was up his ladder, getting on with the painting, when we started talking about the streets where we live. I happened to mention the four parrots that live in various of the houses in this street. Then we talked about nearby Brockwell Park where I go walking and where, in  summer time, our decorator goes swimming in the lido. That’s when he mentioned the parakeets. Parakeets – what a marvellous word! It’s one you can’t fail to notice.

‘Do you know the story about how the parakeets came to South London?’ our painter asked. ‘No,’ I said in the tone of voice that means, ‘Please tell me.’

‘Well,’ he said,’ it’s probably a bit of an urban myth but apparently it’s when they were filming The African Queen, they imported some parakeets to add to the atmosphere. And now they’re everywhere.

Later, I looked up  The African Queen on Wikipaedia. An extremely famous film, it was first shown in 1951. Evidently, half had been shot in Africa but the half that involved the sea was shot in studios in London.  Ending with the rumour that London’s population of Ring Necked Parakeets had originated with birds that escaped or were released during the filming of The African Queen, it concluded, ‘This claim is considered dubious.’ 

A key poem:

So there I was, thinking about this miscellany of impressions, when I suddenly realised – how weird are words! – that the word key occurs in each. OK, it’s only the sound of the word key that appears in parakeet. Parakeet … kee … get it? But it’s there nonetheless.

Words resonate. They rhyme. They make you think about stuff. Which is why last night, when I turned to my volume of Emily Dickinson poems (they’re a bit of a passion of mine at the moment), I settled again on the following very short one. As simple as it is profound, as profound as it is simple, it seems to me to be an excellent one for storytellers to mull over.

           A word is dead
          When it is said,
              Some say.
          I say it just
          Begins to live
              That day.

PS: Key and Ring Necked Parakeet: the photos today speak for themselves except to say that the key is a very old one that belonged to my Aunty Mali. She had dozens of dozens of keys about the house, most of them with labels attached.

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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Word walk”

  1. Meg Says:

    Dear Mary.
    Another fascinating glimpse into your storytelling process. Your audiences are very fortunate, it seems to me.
    The cafe sign did make me laugh, at last. And I remembered a similar sign in French outside a Patisserie. I impressed
    my companion with my translation but did I write it down? Will have to go find that notebook now.
    Once again Emily Dickinson hits it bang on. Oddly, I hear the sound of an old bell tolling at the end of the first line and again at “just begins to live.” I am a little odd.
    I love how as a storyteller when you’re focused on some story aspect, something ‘pops out’ in the world around you.
    The African Queen connection is a keeper.
    Kind Regards

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Hi Meg
    Lovely to hear from you again. I always value your comments – they help to make the blog feel worth doing. Your thought in this one – that as a storyteller when you’re focused on some story aspect, something ‘pops out’ in the world around you – well, that feels like exactly the right way to describe it. Many thanks. All the best, Mary

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