Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks
Storyworks press Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

International Storytelling Network (RIC)
International Storytelling Network (RIC)

"A story is like the wind; it comes from a far-off quarter and we feel it." ... a Bushman saying
"The story is our escort; without it we are blind."... Chinua Achebe
"Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life."...Joseph Campbell

Storyworks: the Principles

Storyworks is the name I've given to my personal philosophy of storytelling. I have tried to express this philosophy in every aspect of my work - performance and community work, education, training and writing. It's a belief in the profound power of stories to touch people and spark off change.

Stories told orally have unusual power. Through the teller’s voice and manner, they can create an extraordinary intimacy which is as encompassing and direct as the story itself is indirect. The story is an offering, not a confrontation. Who knows when any of us tunes in to a story what kind of thing we may hear? Stories come in many forms. An ancient tale may suddenly feel like now. Stories which sound invented may turn out to be true. The possibilities are heady and exhilarating.


One day as I looked at the milking stool that was made years ago by my Welsh grandfather, I began to see it as a useful symbol for the oral tradition. Since then, the stool's three legs have come to represent in my mind the three great branches of story. One leg symbolises the traditional tales that have enshrined the wealth of human imagination all over the world since the beginning of time. Another stands for our stories of human experience which include personal and family stories as well as stories from historical experience. The third represents the fresh new stories that, for the health of humanity, must emerge from our imaginations. Each of these three branches or legs of story have a vital place in storytelling as I see it. They operate together to support us as people and, like the well-rounded seat of my grandfather's stool, they create an ideal position from which to look at the world.


Storytelling has its skills and techniques. The power of storytelling can be equally felt in a classroom, a bedroom, an old people’s home or a festival marquee. The nature of the performance on any occasion has to be suited to the venue, the listeners and the time of the telling. In many settings, the skills of listening and facilitation on the part of the storyteller are as important as those of telling. When used to assert power, storytelling can be moralistic and aggressive – and, for me, that’s the opposite of what it should be. Most important for me is that the storyteller loves what he or she does, loves the sharing with other people and does it openly and without hidden agendas. The wish to share and communicate underpins everything else. Only a minority of people will ever choose to become professional storytellers: like all good work, it's demanding. Yet with the storysharing attitude that I hold most dear and that is expressed in my Storyworks approach, the world of storytelling is open to all. It belongs to everyone to value and develop as they wish. It's in this spirit, I believe, that story truly works.

Storyworks: the Practice

The storyworks approach can apply to all aspects of the storyteller's work:

> storytelling in large formal settings or informal group situations

> workshops designed to develop participants' own storytelling

> training for professionals such as teachers or librarians

> long-term projects or one-off sessions with children in schools or community groups

Storyworks in performance

In performance situations, the storyworks approach aims to:

> show awareness of the immediate situation - where the occasion is taking place, who and what the audience is, time of year and time of day, the particular venue and reason for the occasion and any previous history that may be relevant

> reflect awareness of the immediate occasion through the choice of stories, the way they are introduced and intervening remarks

> recognise the centrality of the stories and the audience's experience of them by putting these and not the storyteller at the heart of the occasion

> employ a listening approach which recognises that, although the members of the audience may not be responding aloud, there are likely to be unspoken questions and desire within their listening.

Realise that the storyteller's awareness grows and develops over time and through continuing observation of audience responses and continuing observation of oneself

Storyworks in workshops

In workshop situations, the storyworks approach aims to:

> set participants at their ease, employing a range of strategies to get people talking, whether with the person next to them or in small groups or contributing something to the group as a whole.

> find a variety of ways to enable participants to share their differing approaches but without feeling they are going to be subject to criticism and without any pressure to have to speak or perform

> appreciate the uniqueness of individual contributions, making people aware of how these combine to create a new whole

> enable participants to value their own capacities by observing the effect on the group as a whole of their own and other people's contributions

> recognise and give room for each of the three main kinds of story – the new story, the traditional story and the story from true experience – and, by incorporating all three in some way or other, to enable participants to focus afterwards on whatever combination suits them best

Storyworks in training

In training situations, the storyworks approach aims to:

> give priority to the participative, people-valuing approach

> recognise and give room for the uniqueness of each trainee's individual voice and experience

> allow participants to adapt what is given to them in training to their own personal methods and approach

> provide a role-model both for the telling of a story or stories and for the general approach to an audience, including ways of involving the audience

> demonstrate that the storytelling road is a long one, there's a lot to learn and learning comes from observation of others and oneself

Storyworks with children

In work with children, the storyworks approach aims to:

> talk with the children at their own level whatever their age or ability and in a relaxed and friendly manner

> enable children to participate at their own level and in all kinds of ways, including by joining in rhythms and rhymes, commenting on where the story is going and thinking about it afterwards

> recognising that children who are shy about speaking may respond in non-verbal ways and that this can greatly assist their language and confidence

> using open questions, avoiding closed ones and developing imaginative skills such as visualisation

> provide time, ideas and strategies for children to follow up the story in such a way that they can feel they are making it their own

Across all these different types of work, the storyworks approach aims to:

> enlarge and beautify the work by the use of lovely or intriguing props, including objects from other cultures, colourful cloths and found objects from nature

> enlarge and beautify the work with song and sounds, including sounds that can be made by making and using non-traditional instruments

> make people aware of the wider world of storytelling, including the many long oral traditions of the world's multifarious cultures past and present.

The sections above are illustrated with photos of the kinds of props I've always enjoyed using.

© Mary Medlicott & Storyworks 2022 | site by knowHowe Ltd