As a books blogger I am sometimes waylaid by quirky books that seize my attention and my imagination. One of these is a slim little book entitled A Long Run in Short Shorts by Mary Medlicott. It is a collection of 40 stories culled from the author’s own experiences as a professional storyteller. I had not heard of this particular job – though it sounds a very ancient one – so contacted Mary Medlicott to ask her more about it.
She tells me that she has been telling stories, sometimes of her own life, sometimes concerning the lives of others, for over 30 years. At that time a frustrated writer living in Brixton, she noticed an advertisement for storytellers in a scheme run by Lambeth librarians. She applied and was accepted. The scheme involved orally telling stories to young people and reading stories to under-5s. “I loved it from the very first minute and soon knew I wanted to develop the work”.
I tell her it sounds as if she found her vocation and she responds enthusiastically: “I am glad you call it a vocation”, adding “For me, so many aspects are rewarding: a child saying ‘That’s the best story I ever heard’, elderly people laughing out loud, the deep pleasure of thinking about the stories one might be planning to tell.” Medlicott reflects, “The single best thing is the sense of exhilaration when you know that you, your story and your audience are in tune together.”
I remark that a common theme of the stories is “coincidence”. How would she define this? She explains: “Coincidence come in many ways, with varying degrees of significance. It is a powerful driving force in folk tales and fairy tales”, adding, “Coincidence in our personal lives enables us to perceive and understand connectedness in the world; connectedness between people, things and ideas.”
I note that many of the stories in this collection are about her childhood in Pembrokeshire. Medlicott assures me that although she has lived in London for a long time, “I’d never say I was a Londoner. I suppose it is my deep love of the Pembrokeshire landscape and way of life and sense of community that makes me feel irredeemably part of it.”
I conclude by asking if her stories are her way of giving shape to her own life. She agrees, saying that her father, a Welsh schoolmaster, “was very interested in the idea of squints, those slits in walls that give you a sideways or glancing view of things. Perhaps these stories are my squints.”