Fantasycon 2017 – Heide and Iain’s appearances

Panel at a previous Fantasycon

Panel at a previous Fantasycon

Fantasycon

Fantasycon is in Peterborough this year, from 29th September to 1st October.
If you’re thinking of coming along, it would be great to see you.
It’s a friendly convention, and in spite of the name, you’ll find writers and readers of all types there.
Heide and Iain are making several appearances at Fantasycon this year, so we’ve listed them all for you, to make it easier.

Friday

15:30 “The author as a business” (Heide will join this panel event)
22:00 Iain will be doing a reading

Saturday

10:00 Comedy Writing workshop, run by Heide and Iain
14:00 “Humour in genre fiction” (Heide will join this panel event)
15:00 Heide will be doing a reading
20:30 “Mythology, folk tales & the imagination” (Iain will join this panel event)
22:00 “Collaborative writing” (Heide and Iain will join this panel event)

Sunday

13:00 “Writing Research” (Iain will join this panel event)

A non-Fantasycon event:
20:00 Fiction Fix in the Draper’s Arms, Peterborough

Posted in 2017, Events

Pirate community welcomes LGBT military personnel

Prominent members of the pirate community have encouraged LGBT individuals to join them.
Captain Hector Barbossa declared that pirates have led the way for many years when it comes to diversity.

“The scurvy cap’n of the free world complains about medical expenses to support trans personnel and struggles to understand bathroom niceties,” he said. “Yer’ll never come across any of those issues on a pirate ship. Anyone brave enough to use the head is welcome and the daily rum allowance keeps us all in peak physical condition.”

He has this message for worried US military personnel. “Come and join our merry band. All welcome. Ye’ll get full training on how to talk like a pirate. Arr. And songs about pirates, if the fancy takes ye. Easy to learn, especially with yer belly full o’ rum. If yer wants to bring a warship with yer, that’d be grand. Or a parrot. We likes parrots.”

Posted in 2017 Tagged with: ,

Disenchanted blog tour – Epiphany’s story

Disenchanted is now available to buy, and to celebrate, we’ve had a blog tour.
We’ve reproduced the story fragments used on the blog tour here for your convenience; all six make an entire short story.

The blog tour stops were the ones you can see on this banner, and we’d like to thank those lovely bloggers who helped us to launch the book!
Disenchanted blog Tour Banner

Epiphany’s Story part 1 – Leeds

Original blog post here

Dr Epiphany Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander

Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present one of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

Thank you for the invitation to your book launch event in Birmingham a week on Saturday. I hope to be able to attend, although I am currently away on university business in Leeds which is all very exciting. My father told me never to trust a Yorkshireman whose eyebrows meet in the middle and I have been very watchful throughout my journey. I came here to meet with Professor Scarrow of Leeds University to discuss some papers that have recently come to light. I have seen his photograph previously and know I have little to fear regarding his eyebrows.

I travelled up this morning on the train with Pak Choi who has been a loyal retainer to our family for more decades than I care to guess and has promised to defend me from the monobrows. I discovered en route that he is the first of the fair folk to travel on board a train and he was quite excited by the experience, to the extent that we were removed from the Quiet Zone and told to stand outside the train toilets until Pak Choi had calmed down.

Pak Choi has drawn a picture of him sharing his excitement with the train conductor

We arrived this morning to find the sun shining over the city, which came as a surprise as I was given to understand that Leeds was famed for being constantly overcast and grey, hence the phrase ‘stick it where the sun don’t shine’ (though why exactly numerous people feel I should take my complaints and honest enquiries and send them to Leeds is a socio-linguistic mystery). Our bus stop for the university was on Boar Lane and as we waited I was put in mind of the local fairy tale of The Owl Boy.

The town of Leeds – ‘the town of the fast-flowing river’ as I’m sure you know – was, according to Bede’s tale, being terrorised by a giant boar with tusks like spears and bristles like iron needles. The brave men of Yorkshire (who will tell you they are the bravest men in the world, repeatedly and often and twice as often after a few beers) attacked the boar and were either repelled or killed. It seemed that no mortal weapon could kill the boar and the town would have to live under its tyranny, but then a simple lad came down from the hills with a sheepskin to sell. Upon hearing about the terrible boar, he told the townsfolk he would rid them of the menace. Of course, they laughed at him and refused to listen. But that night he sought out the boar on the common by the river. Presently, the boar appeared and made to attack the boy. The boy let out a curious whistle and, down from the darkness, came three owls which distracted and tormented the boar. The boy whistled again and the owls plucked a star apiece from the sky which dazzled and enraged the boar further. The boy whistled a third time and the owls flew over the river with their dazzling stars. The boar, near-blinded and filled with fury, charged at them, fell into the River Aire and drowned. The townsfolk gave thanks, made the boy an alderman of the town and, to this day, the coat of arms of the city contains three owls, three stars and the sheepskin that the simple boy had brought down from the hills.

Pak Choi has drawn his own picture of the Leeds Coat of Arms

A fascinating tale, yes? Perhaps worthy of inclusion in the second volume of your book. (You describe it as a fairy tale comedy. I envisage something akin to The Golden Bough but with more knock knock jokes. Is that about the measure of it?)

The young people of Leeds might learn a thing or two about manners and civic duty from the Owl Boy. On the bus to the university, several teenagers teased Pak Choi quite savagely about his cobweb waistcoat and thistledown pantaloons and a most unpleasant girl called him a ‘great big puff’. In retaliation, Pak Choi stole the colour from the girl’s eyes and told her she could only have it back if she spoke nothing but truths for a year.

We alighted at the university campus not in the best of moods and crossed St George’s Fields to seek out Professor Scarrow’s office. St George’s Fields is the burial place of, amongst others, Pablo Fanque, the famed equestrian and later circus owner. I am given to understand that The Beatles make reference to him in one of their songs but I’m not up to date with popular music so couldn’t be certain. What I do know is that the circus had, back in the day when such things were regarded as acceptable, a freak performer known as the Parrot Man. A local tale that has since built up recounts that the Parrot Man fled the circus and took up residence in Meanwood woods. The tale is classified as type 333 under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther system, a variant on the Red Riding Hood story (but with an eye-pecking Parrot Man in place of the wolf!).

Professor Scarrow took us to lunch at a charming little pub not far from the university. He insisted that we have a bottle of red with our meal even though I rarely drink and I suspect Professor Scarrow had already imbibed a glass or two before lunch. Professor Scarrow spilled gravy on his tie, shouted loudly at the barman and totally ignored Pak Choi. It transpired that Professor Scarrow has recently had what can only be termed ‘a messy divorce’ and has not coped well. Over a tear-spattered crème brûlée dessert, Professor Scarrow recounted the many wrongs he has suffered leading up to his wife running off with a sixth form college lecturer from Tadcaster. By this time, Professor Scarrow was clutching my hand across the dining table and I had to somewhat sternly remind him that I had come to see him on business and perhaps we ought to be about it.

The weary and somewhat remorseful Professor Scarrow took me to the university library and, as he drunkenly searched among dusty records in the library basement, asked me what I knew of the story of The Prophet Hen of Leeds. I told him what I knew.

The Prophet Hen of Leeds is a curious tale in that it blends together obvious fairy tale elements with historical fact. Once upon a time – in the late 18th Century – there was a witch who made two bold claims: that she could protect the people of Leeds from curses and that her hen could predict the future (her hen was shown on several occasions to produce eggs marked with the words “Christ is coming.”) However, neither claim proved to be true. In the matter of curses, the witch was discovered to have been systematically poisoning local folk and simply stopped poisoning those who bought her magic charms. As to the prophetic hen, the witch was uncovered by a keen-eyed local who saw her writing on an eggshell with acid and then carefully reinserting the egg back up the hen’s fundament.

Pak Choi’s illustration of a mightily surprised chicken

The poisoning of a young housewife proved to be the witch’s undoing. A magistrate’s investigations into the death led him slowly but certainly to the witch’s door. It is said that in the days before her arrest, the witch’s prophet hen began laying eggs marked with the words “Death is coming” and that none could explain how this was accomplished.

I asked Professor Scarrow if it was true that the witch’s skeleton was still held by the University of Leeds. He told me that it was, although it’s not on public display for reasons of taste. I had also heard that, after her death, the witch’s skin was removed, tanned into leather and sold off to raise money for the local children’s infirmary. And this, it turned out, was the reason for his invite to me. From an archive box, Professor Scarrow produce a sheet of vellum parchment. But, dearest friends, you will probably no doubt realise that it was not vellum but human hide! And on it… well, I could scarcely believe my eyes and requested a closer look.

As he passed the peculiar document to me, Professor Scarrow’s hand brushed mine and, perhaps still somewhat intoxicated, he tried to kiss me. Oh, to see a respected academic behave in such a deplorable way! It was shameful! Fortunately, Pak Choi was present and concussed the outrageous professor with a bound doctoral thesis. (Incidentally, that is one of the hallmarks of a good thesis; if it’s not heavy enough to knock out a professor then it probably lacks rigour).

This evening I have retired to a charming city centre hotel to recoup myself spiritually and read the witch-hide manuscript. I ordered a club sandwich from room service. However, the young somewhat fox-faced man who brought it to the room had eyebrows that met in the middle so I have not yet decided if I will eat it or not.

I will write again,
Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “It Bears Repeating: The Enduring Appeal of Goldilocks” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.
Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

Epiphany’s Story part 2 – Sheffield

Original blog post here
Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present one of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

I came home from my trip to Leeds to find a copy of your book, Disenchanted, on my doormat. The artwork is delightful and the jacket text suggests a very, um, eventful narrative. I’m sure I will love it and will no doubt be able to give you a critical opinion when we meet a week on Saturday. It is my habit to read in the rear study perhaps with a round of cucumber sandwiches and a pot of tea. Pak Choi, my loyal retainer, brews a superior dandelion tea but is, sadly, no help with the sandwiches (it’s the cutlery; his folk cannot abide the cold touch of iron). However, I realise now that such niceties as tea and reading will have to wait for the time being as I must be off again tomorrow.

tea cup

Pak Choi has drawn a superior picture of my usual tea

As I say, I came home to Sheffield to find your book on my doormat but, in all honesty, I was more distracted by the vellum parchment I had brought home with me. Its gruesome origins notwithstanding, it was a peculiar piece, covered as it was with writing in a precise hand but of an ink that had faded to almost total illegibility. There was little of it I could make out but there was a clear mention of Lang’s Black Fairy Book and that alone was enough to send me all aquiver.

 

I am sure as amateur students of fairy tales, you are aware of the Victorian scholar’s incomparable work in collecting and categorising fairy tales. His twelve ‘coloured’ books of fairy tales are well-known and widely published but I had only ever heard scandalous and dark rumours of this thirteenth volume. The only other word I could truly make out in the text was ‘domunculus’ which, whilst seeming tantalisingly familiar, was unknown to me.

 

To clear my head and perhaps inspire thought, Pak Choi and I took a walk.  My house backs onto Wardsend Cemetery, home to the final resting place of a Lakota Sioux who died in the city while performing with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. There is a local story about how the ghost of the Sioux flagged down a train and thereby prevented a collision with a derailed coal truck but, delicious though it is, my research into the matter traces the story back to no earlier than 1973 and an argument between two drunken Sheffield Wednesday fans in the Masons Arms. This is how fairy tales are born.

 

We cut through the cemetery, past the Trebor sweet factory and down to the banks of the River Don. There is a veritable forest of fig trees growing along the Don towards the east of the city. The trees are hardly native. As best anyone can tell, their roots – not their literal roots, dear friends – are the fig roll factories that dotted the area. However, used to a Mediterranean climate, the original fig trees were only able to grow because of the hot water being continually pumped into the Don by the riverside steel works. Pak Choi and I did not make it as far as the fig trees but when we do, I always try to spot any flowers on the trees, just like Dunzfel in the old  Eastern European tale.

 

The Six Tasks of Dunzfel appears in Lang’s Lilac Fairy Book. It is one of a broad range of fairy tales in which the poor protagonist – in this case, a young man who wished to marry the princess – is forced to undertake a number of seemingly impossible tasks. In Dunzfel’s case, the tasks are to fill a barrel of water from a well using only a sieve, to state the number of hairs on the king’s head, to hold his breath from one year to the next, to collect a posy of a thousand fig flowers, to weave a carpet from spider’s silk, and to summon all the wolves in the world. Dunzfel achieves most of these by cunning (he plucks a hair from the king’s head and tells him he has one less hair than before and holds his breath just before midnight on New Year’s Eve) and through the assistance of animal friends (who line his sieve with moss and find a thousand of the elusive fig flowers for him). The request for a rug of spider silk is answered with sarcasm (Dunzfel presents the king with a twig and says he will weave the rug on a loom fashioned by the king from the twig). The king waives the final task, seeing that Dunzfel has completed the other five and not wishing to have all the wolves in the world turn up on his doorstep.

We returned home in good spirits –  Pak Choi once again regaled me with the tale of why he had set fire to the Trebor factory in the early seventies (it is said that the ferocious fire that consumed the mountains of sugar in the factory created a burned toffee smell across the city for weeks)  – only to find that our house had been burgled! The downstairs rooms were in some disarray. Furniture had been overturned, drawers ransacked and items thrown from shelves. Anything and everything of value or interest had been taken. You will be pleased to hear that my copy of your book was untouched. But, most alarming of all, the vellum parchment I had placed at the very back of the desk drawer had been found and taken. Pak Choi thought this most suspicious.

Dog falling in Seine


Here is a picture of a drunk terrier falling into the Seine

I was suddenly reminded of the French tale of Rum Baba Boy. Perhaps the recollection was caused by the sight of the destruction of my home, coupled with Pak Choi’s talk of sweet factories. Rum Baba Boy is a curious variant of the gingerbread man story, except in this instance, the young protagonist is not made from gingerbread but alcohol-soaked pastry. The poor, drunken creature spends nearly the entire narrative running through the city, crying “lack-a-day, lack-a-day, who will find a cure for my malady?” Rum Baba Boy runs through the houses of Paris, looking for a cure for his drunken madness. He ransacks the home of a baker, a doctor, a lawyer, a priest and a merchant. Only when he reaches the poorest part of the city does a stray terrier offer him a cure for all his ills and gobbles him up. Unlike the gingerbread man, Rum Baba Boy does gain some form of revenge from beyond the grave; the terrier, intoxicated by the rum-soaked cake, falls in the Seine and drowns.

The human mind is a curious thing; the recalling of that story reminded me where I had encountered the word ‘domunculus’ before. I gave a sudden shout of “Bunty Jangles!” which, I can assure you, is not something I shout out often. I followed it with a shout of “I must go to Uttoxeter!” which is something I shout out even less.

While Pak Choi packed a small valise for me, I telephoned for a taxi-cab. The young man who came to the door had a bit of a terrier look about him and his not insignificant eyebrows put me in mind of the hotel-boy I met in Leeds. But we shouldn’t judge people by their appearances, should we?

I am taking my copy of your book with me and shall read it as I go on this little adventure of my own. 

I will write again,

Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “Get Your Head Out Of The Clouds: Why Jack Shouldn’t Have Climbed That Beanstalk” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

Epiphany’s Story part 3 – Uttoxeter

Original blog post here
Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present another of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

In my current search for Lang’s Black Fairy Book, we took a taxi-cab from Sheffield to Uttoxeter. En route, I avoided the eye of the fox-like and monobrowed driver. Instead, I read the first few chapter of your book out to Pak Choi, my retainer and travelling companion, skipping over the more ‘fruity’ language you have used (which meant missing out most of the second chapter, I’m afraid). Pak Choi had a few choice words about your depiction of his fairy kindred and I have made some notes in the margin for your benefit.

I had telephoned ahead and arranged to visit the house of a retired librarian, Bunty Jangles. I knew Bunty from her time working in Sheffield’s archive, but I remembered that she’d moved back to her home town of Uttoxeter some years before. Her house was a short walk from the station, past the racecourse. There’s a fine tradition of racing in these parts, and I recalled the tale of The Dancing Goat.

It’s a story that goes back to the time when trading animals was a key part of the local economy. Uttoxeter was granted a market charter in 1251, and it was necessary to be on the lookout for sharp practice at all times in those days. A farmer wished to buy a pig, and had heard many stories about unwary buyers being passed off with a bag containing a cat or similar. You will know of course that this is the origin of the saying ‘to buy a pig in a poke’. This farmer clearly wasn’t familiar with what a pig actually looked like because instead of taking a careful look at the animal in question, he devised a test. It was said that a pig was the slowest of the beasts, and so his test was to put the animal in question into a sprint race with another animal whose provenance was known. He came upon a trader who was willing to submit his animal to this test and the farmer arranged for his neighbour’s pig to be entered into a race with it. Word spread, and bets were placed on the two animals. The crowd gathered as the race started, and the two animals were released simultaneously. The neighbour’s pig ran directly to the finish line, and the trader’s animal danced on the spot before trotting gently into second place. The farmer happily bought the beast, upon which the rest of the crowd informed him that it was in fact a goat. The tale ended happily however, because the farmer and his dancing goat were in great demand for festivities.

Dancing goat

Here’s a picture that Pak Choi has drawn of the goat dancing.

Bunty’s house is on the Stafford Road and she sat us down with a slice of her delicious apple pie. Bunty is a wiry old bird with an energy about her that many young folk would envy. She listened to all that I told her about the clue I had been presented with in Leeds, the tantalising prospect of finding Lang’s missing work and the mention of a ‘domunculus’. I hazarded that it was a word she had mentioned to me some years before although it sound thoroughly made up.

 

“Made-up, perhaps,” she said, “but it does have a history.”

She fetched a book, Treasures of Yesteryear, from her shelf and opened it to a passage on the Uttoxeter Casket, an Anglo-Saxon reliquary. I do not know if you are familiar with reliquaries. Pak Choi confessed a certain ignorance regarding the word although I would image that authors such as yourselves would have a much larger and refined vocabulary (although on our journey down Pak Choi had noted your over-reliance on certain vulgar terms in your narrative and wondered if you simply resorted to ‘effing and jeffing’ when you could not find the right words to  express yourselves). A reliquary is, as I’m sure you know, a box made to contain religious relics. The illustration in the book was of a very ornate box, beautifully carved from wood. The text below said that medieval witnesses called the box a ‘domunculus’ because of its house-like shape with a gabled roof of sorts for a lid.

 

Just then Bunty’s dog jogged into the room. The jolly chap was a terrier, which I remembered well from years before. Pak Choi smiled broadly, he is very fond of dogs (although not in the same manner as his more carnivorous kin).

Bunty asked me if I had ever heard of the Talbot Hounds. I shook my head. It was a breed that is extinct now, she told me and it was a family emblem for the Earls of Shrewsbury. She went on to explain that legend tells of a cousin of the fifteenth Earl was waited on by a set of fully liveried dogs who staffed his kitchen and served his food. He thought so highly of his Talbot Hounds that he regularly played poker with them. By all accounts they were better at it than he was for he lost his house to them. He was forced to shoot them all to avoid a difficult scene. He spent the rest of his life living with remorse for ending the line of a noble breed. Even now, Alton Towers, which was built by the Earls of Shrewsbury has the dogs as heraldic devices in the grounds. They had an animatronic version called Henry back in the eighties, who would sing country and western songs.

I thought that thoroughly ghastly and shuddered.

Singing dog

Here is Pak Choi’s singing dog

I asked Bunty where I might find this Uttoxeter Casket and was told in reply that it was in Cleveland.

“Over Stockton way?” I said, my heart sinking.

“No, worse than that,” Bunty informed me. “Cleveland, Ohio.”

America! Goodness me!

We departed soon after Bunty’s startling news. It made it hard to know what I should do next. I have after all committed to being present at the launch of your book, Disenchanted, and a trip to the United States could put that (and my bank balance) in jeopardy.

As we passed by the garden gate on the way back to the station, the elderly gardener called me over and pressed a tiny bunch of pansies into my hand. Whilst I was grateful for the gesture, he held onto my hand for rather longer than was necessary, and Pak Choi had to tug me away. Pansies are a favourite of mine, and Pak Choi and I pressed them between the pages of a book later that evening, so that they don’t spoil while we’re away on the next leg of our journey.

Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “Six Out of Seven Dwarfs aren’t Happy: The Mistreatment of Little People in Fairy Tales” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

Epiphany’s Story part 4 – Tuscon

Original blog post here
Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present another of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

Apologies for the state of this letter and the quality of my handwriting. I am having to write it in peculiar circumstances.

I have surprising news. I am currently in Arizona! This is, as they say, a turn up for the books. Quite apt as I have literally turned up for the book, namely Lang’s Black Fairy Book, his missing thirteenth volume of fairy tales.

When I last wrote to you, I had just heard that the book was perhaps with the domunculus reliquary in Cleveland, Ohio. A few phone calls later and I was speaking to a Professor Raposa of the University of Arizona where the reliquary is on loan. Professor Raposa, I am embarrassed to say, is a fan of my work and both an invitation to visit and plane tickets were soon sent my way! I was naturally thrilled but Pak Choi, my faithful companion, was less pleased. He had heard rumours about the questioning some people are put through at US border control and was worried that the officials might give one of the Fair Folk a tough time. I said he should simply not say anything to annoy them and just keep them happy.

To distract him from worry on the flight, I told him my favourite Arizonan story. It concerns Grey Fox, hero of the Yuman-speaking Native Americans. Giants had come out of the east and from their camp atop a mesa attacked the people of the land, eating those that they could catch. The king rode out to meet the giants and he too was eaten. After that, no one wanted to be king. Grey Fox, who was a reluctant hero at best, knew he had to face the giants. As he walked towards the mesa, he met a horned toad, who offered his help in defeating the giants. He gave Grey Fox his ‘horned helmet’, his ‘horny breastplate’ and his ‘scaly wings’ and told him that he should fight the giants so that the giants had their backs to a cliff edge. Grey Fox went to the mesa and, using the toad’s wings, flew up to meet the giants. They threw spears at him but they broke against his breastplate. They fired arrows at him but they bounced off his helmet. The giants, fearing that Grey Fox was a spirit, dared not take their eyes off him. As the toad had instructed, Grey Fox fought them so they had their backs to the cliff edge so when he leapt at them, they stepped back and fell down to their doom. The last of them to fall reached out and ripped the wings from Grey Fox’s back. Grey Fox returned to the horned toad and gave back the helmet and breastplate. But, seeing that his beautiful wings had been destroyed, the toad was overcome with sadness and anger which is why, to this day, the wingless horned toad cries bitter tears of blood whenever the fox comes near.

toad spitting blood from eyes

Pak Choi’s bizarre drawing of a toad spitting blood from its eyes

The man at the immigration desk had clearly not seen a passport from the Fair Lands before. They are rare after all and composed primarily of pressed leaves and petals. I suspect Pak Choi might have taken my earlier words too literally. He whispered certain words to the man and the man started laughing. He did not stop laughing, even when they had wrestled him from the booth and taken him away on an ambulance stretcher. We hotfooted it out of the airport as quickly as possible.

Professor Raposa was a delightful host who put me up in his Tucson home. Of late, all the men I meet seem to either be suspiciously monobrowed or have some sort of romantic interest in me. It appeared that Professor Raposa was one of the latter. At dinner, with an honesty and charm that British men simply don’t have, Professor Raposa explained that he had first seen me delivering a speech at a symposium in Illinois some years earlier and had ‘taken a shine’ to me. I recall delivering a paper at the event entitled “People in Glass Slippers shouldn’t own Thrones: Why Cinderella would have been a Rubbish Queen” but I had no recollection of meeting the professor.

I rebuffed the professor’s gentle advances and we spent a perfectly pleasant evening over a bowl of chili, a plate of something called cheese crisp and a glass of Sonoita Malvasia, an American wine that was far more pleasant than certain European wine-snobs of my acquaintance might have me believe. The following day, we went to the Arizona State Museum in the grounds of the university and to the domunculus I had come all this way to see.

However, I was distracted by the sight of the infamous Silverbell Road Crosses that the museum also has on display. The crudely cast lead crosses are perhaps evidence of a mythical colony of religious exiles who fled from Rome over twelve hundred years ago and settled in Arizona centuries before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. The badly-formed Latin inscriptions and the carved imagery (including a dinosaur, no less!) offer hints of a marvellous story of great adventure, remarkable encounters in the Arizona desert and possibly even dinosaurs. Or, they all form part of an elaborate hoax, created for unknown reasons by a local Mexican sculptor. If only I had the time to study them further and draw my own conclusions! Pak Choi’s own conclusions are evidenced in this delightful drawing he has rendered.

cowboy on dinosaur

Pak Choi’s drawing of a cowboy riding a diplodocus

Professor Raposa took me to a gallery attended by two young men and there he presented to me, wrapped in a protective sheet, the Uttoxeter Casket. The reliquary was both smaller and more intricately carved than I had imagined. The boxwood carvings show various scenes from the life of Christ, including the nativity and the crucifixion. I told Professor Raposa that it was beautiful but, in all honest truth, I wanted to look within. Professor Raposa obliged and lifted the lid.

Oh, dear friends, did I expect to see Lang’s missing book of fairy tales just sitting there? Did I foolishly think that it had remained hidden for decades because no one had thought to look inside the box? The answer, sadly, is yes. But, naturally, the reliquary box was empty. Well, almost.

At the bottom of the box was a black and white photograph. I inspected it and saw that it was a photograph of a section of medieval manuscript, featuring an image of a fair queen upon her throne.

Professor Raposa was keen for my interpretation of the photograph which had arrived with the box. I was not quick to come to any judgement.  Jumping to hasty conclusions will have people believing in cowboys riding dinosaurs and wotnot. Professor Raposa became unaccountably impatient and then angry and he demanded that I tell him where the Black Fairy Book was. He made a passing remark about ‘the cheese-dangling witch!’ but I was suddenly and acutely distracted by the guns that the gallery attendants now pointed at me. I was struck by two almost instantaneous thoughts: one was that the two gallery attendants had rather thick eyebrows, the other was that it seemed something of a cliché for my current adventure to only feature firearms when I travelled to the United States. Oh well, such is life.

Unable to answer Professor Raposa’s demands for the location of the Black Fairy Book, even at gunpoint, I soon found myself in an unusual position. In short, I am currently writing this from the confines of the boot of what I understand to be a Lincoln Continental (you might have been curious as to why I have been forced to write this letter on end papers torn from your latest novel. It is no reflection of the regard in which I hold your book; it was simply the only paper to hand). It’s not the ideal space in which to write a missive but it could be worse. I will say this for our American friends, they do build cars with plenty of trunk space. I am not sure where the malicious Professor Raposa and his accomplices are taking me but I hope to post this letter to you as soon as I am let out.  

I am deeply conscious that I said I would be at your book event in four days’ time. Be assured I very much intend to be there and to have read your book in full by that time. I am sure all this nasty business will be wrapped up long before then.

Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “High Ho, High Ho: Drug Use and Prostitution in Fairy Tales” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

 

Epiphany’s Story part 5 – Tamworth

Original blog post here
Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present another of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

When last I wrote to you, I believe I was trapped  in the trunk of a Lincoln Continental in downtown Tucson, Arizona. I found time to reflect upon some of the unusual things that have happened in my  life over recent days, and I was able to draw some useful conclusions. So it was that when Pak Choi suggested that we might slip out via his homeland, I immediately agreed, as I had determined what should be our next course of action.

One should always be wary of spending too much time in Faerie, as it ages the skin terribly, so I had Pak Choi immediately open another portal back into the real world, and this one to the town of Tamworth.

As I am sure you’re aware, Tamworth was the seat of the Saxon rulers of Mercia, and it was for this reason that I needed to visit. The photograph in the domunculus I had seen in Tuscon was unmistakeably a picture of Æthelflæd. Æthelflæd was the daughter of Alfred the Great, and known as the Lady of Mercia. Pak Choi opened a convenient doorway that emerged in the river meadow in the shadow of Tamworth castle.

The castle is built at the confluence of two rivers, the Tame and the Anker, and this important junction is the subject of a local fairy tale, known as The Mermaid and the Mother. A local boy, Tom, liked to spend time by the river, although his mother warned him to be careful of mermaids. Tom was confident that he would not be tricked by the notoriously sly mermaids, and continued  to pass his days on the pleasant grassy banks. When a swan engaged him in conversation he was not afraid, and even took the swan home to meet his mother. It turned out that the swan was a mermaid, and by inviting her over the threshold of his home, Tom was now betrothed to her. Tom didn’t mind the prospect of spending the rest of his life swimming in the river with this fascinating creature, but his mother was determined to prevent the marriage so she heated up the oven, preparing to roast the swan. The cunning mermaid passed word of this to the town’s magistrate, who was naturally obliged to protect the royal bird and so threw the mother in jail, and presided over the nuptials in her absence.

woman cooking swan

Here is a picture of the mother preparing to cook the swan

Pak Choi and I enjoyed the brief and pleasant walk up into the town, passing by the Assembly Rooms, which bears Tamworth’s unofficial coat of arms. This features a pair of mermaids, popularly supposed to be Tom and his bride.

I wanted to visit the library, where I believed there was an archive of the local newspapers. The late Mabel Swift had a popular history column in this for many years, and it was her work that I wished to review, as I had heard that she had a great deal of expertise regarding the life of Æthelflæd and I needed to find out what link there might be with Andrew Lang’s Black Fairy Book. In the library, a bespectacled assistant called Ernest offered to copy all of the relevant material for me, and suggested that I should enjoy a walk around the shady pathways between the library and St Editha’s church while I waited. Pak Choi and I enjoyed this very much, as there are lots of cheeky squirrels who seem unafraid of people and so Pak Choi was able to have a hearty gossip with them without attracting too much attention. He passed on a bawdy tale of squirrel-based derring-do which I will relate here for your amusement, as I know that your book Disenchanted touches on some rather base elements.

A squirrel called Ewan declared himself king of the nuts, by virtue of the fact that nobody else had thought to do it first. He had a throne constructed of nuts and made all of his subjects bring him nut-based tributes. He was an unpopular ruler as nobody could ever see any benefit to his reign, only the burden of supplying nuts for his insatiable appetite.

It became known that he needed so many nuts to sustain his lovemaking, as he liked to visit whatever passes for a red light district in squirrel terms (I’m afraid that Pak Choi’s excessive mirth made this point a little unclear to me). Ewan’s subjects decided that they could cure these urges with the use of a classic honey trap. They recruited a delightfully pretty girl squirrel. Pak Choi used the term hotsy totsy. I honestly don’t know where he gets it from, I think these squirrels are a bad influence. The attractive squirrel was charged with engaging the squirrel king in energetic lovemaking, but whenever he reached for a nut (as he would do throughout) she would bite him vigorously. You might think that this tale ends with Ewan’s re-education, perhaps renouncing his reign over the nuts, but you’d be wrong. It actually ends with him contracting tetanus and dying, which had Pak Choi and his bushy-tailed friends falling about and hooting with laughter.

squirrel king of the nuts

Here is a picture of the King of the Nuts

There is an interesting anchor-themed sculpture near the church. It is a memorial to Colin Grazier, one the three British seaman who retrieved secret documents from a sinking German submarine in World War Two. The Enigma code books were amongst those documents, enabling those clever people over at Bletchley Park to understand the Germans’ encrypted messages. Sadly, young Colin, a local lad, drowned when the sub went down.

Colin Grazier memorial

Here is Pak Choi’s sketch of the sculpture

I had my own mystery to solve and codes to break and felt inspired by Colin’s example as I went back into the library to see what Ernest had found for me. The librarian had uncovered and photocopied a wealth of local history material for me. 

Ernest looked at me intently and enquired if I would like to join him for a drink of locally brewed real ale, over which he could tell me some more about the local area. Lovely though the little man was, I can’t abide real ale. I dismissed his advances with brief thanks and made a sharp exit. I had much to think about. I was not in need of ale but of some quiet thinking time and a cup of Pak Choi’s soothing tea.

I post this to you in the knowledge that I have promised to meet you in Birmingham tomorrow to help celebrate the launch of your new book. I see no reason at all why I can’t get to the bottom of this mystery and then come meet with you, dear friends.

Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “One Day My Prints Will Come: How Early Printers Hindered the Spread of Fairy Tales” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

Epiphany’s Story part 6 – Birmingham

Heide and Iain’s latest novel, Disenchanted, is out this month. The fairy tale fantasy comedy was written with no small assistance from Dr Epiphany Alexander of Sheffield University’s Department for Folklore and Oral History. As an insight into the research material used to create Disenchanted, we present another of Dr Alexander’s letters to the author duo.

My Dear Friends,

I can explain everything, as I am sure you have questions. We set off for Birmingham this morning in high spirits and good hope that we might be able to conclude our own business before joining you this evening in the Prince of Wales pub to celebrate the launch of your latest book, Disenchanted. Our personal quest, to find Andrew Lang’s missing volume of fairy tale stories had, as you know, taken us far and wide and now we had come to Birmingham, hoping to find it in the company of a medieval illuminated manuscript called The Cartulary of Wroxall Abbey, featuring an image of Æthelflæd, Queen of the Mercians. We were being closely pursued by some mysterious foxy gentlemen with unruly eyebrows, but more on them later.

In Tamworth, I found a mention in one of Mabel Swift’s newspaper columns of her seeing the illuminated manuscript in the Shakespeare Memorial Room of Birmingham Central Library on Edmund Street. Pak Choi, my faithful servant and companion, made a number of childish noises at the mention of Shakespeare. He has made it clear to me before that he and the other Fair Folk have a somewhat low opinion of Mr William Shakespeare and his depiction of fairies.

As we walked from Birmingham New Street station up to Edmund Street, Pak Choi recounted to me the fairy tale of Puck and the Horrific Machine. To be honest, fairies just call them ‘tales’ or, when they are feeling less charitable ‘tales of our dealings with the stupid humans’. I suspect Pak Choi makes most of it up but it is set in Birmingham and so worth recounting. He began the tale by recounting how Robin Goodfellow, the puckish fairy, often visits the homes of slovenly women and pinches them black and blue as punishment for their poor housekeeping and laziness (Puck is something of an unreconstructed chauvinist, you may note). One woman, living in the Highgate area of the then town of Birmingham, drew Robin Goodfellow’s ire. Not only did she refuse to keep her house clean but she also locked her front and back doors at night (fairy folk require that all doors are kept unlocked so that human homes do not impede their night-time flights). But Robin Goodfellow was never one to give in and resolutely broke in each night to pinch and poke and prod the slatternly housewife. The woman, one Mrs Griffiths, might not have been house-proud but she was intelligent, belligerent and would make use of all available tools on hand to fight her cause. The tool, in this instance, was her husband. She told Mr Griffiths to build an electric machine with which to fight off the fairy. Mr Griffiths’ invention was primarily composed of iron (which fairies hate) and had a great sucking nozzle with which to unnerve and dismount flying fairies. So armed, Mrs Griffiths lay in wait and, indeed, Robin Goodfellow made his appearance that night. Mrs Griffiths chased the puckish one upstairs and down, rattling her nozzle up curtains, under furniture and along the coving. Of course, she had no hope of catching the light-footed Puck (who could put a girdle around the world in forty minutes, as you know) but it was perhaps pleasing and certainly profitable when she realised that her husband had invented the world’s first domestic vacuum cleaner.

woman with vacuum cleaner

Here is a picture of Mrs Griffiths with her vacuum cleaner

We reached Edmund Street and found a museum and some council offices but no sign of any library. After walking up and down for some minutes, we asked one of the local residents (they do have a peculiar accent, don’t they?) about the library. The old gent was keen to tell us that the library that had stood there had been demolished in the 1970s. I was most saddened to hear this. But our friendly local was keen to point out that the Shakespeare Room had been dismantled brick by brick and panel by panel and reconstructed within the new Central Library. I eagerly asked him to direct us to it and he pointed to a demolition site not fifty yards away. My heart sank.

“Of course,” the old gent told me, “they moved it out of there into the new new Library of Birmingham.”

Well, off we set, in search of this mysterious wandering room. Within in minutes were in the new shiny glass and gold library and taking the lift to the ninth floor where, as the man had promised, there was an original Victorian room (albeit constructed in the Elizabethan style) with birds and flowers and such produced in world-class marquetry. In a locked display case, we saw The Cartulary of Wroxall Abbey! Fortunately, Pak Choi is not only a fine chef, a gifted masseur and a self-proclaimed “Third Dan in Sushi” but he’s also a dab hand with locks. Faster than you can say Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, the case was open, the book was out and there, in a hollow that had been savagely cut into the aged parchment, was a fat leather-bound notebook.

With trembling hands – oh, they were trembling, dear friends – I opened the notebook and saw the confident if not entirely neat signature of one ‘A. Lang’ on the first page. Dear friends, I hope that you can appreciate the unalloyed joy I felt at holding a previously unseen volume from one of our island’s greatest collectors of fairy tales and folklore.

Giddy as schoolchildren, we hightailed it out of the library and took our find to the Wellington pub to toast our success and pore over the tales within the book. I must confess, I imbibed more than a couple of glasses of red while voraciously reading such delights as Old Scratch comes to Stay, The Princess who would not be Married and The Three Witches of the Fen. One story especially caught my eye.

The Queen and the Foxes is a tale of a great English queen (Æthelflæd perhaps?) who came to the aid of the land when it was under attack from demonic foxes from across the sea (an allegory for the Danish Vikings, maybe). Many men had met them in combat but the foxes were too strong and quick. The queen defeated them instead in a battle of wits. She invited them into the courtyard of her castle with the promise of a feast. They came at night, slinking in like silent shadows, licking their sharp teeth hungrily. They demanded the food that had been promised and the queen said they would dine on the largest cheese in the world. “Where is it?” the foxes demanded and the queen pointed into the well in the middle of the courtyard. The foxes looked in and saw a big round cheese as big as the world. Without a second thought, the demonic beasts leapt in one after the other into the well. Of course, the ‘cheese’ was nothing but a reflection of the full moon but the hungry foxes were easily fooled. When they all landed in the well, rolling over each other in their furry thousands, snapping and biting at one another, the foxes understood they had been tricked and vowed vengeance against the queen and the people of the land. But the queen bound them in the well with an enchantment (a couplet in Old English that appeared in the book but which I will not repeat here). And so the land was saved.

Here is a picture of the foxes in the well

Pak Choi and I enjoyed another drink (maybe two) before realising we were in danger of being late for your book launch party. We staggered aboard a number 50 bus and demanded that the driver take us to the Prince of Wales pub. We were, I should say in our defence, very nearly on time.

Soon enough, we stepped off the bus in the suburb of Moseley and looked around for the pub. What we did see was a number of hairy men casually approaching us. Perhaps it was the influence of the wine but I could see clearly now that these fellows, with their thick eyebrows, long tongues and – yes! – bushy tails swinging between their legs were foxes, plain and simple.

“Give us the book,” they said in silky voices, “or we will tear you limb from limb.”

“So that you can use the enchantment to free your foxy friends and take over the land once more?” I demanded loudly. I’m not usually so loud and commanding but six or seven glasses of Merlot does something to a lady.

The foxes merely shrugged, which was impressive because I didn’t think foxes had shoulders.

“Never,” I said and reached into Pak Choi’s pocket. My fairy friend is a pipe man and frequently enjoys a puff on Youngman’s Long-Drawn Shag and therefore always has matches on his person. I took a book from my bag and, quick as I could, put flame to the paper. The foxes howled in anguish at seeing their chance for vengeance gone for good. As they ran off, screaming miserably, I shouted victoriously after them, “Away filth! Begone with you! Good riddance to bad rubbish!”

And that, my dear friends, is the reason why, when you stepped out of the pub you happened to find me, drunkenly burning a copy of your book on the pavement and declaring “Away filth!” and such. I’m sure you can see that my version of events is entirely believable and satisfactory now that I have explained it to you.

You did mention in your rather terse text message that I was clearly alone but I should point out that the foxes had gone by the time you appeared and that my fairy friend isn’t always visible to mortal folk. Yes, it is true that I deceived the fox-men by burning your novel rather than Lang’s priceless notebook but I am confident that you will see the wisdom of my actions.

Anyway, now that is cleared up, I hope that you will not mention this little matter to the Vice Chancellor of my university and that we can remain, as always, the dearest of friends.

Yours,

Dr E. Alexander

Dr Epiphany Alexander’s latest book, “Cobblers! : The Dubious Origins of the Tale of the Elves and the Shoemaker.” is currently available from Sheffield Academic Press.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant’s novel, Disenchanted, is available now from Amazon.

Posted in 2017, Books Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Stokercon Diary: California Screaming

A trip to the US

Heide went to Stokercon for two reasons.

  • She wanted to meet people from the US genre scene. Writerly chit-chat with a new set of people is always great
  • It was onboard the Queen Mary.

The Queen Mary is permanently moored in Long Beach California, so a long way from home, but what a trip!
Iain wasn’t able to make this trip. Heide went with her husband, Simon.
Here’s Heide’s Stokercon diary:
Queen Mary, Long Beach

Tuesday 25th April

Arrived at Long Beach in the afternoon, but it was hard work staying awake until the evening as we’d been up for many hours already. Had a walk around the ship and went for a meal. The bay seems to come alive with birds at dusk. Watching pelicans fish is particularly spectacular (the bird in the picture is a heron).

Heron flying past Queen Mary

Wednesday 26th April

We met up with Will (a proof reader and long distance friend) for brunch. He’s local and he’d booked us in to a nice place called Plunge a short taxi ride away from the Queen Mary, but within sight, across the bay, as so many things seem to be. This restaurant is so cool that it has no frontage onto the street, it’s in an apartment block. You just have to know it’s there.
I’m not sure how Will knew who I was when we arrived, but he might have been tipped off by my performance in the lift (elevator). The receptionist told me that the restaurant was on level 2 so the lift dinged on 2 and then we walked out. We were clearly only one floor up from the ground so we got back in and repeated the performance. It took some time before realisation dawned that the ground floor counts as a number in the US.
Will was such fun to talk to that after brunch we went for an extended walk with him, chatting as we went. The path up the side of Long Beach runs for a long way so we didn’t run out of subject matter or places to walk. Eventually Will summoned a taxi and dropped us back at the Queen Mary on his way back to Santa Monica. One of the things that he told us about is the local fish called the Grunion. These apparently have an annual habit of coming up the beach to mate, and there’s quite a spectacle when it happens. He emailed afterwards to tip us off that that this week is good for the Grunion Run, as it’s known.
I’ve only been here a day and already I am hamming up my English accent. A couple asked if I would take their picture. They commented on my “foreign accent” and patted my hair, saying it was an awesome cut, like Pat Benatar.
Planned a quiet drink and early night but spotted some people in the bar that looked like horror writers. I went and said hello and they turned out to be the early birds who were organizing. Kate Jonez, Johnny Worthen and Lauren Candia amongst others. Got roped into a couple of hours stuffing goody bags and sorting name badges, which was a great way to meet people.

Thursday 27th April

After breakfast, we went back to help with some more of the organising: name badges, moving signs around etc. I was curious to find that Simon didn’t have a name badge, so I checked the booking that I’d made. I was horrified to see that I had never booked him into the con. I threw myself upon Kate’s mercy, and she sorted it out. We both now have volunteer ribbons.
The dealers all turned up. The dealers’ room is sited on the promenade deck, which is a vast airy corridor linking most of the con’s rooms. Feeling the pressure of my new volunteer status, I asked Mary Elizabeth of Mysterious Galaxy if she’d like some help setting up. Many authors and publishers have sent their books to Mysterious Galaxy to sell on their behalf, so they had an enormous run of tables, with piles of boxed-up books organised (and shipped) in alphabetised ranges. It took several hours to get all of the books out of the boxes and onto the tables, but it’s an impressive sight.
Mysterious Galaxy bookstore at Stokercon
PS Publishing from the UK had sent a whole load of books and when Peter Crowther stopped by to see that they had arrived safely he was perplexed by my accent and wondered which state I was from, assuming I was part of Mysterious Galaxy.
Lunch was provided for volunteers, which was great as all the food and drink (both on and off the Queen Mary) is eye-wateringly expensive.
A bit more goody-bag packing featured. It never seems to end – there are still more to be done. I slipped a few cards into some of them with details of my reading, which is tomorrow. If I’d realised I’d be doing this job I would have come armed with five hundred.
The day was punctuated by loud announcements that could be heard all over the Queen Mary. They were being made from a nearby cruise ship which had appeared in the morning, and which left in the evening. The tannoy (public address system) was used to bellow instructions, hints, tips and adverts to the cruise ship passengers (and the rest of Long Beach) all day long.
Bumped into Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane. They had made a long journey from the UK like we had, but they were a day later, so were still catching up with the time zone difference. They’d got a plug adapter for the US but it turned out to be the wrong way round (i.e. for US visitors to the UK) and so they were on the hunt for a new adapter.
The readings had started in the Wedding Chapel, and we went to see F Paul Wilson accompanied by Kerri Leigh Grady and Jeff Strand accompanied by Christopher Clark. All of the stories were excellent and everyone stuck to the thirty minute slots with remarkable accuracy.
After getting something to eat there was the opening party. If I’d stayed awake until later, there was a stunt team, Decayed Brigade, doing a display, but their make-up and entertaining jump-scares were all that I saw of them. Decayed Brigade
I chatted with Keri Kelley and Barbara Barnett whose book Apothecary’s Curse is nominated for a Stoker Award and features heavily in the goody bag and on the book stall. Lee Murray with her husband David introduced me to the term “sponsor”. It’s her way of introducing David, who is neither a reader nor a writer. They introduced me to Hank Schwaeble and Rhodi Hawk.
Spent a few minutes talking to Jeffrey Burton whose first stop in Los Angeles was the emergency room after his wife sliced open her thumb on the air sickness bag on the plane.

Friday 28th April

Attended a panel on marketing your work and getting paid as a writer, which seemed like 2 separate topics, but they were tackled jointly by a group of people from Blumhouse, a media company. The chair was Rebekah McKendry and the other panelists were people who worked in various forms for Blumhouse. They discussed the agile approach to writing that they had all employed in order to become full-time paid writers. They tied this in with marketing; that everything you write must be pushed out somehow, so that they it contributes to your brand and presence.
Got embroiled with a group of people who had decided to go to a workshop on giving a great interview, which sounded very interesting but I didn’t realise until part way through that it was on for two hours, so I had to slip away or I would have missed my own reading. I must apologise to Nicole Cushing, who was running the workshop, if I see her.
I went to the reading room early so that I could hear Lee Murray’s reading. She was accompanied by Delphine Boswell. On the way to the reading I found Will, who was there for the day so that he could hear my reading.
There were 20-25 people in the reading that I did (Erinn Kemper was my reading buddy). Jeff Strand came to see us, which was great as he is a busy man. Got a good number of laughs for Clovenhoof and the Spiders. I had a couple of Terry’s Chocolate Oranges and raffled them at the end. Lee Murray won them.
We walked around the deck briefly with Will and went to the bar for a while to relax with a drink and some snacks. He told us that the wind that was picking up was likely to turn into a Santa Ana, which is famous for unsettling people. I found that I was definitely unsettled when I noticed that the water bottles that kept turning up in our room were chargeable. This fact is written in white lettering on a pale pink background, almost invisible. I’ve already drunk my way through a small fortune!

water bottle
We met Jeffrey Burton again, with his wife Cindy this time. She appeared to have recovered from her thumb trauma. They recommended a place to eat, so we went round to the Yard House in Shoreline Village. By the time we got back to the Queen Mary the scheduled events had finished so we did some ninja-like sign swapping in preparation for Saturday’s events and went to bed, tired.

Saturday 29th April

Went to the registration desk to see if they wanted any help during the day. Got some crowd control jobs to do around George RR Martin’s events which were open to the public if they bought a special ticket. 
Met Lee Murray on the stairs. It turns out that we both know Chris Barnes, audiobook narrator extraordinaire. I told her that although Chris hasn’t yet narrated any of our novels he recorded the story that I read yesterday, Clovenhoof and the Spiders.
Went to a “pitch clinic” unsure what it was, exactly. It turned out to be literary agent Katharine Sands of NY agency Sarah Jayne Freymann talking about how to pitch to an agent, and promising to work with some “victims” to hone their pitches. A couple of the many key points that she made were:

  • Never lie, but keep to the high points. Complications in your situation or any kind of “backstory” can come later. The pitch is like a first date compared to marriage (you don’t talk about retiring together on a first date)
  • It’s important to think of a pitch as “sharing” rather than “selling”

She was incredibly generous with her time and knowledge. After the session six of us went into a side room to continue the discussion and she remained there for about 90 minutes, making sure that everyone had their questions answered and their pitches dissected.
Went to some readings. Johnny Worthen and Nathan Carson. Walking back from there Jeff Strand stopped me and said how much he enjoyed the reading that I did yesterday.
The crowd for George RR Martin turned out to be well-behaved so when the queue had died down I made sure that I got a picture of him with the infamous Baby.
George RR Martin with sinister baby
I got a picture of Stephen Jones with Baby as well.
Stephen Jones with creepy baby
I loitered outside the pitching sessions, and Mercedes Yardley of Gamut magazine had a sudden opening. I’d met Mercedes briefly before. I went in to ask whether Gamut might be interested in a 5k comedy piece that Iain and I have just written. I didn’t so much pitch it as re-tell it, but she was patient enough to sit through my rambling before telling me that Gamut don’t really do comedy, but she suggested a couple of other avenues that I might look at.
We went to the banquet and watched the Stoker Awards with Jeff Strand as Master of Ceremonies. Jeff pointed out that the Queen’s Salon, where we were sitting, featured in the Poseidon Adventure, and had us all pose for a picture as if we were on a sinking ship. 

Sunday 30th April

My Stokercon diary ends here. A morning of saying goodbye to new friends and wondering whether I can get to Stokercon 2018 in Providence.
 

Posted in 2017, Events Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Goodreads giveaway for Disenchanted

Fairy tale silhouettes

Paperback giveaway

Want to win a paperback copy of the brand new comedy from Heide and Iain?
Here’s the description:
Ella Hannaford has a small business to run, an overworked father to look after and a future stepmother who wants a perfect wedding. Can she avoid a girly night out with her clueless stepsister? Can she side-step lovesick suitors at every turn? Not if it’s up to that team of foul-mouthed dwarfs who want to forcibly drag her into her happily ever after. Gingerbread cottages, dodgy European gangsters, gun-toting grannies, wisecracking wolves, stubborn fairy godmothers, ogres, beanstalks and flying carpets abound in a tale about what happens when you refuse to accept your Happy Ending.

Use the link below to enter. You’ve got until 20th May 2017.
Good luck!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Disenchanted by Heide Goody

Disenchanted

by Heide Goody

Giveaway ends May 20, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

 

Enter Giveaway

Posted in 2017, Books, giveaway

Egg-tapping, girl-whipping and the power of Ozric Tentacles – Easter and Fairy Tales

Easter is an intriguing time of year. It is the most important Christian festival, celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The English name for the festival is possibly take from the name of the pagan goddess, Ostara, who may or may not have been a goddess of the dawn. For most of the western world, this most solemn event is celebrated by consuming chocolate eggs, supposedly delivered by a magical rabbit but other traditions around the world include egg-tapping (or egg-knocking), well-dressing and whipping the local girls. Easter is a festival that seems to eclectically draw customs to it that couldn’t find a home at any other time of the year.

Thankfully, fairy tales offer us some insight as to what links some of these strangest of customs to Easter.

Korbazka the Lazy

The Brothers Grimm collected a tale that, although told to them by a German native, probably has its origins in Slovakia. Korbazka the Lazy is an odd tale. Korbazka is a lazy but lucky man. He is late in ploughing his fields but, when he does, he finds a cache of buried gold. He is too lazy to carry it home and so it remains safe when the village is attacked by robbers. He shares his wealth with the robbed villagers (he’s lazy, not selfish) and, in turn, he is given the prettiest maiden in the village as his wife. Soon, she falls pregnant but it transpires that Korbazka’s unborn son is as lazy as the father. After nine months, the baby shows no sign of emerging. A whole year passes and still the baby refuses to be born. Korbazka begs the baby to emerge. He attempts to bribe it with sweets. Nothing. Three years pass. Finally, on Good Friday, in utter desperation – don’t try this at home! – he whips his wife’s belly in an attempt to force the child out. Nothing. In fact, the baby is utterly still and Korbazka fears he has killed his son. Fearful and penitent, Korbazka confesses to the priest and is baptised anew in the icy local river. And then, as the light of Easter Sunday dawns, Korbazka’s son climbs from his mother’s womb, as big as a three year old and already able to walk and talk. The parallels with the story of Jesus are obvious. My sympathies (along with yours, I suspect) are with the poor mother who not only had to suffer a three year pregnancy and a whipping by her husband but then had to give birth to a full-sized toddler.

Strange and downright immoral though the tale may be, it is a possible explanation for the strange Easter customs of the Czech Republic and Slovakia which involve the young woman being symbolically whipped by the men and then the men – or in some places, the women – being doused in icy cold water.

Ozric Tentacles

Well dressing is a sweet little springtime tradition that can be found across central England, particularly in Derbyshire. It involves the creation of colourful plaques or sometimes embroidery which are then used to decorate (or ‘dress’) the local well. Its origins are unclear but more than one scholar had pointed to the tale of Ozric Tentacles as a possible influence.
Ozric Tentacles is, as far as this writer is aware, the only fairy tale to feature a squid. The story starts with a Derbyshireman who decides to seek his fortune at sea. This is unusual, given that Derbyshire is just about as far from the sea as one might get in England. His neighbours and friends deride him for his foolish notion and tell him that nothing good will come of it. He tells them that he will come back, not only with a story of his own but with a gift for all the local sheep farmers.

Off goes the Derbyshireman, sets sail from Bristol and, before the year is up, is shipwrecked. The next bit is weird and will be swiftly glossed over here. The Derbyshireman meets a squid, falls in love and they have a baby boy. The boy is called Ozric (it’s an old English name meaning ‘power’) and he is called Ozric Tentacles because, well, he has tentacles.

The romance between a man and a squid was always doomed to fail. The Derbyshireman dies, defending his squid bride from pirates, and young Ozric realises he must move on. Fed on his father’s stories, Ozric decides to return to the motherland and visit the hills and dales of Derbyshire. He comes to England to find the land in the grip of drought. Crops have failed across England, the grass has shrivelled up in the sun and the sheep farmers of Derbyshire can only watch as their flocks succumb to starvation and thirst. Along comes Ozric. The locals, sadly, do not look at him and think to themselves ‘ah, here comes an interesting young lad, his tentacles a-waving. Let’s buy him a drink and have him tell his story’. No, the Derbyshire folk see Ozric and his tentacles and, terrified, set upon him with pitchforks and axes. They hack and slash at him and, as each severed tentacle falls away, a wellspring appears where it touches the ground.

Ozric falls down dead but now, across the valley, fresh wells have appeared giving water and life back to the struggling people. In penance and gratitude, the people build a church in Ozric’s memory and garland the wells he created with the flowers that have now sprung up once more.

A saviour killed by those he will save. Life coming from death. Again, the religious imagery of Easter is clear here. In researching this piece with the help of Dr E. Alexander of Sheffield University, we tried to find Ozric’s church in Derbyshire but, despite some helpful advice from a publican in Hathersage, we only found a square outline in local stone in the woods. It might have been the ruins of a church. It might just have been the remains of an old sheep pen.

Egg-Tapping Tam

Finally, a short tale and, for once, a fairy tale from the United States. The pioneer days of America were the source of numerous legends, perhaps the most famous of which was that of Paul Bunyan, the giant lumberjack who was usually found in the company of the equally giant Babe the Blue Ox. Less famous is the story of Egg-Tapping Tam. This is, without doubt, the source of the American tradition of egg-tapping which, not unlike the British game of conkers (but with eggs, not conkers, obviously) involves bashing your egg against a competitor’s and trying to break their egg, not yours.
Tam was a settler in the East but not a prudent fellow. The chickens he raised on his farm, he ate. He kept no eggs, either to eat or to hatch new chickens from. A chicken farmer like that would soon be out of business and indeed was the case for Tam. His farm destroyed, his home taken from him, Tam wandered the land as a vagrant.

One night, he sat by a fire with a stranger, who turned out to be a fairy (or an angel in some retellings, or indeed a tohopano spirit creature according to at least one anthropologist). The fairy, seeing Tam brought low, asked what was the cause of his misery. When Tam explained, the fairy burst out laughing at the foolish man. His greed had made him consume all his chickens yet never consider the food or profit to be gained from eggs. The fairy cursed Tam, declaring that he would never ever be able to open or eat an egg again.

This curse had little impact on Tam until the day he wandered into a town and was offered a boiled egg as payment for some small service. Tam attempted to peel its shell but it would not give. He tried to smash it on the ground but it would not break. The townsfolk were amused by this man who was seemingly too weak to break an egg. A woman showed him how it was done but he could not do the same. The egg in his hand was like a stone. Another egg was held out to him and Tam bashed his egg against it, breaking the other’s shell but not his own. This curious event drew some interest. Whichever egg Tam picked up would stay whole, while every egg he struck his against broke.

Soon, challengers came to try their hand against egg-tapping Tam but the man could not be beaten. His egg – any egg he held – would best another.

Tam later travelled the land, his fame preceding him, and everywhere he went he would win egg-tapping competitions and preach to the people about the importance of prudent farm management. It is said that he was responsible for helping spread arable farming as far west as the Dakotas and spent his final days as a pious missionary amongst the Native American nations.

Disenchanted, the latest novel by Heide Goody and Iain Grant does not feature any whipping, any mistreated squid-men or any egg-tapping contests. However, it does feature plenty of other nonsense and is, allegedly, very funny.

Posted in 2017 Tagged with: , , ,

Adrian Mole’s 50th Birthday Celebrations

Winning a commission to write a new Adrian Mole story

We’ve blogged before about visiting the Sue Townsend archive at the University of Leicester. When we saw the news that there were to be commissions for new Adrian Mole stories to celebrate his 50th birthday, there was no question – we had to try and get one!
We put on our thinking caps about what Adrian Mole might be doing in 2017 and created a pitch. We were completely thrilled to be accepted, so we wrote the piece ready for the celebrations.
We re-read the books so that we could capture the voice and reference any key information. It was a reminder of how very clever and funny they are. If you haven’t revisited Sue Townsend’s work for a while, give yourself a treat.
Part of the commission included the opportunity to visit the Sue Townsend archive again in the Special Collections at the David Wilson Library. This time there was a chance to go and see behind the scenes. There is an environmentally controlled room filled with shelving. There are many boxes filled with Sue Townsend’s work, but luckily it’s all indexed on the website, so that if you visit you can request the documents that you want to see.

Adrian Mole’s birthday

There were several sessions during Sunday 2nd April 2017, Adrian’s actual birthday. They were hosted by Leicester University and sponsored by Penguin Books (who have issued a celebratory volume of Mole’s poetry to coincide with his birthday).

Art Workshop

The first session was The Art of Adrian Mole with Caroline Holden Hotopf. Caroline created the cover illustrations for the books when they were first published. She told the group lots of fun anecdotes. When she needed a picture of the Moles’ dog (referred to always as “the dog”) she saw one, in a park in Hackney. She asked the owner’s permission to photograph the dog and the owner even invited her back home, so that she could photograph the dog in different settings. Caroline recreated the dog picture on the flipchart for the workshop
Caroline Holden Hotopf draws the dog from Adrian Mole
The afternoon sessions all took place in the lecture theatre, and it was laid out with party bags for all attendees. These were very exciting, with a book, a programme, some cake, chocolate and even an Adrian Mole pen!
Adrian Mole 50th birthday party bags Iain Grant wearing party hat

Sue Townsend: Playwright

The first of the afternoon sessions was Sue Townsend: Playwright with Carole Hayman and Janette Legge.
This was a fascinating introduction to the work that Sue Townsend did in the theatre. A good deal of this was before the Adrian Mole novels made her a household name. Carole Hayman, who directed her early plays in London described their first meeting. “I wrote to you and you never replied”, “That’s because I couldn’t read your writing!”. Apparently they learned to communicate using block capitals or typed manuscripts after that. Janette Legge told us about being an actress in the plays, playing multiple roles to keep costs down.
Carole and Janette did a reading from a television script, called Spinney, that was never produced. It was a very funny scene, showing the tensions between a property developer who wants to build a squash club and the locals who want their community centre to remain.
Carole Hayman, Janette Legge and Bali Rai

Reunion: The Birth of Adrian Mole

The next event was Reunion: The Birth of Adrian Mole with Simon Dixon, Geoffrey Strachan and Caroline Holden Hotopf.
This was a fascinating look at how Adrian Mole came to our attention in the 1980s, chaired by Bridget Blair.

Simon Dixon, Caroline Holden Hotopf, Geoffrey Strachan and Bridget Blair
Simon Dixon looks after the archive in the university and he showed us some of the literary treasure trail that is held in the archive, documenting the journey to publication. He set the scene, telling us how the character, initially called Nigel Mole, was featured on BBC radio, and it was suggested that it could be turned into a comedy novel.
Geoffrey Strachan, who was the publisher at Methuen then took over the story and told us how he helped to bring the book together. He had strong ideas about the format and cost of the book, insisting that it should be kept below £5 so that teenagers could afford it. He also said that the book’s publication coincided with a new set of BBC plays, which helped to boost its sales into bookshops, which is a considerable hurdle with a new author. He saw Caroline’s work in a gallery in London and brought her in as the illustrator for the books.
Caroline had several things to show the audience, including the deluxe edition of Adrian Mole. This is quite rare as it had a small print run, but features more of her delightful illustrations, many of which are locations in Leicester that Sue Townsend told her were in the book. A really special rarity that she has in her possession is a vinyl LP of the musical, that she also did the artwork for. When EMI sent her a copy, she found that one side featured the Rolling Stones. She called EMI to tell them and they said it was a pressing error, so it’s possible that she has the only copy of an LP with both Adrian Mole and the Rolling Stones!

Recollections from the first Live Action Mole

Simon Schatzberger took to the stage. He was the actor who first played Adrian Mole in the stage adaptation. He was a young-looking sixteen when he got the job, and took us right through the process from audition to production (with lots of re-writes) to taking the show to the West End. Like many of the speakers during the day, Simon spoke with huge warmth about Sue Townsend. It was clear that she was loved not only because of the wonderful work that she created but because of the person that she was as well.

New Writing

Author Bali Rai had worked with local schools to bring some new writing to the celebrations. He had given them a very loose remit of “my Leicester” to see what they came up with and then helped them with editing. The pieces that were read out were astonishing. Some were moving and some were extremely funny. There were some very talented young voices; hopefully they will continue to write.
The three commissions were introduced by Corinne Fowler, from the Centre for New Writing, as the final event in the lecture theatre.
First up was The Age of Convenience by Maria Taylor. It was a monologue narrated by Adrian, lying sleepless in bed as his 50th birthday approached:
“Mum is a great-grandma now, but she has taken up social protest as a hobby. Other seventy-two year old women would’ve taken up crochet.”
Second was Rocking On by Marilyn Ricci. This was a monologue about Adrian’s birthday celebrations in Skegness. It featured some stage directions, so she had someone to help her read it out:
“Whatever happens I’ve got to stop my mother making a speech when the clock ticks past Midnight and it’s officially my birthday.”
Our reading was last. Let Them Eat Custard Creams takes the form of a letter from Adrian to the Arts Council, protesting at their refusal of a grant for six thousand pounds for snacks for the Westcote Library Literature Group.
Read the story here
We left the lecture theatre and went to enjoy some party food. There was a fabulously retro buffet featuring sausage rolls, pork pies and cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks. Frances Quinn, former winner of the great British Bake Off had made a cake, decorated with Mole-themed motifs and there was a wonderful display of Caroline Holden Hotopf’s illustrations for us to look at.
Within moments, Iain and I encountered someone from the Arts Council and someone who works for the Leicester Library service. Luckily for us, they both approved of our story!

Posted in 2017, Events Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mother’s Day and the fairy tales linked to it

Mother’s Day, celebrated on different days around the world, is nonetheless a concept common to nearly all world cultures. But what of mothers in fairy tales? What do fairy tales have to teach us about mothers and motherhood? Let’s take a look.

Mothers don’t have a great life expectancy in fairy tales. In Snow White, she dies almost as soon as the titular child is born. In Beauty and the Beast, she dies before the story properly starts. In Cinderella, she doesn’t even make it to the opening credits. Mothers seem to only serve the purpose of giving birth to little heroes or heroines and then shuffling both off stage, preferably by dying.

However, even before the birth, mothers can have a big influence on their child. In the story of Rapunzel, her pregnant mother is overcome with food cravings and sends her husband into the garden of the witch next door to fetch the cooling salad leaves of the Rapunzel plant (sometimes translated as lettuce in some English versions). He is then captured and forced to give his baby to the witch and thus the whole story begins.

Plumwise

This is only one example of mothers demanding gifts from their loved ones. Mothers are used to receiving pleasant gifts on Mother’s Day; chocolate and alcohol are, I understand, much appreciated. However, they often find themselves in receipt of some unusual and downright disturbing gifts (bath salts, hideous bouquets, unflattering cardigans, Zumba lessons, etc). Why is this? It might owe something to the tale of Little Plumwise, an Eastern European tale about gift giving and a band of fairies who have turned their hand to highway robbery. In the story, Plumwise works in the town but takes a basket to her mother’s forest home every Sunday. However, she is attacked by thieving fairies who take her wares and scoff all the tasty treats she has made. But Plumwise is a clever fairy tale heroine and solves the problem by only taking her mum the most horrible of gifts, including but not limited to a scarf knitted from nettles, pies filled with horse dung and teapot with a hole in the bottom. Soon enough, the fairies abandon the idea of robbing Plumwise, knowing her goods to be worse than useless. Now, Plumwise can once again take delightful gifts and sweet pastries to her dear old mother (slipping in the occasional dung pie, in case the fairies think of robbing her again).

Cod Goes A-Mothering

Not many people realise that Mother’s Day in the UK, also known as Mothering Sunday, originally had little to do with one’s own mother. The day was an opportunity for people to return to their ‘mother’ church, the one where they had been baptised, and renew their connection to their home parish. In the UK, young people in ‘service’ (working as household staff for their social betters) were given the day off to go ‘a-mothering’. This tradition, in England at least, perhaps has its origins or has some connection with the little-told tale of Cod Goes A-Mothering.

The story deals with an ungrateful young man called Cod who leaves home to seek his fortune away from the fields and hills of his home (the exact location of that home is always specifically given in the tale and is always somewhere local to the place where it is being told). He finds his way to the city and does indeed find work, sometimes as a smith, sometimes as a costermonger. And, although he amasses a small fortune for himself, he never sends any of it back to his dear old mother. This scandalous behaviour is only tolerated for so long and eventually one of the devil’s own imps seeks out the thoughtless young man and poisons him. Realising he has been poisoned, Cod seeks help, first from an apothecary and then from a priest. It is the priest who tells him that the poison can only be washed from his system by drinking holy water. Cod goes to a church and drinks but to no effect; he feels worse than ever. He goes to the next church and the next but without success. Cod runs across England ever searching for the holy water that will give him relief. Anyone familiar with fairy tales will be able to guess what happens in the end: close to death, Cod comes to his home village and his much-neglected mother and drinks from the font of his mother church. The young man is at once cured. And, now that he’s home, what can he do but spend some time with his mother and spend some of his wealth on her. Soon enough though, he’s off again. But, it turns out, the imp’s poison has not been entirely eradicated from his system and Cod becomes progressively more poorly again. A trip to his mother church causes the symptoms to abate but not cure them entirely and, thus, Cod must make an annual trip to his home town and his dear old mum.

Cod’s mother giving him a good poke after his recovery from poisoning

So, what can we learn from all this? First of all, mums demand yearly tribute and all good fairy tale children must shower them with gifts (however rubbishy or bizarre) or face the consequences of disobedience. Secondly, we should love our mums while we still have them because fairy tale logic dictates that they have a lower life expectancy than hedgehogs on a motorway. And remember, that in fairy tales at least, if you don’t keep hold of your mum, you’re going to end up with a wicked ol’ stepmother and then you’re really in trouble!

You’ll find no such shoddy treatment of mothers or stepmothers (well, not much) in our latest comedy novel, Disenchanted, which you can order from Amazon here…

Posted in 2017 Tagged with: , ,

Fairy Tales relating to Spring

Spring time in fairy tales

What do fairy tales have to say about spring time? Quite a lot, it seems. To celebrate the equinox, let’s take a look.

Yellow Flowers Bloom In Spring

Spring Flowers Image courtesy of twobee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

DIY

The familiar zeal for carrying out maintenance tasks on the home during spring time is seen in the fairy tale The Wayward Castle where a servant girl must build a new tower on top of her master’s castle before the blooming of the first hawthorn tree, to prevent a witch’s curse from blighting the kingdom’s wheat crop. The servant girl repeats this each spring (although it is never explained why she could not start earlier or enlist the help of others) until the castle sports so many towers that it crumbles beneath the weight. At this point a lost gem is discovered in the rubble, restored to its owner and the curse is lifted.

Daffodils

A Cornish fairy tale The Fairies and the Bees explains how the daffodil came to have its familiar trumpet shape. It features a family of fairies that frequent a meadow near Polzeath. The fairies like to dance to the music made by bumblebees visiting flowers. The bumblebees are slow to awaken in the spring and the frustrated fairies want to make the most of the dozy pollinators, so they modify the daffodil with fairy dust to enlarge its trumpet, creating an effective loudspeaker for the bumblebee’s much-loved drone. As an interesting side note, the Victorian fairy tale collector Miranda Cartwright of Bath was so captivated by this notion that she constructed a number of oversized artificial daffodil trumpets from wire and paper and used them for her infamous Bumblebee Ball during the spring of 1874. Witnesses reported that dancers attempted a foxtrot to the sound of the bees’ amplified buzzing, but multiple dancers fell victim to stings from the bees, causing a minor stampede. Smelling salts and poultices were sourced from the entire town for the resulting medical emergency.

Analysis

We can take some useful lessons from these forgotten tales:

  • DIY is not always the answer. Home improvement should be undertaken by someone who knows what they’re doing.
  • As the sap rises in early spring, we all want to get close to nature. We should all remember that it’s possible to get too close however, so cover up those vulnerable areas.
  • Avoid these hazardous activities. Read a book instead. Something like Disenchanted, where a fairy tale heroine refuses to accept her happy ending.
Posted in 2017, Books, Reflections Tagged with: , ,

Fairy tales associated with St Patrick’s Day

It’s St Patrick’s Day, a day which is celebrated by billions around the world by pretending they have Irish heritage and drinking more Guinness in one day than they do in all the other days of the year combined. We’d like to take this opportunity to look at some fairy tales that have links to Ireland and its patron saint.

St Patrick is frequently associated with the shamrock. According to legend, the three leaves in the one plant were used by St Patrick to explain to the unbelieving Irish how the trinity could possibly exist within the one God, that he might simultaneously be the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit whilst remaining one supreme deity. Of course, the Irish already had their three-in-one fairy tale hero in Brinn the Maker.

Brinn the Maker

 As any Irish child will recall, Brinn was a simple woodcutter and carpenter from the north of Ireland who was apprenticed to a cruel and lazy man. Having already proved himself to be a better craftsman than his master, Brinn finished his apprenticeship and prepared to set out into the world. However, his master, though cruel and lazy, was not a fool. A better craftsman than himself would take custom from his own workshop and so, as Brinn slept on that final night, the master cut him into three with a saw and cast the three parts into three separate graves. But, as so often happens in these tales, the forces of goodness would not let death take the pure of heart and the good fairies (or sioga dur) brought Brinn back to life. Unfortunately, being in three separate graves, Brinn was brought back as a head, a torso and a pair of legs, all perfectly alive but nonetheless separate.
Each part then went on its own way, the legs dancing a merry jig, the head speaking wisdom to any who would listen, and the carpenter’s hands and arms blindly making the finest furniture, carvings and wotnots in the land. In the fullness of time, having earned himself a reputation for grace, intelligence and solid craftsmanship, Brinn’s various bits were reunited, he was married to a fine girl and, depending on which version you read, the wicked master was either driven out of business or locked in a chest of his own making and tossed into the stormy Atlantic. To be clear, though Brinn’s various wandering bits were brought together they still retained the ability to wander off at will. Quite what a wife would want with a husband whose head couldn’t be relied to stay on his shoulders is anyone’s guess.

 

The Snake Husband

Shamrocks aside, St Patrick is perhaps most famous for driving all the snakes out of Ireland (a relatively easy job given that there probably weren’t any there in the first place). And it is in this snaking-banishing role that St Patrick makes a personal appearance in the tale of The Snake Husband, a story that was later appropriated, changed and retold by the Italian, Giambattista Basile. In the original tale (if tales can truly be said to have original versions), St Patrick is in the final business of driving the snakes into the sea when he finds a baby snake cowering under a bush. The snake tells Patrick that he has lost his parents and that he wishes to find a new family. Patrick, as a priest of sorts of the new church, has sworn himself to celibacy and has no family of his own. Obviously, Patrick adopts the snake as his son. Obviously.
The years go by and the snake grows and decides he wishes to take a wife. Patrick takes him to the town and a match is made with a presumably broadminded young woman. The pair are married and take to their room for the wedding night. The bride’s father is, quite understandably, a mite curious and spies on them through the keyhole. He is astonished to behold the snake shedding his skin and a handsome (and naked) young man stepping forth. One imagines that the father of the bride had somewhat mixed feelings: a sense that he has somehow been deceived, coupled with the relief that his new son-in-law is more human than previously thought. Determined to ensure his son-in-law stays a man, the feller runs in and throws the snake skin into the fire. This was a poor move as the enchantment the snake was under does not take kindly to this act and the man is at once transformed into a pigeon and flies away.
The bride is distraught – probably bewildered but also distraught – and sets out to find her love. There then follows a long narrative with a number of unusual encounters but by the end of which she discovers (via a talking fox that teaches her the language of birds) that her husband is a prince, cursed by an angry fairy and that the only way to return him fully to human form is to make a potion that includes the blood of all the birds of the forest and the blood of the fox himself. The fox surrenders his own life for the sake of true love without hesitation and, ultimately, the determined woman and her prince find a happy ending. It’s a complex and some might say rambling tale which offers few moral lesson other than foxes are incurable romantics and that animal slaughter is a small price to pay for love.

 

The Ash Tree

Our third tale also features the blood-letting and dismemberment that Irish fairy tales seem to thrive on. The Ash Tree starts with St Patrick’s staff, the famed aspatria. It is said that, whilst preaching to the Irish, he stuck his staff in the ground and, since it took a long, long time to convince the Irish heathens to turn to God, by the time he had finished his staff had taken root and thereafter grew into a mighty ash tree.
In the tale, the tree stood on the land of a wealthy farmer who, having recently been widowed, found himself a new wife, who then moved into the farmstead along with her own son. It will surprise no one to discover that this fairy tale stepmother was a deeply wicked woman. She hated the farmer’s son, favouring her own child instead. But the farmer’s son was a pious boy and prayed every day at the holy ash tree that grew on the farm.
The power of prayer wasn’t particularly strong in that corner of Ireland for the stepmother’s jealousy and rage only grew until, one day, she took an axe and lopped off the poor boy’s head while he prayed. Initially, she tried to cover up her crime by propping the boy’s severed head on his shoulders at the dinner table in the hope that no one would notice. This failed almost instantly when her own son nudged the dead lad to ask why he was being so quiet. Plan #2 (not much better than Plan #1, to be honest) was to cook the boy in a stew to get rid of the evidence and hope that no one would bother to ask where the lad had gone.


The farmer returned home and was about to tuck into a rich and steaming bowl of son-stew when a bird flew out of the ash tree and told him all that the stepmother had done. The bird was the ghost or possibly reincarnation of the murdered boy. The farmer was miffed to say the least. The stepmother was hung as an evil witch and through some extra praying the murdered boy was returned to life. It’s interesting to note that, in this tale at least, prayers will instantly bring the dead back to life but do nothing to heal rifts between family members.

If nothing else, these three tales show that death is rarely permanent and that parents are at best interfering and at worst murderous. How useful these morals are in the modern world is debatable and the value of fairy tales as instructional tools is dubious to say the least. Dubious fairy tales and a heroine who rightly tries to ignore them can be found in our latest book, Disenchanted, which is available now for pre-order from Amazon.

Fairy tale silhouettes

Posted in 2017, Books