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.
 

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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!

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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

Fairy Tale traditions associated with Pancake Day


pancake shaped like a cat's headPancake day and fairy tales.

Pancakes are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday (or indeed any Tuesday). In medieval times, the pancake was seen as terribly indulgent. Eating pancakes was a way of letting your hair down and celebrating the end of week. We should point out that, before the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582, Tuesday was on Friday, Fridays were on Wednesday and there was only one Saturday a month (which was why peasant folk were often tired on Monday).

The Little Mermaid

Being the height of indulgence, pancakes often represent the permissive side of the human psyche in fairy tales. There are several ancient variations of The Little Mermaid that have the mermaid lured away from the water with the promise of pancakes. This was a cruel practice, in which the mermaids were beached on the riverbanks and then carted off for meat. This was one of the few ways in which country people were able to get some fish (half-fish) in their diet. The life and death tousle between nymphs and men over a pancake, has nowadays evolved into Shrovetide ball games at locations in the country with a nearby river. Sadly, mermaids are no longer able to participate in this games, being extinct or possibly fictional, and modern games are matches between rival towns or counties. Nonetheless, the moral of the original tale is clear: give a man a pancake and he can eat for a day, teach a man to catch a mermaid with a pancake and he can feed a village.

Babdica and the Pancakes

As we toss our pancakes in an iron pan, we may choose to remember the fairytale heroine Babdica. In the earliest version of Babdica and the Pancakes she is cooking pancakes for her family when lightning strikes above the family home. Babdica holds the frying pan out of the window and channels the lightning safely to the ground, ensuring that the thatch on the cottage does not catch fire. The King of the Clouds is so impressed by her bravery and quick thinking he blesses her with the power to produce lemons at will (which is why we have lemon juice on our pancakes). Recent archaeological surveys of the Cerne Abbas Giant earthworks reveal that the chalk man’s enormous phallus was not originally anything of the sort and was actually a pan shaped item that he held in his hand. This theory is borne out by the one of the names given to the hill figure: Babdica’s delight.

Pip-in-the-Oats

The contrast of the indulgence of Shrove Tuesday with the religiosity and self-denial of Lent is perhaps no more obvious than in the Scottish fairy tale of Pip-in-the-Oats (or Princess Pancake). In this tale, having found an apple pip in her bowl of porridge oats and grown a tree from it, from which the apple-blossom fairy then emerges, our heroine is whisked away on a flying pancake to a ball being held by a local laird. In this Cinderella-variant, our heroine dances with the laird’s most handsome son and the two fall in love. However, the fairy exacts a price from Princess Pancake: she must be utterly silent for all forty days of Lent if she wishes to marry her love. She almost succeeds but, on the day before Palm Sunday, she is thwarted when she steps on a thistle (or Irishman, depending on which version you read) and cries out in pain. The moral of this tale is uncertain. Perhaps it is, be grateful for your giant flying pancake and don’t get ideas above your station.

Disenchanted

There are a good many more of these long-forgotten fairy tales, and we will bring you more in the coming weeks. The main reason for their obscurity is the fact that their moral messages are flawed, indecipherable and stupid. What would it look like if fairy tales were written in the modern age, when heroines do not submit so readily to the crazy whims of the fairytale universe? It might look something like Disenchanted which is available now for pre-order from Amazon.

Fairy tale silhouettes

Posted in 2017, Reflections Tagged with: , ,

Book page markers – make some today!

Why book page markers?

An upcoming event where we will have a book stall made us think about a small craft activity that we might offer.

It needed to be book related, family-friendly and cheap to do.

We decided that we would take along materials to make these book marks. 

They are the ones that slip onto the corner of the page that you’ve reached.

Book page markers with a monster a demon and a dwarf

Book marks in action

How to make a book page marker

All the equipment that we need is paper, glue sticks and scissors.

The basic template is very easy, it’s three squares in this arrangement.

template for book page marker

Fold the outside squares in half like this:
book page marker under construction

and fold them over like this:

book page marker under construction

Stick the upper triangle onto the lower one:

sticking down the flaps on a book page marker

and then decorate as you like!

book page marker with snowflake decoration

Easy Book Page Marker Template

If you want something that you can just cut straight out and assemble, how about this?

It features some of the characters from the front cover of Mythfits, one of our short story collections.

Download the file, print and make your bookmark!

book page marker templates with gnome and demon

Posted in 2017, How-to's

10 ways to fight Blue Monday

Blue Monday – a fake media construct?

Blue Monday used to refer to washing, but in recent years it’s the day that the newspapers tell us that we are all supposed to be at our most miserable.

The combination of weather, dark days and debt culminates specifically on the third Monday in January, we are told.

For everyone who resents the idea of media-hyped pseudo-science telling you how to feel, we’re suggesting ways to fight it.

What better day than this to seek out some small bookish pleasures? They are all free!

Real or not, 10 ways to fight it

Bookshelves to fight Blue Monday

Seek out the smell of books, whether it’s old ones or new ones!

  1. Visit a library. With so many of them struggling to stay open, there’s  a movement to max out your library card in a show of solidarity.
  2. Only got a few minutes? Listen to a free short story.
  3. Read a book from your childhood that brings back warm and fuzzy memories. Tell us what your favourite is!
  4. Visit a bookshop and take a look around. If you’re not buying, have a good sniff at the book smell instead.
  5. Do something creative. If you like to write, get some words down. However you like to express yourself, find some time to do it.
  6. Talk books with people who love them. If you visit a bookshop, the people who work in bookshops love to talk books. Alternatively join a bookish community on the internet. THE Book Club on Facebook is one that Heide and Iain recommend.
  7. Give in. Decide that you want to be miserable, just for a while, and re-read a self-indulgent weepie. Share your favourites with us!
  8. Remind yourself just how lucky you are. Read a book about people who endured real suffering. Recommendations welcomed.
  9. Look for free comedy ebooks. Naturally we will suggest that you start with Satan’s Shorts.
  10. Play a word game with friends. In real life or on the internet. Find inspiration at pun generator and tell us your best Blue Monday puns!
Clovenhoof and the Trump of Doom

If you’re unhappy about the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump, we can’t make it go away, but people have told us that reading this comedy novella made them feel better about it.

Posted in 2017, How-to's, Reflections, Writing Tagged with: ,