It’s time to come out of the scriptorium – yes, I am Brother Bernard. And my fifth book project, just launched on Unbound, is http://www.TalesofBritain.com.
A lot of people have been kind enough to say that ToB is a fantastic idea. But it’s more the case that it’s a HORRIFIC idea that there’s currently nothing else like it. You can spend £150 on a mini-library of British tales, or buy 80 separate regional county folklore books, or choose from a whole library of general non-fiction titles on mythology – but a single collection of our standalone folklore in one place? You won’t find one. So please, if you love stories, or Britain, or indeed me, help us to rectify this situation.
I have already written so many screeds of explanation about this project both on the website and the Unbound site, I shan’t overload my personal blog with it all over again, please do click through and learn more for yourself. But I can say a bit more about the genesis of this campaign, which has been growing for 13 years now, and I have been working away at it while writing all of my comedy non-fiction books and suchlike.
Today is 07/07/17 (there are 77 tales in Tales of Britain, FWIW), and besides being the birthdays of Ringo Starr, Bill Oddie and Jon Pertwee, it’s also my eldest nephew Natey’s 13th birthday. 13 years ago I had a hobby of regularly getting my own children’s writing turned down by publishers, but I had this idea (since rued – having had four more nephews, the man-hours are astronomical!) of creating my nephew a book, hand-written and illustrated, of my atheist humanist fable The Woolly Jerboa. However, telling that tale only took up 2/3 of the plain book I’d bought, so how to fill out the rest? Well, my brothers and I are from Shropshire, halfway down the Welsh border, but my nephews are all born Yorkshiremen, or Dorsetians, so how about I give them a taste of their paternal roots by retelling a Shropshire folktale? I found a selection on this website, very simple retellings by Dez Quarrell, and without that impetus, none of this may have happened. I chose a Ludlow tale, The Stokesay Key, as the very first folktale I would re-imagine, and 13 years ago today, the tiny baby Nathaniel had it waggled vaguely in front of his uncomprehending eyes.
As times went by, more nephews required more folktales, and then friends in different areas of the UK started having kids – Cheshire (The Wizard of Alderley Edge), Stirling (Tam O Shanter) and so on. And only then did I discover that NOBODY HAD PUBLISHED A BRITISH TREASURY OF FOLKTALES! And somebody surely HAD to! A few books came close – one on ‘Stories from British history’ made me almost relieved that the burden was lifted from me, but I read some in the shop, and it was the most sparse and leaden prose you’ve ever read (‘Once upon a time there was a King. His name was Leir. He had three daughters. One day…’ YAWN.), presumably written with strict adherence to a children’s publishers’ obsession with target Key Stage 5 or some such utter bilge. Children’s publishing these days is templated, homogenised and strangled with restrictions like never before – Tales of Britain wouldn’t have stood a chance with any publisher other than Unbound.
This was especially clear as I ranted to friends and strangers the country over that there was literally NO British story book in shops, and certainly not one like this, which doubles as a tourist guide and handy ‘Day Out’ suggestion book for families, ramblers and the like. I saw the same manic gleam in eyes all over the UK, as I was told, ‘But I HAVE to have this book! Where is it?’ It belongs on the backseat of every car, and in every hikers’ backpack. An exploration of the British Isles via myth and story. I hope soon it will be, and Unbound publishes books that the people want, but which publishers fear, so it seems perfect. They have a strong QI pedigree, and I see Tales of Britain as doing for stories what QI does for facts – collecting and celebrating them in a fun but authoritative way. However, the next 6-12 months of crowdfunding will be perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done. Even funding Soupy Twists became a bit miserable at times, when pledges slowed, even with Stephen’s 12.5m Twitter followers, and despite the wide-spread desire I’ve seen for a new British folklore collection, I’m expecting this to be at least doubly difficult, without a fanbase like Stephen & Hugh’s to rely on.
So please do pledge on the Unbound site, and please do spread the word via social media, and please do mention it in the café and the pub and at the school gates, particularly in earshot of parents and teachers, and please do allow these 13 years of story-collecting to finally bear fruit sooner rather than later. Because over the years, Tales of Britain has gone from being a book idea, to a broad and joyous CAMPAIGN, with a whole team of us doing all we can to revive the British folktale treasury, and retell them afresh for the 21st century – we tell the tales live, we hope to launch a podcast and who knows what else, but it all begins and ends with this book, the most important thing I have ever done.
I hope we all live happily ever after.