TALES OF BRITAIN: Summer 2017

LOGO.jpgWith TALES OF BRITAIN, the first British folktale anthology to be released in decades, nearing publication, it seems timely to migrate all the weekly blogs going back to the launch at Glastonbury in 2017 to a safer place, as Nuada knows what Unbound does with them after publication. I’ve made attempts to keep references intact for this migration, but if you’re missing any video or audio, you can probably find it somewhere on the www.TalesofBritain.com website HERE.

THE WILD HUNT for backers

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday, dear pledgers. Excitement abounds: we’ve reached a crucial stage for TALES OF BRITAIN – all 77 stories are now complete, sequenced into order in a single manuscript, and practically ready for the clever folk at Unbound to start editing and designing into a beautiful roadmap of tales for you to lose yourselves in…

Or at least, they could, if we had another 70% – about 400 people – added to our list of backers. In truth, progress has become its slowest since we launched, dozens of new followers on Twitter (thanks to the kindness of unofficial Blackadder account @pitchblacksteed, as The True History of the Black Adder was a previous project, and of course Sir Tony Robinson is one of our patrons), but translating that exciting boost into actually visiting THIS site, and supporting the project with actual pledges, is proving… tough.

But just £10 for an eBook means you are supporting the British Story Treasury for a whole new generation, for your name in a book which will still be entertaining people long after we’re all dead. What value do you put on our ancient national heritage of storytelling? To get a glorious first edition, with your name alongside Cerys Matthews, Tony Robinson, Neil Innes, and many more, is well worth an early show of support, so please join us today!

Well, it does at least give us a beautifully weak link to the topic of this Folklore Thursday’s theme – THE WILD HUNT (for backers).

We remember stories of The Wild Hunt from when we were tiny – they tended to centre on Edric the Wild, being from the Welsh border, which was Edric country. The ghostly hunting party, led inevitably by big black ghost hounds with eyes like saucers, has boasted some of the greatest names from folklore, like a kind of prehistoric Avengers: Edric, Hereward the Wake, Satan, Odin, Thor, King Arthur, Gwyn Ap Nudd, Nuada, Herne the Hunter – perhaps even Elvis. Few have seen them and lived to give a full roll-call.

Now, Norse folklorists out there will already be grinding their teeth, insisting that The Wild Hunt is their territory, the personal project of Odin – but it’s one of many Norse myths which has translated comfortably to Britain, and developed over time, and our version centres on the drunken clergyman Dando, of St. Germans, Cornwall, and his own inveiglement into the hunt. The anti-hunting message just seemed entirely built in to the myth, and so we went for it.

Was this where Dando lived? Legend tells us so, but The Wild Hunt, at the moment at least, is scheduled to be the final, haunting tale of the 77 on our roadmap. As explained on Twitter, we’re against sequencing these tales regionally – TOB just becomes an anthology of regional stories that way, and we’re all about mixing it all up, borders be blowed. But there is a clear historical thread from the arrival of Brutus in Albion, to narratives set positively within living memory, and that seems by far the most logical way to order these 77 tales. obviously they are designed to be enjoyed separately, a random lucky dip, but they do in their own way retell Britain’s history, millennium after millennium, and the way the nation was built by successive waves of immigrants, and so ordered in this way, a story arc is irresistible.

Dando seems to have been a medieval priest, but there’s something eternal about The Wild Hunt’s punishment for all its doomed members, which makes this tale a suitably timeless sign-off for our book.

We get shivers of pleasure to see these lovingly retold tales flow from one to another, over nearly 200 pages. We want to share this book, and the location tourist guides, with you all, with the world. But like the members of the Wild Hunt, we cannot escape our fate: to try and get this crowdfunding up to 100% – or at least 90-ish% – and then, the book becomes a reality. If you can think of any way of helping us reach our goals, please, please get in touch, and keep spreading the word however you can.

BBC Bristol Interview

Monday, 11 September 2017

It’s a little early for Folklore Thursday, but here’s an interim update, with edited highlights of author Jem Roberts’ folktale chat with BBC Bristol’s Doctor of the Airwaves, Dr Phil Hammond, back in July.

It was huge fun to chat with Phil all about this, though it’s worth adding – a few folk have become exercised about the assertion that ‘there is no British story collection’, and it’s true that since this interview, a new collection of ‘Ballads’ has been released, and the Folio Society collection has come down in price, plus there are endless regional collections, local books for local people. BUT the fact remains, as anyone who’s following our project will know, that there’s nothing remotely like TALES OF BRITAIN out there, and it’s so necessary. Folktales need to be retold for new generations, with positive messages for 21st century story-lovers – and placing them on a roadmap with tourist guides to every story location is still the cherry on top. We wish that when we were little, we could have had a book where we could not only enjoy a story, but then visit the real place where it happened! We still need your help to allow everyone to enjoy this new way of exploring the country.

We’ve gained over 200 backers since this chat, with beloved figures like Tony Robinson, Cerys Matthews, Neil Innes, Francis Pryor and more joining the campaign. But we need another 400 (or maybe one very rich backer) if you’re going to have the pleasure of holding this story treasury in your hands any time soon.

And, now all 77 tales are finished, and we’re forming them into a manuscript, we can confirm that sharing these stories really will be a pleasure. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cheer… but first, you’ll pledge, or convince friends and family to pledge, and we can sail towards that 100% pinnacle…!

Support 21st Century British Folklore today!

Knucker Pie: TALES LIVE IN OCTOBER!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

JOLLY FOLKLORE THURSDAYS ALL ROUND, TOB-BACKERS!

FIRST THINGS FIRST: We’re sadly still not up to the 1/3 funded point a week on, so if any of our backers knows any way we can spread the word further, perhaps with coverage on radio, like the BBC Bristol tales we recorded, or in print, online, or via any means, it will require us all to pull together and do anything we can to interest our fellow story-lovers in pledging for this roadmap of legends. We cannot do this without you.

Anyway, with @FolkloreThursday’s theme today being FOOD, what better than to serve up a nice big KNUCKER PIE?

The Knucker is one of our oldest and most loved tales in the Tales of Britain collection. It’s true that of the 77 tales in the book, there are a fair few dragon-slaying stories, and if you’re one of those tiresome reductive academics who like to boil stoires down to basic thesis/antithesis/synthesis, they all involve a monster being overcome one way or another. But looking at the four we have included – The Lambton Worm, The Saffron Cockatrice, The Bisterne Dragon and of course, The Knucker, each tale has different characters, with different motivations, fighting monsters in different ways – and with different outcomes. And The Knucker is an absolute doozy, killed as he was by the most disgusting PIE ever baked!

The tale takes place in Lyminster, down in West Sussex, a village west of Brighton – where visitors can not only see the grave of the brave Knucker Slayer, and enjoy his tale retold in stained glass at St. Mary’s church, they can also travel out to the actual Knuckerholes where the obnoxious beast lived. Presumably someone in the village is also selling Knucker Pies, or they’re missing a trick.

Performing this Sussex folktale has been a mainstay of our live shows since the start – with me (Brother Bernard) as the horrible dragon against Kate Harbour (Sister Sal)’s brilliant chubby hero, Jimmy Puttock. Jimmy’s voice still delivers shivers for me, as it reminds me what a great resume Kate has, with vocal characterisations reminiscent of her work on shows like Bob the Builder and Shaun the Sheep. It’s an honour to perform with such an entertaining professional…

And the great news for you all is that we have a brand new LIVE SHOW to announce, at the Rondo Theatre in Bath, on Saturday 21st October at 7pm. Ticket-booking is not on their site just yet, but please don’t worry about that, it will be the more the merrier, just remember the date and come and join us in an hour or so of big bombastic folktale silliness, with free sweeties. And as you can see from the pic below of an early show, The Knucker Pie will be pride of place!

There will be further live shows, and other developments, which hopefully will all work together to help us all reach 100% with this campaign, but to return to our first point – we cannot do it without every single person out there who believes in this legendary roadmap, and wants to hold it in their hands, taking the initiative to ensure pledges from anywhere we can get them. Together, we can do this. It’s a monster challenge, but we can vanquish it!

FREE TALE: Robin’s Arrow

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday, merrie backers – we are now 200 strong, and more! Can we get over 30% today, what can we all do to help us get there, to get a few individuals to pledge? Because we will need a lot more to see that green light shine, so whatever you do, please keep spreading the word about our campaign for 21st Century British Folklore!

And as a special treat for everyone who has joined the cause so far, here’s a complete Shropshire folktale for you all – ROBIN’S ARROW!

Even with 77 tales on this roadmap, we do have to be very careful what material we give away for free in advance, but we’re sharing this tale with you now with some degree of sadness, as we’ve had to come to the conclusion that it won’t fit in this volume. Robin’s Arrow was actually the very second folktale we ever tackled, back in the mid-noughties, and it was a fascinating challenge, to revive an old tale that, even as a Ludlovian, was a complete unknown, and to mix it in with other lore and history to provide a meaty tale, where before there was only a very basic anecdote.

By combining the existing legend, taking in St. Laurence’s Church and Robin Hood’s Butt, with the woefully under-celebrated legend of Fulk Fitzwarin, we could cover two Shropshire towns – Ludlow and Whittington – in one. The dashing figure of Fulk, outlawed lord of Whittington, was one of the strongest influences on the growth of Robin Hood mythology, and it’s a crying shame that nobody has yet made a GoT-alike Sunday evening costume drama out of his biography. It has dragons and everything!

But now we have 76 of the planned 77 tales finished, almost a complete manuscript, this very early retelling doesn’t quite fit. Firstly, of course we want to evenly divide the stories over the British mainland, Scotland, Wales and England – which is not always possible, as some areas simply have a greater wealth of history, and therefore mythology. But nonetheless, as this whole project began with Shropshire lore, perhaps the greater concentration of tales in that area was not fair, when there are stories from Scotland and Wales that could go in its stead. We’d already shifted the base of this tale from Ludlow to Whittington, even though all the action takes place in the former.

Also, we cover the whole scope of King Arthur’s ‘life’ in the book, and feel that Robin Hood’s sad end should also be included, filling up the lands from Yorkshire down to Nottingham, so something had to make room for that. Writing about Robin’s end is our challenge this week – leaving only one tale left for the full 77.

But the trickiest thing is that Robin’s Arrow no longer fits in with our other Robin Hood stories, as we went back to the original Gestes, which Merrie Men fans will know were certainly not set during the time of King/Prince John, and thanks to Fulk, here we explicitly go with that time period, even though that was a later embellishment of the Robin legend. So although we dearly hope that everyone who reads this tale enjoys it, and perhaps laments its ejection from this volume of Tales of Britain, and although we sincerely regret not being able to point readers towards the wonders of Whittington as part of our tourism drive… particularly given the wordcount strictures we’re facing, this quite lengthy yarn has been selected to sit on the substitute bench this time. Of course, our dream is that there will be further volumes of Tales of Britain, in all sorts of forms, in which case let’s hope that Robin’s Arrow can be reinstated, and never mind the historical complexities. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

For now, we felt the best thing to do was to share this very early tale, written before Tales of Britain had been dreamt of, with all our backers, and we hope it’s a stirring read for all – if this is what our off-cuts are like, you can be sure that you have a lot of pleasurable reading ahead of you!

Some time was spent in our last blog coming clean about your author’s lack of artistic ability, and the difficulty of crowdfunding a project like this before professional artists and designers have got to grips with it. As further evidence, here are a few illustrations attempted for Robin’s Arrow in its original form, well over a decade ago. These little books were created for the births of nephews, so not intended for public consumption, but let’s overshare a little…

Thank you again, everyone working to make this roadmap of tales a reality – we still have a way to go, but as long as everyone out there keeps spreading the word, we will get there eventually! The manuscript will be ready to go before the first day of autumn. Now we just need to hit 100%…

(YES THAT’S A HORSE!)

 

YES THOSE ARE SHEEP!

An Artist’s Eye…

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

A glorious Folklore Thursday to all our lovely backers!

Would you like to help us illustrate and find a fresh visual dimension to Tales of Britain? Do you know any keen artists who would simply love to get involved, and create the look of 21st century British lore? Well, do read on…

This here is the Eye of Lewis – the very hole through which the last remaining giant of Albion threaded his rope, to drag the Hebridean isle up to where it now is, avoiding the loutishness of his fellow giants. This is only a very short story, but it’s a great way to reflect the way that immigrants have been treated over the centuries – the right way, and wrong way to build a multicultural Britain. We’d also wager that Roald Dahl was a fan of this legend, as the big friendly giant protagonist is on the side of humans, unlike the other ‘orrible lot.

The other great thing about The Eye of Lewis is what a wonderful visual opportunity it provides for artists, which brings us to this thorny problem of Tales of Britain’s design. One of the worst things about crowdfunding is you’re compelled to air all your working out as it goes along, as opposed to presenting the public with a finished piece of work. And some may ask, how can you be expected to pledge for a book when you don’t know how it will look?

I have been basically left to try and present this concept visually on my own, throughout its 13 year (and counting) history, and though I’ve striven to get across the bold, joyful, accessible nature of our folktale collection, a few of you have been in touch to say that what we have is too cartoony, too kiddy – I don’t mind any constructive dialogue, and the thing is I’m no illustrator, so nothing I have presented is intended to be finished product. We want to find artists and designers who can catch the feeling we’re trying to give, but do it more professionally. So this GIF I created:

…Hopefully appeals to more folk than it puts off, but I did remove it from the websitefront page for fear of seeming too amateurish. (Although I do have some history of professional cartooning – I invented Professor Yew for Pokémon World, for goodness’ sake! And as for Osmondle the Frog… anyway.) Even the replacement image on the website needs more work, but we’re in a chicken and egg quandary – until we reach 100% and the book is properly underway, Unbound can’t expend any time on these issues, and we don’t have a penny to spend on anything, let alone design and art. We’re reliant entirely on the kindness of artists who believe in our folktale cause, until then.

And some wonderful artists have been very kind, and helpful, hitherto. The first artist to offer us some visual content (sorry for the phrase) was Bristol-based illustrator Philip McCullough-Downs, who provided a couple of incredible monochrome images which I’d still happily use in the finished book, beginning with the always tempting image of that Big Friendly Giant towing the Eye of Lewis north:

And Philip followed that up with a similarly gob-smacking illustration for the subject of our recent blog, Long Meg:

The image of the giant physically towing an island – not just Lewis, but the whole of Britain, packed with familiar figures like Arthur and Godiva and so on – remains somehow central to the visual approach to Tales of Britain, for me at least. Had I the skill, I think that’s the illustration I would lead with, a friendly giant waving to the reader as he pulls along the island of Britain behind him, all the mysteries of British lore peeping out from the hills and valleys.

Perry Harris (@Uhperry) is Bath’s cartoonist laureate, an astonishingly skilled and prolific commentator on everything that happens in the city – and of course, everywhere, there’s nothing parochial about Perry’s work! I was tentative about bothering him with – we cannot call anything like this a ‘commission’, we cannot stress enough that expecting anyone to share their talents for free could not be more anathema to any of us – let’s call it ‘the favour of helping support Tales of Britain with some eye-catching art’. But he delivered this wonderfully intriguing image in his own classic style, and then a few days later proferred a wholly distinct take on TOB’s visual potential:

Witch, ghosty, unicorn, piggy, what’s not to love? Needless to say, both images made their respective days, for our campaign, and Perry will hopefully be providing more when the muse strikes! What is absolutely key is that we avoid all the clichés of folklore illustration, which tend to be so ethereal, dainty, olde worlde, pastel – there’s no fun in that. Although some tales – the less larky ones, like Tristan & Isolde or Babes In The Wood – would benefit from a more serious take, and if it were up to me we would have a whole range of art styles in the finished book, to compliment the range of different tales! Just as every episode of Grim Tales had a different animation style. This could also give us the chance to vastly increase the diversity of the creative team putting this diverse collection together.

I was talking to wonderful illustrator Danny Noble (@MundayMorn) about this long ago, when I became an admirer of her hilarious Willie-Rushton-esque drawings, but now she’s become big and famous and illustrated Ade Edmondson’s new book, we’re not sure we dare bother her any time soon… We do also have three of our finest comic artists already pledged and on board the Tales of Britain bus – Viz’s Davey Jones (@DHBJones) and Alex Collier (@alexoddball) and the creator of Private Eye’s zeitgeist-grabbing Scene and Heard, David Ziggy Greene (@SaHreports), and any of them would be a dream come true, to provide any images for any of the 77 tales that takes their fancy.

But of course, we come up against the same old problem: no money, and a disgust at the idea of expecting professionals – or indeed, any talented artist – to ever work for free. But just as we are living and breathing this campaign 7 days a week with zero pay, we hope that people understand if we open up the option for ANYONE OUT THERE to send us ideas, sketches, artwork that will aid our campaign, give us something to shout about on social media, and perhaps, when all is funded and full-on, that may hopefully lead to a proper paid commission.

You can get an idea of some of the 77 tales by seeing the titles flash up on our pitch video, and just see if they spark off any creative activity? If so, it would be a boon to our poor knackered senses to see it, either sent via here, TwitterFacebook, or emailed to bernard@talesofbritain.com.

Don’t let that poor giant’s earth-moving mission be in vain! We need all the support you can give us, to get through to that mystical 100%! Keep spreading the word, we don’t want this campaign to drag!

Rhiannon: Wouldn’t You Love To Love Her?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A very warm Folklore Thursday greeting to all pledgers!

Our campaign continues to grow, and we now have some wonderful heroes joining our ranks, including legendary musicians Cerys Matthews and Neil Innes, historians Greg Jenner, Justin Pollard and Francis Pryor, actors David Lloyd and Hugh Fraser, the great director Dirk Maggs, and some of the UK’s best cartoonists, including Davey Jones, David Ziggy Greene, Perry Harris, Alex Collier and Andy Fanton. We’ll soon be blogging more about some of the wonderful artists who are helping our cause.

But for now, we’d like to talk about the Welsh hero Rhiannon. Having examined one tale centred around a strong woman protagonist in Long Meg last week, we don’t wish to be seen as a stuck record, but it is central to Tales of Britain that our collection of stories does all it can not to in any way support or repackage the centuries of male domination which is hard to ignore in our lore.

That said, we have to respect the raw folklore we’re working with, and nobody wants to arbitrarily change any ancient story just for the sake of what a dolt might call ‘political correctness’. Everyone working on Tales of Britain loves to have any dialogue we can with our pledgers and potential pledgers, and so we were chuffed to get an email a few weeks ago asking about our representation of women. However, this correspondent specifically said that they would NOT pledge for a book which did not fulfil their criteria of a 50% gender split between female and male protagonists. We replied that positive gender representations throughout the book were utterly paramount, but that we can’t sacrifice our duty to the source material, in the name of fulfilling any quota. Apart from anything else, not all these 77 tales have any one single protagonist, which already makes the maths a problem. But where a protagonist is traditionally, recognisably male, we can’t just switch genders, particularly if there’s a historical basis for the legend, as there so often is, or when the known story is rooted in the landscape, as all our tales are. There would be something terribly patronising and tokenistic about turning, say, Dick Whittington into Diane.

However, every single chance we have to present a protagonist who happens to be a woman – and not a ‘feisty’ ‘manic pixie dream girl’ type male writer’s cliché, just someone brave/clever/strong who happens not to be a bloke – we have done so. Some tales we discovered referred to a ‘him’, but if it wasn’t a recognised figure, like Robin Hood or Jack, we see no reason why they shouldn’t be a ‘her’, and often this can make a tale better than ever. Not letting the boys have all the fun is as paramount to what we’re setting out to do as emphasising Britain’s crucial historical debt to immigrants of all kinds, and indeed, of promoting tourism in the UK by rooting each tale in the landscape.

But it’s much better when a protagonist has always been a strong woman, for perhaps thousands of years, which brings us back to Mabinogion star Queen Rhiannon, and her life in Narberth, Pembrokeshire. With only a couple of story slots remaining, Cerys Matthews’ brilliant Mabinogion documentary made it clear that Rhiannon’s tale had to be included. Since becoming immersed in her legend, however, it’s taken us aback how many folk refer to her as a ‘Goddess’, when the oldest source we have (albeit translated by English aristo Lady Charlotte Guest) reads like a quite easily believable slice of ancient Welsh history. Rhiannon’s shenanigans at the wedding altar, then her tragic penance, and so on, all seem to be a quite lightly mysticised soap opera, with a very strong tang of real life about them, with no need to invoke any gods at all – although Rhiannon is often connected with the French-Roman goddess Epona, presumably because they were both horse-crazy.

if you’re going to travel to Narberth – and it is an incredibly beautiful, ancient town, so you should – it’s far more exciting to see it as the site where a real Celtic Queen who has become known to us as Rhiannon actually lived, than to make her life story some ephemeral, fuzzy god-filled fiction, and that’s how we’ve told Rhiannon’s story. It’s the tale of an intelligent, powerful figure who refused to just accept the bartering of women by men which presumably was the norm in ancient societies, and who took her own destiny in her hands, and decided how it was going to be. That’s a hero many future generations of people of any gender can admire, and hopefully our Rhiannon will live up to this.

There is one element of our retelling worth mentioning, however – we have only told the first half of Rhiannon’s biography. That in itself contains manifold acts and events to fit in to the short story format we have in our book, but the original life of Rhiannon in the Mabinogion has two major parts, the trials of the young Rhiannon, and the trials of the older Queen many years later, as mother of the mighty Pryderi. The latter story is a thing of weird wonder, but we’ve saved it for another time… which is quite significant. Because it means that we sincerely hope that these 77 tales will not be the end of the story. As our campaign marches on, we want readers to bombard us with other tales we’ve never heard, we want to stumble across totally unknown ancient stories, and we want to add them to our collection, in time. This will be a huge book, but more good stories are always out there, waiting to be discovered anew.

This is dangerous thinking, when we are barely at the quarter-mark in our funding. We still have a Herculean task at hand, to make this Tales of Britain roadmap a reality, in the back seat of every car and stuffed into every rambler’s backpack, so to be planning ahead of this collection may seem foolish. But if we all keep the faith, keep spreading the word, and keep bringing more Britophiles and story-lovers into the campaign, we will get there. And we will do so much good for this horrifically divided island as we do so.

The problem with all this talk, of course, is that we lose the main point – that these Tales of Britain are INCREDIBLE FUN! They are exciting, poetic, often silly, and sometimes sexy, and all kinds of pleasurable things, over and above all other concerns. They are written to wallow in the wonder of our language, and revel in the excitement of our stories – any progressive messages the tales carry of a better way forward are just the inescapable icing on the cake. Our model has always been the lively anarchy of Rik Mayall’s Grim Tales, and so here’s a cracking German folktale from him to cleanse the palate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5sOV03zq74

Keep fighting the good fight, cariads!

©Selina Fenech

Long Meg Lives!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday, blessed 150! 20% funded in a month, we just need to do all that five more times…! We’d like to take this opportunity to share a bit more about the genesis of Tales of Britain, what drives it, and to celebrate the name of one of Cumbria’s greatest mythical women – LONG MEG!

Last weekend we gave a special talk on Tales of Britain at Bristol’s Sunday Assembly, including a performance of Long Meg, and it brought it back to us that this whole project began with a nephew, 13 years ago. It seemed a nice idea to write and illustrate a special book for the fellow when he popped out, and as siblings have fled Shropshire and the nephew was going to be born and bred a Yorkshireman, the idea of including a rewritten folktale from Shropshire seemed to be a sweet way of making sure he knew our family roots – it was around then that it became clear just how poor the British folktale availability was in shops…

Anyway, lovely gesture though this may seem, making these books turned out to take up many many work hours – and at the time, who was to know that four more nephews were to follow, plus babies from numerous close friends, which made tham as good as nephews and nieces?

Which brings us to Long Meg. An old friend who lived up in Cheshire had already had a son (who received The Wizard of Alderley Edge), and when he announced that twin daughters were to follow, a look at the Tales of Britain map suggested nothing too near their home, but close enough to the Lakes to make it a reasonable trip for the family, was ‘Long Meg and her Daughters’ – which sounded ideal for the twins! So the promise was made there and then to deliver that story in time for the double birthday…

But once home, and researching the legend behind this Cumbrian stone circle, what a nasty shock awaited! The existing story of the Bronze Age site was very simple: Long Meg and her Daughters dare to dance on ‘The Lord’s Day’, Sunday, despite the warning of priest Michael Scott, and so for daring to do their own thing, GOD TURNS THEM INTO STONE!

That’s it. Don’t dance on a Sunday. Because the Christian deity hates it. And will turn you to stone. Well, what a stirring message that is for two women born in the second decade of the 21st century! This has been a perennial problem with British folklore – the amount of religious, and particularly puritan, misogynistic distortion which has bled into our lore over the millennia. Often, tales which far predate Christianity have been warped into warnings about Godliness – folk playing cards with the Devil on a Sunday and the like. Now, numerous pledgers have religious faiths of many flavours, and we have total respect for that, but just as Brother Bernard is a secular monk, these tales had to be as secular as possible too – it was important to avoid this kind of second millennium clutter and send out positive messages for 21st century Britons and Britophiles.

But the promise had been made to the old friend, and moreover, it is ESSENTIAL to Tales of Britain, that these stories are never simply whitewashed, watered down, bowdlerised or otherwise changed in order to become incongrously politically correct. The integrity of the roots of every Tale is always paramount.

But then, it became clear that one very simple little twist of motive in Long Meg’s story could make all the difference, and turn the message of the Christian retelling wonderfully on its head. It would remain exactly the same narrative, beat by beat, but if we just made the magical ‘turning to stone’ trick the work of Meg herself, rather than God or Scott, then she has all the power, and it becomes a tale about women escaping from religious and patriarchal oppression, by taking control of a situation. The legend always had it that when you are not actually looking directly at the stones, they were the same dancing women who had danced in that spot for millennia – so that worked perfectly. One cry of ‘Dance like nobody’s watching!’ and the dancers’ persecution problems were solved, on their own terms!

Long Meg gave us the key to how to retell these stories for a modern audience, renovating them from centuries of misuse, and making them both really fun, and really valuable, for a new generation – while maintaining the absolute spirit of each original tale every time. We squared the circle, and now hopefully many further generations will know about Long Meg and her dancing Daughters, and celebrate her legend, without the discomfort of outdated fire-and-brimstone philosophies spoiling all the fun.

The tale was saved, and you can see the very rudimentary results of the labour in the video above – hopefully it will bring the girls pleasure in years to come. And indeed, to the rest of you who pledge, support, buy, read and listen to these Tales of Britain once we have raised the other 80% and got the book out in shops, and in your hands!

© Tiffany Turril

Glastonbury Tales

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday, brave story-adventurers!

If you click on the mp3 link just above, you’ll hear the 5th of 5 very short tales recorded for BBC Bristol – AVALON! The tale of Arthur’s final stand, and legendary final journey to the Isle of Apples…

We’ll be sharing the remaining two recordings when we can, but we’ve ‘skipped to the end’ to highlight one of the cornerstones of this campaign: the pleasure of standing in the actual landscape of the stories we tell, and hear. This is a roadmap, taking you to the site of every fantastical tale, for real.

Being based in the southwest, that means plenty of Arthurian lore is within reasonable distance – though we wish we had the resources to travel every inch of the land, visiting every single one of the 77 locations, all the way up to John O’Groats! We should add that we also know that every Arthurian site has a number of contenders, from Scotland down to France, and we’ll be providing guides to those as well in the book. But we go with the romantic SW UK claims primarily.

So our ‘Sword In The Stone’ takes Tintagel as its main site, and ‘Avalon’ sees the mighty King laid to rest somewhere under the Tor – or rather, naturally, not laid to rest, but placed in stasis, until Britain needs Arthur’s leadership once again (Yes, please! A 5th century warlord would easily better than who we currently have). The site of Camlann – Arthur’s final clash with the despicable Mordred – is less easy to settle on, there are no firm contenders, but it’s easy to imagine one of many 5th century battles being the showdown which inspired the legend, and that may well have taken place somewhere in Somerset. Which means, of course, that Excalibur was cast back into the water somewhere visible from the top of the Tor. Where are those bonekickers when we need them?

This is all fanciful stuff, we know, but Glastonbury’s Arthurian claims are some of the most thrillingly romantic out there, and Glastonbury Tor is a place every folklore lover has to experience, particularly if they fancy a good work out, climbing to the very top and surveying the Somerset levels all around, imagining what it may have looked like centuries ago, surrounded by water, and where that sword might have ended up.

We took this photo! So we own it. If only we could take our own pics of every site…

Even if you take away the Arthurian claims of Glastonbury, even if you admit – as do we – that the story about Arthur and Guinevere being buried within Glastonbury Abbey is almost certainly the marketing campaign of a group of dodgy medieval monks, as is all that stuff about Joseph of Arimathea and the thorn bush…. even then, there’s more here to excite lovers of folklore than just reasonably priced joss-sticks and crystals in the town itself. The Tor is also said to be the entrance to the underground fairy kingdom of Gwyn ap Nudd, though we failed to find the door. And on top of all this, it’s one of the few places in our Tales of Britain collection to have its own wifi connection…

But to most people, of course, Glastonbury is famous for its Festival, even though the actual Pilton Farm is many miles away – from the right angle, taken from a BBC-owned drone, the Tor can dominate the skyline as Coldplay or Barry Gibb or whoever holds the countryside spellbound from the Pyramid stage. In my extra-curricular solo performing mode (i.e. not suitable for minors), I was pleased to get a Glastonbury gig this year, performing on the Bandstand very near the Pyramid stage, and as proof, here I am – and that tiny bump you can see between the two posts growing out of the copper’s shoulders, is the Tor. Avalon itself.

We have currently hit 105 followers, bringing us up to 15% – it may seem as if this has taken us nearly six weeks, but this was because I begged Unbound to open up pledges early, to try and interest Glastonbury’s massed ranks in our campaign. Had I realised what a wonderful place it was to try and drum up interest, I would have taken many more posters and flyers, but as it is I went around hoping to get just a few bits of subliminal advertising in wherever I could…

… Which sums up our sentiments quite nicely, really. Sadly, this flyposting did not result in any actual pledges. This is by far the toughest challenge in publishing I’ve ever encountered, turning goodwill into solid pledges and getting to 100% feels like pushing a boulder up a mountain with a cocktail stick – lodged up my nose. But we keep faith, and will keep on pushing this campaign as hard as we can, to bring story-lovers not just from every corner of the British mainland, but all over the world, into the fold. We are a growing movement of people who love and believe in the power of storytelling to make the world a better place, 105-strong as of today, and there must be another 600-ish folk out there who feel the same, and feel that these stories deserve better than to be left in a ghetto of academia and cobwebbed precious pretention, we should all be enjoying them.

Do you know any story-lovers who would love to help to rescue our national treasury? Let them know about http://www.TalesofBritain.com! Because this is so important.

And if we ever doubted that fact, witnessing the powerful performance by Kate Tempest at this year’s Glasto cast any doubts to the four winds. We hope she doesn’t mind us quoting her directly, because what we are doing here is retelling our ancient stories for a progressive future for Britain, with an emphasis on equality, which we hope fits in with her own philosophy when she wrote ‘Brand New Ancients’…

…We are still mythical.
We are still permanently trapped
Somewhere between the heroic and the pitiful.
…The stories are there if you listen.
The stories are here.
The stories are you.

Standing in King Arthur country, hearing those words, gave us strength to embark on this back-breaking mission. Thank you, Kate. And thank you, everyone who has joined us and supported Tales of Britain so far. The fight goes on.

Molly Whuppie! Shout her name!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday!

This week we need to talk about perhaps the most inspiring figure in the Tales of Britain collection: MOLLY WHUPPIE.

©Errol le Cain

I for one had never heard of this crafty hero from the western isles of Scotland until I embarked on this journey 13 years ago, and the injustice of her obscurity is one of the things which has driven the whole project – and that’s also partially due to this film:

Full disclosure – I really liked Brave. It wasn’t a blockbuster by Pixar standards, but who wouldn’t prefer a film set in Britain centuries ago, than in some kid’s toybox, or an aquarium? Especially with the greatest cast ever assembled for one of these CG cartoons. But the fact remains, every single element of the story, from the clan Dunbroch to the protagonist Princess Merida, were entirely invented by a Hollywood screenwriter in America. Now, think about this – most of the recent films put out by Disney and Pixar: Frozen, Tangled, Princess & The Pea, all bar Moana, which was equally constructed from cherry-picked cultural appropriation, have been based directly on folklore from Denmark and Germany. When it comes to Celtic stories, nobody bothered to try to find an existing legend to adapt, they just made it all up in a Disney studio. Because, British folklore? What’s that?

What breaks your heart is that we have so many male-gendered heroes to boast about – Arthur, Merlin, Robin, Jack, Dick: 5 boys who are all brave, or clever, or both. But Molly Whuppie is the equal of every single one of them, and while other female-gendered heroes, such as Lady Godiva, Rhiannon, Janet in Tam Lin and others, have their own traits to admire and look up to, Molly’s talents are at odds with the ancient gender norms we all surely want to consign to history. Above all, the Molly figure tends to be wily, like Jack, but she also fights monsters, and kindness is another crucial arrow in her quiver. She’s not a ‘feisty’ cliché or a pixie dream girl, she’s just a hero. Like The Doctor (of either gender regeneration), Molly is a figure that both sexes can admire and have as a role model, and if Tales of Britain only achieves the aim of making her name famous again, we will have done something worthwhile here.

Our own retelling of Molly’s adventures has been written and rewritten over the years, largely because she was such a general dab-hand at killing ogres and outwitting foes in her many adventures. There are so many versions of her story to choose elements from, be it the Highland story of ‘Maol a Chliobain’ or a more recognisable modern version. Her main story involves three sisters being sent out into the woods with a bannock (a kind of Scottish bread) each, and Molly, the youngest, proves to be the greatest of them all. She fights a giant (or ogre, or in our version, a bogle), tricks them into killing their own daughters, and escapes by passing over a bridge of a hair’s breadth, serves a King and wins each of the King’s three sons’ hands in marriage for her and her sisters. SPOILER: We don’t marry Molly off in our version, she has too many adventures to go on. We also included a trio of helpful crows.

Our retelling of Molly’s first and greatest adventure is as distinct as any other, and we hope it pleases you, and gives young girls – and boys – just as much impetus to go out into the world and do brave, kind, momentous things, as any male hero ever did. For a ridiculously shortened version, as read by Brother Bernard on BBC Bristol last week, just click the mp3 icon below the title.

Have you pledged yet? Or maybe spread the word about our campaign to friends and family who love stories, and Britain? Please join our folktale movement today, and help us shout to the world about the wonderful lore that fills this land, from Molly’s Isle of Islay to the fairy-filled island of Guernsey. Let’s not let Hollywood ignore our thousands of years’ worth of storytelling and invent their own fake folklore ever again.

Bristol Cream

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday, lovers of British lore!

It may have escaped your notice that Tales of Britain has been featured every day this week on BBC Radio Bristol, in Laura Rawlings’ afternoon show at about 4.25pm. Brother Bernard has performed specially truncated versions of 5 tales – 3 from the Somerset area, plus 1 each for Wales and Scotland – in the hope that Brizzle’s loyal listeners will visit this page and join our campaign.

You can hear the first story, BLADUD & THE PIGS, attached as an mp3 right here (just below the video above), and the others will be uploaded over time. This is just the most brief possible interpretation of the legend, but Bladud is a generally curious figure of lore you could write whole books about. The legend that he was the father of Leir seems like a desperate historical mash-up in the Dark Ages, true, and his supposed eventual fate – trying to fly, and falling to his death not unlike Icarus – feels less, well, grounded than the city founding tale, so that’s what our story concentrates on. If the yarn was good enough for both Charles Dickens and Jane Austen to retell, it belongs in our 77-strong treasury!

As with Bladud here in Bath, we thought local-ish tales were a good idea for Radio Bristol, and the site of Bladud is within walking distance of home. In fact, above you’ll find a video of Brother Bernard teasing this book almost 5 years ago, in Swainswick field, when it was still to be called ‘Brother Bernard’s Big Book of British Bedtime Ballads‘! This tiny hamlet at the very north of Bath is where the royal swain himself was said to have first got the very good idea for the city, but we all have fascinating stories somewhere within walking distance of our homes… depending on how much you like walking, anyway.

So if any other radio shows out there, local or otherwise, would like their own tales to broadcast in a similar way to those wonderful folk at BBC Bristol (and deep thanks to Simon Buschenfeld for setting this up, and to Laura Rawlings of course!), please do just give us a holler on here, Twitter or Facebook.

And on Saturday morning from 10am we will be talking all about Tales of Britain on BBC Radio Bristol once again, this time on Phil Hammond’s show. No, not that Phil Hammond, the really good one – Dr. Phil Hammond.

Do tune in, and keep spreading the word! Fly, folkies, fly!

OGGY OGGY MABINOGION! OI OI OI!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Brother Bernard, Sister Sal, Jem, Kate, Kwaku, John and everyone battling to launch the 21st century British story treasury thank you all from the bottoms of our hearts and the hearts of our bottoms! All 35 of you who have stepped up to pledge so far, that is. 5% in one week still only leaves us in the foothills of the mountain we have to climb, but though this campaign may still take several months, we haven’t yet officially sent out press releases etc., so once national and international media cotton on to how ludicrous it is that there’s no collection of Scottish, English & Welsh tales right now, we happy few will grow in number, and soon we will be sharing these stories all around the world!

It especially helps when well-loved public figures throw their hats in the ring, some big names have pledged their support in the coming weeks/months, and right now we here at Tales of Britain have come over all a pother – all thanks to the frankly mystically lovely Cerys Matthews MBE no less, who has joined our campaign to unite Welsh, Scottish and English stories in one 21st century volume! We’ll save her blushes by not going on about how much her music has meant to us throughout our lives, but we can’t deny, just with a Twitter RT, she’s given us a spring in our step! Hopefully we can help spread the word further soon.

The Secret Life of Books

It seems odd that Cerys’ thrilling documentary on the crucial Welsh folklore saga The Mabinogion, from the BBC’s The Secret Life of Books, is only a couple of years old, as we feel it was such an inspiration for Tales of Britain – even though this collection has been growing for over 13 years! Cerys’ excitement at standing in the very spot where legend says such-and-such a thing happened is precisely what Tales of Britain’s road map of UK stories is all about – enjoy the story, then explore the real place!

We cannot try to do full justice to the absolutely exhausting scope of The Mabinogion, with 77 tales from every corner of the UK to cover, but we are including all the juiciest yarns we can. The legend of Bran the Blessed has been a favourite with Tales of Britain audiences for a long while now, with the added lunacy that comes from our Bran having more than a little of Brian Blessed in him. Bran even won a poll voting for which tale our followers most want to hear on our podcast when it launches. Bran’s gigantic shenanigans form the basis of a great story, not least as it covers both Harlech castle and the Tower of London in one, but because The Mabinogion version is just one episode in a tangled web of connected legends – we hope our retelling will simply inspire folk to delve deeper into the real source material.

With only a few story slots left, the legend of Rhiannon is one we are preparing to tackle, but how to boil an entire semi-mythical biography down into an entertaining story with a beginning, a middle and an end? You just watch us – this is what we do.

And there will no doubt be exciting interpretations awaiting you this September if you join Cerys at the awesome Good Life Experience up in Flintshire, North Wales, where on-site bards will be relating ancient Cymraeg wisdom and tales too… This looks like an incredible trip to take, in fact we’d go so far as to put a K in magickal to describe it. Maybe next year Brother Bernard and Sister Sal can join you all there and share these stories anew…

Thank you again, Cerys! The Tales of Britain campaign marches on…!

Here’s the pesky magic cauldron which cause so much trouble for Bran and the Welsh.

Help Us Revive Britain’s Story Treasury TODAY!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday, and welcome to the TALES OF BRITAIN campaign!

PLEASE join with us in creating and promoting this exciting new treasury of ancient tales from Scotland, Wales, England and the Isles.

Whether you love stories, or Britain, or both, or know anyone who would delight in a fresh anthology of British folklore, we see this as a movement to culturally re-unite the UK, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, Anglesey to Thanet, in these fragile, Brexity times.

There’s literally nothing remotely like this – it’s a tourist guide to the most magical places in Britain, with a story for each spot on the map. But equally crucially, every tale has been retold for TODAY, not some past century. Oh, and the Number One thing? It’s just enormous FUN.

The question remains… WHO THE BLINKING FLIP IS BROTHER BERNARD?

Let’s ask the mercurial, kind-hearted and daft but occasionally irascible 7,777-year-old storyteller himself… He says, ‘Who am I? Oh, for goodness’ sake, it doesn’t matter.’

And he’s right, the teller of each of these 77 stories is totally irrelevant. What really matters is that each of these retellings are of the moment, they have each been fine-tuned in live performance, and thanks to the enjoyment and feedback of folk of all ages and flavours, every retelling is the version of the tale we need in the early 21st century. Does this mean the stories have been in any way cleaned up, bowdlerised, made ‘politically correct’? We should hope not, what a story tells you is all in the way it’s told, but every one of these Tales of Britain strictly respects and protects the original framework of every legend which has survived over the millennia: no whitewashing, just positive messages for everyone of any gender, persuasion and background.

Because, over the centuries, others have fiddled with and distorted our folklore, reflecting their own times, and we’re left with layers and layers of different philosophies plastered over every tale – puritan religious teaching in particular is like knotweed in British folklore, and it takes careful work to tease out all the outdated moralising which has been added to the original mythology, and allow the oldest version of the yarn to shine through. By doing this, while aiming to be as funny, gripping and entertaining as possible, Brother Bernard and his little helpers hope to see the British treasury of tales survive into the next century, in better shape than ever before.

The other reason there’s not a jot of importance in the question of Brother Bernard’s identity is that there are NO alternative collections of British stories like this; Tales of Britain is unique, so needs no famous author’s ‘take’ to distinguish it from others. Just this year, two of our greatest writers, Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman, each tackle their own mythological obsessions, with Greek and Norse myths respectively. Both books are piping-hotly anticipated – not least by us – but they will need to be distinguished from countless other collections of Greek and Norse myths by the style and reputation of Fry and Gaiman, they are THEIR versions of those ancient stories, and no doubt all the better for it.

Of course, every one of Brother Bernard’s stories also has its own style, depending on whether the tale is sad, funny, heroic, nasty or anything in between. Storytellers make decisions at the start of every sentence. But we present these Tales of Britain as the latest retellings, designed to appeal to the widest audience, of today. This style has many influences, but the two greatest are John Hurt’s Storyteller (as scripted by Anthony Minghella) and Rik Mayall’s Grim Tales (as scripted by Anthony Horowitz). The magic of Hurt and the joyful anarchic energy of Mayall hopefully come across in our retellings, not to mention the enthusiasm of Tony Robinson’s Odysseus, the wry darkness of Dahl, the loopiness of Terry Jones, the alien perspective of Douglas Adams, and many of the usual suspects – CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, Alan Garner, Enid Blyton, Mervyn Peake, who were all hugely influenced by British folklore in the first place. Now we can celebrate the inspirations of these literary giants, but in their own right, at last!

So who does it matter who put the words down on paper? These Tales of Britain belong to us all, they are for everyone to enjoy, to read out loud, to reinvent and make their own. So Brother Bernard asks you personally, make them your own, and enjoy them, no matter who you are or where you live. Because they are not his stories. They are everyone’s. They are yours.

Now, if you love British stories, please, SPREAD THE WORD! TALESOFBRITAIN.COM!

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