With 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.
Body Horror: Sigurd & The Severed Head
Wednesday, 18 April 2018
It’s a BODY themed Folklore Thursday! If only we hadn’t used up the far more pleasurable connotation of the theme by blogging about Lady Godiva several weeks ago, we could avoid this nastiness. But as it is, let’s delve into the body-horror of SIGURD’S HOWE…
A violent and nasty tale from the north Scottish coast and Orkney, this story is anchored in the titular Sigurd’s Howe – a burial chamber associated with the frankly horrible 9th century Scandinavian SOD Sigurd Eysteinsson, which, our investigations tell us, is not even available to the public, sadly.
But despite the less than ideal location for tourists, we couldn’t resist this macabre yarn. To summarise, we may as well quote directly from Wikipedia:
His death was said to have been caused by the severed head of Máel Brigte, whom Sigurd defeated in battle. As he rode a horse with Máel Brigte’s head attached to his saddle as a trophy, one of Máel Brigte’s teeth grazed against Sigurd’s leg. The wound became infected, later causing Sigurd’s death.
…Though we’re confident that our retelling is well worth the reading, even given this massive spoiler. We see the poor Scotsman as the victim of quite terrible bullying from the greedy Vikings, and this as a story of REVENGE OF THE GEEKS… albeit, only a posthumous victory for the poor loser who had his head chopped off.
We’ve spoken in the past about how Brother Bernard’s retellings are heavily influenced by the combination of comedy and action seen in Tony Robinson’s retellings of Theseus and Odysseus, and we feel that nowhere is that more in evidence than in this brutish British tale. How could anyone tell such a revolting, sick story without finding it hilariously funny? We hope readers feel for the poor weakling Mael Brigte as we do, and cheer as loudly as us when his revenge comes from beyond the grave.
We’ve written a fair bit here about Tales of Britain’s SUITABILITY FOR MINORS, and have no reservation in saying that this story of severed heads nibbling the butts of their murderers until they die of gangrene is ABSOLUTELY LOVELY for kids of pretty much any age. This is of course academic, as we are not allowed to in any way market this book as being for children – we just know that children will read it and love it, just as we read and loved many a book packed with dark and twisted legends when we were tiny. Nobody bothered wrapping young readers in cotton wool in those days.
Remember being a kid and reading books on ghosts and monsters, filled with photos of phantoms and stories of how they died, and all those photographs of spontaneous combustion victims, single charred legs by fireplaces in a mound of ash? That’s what we were reading when we were tiny, and they weren’t folktales at over 1,000 years remove, these were TRUE STORIES (as far as we were concerned) about death and hauntings all around us right now, with PHOTOGRAPHS! This was allowed. And yet, in 2018, no book for children gets published unless it ticks every small-minded box and has every potentially interesting corner knocked off it, so it can be targeted ruthlessly at the exact area of the market publishers want to exploit.
And so, tales like Sigurd’s Howe – or, far more likely, anything involving the slightest suggestion of bawdiness, sex being seen as far more dangerous than violence – make it impossible for us to in any way acknowledge that this book is for children. But all we can do is make this book and put it out there, and hope it’s enjoyed by EVERYONE, of any age, readers who love Britain and its treasury of tales, sick, sexy, and scary alike.
Some folk out there might have a problem with this, but… we have no shame… we’re really going to end this blog like this… don’t lose your head.
LUKKI MINNIE: Fair Isle’s Bad Luck Trow
Wednesday, 11 April 2018
Good luck to you this Folklore Thursday, TOB-backers!
Many folktales could be said to be filled with good luck and bad, fortunes rising and falling, so we’ve double-themed our tale for this LUCK-LORE Folklore Thursday by focusing on that scourge of the Shetland Isles, LUKKI MINNIE!
There’s very very little to go on when it comes to this hideous trow from the far-northerly leas of Far Isle: a few botanical superstitions, and a short and very unoriginal narrative – our source material for the tale comes from that most unlikely of all sources, The New Statesman. A young Fair Isle lad has the extreme BAD LUCK of being kidnapped by a hideous trow, and the ultimate GOOD LUCK of escaping her clutches by leaping over a burn, where she splashes into the foamy water and is washed away – though her ‘churning butter’ can still be seen on the Fair Isle coast at times…
We used this sparse plot as a jumping off point for a story about stories in some ways, having noted that the nasty ‘dog in a bag’ caper outlined here is a very tired yarn, used many times all over the world, and notably associated with Mollie Whuppie at least once. Therefore, considering that smelly old canard about boys having no interest in female heroes, we made Willie a HUGE FAN of Mollie Whuppie’s exploits, and her legendary example is what gives him the idea of escaping Lukki Minnie’s clutches with the same bag trick. And so, the folktale becomes a story about the power of stories, and Willie manages to triumph over the evil trow, thanks to his avid reading of folktales.
Oh, and call us wet if you like, but we changed the dog to a truly disgusting bogey, as it’s tough to defend any hero chucking a dog in a bag and breaking its bones, so we’ve saved ourselves the bother.
Similarly, with ‘trows’ being such nebulous monsters – Shetland’s position between Scotland and Scandinavia making them very vague translations of Norwegian trolls – we took a few liberties with the nature of Lukki Minnie too, and made her a spiky, sharp thistle-like nightmare with a shock of purple spiky hair which sticks out of her hole, looking very like heather from afar, until she POPS out to grab unsuspecting innocents, and tug them under the ground for her supper. We’ve still yet to sign up an illustrator for the book, but she’s an absolute gift to whoever lands the gig.
We can’t find any pictorial evidence of the froth of Hesti Geo, the legendary result of the hideous trow ‘churning her butter’, but this Fair Isle cotton grass is also known as ‘Lukki Minnie’s Oo’ (nothing to do with Adventure Time, we presume), so it will have to do!
In truth, it’s hard to imagine many tourists making the journey all the way to Fair Isle on the basis of Lukki Minnie’s legend, but if anyone out there has been, or lives there, and knows any more about the hideous old purple-haired fiend, let us know!
Oh, and the 300th book pledger will get a story audio reading of their choice! Just tweet us when you’ve pre-ordered, and remember – beware o’da trows…
Zennor’s Woman Of The Sea
Tuesday, 3 April 2018
Happy oceanic Folklore Thursday, all! 299 backers! How exciting! Who wants to be the next…?
And this week’s Maritime theme has suggested quite a rarity for us of late – a very simple tale, with no need for updates, switched genders or altered angles, and with an extremely solid location where the story took place centuries ago, unquestionably worth a visit – THE MERMAID OF ZENNOR!
There’s no glut of mermaid stories to be found in our 77 tales, no matter how our island’s singular attachment to the sea makes the fishy species a British institution all around the world. You will discover a Welsh prince who dallies with a mermaid, and then there are the Silkies, who are were-seals, but the Mermaid of Zennor is absolutely our go-to girl for piscine sirens in Tales Of Britain, as indeed she is the ultimate paragon of mermaids in history, the world over.
The vision of a mermaid carved into this seat at the village’s church, St. Senara’s (St Senara being synonymous with ‘Zennor’) is several centuries old, and all-but gave us the idea of what a mermaid looks like, holding her mirror and combing her luscious locks, with all below the belly button being scales. And it’s rare that any clear memorial to one of our stories is right there, at the scene of the narrative, in such a neat package.
The legend runs, in short, that a villager called Matthew Trewhella (imagine Poldark, but prettier) had the most beautiful singing voice, that HE unsuspectingly lured this mermaid – a princess of the ocean, no doubt closely related to Neptune himself – up onto dry land, and won her heart. And it was in St Senara’s one Sunday that the two of them duetted, and the beautiful music they made confirmed to them that they were meant to be together – under the sea. Although much loved in the village, Matthew escorted the beautiful stranger to the shore, and plunged into the Atlantic with her, where they lived long and happy lives, singing in coves and raising a family of fishy children. Long after folk believed Matthew drowned, a sailor docked nearby to reassure everyone that mermaid and Matthew had been seen, and the most beautiful singer ever to sing in St. Senara’s was alive and well.
The folk of Zennor should mark the event with an annual singing contest really, but in lieu of that, Zennor itself may only be a small locality, not offering a week’s worth of activity, just peace and beauty for holidaymakers – but luckily that corner of Cornwall is so packed with stories and locations, certainly those who drive will be able to cover two or three tale locations in one day.
We have yet to book a TALES OF BRITAIN LIVE event for Cornwall, but will be down that way in early June, and hope to update you soon with details of what we can arrange – but as you will see from OUR LIVE PAGE HERE, we will be presenting some of the funniest tales in our book as part of the Bath Comedy Festival this Saturday at 4pm at Widcombe Social Club, so we dearly hope to make some of you laugh there! Mermaid should be advised that the club is only yards from the River Avon, so you should be able to make it.
The Three Bears: Hold The Goldilocks!
Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Good gracious and merry Folklore Thursday to all TOB-backers! We reached the coveted 150% funded level, hooray! If you’ve not taken the plunge yet, maybe today you can push our campaign even further, because the more budget we raise, the smoother the book’s journey to your hands will be!
Today’s theme of Nature and Wildlife rather poleaxed us – it could almost comprise any of our 77 tales, or none of them. But the wildlife of Britain is central to one of the most famous stories ever to be remembered from around our nation’s fireplaces, and so today’s tale is THE THREE BEARS!
No Goldilocks? Well, naturally not, she was a disturbingly misogynistic addition much later on, from those famously woman-hating Victorians.
This is a story that was first told to me before I had even said a word in my life, through the Ladybird version illustrated above. But, be honest, has the tale ever made any sense to you? Certainly, it always confused the flip out of me – whose side are we supposed to be on? Surely not the golden-haired housebreaker? From the start, I was not alone in having a distinctive hatred of Goldilocks and her attitude to personal porridge ownership and furniture vandalism, and yet it seemed we were supposed to CHEER when she managed to escape her due punishment at the hands of the poor three bears?
When you consider that Goldilocks was a syrupy distortion of the then-popular version of the tale spun by Bristol poet Robert Southey in 1837 – in which the interloper was a wicked old crone – we’re beginning to get closer to a working story. But even then, Southey was villainising women unduly, as the oldest version of the tale which has been tracked down by folklorists is SCRAPEFOOT & THE THREE BEARS, in which the antagonist is a fox! Or even, THE fox, a recurrent figure in European folklore, Reynard, a wily sly anti-hero and star of many a tale. In fact, even the first version of this story we can identify still makes the fox a vixen, so it was always a female villain, but our Scrapefoot aims to make up for centuries of misogyny connected to this tale, by becoming a male villain.
It really is astonishing how returning Scrapefoot to his starring role solves all the problems of the Goldilocks story, and brings the tale back to life like never before. Besides making the fox a chap, we also took the liberty of NEVER referring to any of the bears by gender, but only by size – the stereotypical family roles of Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Baby Bear being one of those spots of Victorian moralising we can dispose of as well. So in our retelling, we have three friendly British bears, whose trust in their fellow beings is exploited by a despicable (but perhaps, slightly lovable) criminal fox. And we’re very proud of it.
But how does it fit into our format of 77 tales based in the landscape? Has any archaeologist ever managed to track down the site of the Three Bears’ castle, perhaps some Bronze Age bowls with evidence of porridge in them, next to a broken rudimentary chair? Now, don’t be silly. But bears were once native to this island, and archaeologists have found evidence of the native Eurasian Brown Bear over the years. That’s why we chose one of those sites connected to British bears – three ancient brochs in Keiss, Caithness, up in the chilly far north, as our Goldilocks (or rather, Scrapefoot) location. Sadly we’ve not been able to visit, as yet, but they look like interesting places to explore if you are that far north, and as the teeth of wild bears were found here, ceremonially inserted into the brocks’ foundations by the original builders, you can open your imagination a little to consider what the area must have been like when the brochs were originally constructed, and bears did roam the forests of Britain. Just looking for a nice sit down.
One week and two days to go until our SPECIAL LIVE SHOW for Bath Comedy Festival! We really hope to see you there, only 5mins from Bath Spa station, come along and have a laugh, or even more than one!
The Green Bird of Bala: VENGEANCE WILL COME!
Wednesday, 21 March 2018
A chirpy Folklore Thursday to you all, faithful folksters – let’s see if we can nudge our total up to 150% this sunny spring day!
The chosen theme of BIRD FOLKLORE does not chime with a huge array of our 77 tales – birds crop up in tales, fluttering around the Babes in the Wood or having a wart cut off their ear, like the Eagle of the Green Glen – and of course, Rab Burns’ Robin Redbreast has his own Xmas tale. But the most magical bird in our collection is the star of VENGEANCE WILL COME, and although two weeks ago we posted a special snowy update on this Welsh legend, it went by the wayside as everyone was out sledging, so we’ll repost our freezing retelling here!
We try not to give too many of our tales away, but it was so heartbreaking when our visit to Frome’s Merlin Theatre for World Book Day was postponed by the Beast From the East, that this video was intended as a stopgap until we managed to reschedule. The intense pain of being out in this weather recording the whole thing lasted for about five minutes after we came in by the fire, so somebody had better enjoy the results!
© GraemeArnott.com – but you can already see that.
We’re so proud of our nasty, topical retelling of the legend of the flooding of King Tegid Foel’s Old Town Bala into the Lake Bala we can visit in Snowdonia today – in fact, returning to the source material and being reminded, for instance, that the harpist protagonist was originally a MAN just seems so, so wrong now, that role makes much less sense when male. This is the downtrodden musician whose life is saved by the beautiful and mysterious green bird of Bala, who sings ‘VENGEANCE WILL COME!’ and is proved right when the revolting Tegid Foel gets his desserts.
There are so many versions of this story, and as we’ve mentioned before, so many sunken towns and villages in Wales, but it’s the presence of the bird which made us settle for this distinct tale of Llyn Tegid, as the best version of all. Not a ghost, or a god, but a bird saves the day, and has this special insight into what fate awaits the wicked and powerful… and it mocks the patriarchy and saves the innocent via birdsong! That’s what makes it one of the most beautiful tales in our treasury, as well as one of the funniest, and nastiest all at once – as you will have gleaned, if you watched the freezing video!
It’s because it’s so disgusting and silly that we’ll be featuring it in our first ever live storytelling show for the BATH COMEDY FESTIVAL on the first Saturday of April! Check out the Facebook event HERE, and tell everyone you know who fancies a good laugh and some exclusive folktale retellings from Brother Bernard and Sister Sal! It’s a particularly silly and gross, bogey-festooned selection of tales, so make sure you have your lunch well before 4pm!
According to this postcard, Bala also has its own monster! But come on, Bala, you already have this tale and Taliesin’s origin story, and Snowdonia has a lot more to offer, so stop being greedy.
THE HEDLEY KOW: Money Can’t Buy You Happiness
Wednesday, 14 March 2018
Happy Folklore Thursday to all the lovely folkies in the Tales of Britain campaign!
It’s actually quite nice to have such a relatively uncomplicated theme this week – MONEY. And the first of our 77 tales to come to mind is also one of the first we retold many years ago – THE HEDLEY KOW.
©John D Batten
The tale’s simplicity is one of its many appeals, and to summarise it runs the risk of giving the entire plot away, but we hope our retelling has its own warmth and funny spirit to it. In brief, a lovely old lady, poor as you like, discovers a pot of gold while setting off home up the hill in the village of Hedley, west of Newcastle, and her joy at the discovery can’t even be lessened by the further shocking development that the gold… well, we’ll leave it at that for now. Suffice to say it’s one of the neatest ways to spread the message that being rich does not equal being BEST, and that there’s pleasure to be found in life without material gains. An obvious point, but when made via the lovely character of this tale’s protagonist, meeting all her misfortunes with a warm Geordie cry of happiness, a point worth making again and again.
It would be a lie to say we’ve walked the highways and byways of Hedley-on-the-Hill in Northumberland, let alone found a pot of gold or been pounced on by The Hedley Kow – sadly we don’t have the budget to travel to every corner of the island, ironically given the theme of the tale in question. But one day, the aim is to visit every single one of them, even if there’s not a huge list of things to do in every tale location…
Budgets remain a thorny issue – yes, we’re nearly at 150% funded, but that’s on a dramatically reduced publishing plan, and with publishing not being the most rapid of businesses, the ambition of getting this book out to you all by early summer is becoming increasingly… ambitious. As author, I have already waived every penny of the budget excess, wanting it all ploughed back into making the best book possible. And that is also very simply done – we have provided perfect design templates, art has been suggested free of charge, a brilliant designer in our campaign community has even offered cover concepts without asking for a penny! But budget issues do keep being raised, so please, keep on spreading the word, pitching in if you can with pre-orders, because the higher our total gets, the easier it will be to make this book as perfect as it can be for you all – and get it out as soon as possible. We can always hope for deluxe editions in the future, but for now – but who needs goldleaf paper-edging and full colour plates? The 77 tales we have to offer you are riches enough.
Tales of Britain Princesses & The Saffron Cockatrice
Wednesday, 7 March 2018
Happy Folklore Thursday AND International Women’s Day, folkie folks!
Whatever you think about Disney’s ‘Princesses’, as you can see, our 77 tales offer our own pantheon of women heroes. We’re not short of legendary Queens, Princesses and powerful protagonists aplenty – one of our core drives has always been to make up for millennia of damsels in distress being handed over to male heroes as rewards, or nymphs being shamelessly assaulted by errant knights (who then get let off by Queen Guinevere). But, having an equal intention of showing maximum respect to the source material, there’s no denying that with Arthur, Jack, Robin et al, male protagonists still outnumber them – just about. Sometimes it’s brain-bruisingly tricky to retell an existing legend respectfully, while defusing or re-contextualising the swathes of inherent misogyny which can sometimes be the driver of the whole plot. The issues we mentioned in last week’s Tamlane blog are also part of the puzzle of reviving these myths for a modern audience.
Some have demanded that our book has full 50-50 gender equality, but it’s impossible to do that without being tokenistic, and/or tearing apart the traditions of the stories we’re telling. Also, it’s much easier to represent more women in the stories than it is to show the same respect to people of other sexualities or ethnicities – those issues just don’t arise in our tales, at least not directly, and to crowbar them in would come across as the weakest desperation to tick boxes. I hope the whole book reeks of tolerance and inclusivity, and stresses that Britain is a mongrel country where all are welcome, no matter where on the spectrum their gender, sexuality, or racial roots may lie. But gender is the main issue we can act on.
Therefore, where any character or protagonist needn’t necessarily be either gender, we’ve tried to use the opportunity to even things up a bit – without, I hope, falling into the usual traps of turning every non-male character into a ‘feisty’ manic pixie dreamgirl-type. Certainly, none of the above ‘Princesses’ could be described as such. Which brings us to THE SAFFRON COCKATRICE.
We’ll openly admit that our rather silly retelling of this Essex legend was one of the two or three which our copy-editor marked for deletion – which we strongly refuse to do, as it’s one of our favourites, and more to the point, a recurring favourite of girls in our audience – because our hero is a young woman who shows up all the men around her. Those familiar with the tale may be taken aback at this, and we apologise to Saffron Walden residents who take offence at their local legend facing a gender-swap, but we’re proud of the way it works now.
The thing is, complete transparency here, this collection of 77 tales does contain the same story at least 5 times – certainly, following the rules of your average academic ‘folklorist’: there’s a monster terrorising the neighbourhood, and a protagonist comes along and, with some quirk of technique or magic, they vanquish them. Sometimes the hero lives, sometimes they die, sometimes it’s a dragon or wyrm, sometimes it’s… well, a cross between a chicken and a snake, but they break down to the same shape tale. However, those five tales have all been given vastly different flavours for Tales of Britain, and we chose The Saffron Cockatrice to make the key differentiation, of portraying the slayer as a woman rather than a man.
It’s not a widely known story outside of Essex, but the hero has always been known as ‘The Glass Knight’, whose key triumph was in shining their armour so well, the basilisk’s killer glare rebounds back on it, and the day is saved. When we first began retelling the legend, we made the hero a victim of bullying, a wannabe knight whose efforts were sneered at by other knights until they proved the best of them all – and making the protagonist female just seemed to make that dynamic work all the better. What, a girl? Slay a monster? JUST WATCH.
Actually, there is one further quite silly alteration we made to this legend, but to find out what it is, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait until the book is in your hands, we don’t want to give everything away. All we’ll say is, with our misogynist-trouncing hero ‘Sir’ Billie vanquishing the Saffron Cockatrice, making the streets safe for tourists, the place is now clearly one of the most gorgeous places to visit in Essex! And we would say this recommendation is offered as some recompense to locals who are offended that their hero is now a woman, but then, if it really bothers you, we’re not sure you deserve recompense. Long live ‘Sir’ Billie, say we!
VENGEANCE WILL COME!
Thursday, 1 March 2018
I was supposed to be presenting our first ever schools event this afternoon, for Frome College at the well-monikered Merlin Theatre! But, the snow has put paid to that, and so poor Brother Bernard risked his fingertips shouting in the cold like this.
Hopefully we can reschedule soon, and please do email email@example.com if you would like to host a similar event for your school or organisation! Our tales offer lessons in geography, history, culture and above all, hopefully laughs galore.
Hapus dydd dewi sant!
The Rose & The Root: Tam-Lin & The YA Conundrum
Wednesday, 28 February 2018
A glorious Gardening-themed Folklore Thursday to you, green-fingered folkies!
Although it’s snowing so heavily our World Book Day event at Frome College and the Merlin Theatre has been cancelled, and it’s St David’s Day, so a tale about Scottish summer flowers could not be less apposite. Nonetheless, NOW READ ON…
Our copy-edited manuscript of 77 tales with tourist guides was just being tweaked, reworked and perfected, and we were up to Number 17 when we noticed the theme the sage gods of Folklore Thursday had chosen – and ‘Tamlane of Carterhaugh Wood’, also known as ‘Tam-Lin’, certainly fitted the bill for this week’s investigation.
The story is one of the more continually manifest in our culture out of the 77 – its unique flavour of romantic mysticism has ensured the plot has been recycled many times, from the brilliant Benjamin Zephaniah update linked above, to the really quite dodgy 1970 scare-free horror film ‘Tam-Lin’, starring a very young Ian Lovejoy.
In short, our protagonist Janet is gifted with land by her father, which includes Carterhaugh Wood, which can still be found just north of the Scottish border, in Selkirk. But while exploring her new property, Janet spots a red rose tree, with a white horse tethered to it, and finding it impossible to resist the roses, she is accosted by Tamlane, a handsome once-human faerie prisoner, and they fall in love. Soon Janet discovers that she is pregnant and has to dig up a root of the rose tree and eat it to get rid of the…
This is the point we had reached when we learned of the Gardening theme, and also the point where the copy-editor had written something along the lines of ‘There is no way this book can be published for children.’ To which our reply has to be, ‘Fair enough, but that’s why we’re publishing this with Unbound, rather than a machine-like pedantically age-targeted children’s publisher.’ TALES OF BRITAIN is intended for the Mythology shelves, the Travel shelves, the British Culture shelves, and we aim from start to finish to entertain the widest audience possible, as much of the family as we can, but you can’t cater for everyone with 77 stories of such breadth and wild stylings.
There are few tales as problematic as Tamlane’s. Janet is a wonderful hero, not stereotypically ‘feisty’, but strong and pragmatic – there’s no question of her being presented as in any way not in command of her own fate, but she falls in love and deals with the consequences herself. If anything, the myth has always been a welcome gender subversion of the clichéd knight errand story, so in this case, it’s the young woman who saves the beautiful man from the forces of darkness. But then, the plot does rely on the two of them going from 0-300mph in no time at al, romantically and sexually, and that’s not an easy thing to present before a modern audience – how do magic forests affect the question of consent? And we didn’t want to cutely euphemise what happens between them, she gets pregnant, so although of course our retelling does not turn into an erotic epic (there are plenty of those out there), there’s no patronising attempt to cover up sexuality here – just as there isn’t in our version of The Canterbury Tales’ Miller’s Tale. We know it’s more likely to prick the ire of ‘moral guardians’ than the oceans of blood-spillage in so many other stories, but that sex gets more complaints than violence is only one instance of the madness of ‘moral guardians’.
The tale does of course get even trickier, it’s true – when Tamlane learns why Janet wants to eat the root, and instead convinces her to break his spell, and be with him. How to present his desire to raise the child without it seeming controlling, gaslighting or worst of all, to be making any kind of ‘pro-life’ statement? Janet has no doubt that she has every right to eat the root, without shame. But… love rears its head, and she decides to fight for it.
There’s nothing in this story that you won’t find in yer average Young Adult novel – teenage pregnancy is hardly shocking to anyone of any age today. We believe we’ve approached the problems the tale throws up with the utmost taste and careful wording, to try and tell the story as true to its source and clearly as possible, while making the characters relatable to a 21st century audience, respecting your intelligence but also enjoyably communicating the romance and magic of the legend. The only one who has to come out of it badly is the Queen of the Faeries, but she was planning to kill Tamlane, so she deserves her defeat at the end.
And so, let there be no doubt, the vast majority of these 77 tales are as fun for tiny tots as they are for centenarians and everyone in between – we want little kids to be able to pick the book up and enjoy their favourite stories (after all, we certainly read a lot of stuff not aimed at our age group when we were little readers), but TALES OF BRITAIN is not aimed at ‘the children’s market’. Because if targeting little readers means leaving out a part of our folklore as crucial and eternally bewitching as the story of Tamlane and Janet, there’s simply no point. Not least as it provides us with one of the most evocative touristy days out, with Tamlane’s Well a real destination in the Scottish border country, in many ways as lush and enticing now as it was when Janet first went exploring.
Please pre-order your copy of this roadmap of British folklore today, is you haven’t – or tell a friend if you already have! The stronger our campaign, the more beautifully our book will bloom this summer. And our campaign is always growing…!
Happy St David’s Day – there’ll be more to come today on that score!
Welcome To The Greenwood
Wednesday, 21 February 2018
O valiant Tales-of-Britain-backers, I hope the sun is shining through the leaves with you this Folklore Thursday!
Tree folklore is such a fish in a barrel for our collection of 77 tales – although many of the most obvious candidates, like The Apple Tree Man and The Whikey Tree, have already been blogged for your reading pleasure.
So which figure from British mythology do we most associate with hiding in trees, becoming one with the greenwood? Here’s a clue: his name rhymes with the last sentence.
My early illustration for nephew Natey’s original christening book.
We have also already blogged about Robin Hood, when giving away the free (and very first written) story, Robin’s Arrow, set in Ludlow – and he popped up again just last week, in Babes In The Wood. The former tale was mainly removed from the collection because of the anachronism of putting Robin and King John together, when Robin’s own stories favour the more accepted later setting of the reign of King Edward II, drawing on the oldest Gestes we have.
We’ve made no bones about the fact that we sincerely hope enough people enjoy our book, that a second volume will become possible (including Robin’s Arrow, anachronism and all), which will give scope for further episodes from the Merrie Men saga. But for this collection, there are three distinct Hood adventures – Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire is the site for Robin’s first meeting with Friar Tuck, then there is the central episode, of Robin versus the Sherrif of Nottingham and the Silver Arrow Contest. And finally, sad and weird tale though it is, the story of Robin’s murder at Kirklees Abbey completes our original trilogy here. These stories take in sites all around Yorkshire as well as Nottingham Castle, but Sherwood Forest is always there, linking all the sites, as once it spread across numerous North Country counties.
Lovers of Robin Hood will need no encouragement to explore Sherwood, some effort has been made to aid the imagination for visitors, and a key attraction is The Major Oak, which, being at least 800 years old and propped up by scaffolding, does have a genuinely thrilling claim to have provided shelter for any historical inspiration for the Robin Hood legend. Medieval outlaws surely knew this tree, whether you accept that there was a single ur-Robin whose deeds went on to mutate into the stories we know, or not.
There are so many great Robin Hood yarns, we only hope we get to retell further ones in years to come. But that won’t happen unless this first volume of Tales of Britain is a success, so any help you can offer, in spreading the word and increasing pre-sales (and please let us know if you are keen to stage a Tales of Britain storytelling event near you!), it will all help to power this new generation of British folktales. Steal from the rich if you have to. We are poor.
You know it’s true. Everything I do… I do it for you.
Babes In The Wood: Suitable For Minors?
Wednesday, 14 February 2018
Happy childhood-themed Folklore Thursday, lovely little TOB-backers!
Signs depicting a pair of children are proudly displayed in the Norfolk village of Griston and town of Watton, testifying to the areas near Wayland Woods as the site of the original events which gave us the story of the Babes In The Wood. For all the tale’s development as a fun pantomime every Xmas, all the added jollity of the babes being taken in by Robin Hood & His Merrie Men, what we’re dealing with here is a truly tragic news story of the 16th century, which has, quite perversely, persisted in our culture to the point that it’s now a family entertainment. But to return to the original source material does present a challenge for a collection like ours…
It seems bizarre that we haven’t blogged yet about Babes In The Wood, I was sure it was one of our first blogs, so fascinating is its place among our 77 stories. But today’s ‘Childhood’ theme does present the perfect opportunity to take a closer look. At some point in the mid-1500s, the master of Griston Hall died, leaving his heir and daughter in the charge of his brother – who apparently decided he’d rather pay a couple of local toughs to take the two small children out into Wayland Woods and dispose of them, leaving him master of Griston in his own right. The gist of the original broadside ballad published in 1595 seems to suggest that at least he didn’t get away with it, and never got to enjoy his ill-gotten gains, but any which way, the babes were never seen again.
Over the years, many changes were made to make the story more palatable for the likes of Disney, from heavenly angels who take the babes up to heaven to the aforementioned Robin Hood plot – but our version tries to offer the full array of possible endings to the story, rather than just bowdlerising and softening the tragic source material. Returning to our theme last week, of the tragedy of Tristan & Isolde, the vast majority of our 77 stories are packed with laughs and fun, trying to rouse the spirit of Rik Mayall’s Grim Tales and so on, but there’s really no room for added gags in Babes In The Wood, and it’s impossible to forget that ultimately, we’re dealing with a real murder mystery.
Problems like this are to the fore at the moment, as the full manuscript of Tales of Britain has just come back to me after its first copy-editing. I have to admit, although this is my 5th book, I have been a bag of nerves at the idea of these retellings being judged by a stranger. The retellings in our live shows, and many many private storytellings with friends and family, has always suggested that what we’ve done is great, reviving our national lore in a gripping, funny, entertaining way, but besides the first feedback from our publisher, Unbound boss John Mitchinson, that TOB’s retellings are ‘genial and engaging’, this is our first real independent feedback on how the book will be received. And although manifold stresses – such as being on the verge of handing back the final proofs of Soupy Twists – has prevented me from diving into the full copy-edit MS, I’m very glad to say the overall response is:
‘This title is enormous fun – swashbuckling, energetic and amazingly broad in range. I enjoyed the way it’s structured to run through the ages: this makes it a history of Britain too, in a quirky sort of way. It was also good to realise which of our classic fairy tales are home-grown, given that so many of them were imported. Overall it’s a huge achievement – congratulations!’
Of course, this warm encouragement does go on to pinpoint areas for improvement, which is very appreciated, and we’ll now be doing all we can to tweak and perfect the MS in every way. However, one issue I’d like to share here is that 4 of the 77 tales were highlighted as potentially worth dropping or swapping – because they were too slight, too much of a squib, or in some way lacked cohesion. I am going to do all I can to obey the copy-editing suggestions all along, every single change which makes it a better book has to be heeded (for instance, from the very start, as you can see from all the free tale samples we’ve shared with you, each tale has had its own little rhyme to bookend the text, inspired by Rupert annuals, and tied in to the original book title, ‘Brother Bernard’s Big Book of British Ballads’, but they’ve been suggested as superfluous, so out they go. We can always use them in some other form, if we get to do further volumes or special editions, which we dearly hope we will), but in this case, I think with 77 tales on offer, a few are always going to be each individual reader’s favourites, and a few least favourites. With such a breadth of story style on offer, it’s impossible to please everyone with every tale. I’m sure that’s the case here. And so although those 4 nominated tales will receive extra attention to improve them, we won’t be changing or dropping them, keeping the 77 tales intact, especially after promising them to you all for so long!
But the other key midge in the anticeptic is the question of whether the book is SUITABLE FOR MINORS – an apposite issue for today’s theme. One of the main appeals of Unbound for this book was that we could escape the hidebound, robotic pigeonholing of children’s publishers, where nothing gets commissioned unless it’s mercilessly targeted to some kind of Key Stage demographic, and free expression be blowed. Kid’s publishing really is depressingly limiting these days, publishers terrified of anything that doesn’t fit into a tiny box. The fact that, personally, I had seen An American Werewolf In London and every episode of The Young Ones by the age of 6 and have turned out relatively sane, is one of the many things that means my blood cools when children are targeted in this way. Nonetheless, there is a duty to the book-buying public, and so for Tales of Britain, we’re ultimately talking about a Horrible Histories age group, whatever that is – and it certainly includes adults of all ages. But although the tales are intended above all to be shared with all ages read aloud, for personal reading purposes, there’s no point in trying to cater for very small children, not when there are saucy mermaids, vicious murders and a fair deal of scatalogical naughtiness included. Children are far tougher than any publisher dares to admit, but we’ll include warnings for any particularly rude or scary story, and try and aim securely at older kids who like a laugh, and lovers of folktales of all ages above. Hopefully that will allow these tales to come through to you intact, and in fact, all the better for not trying to cater to the very young, offering a slightly more sophisticated approach here and there (basically, less usage of the word ‘poo’).
Nothing could be as scary as the idea of plunging into the copy-edited manuscript anyway, but that is precisely what is happening today. Wish me luck, and I’ll do all I can to make these 77 tales perfect, for most ages – albeit for just a handful of stories, babes may need to be protected.
Tristan & Isolde: Britain’s Greatest Love Story?
Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Happy lovey-dovey Folklore Thursday, sexed-up Tales-backers!
As fans of racist tunesmith Dicky Wagner will know well, Cornwall is the home of perhaps the greatest love story in mythology – those Italian kids in Verona be blowed. The legend of Tristan & Isolde is also a rather good testcase for the variety you’ll find in our collection of 77 tales…
As we’re proud to repeat, our greatest inspiration in our approach to telling entertaining stories is the silly anarchy of Rik Mayall’s Grim Tales or Terry Jones’ fairytales… but if every last story was played for laughs, it would be to do a disservice to sad legends like Babes in the Wood, The Kintraw Doonies, and indeed, Tristan & Isolde. Nobody would care about the tragedy of the love between this 6th century Cornish Knight and Irish Princess if we didn’t take it seriously, and so you’ll find our reworking of the old love story a hopefully genuinely moving romantic weepie, amidst the oddities and exciting yarns we have on offer.
The legend also presented something of an interesting quandary, as much of the action takes place, according to tradition, in Tintagel. Your author has a significant birthday coming up this summer, and can’t wait to spend it exploring the area, wondering whether these were the walls from which Tristan jumped after his uncle King Mark found out about what his wife Isolde had been getting up to with young Tristan in the forest.
But as you have probably already clocked, Tintagel is far more obviously celebrated for its dubious links to Arthurian myth, as the site of his actual conception, and that’s the main theme of any tourist visit – and we have chosen it in our collection as the site for The Sword In The Stone. (However, any Arthurian experts in Wales or Scotland harrumphing that THEY live near the real site where such-and-such an Arthur legend took place can relax – we also provide a list of alternative claimants to Camelot, Camelan, the castle of Uther Pendragon etc.)
We do stress the links between Tintangel and Tristan & Isolde, but plumped for Fowey as the location for our retelling, as the other place you can visit to feel shivers of connection to the 1,500-year-old doomed couple – because this is where you will find the Tristan Stone.
We blush to recall being told off by friends in recent years for urging them to sign an online petition against the moving of the Tristan Stone from a roadside outside Fowey when the 6th century gravemarker has been moved many times over the centuries, and has no ancient right to be wherever it is – there is no ‘Dark Age’ Knight buried beneath it, let alone two long-dead lovers with entwined hazel and honeysuckle trees growing from their shared coffin. Nonetheless, the inscription, translated as ‘Drustan lies here, of Cunomorus the son, with the lady Ousilla’ gives imaginative folkies a far stronger conviction of a potential historical basis for the tale than many legends can claim – Arthur especially.
Keep spreading the word about the first British folktale collection in decades, and until next week, this is one for all the lovers out there. Take it away, Dickie…
The King of Cats & Folkie Days Out!
Tuesday, 30 January 2018
Happy Folklore Thursday, TOB-backers!
Due to annoyances involving hospitals and other unpleasant things, we had no time to wait for the Folklore Thursday theme this week, and so we’re very relieved that the theme is ‘favourite tales’ as that gives us over 77 to choose from! We don’t really have any one favourite, but this is always a joy, so we’ve gone for one of the most nebulous and slight tales in our collection – THE KING OF CATS!
You’re very probably well aware of this little squib about Dildrum and his surprised owners, and although we’re confident we’ve put a very entertaining spin on it, we won’t bother summarising what happens here. But we’ve plumped for Lancashire – with no specific area of the county – as the location for the story, as it’s often pride of place in Lancashire collections, despite being popular in many other regions.
So we can’t really specify any one ‘folktale day out’ to compliment this wee tale – one of the very few without a definite location – but conversely, there are places in the UK we could recommend that have no specific tale attached!
Which brings us to today’s request for all the folksters out there – Can you suggest any folklore-connected places in Britain that we should be recommending? Although the manuscript is currently being copy-edited as we type, we’re keen to add a small section at the back of other places to visit with folklore interest. Here’s a couple we’re already going to include:
An afternoon – well, a pleasant hour – was spent here at the Cambridge Museum a few years ago, during research for official Douglas Adams biography The Frood, and this summer we’re planning a special Tales Of Britain event in the city (hopefully at Heffer’s). So far, planned events will be taking place in Bath, Ludlow, London, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Cardiff – but PLEASE do get in touch if you would like us to visit your town or city too, and we can work out a way to fund it and make it happen.
We feel a little guilty that the tales we discovered or have been recommended in Cambridgeshire were all almost wholly identical to tales found elsewhere, so we’re still forever on the hunt for unique Cambridge stories (if we do get to have a second volume), but in the meantime, recommending a trip to the museum is something! It won’t fill an afternoon, but there’s so much to wonder at in Cambridge you won’t get bored.
And then, for those who are able to travel far up to the northernost regions of the island, the Highland Folk Museum looks like an incredible place to visit, and one where we dearly hope to perform our stories one day. Particularly if it’s as sunny as in the photo above!
So, those are two suggestions for a ‘Further Folky Places To Visit’ boxout at the end of the book, if you know of any others – and remember, they have to be unconnected to any specific story – please do let us know, and hopefully we’ll be able to sneak it in.
Over to you!
FOOD, FAMINE & FOLKLORE
Wednesday, 24 January 2018
Another foody Folklore Thursday, another Folklore Thursday of food…
It was unsurprising that the first tale which came to mind when we heard about today’s foody theme was THE KNUCKER – but that would be because we already wrote that blog last September! So instead, we turn to the complete absence of food, and a tale which has been here in plain sight since we launched TALES OF BRITAIN at Glastonbury last August.
CADOC & THE MOUSE, besides being given away in PDF form on Twitter & Facebookbefore we launched, was selected as our Excerpt tale right here on the Unbound site – click back (not yet, we’re writing here!) and click the excellently camouflaged ‘Excerpt’ tab, and you can read it in full… Or of course you could just click here.
That said, our ‘finished’ 77 tales are currently being copy-edited, and we have no idea how any of them will emerge from the process – we’re trusting the folk going through our manuscript are lovely, and know a well-told tale when they read one, so hopefully little will change!
Cadoc & The Mouse is the tale of how a clever and kind-hearted lad saved a Welsh community from famine, discovering a secret horde of grain thanks to a tiny mouse – and so there’s no denying that it’s all about food, in a very intense way. We chose the tale as our Excerpt not because it’s the best of the 77, but it’s just a short, punchy and rather lovely little yarn – and in fact, in a way it’s very unrepresentative of our stories, in that it centres on a ‘Saint’…
The Welsh saint Cadoc was born in Monmouthshire at the end of the 5th century, and went on to become one of the most important figures in the Christian church of the time. But tales of saints was one category we were quite keen to minimise in this collection, because there are so many sagas about Christian martyrs, and so many of them cynically build on far older pagan legends; in the 21st century, we see it as our job to try to redress the balance after centuries of religious distortion – all those tiresome folktales about people playing cards with the devil on the sabbath being turned into construction materials, and similar soft-headed stories designed to keep the parish flock docile and obedient. As a proud salopian with a very Christian upbringing, I’ve attended services in tribute to St. Mildburh at Stoke St Milborough, and if we’re lucky enough to get to publish a second volume, there are some courageous women protagonists within the lists of British saints, but as a rule, we do want to draw the line between ancient folklore and Christian teachings.
Interestingly (yes it is), there are other legends pertaining to Cadoc as a food provider – the grain stores in his parents’ house was said to be magically filled on his birth. But the tale of his great rodential discovery at Coed Fenny Fach, near the village of Llanspyddid, as you can see from the photo above, does tie in to a wonderful spot on the map, well worth a Sunday outing to see if you can find any mice to follow. And if anything, by showing Cadoc as rational and scientifically minded in the way he saves the community from starvation, the tale is all about thinking for yourself, analysing evidence, and in short, quite the opposite of religious propaganda.
No Clothes Please, We’re British
Wednesday, 17 January 2018
Happy Folklore Thursday, Tale-Lovers! Have you told anyone today that we’ll soon be launching the first full British folklore collection in GENERATIONS? Blow some minds, spread the word!
Now, with today’s Folklore Thursday theme being CLOTHES, we hope this doesn’t count as facetiousness two weeks running, but the first of our 77 tales to leap to mind was one of our very favourite – LADY GODIVA. If ever there was a posho who had no need of fine gowns and accessories, it was surely this West Midlands naturist-cum-anarchist.
There aren’t many British legends which still remain in the popular memory quite as well as this life-affirming little anecdote about saxon politics and mariage guidance issues. Lady Godiva was one of the original ‘social justice warriors’ – that may be why we adore her so much.
One quite smelly question we’ve been asked now and then is whether we have travelled to every single tale location in the book, from Shetland to Jersey and back, to which the answer is, of course, ‘if only’, with a hefty dollop of ‘hopefully one day, when we find some gold’. But Coventry’s streets are ones we have tramped in recent times. Living in Bath for over 14 years has probably spoiled us, but we can’t pretend, in our original journey which took us way out from the far-flung industrial suburbs into the city centre, that the surroundings and architecture quite set our heart alight – thanks for that, Mr. Hitler. But as you reach the top of town, and see what remains of the ancient Coventry, you get some inkling of the Mercian settlement where Godiva rode, even though her Coventry predated even the Cathedral by many a century.
The city is rightly proud of their brave saxon Queen, and never could the story of her cheeky stand against exploitative patriarchal nobs resound as pleasingly as it does after so many years of Austerity. We’re not here to debate the story’s historicity, but the sheer Carry-On style Britishness of the tale, as the wife of the saxon noble Elfric forces him to retreat on his latest pitiless taxation plans with a canter in the nuddy, is one of the virtues which has kept it alive for longer than many saxon yarns – partly because there are sadly few signs of its humanitarian message becoming irrelevant. Although the later puritan additions, such as poor old Peeping Tom LOSING HIS EYES because he dared to squint out of the window as the Lady rode past in the pink (admittedly, he did need a lesson or two in consent), is the kind of sick moralising the legend can certainly do without. We’ll have none of that in our collection! Nudity yes, puritan judgement, no.
Especially when times are hard, the national tug of war between the haves and have-never-had-and-now-have-even-lesses can become a bit simplistic and binary, as if having plenty in the bank automatically makes you one of a cruel elite, but Godiva was one of the first rulers in the British narrative to show some acknowledgement of the suffering of those below her in the pecking order – and without all the kerfuffle of raging in storms and going mad that King Leir went through to learn the same lesson. Certainly, in 2018, Britain needs more Lady Godivas. In clothes though, obviously. It’s chilly out.
Tell someone about TALES OF BRITAIN today!
A Hard Day’s Knight
Thursday, 11 January 2018
We’re very glad to see that this week’s theme is WORK because what could be harder WORK than being a Knight? What’s the worst job you ever had? Did it involve slaying dragons, or indeed having your head cut off? No, well, there we are then. Hardest job in the world, gallant Knight.
Okay, most tangential theming ever, we know, but the truth is we couldn’t hold out any longer on singling out GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT as our tale of the week – as the action takes place over two New Year’s Eves, we should have blogged about it last week really, and now we’ve seen the brand new Adventure Time episode SEVENTEEN, based on the legend, we can’t hold it in any longer!
The Arthurian New Year tale of Gawain & The Green Knight needs little summarising – but anyway, the giant leafy antagonist shows up in Camelot in the middle of the festive festivities, and challenges Gawain to a head-cutting-off competition, which he honours a year later, travelling to the Green Knight’s glade, which legendarily, and in our version, is reputed to be Lud’s Church, near Leek in Staffordshire. Oh, and before the showdown, Gawain carefully avoids having his chivalry eroded by the temptations of his hostess in Castle Hautdessert, Lady Bertilak, in full Michael-Palin-and-Carol-Cleveland mode…
In the Adventure Time extrapolation Seventeen, Finn’s birthday is spoiled by the arrival of a mighty green knight who gives him a bloody challenge… and who turns out to be a very famiuliar foe to fans of the show.
We were particularly pleased to see Adventure Time reference this Arthurian yarn, as its own line-treading between kid’s show and mind-blowing art and frankly filthy comedy is something we can definitely identify with – and especially when it comes to the Gawain legend, which is a tough one to retell, for younger readers/listeners, being heavily concerned with adulterous sexual temptation. They skipped that in Adventure Time (no Lumpy Space Princess shenanigans), but we won’t.
The division between sex, and violence, and scatology is odd. Of course a hero can slice up any number of foes with a sword, and that’s all gravy for the little ones, but bawdy matters? The pursed lips seem to hover closer in the air.
However, we’re not bowdlerising our national treasury for anyone – have no fear, mermaids will still lure sailors with their fishy charms, Godiva will still be starkers, Guinevere will still lie with Lancelot: our mythology is steeped in how’s-your-dad, as it is with violence, and a certain degree of poo, too. There’s no reason why any of these themes should prevent our tales from being shared with the whole family, no matter what their age. We’ll make it clear if a tale is too scary for toddlers though…
Adventure Time has been brilliant at bridging the gap between adult weirdness and children’s fantasy, and it’s truly heartbreaking that the show is now rolling out its final episodes. The fact that one of them is devoted to a British folktale just shows all the more what a spectacular work of art Adventure Time is, definitely an inspiration for Tales of Britain’s style, and if we could find an illustrator with half of the simple charm of Pendleton Ward’s creations, that would be perfect. It’s not melodramatic to suggest that the world of Ooo is the single greatest artistic achievement of this century so far, and we’ll miss it dearly.
Oh, and it would be most remiss to blog about Gawain & The Green Knight without mentioning our sister book my Michael Smith, also fully funded, HERE. We have 77 tales in our collection, but this art-focused title is a lavish reimagination of this one key, fondly remembered British story – a tale of rebirth, new beginnings, deep snow, tempting naughtiness, trust, and honour.
And whether in our retelling, in Smith’s book, or in a US cartoon, it’s a story that is very much still alive.
PRE-ORDER TALES OF BRITAIN BY CLICKING AN OPTION ON THE RIGHT IF YOU’VE NOT!
EDIT: We’ve just been alerted to a reading of Tolkien’s retelling of Gawain & The Green Knight read by our hero, Terry Jones. We’ll have more to say about that great storyteller soon…
New Beginnings: BRUTUS, LAND AHOY!
Wednesday, 3 January 2018
A very very happy 2018 to Britophile story lovers everywhere! But particularly to everyone out there who realises just how momentous it is that we’re all working together this year to launch the first full treasury of British tales in at least 30 years! This is a literary revolution to unite the nation in a love for storytelling, and all of us involved should feel very proud. Right now the process of turning 130k words into a beautiful, fun book is underway, and hopefully pledgers will have their copies ready for the summer!
The very hardest part of the process, however, is going to be PUBLICITY – and we will need all the help we can get to create events all over the UK when the book is out, to talk about it on the radio and hopefully TV, on podcasts, websites and in newspapers and magazines. It’s safest to assume NO publicity machine will exist to make this happen, we are on our own, so anyone out there with any leverage to get Tales of Britain talked about, please please get in touch and help us spread the word. This book is FUN above all, but it’s so important in so many ways, helping to create an inclusive, united Britain in 2018’s horrible political landscape. Hardly anyone realises just how UNIQUE this book is, it will be the one option for anyone seeking a UK story treasury for some time, but it’s all for nothing unless word is spread far and wide. We’ll be harping on about this a LOT as the release nears, so please, please help – we can’t make this book a success without you.
Folklore Thursday’s theme of ‘Beginnings’ is therefore nicely apposite, and we’re shocked to note that we haven’t yet blogged about the very first of our 77 tales – The very origin story of Britain itself, the arrival of the Trojan Prince Brutus, in Totnes!
Well, ‘origins’ is a misleading term even for this impossibly ancient myth, as of course these descendants of Trojan War veterans did not set foot on an empty island, and the earliest mythological origin of Britain lies with the giant Albion and her sisters, and the huge ‘native’ giants who were born to them before this island was even… an island. But Brutus’ mad yarn is a fitting opening to our 77 tales, with the London stone allegedly being a chunk of the temple of Diana stumbled upon by the Prince, and Devon’s beautiful Totnes itself boasting the Brutus stone, where the great hero was said to have set the first human foot on British soil. Our retelling hopefully gives more prominence to Brutus’ wife Ignoge, but otherwise, with Brutus’ wiles and his gigantic best pal Corineus’ might, it feels to us like a kind of Asterix story, with all the biffing and splatting that involves.
Brutus’ legend could not provide a more perfect primer for one of the key themes of Tales of Britain – the way in which immigrants have shaped this country from Day One, and that every last one of us is either an immigrant, or descended from one. Corineus’ wrestling with giants like Gogmagog (or Gog AND Magog if you prefer) doesn’t exactly suggest racial harmony has long been part of the British way of life, but the narrative does ask the question – if you consider yourself British, when did your DNA first come to these shores? Are you claiming to be descended from Brutus, or one of his gang? If not, you cannot claim to be a ‘native’ Briton – and if so… you’re A) mad, and B) still descended from immigrants. In fact, nobody should be allowed to use the phrase ‘native’ with reference to British identity – let alone ‘English’ – unless they are at least nine feet tall and live in a castle on a cloud.
Brutus’ bag of nonsense provides the perfect beginning to our book, and hopefully also a good beginning to this whole year, the most important year in British folklore in DECADES. Get excited, we’re revolutionising the British story treasury, and none of it would be happening without you. Here’s to great beginnings, and no endings…