THURsday, 19 September 2019

Ushering In Autumn In Canterbury

The last Folklore Thursday of the summer, my dear folksters – hope it’s a joyous one for all of you!

The Autumn Equinox, Mabon, Harvest Festival, no matter what you like to call it, it’s the perfect time, as the nights draw in, to gather around a fire and swap stories. And this Saturday at 4pm, we’ll be doing just that at Canterbury’s ancient Unicorn Inn at 4pm! This is the furthest east we have ever performed our tales, so we dearly hope to see a few of you there – it’s completely free, but Brother Bernard will be signing books! Grab a drink and settle in for an hour of stories from all over the Isles – we may even be able to do a request or two, if the crowd’s up for it!

We will naturally be sure to feature actual Canterbury-based stories, even if our best one is technically a Yule tale, but the best feeling is sharing a folktale in the actual place where the story happened! Our other main Canterbury tale is, of course… just that! Our carefully distilled summary of Chaucer’s epic anthology of storytelling actually never gets near the city itself, just as Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled hopefully without ever actually arriving. 

Admittedly, Chaucer’s pilgrims are travelling at the other end of the year – sweet soggy April springtime – but their yarns cover so much of human experience, harvest plays its part without the need to bring in Piers Plowman to stretch to today’s theme.

And the following Friday we’re further north, at Thorney, a village near Peterborough, and by then it really will be autumn! This is the last date we have booked in this year, besides hopes to return for our traditional Yule Tales of Britain show in Bath, but we still owe a show to our Cheltenham pledger, and if you fancy a story session in your hometown any time at all, just get in touch jem@jemroberts.com and we’ll see what we can do! This week my 6th book launches, @FABFOOLS, and that definitely requires a Liverpool trip, so perhaps any scouse folktale lovers could suggest a suitable venue for then…?

Have a warm and optimistic Mabon! We all need one…

THURsday, 12 September 2019

Back To Hogwarts

HEROIC FOLKLORE THURSDAY TO ALL!

First of all, we have great news! Our first ever CANTERBURY LIVE SHOW has been confirmed for Saturday 21st September at 4pm, at The Unicorn Inn! It’ll be a free hour of any tales you like, but we’ll be sure to include actual Canterbury-set stories for sure! We’ve never performed that far east before, so we’re dearly hoping to see plenty of eastern folklore fans!

Today’s theme is HEROES – whether intended to be in any way connected to Stephen Fry’s Greek myths instalment, we can’t be sure, but we loved his live show in Edinburgh this year, and as his official biographer, we couldn’t recommend his book enough – certainly, once you feel fully sated with British lore, of course…

Stephen is naturally a hero of ours, why else would we spend years celebrating his life in print? But we understand among his many accomplishments is a certain audiobook narration gig connected to another hero with a rich folkloric background – Harry Potter!

And would you Adam and believe it, a few weeks ago Brother Bernard just happened to be travelling north through the closest real thing to Hogwarts – Alnwick Castle!

Although the Hogwarts in the films is constructed from a whole host of different locations and smothered in CGI, Alnwick was a key location, and a visit to the beautiful Northumbrian pile easily brings certain lessons to mind…

INCENDIONOSOLOL!

Tales of Britain is packed with Potter-esque stories – how could it not be, when JK Rowling dipped incessantly into our national lore when constructing the universe? There’s the witchy spellcraft of The Great Gormula, the Dobby-esque sadness of the Brownie of Bodesbeck, the wizardry of Jack O’Kent and Conjuring Minterne and all manner of fantastic creatures, exciting witchcraft and general Hogwarty goodness in our book.

If Harry – or indeed, Ron or Hermione – is your hero, then you’ll love Tales of Britain.

Alnwick has further claims to folkloric fame thanks to Robin Hood – it’s played a key part in a number of adaptations of the legend, including Prince Of Thieves, and of course, our book also covers Robin’s entire legend! Talk about heroes…

On the other hand, an even greater hero once rode his black steed around these fields, and stood on those battlements – Edmund Plantagenet, Duke of Edinburgh – THE BLACK ADDER! If Blackadder is as much your hero as he is mine, you can read the ultimate Blackadder history in THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE BLACK ADDER! What a magical mesh of folkloric heroism is tied up in this one chilly castle.

And of course, Blackadder brings us neatly right back to Mr Fry – BEHH!

THURsday, 5 September 2019

The Rhymer & The Charmer

Happy Folklore Thursday!

First off, who in the Canterbury area fancies a FREE storytelling session on Saturday 21st of this very month? It will be the easternmost show we’ve ever done for sure, and currently we’re waiting to hear back from The Shakespeare about whether they can accommodate us there, say 4pm, with books on sale? PLEASE give us a shout online if you’d be up for coming along…

Now, talking of our tale-telling travels, today’s theme of WORDS, WRITING and so on gives us some pause for chagrin, as we’ve recently been visiting all the story sites we could on our journey to and from the Edinburgh Fringe. The borderlands are particularly studded with legends, many of which are in our book, and when it came to a toss-up between visiting the real places associated with TAM-LIN and THOMAS THE RHYMER… we went with the former option, without any connection to today’s theme!

As we mentioned the last time Thomas cropped up – pretty much a year ago to the day – the Faerie-Queen-snogging basis of these two myths makes them twin tales, and we could have scoped out Earlston and visited the tower where the great seer Thomas wrote his obscure rhymes, but instead we paid a quick visit to Carterhaugh (actually only a short drive away), so we could finally see Tam-Lin’s well for ourselves. 

As freely admitted in the past, not all of our 77 story tourist guides have been written from first-hand experience – we’ve yet to venture up to Shetland, for instance, or down to Guernsey – but there’s such a thrill in following your own directions, and finding, to huge relief, that they pretty much chime exactly with the reality.

As we made our way past Selkirk, we found ourselves on a non-descript country lane very early on a Bank Holiday Monday morning, in search of the EttrickBridge where Tamlane (as we spelled his name) is dragged from his horse by his lover Janet, to save him from the sacrificial intent of Queen Titania, who rides on ahead on a black unicorn. We found the bridge, and beautiful it was, and we gazed into what was clearly what remained of Carterhaugh Wood, where Janet first had her fated run-in with the handsome lad… but it took directions from a busy farm worker to point out that we had sped right past the well itself, the place where Janet dragged the magically transmorphing Tamlane when he turned into a burning coal, and returned him to human form, wrapping him for protection in the green mantle of her dress – much to Titania’s disgust…

It’s only a tiny little spring water installation, and on a narrow road, so anyone driving would be advised to park a good distance away if they want to spend more than a couple of minutes at the well, let alone fully explore the wood in search of a red rose bush wrapping itself around a nutmeg tree with a white horse tethered to it… But we’re very glad to have ticked off one more of our Tales of Britain locations. And so happy to hear that some of you out there are doing the exact same thing, exploring Britain’s beauty spots via our treasury of tales!

Now, where shall we go next…?

THURsday, 29 August 2019

Revenge of the Lambton Worm

Monstrous Folklore Thursday to you all! GRRR!

We may have covered Tyne & Wear’s famous hideous pest THE LAMBTON WORM last Halloween, but one of the many pleasures of our recent trip up to Edinburgh was the ability to finally stand in the real locations of places we’ve been telling stories about for years – and one of the many such sites managed on just one day this week, was this nasty old Geordie yarn about a gigantic slithery pallid beast who terrorised the land between Fatfield and Penshaw, near the river Wear, north of Newcastle and Sunderland.

We first discovered the real pleasures of performing The Lambton Worm in Ludlow, fighting the elements at an outdoor show, and realising that nothing carries quite like a piercing helium-esque Sarah Millican impression, with lashings of Viz-style Geordie hardman action to go with it. Above you can see Brother Bernard busting a lung at our Scott Monument show for the Edinburgh Fringe last Saturday – thank you to those who listened in! 

Incidentally, some have suggested that regional stereotypes should be avoided, but we’re not so sure that’s right, in this time of increasing homogenisation, when one big town so easily seems like a clone of the last. Perhaps some clichés, like Scottish or Yorkshire folk being tight with money, or the terrible things they say about scousers, are beneath us, but we’re not so sure that the Geordie reputation for being hard as nails is necessarily one anyone there is keen to shed, and as life-long Viz readers, performing Sir John Lambton as a kind of pro-Biffa Bacon is one of the great pleasures of sharing the tale. Long live our regional stereotypes!

“HOWAY WORM, DE YE WANT SOME, LIKE? GAN ON!”

Even as we gave our top-volume rendition of the tale last weekend, we didn’t dream we’d soon be standing in the real place, not far from the (sadly not open to the public) Lambton estate, gazing out over the fields which once slurped and tremored to the sound of the greedy white worm…

It was a viciously hot day, but having climbed to the top of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh in even hotter weather, the yomp up the steps to the Penshaw Monument, which marks one of the Worm’s favourite resting places in folklore, wasn’t too much of an ordeal, especially with an ice cream van waiting at the bottom. It was wonderful to gaze out over the vale of the Worm, and imagine the colossal fat bastard squirming its way from hill to hill, until its deserved destruction in the foaming Wear finally freed the land from its cursed presence.

We have two or three more personal reports from the actual locations of our stories lined up for you, if the Folklore Thursday themes allow, and it’s a pleasure to know we’re not the only ones ticking off UK sites from our list of 77 ancient tales from all over the island. And at least it takes our mind off the real monsters in Westminster, all pledged to drag Britain down and down into the depths, for a short while…

©David Kendall

THURSDAY, 22 August 2019

The Wild King of Leicester

A wild Folklore Thursday to you all!

We are heading north from Londinium for this year’s Scottish TOB show at the Edinburgh Fringe, this Saturday at 5pm! We have absolutely no permission to perform folktales in the park, so come along and see if Brother Bernard gets arrested! And guess where we’ve stopped off…?

Where else could we choose to stop awhile than Caer Leir, the City founded by the WILD MAN Leir, Iron Age chieftain and rubbish father to three daughters? Did these grey and miserable urban streets once reverberate to the howls and cries of one of Britain’s greatest pre-Roman rulers? Were these car parks the original wild wnd windy heaths where the naked deposed King wandered…? Go with it.

This is the bit where we admit once again that we haven’t personally visited every single one of the 77 story locations in our book, and Leicester is a very different bit of England to our usual stamping ground, so this was a first visit! And we have an apology to make to Leicestrians everywhere…

As the video above may suggest, we had mixed feelings about the city at first. We’re actually here also to research the next book, FAB FOOLS at the Joe Orton collection at the University of Leicester Library (and were very pleased that the librarian recalled our Cerys Matthews BBC 6music appearance from March when we mentioned Tales of Britain!), and the bit of the city we encountered from the University to the Jewry Wall reminded us of Coventry in its concrete horror. Add to that a hot and sticky day, many miles of yomping and nothing to eat, and you get a rather moody video out of it. Indeed, you could almost call Brother Bernard a WILD MAN after all that. Wild with hunger and wild with heat and surrounded by unhappy faces.

This here is the River Soar, under whose banks Queen Cordelia was said to have buried her father all those years ago. But back then the river would not have been the carefully controlled canal-like tributary we see here, it would surely have stretched widely, all the way up to the site where the Romans would decide to build their bathhouses, circa 200AD… now known as ‘The Jewry Wall’.

It’s tragic to see a site like Leicester’s Jewry Wall so unloved, locked up, graffiti-scarred and abandoned – it said ‘until further notice’, but clearly it had been abandoned for a considerable time. Admittedly the discovery of Richard III’s remains about a third of a mile away must have meant a considerable diversion of funds, but the legendary site of the Temple of Janus which housed the bones of King Leir is surely ten times’ more exciting? As it is, surrounded by a dowdy grey office building, our much-imagined journey to this ancient site was extremely disappointing, having promised in our book that it would be a hair-raising place to visit for Shakespeare fans, and lovers of Roman and Pre-Roman history alike. 

But then, a little like the Coventry ruins which do their best to make up for the hideousness of the rest of the city, I discovered more of ‘the crumbly bits’ not far from the River Soar, and felt rather bad for the earlier grumpiness, Leicester is definitely worth the visit when you see this place, not to mention the brand new Richard III centre! Admittedly, there were plenty of really quite dazed youths wandering around and much detritus around the castle remains, and it was anything but a fluffy, cosy place to hang out, but I’m sure when Leir established the city, he wasn’t to know that it would become a sprawling urban centre like this. If you approach the city from the Cathedral side, it’s a particularly handsome place – it just goes to show how different a place can seem depending on how you discover it, and I feel very silly for moaning before I had fully explored.

Some in the local community are clearly doing their best to make up for the urban decay here in the park where once Leicester Castle stood, they even have this glorious storytelling maypole! I suppose it’s too late to take back all that bad-mouthing of the modern city and beg for Brother Bernard to do a show there some day…? Ah well, we’ve shot the video now. No doubt too late.

HOWL HOWL HOWL HOWL! As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods… and so on.

THURSDAY, 15 August 2019

Brownie Promise

It’s another fae-related Folklore Thursday, but here’s a species we’ve not yet mentioned in our bloggage – THE BROWNIE!

Last Saturday Brother Bernard could be found HOLLERING AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS in the middle of a storm in central Cardiff, and amid shouts of “THIS IS WHERE JO ROWLING GOT IT ALL FROM!” the opportunity was taken to perform, for the very first time, our retelling of THE BROWNIE OF BODESBECK. The loud and squeaky scottish brogue of the titular brownie drew an appreciative crowd, even if hardly any of them bought books.

Incidentally, don’t forget our Scottish show is at Edinburgh’s Scott Monument at 5pm on Saturday 24th! Totally free, books for sale – tell all the Scottish or Fringey folktale fans you know!

But anyway, back to those hairy brown beings who live up in the rafters and work all night in return for a sip of milk – unless you have the gall to pay them for their work or give them clothes, in which case, like the Brownie of Bodesbeck, they will be BLACK AFFRONTED, and be offski before you know what’s what, and you’ll just have to wash your own socks.

Not a lot is known about brownies, nobody’s managed to get on into a lab for tests, but one thing we can be sure of is that they don’t actually look anything like Vladimir Putin, unlike this chancer:

Stories about house elves/spritis/brownies have, however, clearly been knocking around for millennia – perhaps a form of grief, for those missing a deceased member of the household, the idea that the loved ones are somehow still there in the shadows, conferring goodwill on the living, must be one way of coping. But in our book, the Scottish tradition of brownies is to the fore, inspired by James Hogg’s 1818 book ‘The Brownie of Bodsbeck’ (sic), set in the Moffat Hills, the southern uplands of the Scottish borderlands.

Despite the title, much of the action of our story takes place at the now entirely lost Leithin Hall, but the wee weirdo hero does eventually move his sphere of operations to Bodesbeck, and though there doesn’t seem to be a great hall there these days (that’s what households get for not appreciating a brownie’s needs), the farm still stands! It’s no doubt private land, though, so you’re unlikely to be able to have a decent search for the brownie in question…

Ca’, cuttee, ca’!
A’ the luck of Leithin Ha’
Gangs wi’ me to Bodsbeck Ha’…

Of course, these days, the brownie would never get on Universal Credit with that attitude. 

THURSDAY, 8 August 2019

The Blooming Of Blodeuwedd

Happy Folklore Thursday, darlings! First of all, please do come and enjoy our storytelling session outside Cardiff Castle this Saturday at 3! Apparently it will be absolutely pissing it down, and you can’t get any more Welsh than that!

Now, petals. The mention of FLOWER FOLKLORE summons up one name above all for lovers of folktales – and you may have noticed it’s a name which isn’t in our existing collection of 77 stories – BLODEUWEDD.

The Mabinogi is such a dizzying mesh of incredible narratives, with every human and superhuman foible covered across its four books. Picking it up and trying to follow any one narrative strand is like sitting down to watch Coronation Street nearly 60 years in and expecting to understand the whole history of the Street. Among the elements included in the existing edition of TALES OF BRITAIN you’ll find the story of King Bran the Blessed, a dollop of Taliesin, and the first half of the story of Rhiannon, whose biography then goes off in such strange and distinct directions, it felt wise to save the latter half of her legend for a further edition. And the same sadly had to go for the later story of Blodeuwedd, though with the greatest regret, as it is one of the most famous Welsh legends of them all. But also, it’s definitely a tale a good storyteller cannot approach too cautiously – especially a male one.

It’s hard to think of a more controversial figure in British folklore than Blodeuwedd – her story is essentially the 1980s comedy sci-fi film Weird Science, but two millennia early, and with a lot more murdering involved. From inception onwards, Blodeuwenn has effectively been a misogynistic hate figure for the patriarchy, with an added element of shameful masturbatory fantasy. An unspeakably beautiful woman created from flowers – broom, meadowsweet and oak, to be exact – by men for the pleasure of a man, who rebels against her creators and ultimately receives what was seen as her just desserts, by spending eternity as an owl (for some reason seen as the most hated of birds by the ancient folk of Cymru). However, not-quite-equally-enough, generations of feminist thinkers and storytellers have striven to save Blodeuwedd from this hateful treatment, to fight for her and re-evaluate the legend from a modern point of view.

We rescued the legend of Long Meg from its tiresomely sexist prison by making her transformation entirely Meg’s idea, turning the whole tale’s message round without denting the narrative fidelity to the legend’s roots, but we couldn’t just repeat the same trick, and besides, like most Mabinogi stories, Blodeuwedd’s saga is far more complicated. 

Defenders of Blodeuwedd’s husband Lleu Llaw Gyffes could argue that he hardly had it easy himself, having spent his whole life persecuted by his mother Arianrhod, who cursed him to never have a name, or bear arms, or have a wife – although Lleu’s supporters managed to get round each of the curses, culminating in the magical floral creation of Blodeuwedd by King Math and the wizard Gwydion. It might also be claimed that Blodeuwedd did then voluntarily conspire to murder her husband, having fallen in love with the no-less-dodgy Gronw Pebr.

Despite all this, as this tattoo by Joy Shannon suggests, Blodeuwenn is a feminist icon today. To all but the most determined MRA knob, the greatest sympathy remains with the poor woman who never asked to be turned from a pleasing garden installation into a sentient person with passions and drives, imprisoned in a marriage without having any say – even if her leap to bloodlust does present another hurdle in this complicated tale (that said, the ridiculous strictures under which Lleu can be murdered – he can only be killed at dusk, wrapped in a net, with one foot on a bath and one on a black goat, by a riverbank and by a spear forged for a year during the hours when everyone is at Mass – are suitably hilarious nonsense).

This is why Blodeuwedd’s legend is anything but a children’s story, even if the most effective re-imagining of it came with Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, in which the young characters find themselves reliving the story, until hero Alison, in a possessed state, makes the breakthrough to independently decide to choose FLOWERS rather than OWLS, ending the curse.  

On the other hand, what’s so wrong with being an owl? Subsequent to the forging of the legend, of course, our culture decided that owls are actually the most intelligent of all birds – or is that just in the Winnie the Pooh universe?

However we do find a way of retelling the legend in such a way that it can inspire the modern listener/reader rather than appal them, Blodeuwedd’s story will definitely be retold in future editions of our book, just as Rhiannon’s will be concluded (SPOILER: Her son Pryderi will be killed in battle by none other than the aforementioend Gwydion). The tale is important to us not least because its wild plot takes the characters all around real sites of North Wales, and of course, tying these myths to real places you can actually visit and have a picnic is a key part of our eternal campaign. The chief artefact and site connected to this legend, however, does not seem to be easily accessible. In the story, Lleu gains his eventually revenge by hurling a spear at Gronw, which sails right through a stone before killing Blodeuwedd’s lover. This stone, known as the Slate of Gronw, or Llech Ronw, has an interesting history of its own, but is said to now reside on a farm, surrounded by a fence, at Bryn Saeth, near Blaenau Ffestiniog up in Gwynedd. At least, according to this powerful Guardian article, you can actually visit the site, but as with many of our locations, a pinch of imagination will be needed to feel any import in this slab of rock.

Looks like it could do with a few nice flowers, actually. Take some meadowsweet and a lupin or two.

THURSDAY, 1 AUGUST 2019

Brother Bernard Is Unwell

… If you fancy TREE FOLKLORE today, here’s The Whikey Tree and The Apple Tree Man.

But, for the first time in two years and two months of diligent blogging even at the hardest, most stressful times, at the end of the hardest month ever experienced, this Folklore Thursday…

Brother Bernard Is Unwell.

See you next week – and hopefully in person at our Cardiff and Edinburgh shows.

THURSDAY, 25 JULY 2019

Horror In Cider Country

A warm Folklore Thursday to you, my dears, Nuada bless us.

Local food, eh? Well anyway… BLACK VAUGHAN!

Unbound’s redesign seems to have obliterated the videos, so here’s a mini-travelogue for you… 

We’ve gone on about that bugger a few times in the past, and it just so happens that right now we’re staying with family up in Ludlow, only a short ride from the Herefordshire town (and thank flip it IS a town, as we said in the book, we worried for a moment it was only a village) of Kington, where Vaughan’s body lies and legend lives. Although when you actually go there, and see his home of Hergest Court, and his effigy in St. Mary’s church (hard to tell where the pond his ghost is said to be imprisoned is, though there is one outside his house), it’s hard not to feel sorry for the poor posho. Not only does he get his head cut off at the Battle of Banbury, he then has to spend all eternity with folk telling tales about him being a ghostly fly, big black dog or evil bull. My brother toured the area in a college production created by the late lamented Ilyd Landry back in the early 90s, and played the drunk Welsh monk who finally tricked Vaughan into a snuffbox and let it bloop down to the bottom of the nearest pond (In this version, named Brother Bobby Baulch, in tribute to the late good-time Ludlow clergyman who confirmed me into the C of E back when I pretended to believe, Rev. Baulch).

So as you can tell, of all the book’s 77 stories, this is one local yarn which we did grow up with as wee tots, so it was a pleasure to stand in the real space where the silly narrative actually takes place. That is, after all, one of the key points of Tales of Britain’s existence in the first place.

Oh yes – local food. Well, we were in Herefordshire. So we had an apple.

THURSDAY, 18 JULY 2019

Molly Whuppie: From Islay to America?

A whoopy Folklore Thursday to all folktale-lovers! TALES OF BRITAIN, quite obviously, is a unique collection of tales all from one island, so today’s ISLAND LORE theme sort of allows us to pick any of our 77 published stories! But a few do take place on the isles which spatter around the island of Great Britain – The Gift Horse and The Fairy Invasion on Jersey and Guernsey, The Silkie on Unst, The Buggane of St Trinian’s on the Isle of Man, and so on. 

There’s also LUKKI MINNIE on Shetland, a horrifying tale of a vicious trow and one of the last stories we retold for the book – making sure, as we did so, to make our hero a big fan of MOLLY WHUPPIE, who we think of as the greatest hero in Scottish folklore. We placed her story on the Isle of Islay, and the forests of Gearach, but of course although the home of the original ‘Maol a Chliobain’ is documented as the ‘Western Highlands’, no one place claims Molly as their own.

As we’ve mentioned before, the discovery of Molly Whuppie’s tales, very early on in our campaign, was a revelation to us – and the fact that we grew up without knowing them is a disgrace, and one of our spurs as our campaign continues. She should be every bit as famous as Arthur, Merlin, Robin Hood, Jack and co, and not just an obscure figure known to folklore buffs. She deserves to be a Disney Princess every bit as much as Snow White and Cinderella – let alone Merula, the entirely Hollywood creation who passes as their ‘Celtic’ character. 

Not that Molly would particularly want to put on a pretty dress and hang out with that lot, obviously, but the principle remains. Anything we can do to introduce folk of all ages to Molly’s adventures, we consider it a proud duty, just as Wullie in the Lukki Minnie tale loves her stories and aims to be worthy of her. In truth – if such a thing as ‘truth’ has any place amongst folktales – the original Molly legend is a hotchpotch of familiar story tropes, and so using some of them to flesh out the narrative-hungry legend of Lukki Minnie seems fair enough to us.

These stories of course belong to everyone and admittedly, one early capture of Molly in print was in Joseph Jacob’s ‘English Folktales’, but even then the Scottish setting is undeniable, and so the sharp intake of breath can be taken for read when you see something like this:

This is the cover of an American edition, so you can see how the confusion may have arisen, when ‘England’ is so often taken as synonymous with ‘Britain’ in other countries – Guy Ritchie’s recent abomination of a King Arthur film had the heroes banging on about ‘England’ even though the very existence of the ‘King Arthur’ figure is solely based on the British resistance to the Saxon/English invaders. So it’s clear, a little joyful, subtle education is needed worldwide when it comes to British folktales. 

And that’s always been a central part of our campaign – to appeal to the USA and Australia, partly for those who claim descent from Scotland, Wales and England, but above all, for story lovers of all nationalities and backgrounds the planet over. Irish (or that Victorian canard, ‘Celtic’) stories have their fans the world over, as do many other specific world cultures. But ‘British’ – the stories of this island in North-West Europe? There simply hasn’t been a single collection to give our combined culture any traction in other corners of the globe. Until now.

Maybe that’s why books like the Amercian one below exist. Of course, there’s always something pleasing in the idea that Molly’s tales travel and find homes elsewhere, reminiscent of the deities in Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, but the fact remains – Molly Whuppie is by no means an ‘Appalachian tale’, and it’s time for our hero to reclaim her rightful island home!

And so – BIG NEWS! – we are currently in talks with an American publisher with a view to creating a US edition of TALES OF BRITAIN. There is a slight worry that our British humour may seem to be a heady flavour abroad, but of course the great Terry Jones is our dedicatee, and if Monty Python & The Holy Grail was a US hit, why shouldn’t these stories be too? And every step will be taken to find the right tone for the US audience, without losing the essentially celebratory, humorous spirit of our book. And of course, encourage more folk the world over to come to Britian and visit the real places where these stories took place, from Islay to Shetland and back.

Wish us luck! And if we’re unlucky, maybe suggest an alternative publisher – and in Australia, or any other country? Get in touch, we want these stories to travel the whole world!

By the by, are you coming to see us in Edinburgh on 25th August? Or Cardiff on the 10th? We can’t wait to tell you some stories! https://www.talesofbritain.com/tales-of-britain-live

THURSDAY, 11 JULY 2019

Sunshine In Shropshire

Good weather-beaten Folklore Thursday,

Only a brief blog this week, as your author is up in the homelands of South Shropshire having a sad family time, which you don’t need to hear about. But here’s a wee snippet I couldn’t resist adding to The Apple Tree Man, even though it was already a muddle of Somerset and Kent and anywhere apples matter:

This is a wee bit of lore my Mum always quotes on Christmas Day, learned from her Dad, part of an old farming family in Norncott. Treasure the things your parents come out with, no matter how daft they may seem when you’re a sneering adolescent. 

Because the seasons turn all too quickly.

THURSDAY, 4 JULY 2019

Merlin & The Dragons

Happy animal Folklore Thursday, all! Hey, DRAGONS ARE ANIMALS TOO!

They are in this story, anyway – or wyrms, if you prefer. It’s about 16 months or so since The Beast From The East caused Brother Bernard to record a special story to make up for missing World Book Day at a school in Frome – which, with awful sound quality (sorry!), you can find here: VENGEANCE WILL COME. So we don’t do this often, but here’s a follow-up, from the same neighbourhood of Snowdonia, at Dinas Emrys – MERLIN & THE DRAGONS!

To be honest, the main reason for foisting this upon the public is that when we were performing our special show in sunny Winsham last Saturday it became clear, just as the wicked Tegid Foel suggested an obvious contemporary hate figure in the former story, that the pathetically posh, clueless, duplicitous, weak and privileged – and unelected – King Vortigern equally suggested a despicable character closer to home…

Sometimes you just need to let off satirical steam or you’d go mad. And it’s just one more way in which folktales can come in handy, and adapt to the changing times. Centuries from now, if we’re all still here, the same story may suggest new cathartic interpretations to keep us relatively sane.

So, are you sitting comfortably…?

THURSDAY, 27 JUNE 2019

The Wild Hunt…

… Or The Feral Johnson? Sorry, couldn’t resist…

A glorious Folklore Thursday to you, dear readers! The theme of skies and stars threw us at first this week – because Tales of Britain is certainly a thoroughly land-based anthology! We thought, well, The Great Gormula zips around on her broonstick, that’s one option… but really, when it comes to Sky folklore, we have one major contender, the tale which actually brings our 77 stories to a close – THE WILD HUNT!

In fact, at first we were quite reluctant to include any story about the deathly Wild Hunt streaking across the skies, because it was so untethered to any geographical location, being a North European tradition which stretch from Germany to Ireland and back. Nonetheless, it was one of the first folktales which I remember being gripped by as a child, as one of the key leaders of the hunt was always said to be Eadric the Wild, a Saxon who had a few bones to pick with William the Bastard when he came, saw and Conquered – and as a Salopian, he was one of the few Shropshire figures we had to celebrate! 

But then we found the celebrated folktale of the dipsomaniac clergyman Dando of St Germans in Cornwall, and although Kernow was already one of the most tale-populated areas on our map, we had our excuse to include a Wild Hunt story. 

The other reason we included the tale, and particularly at the very end (admittedly ruining our scheme of ordering the tales in vaguely historical order – the Dando legend is certainly Medieval), is that it gave us the chance to give a final bow to some of our greatest characters in the previous 76 stories – because, of course, the ghoulish horses and hounds which are fated to hunt across the skies of Western Europe forever more include a whole host of famous names, many of them already in our book – King Arthur of course, poor old Herne the Hunter, Dorset magician Conjuring Minterne, Welsh despot Tegid Foel and many more. 

Speaking of Wales, we’ve announced a Welsh date for our 2019 tour! Come to Cardiff City Centre on the second Saturday in August, where you’ll find us doing open-air tales at the stall of kind Candy Jar books, who missed out on publishing this first edition of Tales of Britain – but watch this space! And don’t forget, we’ll be by the Scott Monument in Edinburgh at 5pm (just after Stephen Fry’s finished his Greek Myths show) on Sunday 25th!

Do come along and enjoy some stories from all over the British Isles – maybe including a certain spectral hunting party. Keep watching the skies…

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