Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

TALES OF BRITAIN: Summer 2018

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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.

Pennard Castle: A Verry Fine Feast

Thursday, 2nd August 2018

A fine, feast-filled Folklore Thursday to all!

We love a feasting theme – so many of our tales involve food, it gives us almost carte blanche. Knucker Pie? The Apple Tree Man? The Shillington Goblins all partying away? No, this week we make a return to Wales, and a look at the wild feasting party which led to the Gower fortification of Pennard Castle being buried under a mountain of sand!

So many Welsh tales seem to be about great big parties getting disrupted by tragedy – usually it’s a sunken city that becomes drowned while everyone has a good time, but in this case, it’s sand: the revenge of a gang of faerie funmakers turned away by a bunch of bigoted humans.


But first, a slight confession – this anthology hasn’t been quite put together with the most sensible level of organisation required. Which is to say, over 14 years of collecting and updating these tales, 77 of them in the book we’re all waiting for, another 4 already written for a follow-up, and a waiting list of at least a dozen more… it’s hard to keep track of quite where we first heard of each individual tale. Sometimes it can be so frustrating, trying to find a unique story to attach to a region, with a beginning, a middle and an end that isn’t just another version of Cinderella or something with big black ghost dogs, that when one swims into our ken, we pounce on it, and sometimes lose track of its origin.

So, for instance, if you were to search for “pennard verries mowbray” you will get nowt. Take out the ‘verries’ (a specific spelling of ‘fairies’, of course) and you get the rather dull historical information that ownership of the castle briefly passed to some guy called John de Mowbray, then to someone else, and eventually it was abandoned because of encroaching sand, ratherthan a magical tidal wave of the stuff. Boo.

But here is one retelling of the story we have chosen to represent this blob of south wales, except in our retelling, the plot about a great feast in the castle being disrupted by verry weird and groovy supernatural gatecrashers, who force everyone to flee the castle forever with a sandstorm on being turned away, becomes a tale about toxic masculinity versus peace-loving fun-makers. Mowbray and his army are pigs, obsessed with nothing but war and measuring their tiny manhoods, while the verries are just good-time faeries wanting to join in the fun.

The fairies’ complaint at being turned away has a wonderful wing of the infamous 1970 Isle of Wight Festival rant from Rikki Farr, sampled by Oasis on their track ‘Being Naughty In The Bushes’ (sic) – “WE PUT THIS FESTIVAL ON, YOU BASTARDS!!! WITH A LOT OF LOVE! WE WORKED FOR ONE YEAR FOR PIGS! AND YOU WANT TO BREAK OUR WALLS DOWN! AND YOU WANT TO DESTROY IT!! WELL YOU GO TO HELL!!!”

This sentiment is also just a tiny bit like lavishing years of hard work on a folklore collection and then not being sure whether it’s going to be published with anything but the most basic text-only treatment, but we’re going to keep you informed of the book’s devlopment over the next few months, as it inches nearer to release. In the meantime…

… If you’d like to hear some of these stories, as retold for the 21st century, then do come to St James’ Wine Vaults in Bath for 3pm on Saturday 11th August, as we’re kicking off the Bath Folk Festival with a special hour-long show, where you will get to choose any story you want from the map! And we’ll be doing it all over again at the Edinburgh Fringe on Thursday 23rd August at 1pm, Upstairs at the Waverley Bar! This will be the first ever Scottish Tales of Britain show, so please come along and support us if you’re north of the border!

Welsh show details are to follow – we’ll just have to be sure not to make it such a rollicking fun show that we end up dumped under tons of sand or gallons of water. You can never be too careful, having fun in Wales…

British Folklore: The Stories So Far…

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Happy Folklore Thursday, pledgers! As today’s theme is folklore from around the world, we’re taking the very rare chance to not feature any specific story – they are all British, after all – and give an update on where we stand.

You know why this campaign has been fought for so long, and why we will continue far beyond this book’s release. There are endless books of random lore, myriad non-fiction investigations into British mythology, and copious releases covering individual counties, and the UK’s constituent parts – there are even themed lore books on plants, and Nuada knows what! But as for an anthology of British folktales, individually retold for a new generation – nothing along these lines has been seen since 1987, and never really attempted in this way, with tourist guides to each location. The passion that drives us was explained pretty well in this Folklore Thursday feature, and on www.TalesofBritain.com.

Launching pledges at Glastonbury in June 2017, and delivering the manuscript on Halloween, we were informed at one point that this book should be released in spring 2018 – the unlikelihood of this was tangible at the time, but we went along with it, knowing that my other Unbound book, the official Fry & Laurie biography Soupy Twists, was a definite for the end of summer, delayed by a whole year. Despite a crowdfunding campaign which caused such stress it was a serious health hazard (seriously, everyone who got a DM of any kind, it was one of the most painful times ever, so thank you to the tiny minority who then pledged for the book), and despite the patronage of our wonderful supporters including Cerys Matthews, Sir Tony Robinson, Francis Pryor, Neils Innes and Gaiman, Brian Blessed and many more of the wonderful people below… by the end of the year, after five months, we were still way off the target, and so Unbound moved our book to the cheaper Digital option, as detailed HERE.

The lack of a release date has been tricky, as the release of Tales of Britain needed, and still needs, storytelling events all over the UK to accompany its release, and so far this year I’ve performed tales in Bath, Bodmin and Ludlow.

Incidentally – ADVERTISING BREAK! Come to see us kick off the Bath Folk Festival for a special folktale request show on Saturday 11 August at 3pm! Or come up to Edinburgh to see our first ever Scottish show at the Waverley Bar on Thursday 23 August at 1pm! Shows in Cardiff, London (and anywhere you like, if you want to invite us!) will follow before Yule. Just try us.

Of course, nothing like a Spring release has happened, and right now, the first styled-up manuscript is currently back with us for checking. We’re sorry to say it is currently only the most basic text. The 77 tales are intact, and we’re really proud of them, every word shines and we know you’ll love them, both read alone and shared aloud. But when we agreed to the reduced Digital release, we were aware this meant the book would not be stocked in WH Smiths or Waterstones, and would only come out in paperback (which we preferred) and ebook… what we weren’t told was that there would also be minimal visual element, and we have worked so hard to provide useable art, saving budget by doing it all ourselves. But as you can see from this Art blog, we had great hopes for illustrations and visual elements aplenty.

As we’re presuming most of this work won’t see the light of day any time soon, we’l share a little with you. PLEASE note, this is not offered as ‘finished art’, the hope was that these rough designs would be reworked by more talented book designers, but it seems our budget does not stretch that far. There’s a tiny chance we might be able to change the publisher’s mind on this, though, with enough support…

Author’s rough page designs, of desired layout…

So this is the battle we face right now, after 14 years of dreaming of this book – and also partly why we have striven to keep asking those of you who haven’t pre-ordered to do so, as the bigger a group of pledgers we have, the stronger our position is when trying to fight for a more opulent release for this first edition. Tales of Britain is a campaign which has only just started, and will continue far beyond this first release – further volumes, audiobook releases, live shows, tales from further afield, you name it, we’re here to stay as a permanent line in 21st century folklore. So this is only the beginning. But right now, we’re doing all we can to make it an auspicious beginning, and to make for you the book we all want so badly.

So we hope you’re sitting comfortably.

MACBETH: A Deed Without A Name…

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Hail to thee, O Tales pledgers… a foul and fair ritulatistic Folklore Thursday!

You may have received emails this week saying our book has now reached the next stage of production. The strictures of the digital deal we had to make when we moved from Unbound’s inflated original target mean having to make so many huge concessions with design – but the main thing is, the WORDS! 77 retold folktales, made for THIS century, for THIS generation! There’s truly nothing else like this, and all our supporters should know, plans are afoot for special editions and further volumes, so our campaign is only just getting going! This is STEP ONE!

The need to theme our blogs to each Folklore Thursday’s topic of the week means we’ve been most remiss, by only featuring English tales for some weeks, but the theme of RITUAL gives us a perfect opportunity to feature one of the greatest Scottish legends this week. Few tales feature freakish folklorish rites and rituals as centrally as that of MACBETH & THE WITCHES!

Admittedly, the rituals we think of with Macbeth are all the creation of an actor from the West Midlands, but Shakespeare did not invent the Weird Sisters. In fact, the earliest references to them call the trio ‘faeries’, which was tempting to use for our folklore collection, but there’s such a strong connection between Scotland and witchcraft, we went for the traditional approach:

Double, double, toil and trouble,
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. 

In even more fact, our first draft retelling of the King’s rise and fall had a kind of remix of this twisted ritual, a deliberate attempt to not just quote from the play (nothing to do with theatrical superstition), but one of the many copy editors presumed we’d GOT IT WRONG and corrected it back to Shakespeare’s version. So we settled for that. Maybe Bill did know what he was doing.

The rituals of Macbeth are personal favourite elements of the play – ‘A sailor’s wife had chestnuts in her lap, and munched and munched and munched…’ – the play is like one long perfect poem, and every cut made my companies is a pair of daggers to the heart. The recent National Theatre post-apocalyptic production was such a sixth-form disappointment, fingers crossed selling a kidney to see Christopher Eccleston at the RSC next month wasn’t a waste of offal…

Where the bizarre rituals of these Hecate-worshippers came from – the playwright’s imagination, King James’ own witchcraft researches, or a rag-tag of half-truths and twisted reportage – we will never know. But there’s no doubt when it comes to the historicity of 11th century warrior MacBheatha mac Fhionnlaigh, ‘The Red King’ of Alba, of course. And the tradition that his (actually very successful and long) rule was inspired by magic and preternatural portents was already kicking around even before the Bard’s favourite source, Holinshed, starting putting together his lore-packed history book.

It’s even said that the very blasted heath where Macbeth & Banquo was met by the fateful threesome can be visited today, in the ground of Brodie Castle near Forres – a mound known as ‘Macbeth’s Hillock’ is the spot, and there’s even a whole site of places to visit HERE.

Although the great Dunsinane Hill where Shakespeare’s tyrant met his last does exist, and the real King was said to have lost a crucial battle there, he was actually killed in battle in Lumphanan, a village 25 miles outside Aberdeen. Our retelling of the legend hopefully has a heady mix of history, legend and Shakespeare, and as with our version of King Leir, fits in well with the other 76.

We’re proud that these 77 stories constitute the first British folktale (not ‘lore’) anthology to be published in over 30 years – and you have just a week or so to get your name in the first edition, by pre-ordering on the right!

Peace – the charm’s wound up!

Macbeth’s Hillock, Forres

BEGIN THE BUGGANE!

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Happy and indeed proud Folklore Thursday to one and all this week of #Pride – and good one to the FT gang for recognising it in this week’s theme!

You may have picked up by now that – besides having a laugh and promoting tourism to each story’s location – a crucial part of our Tales of Britain campaign is the long overdue de-toxifying of our national folklore, examining what makes our best stories tick, going back to each tale’s roots, and scraping off the centuries of religious bigotry, racism and misogyny and so on. In spirit, of course this also extends to promoting tales which are inclusive of different sexualities and non-binary genders as well.

We were very excited by the folktale of a particular saint who was able to change gender – but saint stories were something we were keen to downplay, and then we realised that legend was Irish anyway, so inapplicable (However, we were told the tale by someone we’ve lost contact with and have failed to identify it, who was this gender-defying Irish saint? If you know, please tell us! bernard@talesofbritain.com).

Our keenness to reflect diveristy as much as possible in our 77 stories doesn’t mean that any LGBTQ+ elements have been blatantly imposed on existing legends (although there may be plenty fo folk out there who think they should have been), because that would be frankly obnoxious, adding new layers of distortion to our national story treasury, and would also incite exactly the kind of ‘political correctness gone mad!’ hysteria barfed out by bigots in our society, to whom none of us want to give the slightest ammo.

But then, there is The Buggane of St. Trinians.

Nothing whatever to do with the vintage schoolgirl comedy franchise, St. Trinians is a ruined church on the mystical Manx isle which is plopped in the cold sea, surrounded by Ireland, Scotland, Wales and North-West England. Like around 85% of all British churches built before the Renaissance, it was said that building the church at the foot of Mount Greeba was made near-impossible by the pestering of Forces of Evil! Where this old chestnut usually involves Satan carrying away the foundation stone or similar, they do things differently on the Isle of Man – and this church was beseiged by THE BUGGANE.

In monster terms, The Buggane really is an absolute mess. A search shows some cryptozoologists trying to sum the creature up as ‘a kind of giant mole’, but it seems more like a kind of Frankenstein creation – several storeys high, covered in thick yak-like hair, and so festooned with claws, horns and tusks that it can only lope along awkwardly. But it can also speak, and kill slow humans very effectively – and it was said that St. Trinians had to be rebuilt three times due to his vandalism. The second each last slate went on the roof, along he would come, tear it off, scoff a few choir singers, and return to his cave.

But then, as the poor git’s cave had been there for countless centuries, until along came all these little pink people RINGING BELLS EVERY SUNDAY MORNING right outside his nice cave, you can hardly blame the poor man-eating mess of a monster.

Anyway, we don’t wish to spoil the tale as per usual, but the Buggane met his match when he clashed with a simple young tailor from the parish of Marown called Timothy. Timothy was wagered by the locals that he could not vanquish the mighty brute, but he swore to do not only that, but sew together a pair of trousers as he did so! With the help of his self-designed trousers, which allowed him to outrun anything, let alone the hulking great Buggane, he finally saved St. Trinians from vandalism for the final time, and made himself a bit of money into the bargain. There are many different tellings of this tale, even one from the famed and rather wet poet Gerard Manley-Hopkins – and the nearby pub is still proud of Timothy’s needlework according to this version – but one retelling of the legend we found suggested that Timothy wanted the money to be able to marry his true love, who remains off-stage throughout the story.

So we tell the tale of a young tailor alienated by his community, and in love with an unseen partner – and leave it at that. There’s no need to make the gender of Timothy’s partner explicit, if you think he’s marrying a pretty hetero lass, then historically that seems fair enough. If you wish to see this story as a triumph of same-sex love, that works every bit as well. It’s not at all the point of the story, the fresh take just gives it an extra layer of relevancy, of interest, of humanity. And once again, shows that heroes are not all bull-necked heteronormative galoots.

We repeat, the gender of this unseen partner of our hero is unmentioned, and left entirely up to the reader’s imagination. And if any Manx homophobes out there are outraged, crying ‘Why is our only tale the one with potential LGBTQ+ relevance?’ then you can be reassured, it is all in your own mind. Although we have to admit, the fact that the Isle of Man only legalised homosexuality in 1992 and same-sex marriage a couple of years ago, does add a layer of irony which honestly only struck us during the writing of this blog.

Tales of Britain is for everyone, and we wish a very happy Pride week to story-lovers of all genders and sexualities. Though particularly those who have already pre-ordered the book! If that’s not you, put on your go-faster trousers now and get busy!

Milky Milky: Mitchell’s Fold & Shropshire’s Blue Remembered Hills

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Thank you to everyone who came along to the Ludlow Fringe Tales of Britain show on Saturday! By the end of local tale The Stokesay Key, Welsh tale Vengeance Will Come and very silly Scottish yarn The Brown Bear of the Green Glen – plus bonus request Jack O’Kent & The Devil – the hat contained enough money to more than cover the horrendous train fare up from Bath, so nil desperandum!

The past long weekend in the Land of My Fathers – south Shropshire – also brought suitable inspiration for this week’s Folklore Thursday theme of FARMING. Surprisingly few tales sprung to mind for the theme, considering the links between farming and folklore – plenty of lore, but precious few decent stories! The protagonist of The Wizard of Alderley Edge is only known as ‘Farmer’, but we’ve already done that one.

The thing about being a local is you rarely get to act like a tourist, and so this was my first ever visit to the very pleasant Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre, which left me a proud Salopian and as the video above shows, it contained lots of fascinating stuff about life here in the pre-Roman period. Being descended from countless generation after generation of Shropshire farmworkers (less so farmers, there’s not a lot of land ownership in the family tree), from such a very rural area, you think farm folklore would be at my fingertips, but I learned a lot.

Not least as the museum also had a very short version of a local legend all about dairy farming – MITCHELL’S FOLD – which I blush to admit, was deliberately left out of Tales of Britain many years ago. This was for a few reasons: I was worried that a glut of stories in my native area would be rightly criticised by those who live in a less tale-festooned region, and also the elements of the tale were familiar elsewhere – WADE & BELL had the giant cow, and LONG MEG the ‘difficult woman’ turned to part of a stone circle.

This has been one of the many challenges with creating the first British folktale collection in generations: avoiding repetition. Just this weekend, someone began relating a folktale unfamiliar to me, and it soon turned out to be largely an old yarn we have down as a Cheshire legend, with a bit of a story from Dyfed thrown in for good measure. Finding and settling on disctinct narratives has called for some harsh decisions here and there. But then, if we do well enough to get a second volume, there’s still oceans of lore out there to be revisited…

And, come to think of it, of course Mitchell’s Fold will be one of them, it deserves to be – but it took the pithy summary at the Discovery Centre to show me I was wrong.

In short, the stone circle itself was the original home of the Dun Cow – a familiar British myth trope often centred on Worcester. The giant dairy farmer allowed villagers for miles around to milk their fill from the gigantic udders, but a bucketful each. But then one day, a nasty old witch came along and milked the poor cow into a sieve until her udders ran dry, whereupon the distressed titanic heifer pelted for Worcester, dooming all around to famine and breaking the giant’s enclosure. So the obviously rather magic giant turned the witch into a stone post for his now empty cow pen in retaliation.

What historical events – famine and the building of sites of worship – this tale encodes, none of us can guess, sans Tardis. But there’s enough there for a very tasty tale, and so we’re getting to work on it right away.

But if it’s ever to be published, this first volume has to be a hit, so please do tell your friends to pop along here and pre-order a copy when you can!

Thank you, and may your udders never be milked dry.

You Don’t Know Jack…

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

This blog marks a FULL YEAR of providing you with weekly blogs for Folklore Thursday! And as Unbound has not yet provided us with a release date for this book we’re all anticipating so warmly, we must prepare ourselves for at least another few dozen, even though most blogs are centred on one tale, and we have 77 in total. When time allows, we’ll start trying to migrate all this hard work to a special Blog section on www.talesofbritain.com, as we presume once the book is in shops, this little corner of the Unbound website will be deleted.

Now, to turn to this week’s Folklore Thursday theme… Heroes, you say? (We don’t hold truck with ‘heroines’ – as if the gender of a character requires a different word.) Why, we have them by the bucketload. It’s not that many weeks since we confided our determination to celebrate the greatest female protagonists in British folklore, with our ‘Tales of Britain Princesses‘ update…

… In which we also discussed our happiness to present some of the less detailed heroic figures in British storytelling as brave women rather than men, to try and get closer to equality. But we also had to admit that our story still boasts some of the greatest inescapably male heroes in world literature – King Arthur, Merlin, Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Macbeth, Leir…

… And then, of course, there’s Jack. Now, while we consider a figure like Dick, who was a real historical figure, should be presented as male/white for historical accuracy, and even a vastly questionable legendary figure like Arthur is somewhat dependent on his maleness and status as Romano-British, from a historical perspective… we realise that a hero like Jack could be any gender, colour, etc. Okay, so he’s clearly supposed to smell like an ‘Englishman’, but who says giant’s noses aren’t racist or misogynist?

Anyway, we have placed Jack’s first ever titan-slaying mission – up the infamous beanstalk – in the east of the British island, this place some call ‘England’, and post-Arthur, when the villainous Saxons have firmly set up home in south-east Britain, and those born here, like Jack, never even question their ‘Britishness’. So on our historical timeline, Jack was busy killing giants around the 6th-7th centuries AD, based somewhere in the South Downs, near the Long Man of Wilmington…

‘Jack & The Beanstalk’ turned out to be by far the longest tale in our entire collection, over twice the average story length – because when you re-examine the world-famous yarn, there’s so much to fit in! Just the cow-selling, bean-grabbing narrative covers as much ground as most entire folktales do, before our hero has even climbed the magic vegetable plant.

But then there is, of course, the sequel, centred on St. Michael’s Mount at the tip of Kernow, where the seasoned ogre-murderer Jack takes on his supposed greatest challenge, against the giant Cormoran. Now, we’re well aware of the potential controversy of making this the same Jack, not least as Cornwall proudly boasts of the latter pest-control expert as their own, a Cornishman, not an Englishman, for which we can only apologise, but this way does make more sense of Jack as a figure of British mythology – a young boy who triumphs against a giant in the sky, and then is compelled to repeat his feats throughout a long career, until there are almost no giants left (except perhaps that poor lovely hippy giant up in Lewis).

The Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex provides the chalk outline to mark the spot of Jack’s first kill, and so our version of his sequel takes in a number of famous British giant battles as Jack makes his way down to St. Michael’s Mount, from the cheeky fellow at Cerne Abbas in Dorset, to Plymouth Ho (the site of Corineus’ triumph against Gogmagog, or if you prefer, Gog AND Magog), until the final showdown. Perfect for our collection, St. Michael’s Mount even boasts the grave of Cormoran, you can visit as part of a truly magical stay down in the South West…

In a way, this sequel tale – telling the story of a grizelled older Jack, rather than the boy who stars in some versions – makes Jack’s legend all about the very nature of BEING a hero, and particularly about brains coming before brawn – Jack is a trickster, a wily foe for his gigantic enemies, but not a swaggering assassin priding himself on giant genocide. Like everything else in Tales of Britain, we present more the kind of hero we need in the 21st century, not a toxic macho goon.

To support us in our cause to celebrate British folklore for the 21st century, please do pre-order a copy now, or get a friend to do so if you already have. Then you will officially be OUR hero!

Tiddy Mun, The Weather’s Thruff!

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks – or indeed, enjoy the lovely sunshine this solstice, ye folktale-pledgers!

This here is the Ancholme valley in eastern England – or at least, a particularly pretty bit of it, the result of centuries of drying out the biggy land and finding ways to live and capitalise on every square foot, despite the area’s natural sogginess. There’s a very particular piece of folklore in this bit of the country which concerns this sogginess – drought, and rain. But the problem for us was, The Tiddy Mun legend didn’t quite amount to a ‘folkTALE’…

This was particularly irksome, because this area of Britain – Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, the fens generally, was a very stubborn bit of the map to pop a pin into, when it comes to original folktales with a beginning, a middle and an end. This was particularly annoying, as Cambridge’s Museum of Folklore was not far away, and we wanted to mention it for an afternoon’s exploration – the area is famed for its storytelling, with medals being struck for the person who told ‘the most improbable tale’ (a fascinating challenge coming from the city where Douglas Adams was born).

Having written official biographies of Adams and Fry & Laurie, this area of east England is one I’ve had great pleasure in exploring, but just couldn’t find a fenland STORY to retell which wasn’t a mash-up of at least half a dozen stories we already had! Our 77 folktales are all distinct – yes, even the several which are about dragon slayings – and that means sifting through hundreds of repeated or unoriginal narratives, to settle on one worth telling anew.

Now, some Anglo-Saxons reading this may be yelling “WHAT ABOUT THIS STORY?” to which the reply would be, don’t yell at the screen, it looks weird, and you should instead email or tweet us with details, and hopefully a further volume will allow us to rectify the absence of the folktale in question. But for now…

Taken from the Hypnogoria blog.

‘The Tiddy Mun’ – nothing to do with Ken Dodd – is an interesting addition to our 77, as there really isn’t much of a story to tell you – in fact, it brings up the very tricky subject of folkLORE versus folkTALES. One of the reasons this book, and blog, and campaign exists at all, is because there are so many collections of LORE, but really no book which gave you an anthology of well-told TALES to enjoy, and share. While learning that virgins in Wolverhampton are told to put bacon rind in their shoe on Maundy Thursday to find out who their second husband would be is of course FASCINATING, it’s entertaining yarns that we collect.

But we felt there was just enough meat on the bones of Lincolnshire’s Tiddy Mun myth to hang a narrative on – and even better, a historical context in which to set it. The area, you see, was expertly drained by Dutch builders, sent over to reclaim land in the time of Charles I, and folk history tells us that their efforts were so good, a hot summer led to the worst drought anyone in the area had ever seen! And so, the British equivalent of a rain dance was required, anything to save the dry and cracked land and the people who lived off it. The Tiddy Mun were mysterious creatures, water sprites who dwelt in the fenland mists making sound like the peewit, or lapwing… and they were rightly very very peed off with what had been done to their moist home.

© Susan Sorrell

And so, the folklore runs that a certain rhyme, containing the words “TIDDY MUN WITHOUT A NAME, THE WEATHER’S THRUFF…” had to be intoned, while a water sacrifice was poured into the muddy riverbanks, and only then would the appeased little people allow the water levels to rise again, and rain to fall from the clear blue skies. And incredibly – or rather, improbably – it worked! The rains returned, and the Tiddy Mun could be heard going about their business. And that sound definitely wasn’t actual lapwings at all. No, of course not.

So, with the addition of a few local characters, we eventually found we had a tale to tell – and we placed it in the market town of Brigg, where the river Ancholme forks.

This need to extrapolate a narrative from lore was a rare occurence, with so many stories to squeeze into the book, but we felt every bit of the map had to have an even array of tales, so every child in the UK had a story within reasonable distance of where they live, and now we do. Although ironically, the other sparsest expanse is of course Northern Scotland, where population is thinner and fewer tales have come down to us – ironically because this is also the home of Britain’s other folklore museum!

With all this hard work done, development of the book is still going on, but as we keep saying, we need to keep swelling our ranks to have plenty of support for the best book possible – so wahetever the weather, please do pledge if you haven’t, or get someone else to if you have!

JOIN THE CAMPAIGN TODAY!

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TALES OF BRITAIN: Spring 2018

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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.

London Pride Has Been Handed Down To Us…

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

… London Pride, is a beer that’s RANK! Merry Folklore Thursday, me old cocker-knee sparras!

After last week’s birthday shenanigans in Kernow, it looked like we’d been confronted with another major challenge for this week’s Urban/City theme – because the idea that we hadn’t covered DICK WHITTINGTON in any of the last year’s blogs seemed absurd!

Dick Whittington’s fictionalised life story is one of the most celebrated city fairytales in world folklore, but of course our 77 tales covers the whole country, in all areas, so it’s not the only city represented – Nottingham is obviously key to the Robin Hood series, we’ve done Coventry with Lady Godiva, plus there’s Bath, Canterbury, and the smallest city in the UK, St. David’s! But, as in real life, the City of London was always going to take the custard cream.

The story of Dick and his clever cat is not the only London tale in our book, of course – we already made you feel ill by talking about Tudor horror BEWARE THE CAT which is in the St John’s Wood area – but though cats remain a theme, the Dick tale we know is a lot more palatable.

To many people, the image below may be what they really think of when ‘Dick Whittington’ is mentioned – OH, YES IT IS! – along with those Bow bells chiming “TURN AGAIN, WHITTINGTON, THRICE MAYOR OF LONDON!” and the evil of King Rat and so on:

… But it’s no great revelation to say that there really was a beloved 15th century Mayor of London called Richard Whittington who was born near the Forest of Dean, but made his fortune in the English capital, becoming a moneylender to three Kings – Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V – and establishing all sorts of charitable institutions alongside his Lady Mayoress Alice FitzWarin.

True, the engraving above was doctored after the legend of the mayor posthumously grew – the cat you see here was originally a skull – so it’s difficult to say how much of the meat of the familiar story has any even slight truth to it – Dick arriving in London hoping to find the streets paved with gold, meeting the lucky cat, being taken on as a skullion treated worse for his hard work than Idle Jack is for being lazy, and then either investing in or joining the crew of an exotic trading voyage to distant climes, where the cat’s success in clearing a Sultan’s palace of a plague of rats (including the infamous King) led to the establishment of his great fortune, allowing him to marry his dream girl, Alice.

There is no set plot to the tale when it comes to panto, but many different retellings, so we chose a succinct route, making the story more about Dick’s search for love than riches, and exploring the idea that he’s a hero who doesn’t get involved in any heroics, but is rewarded for his KINDNESS.

And today’s London may be unrecognisable from the old city that Dick knew, but he remains far from forgotten 600 years later. Any tale-loving tourists who visit the metropolis can not only get their picture taken with a statue of his cat outside Archway tube station – even more impressively, the nearby Whittington Hospital marks the same site of one of the mayor’s original establishments (and of course, its logo is a cat), while a charity begun by the historical Dick is still in operation to this day, which is more than you can say for Robin Hood.

This is roughly the area where the heartbroken lad was said to have ‘turned again’ on the instruction of the Bow bells – but as they are nearly five miles away, that’s where your pinch of salt has to come in handy. But it just goes to show, from the most idyllic rural village to the tiniest town (we’re playing the Ludlow Fringe last Saturday of this month!) to, indeed, the black-bogey-packed scrum and stress of London itself, there is folklore wherever you go in Britain. Maybe even Milton Keynes (did that concrete cow just moo?).

We’re still awaiting news as to what happens now with the book, and dearly hoping Unbound are still aiming to get it to everyone before the end of the year, but as we’ve said before, the more pre-orders and pledges we get, the stronger the book’s march to bookshops will be, so please keep spreading the word, and if you haven’t yet – pledge! Dick would have. He was nice like that.

Happy Birthday To Us: In TINTAGEL!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Happy birthday to Folklore Thursday, and happy birthday to Brother Bernard too!

Now, this is uncanny. After completing nearly a year of annual blogs themed to Folklore Thursday’s lovely whims, this is the week we were planning to give ourselves the week off – ‘Tales of Britain Is On Holiday, in Tintagel!’ – due to Brother Bernard hitting the terrifying milestone of 7,040!

But then, thanks to some otherworldly psychic connection known as ‘coincidence’, it’s Folklore Thursday’s birthday too – so we’ll share our birthday holiday snaps.

Besides, the main tale we have chosen to put Tintagel on our map (Tristan & Isolde also having a Fowey connection), is also surely all about having something to celebrate: young Arthur pulling Excalibur from Merlin’s charmed rock in a magical clearing (based somewhere in the Tintagel village, though to be honest we couldn’t find it), in THE SWORD IN THE STONE!

As a penniless author, I refuse to blush to admit that I had never personally been any further south west than Torquay before, despite the many tales in our collection based right down here. The train from Bath came through Totnes and St Germans, literally the sites of the first and last tales in our book! But besides taking a humble billet in the interesting town of Bodmin (where I saw no beast, but wrote a brand new folktale retelling as a birthday treat to myself, ‘The Exorcism of Jan Tregeagle’), the big birthday trip to the ruins of Tintage utterlyl failed to disappoint: it’s a truly awesome place to behold and explore and worth every penny and expended calorie (also, it’s insanely dangerous, and the most exhausting tourist outing I’ve ever experienced: you’ll need to be fit).

Anyone who loves Glasto will instantly feel at home in Tintagel village, first of all: joss-stick and crystal city! I avoided buying a wooden Excalibur for 15 quid, but was chuffed to see the Merlin’s Cave shop even has a wee stone circle round the back…

 

Then, once descending the breakneck path to the National Trust shop, the compact but bijou exhibition you find there primes visitors nicely for the vast rocky ruins they’ve come on such an epic voyage to experience…

One you’ve clambered up the steep rocky steps and inclines, even the knowledge that many of the ruins are 700ish years older than the legends that brought you there can’t spoil the pleasure of exploring what remains of the home of Uther’s enemy, Gorlois – or indeed, Tristan’s uncle King Mark. Story boards litter the site, and you can even visit the medieval rebuilding of the garden where Mark snooped on Tristan & Isolde, with the plot mapped out in decorative slates.

I of course took the opportunity of filming as much as possible for an eventual Tales of Britain launch vid, and there’s some very rough footage attached!

Tristan & Isolde always seems to have a stronger anchor in historicity than any Arthurian lore (and remember, passionate Arthurian debaters, Tales of Britain also takes time out to detail the Arthurian claims to Wales, England, Scotland and France), but on this gloriously sunny day, the visit happily reaffirmed our decision to set The Sword In The Stone here, as the beginning of our Arthur cycle.

We were indeed lucky with the weather, but carefully scaling from the Dark Age outcrops down to Merlin’s Cave on the beach, with the glowing blue waves and splashing waterfalls… if you want to walk onto the set of the movie Excalibur, Tintagel is where you come – with the far north-west town of Glastonbury as a fitting conclusion to any tour, just as Avalon was the conclusion to Arthur’s tale.

Apologies to any Arthur claimant far from the southwest who scoffs at the boasts made here, to being Arthur’s home – yes, we’re all aware of the paucity of any evidence for our greatest mythical figure, let alone historical sites… but you have to admit, whether you prefer to picture the Romano/British warlord based on Hadrian’s wall, in South Wales, or over the channel, Cornwall and Somerset have totally owned the legend and made it work better here in the south west than anyone else can. So if you want to *feel* you’re walking in Arthur’s steps, this is where you come, and you will not be disappointed.

Oh well, back home north-west, and on with the 7,041st year. And if you didn’t get Brother Bernard a present – get a friend to pre-order Tales of Britain today!

Art of the Landscape: Wade & Bell in Whitby

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

I hope everyone’s feeling creative for this Artistic Folklore Thursday…? We think we win this week, as we have two artists who created the actual landscape itself!

This is Wade’s Causeway, which you’ll find in the Whitby area of North Yorkshire – some call it a Roman road but, like many a ‘Roman road’, it’s been around a lot longer than the Romans – because it was built thousands of years ago by landscape sculpting GIANTS, Wade & Bell!

“What, more hill-making giants?” the cry goes up, and yes, we covered the Wrekin in Shropshire last week, but the giant who made the Wrekin did it entirely by accident – Wade & Bell, the beloved giant couple of Whitby, may sound like a telecommunications company, but they were the area’s greatest CRAFTSGIANTS, and they created many local landmarks with their own enormous hands, living in peace with the little people (us).

This is Blakey Topping, one of a number of hills said to have been formed by the mighty Wade’s craft hobby, and the Causeway itself was created to help his wife Bell take her enormous cow a-milking – in our retelling (one of 77 stories tied to the landscape you’ll find in the book), in order to give human for miles around wonderful cream teas straight from the massive udder!

*Cow may not be actual size.

Admittedly, there’s not much of a narrative to Wade & Bell’s tale, but the huge artists left their mark on this landscape so much, we felt we could not leave them out of our collection. I must admit, yer author visited Whitby several years ago, but was too blind-sided by pirates and Dracula to appreciate Wade & Bell’s artistry at the time, so a return visit to the Causeway, Blakey Topping, the Hole of Horcum and many other landscaping projects of the creative couple, seems in order.

Now we’d better keep this week’s blog brief – we have a copy-edited TOB manuscript to okay by Monday – thankfully, you’ll be glad to hear the suggested changes are very very few this time, maybe we can still get this wonderful story collection to you all before Xmas! Once this stage is done, hopefully a really enthusiastic designer can get to work – and we still have no illustrators, if anyone out there wants to get involved! Wish us luck, and if you haven’t – keep on pre-ordering!

THERE MIGHT BE GIANTS: Round the Wrekin

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

OW BIST THEE, FOLKLORE LOVERS? (In my Shropshire voice.)

‘Creature Lore’ is a wide open goal for Tales of Britain – we’re well stocked with so many flavours of little people, from mystical faeries to the ‘duergar’ of the Scottish borders, and then there’s a whole menagerie of vicious scaly things, not just worms and dragons but the Saffron Cockatrice and many more, and there are trolls, and banshees, and shape-shifters… but then there are the giants. Oh, so many giants.

As William Blake himself would have told you (he loved musing about Britain’s origins, one of his descendents of Albion is pictured below), no mythical creature is more central to the British story than the mighty giant. Indeed, as we told you in our Brutus blog, it’s long been believed that these titanic offspring of Queen Albion were the original inhabitants of this island, back when Doggerland was only freshly wet, and the island was newly minted.

There are unquestionably more tales in our collection of 77 from each corner of the island concerning giants than any other creature you care to mention – except for humans, at least. We’ve told you about the kind giant on the Isle of Lewis, while of course Jack and his adversaries are the most famous, and there are several more humungous natives hiding within this book, which we’re desperate to get into your hands… but today, we’re going with the first giant we ever knew about – the creator of The Wrekin hill in Shropshire.

As a Shropshire Lad, this is one of the only stories in our collection which your author was told from infancy, and knew well long before the idea of writing a book like this could ever have seemed possible – memories of Mum pointing out the hills and unfolding a silly stories of scuffed shoes and soily soles. There’s something about seeing a grand piece of the landscape, and hearing crazy old-female-spouse’s tales about how it came to be, which has always thrilled me to the atom.

And one thing Shropshire does very well indeed, is hills. In my native south Shropshire, it’s the Clee Hills which dominate the country all around (and Titterstone Clee Hill has inspired one original story of my own), plus AE Housman/Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills, and the Long Mynd, are all part of the terrain. However, in north Shropshire, The Wrekin has long inspired folk for miles about – and even ended up putting in the odd appearance in the work of PG Wodehouse, whose family moved to Shropshire at a very crucial time for young Plum. His school stories, set in the area, were based at a school called Wrykin, where Psmith met Mike.

Anyway, without wishing to delve right into the narrative – we’re confident you’ll love the way we’ve retold it – the hill’s origin story involves a HUGE AND VERY STUPID GIANT (which we’ve called Reeky) and a small and very clever cobbler from Wellington (who we’ve called Urkle). The former’s plan to drown the people of Shrewsbury by damming the Severn is foiled in a shoe-related way which fellow Salopians may already know well, and the resultant mounds of earth have given us The Wrekin and The Ercall to explore on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

As the cigarette card above attests, it’s one of the more celebrated giant legends of Britain, and one on which we’re proud to have put our own stamp!

If there are any Salopians – or west midlands/Welsh border folk generally – reading this, by the way, do come and see our one-man show for the Ludlow Fringe on Saturday 30th June at The Blue Boar! Brother Bernard will be back booming some fresh tales – and though ‘The Giant Who Wanted To Drown Shrewsbury’ went down very well last year, we’re tempted to mix things up with some different stories this time. If we pick a giant-based story, the antics of the evil giants of Stokesay Castle may be closer to home…

A Funny Old Game: Elidor & The Golden Ball

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

We hope this sporting Folklore Thursday finds you all cheering!

We’re afraid our crowd of lovely backers has stopped growing – though admittedly we are spending more time worrying about when we will hear back about the latest manuscript copy-edit than actually spreading the word, particularly when there will be so much noise to create when the book is finally available to buy! We can confirm that, besides book dates in Cornall, Cambridge, Bath, Ludlow and Cardiff, there will be a live Tales of Britain show at the Edinurgh Festival, on Thursday 23rd August! More details to follow.

But for now, let’s break the habit of a lifetime, and talk about… I can’t quite believe I’m typing this… SPORT!

Yes, the act of playing games and knocking rounds things around lawns is the theme this week, and the tale which most obviously fits the bill in our collection is actually also one of the very first tales we ever retold – the Pembrokeshire legend of Brother Elidor, and the wonderful game (and excellent custard) he discovered in the fairy kingdom!

Having started out 14 years ago reworking Shropshire folktales for nephews, once the criminal absence of a British foklore collection on our bookshelves became clear to me, I began adding other stories which caught my eye to a folder, and subtly wondering whether I might be able to revive our national lore with a proper book. This year, we finally are!

It’s hard to say why this tale was only the 4th or 5th to be added to the pile – and it’s worth adding, it has nothing at all to do with Alan Garner’s fantasy novel ‘Elidor’. The priest in question seems to have been a historical figure, and Gerald of Wales recorded this tale as a genuine claim from old Elidor, who constantly wept at the memory. We have no idea what 12th century Welsh monks were on, but…

The story runs that this apparently respectable priest of the Pembrokeshire city of St. David’s – the smallest city in the UK by a long chalk – was said to have travelled underground to an alternate reality as a young boy. In this other land, populated with tiny people, Elidor was welcomed and championed as a mighty giant, fed the local delicacy of custard, and introduced to a sport which sounded very like rugby, centuries before an English public schoolboy picked up a football and claimed to have invented the Welsh national sport.

Of course, ball games are millennia old, and have been played in Britain for a very long time, and proto-soccer or rugby, they are much the same – team games with a ball (or perhaps the severed head of your enemy, according to taste) and a goal to kick it into – be it a menhir or the crypt of the nearest village’s parish church, and so on.

Sadly, although Elidor excelled at the game, being so much bigger than his opponents, his claim to ownership of the golden ball involved had tragic consequences when he tried to run back to the land of the humans with it. The little people gave chase, and… well, we should probably not dwell on what happened next here, or we’ll be giving away the whole story!

But then, very few Britons who dare to visit underground worlds full of little people thrive…

JOIN OUR TEAM! If you haven’t yet, PLEDGE TODAY!

Ye Gods: Wayland & Flibbertigibbet in Oxfordshire

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

BY TOUTATIS! Is it Folklore Thursday again already? Gods almighty…

Ferretting out a God-themed tale from our 77 British stories is a taller order than you might think. Probably our most theological tale of all, LONG MEG AND HER DAUGHTERS, is not only all about how we don’t need gods or religion, but it’s also… well, already been blogged about. Obviously. The thing is, unlike Norse, Greek and Roman myths, and cultures in many other corners of the planet, Britain has much less to offer in terms of home-grown God mythology.

This is largely down to the frankly DAFFY trait of the pre-Roman denizens of this island, of not seeing the value of properly recording their culture for generations to come (or maybe this is unfair – perhaps they did finally work out the necessity of coming up with something a bit neater than the odd spot of ogham notching – and yeah, we know ogham was later – but then the Romans destroyed all the evidence). Despite a tangle of silly names which have survived, usually quoted verbatim from The Wicker Man – ‘Nuada, god of the sun’ and so forth – we don’t know a lot about the gods who ruled the lives of the people of Britain from 55AD and beyond. Like so much of this stuff, it’s impossible to tell what is genuinely ancient, and what is the babbling of Victorian antiquarians.

But due to the English coming over and ransacking the place centuries later, we do have plenty of poached Norse mythology on our land. And besides, it’s quite possible that whatever British gods we once had corresponded easily with counterparts in Norse, Greek and Roman myths – Odin/Zeus/Jupiter – and so it matters less than it might seem who we once worshipped. Certainly it was usual for Romans to ally local gods with Roman equivalents: these words are being tapped out right now in Bath, the Roman city of Sulis/Minerva, for instance.

But anyway, the one remaining glaring God-type-person in our book is the Norse beefcake WAYLAND THE SMITH!

Specifically, a corner of Oxfordshire known as Wayland’s Smithy provided our funny little narrative of the brawny Norse hero, and his annoying little immortal apprentice Flibbertigibbet – the flighty one famously mentioned by Edgar in King Lear, and Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music. It’s a simple tale, with the exasperated Wayland trying to sort out his work experience minor immortal, but we think it will raise many a guffaw when the book finally hits shops later this year.

It’s definitely set in a pretty corner of England. Four thousand years before the Saxons came along, dragging their own gods kicking and screaming over to their newly plundered land, Britons of some description began building a mighty tomb in the spot which has become known as WAYLAND’S SMITHY. This south-west corner of the county as we now know it was richly peopled, and richly stamped with habitation and sites of ceremony, going back many millennia –also, the Uffington White Horse (you know, the one that looks like a cat drawn by a three-year-old) is not far away, so there’s plenty to see on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Horses are a crucial part of Wayland’s legend, as a forger of those good-luck-festooned items of ironmongery, horseshoes. Moreover, Flibbertigibbet’s adolescent failure to go and find the right nails for a big horseshoe order for the exiled Wayland is what leads to his downfall, and the elder, greater god’s revenge on his apprentice, pinning him to the ground with a standing stone which makes the young ne’er-do-well bawl his eyes out – hence the name given to that spot today, Snivelling Corner.

Sadly, there’s not much to see there now, thanks to the actions of centuries of farmers whose attitude to the big weird stones on their land would make any Time Team fan weep harder than Flibbertigibbet (it’s not always Romans who are to blame for lost British heritage).

Yet we do still have the legend that if you come to Wayland’s Smithy with an open heart, an adventurous mind, and perhaps a bottle of gin, you can still call on the immortal blacksmith to be up for a transaction. Leave your horse – yes, your horse, which you naturally will have brought with you – tied to this spot, and leave a coin or two conspicuously on the side, and after a reasonable wait (so the legend runs, but perhaps they meant 300 years), you will find the money gone and the horse newly shod. This has been found to be true on a staggering 0 occasions in 12 centuries. Nevertheless, it’s still fun to test the theory. If your horse is up for it.

Alas, this is the only bit of silliness from Valhalla which graces our Tales of Britain. And although he gave us a very kind prod for our campaign late last year, we tragically left our copy of Neil Gaiman’s wonderful collection of Norse God myths on a train only two-thirds ravished, so for all we know this self-same tale may be in there – and we’re not keen on competing with Neil Himself. Nonetheless, if all goes well, and this book is just the beginning of a whole new line in 21st century folklore publications, we may sniff out many more Saxon Gods hiding out there in Britain’s highways, byways and any-which-ways, all waiting to put in an appearance in the next volume…

Pledge today if you haven’t, and the Gods will smile upon you!

A Home-Grown Story: Britain’s Famous Porky Trio

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

A happy ‘Hearth & Home’ Folklore Thursday to all!

This is our 43rd update since we launched last June – a trifle early, due to hoping to attract Glasto punters – and with 77 tales in our collection, we wonder how long we can keep this up, with fresh tales every week tying in to @FolkloreThurs’ changing themes. In particular, we were hoping that the 77 tales would deliver a fair few lovely surprises when the book was finally in the hands of each pledger – but surprises are harder to keep secret after 42 blogs.

When will Tales of Britain be with you, and in shops? It’s painful to admit, we have no clues about this – the manuscript was delivered Halloween 2017, and we once believed it would be a ‘Spring’ release, but at the current speed of production, that would be more likely spring 2019. We sincerely hope it won’t be that far away – not least as that would require another 50 or so blogs. While we’re waiting to discover what Unbound’s plans are, we’re also somehow trying to arrange the launch publicity – storytelling book events in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and England – when we don’t know when the books will be available for them. It’s all highly confusing and difficult, but of course we will keep you updated when we find out more about the situation…

For now, let’s get on with giving away the lovely surprises… not least of which, in our opinion, is THE THREE LITTLE PIGS!

Yes, you could have huffed and puffed and blown us down when we realised that Britain could happily lay claim to this world-famous fairy tale. Okay, so some professional professor of Folklore Studies out there may already be grumbling “But this is a tale of the B-36.3-slash-14 kind, ‘animal trio in danger’, with examples listed in every culture” – to which we naturally blow a merry raspberry. Because the earliest version of this specific story that we could locate – albeit, only traced back to the late 19th century – was not only British, it was very different to the story we all know so well… and it was based quite firmly on THE ISLE OF WIGHT!

Specifically, the pretty seaside destination of Shanklin (site of a memorable and crazy-golf-packed holiday at the age of 10) played a key role in the oldest extant version of The Three Little Pigs.

We shouldn’t need to underline the ‘Hearth and Home’ element of the tale – it’s all about using your brains, choosing the right building materials to build your home, and ultimately boiling your enemy in a stew on the fireplace – but there’s so much more to this story than we ever thought.

In fact, our search began with The Isle of Wight – we couldn’t identify any really good standalone unique folktales which came from the island at all, even after putting out requests on Twitter, and were just beginning to lose hope of ever placing an X on our British map there… when we read the original telling of this piggy tale, and discovered the whole forgotten subplot of Pig Number 3 and The Big Bad Wolf, at Shanklin Fair!

With both older siblings already digesting within the wolf’s belly, the third Little Pig, rather than immediately luring their attacker down the chimney and into the pot as in the version of the story that we all know so well, was led on a series of merry chases by the stupid wolf, culminating in an invitation to Shanklin Fair. The original tellings of the tale seem to be a kind of Brer Rabbit and Brer Wolf – or, if you prefer, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd – situation, with the wily prey always outfoxing the villainous hunter. In the Victorian retelling we found, the Pig waited until the Big Bad Wolf was in the right place at the fair, and then climbed into a butter churn at the top of a hill, and rolled all the way down until SMASHING into the hapless baddie, and escaping back to his brick house.

We can see why the story has been streamlined over the years – and we wanted to keep our own version relatively snappy, and so have simplified the Shanklin Fair stuff to just dialogue – but it’s a shame that the Wight Islanders don’t celebrate their ownership of the beloved porky yarn more.

Maybe some folklore experts out there consider the Wight connection common knowledge, and The Three Little Pigs is a regular entry in English Folktale collections, but its provenance seems to come as a surprise to many, and we’re really proud and pleased to get this chance to celebrate one of Britain’s most world famous stories for a new generation – by, of course, the hairs of our chinny-chin-chin. One of the world’s favourite stories, and entirely home-grown.

The Fiery Leap Of Conjuring Minterne

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

A toasty FIRE-themed Folklore Thursday to each of our lovely 300 backers!

We’re still trying to find places to do our storytelling show in CORNWALL in early June, and EDINBURGH/GLASGOW in late August (Please email bernard@talesofbritain.com or jem@jemroberts.com if you can help!) but for today’s fiery theme, we’re headed to Batcombe – and be careful, as there’s more than one Batcombe, we’re headed to Dorset, the home of CONJURING MINTERNE!

This ivy-laden tomb lies outside the church of St. Mary Magdalene, but when the body below was originally interred, the site was ‘both half in and half out of the church’, as the medieval magician allegedly requested. The most likely historical John Minterne, whose level of knowledge inevitably led to him being seen as a conjurer, in league with the Devil, was the early 16th century noble referred to HERE, by one of his descendants, no less.

In those days, anyone with a reasonable level of intelligence, the types who didn’t go round swearing that fouling yourself on a Friday was good luck if you then walked twelve times round the horsetrough backwards and wished a happy birthday to a wren… these folk were deemed to be CONJURORS! Weirdoes whose learning could only come from a fictional character known as the Devil.

The story of Conjuring Minterne’s flame-powered horse leap, a kind of ‘Oh Christ I’ve left the iron on!’ moment, in fear of his magical spellbook being left open for all and sundry to delve into, is not long or complicated, and our retelling hasn’t added pages of extra exposition or complication (though a fair few jokes, admittedly). It’s a simple tale with a strong connection to the site, as the horse’s fiery descent not only knocked the church spire askew for centuries to come (and it’s bent to this day!) but also left indelible scorch marks in the field next to the church, which are great fun to try and track down if you pay a visit to the tiny village.

In a way, it’s a shame that more tales aren’t told about this Minterne, as he and his fiery steed seem ripe for all sorts of magical goings on, but there aren’t many wizards in British lore whose graves you can visit, so at least he beats Merlin on that score – and just a few miles to the south east, at Cerne Abbas, is a mighty giant* with no pants on, so you can visit them both in one sunny afternoon!

*But is this lewd big yin one of Jack’s victims? You’ll have to buy our book to find out!

TALES OF BRITAIN: Winter 2018

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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.

Sorry.

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.

Tegid Foel haunts the banks of Bala to this day – pay him a visit, and call him bad names!

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

Here’s an unexpected second blog in one day for all you folksters out there, in honour of World Book Day 2018, and of course, St. David’s Day!

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 bernard@talesofbritain.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.

©Flibertijibbeth

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.

©FaeryFolklorist

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!

©Peter Nevins

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.

The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.

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!

These signs 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.


John Leslie? Won’t somebody think of the children!

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.

MAKE THIS CUTE MOUSE’S DAY! PRE-ORDER TALES OF BRITAIN BY CLICKING AN OPTION TO THE RIGHT, OR GET A FRIEND TO BUY A COPY!

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…

TALES OF BRITAIN: Autumn 2017

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

142%? HAPPY YULE!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Well, there we are then, absolute confirmation, that TALES OF BRITAIN is now marching towards your homes as we speak – Xmas downtime aside. And as originally promised, we did actually hit 42% as well!

The above isn’t strictly true, the manuscript was delivered on Halloween, and we’re hoping for a late spring/early summer release. That’s a very quick turnaround, and we have yet to decide anything about illustrations (budget allowing), but the feeling seems to be ‘Just give us the 77 tales!’ and we could not agree more.

If that wasn’t pleasing enough, our YULE TALES OF BRITAIN show was our most successful yet, with something to actually divvy up at the end of the jovial proceedings! We did film it, but the footage is unlikely to surface before Xmas itself, so we’ll see what can be shared.

Above all, in 2018 the challenge will be to spread word about TOB – you can assume a publicity budget of £0, and all plugging will almost be a one-man stress machine. But we have wonderful storytelling shows for you, both with Brother Bernard alone and, expenses permitting, with Sister Sal – so PLEASE, if you know of any opportunity to stage TALES OF BRITAIN events at any literary, children’s, folkie, or indeed any kind of festival, fete, or party, any library, any bookshop, anywhere on the island of Britain… please get in touch, as we can only arrange so much ourselves, and your invitations will mean the world to us. All we’d need is travel expenses…

Anyway, this will be the last blog of the tumultuous year of 2017 (travelling back from the Welsh marches a week today), so there’s no need to let standards drop and not give you a special tie-in tale for the day, even if Unbound and Folklore Thursday are offline. So here’s the original version, as told by Rab Burns and his sister Isabella, of the second tale from our live show, THE MARRIAGE OF ROBIN REDBREAST:

THERE was an auld grey Poussie Baudrons, and she gaed awa’ down by a water-side, and there she saw a wee Robin Redbreast happin’ on a brier; and Poussie Baudrons says: “Where’s tu gaun, wee Robin?” And wee Robin says: “I’m gaun awa’ to the king to sing him a sang this guid Yule morning.” And Poussie Baudrons says: “Come here, wee Robin, and I’ll let you see a bonny white ring round thy neck.” But wee Robin says: “Na, na! grey Poussie Baudrons; na, na! Ye worry’t the wee mousie but ye’se no worry me.” So wee Robin flew awa’ till he came to a fail fauld-dike, and there he saw a grey greedy gled sitting. And grey greedy gled says: “Where’s tu gaun, wee Robin?” And wee Robin says: “I’m gaun’ to the king to sing him a sang this guid Yule morning.” And grey greedy gled says: “Come here, wee Robin, and I’ll let you see a bonny feather in my wing.” But wee Robin says: “Na, na! grey greedy gled; na, na! Ye pookit a’ the wee lintie but ye’se no pook me.” So wee Robin flew an’ till be came to the cleuch o’ a craig and there he saw slee Tod Lowrie sitting. And slee Tod Lowrie says: “Where’s tu gaun, wee Robin?” And wee Robin says: “I’m gaun awa’ to the king to sing him a sang this guid Yule morning.” And slee Tod Lowrie says: “Come here, wee Robin, and I’ll let ye see a bonny spot on the tap o’ my tail” But wee Robin says: “Na, na! slee Tod Lowrie; Na, na! Ye worry’t the wee lammie; but ye’se no worry me.” So wee Robin flew awa’ till he came to a bonny burn-side, and there he saw a wee callant sitting. And the wee callant says: “Where’s tu gaun, wee Robin?” And wee Robin says: “I’m gaun awa’ to the king to sing him a sang this guid Yule morning.” And the wee callant says: “Come here, wee Robin, and I’ll gie ye a wheen grand moolins out o’ my pooch.” But wee Robin says: “Na, na! wee callant; na, na! Ye speldert the gowdspink; but ye’se no spelder me.” So wee Robin flew awa’ till he came to the king, and there he sat on a winnock sole and sang the king a bonny sang. And the king says to the queen: “What’ll we gie to wee Robin for singing us this bonny sang?” And the queen says to the king: “I think we’ll gie him the wee wran to be his wife.” So wee Robin and the wee wran were married, and the king, and the queen, and a’ the court danced at the waddin’; syne he flew awa’ hame to his ain water-side, and happit on a brier.

Did you get all that? If not, in a few months you’ll have our own retelling in more familiar English words. Of course, it’s fair to say this story never actually happened, but Burns’ Ayrshire in the snow is gorgeous enough to convince you that maybe, one century long ago, a Scottish King did get married on Christmas Day, and a certain red-breasted bird really was guest of honour…

If you missed our free exclusive Yule tale this year, HERE IT IS again, enjoy, have a glorious Mithras/Xmas/Yule/Solstice, and we’ll see you in 2018, with a really really great book.

THE LAST YULE!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A very merry Folklore Thursday and a happy new book, pledgers!

It has gone all-too silent, deep, crisp and peaceful since our BIG ANNOUNCEMENTlast week, and if you’re disappointed that the promised switch hasn’t yet occured, we can only offer you solidarity! No word has come through about what our situation is, but hopefully we won’t all be left hanging over the festive season. As it is, we have been promising you a special seasonal surprise for weeks, and having to announce the exciting new deal in advance did feel like being hired to play Father Christmas, but then being told you have to open all the kiddies’ presents in front of them first, in case any of them didn’t like what was inside. Still, getting this book in our mitts remains the be-all and the end-all, as we all know there really isn’t anything remotely like this out there, and it won’t hit the (indie) shops before time. So it’ll be a story packed 2018!

AND WE STILL HAVE OUR LAST SHOW OF THE YEAR TO LOOK FORWARD TO THIS SATURDAY AT 3PM!

And besides… we do have one very special present for you all, unwrapped until today, ready to share with you: a free ancient British story, retold specially for the season, and not in the book itself: THE LAST YULE. Click for PDF!

Nothing whatever to do with Wham, this yarn sees us breaking one of our key rules – to avoid stories involving saints, whose questionable miracles clog up our national treasury in many cases. But we’ve made an exception for St. Augustine, the very first Archbishop of Canterbury.

This saxon squib actually came to us via the star of Tales of Britain’s sister book, SOUPY TWISTS – Stephen Fry hilariously summarised the exchange at the Yule feast in his priceless compendium of essays Paperweight 25 years ago, and not only was this the first version of the story we found… it’s actually turned out to be the only other version, search as we might. Was it a piece of East England lore which was picked up by young Fry, but never popularly known, or perhaps even his own invention? We hope not the latter, though at least this story is FREE, so the dear fellow needn’t worry that this is plagiarism for commercial reasons. But in the belief that it is a genuine nugget of history which has come down to us via Stephen’s very brief summary, this little tale has everything – a mad Pope, saxon yuletide self-indulgence, and of course, acres of snow, both up in Ramsgate, where Augustine first set foot on British soil, and down at his eventual home in Canterbury.

It’s FATHER CHRISTMAS! No, wait, that’s Saint Augustine…

To everyone out there of Christian faith, we sincerely hope you enjoy the story in the festive spirit in which it’s intended – Christianity has, after all, been holding the reins of our winter festival ever since Augustone came along, so after over a millennium, you can’t complain when the blueprints of the festival continue to become more and more apparent, that this time of peace, pleasure and warmth in the depth of the coldest season is something we have been celebrating for a lot longer than Christianity has existed – and we will be making good use of December the 25th as an inspiration for hedonism and jollity for as long as Britain exists. No offence is intended, especially at this time of year, and we hope it raises a chuckle!

It seems odd that there will be no official Folklore Thursday next week, but we will be keeping you updated no matter what the season, and will offer something new before Mithras/Saturnalia/Xmas/Christmas itself. Whatever you’re celebrating in the meantime, have a very happy one!

Oh, and remember, this year’s must-have Christmas present is the promise a few months’ hence of a road atlas of British folklore retold for the 21st century complete with with tourist guides! Just because the book is all-but funded, doesn’t mean we don’t want the total to keep rising, so if you love your family, think of their reading pleasure, keep pledging and buying copies!

TALES OF BRITAIN IS GO?!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

TERRIBLY IMPORTANT TALES OF BRITAIN INFORMATION FOLLOWS…

This blog was originally intended to be incredibly tangentially connected to yesterday’s Folklore Thursday theme of Urban Myths – you see, there is an urban myth that the number 42 is the answer to the Ultimate Question, of Life, The Universe and Everything. Well, as Douglas Adams’ official biographer, I have to say, it’s not so much an urban myth as a joke that got way out of hand. And yet, there is a pleasing element to the fact that it was only just as funding for Tales of Britain was nearing that most meaningful of meaningless numbers, 42%, that word came through, that…

WE ARE NOW ABLE TO SIMPLY FLY PAST OUR FUNDING GOAL, AND THIS ALL-NEW ROADMAP OF 21ST CENTURY BRITISH FOLKTALES WILL BE IN YOUR LOVELY HANDS BY THE SUMMER…!

… That is, if those of our 280-odd backers who have pre-ordered a hardback copy are happy to get hold of these 77 stories in paperback instead – with full credit for the extra money pledged. If not, you are entitled to contact Unbound and ask for a refund…

But we do hope, as this is above all a campaign to popularise our national lore for a whole new generation, with fresh retellings for everyone, of all ages and any nationality or philosophy, doing our bit to bring together England, Scotland, Wales and the Isles in this time of Brexit madness… that you feel, as we all do, that just getting this already completed book out to people all over the world is what really matters right now.

If everyone’s happy with the new deal, TALES OF BRITAIN IS GO! The interstellar jump from 42% may need some further explanation, and all pledgers will be contacted by Unbound directly if they haven’t yet, but what it comes down to is, the goalposts were wisely moved. There’s no denying that the last few months, of getting funding to this stage, has been one of the very hardest challenges imaginable, particularly given how crucial and undervalued our national treasury of tales is, while other titles with fewer pledgers were sailing off to the bookshops, our progress was incredibly arduous – because our proposed budget/target was so much higher.

So essentially, we’ve made two big concessions to get the book out to everyone – first, we’ve removed the Penguin/Random House distribution, which does mean that you won’t automatically find Tales of Britain in the big stores, Waterstones, WH Smith etc. – but you CAN always ask for them there, and as there are no other British folklore books, or anything like this, that may inspire individual shops to order copies in. Certainly their bookshelves will be poorer for having no such British story treasury on them. If you wish to support our folklore, and share these tales as wide as posssible, visiting your nearest Waterstones and requesting copies could be a great move.

The other concession is launching in paperback, which was always our ideal in the first place! Tales of Britain is a road atlas of stories with tourist guides, designed for action, to be rolled up and put in backpacks while exploring the country, thrown in the car’s back window for Sunday jaunts to mystical corners of the UK, and generally manhandled, pored over and LOVED. If it looks disshevelled in a year or two, that just means it’s been enjoyed to the full. This book is certainly not designed to sit on a shelf looking nice, gold-leaf-covered and never being read, as a big unwieldy hardback. And these retellings are to be SHARED ALOUD, too, so who cares what paper it’s printed on?

We send sincere apologies to anyone who particularly wanted a hardback copy, and the main thing is, this is a ball which is going to keep on rolling, we hope this first edition of TALES OF BRITAIN will be successful enough that eventually there will be special editions, further volumes (more and more tales keep mounting up, and we want regional folk-lovers to keep sending ones we’re unacquainted with), Tales of Ireland, Tales of Europe, Tales of Azerbaijan, collector hardbacks, spin-offs, adaptations, pencil cases and who knows what else.

And of course, Unbound will be giving all hardback pledgers credit for other books – why not enjoy works by Julie Warren, or Mark Bowsher? Or perhaps even, ahem… a bit of Fry & Laurie?

So there you have it – or soon will, if that’s okay with everyone. With those changes made, ‘the maths’ adds up to a 2018 release for our road atlas of ancient stories, at last, with a few months ahead to agree on the design, potential illustrations, and so on. The relief is beyond words, even for a storyteller.

If we now make this magical switch, then it’s all thanks to each and every one of you who has pledged, and our kind supporters including everyone at Godchecker, Neil Gaiman, Sir Tony Robinson, Cerys Matthews, Shappi Khorsandi, Francis Pryor, Greg Jenner, Neil Innes, Dirk Maggs, Hugh Fraser, Brian Blessed… well, just look at them all! And we hope with the book a reality, more lovely folk may join their ranks.

2018 will be the year of TALES OF BRITAIN, with the book out soon, and as many events and live shows as we can fit into the twelvemonth – if you can think of any feasible booking for our live storytelling show, either with Brother Bernard and Sister Sal or one of them solo, we’ll move mountains to be there! Our next show is YULE TALES OF BRITAIN at The Bell Inn, Bath on Saturday 16th December if you’d like a special festive flavour of our yarn-spinning…

And of course, the blogs will keep coming, up to the book’s release and beyond – plus a further bonus Yule story is headed your way as an early present!

Thank you once again to everyone who has backed our campaign so far, and to all hardback pledgers for understanding the change; the support of every last one of you means the universe to all of us. That’s a lot of universes.

Oh, and if you haven’t yet pre-ordered a copy, now you know it won’t be an empty gesture, but there’s a real big beautiful book headed your way as soon in 2018 as possible! Pre-order away!

MERRY YULETIDE, FOLKS!

BLACK SHUCK: Urban Myth!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday, all! This is a novelty – an emergency blog! A few gremlins to battle behind the scenes before we make our yuletide announcement. But as today’s #FolkloreThursday theme is Urban Myths, nothing fits the bill better than one of Britain’s most famous ‘monsters’ – BLACK SHUCK.

We explicitly state in our pitch that one of the problems with British folklore books is the sheer tiresome repetition, lame saint narratives, dull ghost stories, and ‘big black ghost dogs with eyes like saucers’ is one of the most unoriginal of them all – but Shuck is the paragon of those ghostly kennels, and it would be unforgivable not to feature the mysterious mutt in our pages. Although we’re glad to say our Black Shuck story (there really isn’t much of an established ‘story’ as such) takes some interesting diversions, to lift it from the tangle of similar urban myths.

The urban areas where Shuck is said to haunt are primarily Bungay and Blythburgh, in the mystical far east of Suffolk, and the basic legend can easily be laughed out of court – in 1577, an electrical storm caused a fire in a church, and of course to Christians of the 16th century, nothing explained gigantic fire-causing lightning bolts as satisfactorily as a big black devil dog. Blythburgh’s Holy Trinity church even boasts Shuck’s fiery paw prints on its door!

Reports of Black Shuck sightings, however, have taken many forms, both malevolent and benevolent, and we’re keeping it a secret for now which path we’ve chosen for our narrative, but hopefully very soon you can judge for yourself whether this is an urban myth which still has a life of its own in the 21st century…

PLEASE keep your pledges coming in! Just choose an option from the list on your right!

BEWARE THE CAT!

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

NOTE TO ALL FOLKTALE LOVERS – we’ve messaged all social media followers individually, but despite that, we have only 275 pledges from nearly 2,000 followers, which seems a bit of a discrepancy. We have exciting news imminent, but we hope to see a boost soon anyway. Have you pre-ordered? Have you told friends? We need to pull together to really get this crucial campaign spread further. Please help today! Now read on…

Another Folklore Thursday, another theme – and we were tremulous to learn that it’s ‘SUPERSTITIONS’ this week, as that’s one of the many problems with the way folk see folklore, which irked us enough to launch this campaign in the first place! When trying to track down really entertaining tales with a beginning, a middle and an end, stories which deserve to be better known, the sheer weight of TOT we’ve had to comb through to find them – a haze of ‘In Lincolnshire, ’tis said that cleaning your teeth on a Thursday with a hedgehog will reveal to you the name of your third husband on a lilypad in the local fishpond’ or some such bilge. Yes, these old superstitions can be fun, but scrapping all that non-narrative old wives’ (and husbands, let’s not genderise) tales stuff is central to what we’re about here, clearing the dead wood to reveal the quality tales anew.

That said, a number of the 77 tales on our British roadmap are of course steeped in different superstitions, and we’re going with the oddest, nastiest one of all – BEWARE THE CAT!

If you haven’t heard of this seminal doggerel before, it’s a mid-16th century narrative with claims to being the very first HORROR NOVEL of all time! The plot goes on to feature a whole host of murderous moggies, were-cats and the like, but our retelling only takes the prologue of the novel – which is bad enough – and works it into a disgusting shape of its own. Much of the original work is narrated by one ‘Master Streamer’, at the court of young Edward VI, who has learned how to talk the cat language. This is where the superstition comes in – he reads in an ancient book that it is possible to decipher cat’s vocalisations, but only if you EAT AN ENTIRE CAT and wear its pelt. And so, yes, he does – he grabs one poor feral cat, and forces every last morsel of edible matter into himself in truly gut-churning ways (with the bizarre added observation that the experience causes floods of mucus to pour from his sinuses). So it’s cat murder, bogeys and the kind of meal that would cause any cat lover to die of terror – and then you can talk with any puss that comes your way. Allegedly.

We sincerely hope nobody who buys our book will try to test this superstition, obviously – and this tale has an unusual tourist guide attached to it, unless anyone out there has a hankering for a holiday in West London. Streamer lives at the King’s Court, and though Edward VI was born at Hampton Court, west of London, and died at Greenwich, to the east, this long-gone court must have been somewhere within easy reach of the unassuming environs of St. John’s Wood, because it was in that very wood that Streamer found and caught the poor unfortunate cat for his supper. There’s not much of a wood there these days, and no feral cats, and it’s hard to recommend for a weekend break. Also key to the story – for reasons you’ll have to wait for the book to discover – is the church of St. Batolph’s, and its clanging bells.

This church, a quick skip over the road from the Gherkin, is only a few centuries old, but it does mark the spot of a much older St. Batolph’s, Aldgate, which seems the closest historically to the belltower which gave Streamer his comeuppance, after all that cat cruelty.

Fear not, cat lovers, the moggies do of course get their own back…

Stay tuned for big TALES OF BRITAIN NEWS tomorrow!

BEDDGELERT: A Good Doggy

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Merry Pet-themed Folklore Thursday, dear Tales-backers! Exciting news due soon, but for now, let’s talk dogs.

Actually, after last week’s treatise on the real basis of legends, with KING LEIR, sadly this week we have to face up to a bit of relatively recent myth-making, when it comes to the tragic story of the Welsh Prince Llewelyn, and his trusty dog, Gelert.

This is a particularly sad admission for me to make, as when I was around 10 my family visited the Snowdonia area (all holidays were in Wales in those days) and we had our photograph taken right here, by Gelert’s grave… it may well be that standing at the site of such an inspiring folktale planted a seed or two right there and then… but there’s no denying the likelihood that this stone does NOT mark the burial place of the tear-jerkingly misunderstood hound, but the site where an 18th century landlord decided to drum up more trade by creating a shrine, attached to a dubiously historical rumour.

Presumably you’re familiar with the bare bones of the tale – the Prince leaves his beloved dog guarding his young son as he travels to England, but on his return the baby is missing, his cot overturned, and Gelert is badged with blood. Llewelyn reacts immediately, assuming his old pal has savaged his son, and runs him through with a sword – just as the baby’s cries make it clear what really happened. A wolf attacked the crib, and was fought and killed by the brave Gelert, who safely hid the baby away, and emerged covered in the wolf’s blood. I remember being heartbroken by the tale as a child, and its tragic power still works now – and hopefully will have many readers reaching for hankies in our own fresh retelling.

Just because Gelert’s grave is a mock-up, however, that’s no reason at all to deny any possible truth to the story itself, as a private tragedy in Llewelyn’s life. Some folklorists dismiss the tale because there are precedents, similar yarns of faithful pets being wrongly punished… but all I can say about that school of thought, is woebetide any historians 1,000 years hence who try to research the assassination of President Kennedy, because presumably the fact that another American President was assassinated in the 1800s will preclude any possibility of Kennedy being a real historical figure. Sometimes human behaviour repeats itself, and it seems odd that a completely false legend would attach itself to the life of Llewelyn and his dog. Even if his memorial is a commecial ploy.

Any animal lover will be well within their rights to shed a tear for the poor maligned pooch when they visit the area that seems to (but actually doesn’t) bear his name. A devotion to cats and dogs is undeniably a crucial part of the British psychological make-up, and it’s not surprising that a story like this would resonate for so many centuries. True or not, Gelert’s tale reminds us all to think before we act, and to trust those who have always been faithful to us.

You can trust us, too – these 77 tales, and the tourist guides to each setting, will be with you before 2018 is too old, and we have faith that you will love every last one of them. Keep spreading the word, we’re getting closer every Folklore Thursday!

BLOW, WINDS, AND CRACK YOUR CHEEKS!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Here’s wishing a clement Folklore Thursdays to all our backers! 40% – let’s see how quickly we can get up to the mythical 42%, pledge or get someone to pledge TODAY!

For this terribly British weather-themed Folklore Thursday, we were tempted to visit the Ancholme Valley to become acquainted with The Tiddy Mun, the people’s saviours in times of drought… but when it comes to weather and British legends, there can be only one.

Leicester really isn’t the most obvious holiday destination in the UK. It’s rare that any TV game show gives competitors the chance of a luxury fortnight in any north midlands city. But when you couple the newly-built historial sepulchre of King Richard III with the mythical resting place of another Shakespearian anti-hero just around the corner, the place should surely be a mecca for any lover of British stories. And today we look at the weather-beaten jewel in our not-necessarily-historical collection of Kings: KING LEIR.

Strange admission from a cynical humanist first: I find it very hard to believe that Leir never existed. The belief that his story was extrapolated from that of some ancient pagan water god, Lir, is particularly fishy to me, as gods are of course all man-made concepts, and if anything, the inspiration for such ‘gods’ would quite probably have been real people of power. As gods do not exist, all the gods we know of, from Zeus to Yaweh, are more likely to be misunderstandings based on influential figures in far distant antiquity than entirely cooked-up fictional creations. The legend is that Queen Cordeilla laid Leir in a vault ‘under the River Soar’ (which was once known as ‘Leir’ itself), and a temple was built above it, being converted to worship of the god Janus by the Romans soon after they staged their UK takeover in the mid-first century. Somewhere in the region of the ruined Jewry Wall in the city centre, a large temple once stood, and somewhere under there, the wisdom has always run, lie the remains of a 9th century BC war lord, who had severe problems with his retirement plans.

And so it seems far more likely to me that Leicester takes its name from an early Celtic ruler, circa 800 BC, and that his life story to some extent corresponded to the story we know, than all this lame water god tot. We know nothing about the origins of ‘Lir’, so the god could as easily be based on a man, as the other way around. Stories were so often simply the way we humans, Britons or otherwise, remembered things – and still are – and more often than not, the thing being remembered, and endlessly embroidered over centuries, was a real event.

I apologise to any fellow historians whose lives may have been shortened by my logic there, but despite a complete lack of religious or supernatural belief, I do have a certain degree of blind faith in the real origins of the majority of the 77 stories in our collection. Besides, by demoting Leir to mythology alone, you’re also negating surely one of our most undervalued figures – his successor, Queen Cordeilla, a warrior Queen predating Boudicca by several centuries, and definitely a ‘mythical ruler of Britain’ who deserves to be celebrated more, both for her wisdom, and bravery (not to mention her tragic end – look it up…).

Talking of tragic ends, of course Warwickshire scribbler William Shakespeare’s dramatic revamp of the old King Leir play in 1605 is the real reason we all still remember him and his daughters, even though he clearly changed the ending one day while in a very bad mood, skewing the tale forever more, and offing Cordeilla many years too soon.

Full disclosure here – your author has long been obsessed with the play King Lear, positively knowing it by heart and despite the recent publication of Dunbar, a modern take on the legend, can’t help a far better way of building a new story on the myth from growing inside my head… one day, perhaps.

But for now, it’s the Tales of Britain retelling we’re concerned with, and although the play contains not a single word too many, cutting it down to size for our collection seemed quite a task. But the more you boil down the story, in some ways the better it gets – because what does the King learn in that wild and life-threatening storm which qualifies the tale for this week’s Weather theme, but how to be a human being? Our version retains the Fool, but otherwise returns the story back to its most ancient structure, and no matter how you tell it, King Leir is a story all about humanity, and charity. It’s about a King who has lost touch with what it means to be human, and learns the hard way that every person in his kingdom matters, not one jot less than an old man like him.

This wonderful and crucial moral becomes all the more stark when the tale is reduced down to its clearest form, as in our collection, but we’re glad to add that we haven’t simplified it into an anodyne fairy tale – no ‘once upon a time’ here – but have striven to echo the grim poetry of Shakespeare’s play, and bring it to life for a new generation. And of course, central to the story is still that refreshing rant in the driving rain, wind, hail, thunder and lightning somewhere on a blasted heath out Leicestershire way (some say the raving ruler took shelter in Black Annis‘ cave).

Take a Shakespearian jaunt to Leicester yourself, and see – or perhaps feel – whether you can picture the real Leir and Cordeilla standing on that land, nearly 2,800 years ago. Whether you agree or not, you can even find the play’s final tableau recreated at the Watermead Country Park… Hopefully it will keep nice for you.

ARE YOU LOCAL?

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Of all the Folklore Thursday themes to throw us, ‘Local Lore’ is the toughest – we have 77 tales, all chosen to be local to everyone on this island, with at least one never more than a Sunday afternoon’s drive away from any Brit. Should we head to the North-East to explore the silliness of The Hedley Kow? Or visit the Kingdom of Seals up on the north coast of Scotland? Or plumb the depths of the villainous King Tegid Foel in Snowdonia…?

We could find no relevant illustrations for these on his page, but prepare to be utterly beguiled by the heart-cwtching folklore artwork by Smallfilms legend Peter Firmin, over on his site here – and thanks to Folk Horror Revival on Twitter for pointing us towards it. Firmin’s illustrations come from the late Katherine Briggs’ Folio Society collection, Folk Tales of the British Isles – the ultimate multi-volume collection for hardened folklorists, festooned with the basic ur-versions of our nation’s lore, with all the original outdated morals and dusty stylings intact, making a fair few stories very problematic to share with 21st century audiences, without a great deal of contextualising and explanation.

As with Carolyne Larrington’s brilliant The Land of the Green Man, we’re so glad we never immersed ourselves in this collection before our own book was delivered to Unbound, so our 77 tales remain the result of totally independent research, we’re not just riffing on someone else’s work – only one of the illustrations on Firmin’s site is from a tale in our collection. But particularly given the involvement of an artist as adored as Firmin, we do dearly want to own the full collection one day. It’s just that we’d have to mortgage our own knees to afford that price. If only there was a more affordable collection of British folktales…

The storytelling wonder of Firmin and his Smallfilms partner, the eternally missed Oliver Postgate, are something we can only, and do, dream of aspiring to. Though Tales of Britain above all aims to bring to mind the anarchy of Rik Mayall’s Grim Tales, with big doses of Tony Robinson and Terry Jones thrown in, there are so many different kinds of stories, from the silly to the vicious to the pastoral and sweet… we’re confident that many of our stories would have worked perfectly in Postgate’s lulling, warming tones.

This is his take on a favourite of ours which we’ve shared widely in the past, and which will be kicking off our special LIVE YULE show next month – The Apple Tree Man. Not quite how we see the scene, but again – this is Peter Firmin, so he wins. We have yet to agree on any illustration battleplan with the book just yet, though I have a dream shortlist of artists I’d love to work with – the problem is, affording their talents. We could keep crowdfunding this book for another two years to afford the services of an artist to cover all 77 tales, but overwhelmingly, the feeling we get from our supporters is that THEY JUST WANT THIS BOOK ASAP! Quite rightly so, we do too. For years now, parents in particular have seemed positively angry with me that the book isn’t already available to own, and it’s time that was finally sorted out.

And so for a first edition at least (if we do well, who knows what further editions might be possible?), we will have to find a way of making the tales look pretty on the lowest budget imaginable, and it’s not fair to expect any talented illustrator to work for peanuts… It’s a quandary we’ll be trying to sort out in the coming months, for sure.

Two brilliant artists who deserve to be paid full whack have already supplied us with gorgeous and exciting imagery – Phillip McCullough-Downs and Perry Harris, who went out of their way to create these pics for us, and we’d like to include both in the finished book.

Perry is Bath’s own artist laureate, and Philip is a Bristol-based inky genius… so at least we’re keeping it local!

See The Little Goblins…

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Skeleton lore is today’s Folklore Thursday theme? Oh dear… we thought you said SHILLINGTON LORE! We don’t have any skeletons in our closet, but we do have a wonderful story about party animal goblins, which reminds us all of the importance of having a flipping good time.

But first! It’s a momentous week for Tales of Britain, as we have formally delivered the manuscript to Unbound. Of course, we haven’t quite got to 100% just yet, so the delivery won’t be put into production immediately, but hopefully there will be some exciting news soon of major progress, so do keep the faith, keep spreading the word, and if you haven’t yet – PRE-ORDER! We’re not trying to sell the promise of a potential book any more – if you order a copy now, you can be certain you will soon have the book itself, with all its tourist guides and rebooted stories, taking us throughout Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats!

Today’s tale keeps us safely in the genteel Englishness of the Home Counties, at Shillington, in Bedfordshire. As a holiday destination, Shillington seems very pretty indeed, but with not much else to offer, excitement-wise – though perhaps Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah fans might be interested to know that Viv Stanshall was evacuated here as a baby. Perhaps he was visited by goblins who gave him a life-long taste for the bizarre…

Even worse, the actual site of the story was long ago built over, and turned into suburbia. The tale of the Shillington Goblins takes place during the time of Cromwell and the Puritans, who tried to stamp out Christmas, and all manner of old-church festivities around the year – leaving it to the loony goblins of the village to keep the party going, until the return of the merry old monarchy (er, hooray?) a generation later. The site of the Goblins’ merry dances was said to be marked by a ring of fungus in a field below the church, All Saints’ – but the area was built on many years ago. Who knows though, perhaps the spot where one household puts out its recycling could be the very spot, and the goblins still dance there amid the empty milk bottles and cereal boxes, when nobody’s looking…?

The lovely thing about ‘Goblins’ is that they can pretty much be anything. Tales of Britain is of course packed with weird species of little people, from Brownies to Hobs to Faeries, but when it comes to ‘goblins’, all bets are off. The Shillington mob can and do look like anything, as long as it’s weird, silly and far from human.

The question is, how do we illustrate this lot, and any of the other 77 tales? To speed the book into your hands, Unbound will have to produce this first edition of Tales of Britain as cheaply as possible, and we have no set plans as yet, for illustration. Naturally, there will be no asking any artist to work for free, but perhaps an illustrator who really believes in this campaign might offer a fair fee, to help us make the most enjoyable road atlas possible. All of these questions will now surface, with the manuscript handed in, and we’ll keep you up to date with all developments as they develop.

For now, keep the pledges coming in, and why not lift a glass or otherwise cheer for us, marking the delivery of the first collection of newly retold British folklore to be published in generations? It’s what the Goblins would have wanted…

Tam O’Shanter’s Halloween Dash

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Happy Samhain, and Folklore Thursday, our dear diabolical TOB-pledgers!

First of all, thank badness for Folklore Thursday’s theme this week – we were never intending to offer anything but Halloween frights this week anyway! And we’d already started early with the ghostly lore with last week’s look at HERNE THE HUNTER!

But when it comes to witches – and even more specifically, Scottish witches* – we are spolt for choice among Tales of Britain’s 77 yarns. Macbeth goes without saying (literally, if you’re of a theatrical bent) and we could pause awhile to pay tribute to The Great Gormula of Tobermory fame… But for a dark night Halloween fright, you can’t do better than Rab Burns’ TAM O’SHANTER…

Pay a trip to Burns’ Ayrshire (especially the west-coastal district of Carrick, where you’ll find the tiny village of Kirkoswald, Tam’s home, the Ayr suburb of Alloway, where Burns was born, and somewhere in between, both the ruins of Alloway Kirk, and of course, the famous Brig o’Doon which linked Kirkoswald with Alloway…) and you will find yourself in perhaps the most witch-addled countryside on the island.

 

For kids especially, the tale of Tam O’Shanter’s mad dash to escape the witches of Alloway, as laid down by Burns in verse 227 years ago, is the perfect Halloween tale, because it’s SO DAMN SCARY! The famous drunkard is headed home (late as ever) to his poor spouse in Kirkoswald, when he stops off to voyeuristically pry into the evil ancient rites of a gaggle of hideous old naked crones, prancing around the crumbly gravestones of Alloway. And a badly timed heckle sends the terrified sot racing for his life on the back of his poor long-suffering horse Maggie, with flying, spell-casting evil witches hurtling after him in fast, flying pursuit, screaming the darkest oaths and horrific threats of eternal damnation.

The beauty is that this kind of basic terror, which taps right into the simplest infant nightmares, can be taken as far as you like, in the interests of causing eyes to widen around the campfire come ghost-storytelling time… Because, of course, as those cackling, horrifying servants of satan finally close in on our anti-hero… Just at the last minute…

… Well, that would be giving it all away, now, wouldn’t it? At least to those not up on their Burns.

Halloween is specifically mentioned in a number of our tales, from Tam Lane to the truly nasty Beware The Cat, but top of the list for blood-pumping horror, with a few laughs thrown in, has to be Tam O’Shanter. And come next Halloween, you will be able to share them all around the campfire, from our unique road atlas of exciting British stories…

Keep pledging, keep sharing – and keep scaring!

PS England obviously has its own share of witches, from Pendle Hill to Downing Street, and our friends’ show WITCHES OF WEST SUFFOLK seems like a Halloween treat you have to experience if you’re in the south-east…

*No wonder Rentaghost had McWitch on their books.

BLESSED NEWS!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Hello, your friendly neighbourhood storyteller Jem Roberts here – I try to hide myself away as much as I can, but when it comes to a certain mountaineering legend, it gets personal.

Before we all go off to our lovely weekends – on which you could explore the story-dwelling sites of Britain, had we reached 100% – I just wanted to shout excitedly about two wonderful people who have just joined our campaign! We have already told you the tales of Molly Whuppie and Bran the Blessed, what about Molly Shappi and Brian the Blessed?

First of all, thanks to a mixture of poverty and busy-ness – not least preparing for tomorrow’s half-term-heralding TALES OF BRITAIN LIVE at the Rondo Theatre – I just missed the opportunity to appear on a new TV show presented by our first new patron, the hilarious SHAPPI KHORSANDI! Born in Tehran, British to the tips of her follicles, Shappi’s life and career could not more perfectly compliment what we aim to do in TALES OF BRITAIN: remind the world that Britain was created by millennia of immigration, and that you can be British no matter where you were born.

Shappi has already written a book on this topic, A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English, and now she’s travelling the country finding comedy in British history. Director Tom Holland contacted me asking for pointers about my hometown of Ludlow, and asking me to be interviewed, whereupon I could mention TOB on national TV… but sadly getting up to Ludlow just wasn’t even dreamable at such short notice. I did, however, tell him all about the tale we’ve already excised, ROBIN’S ARROW, so hopefully that will make the cut, and Tales of Britain should ideally get a mention.

But whether it does or not, Shappi’s kind agreement to join our patrons and help spread the word about our revival of the British story treasury is boon enough, it means a lot to have her part of our campaign – a hero every bit as wonderful as our own MOLLY WHUPPIE!

 

But what can I say about our surprise second patron, that shouldn’t be shouted from the rooftops? The reason I’m writing this in the first-person this time, is to come clean about the comedy background of the author of these Tales – I have previously written the official I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue guide, THE CLUE BIBLETHE TRUE HISTORY OF THE BLACK ADDER, the official Douglas Adams biography THE FROOD, and coming from Unbound in the new year is my official Fry & Laurie celebration SOUPY TWISTS!

It was of course on my second book that I first had the honour of chatting with BRIAN BLESSED! I’m even attaching a tiny audio snippet of how encouraging he was to me, and how much belief he had in me and my numerous book ideas – including, of course, TALES OF BRITAIN. So to have the sainted Brian offer his support to our road atlas of 21st century stories is such an exciting, cheering note on which to end this slow-funded week!

And of course, our own retelling of BRAN THE BLESSED was already inescapably infused with Brian’s spirit, so what could be more fitting than to have him powerful spirit on our side? He even told me, ‘When I visit Herefordshire, people often refer to me as Bran the Blessed!’

 

Thank you, Brian. Thank you, Shappi. And thank you everyone who has pre-ordered a copy or got someone else to. May you all have deliriously happy weekends, and let the fight go on!

Oh, and we hope to see you at the Rondo Theatre tomorrow at 3pm!

GreenFire: Herne the Hunter & Windsor Castle

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday! Lots of love to the sainted 256, but we need to be at least another 100 strong before TALES OF BRITAIN goes into production at last! Keep the faith strong! This Saturday at 3pm we will be kicking off half-term at Bath’s Rondo Theatre with TALES OF BRITAIN LIVE, packed with dragons, pigs, pies, battles and bogles! brother Bernard and Sister Sal hope to see you there…

It’s a little early for Halloween, but this week’s ‘fire and ice’ theme set down by the @FolkloreThursday folk brought to mind the mysterious green fire which surrounds the ghostly figure of HERNE THE HUNTER, every time he manifests himself in Windsor Forest.

It seems odd now to reflect that when our take on Herne’s origin story was lovingly embroidered nearly exactly one year ago, it was in the hot sun of Georgia USA – a proper American Halloween – as we provided the only TOB updates off British soil. But having performed the tale around the campfire back in Blighty a few times since then, we’re very happy with the balance of menacing horror, silliness, and a very suitable dollop of humane ecological subtext, in the finished tale, set in the reign of Richard II. It spooks the kids, and contains real danger, but there’s always a more comforting story just around the corner to share before bedtime…

It was a very sensitive story to retell, with suicide playing a very central role in the plot, but there are very few horror stories without death playing a part somewhere along the line, so we haven’t watered it down.

As for the historical story of Herne, we see no reason why very real skulduggery among the King’s woodsmen out Windsor way 700-ish years ago shouldn’t have given rise to the figure of Herne – a legend picked up by Shakespeare a few generations later as part of his Merry Wives of Windsor festivities. But the gigantic ghostly antlered figure clearly has roots way beyond any historical record, appearing to foolish interlopers in the royal forests, bathed in greed flame, and… certainly giving them the fright of their lives. He’s in the same family tree as Robin Goodfellow, The Green Man and any number of fertility and tree-themed gods and mythical spirits…

You can visit Herne’s home at Windsor Great Park for free today – though certain areas cost a fortune! And sadly the great oak where Herne was said to emanate in his eerie green flames died and was cleared away many a century ago – though it’s said that George III planted an acorn in the same area, so it’s still worth having a look for its descendant! But leave the deer alone.

We have a fuller guide to Windsor Great Park in the book, along with 76 other exciting folktale sites to visit! But until we get to 100%, it’s all top secret… pledge today if you haven’t, convince someone else to pledge if you have!

Jersey: The Cream

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday, dear pledgers! 35% up the mountain, and no time to set up camp!

We’re rather spoiled for choice with today’s @FolkloreThursday theme of ‘Island lore’, as all 77 of our tales could be called Island lore! We have stories from Shetland, the Orkneys, a whole host of Hebridean islands, the Isles of Man and Wight, and the Channel Islands. But we’ve plumped for one of the furthest away tales of all, deep down in the sunny south, at Jersey.

It’s always fun to revisit the source material of tales we’ve retold, and to be reminded of what we used, what we adapted, what we felt was best left in the past, and so on. For THE GIFT HORSE, we were inspired by a folktale summary as basic as this one on the BBC, and used it as the starting point for a more involving narrative, with a great villain. We also added a grandfather for William, who is the one who suggests and collects the mistletoe which saves his life.

People often ask if we have personally visited all of the places where our 77 stories are based, and the answer is: if we were that rich, we’d shove £10k in the pot and publish Tales of Britain tomorrow. But the idea is that every tale must make you WANT to visit the place – yes, even if it’s just London or somewhere equally familiar. And we certainly want to stand on the beach at Bonne Nuit Bay, and try to find the jagged rock which was once a villainous shape-shifting water spirit who tried to drown William in water horse form – but was rendered harmless by the application of a sprig of festive decoration.

One day we will – just as we will get to 100% and have this road atlas of stories in your hands as soon as we can. But the book will only be in your hands if you keep spreading the word, and encouraging friends, family and folkies of your acquaintance to click on of the pre-order options on your right!

Robert Henryson: The Scatalogical Scribe

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday! Pre-orders are coming in spits and spots, but it’s possible that a way to smooth our way forward may be found – watch this space for updates, but all those of you who share our passion for getting this roadmap of tales into shops, and into your hands, will have your kindnesses rewarded! In the meantime, any scheme that occurs to anyone out there to spread the word and get more folk to join our merrie band of 246, would be very welcome indeed!

Given today’s arboreal theme, we’ve already shared THE APPLE TREE MAN, and the remaining tale out of 77 with ‘Tree’ in the title is one we were thinking of keeping secret until release… but THE WHIKEY TREE is a crucial, and very weird, entry in our Contents list, and raises the issue of Parental Guidance warnings for some of these tales.

We want the book to appeal to the widest audience possible, without any age being ruthlessly targeted, and it’s a fine line between cruelly bowdlerising tales which can be bawdy, gory or otherwise naughty, and finding the best way to keep all of that juicy stuff intact. So we have The Miller telling his tale on the road to Canterbury, we have Vikings tearing the heads off their enemies and decorating their saddles with them, we have Janet debating whether to keep Tam Lin’s child… and we have the story of the great Robert Henryson’s last laugh on this planet.

The trailer above, for Seamus Heaney’s adaptations of Henryson’s adaptations of Aesop’s fables, brought to life by Billy Connolly, is how we first became aware of the Scottish storyteller’s existence, as I’m sure it was for many folk. That ‘The Whikey Tree’ celebrates a largely forgotten storyteller is one of the key reasons for including it in Tales of Britain, and none of Henryson’s own stories (which tended to be fables, bar one stab at Troilus & Cressida). However, this yarn is a little more NSFW than any of the above.

 

Dunfermline Abbey, the neighbourhood where the scatalogical events of ‘The Whikey Tree’ took place.

‘The Whikey Tree’ purports to relate Henryson’s final moments, as he lay dying of flux – dysentery – in the winter of 1500, at Dunfermline. Having received no benefits from taking every kind of medicine then available, and expecting the end, Henryson was annoyed to be visited by a crazy fan of his tales, a self-appointed wise woman, the medieval equivalent of a homeopathic alternative therapist, who told him that if he walked round the old tree at the end of his garden shouting ‘Whikey Tree, Whikey Tree, take this flux away from me!’ he would be cured. As he could barely lift his head at that point, his rejoinder to the unwelcome visitor was that doing something so stupid would be as useful as if he climbed onto his bedside table and shouted ‘Oaken board, oaken board…’ well, maybe you can make it out in the picture below.

‘Turd’ seems pretty straightforward, but the verb is still up for discussion – though it will certainly not be the Americanism ‘poop’. Harry Potter, of course, throws in ‘bugger’ without any eyelid-batting, and there’s a grand history of family literature embracing the scatalogical and the crude, and nowhere should that be more celebrated than in this collection of our national lore. These tales are made to be shared, above all, and so as with any other medium, we’re working on a clear indication if any tale contains material in the PG-13 area, and judgement can then be made on the best context for sharing any tale.

So, Sunday teatime is perhaps not the ideal arena for reciting Robert Henryson’s last words, it could put you right off your Dundee cake. But we’re chuffed to feel we’re keeping this great storyteller’s last laugh alive, in the 21st century.

The Land of the Green Man

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

It’s unusual both to blog on any day but Folklore Thursday, and to write about any book other than our own roadmap of British tales, but having just come to the end of Professor Carolyne Larrington’s The Land of the Green Man, it’s hard to resist offering a recommendation to all our pledgers. When Tales of Britain launched back in late summer, the passionate cries of there being nothing out there like it were sincere – and they still are! We’ve always made full exception for the Folio Society British Folklore collection, and the myriad regional collections, but when it comes to bringing together all the lore of the British island, there’s still a shocking paucity of decent books out there.

Professor Larrington’s stream-of-consciousness journey around the island is a wonderful addition to the extremely slight range of British folklore books, and although if you haven’t yet pre-ordered Tales of Britain (just click on the right there – you know you NEED to!) we’d obviously prefer you did that first of all, lovers of folklore who have already pledged for TOB should look for a copy of this book as a really evocative compliment. We’re glad we never picked up this paperback until we’d completed all 77 of our own tales, we may well have been unduly influenced by the good Professor’s journey rather than using our own judgement, whereas, as it is, we feel vindicated with many of our choices by seeing them reflected in a great work like this – lots of crossover, showing we’re more than on the right track.

But of course, the two books could not be more different, which is why they’re so complimentary, and we’re very pleased to have Professor Larrington as one of our backers. Her excellent book is an intellectual adult travelogue from a professional academic folklorist, wheres Tales of Britain is a storybook. TLOTGM discusses the nature of British mythology, in a mystical journey, whereas we have many aims with our 77 tales, but ultimately, entertainment is the most important. We do also show that immigrants have built this country over millennia, that British lore contains incredible female-gendered heroes as well as male ones, and of course, we offer tourist guides to all the locations on our map, making this something of a multi-tasking collection. But amid the many academic folklore dictionaries and suchlike, what we’re offering is a pick-up-and-share collection of tales perfected for a new generation, designed to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, and as such, Tales of Britain remains not just unique, but desperately needed in bookshops in Britain and all over the world. We’re all about celebrating our stories on an international scale, enjoying them in a visceral way, laughing, crying, having fun. And we’re very glad that those adults who subsequently wish to dig further into the stories behind the stories have something as fascinating as The Land of the Green Man to turn to. It’s a proud addition to our bookshelves!

Now, the next person to pledge for Tales of Britain will receive a UNIQUE gift if they message us via Twitter or Facebook! Come and join our wonderful patrons in standing up for British tales…

The Wizards Of Radio

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A magickal – with a K – Folklore Thursday to all our lovely pledgers! We’re now into the middle third of crowdfunding, and we hope that one or two big announcements in the offing will give us a leg-up to the next level, but until then, please do keep spreading the word, and if you haven’t yet pre-ordered a copy of this all-new roadmap of British stories, choose an option from the list on the right!

Ordinarily in these weekly epistles we include an audio recording from BBC Radio Bristol of Brother Bernard performing a tale, but there’s so much great folkloric entertainment currently on the BBC Radio iPlayer, we thought we’d mention those instead.

First of all, there’s the star-studded retelling of the Arthurian cycle in ARTHUR: THE SWORD OF THE KING with Ben Whishaw as Arthur and Ian McDiarmid as Merlin. It plays very fast and rather loose with the lore, but should not be missed by any lover of British myths!

However, our second recommendation brings us to this week’s tale – the classic 1989 adaptation of Alan Garner’s WEIRD STONE OF BRISINGAMEN is getting a very well-deserved repeat on 4xtra, and one of the very first tales we retold, all those years ago, was Garner’s inspiration, THE WIZARD OF ALDERLEY EDGE!

Here’s the wizard himself, carved into the rock in the exact spot where it all happened all those eons ago! It’s well worth travelling to this land of billionaire footballers to have a voyage of discovery around Alderley Edge, and try to find the crack in the stones that led to the magician’s underground cave, where an ancient army await their call to return to the Land Of Men And Women, and start murdering things!

The reason this was one of our earliest tales is because a friend who lives in Cheshire was expecting their first little one, and so of course we promised to create a book specially for them, with their local legend retold, and illustrations!

The video above is a wee record of the book we created for young Theo Fury, but don’t worry – the actual Tales of Britain illustrations will be endlessly more professional, this version was for a private christening present only! Thankfully it seems friends and family have now run out of procreation steam for a good while, as we’re so busy trying to get Tales of Britain funded we don’t think we’d have time to make another one of these any time soon…

Alan Garner of course built a very different tale on the foundations of The Wizard of Alderley Edge, but as one of the true golden names in British folklore-inspired literature, every tale we tell feels in some way inspired by Garner’s goose-pimple-creating works, and you should tune in to the radio version while it’s still up online.

But not before you pledge – or get a friend to pledge – for our 77 retold tales!

It Is Time For Your Appointment… with The Apple Tree Man.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

HAPPY HARVEST FOLKLORE THURSDAY, LOVELY TOB-BACKERS!

Before we dive into this week’s themed tale, we’re positively fizzy with excitement not only to be 1/3 funded, but also to announce that the tickets for the next TALES OF BRITAIN LIVE at the Rondo Theatre, Bath, are now available to buy HERE. Brother Bernard (comedian and Blackadder chronicler Jem Roberts) and Sister Sal (actor Kate Harbour, Bob the Builder, Shaun the Sheep) will be performing four tales from Wales, Scotland and England in this beautiful theatre at the foot of Solsbury Hill, with free sweeties for audiences, and all ages catered for! (Though under-5s may need cosy laps.) It’s right at the start of Half-Term, what could be more perfect? Hope to see you there!

We won’t be performing this tale on that occasion, but if the show goes well, The Rondo will invite us back for a Christmas special in December – in which case, THE APPLE TREE MAN will be a must! In fact, we were planning to save this tale – along with the short recording from BBC Bristol, you can listen to above – for the festive period, as a special pressie for you all. But as Folklore Thursday has announced a Havrest theme for today, this had to be the choice.

The Apple Tree Man is such a fun yarn and with such a distinct rural magic, we’ll never get bored of performing it, and hope that when the book is finally in your hands, you’ll enjoy reading it aloud too – the only problem for our roadmap of tales, was where to place it! There’s no one county with dibs on The Apple Tree Man, and we were particularly split between the counties of Kent (The Garden Of England) and Somerset, while Dorset and Herefordshire also can lay claims to being cider central, as well. In short, we’ve recommended orchards you can visit and see cider being made, and sampled, but given Somerset the default spot on the story map.

We’re trying to limit the number of tales we give away for free, but having offered this text as a Winter Solstice gift for you all last year, we may as well keep it in circulation, so here’s the longer version to enjoy for yourself, besides the mp3 above: THE APPLE TREE MAN.

And we’ll have to think of a different story to give you all this Christmas!

In return, all we would ask, is that you order our book if you haven’t already – by clicking on any of the pledge options to the right! And if you already have, please get someone else to do this. If everyone who’s looking forward to this book could convince one other person to do this, never mind being 1/3 funded, we would be 2/3 on the way to publication!

Keep spreading the word, and of course – should you be of age and have no alcohol problems – DRINK UP THY ZIDER!

© Andrew Paciorek – an oddly creepy looking Apple Tree Man!

©Sandy Nightingale – Now that’s more like it! Order a copy HERE.

TALES OF BRITAIN: Summer 2017

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

THE WILD HUNT for backers

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC Bristol Interview

Monday, 11 September 2017

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

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

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

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

Support 21st Century British Folklore today!

Knucker Pie: TALES LIVE IN OCTOBER!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

JOLLY FOLKLORE THURSDAYS ALL ROUND, TOB-BACKERS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FREE TALE: Robin’s Arrow

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(YES THAT’S A HORSE!)

 

YES THOSE ARE SHEEP!

An Artist’s Eye…

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

A glorious Folklore Thursday to all our lovely backers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhiannon: Wouldn’t You Love To Love Her?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A very warm Folklore Thursday greeting to all pledgers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep fighting the good fight, cariads!

©Selina Fenech

Long Meg Lives!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Tiffany Turril

Glastonbury Tales

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday, brave story-adventurers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Whuppie! Shout her name!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday!

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

©Errol le Cain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bristol Cream

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Happy Folklore Thursday, lovers of British lore!

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

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

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

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

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

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

OGGY OGGY MABINOGION! OI OI OI!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

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

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

The Secret Life of Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help Us Revive Britain’s Story Treasury TODAY!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bath Plug 2018: Rachel Parris

It’s that time of year again!

Previous winners: TERRY JONES, PETER RICHARDSON, BARRY CRYER

Now read on, dot dot dot…

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With the precedent set by Jones, Richardson and Cryer, it may well be that anyone who knows about the Bath Plug Award, which I created, and which it is my duty to dole out every April, believes it to be a lifetime achievement award for white straight men of a certain age.

This was not at all the idea. This lovely golden plug exists to celebrate COMEDY, and to reward the talent and achievement of great comedians at any stage of their careers. And so this year’s winner, The Mash Report hero and highlight Rachel Parris, is not just more than deserving of the esteemed medal, she’s also provided a much-needed breath of fresh air for the Bath Comedy Festival. By kindly accepting the award from me and festival boss Nick Steel on Friday 6th April, she finally blew away the cobwebs, and opened all the doors for future Bath Plug Award winners! As I said to her afterwards, if the award wasn’t totally merited, it would have felt weird – and it absolutely didn’t. It’s a relief to have a very different kind of winner, but nobody could deserve it more.

As I popped up on stage at the end of her brilliant musical set, there wasn’t a huge amount of time to lavish on the ceremony (not least as she’d been rather violently ill all day), but as you can see from the video below, I did my job as best I could…

… But as she was not far away, Britishness got the better of me when singing her praises. I do believe that her two-handers with Nish Kumar on The Mash Report are uniquely brilliant (perhaps why they go viral so readily), and her delivery of a kind of common sense satire, with a smiling sheen of faux-compassion, comprises a voice we just haven’t heard before. To spare her blushes, I left out my suggestion that she had ‘become the most distinctive voice in British satire since Chris Morris’… Still, if she is reading this, she’s welcome to quote that to her Mum next time her career is called into question. ‘Stephen Fry’s official biographer says…’

Here’s a couple of reports on the shebang anyway, and my stress is turned off, on this score, for another year – my plans for the next Bath Plug are as ambitious as ever, however, and fingers crossed they will come to fruition… COMEDY.CO.UK CHORTLE

Anyway, with those duties fulfilled, the next day saw Kate Harbour and I back at the Widcombe Social Club with our most comedic TALES OF BRITAIN show yet…

And finally, on Sunday at Moles, the main event I’d been preparing for many months, this year’s FUNNY NOISES, which raised £50 for Bath Food Bank, and was a pleasantly mellow experience. In fact, if you’re a real glutton for miserable, painful punishment*, the whole thing was captured on Facebook Live. Ordinarily I’d be antsy about linking to my Facebook profile in a blog, but as anybody can just grab all my personal info from Facebook anyway, I may as well share and share alike…

* NB This statement does not in any way refer to the guest appearance from the very funny and awesome YONIC.

Tales of Britain #1

It’s time to come out of the scriptorium – yes, I am Brother Bernard. And my fifth book project, just launched on Unbound, is http://www.TalesofBritain.com.

A lot of people have been kind enough to say that ToB is a fantastic idea. But it’s more the case that it’s a HORRIFIC idea that there’s currently nothing else like it. You can spend £150 on a mini-library of British tales, or buy 80 separate regional county folklore books, or choose from a whole library of general non-fiction titles on mythology – but a single collection of our standalone folklore in one place? You won’t find one. So please, if you love stories, or Britain, or indeed me, help us to rectify this situation.

BAREMAP

I have already written so many screeds of explanation about this project both on the website and the Unbound site, I shan’t overload my personal blog with it all over again, please do click through and learn more for yourself. But I can say a bit more about the genesis of this campaign, which has been growing for 13 years now, and I have been working away at it while writing all of my comedy non-fiction books and suchlike.

Today is 07/07/17 (there are 77 tales in Tales of Britain, FWIW), and besides being the birthdays of Ringo Starr, Bill Oddie and Jon Pertwee, it’s also my eldest nephew Natey’s 13th birthday. 13 years ago I had a hobby of regularly getting my own children’s writing turned down by publishers, but I had this idea (since rued – having had four more nephews, the man-hours are astronomical!) of creating my nephew a book, hand-written and illustrated, of my atheist humanist fable The Woolly Jerboa. However, telling that tale only took up 2/3 of the plain book I’d bought, so how to fill out the rest? Well, my brothers and I are from Shropshire, halfway down the Welsh border, but my nephews are all born Yorkshiremen, or Dorsetians, so how about I give them a taste of their paternal roots by retelling a Shropshire folktale? I found a selection on this website, very simple retellings by Dez Quarrell, and without that impetus, none of this may have happened. I chose a Ludlow tale, The Stokesay Key, as the very first folktale I would re-imagine, and 13 years ago today, the tiny baby Nathaniel had it waggled vaguely in front of his uncomprehending eyes.

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As times went by, more nephews required more folktales, and then friends in different areas of the UK started having kids – Cheshire (The Wizard of Alderley Edge), Stirling (Tam O Shanter) and so on. And only then did I discover that NOBODY HAD PUBLISHED A BRITISH TREASURY OF FOLKTALES! And somebody surely HAD to! A few books came close – one on ‘Stories from British history’ made me almost relieved that the burden was lifted from me, but I read some in the shop, and it was the most sparse and leaden prose you’ve ever read (‘Once upon a time there was a King. His name was Leir. He had three daughters. One day…’ YAWN.), presumably written with strict adherence to a children’s publishers’ obsession with target Key Stage 5 or some such utter bilge. Children’s publishing these days is templated, homogenised and strangled with restrictions like never before – Tales of Britain wouldn’t have stood a chance with any publisher other than Unbound.

This was especially clear as I ranted to friends and strangers the country over that there was literally NO British story book in shops, and certainly not one like this, which doubles as a tourist guide and handy ‘Day Out’ suggestion book for families, ramblers and the like. I saw the same manic gleam in eyes all over the UK, as I was told, ‘But I HAVE to have this book! Where is it?’ It belongs on the backseat of every car, and in every hikers’ backpack. An exploration of the British Isles via myth and story. I hope soon it will be, and Unbound publishes books that the people want, but which publishers fear, so it seems perfect. They have a strong QI pedigree, and I see Tales of Britain as doing for stories what QI does for facts – collecting and celebrating them in a fun but authoritative way. However, the next 6-12 months of crowdfunding will be perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done. Even funding Soupy Twists became a bit miserable at times, when pledges slowed, even with Stephen’s 12.5m Twitter followers, and despite the wide-spread desire I’ve seen for a new British folklore collection, I’m expecting this to be at least doubly difficult, without a fanbase like Stephen & Hugh’s to rely on.

So please do pledge on the Unbound site, and please do spread the word via social media, and please do mention it in the café and the pub and at the school gates, particularly in earshot of parents and teachers, and please do allow these 13 years of story-collecting to finally bear fruit sooner rather than later. Because over the years, Tales of Britain has gone from being a book idea, to a broad and joyous CAMPAIGN, with a whole team of us doing all we can to revive the British folktale treasury, and retell them afresh for the 21st century – we tell the tales live, we hope to launch a podcast and who knows what else, but it all begins and ends with this book, the most important thing I have ever done.

I hope we all live happily ever after.