Posts Tagged ‘lore’

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.

TALIESIN and the Turning of the Seasons

Thursday, 20 September 2018

A heart harvest Folklore Thursday to all your campaign supporters!

As we enter our sixth season of weekly blogging, it’s a rare feat to find one of our 77 tales we haven’t blogged about, and even moreso to be able to theme it to the weekly topic. But while other stories we have covered may have more immediate pertienence to autumn and harvest – Jack O’Kent’s crop-based deals with The Devil, or the crocus crops in The Saffron Cockatrice, for example – the origin story of one of Britain’s most famous bards has its own rhythms which speak of the changes of the year, resulting in our hero turning himself into an ear of corn! Grain crops could not have a more crucial place in British folklore, from corn dollies to corn rigs and barley rigs, and their associate, the Wicker Man. But few heroes actually have the ability to mutate into grain.

The 5th century poet and seer TALIESIN had many tall tales told about him long after the flesh and blood artist was dead and buried – he was folded back into Arthurian myth, along with the likes of Tristan and Bran the Blessed, and pops up here and there throughout our 77 tales. But this superhero’s origin story returns us to the shores of Lake Bala, the most fecund area in the whole country for tales, most notably ‘Vengeance Will Come’.

Telling the truth and shaming all manner of demons, the first tale told of Taliesin is a total lift from Irish mythology, and the infamous Salmon of Knowledge that Fionn MacCool was said to have accidentally tasted. In this version, the young bard is a servant to mighty sorceress Ceridwen, claimed by some to be the ex-wife of hideous King Tegid Foel, poor woman. This unholy union produced a brilliant, beautiful daughter and a hideous, moronic son – and so, to boost the brainpower of the latter, Ceridwen created a potion which required constant stirring in the cauldron for a whole year – and guess who was given that job? And guess what he did when a drop of the potion burned his hand?

When the boss discovers the now-brilliant servant’s unintentional faux pas, it triggers a long chase, somewhere between Wile E Coyote and Road Runner, and the famous magic battle between Merlin and Madam Mim in ‘The Once and Future King’ (Or Disney’s ‘Sword In The Stone’ if you prefer). When Talisein, gifted with his new-found magic powers, turns into a sparrow, Ceridwen becomes a sparrowhawk, when he turns into a minnow, she becomes and pike, and so on – until the surreal conclusion, in which Talisein’s disguise as an ear of corn seems to backfire, when Cerdiwen mutates into a giant black chicken and scoffs him right up.

Of course, this isn’t really the end of the poor servant boy-turned-genius wordsmith and magician – he grows as a baby inside his furious employer, and ends up adrift, Moses-like, until his discovery by an unlucky prince (son of King Gwyddno, lord of the sunken lands of Cardigan Bay – the connections between all our Welsh legends are incredibly strong!) and his infantile versifying earns baby Taliesin a new job as royal adviser and bard – and a whole lifetime of adventures begins anew.

No doubt similar tales will be told of the origin of John Lennon in 2,000 years, with tales told around the fireplaces of post-apocalyptic Britain about him flying to Earth in a flaming pie and transforming himself into a walrus. It’s funny what we’re prepared to believe about our rock gods.

With one trip to Bala, you get this and a whole host of others tale locations all within walking distance, but the only way to get them all together in one place – along with dozens of other tales and locations – is to pre-order our book!

And if you would like to enjoy Brother Bernard performing a choice selection of these stories in person, we have a second of three candlelit folk evenings coming up in the tiny village of Kelston (near Kelston Round Hill) this Saturday – and the final one in Avoncliff a week later. The first one in Freshford was a real joy, and the tales change every time, so our modern day bard and follower of Talisein hopes to see you around the campfire, with marshmallows, this weekend!

Travelling By Bear: The Green Glen

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Happy Folklore Thursday, folksters!

It is, I fear, a necessarily rushed folktale blog this week, due to a double deadline clashing with the book launch for Soupy Twists in London on Wednesday, and then a recording of Great Lives on Douglas Adams for Radio 4 in Bristol today. And then, after all that metropolitan publicity, I’m spending the weekend in a tent at the countryside, wrapped in a green velvet cloak telling Tales of Britain as part of a candlelit folk evening in Somerset… quite a week.

But nonetheless, when it comes ot the theme of transport, we have one recommendation for you: TRAVEL BROWN BEAR! The ancient – and very very silly Scottish story of The Brown Bear Of The Green Glen has no specific home. We placed it in Inveraray, as that was where the original folklorist James Campbell heard a version, but if anything its spirit survives through all the Western Isles.

The plot is about as pat as they come – youngest of three, sent on a mission, meets a number of very quizzical beasts, returns home victorious, is cheated by evil older siblings, but finally good wins through. We had trouble making our retelling as distinct as possible from Molly Whuppie, for a start! Also, we consider this one of the silliest tales of our 77, you could almost hear the old nurse desperately waiting for her audience to fall asleep, as she was forced to come up with yet another stage of tests for the hero to go through before achieving his goal.

But none of it is possible without the help of the kind, brave, strong – and extremely convenient Brown Bear of the Green Glen, who invites our hero onto his back, and flies from Isle to Isle, completely free of charge! If only flying by brown bear was still a possibility today…

We may well perform this story at The Inn at Freshford this Saturday evening, as part of their candlelit folk nights! If you’re in the area, Brother Bernard hopes to see you there! If you don’t live in the area… catch a brown bear?

Fairyland In The Border: Thomas The Rhymer

Thursday, 6 September 2018

We wish you an otherworldly Folklore Thursday, dear Tales pledgers!

Hectic times over here, given that this Folklore Thursday is also publication day for SOUPY TWISTS – the official biography of Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie, otherwise known as ‘The Book That Came Before Tales of Britain’!

But of course there’s always time to share a special themed blog with you lovely folksters… however, when the theme is ‘legendary places’, even discounting the legendary nature of the entire landmass we’re celebrating (in 77 places, with tourist guides to each location), where on earth, or on this bit of it at least, do we start?

Since the first wave of post-Ice Age immigrants washed up on these shores, Britons have been suspicious of ‘other worlds’, in the sky, in the trees, under the sea, and above all, under the ground, and in the hills. Maybe houses like those found at Orkney, inhabited by races smaller than the invading ‘Celtic’ (© Generic Pre-Roman Britons) are what inspired the many tales of faerie-ish folk living underground, but whatever the inspiration was, our book is packed with tales of legendary places, where British folk have travelled to, and – less often – from.

Camelot is of course, a legendary place in itself, as, you could argue, is Sherwood Forest. But we’ve already covered a whole host of ‘fairy lands’, be it Brother Elidor’s Welsh odysseyThe Mermaid of Zennor’s undersea kingdomThe Green Knight’s Chapel, or most recently, The Doonies who creep out of the hills of Kilmartin.

This last is one of a trilogy (at least) of southern Scottish, borderland legends of faerie denizens under hills. It’s not strictly a Scottish idea, hills hiding pathways to lost lands – Avalon itself, now known as Glastonbury Tor, is supposed to be the portal to the land of Gwyn Ap Nudd. But there’s something about these majestic hills at the bottom of Britain’s northern splodge of craggy land which has inspired generations of storytellers to give their ideas of what lies beneath.

Pictured above are the hills of Eildon, which will forever be associated with Scotland’s answer to Nostradamus, the medieval poet and prophesier Sir Thomas Learmouth de Ercildoun, otherwise known as True Thomas, or Thomas the Rhymer. When we came to retell the legend of how he learned his versifying party tricks from the Queen of the Faeries, we were a bit taken aback to realise just how close the myth is to that of Tam-Lin – they could almost be both spun from the same real-life nugget of news, if it wasn’t for the clear historicity of the talented Thomas. Scotland even proudly marks the spot where he was said to have met the irresistible Queen, who led him under a specific hill to a very specific kind of faerie country – usually termed ‘Elfland’.

Both tales involve sexy young Scotsmen, border-dwellers, who pique the fancy of the Faerie Queen (Titania in our retellings, a rather schizoid but endlessly fascinating paragon of aristocratic hauteur, delightful when she gets her way, but cross her and… well, you’ll see), and are taken to live with her in her underground – or certainly, otherwhere – kingdom. In both cases, it’s usually even for the same period, of seven years. However, where Tam-Lin is imprisoned and marked for sacrifice, and can only be saved by the story’s hero Janet, Thomas’ deal with HMQ is far more pleasing to all – they meet, they kiss, he adoringly follows here all the way home under one of the Eildon Hills, and in a fascinating journey, through a series of tests, choosing the primrose path to hell, a heavenly path, or just heading midle-of-the-road, then wading through rivers of blood dripped down from the surface’s many bloody battles, then past tempting fruit trees and so on… this journey constitutes much of the story of Thomas the Rhymer. Ultimately, at the end of his time of absolute hedonism, Thomas is given a fruit which will grant him the gift of prophecy, which he chooses in preference to improved lute-strumming skills (turned down because he already considers himself the medieval Hendrix anyway).

This is all that remains of the grand tower Thomas built on his return to our realm in the late 1200s, the last remaining crumb of the great fortune he built up as a result of his faerie-bought poetic flair. You’ll find it in the market town of Earlston in Berwickshire, and there you can retrace Thomas’ steps, to the spot where he met the Queen, and the hill where he followed her to seven years of magical luxury in Elfland… but sadly, no tourist has yet left any suggestion that they managed to follow his footsteps all the way to Elfland, on TripAdvisor.

We’ve never performed this tale live as yet, but perhaps we will, as we have THREE shows coming up this month, all candlelit folk evenings in gorgeous rural pubs here in the NE Somerset area. Take a look at our LIVE page and see if you fancy any of them! Come along, and we promise to take you to any legendary place that takes your fancy…

©ChaliceMoon on DeviantArt

Thumbs Up For Tattershall Tom

Thursday, 30 August 2018

A bear hug for you all this Folklore Thursday!

First off, a thank you to all who came to the Waverley in Edinburgh a week ago today for our Scottish debut, where we got away with doing Molly Whuppie with all the accents. Maybe a Thursday lunchtime isn’t the best time for any kind of gig, but we were outnumbered by the audience, which is some kind of achievement at the Edinburgh Fringe.

We have exciting plans for Halloween and Xmas in Bath, and three interesting shows coming up in September: candlelit folk evenings in the North Somerset area, as you can see from our LIVE page – but we do have yet to confirm a Welsh date for this year, and having performed in England, Kernow and Scotland, we INSIST on a gig in Wales before 2019, so if anyone out there has any ideas, and fancies a storytelling session, PLEASE get in touch! Or we’ll be busking in Cardiff’s Millennium Centre…

Now – if you want a folktale involving teeth and bodyparts, fitting today’s Folklore Thursday theme, it can only be the nasty tale of SIGURD’S HOWE and the disembodied head whose big teeth gnawed him to death… but, well, we’ve done that one, so if it’s bodyparts you’re after, how about we finally cover one of England’s finest folktale heroes, with a THUMB?

Most of our 77 tales were discovered by us anew, and we felt they were worth reviving – the adventures of Tom Thumb were thoroughly soaked into us from childhood, both from books and one very evocative talking book which we’re unlikely ever to hear again. But it was a great pleasure to rediscover his biography, and retell it for a new generation – from his parents’ lamenting a lack of a child, through to his ennoblement with a pin by by King Henry VIII.

And as our book provides tourist guides for every one of our stories, Tom Thumb has been a particularly pleasing one to add, because although there have been a few people of smaller stature to use the Tom Thumb name in history, the Lincolnshire village of Tattershall really went for it, and declared themselves the true birthplace of the real Tom Thumb. If you look to the roof of this building below, you can even see the little fellow’s home…

 

And there in the Holy Trinity church, is Sir Tom’s grave marker – though no archaeologist has yet dared disturb his bones and find out if there really is a thumb-sized skeleton in a matchbox under the flagstones…

One thing the book’s editor did point out was a preponderence of poo in Tales of Britain, which we did go some way to reduce – it never struck us as an over-abundance, and certainly wasn’t a tiresome attempt to add extra scatology ‘for boys’ – that kind of gendered nonsense is a real bete noir, as if only male kids enjoy a bit of bogey-flicking, and as if they only respond to that kind of writing. But poo, and indeed sick, do play crucial parts in Tom’s journey from bullied little schoolboy to royal servant, and you’ll find all that filthy business intact in our retelling – it’s not a tale you’d want to read while having your tea. Especially if you’re having salmon and peanuts followed by plum pudding.

We’re still awaiting a release date for the book, and it feels like soon we will have blogged about every single one of our 77 stories. But as collecting and reviving these dusty old tales has now become a lifetime’s job, don’t worry, this campaign is a journey we have only just started to take. Thumb a lift. (Sorry.)

Rub-a-Dub-Dub: The Madness of GOTHAM

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Busy Folklore Thursday, dear folksters – our first ever Scottish storytelling show kicks off at Waverley Bar as part of the Free Fringe at 1pm!

There are so many tales among our 77 full of rhyme and song, but so little time today! But we do just have time to consider the silly old British rhyme of ‘Rub-a-Dub-Dub’ – at least inasmuch as it is brought to mind by the madness of the folk of the Nottinghamshire village of Gotham! There are loads of British folktales about loony villagers, but only one which became so famous, the village’s name was adopted by DC Comics as the home of that city of madness – GOTHAM.

The short version is that nasty old King John plans to travel north through the village – which will cost the villagers dear – and so they all decided to act as mad as possible, to warn away the royal entourage, lest the insanity be contagious! And one of the key moments of madness, among the villagers who try to trap a cuckoo by building a wall around its nest, or sieve the moon’s reflection out of a puddle, is a trio of loonies sailing away in a tub… or did we dream that?

Any which way, it’s a great little tale, linked to a very pretty village you can visit to this day, which is proud of its reputation for wisdom, for rebellion (and connections to America’s greatest vigilante detective), and for us the story has always brought to mind:

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Three men in a tub,
And who do you think they were?
The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Maker,
And all of them off to the fair.

(Or ‘They all went to sea in a rotten potater’ in the Shropshire version I grew up with. Salopians maybe have a thing about potaters.)

And in fact, we’re going to perform this tale for the very first time in Edinburgh today! One tale from England, one from Kernow, Wales, and of course, Scotland. If this is our last blog, you’ll know that our Scottish accents have led to violence.

Als, as our teaser show last night was cancelled, for the first time ever, we’re going to end our show… on a SONG! We can’t visit Scotland without playing ‘Send The English Back’ after all!

We’ll update with details of how it went either later today, or as soon as we can! If you’re in the area, PLEASE do come along and say hello – it’s Pay What You Feel!

You’d be mad not to.

The Kintraw Doonies: Christianity vs Faeries

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Merry Folklore Thursday, lovelies!

Thank you to everyone of all ages and smells who came along to the Bath Folk Festival show last Saturday – yes, even baby Robyn who joined in with a fair few tales. It was one of Brother Bernard’s best solo shows yet, though we really hope to get a few folktale fans at our first ever Scottish show a week today – 1pm at the Waverley Bar, as part of the Free Fringe!


And talk of Scotland brings us to this week’s tale – the Kintraw Doonies. The theme of World Religion gave us pause for thought – partly because not many of our 77 tales really deal with the subject, but also because those that do may be a wee bit controversial, to some. We’ve already covered the oppressive nature of religion, compared to pre-Christian faiths, in our Long Meg blog, but the issue surfaces once again – old religion versus new – in this very sad Argyll legend.

These hills around Kilmartin are packed with myths and mysteries, and we settled on an unusually un-comedic tragedy concerning a group of poor children who lose their Mother, and then discover, when visited by her shade one Sunday while their Father is at church, that she was taken away by the Doonies: faerie folk generally said to be friendly, who take the form of little old people or maybe (and perhaps inevitably with Scottish lore) wee horses. The children’s widower Father is a church-going Christian (obviously, for those days), and when he hears their story of being visited by their poor dead Mother, and it gets back to the local priest, the Bible-bashing bigot belittles any such idea of faerie folk, and forces the children to break a bond which casts their Mother away forever…

But, in a macabre twist, the priest is later found dead in the hills, clearly a victim of the Doonies’ dislike of being laughed at by those who follow religions far more outlandish and dangerous than any idea of ‘faeries’ ever was.

Tales of Britain strives to be inclusive, it’s for everyone, no matter what their gender identity, sexuality, race or indeed, CREED. So we have no wish to isolate anyone of any faith – as in real life, as long as nobody is preached to, or judged according to outdated texts, or in any way harmed by anyone’s religious belief, they should be free to worship whatever they like, however they like. True, it is a crime that so much of British folklore has been distorted by Christianity over the last 1500 years or so, the old gods dismissed as demons, and ancient rights ruined by very silly concepts such as ‘Heaven and Hell’, and so on, as in the Long Meg legend. And as pretty much every other collection of folklore from these isles you will come across repeats this religious calumny again and again, we do feel it’s our important job, as secular storytellers, to right these crimes and present stories fit for 21st century folk of all ages, devoid of dogma and pre-21st century ideas of morality.

Nonetheless, the way the Doonies get their own back on the fire & brimstone preacher (a form of reprehensible ‘holy man’ we were more than familiar with in our own Christian upbringing) has given us pause, to worry about accusations of overt anti-theism. The obscurity of this tale in particular, made us ask ourselves, are we including it just as a kickback against the likes of the Doony-dismissing doomed priest? After all, someone who believes in the Bible has no right to mock any ancient belief once shared by the folk of Britain, even if it does involve horse-shaped people who live under hills.

But thankfully, rediscovering our source material reassured us – we’ve chosen to retell The Kintraw Doonies, sad and serious though the legend is, because it’s a rare example of a tale which deals directly with this clash of beliefs, and that’s a story worth preserving for new generations. Especially if it inspires visitors to these gob-slappingly beautiful Kilmartin hills to wander around, seeking the entry to the Doonies’ home…

Plus there was one extra reason for adding this legend to our collection – in our version, we add that the poor Mother character, once broken from her bond with her children, is left to roam the hills as a Caointeach – the Scottish equivalent of a banshee. So our version is especially thick with the lore of the Argyll landscape.

Anyone who worries that our approach to reviving these forgotten stories may be relentlessly flippant, should be reassured – some of these tales are almost devoid of jocularity, jokes do not suit all legends, and especially in the bleaker corners of Scotland, they are designed to provoke tears, rather than laughs. Here endeth the lesson.

Who Needs Hogwarts? Merlin at Dinas Emrys

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Well, salagadoolah, menchikaboola, and bibbiti-bobbiti-boo to all TALES OF BRITAIN pledgers this MAGICKAL MAGICIAN-THEMED FOLKLORE THURSDAY!


First of all, please do forgive the plug, but this is our last chance to alert you to our show for the Bath Folk Festival on Saturday – the very first item in the whole festival indeed, at St. James Wine Vaults, Bath at 3pm! Bernard is performing solo, with Sister Sal up in Edinburgh, and so it’s a whole hour of REQUESTS! Yes, with a point at the map, any of our 77 stories – nay, 80, including new retellings – will be performed for you, and you pay whatever you like! It is of course entirely family friendly (followed by a more adults-only comedy music show an hour later). Really hope to see you there for some storytelling magic…

And returning to magic, we’re simply spoiled for choice when it comes to magic-makers throughout our 77 stories – we’ve already covered Conjuring Minterne in this blog, and were very tempted to go with The Great Gormula, the best of all the many Scottish witches, but instead, we’ve gone to the very tip-top of the legendary fame charts, and the wizard known as Merlin – or if you prefer, Myrddin Emrys.

This image ©King Arthur’s Labyrinth in Machynlleth, which we only just found out about, and NEED to visit, and wish we’d been able to recommend in the book! Volume 2, definitely.

Of course, this particular Merlin – a native of Snowdonia, hence the name connected to the hillfort at Dinas Emrys – crops up time and again in our country’s lore, and he’s more usually seen in our book as the tall, elderly and wise Merlin, teacher of King Arthur. But his introduction, set at Dinas Emrys, is surely one of the most important stories of our 77, being one of the few legends which directly comments on the history – and future – of the United Kingdom.

It’s such a famous tale, this origin story for Britain’s greatest wizard, that it would probably seem patronising to summarise it, but as you know, crappy old King Vortigern was failing to build a castle in North Wales, and this young wise guy Merlin – believed to be half-demon – was sent for as a sacrifice to somehow make the construction process smoother, but instead revealed the true reason for the failed building – two wyrms or dragons in the foundations, one red dragon (who arrived on the island first) and a white interloper.

There’s a great origin story to these dragons too, involving the pre-Roman figure of King Llud Llaw Eraint, which is tempting to write up for a second volume of TALES OF BRITAIN, but suffice to say, for this tale, the red symbolises the British (eventually re-labelled ‘Welsh’ by the invaders), and the white stands for the Saxon interlopers (soon to masquerade under the title ‘English’) and their eternal struggle is still with us, to this day.

There’s no word on whether there was also a rock-hard blue dragon who joined in the scrap and gave the white wyrm a good nutting, but Scotland aside, this allegory of Anglo-Welsh relations remains a stirring tale, and one we could never have left out.

With three other tale locations within walking distance at Beddgelert and Lake Bala, site of Tegid Foel’s drowned city and the birthplace of the bard Taliesin, Dinas Emrys constitutes one of the greatest tourism no-brainers in our book, no matter how far from historical the story is – and the site was already settled in the Iron Age, centuries before Vortigern – generations of visitors have plotted out the exact site of the castle, and where the dragon scrap was taking place, and it’s almost impossible to visit without shivers.

A historical Merlin is of course even more debatable, but knowing what we do about the few possibly real shamans of that name in British prehistory, our book sees the name ‘Merlin’ as a kind of dynasty, so the wizard isn’t like Batman, with different men taking on the mantle in different centuries, it’s just a family boasting numerous ranting madmen and supposed seers, and the most famous magician of all in the bloodline, our Merlin, is this clever Emrys lad, born in Carmarthen, and eventually relocating to Cornwall to steer the chosen King of the Britons to greatness.

There are many more Merlin tales we could revisit, and we hope we do, but this is his starring role in our book, and we can’t wait to share our take on it with you.

Incidentally, a Google search for “young merlin” also reminded us of this, pictured below, the greatest SNES game not to feature Mario or Dizzy. If you have an emulator to hand, try ‘Young Merlin’, and even over 25 years later, it’s still entrancing. And bloody difficult.

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: Winter 2018

LOGO.jpg

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…