Posts Tagged ‘tales of britain’

TALES OF BRITAIN: Spring 2018

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

London Pride Has Been Handed Down To Us…

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday To Us: In TINTAGEL!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art of the Landscape: Wade & Bell in Whitby

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

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

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

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

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

*Cow may not be actual size.

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

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

THERE MIGHT BE GIANTS: Round the Wrekin

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Funny Old Game: Elidor & The Golden Ball

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

We hope this sporting Folklore Thursday finds you all cheering!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ye Gods: Wayland & Flibbertigibbet in Oxfordshire

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fiery Leap Of Conjuring Minterne

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TALES OF BRITAIN: Winter 2018

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

Body Horror: Sigurd & The Severed Head

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

It’s a BODY themed Folklore Thursday! If only we hadn’t used up the far more pleasurable connotation of the theme by blogging about Lady Godiva several weeks ago, we could avoid this nastiness. But as it is, let’s delve into the body-horror of SIGURD’S HOWE…

A violent and nasty tale from the north Scottish coast and Orkney, this story is anchored in the titular Sigurd’s Howe – a burial chamber associated with the frankly horrible 9th century Scandinavian SOD Sigurd Eysteinsson, which, our investigations tell us, is not even available to the public, sadly.

But despite the less than ideal location for tourists, we couldn’t resist this macabre yarn. To summarise, we may as well quote directly from Wikipedia:

His death was said to have been caused by the severed head of Máel Brigte, whom Sigurd defeated in battle. As he rode a horse with Máel Brigte’s head attached to his saddle as a trophy, one of Máel Brigte’s teeth grazed against Sigurd’s leg. The wound became infected, later causing Sigurd’s death.

…Though we’re confident that our retelling is well worth the reading, even given this massive spoiler. We see the poor Scotsman as the victim of quite terrible bullying from the greedy Vikings, and this as a story of REVENGE OF THE GEEKS… albeit, only a posthumous victory for the poor loser who had his head chopped off.

We’ve spoken in the past about how Brother Bernard’s retellings are heavily influenced by the combination of comedy and action seen in Tony Robinson’s retellings of Theseus and Odysseus, and we feel that nowhere is that more in evidence than in this brutish British tale. How could anyone tell such a revolting, sick story without finding it hilariously funny? We hope readers feel for the poor weakling Mael Brigte as we do, and cheer as loudly as us when his revenge comes from beyond the grave.

We’ve written a fair bit here about Tales of Britain’s SUITABILITY FOR MINORS, and have no reservation in saying that this story of severed heads nibbling the butts of their murderers until they die of gangrene is ABSOLUTELY LOVELY for kids of pretty much any age. This is of course academic, as we are not allowed to in any way market this book as being for children – we just know that children will read it and love it, just as we read and loved many a book packed with dark and twisted legends when we were tiny. Nobody bothered wrapping young readers in cotton wool in those days.

Remember being a kid and reading books on ghosts and monsters, filled with photos of phantoms and stories of how they died, and all those photographs of spontaneous combustion victims, single charred legs by fireplaces in a mound of ash? That’s what we were reading when we were tiny, and they weren’t folktales at over 1,000 years remove, these were TRUE STORIES (as far as we were concerned) about death and hauntings all around us right now, with PHOTOGRAPHS! This was allowed. And yet, in 2018, no book for children gets published unless it ticks every small-minded box and has every potentially interesting corner knocked off it, so it can be targeted ruthlessly at the exact area of the market publishers want to exploit.

And so, tales like Sigurd’s Howe – or, far more likely, anything involving the slightest suggestion of bawdiness, sex being seen as far more dangerous than violence – make it impossible for us to in any way acknowledge that this book is for children. But all we can do is make this book and put it out there, and hope it’s enjoyed by EVERYONE, of any age, readers who love Britain and its treasury of tales, sick, sexy, and scary alike.

Some folk out there might have a problem with this, but… we have no shame… we’re really going to end this blog like this… don’t lose your head.

Sorry.

LUKKI MINNIE: Fair Isle’s Bad Luck Trow

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Good luck to you this Folklore Thursday, TOB-backers!

Many folktales could be said to be filled with good luck and bad, fortunes rising and falling, so we’ve double-themed our tale for this LUCK-LORE Folklore Thursday by focusing on that scourge of the Shetland Isles, LUKKI MINNIE!

There’s very very little to go on when it comes to this hideous trow from the far-northerly leas of Far Isle: a few botanical superstitions, and a short and very unoriginal narrative – our source material for the tale comes from that most unlikely of all sources, The New Statesman. A young Fair Isle lad has the extreme BAD LUCK of being kidnapped by a hideous trow, and the ultimate GOOD LUCK of escaping her clutches by leaping over a burn, where she splashes into the foamy water and is washed away – though her ‘churning butter’ can still be seen on the Fair Isle coast at times…

We used this sparse plot as a jumping off point for a story about stories in some ways, having noted that the nasty ‘dog in a bag’ caper outlined here is a very tired yarn, used many times all over the world, and notably associated with Mollie Whuppie at least once. Therefore, considering that smelly old canard about boys having no interest in female heroes, we made Willie a HUGE FAN of Mollie Whuppie’s exploits, and her legendary example is what gives him the idea of escaping Lukki Minnie’s clutches with the same bag trick. And so, the folktale becomes a story about the power of stories, and Willie manages to triumph over the evil trow, thanks to his avid reading of folktales.

Oh, and call us wet if you like, but we changed the dog to a truly disgusting bogey, as it’s tough to defend any hero chucking a dog in a bag and breaking its bones, so we’ve saved ourselves the bother.

Similarly, with ‘trows’ being such nebulous monsters – Shetland’s position between Scotland and Scandinavia making them very vague translations of Norwegian trolls – we took a few liberties with the nature of Lukki Minnie too, and made her a spiky, sharp thistle-like nightmare with a shock of purple spiky hair which sticks out of her hole, looking very like heather from afar, until she POPS out to grab unsuspecting innocents, and tug them under the ground for her supper. We’ve still yet to sign up an illustrator for the book, but she’s an absolute gift to whoever lands the gig.

We can’t find any pictorial evidence of the froth of Hesti Geo, the legendary result of the hideous trow ‘churning her butter’, but this Fair Isle cotton grass is also known as ‘Lukki Minnie’s Oo’ (nothing to do with Adventure Time, we presume), so it will have to do!

In truth, it’s hard to imagine many tourists making the journey all the way to Fair Isle on the basis of Lukki Minnie’s legend, but if anyone out there has been, or lives there, and knows any more about the hideous old purple-haired fiend, let us know!

Oh, and the 300th book pledger will get a story audio reading of their choice! Just tweet us when you’ve pre-ordered, and remember – beware o’da trows…

Zennor’s Woman Of The Sea

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Happy oceanic Folklore Thursday, all! 299 backers! How exciting! Who wants to be the next…?

And this week’s Maritime theme has suggested quite a rarity for us of late – a very simple tale, with no need for updates, switched genders or altered angles, and with an extremely solid location where the story took place centuries ago, unquestionably worth a visit – THE MERMAID OF ZENNOR!

There’s no glut of mermaid stories to be found in our 77 tales, no matter how our island’s singular attachment to the sea makes the fishy species a British institution all around the world. You will discover a Welsh prince who dallies with a mermaid, and then there are the Silkies, who are were-seals, but the Mermaid of Zennor is absolutely our go-to girl for piscine sirens in Tales Of Britain, as indeed she is the ultimate paragon of mermaids in history, the world over.

The vision of a mermaid carved into this seat at the village’s church, St. Senara’s (St Senara being synonymous with ‘Zennor’) is several centuries old, and all-but gave us the idea of what a mermaid looks like, holding her mirror and combing her luscious locks, with all below the belly button being scales. And it’s rare that any clear memorial to one of our stories is right there, at the scene of the narrative, in such a neat package.

The legend runs, in short, that a villager called Matthew Trewhella (imagine Poldark, but prettier) had the most beautiful singing voice, that HE unsuspectingly lured this mermaid – a princess of the ocean, no doubt closely related to Neptune himself – up onto dry land, and won her heart. And it was in St Senara’s one Sunday that the two of them duetted, and the beautiful music they made confirmed to them that they were meant to be together – under the sea. Although much loved in the village, Matthew escorted the beautiful stranger to the shore, and plunged into the Atlantic with her, where they lived long and happy lives, singing in coves and raising a family of fishy children. Long after folk believed Matthew drowned, a sailor docked nearby to reassure everyone that mermaid and Matthew had been seen, and the most beautiful singer ever to sing in St. Senara’s was alive and well.

The folk of Zennor should mark the event with an annual singing contest really, but in lieu of that, Zennor itself may only be a small locality, not offering a week’s worth of activity, just peace and beauty for holidaymakers – but luckily that corner of Cornwall is so packed with stories and locations, certainly those who drive will be able to cover two or three tale locations in one day.

We have yet to book a TALES OF BRITAIN LIVE event for Cornwall, but will be down that way in early June, and hope to update you soon with details of what we can arrange – but as you will see from OUR LIVE PAGE HERE, we will be presenting some of the funniest tales in our book as part of the Bath Comedy Festival this Saturday at 4pm at Widcombe Social Club, so we dearly hope to make some of you laugh there! Mermaid should be advised that the club is only yards from the River Avon, so you should be able to make it.

The Three Bears: Hold The Goldilocks!

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Good gracious and merry Folklore Thursday to all TOB-backers! We reached the coveted 150% funded level, hooray! If you’ve not taken the plunge yet, maybe today you can push our campaign even further, because the more budget we raise, the smoother the book’s journey to your hands will be!

Today’s theme of Nature and Wildlife rather poleaxed us – it could almost comprise any of our 77 tales, or none of them. But the wildlife of Britain is central to one of the most famous stories ever to be remembered from around our nation’s fireplaces, and so today’s tale is THE THREE BEARS!

No Goldilocks? Well, naturally not, she was a disturbingly misogynistic addition much later on, from those famously woman-hating Victorians.

This is a story that was first told to me before I had even said a word in my life, through the Ladybird version illustrated above. But, be honest, has the tale ever made any sense to you? Certainly, it always confused the flip out of me – whose side are we supposed to be on? Surely not the golden-haired housebreaker? From the start, I was not alone in having a distinctive hatred of Goldilocks and her attitude to personal porridge ownership and furniture vandalism, and yet it seemed we were supposed to CHEER when she managed to escape her due punishment at the hands of the poor three bears?

When you consider that Goldilocks was a syrupy distortion of the then-popular version of the tale spun by Bristol poet Robert Southey in 1837 – in which the interloper was a wicked old crone – we’re beginning to get closer to a working story. But even then, Southey was villainising women unduly, as the oldest version of the tale which has been tracked down by folklorists is SCRAPEFOOT & THE THREE BEARS, in which the antagonist is a fox! Or even, THE fox, a recurrent figure in European folklore, Reynard, a wily sly anti-hero and star of many a tale. In fact, even the first version of this story we can identify still makes the fox a vixen, so it was always a female villain, but our Scrapefoot aims to make up for centuries of misogyny connected to this tale, by becoming a male villain.

It really is astonishing how returning Scrapefoot to his starring role solves all the problems of the Goldilocks story, and brings the tale back to life like never before. Besides making the fox a chap, we also took the liberty of NEVER referring to any of the bears by gender, but only by size – the stereotypical family roles of Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Baby Bear being one of those spots of Victorian moralising we can dispose of as well. So in our retelling, we have three friendly British bears, whose trust in their fellow beings is exploited by a despicable (but perhaps, slightly lovable) criminal fox. And we’re very proud of it.

But how does it fit into our format of 77 tales based in the landscape? Has any archaeologist ever managed to track down the site of the Three Bears’ castle, perhaps some Bronze Age bowls with evidence of porridge in them, next to a broken rudimentary chair? Now, don’t be silly. But bears were once native to this island, and archaeologists have found evidence of the native Eurasian Brown Bear over the years. That’s why we chose one of those sites connected to British bears – three ancient brochs in Keiss, Caithness, up in the chilly far north, as our Goldilocks (or rather, Scrapefoot) location. Sadly we’ve not been able to visit, as yet, but they look like interesting places to explore if you are that far north, and as the teeth of wild bears were found here, ceremonially inserted into the brocks’ foundations by the original builders, you can open your imagination a little to consider what the area must have been like when the brochs were originally constructed, and bears did roam the forests of Britain. Just looking for a nice sit down.

One week and two days to go until our SPECIAL LIVE SHOW for Bath Comedy Festival! We really hope to see you there, only 5mins from Bath Spa station, come along and have a laugh, or even more than one!

The Green Bird of Bala: VENGEANCE WILL COME!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

A chirpy Folklore Thursday to you all, faithful folksters – let’s see if we can nudge our total up to 150% this sunny spring day!

The chosen theme of BIRD FOLKLORE does not chime with a huge array of our 77 tales – birds crop up in tales, fluttering around the Babes in the Wood or having a wart cut off their ear, like the Eagle of the Green Glen – and of course, Rab Burns’ Robin Redbreast has his own Xmas tale. But the most magical bird in our collection is the star of VENGEANCE WILL COME, and although two weeks ago we posted a special snowy update on this Welsh legend, it went by the wayside as everyone was out sledging, so we’ll repost our freezing retelling here!

We try not to give too many of our tales away, but it was so heartbreaking when our visit to Frome’s Merlin Theatre for World Book Day was postponed by the Beast From the East, that this video was intended as a stopgap until we managed to reschedule. The intense pain of being out in this weather recording the whole thing lasted for about five minutes after we came in by the fire, so somebody had better enjoy the results!

© GraemeArnott.com – but you can already see that.

We’re so proud of our nasty, topical retelling of the legend of the flooding of King Tegid Foel’s Old Town Bala into the Lake Bala we can visit in Snowdonia today – in fact, returning to the source material and being reminded, for instance, that the harpist protagonist was originally a MAN just seems so, so wrong now, that role makes much less sense when male. This is the downtrodden musician whose life is saved by the beautiful and mysterious green bird of Bala, who sings ‘VENGEANCE WILL COME!’ and is proved right when the revolting Tegid Foel gets his desserts.

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

There are so many versions of this story, and as we’ve mentioned before, so many sunken towns and villages in Wales, but it’s the presence of the bird which made us settle for this distinct tale of Llyn Tegid, as the best version of all. Not a ghost, or a god, but a bird saves the day, and has this special insight into what fate awaits the wicked and powerful… and it mocks the patriarchy and saves the innocent via birdsong! That’s what makes it one of the most beautiful tales in our treasury, as well as one of the funniest, and nastiest all at once – as you will have gleaned, if you watched the freezing video!

It’s because it’s so disgusting and silly that we’ll be featuring it in our first ever live storytelling show for the BATH COMEDY FESTIVAL on the first Saturday of April! Check out the Facebook event HERE, and tell everyone you know who fancies a good laugh and some exclusive folktale retellings from Brother Bernard and Sister Sal! It’s a particularly silly and gross, bogey-festooned selection of tales, so make sure you have your lunch well before 4pm!

According to this postcard, Bala also has its own monster! But come on, Bala, you already have this tale and Taliesin’s origin story, and Snowdonia has a lot more to offer, so stop being greedy.

THE HEDLEY KOW: Money Can’t Buy You Happiness

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Happy Folklore Thursday to all the lovely folkies in the Tales of Britain campaign!

It’s actually quite nice to have such a relatively uncomplicated theme this week – MONEY. And the first of our 77 tales to come to mind is also one of the first we retold many years ago – THE HEDLEY KOW.

©John D Batten

The tale’s simplicity is one of its many appeals, and to summarise it runs the risk of giving the entire plot away, but we hope our retelling has its own warmth and funny spirit to it. In brief, a lovely old lady, poor as you like, discovers a pot of gold while setting off home up the hill in the village of Hedley, west of Newcastle, and her joy at the discovery can’t even be lessened by the further shocking development that the gold… well, we’ll leave it at that for now. Suffice to say it’s one of the neatest ways to spread the message that being rich does not equal being BEST, and that there’s pleasure to be found in life without material gains. An obvious point, but when made via the lovely character of this tale’s protagonist, meeting all her misfortunes with a warm Geordie cry of happiness, a point worth making again and again.

It would be a lie to say we’ve walked the highways and byways of Hedley-on-the-Hill in Northumberland, let alone found a pot of gold or been pounced on by The Hedley Kow – sadly we don’t have the budget to travel to every corner of the island, ironically given the theme of the tale in question. But one day, the aim is to visit every single one of them, even if there’s not a huge list of things to do in every tale location…

Budgets remain a thorny issue – yes, we’re nearly at 150% funded, but that’s on a dramatically reduced publishing plan, and with publishing not being the most rapid of businesses, the ambition of getting this book out to you all by early summer is becoming increasingly… ambitious. As author, I have already waived every penny of the budget excess, wanting it all ploughed back into making the best book possible. And that is also very simply done – we have provided perfect design templates, art has been suggested free of charge, a brilliant designer in our campaign community has even offered cover concepts without asking for a penny! But budget issues do keep being raised, so please, keep on spreading the word, pitching in if you can with pre-orders, because the higher our total gets, the easier it will be to make this book as perfect as it can be for you all – and get it out as soon as possible. We can always hope for deluxe editions in the future, but for now – but who needs goldleaf paper-edging and full colour plates? The 77 tales we have to offer you are riches enough.

Tales of Britain Princesses & The Saffron Cockatrice

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Happy Folklore Thursday AND International Women’s Day, folkie folks!

Whatever you think about Disney’s ‘Princesses’, as you can see, our 77 tales offer our own pantheon of women heroes. We’re not short of legendary Queens, Princesses and powerful protagonists aplenty – one of our core drives has always been to make up for millennia of damsels in distress being handed over to male heroes as rewards, or nymphs being shamelessly assaulted by errant knights (who then get let off by Queen Guinevere). But, having an equal intention of showing maximum respect to the source material, there’s no denying that with Arthur, Jack, Robin et al, male protagonists still outnumber them – just about. Sometimes it’s brain-bruisingly tricky to retell an existing legend respectfully, while defusing or re-contextualising the swathes of inherent misogyny which can sometimes be the driver of the whole plot. The issues we mentioned in last week’s Tamlane blog are also part of the puzzle of reviving these myths for a modern audience.

Some have demanded that our book has full 50-50 gender equality, but it’s impossible to do that without being tokenistic, and/or tearing apart the traditions of the stories we’re telling. Also, it’s much easier to represent more women in the stories than it is to show the same respect to people of other sexualities or ethnicities – those issues just don’t arise in our tales, at least not directly, and to crowbar them in would come across as the weakest desperation to tick boxes. I hope the whole book reeks of tolerance and inclusivity, and stresses that Britain is a mongrel country where all are welcome, no matter where on the spectrum their gender, sexuality, or racial roots may lie. But gender is the main issue we can act on.

Therefore, where any character or protagonist needn’t necessarily be either gender, we’ve tried to use the opportunity to even things up a bit – without, I hope, falling into the usual traps of turning every non-male character into a ‘feisty’ manic pixie dreamgirl-type. Certainly, none of the above ‘Princesses’ could be described as such. Which brings us to THE SAFFRON COCKATRICE.

We’ll openly admit that our rather silly retelling of this Essex legend was one of the two or three which our copy-editor marked for deletion – which we strongly refuse to do, as it’s one of our favourites, and more to the point, a recurring favourite of girls in our audience – because our hero is a young woman who shows up all the men around her. Those familiar with the tale may be taken aback at this, and we apologise to Saffron Walden residents who take offence at their local legend facing a gender-swap, but we’re proud of the way it works now.

The thing is, complete transparency here, this collection of 77 tales does contain the same story at least 5 times – certainly, following the rules of your average academic ‘folklorist’: there’s a monster terrorising the neighbourhood, and a protagonist comes along and, with some quirk of technique or magic, they vanquish them. Sometimes the hero lives, sometimes they die, sometimes it’s a dragon or wyrm, sometimes it’s… well, a cross between a chicken and a snake, but they break down to the same shape tale. However, those five tales have all been given vastly different flavours for Tales of Britain, and we chose The Saffron Cockatrice to make the key differentiation, of portraying the slayer as a woman rather than a man.

It’s not a widely known story outside of Essex, but the hero has always been known as ‘The Glass Knight’, whose key triumph was in shining their armour so well, the basilisk’s killer glare rebounds back on it, and the day is saved. When we first began retelling the legend, we made the hero a victim of bullying, a wannabe knight whose efforts were sneered at by other knights until they proved the best of them all – and making the protagonist female just seemed to make that dynamic work all the better. What, a girl? Slay a monster? JUST WATCH.

Actually, there is one further quite silly alteration we made to this legend, but to find out what it is, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait until the book is in your hands, we don’t want to give everything away. All we’ll say is, with our misogynist-trouncing hero ‘Sir’ Billie vanquishing the Saffron Cockatrice, making the streets safe for tourists, the place is now clearly one of the most gorgeous places to visit in Essex! And we would say this recommendation is offered as some recompense to locals who are offended that their hero is now a woman, but then, if it really bothers you, we’re not sure you deserve recompense. Long live ‘Sir’ Billie, say we!

VENGEANCE WILL COME!

Thursday, 1 March 2018

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

I was supposed to be presenting our first ever schools event this afternoon, for Frome College at the well-monikered Merlin Theatre! But, the snow has put paid to that, and so poor Brother Bernard risked his fingertips shouting in the cold like this.

Hopefully we can reschedule soon, and please do email bernard@talesofbritain.com if you would like to host a similar event for your school or organisation! Our tales offer lessons in geography, history, culture and above all, hopefully laughs galore.

Hapus dydd dewi sant!

The Rose & The Root: Tam-Lin & The YA Conundrum

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

A glorious Gardening-themed Folklore Thursday to you, green-fingered folkies!

Although it’s snowing so heavily our World Book Day event at Frome College and the Merlin Theatre has been cancelled, and it’s St David’s Day, so a tale about Scottish summer flowers could not be less apposite. Nonetheless, NOW READ ON…

Our copy-edited manuscript of 77 tales with tourist guides was just being tweaked, reworked and perfected, and we were up to Number 17 when we noticed the theme the sage gods of Folklore Thursday had chosen – and ‘Tamlane of Carterhaugh Wood’, also known as ‘Tam-Lin’, certainly fitted the bill for this week’s investigation.

©Flibertijibbeth

The story is one of the more continually manifest in our culture out of the 77 – its unique flavour of romantic mysticism has ensured the plot has been recycled many times, from the brilliant Benjamin Zephaniah update linked above, to the really quite dodgy 1970 scare-free horror film ‘Tam-Lin’, starring a very young Ian Lovejoy.

In short, our protagonist Janet is gifted with land by her father, which includes Carterhaugh Wood, which can still be found just north of the Scottish border, in Selkirk. But while exploring her new property, Janet spots a red rose tree, with a white horse tethered to it, and finding it impossible to resist the roses, she is accosted by Tamlane, a handsome once-human faerie prisoner, and they fall in love. Soon Janet discovers that she is pregnant and has to dig up a root of the rose tree and eat it to get rid of the…

This is the point we had reached when we learned of the Gardening theme, and also the point where the copy-editor had written something along the lines of ‘There is no way this book can be published for children.’ To which our reply has to be, ‘Fair enough, but that’s why we’re publishing this with Unbound, rather than a machine-like pedantically age-targeted children’s publisher.’ TALES OF BRITAIN is intended for the Mythology shelves, the Travel shelves, the British Culture shelves, and we aim from start to finish to entertain the widest audience possible, as much of the family as we can, but you can’t cater for everyone with 77 stories of such breadth and wild stylings.

There are few tales as problematic as Tamlane’s. Janet is a wonderful hero, not stereotypically ‘feisty’, but strong and pragmatic – there’s no question of her being presented as in any way not in command of her own fate, but she falls in love and deals with the consequences herself. If anything, the myth has always been a welcome gender subversion of the clichéd knight errand story, so in this case, it’s the young woman who saves the beautiful man from the forces of darkness. But then, the plot does rely on the two of them going from 0-300mph in no time at al, romantically and sexually, and that’s not an easy thing to present before a modern audience – how do magic forests affect the question of consent? And we didn’t want to cutely euphemise what happens between them, she gets pregnant, so although of course our retelling does not turn into an erotic epic (there are plenty of those out there), there’s no patronising attempt to cover up sexuality here – just as there isn’t in our version of The Canterbury Tales’ Miller’s Tale. We know it’s more likely to prick the ire of ‘moral guardians’ than the oceans of blood-spillage in so many other stories, but that sex gets more complaints than violence is only one instance of the madness of ‘moral guardians’.

The tale does of course get even trickier, it’s true – when Tamlane learns why Janet wants to eat the root, and instead convinces her to break his spell, and be with him. How to present his desire to raise the child without it seeming controlling, gaslighting or worst of all, to be making any kind of ‘pro-life’ statement? Janet has no doubt that she has every right to eat the root, without shame. But… love rears its head, and she decides to fight for it.

There’s nothing in this story that you won’t find in yer average Young Adult novel – teenage pregnancy is hardly shocking to anyone of any age today. We believe we’ve approached the problems the tale throws up with the utmost taste and careful wording, to try and tell the story as true to its source and clearly as possible, while making the characters relatable to a 21st century audience, respecting your intelligence but also enjoyably communicating the romance and magic of the legend. The only one who has to come out of it badly is the Queen of the Faeries, but she was planning to kill Tamlane, so she deserves her defeat at the end.

©FaeryFolklorist

And so, let there be no doubt, the vast majority of these 77 tales are as fun for tiny tots as they are for centenarians and everyone in between – we want little kids to be able to pick the book up and enjoy their favourite stories (after all, we certainly read a lot of stuff not aimed at our age group when we were little readers), but TALES OF BRITAIN is not aimed at ‘the children’s market’. Because if targeting little readers means leaving out a part of our folklore as crucial and eternally bewitching as the story of Tamlane and Janet, there’s simply no point. Not least as it provides us with one of the most evocative touristy days out, with Tamlane’s Well a real destination in the Scottish border country, in many ways as lush and enticing now as it was when Janet first went exploring.

Please pre-order your copy of this roadmap of British folklore today, is you haven’t – or tell a friend if you already have! The stronger our campaign, the more beautifully our book will bloom this summer. And our campaign is always growing…!

Happy St David’s Day – there’ll be more to come today on that score!

©Peter Nevins

Welcome To The Greenwood

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

O valiant Tales-of-Britain-backers, I hope the sun is shining through the leaves with you this Folklore Thursday!

Tree folklore is such a fish in a barrel for our collection of 77 tales – although many of the most obvious candidates, like The Apple Tree Man and The Whikey Tree, have already been blogged for your reading pleasure.

So which figure from British mythology do we most associate with hiding in trees, becoming one with the greenwood? Here’s a clue: his name rhymes with the last sentence.

My early illustration for nephew Natey’s original christening book.

We have also already blogged about Robin Hood, when giving away the free (and very first written) story, Robin’s Arrow, set in Ludlow – and he popped up again just last week, in Babes In The Wood. The former tale was mainly removed from the collection because of the anachronism of putting Robin and King John together, when Robin’s own stories favour the more accepted later setting of the reign of King Edward II, drawing on the oldest Gestes we have.

We’ve made no bones about the fact that we sincerely hope enough people enjoy our book, that a second volume will become possible (including Robin’s Arrow, anachronism and all), which will give scope for further episodes from the Merrie Men saga. But for this collection, there are three distinct Hood adventures – Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire is the site for Robin’s first meeting with Friar Tuck, then there is the central episode, of Robin versus the Sherrif of Nottingham and the Silver Arrow Contest. And finally, sad and weird tale though it is, the story of Robin’s murder at Kirklees Abbey completes our original trilogy here. These stories take in sites all around Yorkshire as well as Nottingham Castle, but Sherwood Forest is always there, linking all the sites, as once it spread across numerous North Country counties.

The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.

Lovers of Robin Hood will need no encouragement to explore Sherwood, some effort has been made to aid the imagination for visitors, and a key attraction is The Major Oak, which, being at least 800 years old and propped up by scaffolding, does have a genuinely thrilling claim to have provided shelter for any historical inspiration for the Robin Hood legend. Medieval outlaws surely knew this tree, whether you accept that there was a single ur-Robin whose deeds went on to mutate into the stories we know, or not.

There are so many great Robin Hood yarns, we only hope we get to retell further ones in years to come. But that won’t happen unless this first volume of Tales of Britain is a success, so any help you can offer, in spreading the word and increasing pre-sales (and please let us know if you are keen to stage a Tales of Britain storytelling event near you!), it will all help to power this new generation of British folktales. Steal from the rich if you have to. We are poor.

You know it’s true. Everything I do… I do it for you.

Babes In The Wood: Suitable For Minors?

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Happy childhood-themed Folklore Thursday, lovely little TOB-backers!

These signs are proudly displayed in the Norfolk village of Griston and town of Watton, testifying to the areas near Wayland Woods as the site of the original events which gave us the story of the Babes In The Wood. For all the tale’s development as a fun pantomime every Xmas, all the added jollity of the babes being taken in by Robin Hood & His Merrie Men, what we’re dealing with here is a truly tragic news story of the 16th century, which has, quite perversely, persisted in our culture to the point that it’s now a family entertainment. But to return to the original source material does present a challenge for a collection like ours…

It seems bizarre that we haven’t blogged yet about Babes In The Wood, I was sure it was one of our first blogs, so fascinating is its place among our 77 stories. But today’s ‘Childhood’ theme does present the perfect opportunity to take a closer look. At some point in the mid-1500s, the master of Griston Hall died, leaving his heir and daughter in the charge of his brother – who apparently decided he’d rather pay a couple of local toughs to take the two small children out into Wayland Woods and dispose of them, leaving him master of Griston in his own right. The gist of the original broadside ballad published in 1595 seems to suggest that at least he didn’t get away with it, and never got to enjoy his ill-gotten gains, but any which way, the babes were never seen again.

Over the years, many changes were made to make the story more palatable for the likes of Disney, from heavenly angels who take the babes up to heaven to the aforementioned Robin Hood plot – but our version tries to offer the full array of possible endings to the story, rather than just bowdlerising and softening the tragic source material. Returning to our theme last week, of the tragedy of Tristan & Isolde, the vast majority of our 77 stories are packed with laughs and fun, trying to rouse the spirit of Rik Mayall’s Grim Tales and so on, but there’s really no room for added gags in Babes In The Wood, and it’s impossible to forget that ultimately, we’re dealing with a real murder mystery.


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

Problems like this are to the fore at the moment, as the full manuscript of Tales of Britain has just come back to me after its first copy-editing. I have to admit, although this is my 5th book, I have been a bag of nerves at the idea of these retellings being judged by a stranger. The retellings in our live shows, and many many private storytellings with friends and family, has always suggested that what we’ve done is great, reviving our national lore in a gripping, funny, entertaining way, but besides the first feedback from our publisher, Unbound boss John Mitchinson, that TOB’s retellings are ‘genial and engaging’, this is our first real independent feedback on how the book will be received. And although manifold stresses – such as being on the verge of handing back the final proofs of Soupy Twists – has prevented me from diving into the full copy-edit MS, I’m very glad to say the overall response is:

‘This title is enormous fun – swashbuckling, energetic and amazingly broad in range. I enjoyed the way it’s structured to run through the ages: this makes it a history of Britain too, in a quirky sort of way. It was also good to realise which of our classic fairy tales are home-grown, given that so many of them were imported. Overall it’s a huge achievement – congratulations!’

Of course, this warm encouragement does go on to pinpoint areas for improvement, which is very appreciated, and we’ll now be doing all we can to tweak and perfect the MS in every way. However, one issue I’d like to share here is that 4 of the 77 tales were highlighted as potentially worth dropping or swapping – because they were too slight, too much of a squib, or in some way lacked cohesion. I am going to do all I can to obey the copy-editing suggestions all along, every single change which makes it a better book has to be heeded (for instance, from the very start, as you can see from all the free tale samples we’ve shared with you, each tale has had its own little rhyme to bookend the text, inspired by Rupert annuals, and tied in to the original book title, ‘Brother Bernard’s Big Book of British Ballads’, but they’ve been suggested as superfluous, so out they go. We can always use them in some other form, if we get to do further volumes or special editions, which we dearly hope we will), but in this case, I think with 77 tales on offer, a few are always going to be each individual reader’s favourites, and a few least favourites. With such a breadth of story style on offer, it’s impossible to please everyone with every tale. I’m sure that’s the case here. And so although those 4 nominated tales will receive extra attention to improve them, we won’t be changing or dropping them, keeping the 77 tales intact, especially after promising them to you all for so long!

But the other key midge in the anticeptic is the question of whether the book is SUITABLE FOR MINORS – an apposite issue for today’s theme. One of the main appeals of Unbound for this book was that we could escape the hidebound, robotic pigeonholing of children’s publishers, where nothing gets commissioned unless it’s mercilessly targeted to some kind of Key Stage demographic, and free expression be blowed. Kid’s publishing really is depressingly limiting these days, publishers terrified of anything that doesn’t fit into a tiny box. The fact that, personally, I had seen An American Werewolf In London and every episode of The Young Ones by the age of 6 and have turned out relatively sane, is one of the many things that means my blood cools when children are targeted in this way. Nonetheless, there is a duty to the book-buying public, and so for Tales of Britain, we’re ultimately talking about a Horrible Histories age group, whatever that is – and it certainly includes adults of all ages. But although the tales are intended above all to be shared with all ages read aloud, for personal reading purposes, there’s no point in trying to cater for very small children, not when there are saucy mermaids, vicious murders and a fair deal of scatalogical naughtiness included. Children are far tougher than any publisher dares to admit, but we’ll include warnings for any particularly rude or scary story, and try and aim securely at older kids who like a laugh, and lovers of folktales of all ages above. Hopefully that will allow these tales to come through to you intact, and in fact, all the better for not trying to cater to the very young, offering a slightly more sophisticated approach here and there (basically, less usage of the word ‘poo’).

Nothing could be as scary as the idea of plunging into the copy-edited manuscript anyway, but that is precisely what is happening today. Wish me luck, and I’ll do all I can to make these 77 tales perfect, for most ages – albeit for just a handful of stories, babes may need to be protected.

Tristan & Isolde: Britain’s Greatest Love Story?

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Happy lovey-dovey Folklore Thursday, sexed-up Tales-backers!

As fans of racist tunesmith Dicky Wagner will know well, Cornwall is the home of perhaps the greatest love story in mythology – those Italian kids in Verona be blowed. The legend of Tristan & Isolde is also a rather good testcase for the variety you’ll find in our collection of 77 tales…

As we’re proud to repeat, our greatest inspiration in our approach to telling entertaining stories is the silly anarchy of Rik Mayall’s Grim Tales or Terry Jones’ fairytales… but if every last story was played for laughs, it would be to do a disservice to sad legends like Babes in the Wood, The Kintraw Doonies, and indeed, Tristan & Isolde. Nobody would care about the tragedy of the love between this 6th century Cornish Knight and Irish Princess if we didn’t take it seriously, and so you’ll find our reworking of the old love story a hopefully genuinely moving romantic weepie, amidst the oddities and exciting yarns we have on offer.

The legend also presented something of an interesting quandary, as much of the action takes place, according to tradition, in Tintagel. Your author has a significant birthday coming up this summer, and can’t wait to spend it exploring the area, wondering whether these were the walls from which Tristan jumped after his uncle King Mark found out about what his wife Isolde had been getting up to with young Tristan in the forest.

But as you have probably already clocked, Tintagel is far more obviously celebrated for its dubious links to Arthurian myth, as the site of his actual conception, and that’s the main theme of any tourist visit – and we have chosen it in our collection as the site for The Sword In The Stone. (However, any Arthurian experts in Wales or Scotland harrumphing that THEY live near the real site where such-and-such an Arthur legend took place can relax – we also provide a list of alternative claimants to Camelot, Camelan, the castle of Uther Pendragon etc.)

We do stress the links between Tintangel and Tristan & Isolde, but plumped for Fowey as the location for our retelling, as the other place you can visit to feel shivers of connection to the 1,500-year-old doomed couple – because this is where you will find the Tristan Stone.

We blush to recall being told off by friends in recent years for urging them to sign an online petition against the moving of the Tristan Stone from a roadside outside Fowey when the 6th century gravemarker has been moved many times over the centuries, and has no ancient right to be wherever it is – there is no ‘Dark Age’ Knight buried beneath it, let alone two long-dead lovers with entwined hazel and honeysuckle trees growing from their shared coffin. Nonetheless, the inscription, translated as ‘Drustan lies here, of Cunomorus the son, with the lady Ousilla’ gives imaginative folkies a far stronger conviction of a potential historical basis for the tale than many legends can claim – Arthur especially.

Keep spreading the word about the first British folktale collection in decades, and until next week, this is one for all the lovers out there. Take it away, Dickie…

The King of Cats & Folkie Days Out!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Happy Folklore Thursday, TOB-backers!

Due to annoyances involving hospitals and other unpleasant things, we had no time to wait for the Folklore Thursday theme this week, and so we’re very relieved that the theme is ‘favourite tales’ as that gives us over 77 to choose from! We don’t really have any one favourite, but this is always a joy, so we’ve gone for one of the most nebulous and slight tales in our collection – THE KING OF CATS!

You’re very probably well aware of this little squib about Dildrum and his surprised owners, and although we’re confident we’ve put a very entertaining spin on it, we won’t bother summarising what happens here. But we’ve plumped for Lancashire – with no specific area of the county – as the location for the story, as it’s often pride of place in Lancashire collections, despite being popular in many other regions.

So we can’t really specify any one ‘folktale day out’ to compliment this wee tale – one of the very few without a definite location – but conversely, there are places in the UK we could recommend that have no specific tale attached!

Which brings us to today’s request for all the folksters out there – Can you suggest any folklore-connected places in Britain that we should be recommending? Although the manuscript is currently being copy-edited as we type, we’re keen to add a small section at the back of other places to visit with folklore interest. Here’s a couple we’re already going to include:

An afternoon – well, a pleasant hour – was spent here at the Cambridge Museum a few years ago, during research for official Douglas Adams biography The Frood, and this summer we’re planning a special Tales Of Britain event in the city (hopefully at Heffer’s). So far, planned events will be taking place in Bath, Ludlow, London, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Cardiff – but PLEASE do get in touch if you would like us to visit your town or city too, and we can work out a way to fund it and make it happen.

We feel a little guilty that the tales we discovered or have been recommended in Cambridgeshire were all almost wholly identical to tales found elsewhere, so we’re still forever on the hunt for unique Cambridge stories (if we do get to have a second volume), but in the meantime, recommending a trip to the museum is something! It won’t fill an afternoon, but there’s so much to wonder at in Cambridge you won’t get bored.

And then, for those who are able to travel far up to the northernost regions of the island, the Highland Folk Museum looks like an incredible place to visit, and one where we dearly hope to perform our stories one day. Particularly if it’s as sunny as in the photo above!

So, those are two suggestions for a ‘Further Folky Places To Visit’ boxout at the end of the book, if you know of any others – and remember, they have to be unconnected to any specific story – please do let us know, and hopefully we’ll be able to sneak it in.

Over to you!

FOOD, FAMINE & FOLKLORE

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Another foody Folklore Thursday, another Folklore Thursday of food…

It was unsurprising that the first tale which came to mind when we heard about today’s foody theme was THE KNUCKER – but that would be because we already wrote that blog last September! So instead, we turn to the complete absence of food, and a tale which has been here in plain sight since we launched TALES OF BRITAIN at Glastonbury last August.

CADOC & THE MOUSE, besides being given away in PDF form on Twitter & Facebookbefore we launched, was selected as our Excerpt tale right here on the Unbound site – click back (not yet, we’re writing here!) and click the excellently camouflaged ‘Excerpt’ tab, and you can read it in full… Or of course you could just click here.

That said, our ‘finished’ 77 tales are currently being copy-edited, and we have no idea how any of them will emerge from the process – we’re trusting the folk going through our manuscript are lovely, and know a well-told tale when they read one, so hopefully little will change!

Cadoc & The Mouse is the tale of how a clever and kind-hearted lad saved a Welsh community from famine, discovering a secret horde of grain thanks to a tiny mouse – and so there’s no denying that it’s all about food, in a very intense way. We chose the tale as our Excerpt not because it’s the best of the 77, but it’s just a short, punchy and rather lovely little yarn – and in fact, in a way it’s very unrepresentative of our stories, in that it centres on a ‘Saint’…

The Welsh saint Cadoc was born in Monmouthshire at the end of the 5th century, and went on to become one of the most important figures in the Christian church of the time. But tales of saints was one category we were quite keen to minimise in this collection, because there are so many sagas about Christian martyrs, and so many of them cynically build on far older pagan legends; in the 21st century, we see it as our job to try to redress the balance after centuries of religious distortion – all those tiresome folktales about people playing cards with the devil on the sabbath being turned into construction materials, and similar soft-headed stories designed to keep the parish flock docile and obedient. As a proud salopian with a very Christian upbringing, I’ve attended services in tribute to St. Mildburh at Stoke St Milborough, and if we’re lucky enough to get to publish a second volume, there are some courageous women protagonists within the lists of British saints, but as a rule, we do want to draw the line between ancient folklore and Christian teachings.

Interestingly (yes it is), there are other legends pertaining to Cadoc as a food provider – the grain stores in his parents’ house was said to be magically filled on his birth. But the tale of his great rodential discovery at Coed Fenny Fach, near the village of Llanspyddid, as you can see from the photo above, does tie in to a wonderful spot on the map, well worth a Sunday outing to see if you can find any mice to follow. And if anything, by showing Cadoc as rational and scientifically minded in the way he saves the community from starvation, the tale is all about thinking for yourself, analysing evidence, and in short, quite the opposite of religious propaganda.

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

No Clothes Please, We’re British

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Happy Folklore Thursday, Tale-Lovers! Have you told anyone today that we’ll soon be launching the first full British folklore collection in GENERATIONS? Blow some minds, spread the word!

Now, with today’s Folklore Thursday theme being CLOTHES, we hope this doesn’t count as facetiousness two weeks running, but the first of our 77 tales to leap to mind was one of our very favourite – LADY GODIVA. If ever there was a posho who had no need of fine gowns and accessories, it was surely this West Midlands naturist-cum-anarchist.

There aren’t many British legends which still remain in the popular memory quite as well as this life-affirming little anecdote about saxon politics and mariage guidance issues. Lady Godiva was one of the original ‘social justice warriors’ – that may be why we adore her so much.

One quite smelly question we’ve been asked now and then is whether we have travelled to every single tale location in the book, from Shetland to Jersey and back, to which the answer is, of course, ‘if only’, with a hefty dollop of ‘hopefully one day, when we find some gold’. But Coventry’s streets are ones we have tramped in recent times. Living in Bath for over 14 years has probably spoiled us, but we can’t pretend, in our original journey which took us way out from the far-flung industrial suburbs into the city centre, that the surroundings and architecture quite set our heart alight – thanks for that, Mr. Hitler. But as you reach the top of town, and see what remains of the ancient Coventry, you get some inkling of the Mercian settlement where Godiva rode, even though her Coventry predated even the Cathedral by many a century.

The city is rightly proud of their brave saxon Queen, and never could the story of her cheeky stand against exploitative patriarchal nobs resound as pleasingly as it does after so many years of Austerity. We’re not here to debate the story’s historicity, but the sheer Carry-On style Britishness of the tale, as the wife of the saxon noble Elfric forces him to retreat on his latest pitiless taxation plans with a canter in the nuddy, is one of the virtues which has kept it alive for longer than many saxon yarns – partly because there are sadly few signs of its humanitarian message becoming irrelevant. Although the later puritan additions, such as poor old Peeping Tom LOSING HIS EYES because he dared to squint out of the window as the Lady rode past in the pink (admittedly, he did need a lesson or two in consent), is the kind of sick moralising the legend can certainly do without. We’ll have none of that in our collection! Nudity yes, puritan judgement, no.

Especially when times are hard, the national tug of war between the haves and have-never-had-and-now-have-even-lesses can become a bit simplistic and binary, as if having plenty in the bank automatically makes you one of a cruel elite, but Godiva was one of the first rulers in the British narrative to show some acknowledgement of the suffering of those below her in the pecking order – and without all the kerfuffle of raging in storms and going mad that King Leir went through to learn the same lesson. Certainly, in 2018, Britain needs more Lady Godivas. In clothes though, obviously. It’s chilly out.

Tell someone about TALES OF BRITAIN today!

A Hard Day’s Knight

Thursday, 11 January 2018

We’re very glad to see that this week’s theme is WORK because what could be harder WORK than being a Knight? What’s the worst job you ever had? Did it involve slaying dragons, or indeed having your head cut off? No, well, there we are then. Hardest job in the world, gallant Knight.

Okay, most tangential theming ever, we know, but the truth is we couldn’t hold out any longer on singling out GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT as our tale of the week – as the action takes place over two New Year’s Eves, we should have blogged about it last week really, and now we’ve seen the brand new Adventure Time episode SEVENTEEN, based on the legend, we can’t hold it in any longer!

The Arthurian New Year tale of Gawain & The Green Knight needs little summarising – but anyway, the giant leafy antagonist shows up in Camelot in the middle of the festive festivities, and challenges Gawain to a head-cutting-off competition, which he honours a year later, travelling to the Green Knight’s glade, which legendarily, and in our version, is reputed to be Lud’s Church, near Leek in Staffordshire. Oh, and before the showdown, Gawain carefully avoids having his chivalry eroded by the temptations of his hostess in Castle Hautdessert, Lady Bertilak, in full Michael-Palin-and-Carol-Cleveland mode…

In the Adventure Time extrapolation Seventeen, Finn’s birthday is spoiled by the arrival of a mighty green knight who gives him a bloody challenge… and who turns out to be a very famiuliar foe to fans of the show.

We were particularly pleased to see Adventure Time reference this Arthurian yarn, as its own line-treading between kid’s show and mind-blowing art and frankly filthy comedy is something we can definitely identify with – and especially when it comes to the Gawain legend, which is a tough one to retell, for younger readers/listeners, being heavily concerned with adulterous sexual temptation. They skipped that in Adventure Time (no Lumpy Space Princess shenanigans), but we won’t.

The division between sex, and violence, and scatology is odd. Of course a hero can slice up any number of foes with a sword, and that’s all gravy for the little ones, but bawdy matters? The pursed lips seem to hover closer in the air.

However, we’re not bowdlerising our national treasury for anyone – have no fear, mermaids will still lure sailors with their fishy charms, Godiva will still be starkers, Guinevere will still lie with Lancelot: our mythology is steeped in how’s-your-dad, as it is with violence, and a certain degree of poo, too. There’s no reason why any of these themes should prevent our tales from being shared with the whole family, no matter what their age. We’ll make it clear if a tale is too scary for toddlers though…

Adventure Time has been brilliant at bridging the gap between adult weirdness and children’s fantasy, and it’s truly heartbreaking that the show is now rolling out its final episodes. The fact that one of them is devoted to a British folktale just shows all the more what a spectacular work of art Adventure Time is, definitely an inspiration for Tales of Britain’s style, and if we could find an illustrator with half of the simple charm of Pendleton Ward’s creations, that would be perfect. It’s not melodramatic to suggest that the world of Ooo is the single greatest artistic achievement of this century so far, and we’ll miss it dearly.

Oh, and it would be most remiss to blog about Gawain & The Green Knight without mentioning our sister book my Michael Smith, also fully funded, HERE. We have 77 tales in our collection, but this art-focused title is a lavish reimagination of this one key, fondly remembered British story  – a tale of rebirth, new beginnings, deep snow, tempting naughtiness, trust, and honour.

And whether in our retelling, in Smith’s book, or in a US cartoon, it’s a story that is very much still alive.

PRE-ORDER TALES OF BRITAIN BY CLICKING AN OPTION ON THE RIGHT IF YOU’VE NOT!

EDIT: We’ve just been alerted to a reading of Tolkien’s retelling of Gawain & The Green Knight read by our hero, Terry Jones. We’ll have more to say about that great storyteller soon…

New Beginnings: BRUTUS, LAND AHOY!

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

A very very happy 2018 to Britophile story lovers everywhere! But particularly to everyone out there who realises just how momentous it is that we’re all working together this year to launch the first full treasury of British tales in at least 30 years! This is a literary revolution to unite the nation in a love for storytelling, and all of us involved should feel very proud. Right now the process of turning 130k words into a beautiful, fun book is underway, and hopefully pledgers will have their copies ready for the summer!

The very hardest part of the process, however, is going to be PUBLICITY – and we will need all the help we can get to create events all over the UK when the book is out, to talk about it on the radio and hopefully TV, on podcasts, websites and in newspapers and magazines. It’s safest to assume NO publicity machine will exist to make this happen, we are on our own, so anyone out there with any leverage to get Tales of Britain talked about, please please get in touch and help us spread the word. This book is FUN above all, but it’s so important in so many ways, helping to create an inclusive, united Britain in 2018’s horrible political landscape. Hardly anyone realises just how UNIQUE this book is, it will be the one option for anyone seeking a UK story treasury for some time, but it’s all for nothing unless word is spread far and wide. We’ll be harping on about this a LOT as the release nears, so please, please help – we can’t make this book a success without you.

Folklore Thursday’s theme of ‘Beginnings’ is therefore nicely apposite, and we’re shocked to note that we haven’t yet blogged about the very first of our 77 tales – The very origin story of Britain itself, the arrival of the Trojan Prince Brutus, in Totnes!

 

Well, ‘origins’ is a misleading term even for this impossibly ancient myth, as of course these descendants of Trojan War veterans did not set foot on an empty island, and the earliest mythological origin of Britain lies with the giant Albion and her sisters, and the huge ‘native’ giants who were born to them before this island was even… an island. But Brutus’ mad yarn is a fitting opening to our 77 tales, with the London stone allegedly being a chunk of the temple of Diana stumbled upon by the Prince, and Devon’s beautiful Totnes itself boasting the Brutus stone, where the great hero was said to have set the first human foot on British soil. Our retelling hopefully gives more prominence to Brutus’ wife Ignoge, but otherwise, with Brutus’ wiles and his gigantic best pal Corineus’ might, it feels to us like a kind of Asterix story, with all the biffing and splatting that involves.

Brutus’ legend could not provide a more perfect primer for one of the key themes of Tales of Britain – the way in which immigrants have shaped this country from Day One, and that every last one of us is either an immigrant, or descended from one. Corineus’ wrestling with giants like Gogmagog (or Gog AND Magog if you prefer) doesn’t exactly suggest racial harmony has long been part of the British way of life, but the narrative does ask the question – if you consider yourself British, when did your DNA first come to these shores? Are you claiming to be descended from Brutus, or one of his gang? If not, you cannot claim to be a ‘native’ Briton – and if so… you’re A) mad, and B) still descended from immigrants. In fact, nobody should be allowed to use the phrase ‘native’ with reference to British identity – let alone ‘English’ – unless they are at least nine feet tall and live in a castle on a cloud.

Brutus’ bag of nonsense provides the perfect beginning to our book, and hopefully also a good beginning to this whole year, the most important year in British folklore in DECADES. Get excited, we’re revolutionising the British story treasury, and none of it would be happening without you. Here’s to great beginnings, and no endings…

TALES OF BRITAIN: Autumn 2017

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

142%? HAPPY YULE!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LAST YULE!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TALES OF BRITAIN IS GO?!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

TERRIBLY IMPORTANT TALES OF BRITAIN INFORMATION FOLLOWS…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MERRY YULETIDE, FOLKS!

BLACK SHUCK: Urban Myth!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

BEWARE THE CAT!

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for big TALES OF BRITAIN NEWS tomorrow!

BEDDGELERT: A Good Doggy

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLOW, WINDS, AND CRACK YOUR CHEEKS!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARE YOU LOCAL?

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See The Little Goblins…

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tam O’Shanter’s Halloween Dash

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Keep pledging, keep sharing – and keep scaring!

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

*No wonder Rentaghost had McWitch on their books.

BLESSED NEWS!

Friday, 20 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

GreenFire: Herne the Hunter & Windsor Castle

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jersey: The Cream

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Henryson: The Scatalogical Scribe

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Land of the Green Man

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

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

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

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

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

The Wizards Of Radio

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

HAPPY HARVEST FOLKLORE THURSDAY, LOVELY TOB-BACKERS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rik at 60: Duh-Eh-Ah-Duh

HAPPY 60TH BIRTHDAY, would have been nice to say, RIK MAYALL!

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When Rik’s final jog spoiled everything back in 2014, I wrote a blog all too soon, and was honoured to also provide a short Flashheart-themed obit for the BBC, but today seems an auspicious occasion to muse a bit more about missing The Late Dr The Rik Mayall.

A third of a decade without the People’s Poet, and still the comedy community kind of tries not to think about it too much. Not for Rik the outpourings of tribute books which marked the loss of his cohort in the Comedy God Pantheon, Peter Cook – I’ve long known that an official biography, a kind of sensible answer to BIGGER THAN HITLER, BETTER THAN CHRIST was in the works, penned by that book’s ghost-writer, but as we shared a publisher, Preface, which has since ceased to be, I’ve no idea what’s happened to it. It must have been finished a year or two ago unless it was abandoned…

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However, perhaps the hero’s closest mourners are now beginning to come to terms with Rik’s loss, and make comedy out of the situation. Posthumorous tributes are always a problematic gig to contemplate (Rik & Ade’s own snide appearance at Cook’s ‘Posthumorous’ tribute show rather ripped the piss out of the whole concept in the first place). It’s over ten years since the loss of David Hatch, for instance, and I still can’t quite believe there never was any kind of charity revue tribute, given the generations of comics he helped to stardom – and ditto Geoffrey Perkins.

But Rik presents an even trickier challenge when it comes to funny tributes, partly because he will always be an irreplaceable performer, so there’s little point in others performing his material – but also because it’s impossible to think of any other comedian whose output so closely went hand in hand with DEATH, from the very first. Extremely dark poor taste humour obsessed with what Rik liked to call duh-eh-ah-thuh can be a spine-chilling thing once its perpetrator has stopped pissing about and actually carked it. You can’t watch any of Rik’s oeuvre without the macabre coming along to rub your nose in it.

Rik Mayall really, really loved death. Just think of Rik’s whole comedy career from start almost to finish – Rik & Ade’s fledgling Edinburgh Show, Death on the Toilet starred Death himself in the first of many appearances, then Kevin Turvey presented his own special investigation into Death…

…His classic 50’s rock and roll number ‘Oh Gosh I’m So Lonely’ is all about death (and The Unrelated Family will be performing a version at this year’s FUNNY NOISES, comedy music fans!), and then where do you even start with The Young Ones? Besides the boys all dying horribly at the end of numerous episodes, Death showing up again as a poor loser in chess, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Rick trying to kill himself with laxatives, etc., etc. The Comic Strip is packed with death, but especially when Rik & Ade were in charge – Mr Jolly goes without saying. What about Alan B’stard, and his famous fake assassination, complete with nightmare zombie dream sequence? Then to be pedantic about it, Mayall’s many acting roles centred on death and murder, from Bring Me The Head of Mavis Davis to his knock-out role in Murder Rooms – he even played Dominic De’Ath in In The Red. Bottom – again, Richie and Eddie only survived numerous unquestionably lethal attacks by being human cartoon characters, but Richie was always prone, if not to feign a heart attack Steptoe-style or self-strangulation, then to drop to his knees and beg his peer Jehovah to deliver him from eternal damnation. And right up to the end, the shadow of our eternal finale was forefront in his career, with animation ‘Don’t Fear Death’ being one of his last jobs:

You can just see him now, miming hanging himself, toes scampering on the stage, as he LAUGHS WILDLY IN THE FACE OF DEATH. How do you follow that up once he really has turned to earth? I was going to say that one of the few roles where Rik never snuffed it was Lord Flashheart, but even then, in Back & Forth, his Robin Hood ended up with a hundred arrows thunked into his body. His starring movie vehicle was called DROP DEAD FRED, for fuck’s sake. Name me one comic more obsessed with death. I won’t wait.

The death obsessions will always add an extra layer of complication to any kind of tribute to the brilliant chap. But, it seems like finally his friends are beginning to think about how it can be done, with Nigel Planer recently letting slip that he’s working on a final instalment of The Comic Strip Presents’ ‘Four Men’ films, Three Men & A Funeral, which will surely be anything but in good taste, and perhaps will lay many ghosts for all of them. It seems somehow perverse not to laugh about Rik’s death, because it’s so very clearly what he would have wanted, with the utmost sickness.

I was quite pleased to have possibly planted the tiniest seed of a different anti-tribute too, when I attended the Bristol Slapstick Bad News event with Ade & Nigel back in January – as the bootleg linked there should attest (can’t find the actual moment, sorry – somewhere near the end), I had the thrill of my life when my question triggered the biggest woof of laughter from Ade, and the whole theatre, much to my own surprise (rather annoying way to get one of the biggest laughs of your life, but there we are). In the Q&A section, I posited the idea of new Bad News by saying something along the lines of: ‘Do you ever think about what the Bad News guys are up to now, and dare I ask, would Colin’s death not be more of a boon to the surviving members than a hindrance?’ The huge laugh arrived round about the word ‘boon’, and Ade didn’t wallow too long in the possibilities, but it seems such a crime not to have Vim, Den and Spider reunite to remind themselves just how much they despised Colin. We can only hope.

In the aftermath of his death, it was impossible to think any of these things out loud, because in the forefront was the stunned realisation that THE RIK was a husband, a father, a brother and a son, and even he couldn’t make the reality of sudden death funny. But that huge laugh at the idea of being glad that Colin is dead is a wonderful indicator, that the time has come to slip off the black armband and celebrate Rik in the right spirit.

Without wishing to turn this blog into self-promotion (Moles gig plug aside), Rik does have a crucial role in SOUPY TWISTS, as Stephen’s co-star in Cell Mates, there’s some time spent on the Fry/Mayall partnership… but above all, Rik’s spirit, should such a thing exist, has been constantly on my mind throughout the production of TALES OF BRITAIN, my forthcoming British folklore collection – because I basically wrote all 77 stories for him to perform. Top of my To Do list in early summer 2014 was ‘finally get through to Rik about TOB’. Rik’s Grim Tales was consciously my inspiration from start to finish, and nothing would have been more perfect than to have him present a TV show version. Now that is eternally impossible, I find myself editing the tales for publication, dealing with the copy-editor’s sense-of-humour-failing notes, queries about weird jokes that were written expressly for Rik. And all I can reply to them is, ‘it would be easier to understand in Rik’s voice’. Not all the tales are balls-out daft, some have to be proper tear-jerkers, or genuinely scary – and nobody could zoom from no-limits hilarity to sensitive sincerity with the speed and agility of The Rik Mayall. Maybe I’ll be pilloried when the book comes out for its esoteric blend of anarchic silliness and sincerity, but I can’t dilute the book now. Frankly, the more Rik there is in Tales of Britain, the more proud of it I will be when it finally comes out this year.

Everything’s just shit without him, let’s be honest. But let’s equally hope that his inspiration will give us many more laughs to come. Happy birthday, you dead bastard.

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Tales of Britain #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope we all live happily ever after.