WRITING TIP #5: The timing of inspiration

WRITING TIPS 7 The timing of inspiration.Go With the Flow.

I don’t know about other writers, but I find that inspiration can strike me at the most unexpected times.
These times are not entirely unpredictable – they’re usually periods when my mind is drifting; when I’m not thinking of anything in particular. That’s when inspiring, amazing, intriguing ideas will often bubble to the surface. If I sat down to “deliberately think”,  this burst of creativity would probably not occur. It has to be spontaneous. And when inspiration hits, it feels like such a rush! And that is when, if at all possible, it’s best to put pen to paper.
When you do, pay no heed to spelling, grammar or punctuation – just write!

Walt Whitman, the great American poet, wrote:

The secret of it all is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment—to put things down without deliberation—without worrying about their style—without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote—wrote, wrote. … By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.

 

Inspiration and Discipline

Write by hand

Write by hand

That said, it would be impossible (for me) to write a whole book if I only wrote when inspired. The inspired writing provides the basic “clay” from which the “sculpture” can be formed. It’s disciplined writing that finesses that basic clay. Disciplined writing takes place when that bright glow of inspiration has faded and you need to make sense of it all, insert “bridges” between scenes, get rid of any cliches that may have crept in, add some description, fix the spelling, grammar and punctuation, and so on.

There’s an interesting article that touches on this topic at The Write Practice, here. It’s called “Writing Inspiration: Do You Really Need It to Write?” by Joe Bunting.

The Asrai

The Asrai: Wights of the water.

Hylas and the Nymphs by John Waterhouse 1896
Hylas and the Nymphs by John Waterhouse 1896

Folklore

In English folklore the asrai are a species of aquatic faery that dwell in freshwater rivers and lakes. (Other aquatic fairies (or “wights”) include sea-dwelling mermaids and nixies, the human-like shapeshifting water spirits of Germanic folklore.)
The asrai are usually depicted as female. They tend to be timid and shy, and may be either quite small, 2–4 ft (0.61–1.22 m) tall, or tall and slender. Being faeries/spirits/wights, they are generally immortal, although they can perish if mistreated.

“Tales from Cheshire and Shropshire (UK) tell of a fisherman who captured an asrai and put it in his boat. It seemed to plead for its freedom in an unknown language, and when the fisherman bound it the touch of its cold wet hands burned his skin like fire, leaving a permanent mark. He covered the asrai with wet weeds, and it continued to protest, its voice getting fainter and fainter. By the time the fisherman reached the shore the asrai had melted away leaving nothing but a puddle of water in the boat, for it will perish if directly exposed too long to the sun. Their inability to survive daylight is similar to that of trolls from Scandinavian folklore.

“Other tales describe the asrai as having green hair and a fishtail instead of legs or may instead have webbed feet. They live for hundreds of years and will come up to the surface of the water once each century to bathe in the moonlight which they use to help them grow. If the asrai ( sees a man she will attempt to lure him with promises of gold and jewels into the deepest part of the lake to drown or simply to trick him. However, she cannot tolerate human coarseness and vulgarity, and this will be enough to frighten her away.”
[“Asrai” – Wikipedia]

Their oldest known appearance in print was the poem “The Asrai” by Robert Williams Buchanan, first published in April 1872, and followed by a sequel, “A Changeling: A Legend of the Moonlight.”

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“The Asrai” by Robert Williams Buchanan

Water fairies, by Arthur Rackham.
Water fairies, by Arthur Rackham.

“Before man grew of the four elements
The Asrai grew of three—fire, water, air—
Not earth,—they were not earthly. That was ere
The opening of the golden eye of day:
The world was silvern,—moonlight mystical
Flooded her silent continents and seas,—
And in green places the pale Asrai walked
To deep and melancholy melody,
Musing, and cast no shades.

“These could not die
As men die: Death came later; pale yet fair,
Pensive yet happy, in the lonely light
The Asrai wander’d, choosing for their homes
All gentle places—valleys mossy deep,
Star-haunted waters, yellow strips of sand
Kissing the sad edge of the shimmering sea,
And porphyry caverns in the gaunt hill-sides,
Frosted with gems and dripping diamond dews
In mossy basins where the water black
Bubbled with wondrous breath. The world was pale,
And these were things of pallor; flowers and scents,
All shining things, came later; later still,
Ambition, with thin hand upon his heart,
Crept out of night and hung the heights of heaven
With lights miraculous; later still, man dug
Out of the caves the thick and golden glue
That knits together the stone ribs of earth.

Nor flowers, nor scents, the pallid Asrai knew,
Nor burning aspiration heavenward,
Nor blind dejection downward under earth
After the things that glitter. Their desires
Shone stationary—gentle love they felt
For one another—in their sunless world
Silent they walked and mused, knowing no guile,
With lives that flow’d within as quietly
As rain-drops dripping with bright measured beat
From mossy cavern-eaves.”

WRITING TIP #4: Read only the best.

Read only the Best

WRITING TIPS 4: Read only the best.This, for me, is an essential writing tip!

Zat Rana wrote, in an article for QUARTZ, published on 18 October, 2017:

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY: You “become” what you read.

“. . . I don’t think most of us internalize quite how much, and sometimes how subtly, what we read determines who we become.
Input shapes your output.

“Language is our primary tool of communication. It’s how we build and organize our knowledge, and it’s what allows us to interact with each other.

“Outside of direct experience, it’s also largely how we create our perception of reality. The information your senses absorb through your surroundings combine to create linguistic (and subconscious) models in your mind about how the world works and the best way to interact with it.

“One part of this occurs through verbal conversation, or listening to something in general, but for most knowledge workers and for the average person in developed countries a larger part of it is directly a result of what we consume [via reading].

You are what you read. The information that you input into your mind informs your thinking patterns, and it influences your output in the form of the decisions you make, the work you produce, and the interactions you have.

Reading a book

“That’s a huge incentive to prioritize a block of time to think about what and how you consume [read], and whether or not you read adequately relative to the progress you want to make. It’s a reason to maybe pause and consider if you can do anything to purposefully shape the direction of your mind.

“Naturally, input doesn’t necessarily mean quantity. The correlation between how much you read or consume and what you can do or who you become begins to even off after a certain point, and more isn’t always better.

“This is entirely about what the quality of your predominant sources of input [books] are, and the importance of those can’t be overstated.”

JRR Tolkien

Professor JRR Tolkien

Which authors have influenced my own writing over my lifetime?

Primarily, Professor JRR Tolkien and Tanith Lee, but also (in no particular order) –
Nicholas Stuart Gray, George MacDonald, John Keats,
William Shakespeare, Isaac Asimov, Eleanor Farjeon,
C.S. Lewis, Arthur C. Clarke, E. Nesbit,
Andre Norton, Ann McCaffrey, Charles Dickens,
George Eliot, Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen,
Ray Bradbury, Susannah Clark, Thomas Hardy,
Simon Winchester, Dianna Wynne-Jones, Douglas Adams,
Alan Garner, CS Lewis, Andrew Lang,
William Allingham, Hilda Lewis, Charles Kingsley,
Emily Brontë, Juliet Marillier, William Morris,
Ursula LeGuin, Jackie French, Walter de la Mare, and more.

Tanith Lee

Tanith Lee

All these writers and poets have strongly influenced my inner worlds and contributed, in their own way. to the creation of the Bitterbynde Trilogy. In addition to giving me inspiration, they have also given me joy, peace, excitement, wonderment and delight. They have increased my vocabulary and helped me to look at the world in new ways.

 

Waterhorses

Waterhorses across the world

The Each Uisge. Image by Cecilia Dart-Thornton.

The Each Uisge. Image by Cecilia Dart-Thornton.

Certain folklore themes and motifs cover vast geographical areas. “Waterhorses” can be found in the folklore of England, Ireland, Scotland  and Wales, as well as Scandinavian countries. Bodies of water such as lakes and rivers are so mysterious, elemental and often dangerous, it’s no wonder so many tales have evolved concerning creatures that might dwell beneath them.
Waterhorses can be benevolent, tricksy (practical jokers) or unseelie (malevolent). They may dwell in fresh water, such as mill ponds or wild forest pools, or in brackish inlets like sea lochs, in the ocean. Some of the waterhorse species are listed below.

Each-uisge

The each-uisge (Scottish Gaelic, literally “water horse”) is a water spirit in Scottish folklore, known as the each-uisce (anglicized as aughisky or ech-ushkya) in Ireland and cabyll-ushtey on the Isle of Man. It usually takes the form of a horse, and is similar to the kelpie but far more vicious.

The folklorist Katharine Briggs called the each-uisge “perhaps the fiercest and most dangerous of all the water-horses”.

Briggs says that the each-uisge is a shape-shifter, disguising itself as a fine horse, pony, a handsome man or an enormous bird. If, while in horse form, anyone mounts it, they are only safe as long as the each-uisge is ridden out of sight of water. However, the merest glimpse or smell of water means the beginning of the end for the rider, for the each-uisge’s skin becomes adhesive and the creature immediately plunges into the deepest part of the water with its victim. After the victim has drowned, the each-uisge tears him apart and devours the entire body except for the liver, which floats to the surface.

In its human form the each uisge is said to appear as a handsome man, who can only be recognised as a magical being by the long green ribbons of water weeds growing in its hair.

Nokken

Waterhorse by Brian Froud

Waterhorse by Brian Froud

The Norse Waterhorse, the Nokken, is a water demon that lives in rivers and lakes. He is able to transform himself into many shapes, and his purpose is to lure people to their doom.

A Nokken can change into:
-a grey/white horse, and if you ride this horse, you will ride to your death.
– a raft on the water. If you sit down on it, you will float away….to your death.
– a water lily. If you pick this flower, he will come up from the water and drag you down.
– a beautiful young man. If he seduces you, death will be your groom.

The Nokken is known by many other names, including the Nixie, Nixy, Nix, Näcken, Nicor, or Nok. (German: Nixe; Dutch: nikker, nekker; Danish: nøkke; Norwegian Bokmål: nøkk; Nynorsk: nykk; Swedish: näck; Faroese: nykur; Finnish: näkki; Icelandic: nykur; Estonian: näkk; Old English: nicor)

The southern Scandinavian version can transform himself into a horse-like kelpie, and is called a Bäckahästen (the “brook horse”).

Kelpie

Boy on White Horse by Theodore Kittelsen

Boy on White Horse by Theodore Kittelsen

A kelpie, or water kelpie, is a shape-shifting spirit inhabiting lochs in Scottish folklore.

The kelpie is a powerful and beautiful black horse inhabiting the deep pools of rivers and streams of Scotland, preying on any humans it encounters. It is also able to shape-shift into human-like form.

In some cases, kelpies take their victims into the water, devour them, and throw the entrails to the water’s edge. In its equine form the kelpie is able to extend the length of its back to carry many riders together into the depths; a common theme in the tales is of several children clambering onto the creature’s back while one remains on the shore. Usually a little boy, he then pets the horse but his hand sticks to its neck. In some variations the lad cuts off his fingers or hand to free himself; he survives but the other children are carried off and drowned, with only some of their entrails being found later.

The origins of narratives about the creature are unclear but the practical purpose of keeping children away from dangerous stretches of water and warning young women to be wary of handsome strangers has been noted in secondary literature. [Wikipedia, “Kelpie”]

Ceffyl Dŵr

The Welsh version is called the Ceffyl Dŵr  – literally “water horse”.

Nygel, Nigle, Nuggle, or Noggle

A relatively harmless, tricksy waterhorse of Orkney, who can spin his tail like a propeller.  The tail is said to be “like the rim of an immense wheel turned up over his back.”
Nygels are supposed to appear near streams of running water, and particularly near water-mills, where, in the night, they might seized and hold fast the water-wheel with their
teeth, until people drove them away by throwing flaming brands at them.

Shoepultie or Shoopiltie ( Shetland Islands)

Shoopilties are as malevolent as kelpies.

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From THE ILL-MADE MUTE:

The-Ill-Made-Mute

A white pearl shone like an eye in a hazy sky. The sun was past its zenith, sinking towards a wintry horizon. It cast a pale gleam over the waters of the lake. The entire surface was lightly striated with long ripples, shimmering in silken shades of grey. Through a frayed rent in the clouds, a crescent moon rode like a ghostly canoe, translucent. A flock of birds crossed the sky in a long, trailing V-formation. Their cries threaded down the wind – wild ducks returning home.

Dead trees reached their black and twisted limbs out of the waters, and near the shore, long water-grasses bowed before the breeze, their tips bending to touch their own trembling reflections. Tiny glitters winked in and out across the wavelets. The play of light and shadow masked the realm that lay beneath the lake. Nothing could be seen of the swaying weeds, the landscapes of sand and stone, the dark crevasses, any shapes that might, or might not, move deep under the water.

As the wild ducks passed into the distance, the tranquillity of the lake was interrupted. Faint and first, then louder, yells and laughter could be heard from the eastern shore. A band of Ertishmen was approaching.

Eight of them came striding along, and their long, tangled hair was as red as sunset. They were accompanied by dogs, retrievers wagging feathery tails. Baldrics were slung across the shoulders of the men, quivers were on their backs and longbows in their hands. At the belts of some swung a brace of fowl, tied by the feet. Already they had had a successful day’s hunting. Buoyed by success, their spirits were high. This last foray to the eastern shores of the lake was considered no more than a jaunt – they did not intend to hunt seriously, as was evidenced by the noise they were raising. They chaffed and bantered, teasing one another, sparring as they went along. All of them were young men, hale and strong – indeed, the youngest was only a boy.

Sciobtha, Padraigh,” laughed the two eldest, slapping him on the back as he ran to keep up, “Ta ocras orm! Tu faighim moran bia!” The looks of the two Maghrain brothers were striking – tall, copper-haired twins in the leather kilts and heavy gold torcs of Finvarnan aristocracy. Their grins were wide and frequent, a flash of white across their brown faces.

Amharcaim! Amharcaim!” shouted Padraigh suddenly, pointing to the black and leafless alders leaning at the lake’s edge. The men halted and turned their heads.

A shadow moved there. Or was it a shadow?
Gracefully, with arched neck, the stallion came walking out from among the trees. Clean were his lines, and well-moulded; long and lean his legs, finely tapered his frame. He had the build of a champion racehorse in its prime. His coat was sleek and glossy as the water of the lake. . .

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Further reading:

Briggs, Katharine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books. pp. 115–16. ISBN 0-394-73467-X.

WRITING TIP #3: Copy by Hand

Writing Tip # 3: Write by hand & copy the best.

WRITING TIPS 3: Let your hands do the learning.Another WRITING TIP. ✨✨✨
Let your hands do the learning.
When you write down another person’s words, by hand (not on a keyboard), you catch a glimpse of the way they think. It can be awakening and inspiring.

Handwriting vs Typing

From www.pens.com:

“While typing may be faster and more convenient, research shows that handwriting has its own unique advantages.

Effective Memory Recall
“Though a little more time consuming, there are many benefits of handwriting your notes. Longhand notes allow for better short- and long-term memory recall because they contain your own words and handwriting. These can serve as effective memory cues by recreating the context and content from the original lecture or meeting.

“When you write things out, you create spatial relations between each bit of information you’re recording. Handwriting activates parts of your brain involved in thinking and working memory, and allows you to store and manage information. The movement associated with the pen and your hand can help you encode and retain information long-term.

Sharpened Critical Thinking
“Comparing handwriting vs. typing, you’re more exposed to critical thinking when you write by hand than when you type. Handwriting allows you to think more thoroughly about the information you’re recording. It encourages you to expand upon your thoughts and form connections between them.

Stronger Conceptual Understanding
“When you write your notes by hand, you develop a stronger conceptual understanding than by typing. Since handwriting is slower and more tedious, it makes it harder to take notes verbatim. Therefore you have to actually process the information and summarize it in a way that makes sense for you.

“This illustrates one of the other benefits of handwriting vs. typing. Handwriting forces your brain to mentally engage with the information, improving both literacy and reading comprehension. On the other hand, typing encourages verbatim notes without giving much thought to the information. This mindless transcription can lead to a lack of meaningful understanding and application of the information, although you may be able to type more words quickly.”

Copying the work of others for the purpose of study

Write by hand

Write by hand

Copying master drawings is something many visual artists, for hundreds of years, have incorporated into their studies. Why? Because it is an excellent way to closely evaluate and learn about the best artwork. It was a widespread method used during the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s not plagiarism, as long as you don;t claim the work as your own.

Just as visual artists can benefit from copying the masters, so can writers. Choose your favourite writers and copy out (by hand) a few paragraphs from their work. It will make you think differently, and it’s a valuable tool for aspiring writers.

The Spriggans of Cornwall

sprigganSpriggans!

Spriggans are creatures from Cornish faery lore. They’re particularly associated with West Penwith in Cornwall, UK.
These malevolent “unseelie” wights are mentioned in editor Joseph Wright’s 1905 book “The English Dialect Dictionary. Vol. V” and eleven years later in one of my favourite books, Robert Hunt’s “Popular Romances of the West of England”, but the oral storytelling tradition places them much earlier than that.

More recently, in the 21st century, spriggans (or at least the term “spriggans”) seem to have been kidnapped by “The Elder Scrolls”, a series of action role-playing video games.  “Spriggan” is also the title of a Japanese manga series  (スプリガン).

In the original folklore tradition, “Spriggans were depicted as grotesquely ugly, wizened old men with large childlike heads. They were said to be found at old ruins, cairns, and barrows guarding buried treasure. Although small, they were usually considered to be the ghosts of giants and retained gigantic strength, and in one story collected by Robert Hunt, they showed the ability to swell to enormous size. Hunt associated these spirits with the hillfort known as Trencrom Hill in Cornwall.

“Spriggans were notorious for their unpleasant dispositions, and delighted in working mischief against those who offended them. They raised sudden whirlwinds to terrify travellers, sent storms to blight crops, and sometimes stole away mortal children, leaving their ugly changelings in their place. They were blamed if a house was robbed or a building collapsed, or if cattle were stolen. In one story, an old woman got the better of a band of spriggans by turning her clothing inside-out (turning clothing supposedly being as effective as holy water or iron in repelling fairies) to gain their loot.

“On Christmas Eve, spriggans met for a midnight Mass at the bottom of deep mines, and passersby could hear them singing. However, it was not spriggans but the buccas or knockers who were associated with tin mining, and who played a protective role towards the miners.

“Based on the collections of Robert Hunt and William Bottrell, Katharine Briggs characterized the spriggans as fairy bodyguards. The English Dialect Dictionary (1905) compared them to the trolls of Scandinavia.”

[Source: Wikipedia, “Spriggan”.]

Being a fan of the great folklore collector Katharine Briggs, I too depict spriggans as faerie bodyguards in The Bitterbynde Trilogy.

WRITING TIP #2: Strange places to get inspired.

WRITING TIPS 2: Strange places to get inspiredFalling water, relaxation, comfort…

Many authors find that when they’re having a bath or shower, or bobbing about in the ocean on a warm, sunny day, that’s one of the best times for inspiration to strike. Your mind is free and unfettered, allowing subconscious thoughts to rise to the surface and blend in interesting ways.

Sometimes, it’s when you’re simply enjoying the calming sensation of the water, and not deliberately trying to work out something in your head that answers and brilliant ideas can flash forth.

Be prepared.

Water and inspiration

If inspiration tends to hit you when you’re bathing, have some sort of recording device on hand to help you remember all those wonderful ideas – paper and pen, or even a battery-operated audio recorder (such as a smartphone!).
A whiteboard with waterproof pens, stuck to the shower wall would be useful. It would make it easier to remember your flood of genius-quality ideas!

An extract from The Ill-Made Mute:

Speaking of water, here’s a passage from The Ill-Made Mute in which Imrhien and Sianadh find a mysterious, remote waterfall called Waterstair, reputed to conceal a vast wealth of treasure.

“Half-asleep, Imrhien stumbled onward, lending support
to her companion’s arm. As dusk approached, thunder, which had
been rumbling far off, grew louder. It was a sound that had
been audible now for a long time, yet in her dulled state of
awareness the girl had ignored it.
By now they had come right under the shadow of the
mountain wall. As they rounded a bend in the river, the trees
drew back. Pale sunlight poured down from open sky, a hissing
roar assaulted their ears, and an awesome sight greeted them.
Filled with rainbows, its millions of droplets appearing to
float slowly down from such a great height, a waterfall hung
like a silver curtain. Its hem was lost in spray over a rocky pool.
Sianadh leaned on his staff and laughed weakly.
“We have found it, chehrna . . . ”

“Sheets of jade water plunged, hurtling from the
heights in a torrent of raw energy. Rainbows
bridged its quivering mists. A haze of droplets
hung in the air, pearling every leaf and grass
blade that fringed the pool, beading hair and
eyelashes, collecting in miniature crystals on the skin. The
continuous roar pressed around Imrhien’s head, drummed and
threshed in her ears like the sound of battle.
The rocky basin receiving the waterfall was cradled
in the heart of a dell whose gently sloping sides were clothed with tall,
spindly trees . . .”

The Trows of Shetland

trowThe trows of Shetland

. . . are among the creatures of folklore that can be glimpsed in the world of the Bitterbynde Trilogy.

Here’s an extract from Book #1 The Ill-Made Mute:
Moonrise came early. Beside Burnt Crag the night orb came up like a copper cauldron and seemed to hang suspended over the hills, at the lip of the horizon. It was then that the music
started up—thin music like the piping of reeds but backed by a rollicking beat made by rattling snares, and the deep thumping thud of a bass drum—music to dance to under the face of the moon.

And, in a clearing not far from the campsite, were those who danced to it—a circle of small gray figures moving awkwardly, without grace.
Thorn laughed softly.
“Come—let us see the henkies and the trows,” he said. “They might bring us joy this night.”
Diarmid demurred, but Imrhien stepped out bravely beside the Dainnan, and they walked together to join the dance.
The quaint, dwarfish folk were silhouetted against the towering shield of the rising moon, black intaglio on burnished copper. Some capered in a bounding, grotesque manner, others
danced exquisitely, with an intricate though uneven step.
From tales told in the Tower, Imrhien knew a little about trows and henkies. They were relatively harmless seelie wights, and their dances did not lure mortals to their deaths in the way of the bloodsucking baobhansith and others. Whether they would take offense at being spied upon was another matter.
The Dainnan did not try to conceal their approach but moved openly across the turf. Tall against the moon’s flare, graceful and lithe as a wild creature, he seemed at that moment
to belong more to the eldritch night than to mortalkind.
The dancers, engrossed in their fun, did not seem to notice the arrival of visitors—the pipers continued to pipe and the drummers to drum. Not as stocky as dwarves, these wights
ranged in height from three to three and a half feet. Their heads were large, as were their hands and feet. Their long noses drooped at the tips, their hair hung lank, stringy, and pallid.
Rather stooped was their posture, and they limped to varying degrees. Imrhien was reminded of club-footed Pod at the Tower—Pod the Henker, he had named himself.
All the wights were clad in gray, rustic garb, the trow-wives with fringed shawls tied around their heads. In contrast with their simple clothing, silver glinted like starlight at their wrists and necks.
The Dainnan turned to Imrhien and swept a bow worthy of a royal courtier.
“Lady, shall you dance with me?”

Further reading:

The Trows of Orkney and Shetland. From the Faery Folklorist blog.

Shetland folklore series: Trows. From the “Shetland with Laurie” blog.

What is a trow? From Orkneyjar.

 

My Fantasy Movie Soundtrack

BlackbirdSoundtrack

In the Fantasyland of my daydreams, if the Bitterbynde Trilogy were made into a movie, what would be on the soundtrack?

Birdsong

Birdsong is the soundtrack of my life. I live in a rural area that abounds with wild birds and their carolling is the backdrop to the hours of my days. In particular I love the pure, natural, non-studio-modified, songs of the blackbird, the Australian magpie, the grey shrike thrush and the pied butcher-bird.

Why is birdsong so calming?

BBC News reports, ““People find birdsong relaxing and reassuring because over thousands of years they have learnt when the birds sing they are safe, it’s when birds stop singing that people need to worry. Birdsong is also nature’s alarm clock, with the dawn chorus signalling the start of the day, so it stimulates us cognitively.”

If you want to listen to recorded birdsong, make sure it’s from a company that does not “mix” the sounds in a studio. Listening Earth produces recording that are pure as nature intended. Why is this important? Because, as Andrew from Listening Earth explains – in nature, each bird species has its own “bandwidth” on the sound frequency spectrum. This is important for their survival, because it means that one species doesn’t drown out another. When humans “improve” on natural birdsong by overlaying tracks in a studio, that natural separation can be lost. We may not be consciously aware of it, but something in our primitive brain areas detects a wrongness about the mixed sound, which can give rise to a feeling of unease.

Nature, natural habitats and wild creatures are an integral part of the Bitterbynde Trilogy, which is why birdsong is so perfect for the movie soundtrack.

Traditional British & Celtic folk music

Two traditional British folk-songs that – in my opinion – might have been taught to us by the faeries are Brigg Fair, and Bushes and Briars.

Brigg Fair

“Brigg Fair is a traditional English folk song sung by the Lincolnshire singer Joseph Taylor. The song, which is named after a historical fair in Brigg, Lincolnshire, was collected and recorded on wax cylinder by the composer and folk-song collector Percy Grainger. It is known for its use in classical music, both in a choral arrangement by Grainger and a subsequent set of orchestral variations by Frederick Delius.” [Wikipedia, Brigg Fair]
When I first heard Brigg Fair, I was instantly enchanted. I heard the old, crackly  version first recorded on the wax cylinder (now digitised and copied) , sung unaccompanied by Mr Taylor. You can hear him singing online at the British Library Sound Archive as part of the Percy Grainger Collection. Or here on YouTube.
I dislike both Grainger’s and Delius’s versions of Brigg Fair; they sound too melancholy and haunted, and far too pretentious for a folk song. I am, however, a huge fan of the fact that they both loved the tune, and that Grainger collected original folk melodies, (and as a side note, for many years I used to walk past his childhood house on the way to the dentist).
What is it about the tune of Brigg Fair that makes it so strangely appealing? It’s hard to say…
It’s the entire melody. For example, the placement of second last note in the eighth bar seems to be somehow elusive and surprising, like the song of some wild bird. (There’s a note like that in the fourth bar, too.)
It’s only a middle G (G4) but it’s a tone above the note you are expecting at that point. In fact I have heard people who’ve not properly learned the melody singing or playing the notes you expect, the notes they expect, rather than the notes in Joseph Taylor’s original. It makes the tune seem bland – just those tiny differences.
Too much nerdy information? Probably, but hey – this is my blog. 🙂

 Bushes and Briars

“Bushes and Briars is an English folk-song. A phonograph recording was supposedly made in 1904 of Mrs Humphreys of Ingrave, Essex by Lucy Broadwood and Ralph Vaughan Williams, although the version available in the British Library Sound Archive is more likely to be of Broadwood herself. The recording of Mrs Humphreys was included in 1998 on the EFDSS anthology ‘A Century of Song’. ” [Wikipedia, Bushes and Briars]
I adore the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. I also like this version of the song by The Bread Witch on her YouTube channel Eat, Bake, Sing, and I think you will, too.

Contemporary folk music

In no particular order: The Chieftains, Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman (the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans), The Battlefield Band, Clannad, Riverdance, Loreena McKennitt, The Bothy Band, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Joan Baez and more . . .

Rock Music

In no particular order: Apocalyptica. Pink Floyd, Metallica, The Dandy Warhols, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Nightwish and more . . .

High school recorder bands

What? High school recorder bands are on this list? Yes. All I can say is, their music sends delicious chills up and down my spine. I am captivated by their unpolished rawness. It’s probably something to do with the fact that each instrument is usually slightly out of tune and indeed slightly out of synch with the others. High school recorder band music is plaintive, thrilling, bittersweet, and underrated!

WRITING TIP #1: Learn from real people.

WRITING TIPS 1: Real peopleReal people make the best characters

Real people are pretty much more interesting (not to mention hilarious) than any character you’re likely to invent out of thin air.
Listen, look and learn from the people around you. You’re surrounded by a goldmine.

Sianadh the red-haired pirate

In the Bitterbynde Trilogy, for instance, I drew inspiration for the red-haired pirate Sianadh by observing a friend of mine.

PiratesHere’s an extract from The Ill-Made Mute, in which we meet Sianadh for the first time:

The pirate’s crew were thieves and cutthroats recruited
from the dregs of cities, or simple country lads who had been
seduced to piracy by tavern talk and could not now go back,
or disillusioned soldiers; men who looked for rich rewards
preying upon the Merchant Lines or who sailed in the sky
for their own reasons. One of these stood now before the
prisoners, his feet braced apart on the planks, his brawny left
arm roughly bandaged where he had sustained a wound from
a poniard. The lad squinted up at the head outlined against the
sails. Tangled red hair like stiff wire had been randomly knotted
with thin braids; in the thickets of it, a gold disk winked from
his left ear. Blue eyes squinted over a ginger mustache that,
although bushy, was clipped short. A copper torc clasped his
bull-neck, from which also hung a tilhal of amber with two
coupling flies trapped inside. A stained taltry hung from his
shoulders.
The-Ill-Made-MuteHis barrel chest was swathed in a torn shirt that
had once been white, overtopped with a rabbit-skin jerkin, and he wore olive-green breeches belted with gold-worked, purple leather with a wicked-looking skian scabbarded at his side. His feet, ginger-tufted and sporting dirty nails like goats’ horns, were bare and tattooed with scorpions. The nameless youth
had a good view of these feet because he was lying in front of them. To his left lay Captain Chauvond and the cabin boy. To his right reclined half a dozen merchant aeronauts, also bound with ropes.
“Deformed!” proclaimed the red pirate. “Twisted, ugly, and deformed!” He leaned closer to the youth and said confidentially, breathing garlic, “Hogger has one eye, Kneecap’s got a wooden leg, Black Tom is missing three fingers, Fenris be earless, and Gums ain’t got a tooth in his head. A man has to
be ruined to sail on the Windwitch. Fires of Tapthar! You’ll fit in
well here, mo reigh, you’ll fit like an egg in its shell!”
He laughed, revealing gaps in his dentition that seemed to
go through to the back of his head.
“Me, I’m physically perfect. See that?” He flexed bulging
sinews in his right arm, which was tattooed with ravening birds,
their toothed beaks gaping, looking faintly ridiculous.
“I wouldn’t like to meet me in battle, mo reigh. It’s the brain—
the brain that’s twisted. I’m mad, see?” His jutting eyebrows
shot up and down rapidly. “Sianadh the Bear, unconquerable
in battle!”
He roared, a wide grin splitting his weather-lined face. The
cabin boy whimpered.
“What is the matter, tien eun? See, I unbind you and your
reigh friend.” Squatting, he did so. “You two lads are to join
us! You shall be buccaneers on the upper drafts. Every now
and then, such as today, we lose a few hearty hands. Captain
Winch needs to replace ’em with young ’uns nimble in the
rigging. Don’t look so sad! ’Tis better than being sold as slaves
in Namarre like these shera sethge shipmates of yours here.
And you, Captain, are to be ransomed to your Cresny-Beaulais Line.”
Captain Chauvond groaned, licking blood from his lips.
“Now, don’t bleed all over the clean deck. You lads, see
that keg over there? Go and fetch water for yourselves and your
shipmates. Make yourselves useful or Winch will notice you
and you’ll taste the lash. We sink anchor at dusk, then we eat
and suffer.
’Tis a shame we left your cook in a tree—ours is a
sadist and poisoner—’twould have been kinder to our aching
bellies to have swapped one for t’other. Look lively there!”
The two youths hurried to obey.

You can find The Ill-Made Mute on Amazon or at all good bookstores.