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 tips 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.

Writers you need to read . . .

Dart-Thornton, Reilly, Mieville, Williams.

Here’s a photo by @hartpix. It’s myself with a trio of amazing writers at a Writers’ Festival, pre-Covid.

Matthew Reilly, China Miéville and Sean Williams. Living the dream!

Matthew Reilly wrote his first book, Contest, at the age of 19, and self-published it in 1996. It was rejected by every major publisher in Australia, leading him to self-publish 1,000 copies using a bank loan. He was discovered when Cate Paterson, a commissioning editor from Pan Macmillan, found a self-published copy of Contest in a bookstore. Pan Macmillan signed him to a two-book deal. He has since sold over 7 million copies of his books worldwide, in over 20 languages.

China Miéville often describes his work as weird fiction and is allied to the loosely associated movement of writers called New Weird. He has won numerous awards for his fiction, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, British Fantasy Award, BSFA Award, Hugo Award, Locus Award and World Fantasy Awards. He holds the record for the most Arthur C Clarke Award wins (three).

Sean Williams is the author of over eighty published short stories and thirty-nine novels, including Twinmaker and (with Garth Nix) the Troubletwisters series. He has co-written three books in the Star Wars: New Jedi Order series. His novelisation of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was the first novelisation of a computer game to debut at #1 on the “New York Times” bestseller list. He is a multiple recipient of both the Ditmar and Aurealis Awards.

✨✨✨
Check out these three incredibly popular authors, if you have not yet done so.

And may the new year bring you health and happiness!

Tanith Lee and Kinuko Y Craft

The Silver Metal Lover

This book cover represents the confluence of my favourite female author with my favourite female cover artist. ✨✨✨

I was fortunate enough to be a personal friend of Tanith Lee and her husband John Kaiine, and now that the world has lost the amazing Tanith, I take comfort in John’s continuing friendship. ✨✨✨ @johnkaiineartist

Tanith’s work is utterly glorious, and strongly inspired my own writing. ✨✨✨ I highly recommend The Silver Metal Lover (which ought to be made into a movie) and in later posts I’ll recommend some of her other titles that I love best. ✨✨✨

Kinuko’s art is beautiful beyond description. ✨✨✨ I follow her on IG @kinukoycraft and on Facebook.

Do you have synaesthesia?

synaesthesiaWhat’s a synaesthete?

World Wide Words says, “This word is moderately common in the psychological and artistic fields. It refers to a person who has some kind of cross-wiring in the brain, so that things which ought to be perceived by one sense are instead felt in another. The most common form is for language, sounds and tastes to be sensed as colours.” The term synaesthesia was coined at the end of the nineteenth century by Sir Francis Galton.

I think I might be slightly synaesthetic, but I’m not certain. For me, certain numerals and letters have always been associated with certain colours. The numeral 7, for example, is a beautiful, solid sky-blue, while lower-case “i” is golden-yellow. Not all numerals and letters have a colour, which makes me wonder whether I have true synaesthesia. Perhaps, when I was learning the alphabet in my first year at school, the teacher coloured the number 7 in blue and the letter i in yellow, and this memory engraved itself deeply into my receptive child-mind. . . Or perhaps it’s because “seven” rhymes with “heaven” and the heavens are blue? Or because a lower-case “i” (for me) resembles a chamomile flower?

Something in my mind thinks that some names have colours. “Goldilocks” is of course yellow, for many reasons. My own first name is bright yellow, probably because it contains two “i”s.  “Susan” is blue. “Charlotte” is red, but then, it does almost rhyme with “scarlet”.  “Dominic” is a rich, glossy black.

Wikipedia says,
“Awareness of synesthetic perceptions varies from person to person.
In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme–color synesthesia or color–graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored.
In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may appear as a three-dimensional map (clockwise or counterclockwise). Synesthetic associations can occur in any combination and any number of senses or cognitive pathways.”

It has become popular, almost a fad, for people to claim they’re synaesthetic. If they’re not, how can the truth be proven?
In fact, scientists at the American Psychological Association have been trying to do just that, using questionnaires, as well as processes called “positron-emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging”.  Synaesthesia is real, but you don’t have to believe everyone who claims to have it!

I’ve heard of a professional musician whose synaesthesia linked sounds and smells. She avoided playing the note Middle C whenever possible, because for her it had a foul odour!

There are many fascinating articles about synaesthesia ion the Internet, for example:

Catalyst Synaesthesia

Chocolate smells pink and stripy

A taste for words and sounds

Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes

Do you think you might have synaesthesia?

 

 

 

 

Alan Lee – One of the great Tolkien illustrators

Alan Lee

One of the great Tolkien illustrators.

Here’s a photo of myself with Alan Lee at his home in Devon, a few years ago. This gentleman is famed for his iconic Lord of the Rings artwork, which has defined the look of Middle-earth for generations of Tolkien fans. At the time, he was also working on concept art for the Narnia movies. What an absolute privilege it was to meet him!

“Alan is best known for his artwork inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels, and for his work on the conceptual design of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series.”[Wikipedia]

“ALAN LEE was born in Middlesex in 1947. His illustrated books include Faeries (with Brian Froud), Castles and Merlin Dreams, and the three ‘Great Tales’ of Middle-earth: The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and The Fall of Gondolin. He has worked on such prestigious films as Erik the Viking (Terry Gilliam), Legend (Ridley Scott), and the acclaimed NBC miniseries Merlin. He is best known, however, for his work on the books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and now the film versions.” [amazon.com]

Poetry – the least popular genre?

Children and Poetry

When I was a child, the walls of our home were lined with shelves of books. Most of them were chosen by our mother. Our beloved father was too busy earning a living to support his family, to have time to visit the local library. (He made up for it by reading to us every evening at bedtime.)

Our household was not affluent. Books were a luxury that had to be borrowed or saved up for. As a special treat, at birthdays or Christmas time, our parents would buy us a book as a present.

We were fortunate that Mum had carefully kept the books she herself had loved as a child. We were allowed to read them whenever we liked. There was no TV in the house, so my sisters and I used to immerse ourselves in books whenever we weren’t playing out in the garden. Mum loved fantasy. Her childhood books included Cicely Mary Barker’s flower fairies series, the Andrew Lang Fairy Books, and a book of children’s poems by Water de la Mare. It was called DownAdownDerry. I still remember being enthralled by the poems in this book, and the exquisite illustrations by Dorothy P. Lathrop. Fortunately for children of the 21st century, you can find the text and illustrations online at Project Gutenberg.

The Romantic Poets

When I reached my teens I discovered other poets, including Tennyson (The Lady of Shallott), Wordsworth, Shelley (Ozymandias), Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) and Keats (La Belle Dame sans Merci). Of these, Keats  was my favourite.  His The Eve of St Agnes and To Autumn remain my most beloved poems.

The classic children’s poets (including Christina Rossetti) and the Romantic Poets influenced my inner world, and my later writing. My focus is very narrow; there is almost no other poetry I enjoy. (That said, I do love Shakespeare’s sonnets.)

But I really do love the words of these poets. The images they evoke, their metre, their rhyme and rhythm, all combine to produce a wondrous reading experience. On the other hand, I actively avoid most other “poetry” (particularly blank verse or free verse), finding it boring, pretentious, unintelligible or all of the above.

The Least Popular Genre

When I was touring bookshops, giving talks and signing copies of The Bitterbynde, I used to ask the bookshop staff, “What are the most popular genres?”
“Self-help” they’d invariably reply, “followed by biographies and autobiographies”.
“What’s the least popular?”
“Poetry.”

And I can understand this! For me, pretty much all poetry that isn’t written by the poets I’ve mentioned, is a turn-off. I know people who actively loathe all poetry – perhaps they have never read the work of the Romantics . . .

My Verses

Poetry may be the least popular genre, but that doesn’t alter my passion for it. I include short verses in my books, usually at chapter openings. This can set the scene for the chapter. Writing verse is invigorating and inspiring, like a mental work-out. You have to choose your words very, very carefully when writing formally structured poetry with rhyming and metre. The structure forces you to think differently. In most cases it improves the quality of your writing.

The Fairies by William Allingham

Here’s a poem that my sisters and I used to sing together, as children. The opening sounds cute and fluffy, but when you read the subsequent verses you realise how dark and dangerous “real” fairies can be.

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!