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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

All My Own Work

As Summer draws to a whimpering close, I am beginning to feel the promise of Autumn approaching. For me, September has always been an exciting time of year, from the new-stationery-and-shiny-shoes of my Primary school days to the deep-breath-and-the-plunge of starting University (twice). The cooler weather and the shorter nights bring me thoughts of reinvention, of creative projects and of ‘starting again’.

For three out of the last eight years, this has meant an earnest attempt at NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month, to give it its full title. Running from the 1st to the 30th November, it’s a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, stream-of-consciousness, write-now-edit-later extravaganza that has left me with a two-part Young Adult fantasy novel called Echo Peninsula (2005 and 2006) and a rambling pile of nonsense loosely based on the Tam Lin legend (2011). I doubt either will ever see so much as a red Biro, let alone the inside of a bookshop, but I love the challenge and the excitement of trying to pen 50,000 words in the space of a month.

Though my own efforts are pretty poor, not everyone who completes the NaNo challenge is destined for the slush pile. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus started life as a NaNoWriMo project before being published last year. For many amateur writers, the 30-day challenge is a fantastic – if highly-concentrated – way of hammering out ideas, improving focus, or even just increasing typing speed (I can type a good 60-70wpm, thanks mainly to the effort of trying to churn out 1660 words every evening).

One of the problems I had last year when deciding what to write about was the fact that I couldn’t come up with anything that seemed remotely original. Each idea I had seemed a poor imitation of something I’d once read or seen or heard; none of the plots I tried to string together seemed like they would produce anything that could keep my attention for 50,000 words.

Then I realised something – there aren’t any original stories. Every folk tale or fairy story I Googled had links to other, similar fables; each continent seemed to have its own version of Peter Pan or Cinderella. The more research I do for this blog, the more I realise that it is not the tale but the way it is told; King Arthur, Robin Hood, giants and fairies and witches, all capture the collective imagination as much now as they did a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago.

So perhaps my route to successful storytelling lies in crafting something new and fresh from the raw materials passed down to us by our ancestors. It is an encouraging thought, and has led me to look at this November’s NaNoWriMo preparation not with apprehension but with a new enthusiasm. With the help of the collective back-catalogue, anything is possible.

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Things have been rather quiet on the blog front of late – the main reason for this is the arrival of the school holidays, as I’ve been spending the past few weeks pulling all sorts of tricks out of my sleeve in an effort to keep my newly-minted five-year-old entertained.

I’ve introduced him to Star Wars (lots of questions about goodies and baddies) and Lord Of The Rings (lots of questions about Hobbits and big flaming eyes). We’ve been for a trip to the South Lakes, where we trawled the shingle flats of the Morecambe Bay estuary for adder-stones:

I also picked up a rather interesting little book in a charity shop in Grange-over-Sands : Folk Medicine by Jacques Veissid is a curious compendium of old French folk remedies for almost every ailment imaginable, from anthrax to migraines.

 

I’d planned a post about Lughnasadh for the beginning of August, but despite my best efforts I didn’t finish in time, so it shall have to be posted late. *blush* We are also planning a trip to Alderley Edge at some point over the next couple of weeks – expect lots of photos and waffling about Wizards and Weirdstones…
For now, I shall leave you with a picture of Childe The First messing about with a cairn:

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Silent Sunday

image

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fairy ring

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…this was Childe The First’s request to me last night as I was getting him ready for bed. He’d been complaining that his mattress was too lumpy because of the wooden slats beneath it; I’d laughed and said he was like the Princess And The Pea. He hadn’t heard this story before, so I told him it while he sat on the edge of his bed, fingers on his chin, watching me intently as I described a towering pile of a hundred mattresses, a lonely prince, and a very sensitive princess.

Afterwards we looked through his books and found a written version of the story, complete with illustrations, but he seemed a little underwhelmed by it. He asked instead for me to tell him another story “from in your head Mummy” – as anyone who’s familiar with this blog can imagine, I was utterly thrilled by this request and more than happy to oblige him.

I have tried on many occasions to play ‘storyteller’ to my eldest son, but he has always preferred to have a tale from a book, so he can look at the pictures or follow the words with me. As much as I love reading to him (he gets at least one book a night), I often long for the freedom to tell a story in my own words, to build on the bones of a tale that lived for centuries in the minds and on the tongues of our ancestors.

When we speak of storytelling we are encompassing a vast heritage of lore, myths, epic tales, folk tales, travellers tales; tales of the creation of the world, tales of its destruction; sagas of Gods and men; all the great traditional legends from around the world. These stories are not learned by rote or read from books but retold by the tellers, making each interpretation unique. Storytelling is more than just performance or entertainment; it can also educate, heal, lead to better practice in business, inspire and change lives.”

– from The Society for Storytelling‘s website

Many of the stories in Katharine Briggs Dictionary of British Folktales are direct transcripts from recordings of the people she interviewed over the course of her work; dialect and strange grammar litter the descriptions of black dogs and devils-in-disguise. These are stories in skeletal form, the essence of a folk memory passed from parent to child to grandchild, embellished as each teller saw fit. One of my very favourite books is Kevin Crossley-Holland‘s British Folk Tales; its pages are rich with beautifully-told stories whose roots are discussed in an appendix at the back. He takes these roots and weaves them into evocative and striking prose that has stayed with me for over twenty years since my first reading; I can’t wait to share these stories with my children.

I promised Childe The First that I would tell him lots more of the stories from in my head, with a little help from Ms Briggs and Mr Crossley-Holland – and I can’t wait to get started.

Further reading:

Society for Storytelling

The Folklore Society

Kevin Crossley-Holland – official website

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Silent Sunday

 

Love All Blogs

 

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