Short Fiction, Writing

Reimagining Red Riding Hood


Recently I have been exploring the concepts behind the Red Riding Hood fairytale. There are two main versions I have used as inspiration for writing a new short story. The version by Charles Perrault called “Little Red Riding Hood” and the version by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm called “Little Red Cap”. Both examine a young girl who is travelling through the woods and meets a charming stranger who tries to lead her astray. Both versions also share a dark undertone, the stranger portrayed as menacing despite his charming words.

When writing my short story, I wanted to delve into the concept of the forest as a dangerous place, sinister and treacherous for those uninitiated. In my recent reimagining of the red riding hood tale, I’ve included the concept of an unwary youth and the historical setting of pre-Napoleonic France. I’ve included some more modern interpretations like the werewolf folklore of the French “loup-garou” and explored sensitives around homosexuality, the sheltered son of a Marquis seduced by an eloquent nobleman. Here, the passage between innocence and experience of the adult world is represented by the transference of the werewolf curse. This was a complex story to write, delving some darker elements, both historical and modern sensitivities of seduction, society and acceptance of LGBTQI individuals throughout history and still today.

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All the Murmuring Bones


Publisher’s Description

“Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them.”


Review

I recently read All the Murmuring Bones by Australian author A.G. Slatter (Angela Slatter), a gothic folklore novel set in the historical fantasy world, akin to Ireland.

The protagonist is Miren O’Malley, raised by her grandmother Aoife O’Malley after being orphaned by her mother, Isolde O’Malley. Miren has lived her entire life at Hobb’s Hallow, the ancestral house of the O’Malleys, a prominent family, who have a traditionally ruled the oceans as brigands and later merchants, the uncanny wealth gained by the O’Malleys tied to legends of a bargain struck with the Mer, one that has lasted generations but required a female O’Malley to bear the name and offer one child to the sea every generation. However, with the waning of ‘pure blood’ O’Malleys, Miren is now the last bearing the O’Malley name.

After the death of her husband, Aoife O’Malley makes plans to marry Miren to her cousin, and strengthen the O’Malley bloodline and, through Aidan Fitzpatrick’s wealth and ambition, restore the once-prosperous O’Malleys.

But Miren O’Malley is independent and ha no desire to marry Aidan Fitzpatrick, a cruel man determined to restore the tradition of one O’Malley child given in sacrifice to the Mer. Miren learns her mother Isolde never died as she was told by her grandmother, and to avoid marrying Aidan and to find her mother at last, Miren embarks on a journey to the mysterious estate of Blackwater, where the last of the letters from her mother mentioned she was living.

Final Thoughts

All the Murmuring Bones is a wonderful gothic folklore story, weaving the legends of the dark and foreboding water sprites, beings like the the Mer, kelpies and rusalky maidens, which are not the kind beings from Disney movies, but cruel and calculating beings. Beneath the layers of folklore and story, there is a stronger theme of independence, knowing oneself and the power of love, in the context of a historical fantasy world, where love based on need, the supply of stability, sustenance and livelihood versus the power of love based on want, the desire to be with someone irrespective of need. Against the backdrop of the O’Malley tradition and sacrifices to the Mer to retain prosperity, the need to fulfil a bargain, there are many threads to All the Murmuring Bones that make it a complex tapestry of a novel.

Conclusion

All the Murmuring Bones is a great read for fans of gothic folklore, legends of mermaids, kelpies or or water beings, fans of Angela Slatter’s Sourdough tales and those who enjoy a heartfelt historical fantasy. Highly recommended, an absolute must-read!

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The Witch’s Heart

Publisher’s Description:

Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.

With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.


My Review:

I recently read The Witch’s Heart by US author Genevieve Gornichec, a reimagining of Norse mythology from the perspective of the witch Angraboda.

Angraboda is the name chosen by the witch Gullveig after she is burned three times and pierced through the heart with a spear after meeting with Odin, leader of the Aesir gods. Angraboda refuses to teach Odin sedir, the prophetic form of magic and in retaliation, Odin burns her three times from which she returns to life each time.

After fleeing the Aesir and taking refuge in the Iron Wood, Angraboda has only shadowy memory of her life as Gullveig and names herself Angraboda “the bringer of sorrow” in place of her previous name. She is soon visited by the Trickster Loki, who is also Odin’s brother (by bond but not by blood). Loki recovers Angraboda’s heart and enjoys her company. Keeping their friendship a secret from the gods and giants, it soon becomes much more. Although Loki asks Angraboda to be his wife, their relationship must stay a secret for Loki is later married to an Aesir goddess Sigyn, further binding him to Odin and the Aesir gods.

It is the three children from Angraboda and Loki’s union that proves to be the catalyst for their relationship and for the future of the Nine Worlds. Angraboda has three children with Loki, each more monstrous than the first. Their half-dead daughter Hel, son Frenrir in wolf form and Jorumungand, a sea serpent. But it is not just the strange children born from the union of two unusually powerful giants that causes Odin concern, but the prophecy Angraboda has of her children destroying the Aesir gods and bringing about the end of the Nine Worlds.

Odin desires the knowledge of Angraboda’s prophecy concerning the fate of the Nine Worlds in a hope to prevent the outcome and save himself and his children. Odin’s desire comes at the price of Loki’s freedom and Angraboda’s children who the Aesir cannot allow to fulfil their role in the end of the Nine Worlds, the great battle Ragnarok. So begins Angraboda’s struggle to preserve her family, shield them from the Aesir and survive the bitterest of betrayals. In the end, Angraboda must choose whether she wants vengeance against Odin and the Aesir, or whether she can save at least one of her children.

Final Thoughts:

The Witch’s Heart is a wonderful reimagining of the Norse myths from the perspective of one of the least well-known figures, the witch Angraboda. In many of the myths, Angraboda is mentioned only in passing as the wife of Loki and mother of the giant wolf Fenrir, guardian of the dead, Hel, and the giant serpent, Jorumangand. The mother of three monsters who are prophesied to kill the gods, Angraboda is a mysterious figure, a witch who dwells in the Iron Wood. The Witch’s Heart also examines another female figure in Norse mythology, the witch Gullveig who Odin and the Aesir burn three times and pierce her heart with a spear when she refuses to submit to Odin. A clever story that combines two important and mysterious figures in Norse mythology, Gullveig and Angraboda, giving substance to both in Gornichec’s reimagined Angraboda.

My Conclusion:

A highly recommended read for those who enjoyed the reimagining of the half-Titan witch Circe by Madeline Miller, those who enjoy stories with strong female protagonists or for readers who want a fresh reimagining of Norse mythology.

events, Writing

Lost Lore and Legends Anthology Release

Pleased to announce the release on 22nd March, 2021 of micro-fiction anthology Lost Lore and Legends published by Breaking Rules Publishing Europe and featuring five of my 100 word drabbles inspired by European folklore and mythologies.

Lost Lore and Legends explores a variety of legends, mythologies and folklore from European tradition. Two of my drabbles, “The Troll-Witch” and “The Elf Stone” were inspired by Icelandic folklore and legend, “The Seelie Court” was based on Scottish Fae folklore, while “Pixie-Touched” explores the dark Cornish lore of pixies and madness, and “Oak and Holly” tells of the physical manifestation of the summer and winter kings, forever duelling for supremacy. If you are interested in the research behind these five drabbles, you can read more here.

Interested in purchasing an ebook, paperback or limited hardback edition of Lost Lore and Legends? More details and links can be found here.

Short Fiction, Writing

Aztec Rituals & the God of Death

One of the most interesting folklore research I did recently involved the Aztec Empire in Mesoamerica. I have always been fascinated by the Aztec Empire and the many intriguing mythologies and my latest research was into the god of Underworld, Mictlantecuhtli. The death-god is often depicted in constant combat with the opposing force, the god of renewal Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. The two gods are constantly locked in a fight for supremacy, the balance between life and death.

The Aztecs practised human sacrifice on a colossal scale in the late stages of the empire. Recent archaeological excavations in the sacred city of Tenochtitlan at the base of one of the largest pyramid temples, the Tempo Mayor, huge wooden racks of skulls were offerings to the gods of war and rain. The extreme numbers of suggested human sacrifices coincided with Aztec empire expansion, it was probably considered necessary to appease the gods who could provide battle success and the rains to grow crops and support an increasing population.

The Aztec Underworld or Mictlán was ruled by god Mictlantecuhtli. To the Aztecs, every soul no matter the privilege or poverty during life, would descend through the nine layers of Mictlán to face Mictlantecuhtli. Not surprisingly, worship of Mictlantecuhtli was important to all Aztecs and during the Aztec month of Tititl , the temple Tlalxicco conducted a specific ritual human sacrifice. A chosen sacrifice became the embodiment of Mictlantecuhtli and sacrificed at night to honour the god.

In my flash fiction story, I was inspired by the elaborate skeletal depictions of Mictlantecuhtli and the creation myth where Quetzalcoatl is deliberately delayed in the Underworld while searching for the bones of every creature destroyed in the previous world. The Aztecs, like many past civilisations, had a cyclic view of time rather than a linear one. Drawing on inspiration from depictions of Mictlantecuhtli adorned in carved bones or as a skeletal figure, my flash fiction story was set during the Aztec month of Tititl at night at the temple Tlalxicco. Here the ritual sacrifice gruesomely transforms the flesh embodiment of Mictlantecuhtli into a skeletal representation of the death-god before sunrise.

Short Fiction, Writing

Reimaging the Pied Piper Fairytale

One of the most fascinating fairytales to me has always been the ‘The Children of Hameln’ recounted by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm in 1816 and 1818 editions of their famous fairytale collection. But there are several legends of similar figures like the Piped Piper from surrounding region of Saschen and wider Germany. Another fairytale I found intriguing is the ‘The Singing Bone’ and the variations, including the Scottish legends of an enchanted harp made from bone.

In crafting my own reimagining of the Pied Piper tale and the fate of the children from Hameln, I was inspired by of the gothic folklore of Forests, a common theme in many fairytales. The Forest often represents great dangers and only reason a community taught to fear it might enter would be unwillingly. The Pied Piper is often described as a troubadour or jester-like character, but in this reimagining, I wanted something darker and connected to the Forest. I thought of magicians, a failing harvest in the otherwise fertile valleys where an unspoken agreement between hamlets and magician to restore fertility and abundance to the lands would come at a high price. The magician is feared, not only for his magic but his appearance, a gaunt and physically deformed man, historically not welcome in many medieval communities for the ill-fortune to which they were associated. In keeping with the tales, the hamlets refuse to honour the bargain with the magician and an enchanted harp wrought from human bone becomes the tool to steal away the young and future generations of the hamlets, summoning them to wander forever among the groves and copses of the Forest.

Short Fiction, Writing

Forthcoming: Reimagined Fairytales Anthology

Pleased to announce I will be joining a wonderful lineup of authors for New Tales of Old, Volume 1 to be published in 2021 by Raven and Drake Publishing! All stories and flash fiction in this anthology were inspired by the retelling and reimagining of fairytales. My story “A Trail of Corpselights” is inspired by gothic folklore of forests and the folklore behind corpselights, also known as Will o’wisps. You can read more here. My second story included in the volume is “The Dark Harpist” a reimagining of the Pied Piper of Hameln legends and the fairytales and folklore of the singing bones and enchanted harps. You can read more about this story here.

Release dates and how to purchase a copy of the New Tales of Old, Volume 1 will be updated when available. You can also keep an eye on my publications page here.

Short Fiction, Writing

Reimagining Hansel and Gretel Fairytale

One of my favourite fairytales is the story of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ recounted by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, with two variations in the tale published in the 1812 and 1857 versions to accomodate a wider selection of similar folktales. From the fairytale and folklore indexes developed by Professor Ashlimanm , the ATU system identified at least ten variants in many countries following similar themes.

The most commonly known version of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ is a tale set during a bitter winter, and poor parents forced to choose between their personal survival and the cost of raising a girl and boy without resources. On the brink of starvation, the children are taken into the woods and abandoned. When they find the cottage where a witch lives, she offers them their desires (mostly food). When the danger of the bargain is revealed, Hansel and Gretel use a trail of breadcrumbs to follow their way back to their village and escape the witch.

In my own reimagining, I thought of the gothic folklore surrounding the Forest, a common themes in many fairytales. The only reason the Forest might be entered willingly would be if the danger outside the Forest was worse than the unknown terrors of the Forest. To reimagine another time when similar conditions in Hesse-Cassel existed, I used s more modern setting such as WWII. Here, Hansel and Gretel equivalents must escape the dangerous of the Forest and it’s haunting presence of a witch. I wanted to create that same dark threat of the witch and her malevolence towards children, choosing corpselights, often thought the souls of murdered or unrestful child spirits, to provide a safe path for the children to follow and escape the Forest.

Short Fiction

European Folklore

The past several weeks, I have been exploring many different aspects of European folklore, particularly involving the Fae. Below is a series of some of my research favourites, fae beings and associated folklore.


Seelie and Unseelie Fae

In Scotland, the Fae are often divided into the Seelie and Unseelie courts, or the Light and Dark , respectively. Unlike the Irish Fair Folk, the Seelie and Unseelie beings follow a stricter divide, those fae which are malevolent are found in the Unseelie Courts, while those who are more kindly toward mortals such as brownies (but like all fae beings, this does not mean there is no in dealing with the seelie. Just with all Fae beings in Icelandic, Irish and Welsh folklore, the tendencies of the Fae are not comprehensible by mortal means and their own needs will almost always take precedence.


Elf-Stones

In Iceland, elves are an integral part of Icelandic culture with folklore infused throughout everyday Icelandic life. Elf-stones as they are sometimes called are believed to be doorways to the underground realms and otherworldly lands where elves dwell. The disturbance of an elf-stones is often considered a major concern with recent road construction and a series of disasters befalling the site, workers and nearby region occurring when a recognised elf-stone was moved. Subsequently, the stone was relocated and the course of the highway adjusted to avoid disturbing the area further.

In Icelandic legend, the renowned waterfall Skogafoss, a spectacular waterfall in southern Iceland, fed by glacial melt is also associated with a legend of elves, buried treasure and the founding of the Icelandic landscape. A Viking Age sorcerer, Þrasi Þórólfsson directed the flow of two rivers threatening the drown nearby villages sparked the volcanic eruption of in the Mýrdalsjökull Caldera. According to the legend, a chest containing a valuable and powerful symbol of Þrasi’s magic was stored and guarded by the elves at Skogafoss until his return. Þrasi’s ring is believed to be just one small part of the treasure the sorcerer left buried and guarded behind Skogafoss but never returned to claim.


The Oak and Holly Kings

Throughout the British Isles and in some Germanic folklore, the Oak and Holly kings are ancient rivals, a timeless battle between Summer and Winter, Although both kings are sometimes depicted as older men the elemental and enduring nature of each gaining dominance only long enough until the next seasonal change. There have been some attention paid to the similarities with the ancient legend of the Horned god, or the Green Man.


Pisky Pixies

Cornwall, while considered by many as a part of the UK , the Cornish people have their own unique legends and folklore Amin to The British lands. Pixies are known generally as mischievous and practical jokes. The Cornish pixies have become very popular in folklore and, where can be associated Piskies as they are often referred to in Cornwall, rare and responsible for the classic saying ‘away with the pixies.”

Piskies as they are often referred to in Cornwall, rare and responsible for the classic saying ‘away with the pixies.”


The Yuletide Troll

In Iceland, folklore and legend of trolls can be found at nearly every strange rock formation. Constant volcanic activity in Iceland has meant the these are plentiful and these formations are believed to be the mountain-dwelling trolls who were caught in the dawn sunlight, instantly turned to stone. Testimony to the Icelandic trolls versus the popular media view that they are stupid and slow-witted, is the dark yuletide legend of the troll-witch Gryla. You won’t find any stories in Iceland of red-nosed reindeer, present-making elves or a merry St. Nicholas. Instead, one of the oldest legends is Gryla and her 12 Yule lads, twelve mischievous and sinister trolls present for 12 days before and after Christmas Day, or the length of Yuletide. But on Christmas Eve, the Yule Lads’ mother leaves her mountain home to stalk the night. Gryla takes orphan children who, without the protection of hearth and home, are defenceless. Once stolen away in a sack, they are taken back to her husband in their mountain cave and cooked into a stew. For Icelandic lore, the safety of having a home, protection of family and from the harsh Icelandic winter is embodied in the threatening figure of Gryla.

Recent Reads

Silver in the Wood

Publishers Description:

“There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.

When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart.”

My Review:

I had head many wonderful things about Silver in the Wood, the first novella in the Greenhollow Duology by UK author Emily Tesh and decided I had to experience this for myself. I’m thoroughly pleased I did.

Silver in the Wood follows the protagonist Tobias, the so-called Wild Man of Greenhollow wood, a centuries old protector of the woodlands near Greenhollow Hall. The arrival of the new young lord Henry Silver to Greenhollow Hall begins an unexpected friendship and bond between both men. Silver is intent on discovering the many secrets of Greenhollow woods which includes the stories of a mysterious historical figure “Bloody Toby”, once accused of murder alongside a fellow criminal, Fabian. But the legends surrounding Tobias and Fabian are not entirely true, and Tobias must confront the Fae being who stalks Greenhollow wood in the guise of Fabian. For when Silver starts digging up the past, he uncovers a darkness best left sleeping beneath the woods. The promise of acceptance and romance between Tobias and Silver can only be fulfilled if Silver is saved from Fabian and Tobias must confront Fabian one last time.

Final Thoughts:

Silver in the Woods explores of the mysterious folklore surrounding legends of the Fae, the Green Man and the Oak and Holly King without specifying either lore, this maintains the sense of mystery and wonder to Greenhollow. Connected to this vital part of the storyline are the vibrant characters and the deeper discussions of humanity and acceptance of the other.

My Conclusion:

A recommended read for any folklore fans, historical fantasy fans, LBGTQI readers, and readers who enjoy character diversity with vivid storytelling. A wonderful book!