Short Stories, Writing

Fantasy novella & mythic parallels

I recently finished a novella inspired from my initial research for my latest novel draft Ragnarok Dreaming into Norse mythology and Australian Aboriginal legends. On the surface, there might seem little in common between the Viking legends and those of the oldest continuous culture on the planet. The purpose of the novella was not to re-tell any stories or legends, because these are not my ancestry nor mine to tell, instead, I wanted to explore the common elements shared between them. The themes that unite all humanity across time and place. In this, I was drawn as I often am, to the fascinating Trickster figures in legends and stories throughout the world. In Norse mythology, Loki is the Trickster figure and protagonist of the novella relocated into a cosmos inspired by Australian dreaming stories. The Trickster figure who aids Loki is Wahn, the Crow in many Aboriginal legends. The novella was a re-imagining of the parallels and opposites in legends and myth, expanding on what was interesting research for Ragnarok Dreaming.

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Iceland: Iceberg Lagoons & Beaches

In early September 2019, I visited Iceland as part of my writing research into Norse mythology, Viking Age history. The role of the landscape has been important in shaping the Icelandic legends and I was fortunate enough to see some of the archaeological and cultural history as well as those in the natural landscape. On a tour of the unique southern Icelandic landscape, I visited iconic waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, glacial lagoons and rode Icelandic horses.


Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon for Breidamerkurjokullon, the tongue of Europe’s largest ice cap, Vatnajökull glacier. Jökulsárlón lagoon is located between the southern Icelandic town of Hofn and Skaftafell nature reserve. While visiting Jökulsárlón, I took one of the boat tour of the lagoon (only offered in warmer months) to get a closer look at the icebergs formed from the glacial melt, which creates the lagoon.

The icebergs of Jökulsárlón lagoon are part of the glacier that, as it melts break off into the lagoon and are washed out into the ocean. Within Jökulsárlón are a surprisingly diverse marine life. There were several species of sea birds, gulls and other large water birds who frequented the lagoon outlet where the icebergs flowed swiftly into the ocean. These birds were remarkably savvy at navigating the swift currents to avoid collision with the icebergs. There were also several species of shy seals who avoided the boats but were frequently seen observing our passage from the beneath the shelter of nearby icebergs.

The clear divide between the waters of Jökulsárlón lagoon and the glacier beyond, the waterline of the lagoon contained some larger icebergs that had clustered along the edges.

The icebergs that break off the glacier into Jökulsárlón and pass through the lagoon were stunning to behold the clear layers visible to the eye as the boat manoeuvred around them.

The view from near the ocean, looking back along the lagoon outlet from Jökulsárlón with the glacier in the background.


“Diamond beach” is a popular site among many photographers for the iconic images of the icebergs that pass from the lagoon outlet of Jökulsárlón to where they meet the ocean.

The large icebergs were an amazing sight as they were buffeted by the waves coming into shore. It was surreal and beautiful to experience such a unique landscape.

The black sand beach was scattered with icebergs in various stages of melt as the fresh glacial water they are formed from dissolved rapidly in the warmer salty ocean temperatures.

Walking along diamond beach was one of the most spectacular places I had ever visited. It was pleasure to be there and witness such a natural but phenomenal landscape.

research, Writing

Iceland: Reynisfjara Beach

In early September 2019, I visited Iceland as part of my writing research into Norse mythology, Viking Age history. The role of the landscape has been important in shaping the Icelandic legends and I was fortunate enough to see some of the archaeological and cultural history as well as those in the natural landscape. On a tour of the unique southern Icelandic landscape, I visited iconic waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, glacial lagoons and rode Icelandic horses.


Reynisfjara beach is located southwest of Vik on the southern Icelandic coast. The popular site was busy when I visited despite the incoming autumn storm. Reynisfjara beach has the iconic black volcanic sand of Icelandic beaches and the larger stones frequently washed ashore from volcanic eruptions and subsequent floodwaters carrying debris from the coastline into the ocean. Reynisfjara is also known for the large basalt stone pillars off the coast, remnants of ancient cliffs before sea level changes over millenia have eroded them into current form. These pillars and the nearby cliffs are associated with many Viking Age legends and myths.

The unusual basalt pillar-like formations of the cliffs on Reynisfjara beach are a popular attraction. These distinctive columns have such a uniform appearance that it is hard to remember they are created by natural geological processes and not by human hand.

In many Icelandic legends and folklore, the caves at Reynisfjara beach were thought to be the work of the dark elves (dwarves), and mark the entrance to undergournd passages where the Hidden dwell. Seeing the distinctive cliffs and caverns for myself, I can readily imagine how such caves would be an entrance to Svartalfheim itself.

The Reynisdrangar sea stacks are large basalt pillars located off the shore of Reynisfjara beach. One of the legends surrounding these twin pillars is that they are actually trolls who were wading out into the ocean and caught by the sun’s rays. In Icelandic folklore, trolls are unable to tolerate sunlight and are immediately transformed into stone. These twin stone pillars represent two trolls who failed to return to the sea cave before first sunlight.

On the opposite end of the Reynisfjara beach is another of the unusual sea stacks, this one is furthest from the coastline at the southernmost tip of the Arch of Dyrhólaey. This stone formation has another legend, also about an unlucky troll transformed to stone. In this folktale, the troll was late returning from a sea voyage and has been caught by the sunlight while still hauling his boat onto the shore. Both the boat and the troll have been turned to stone, forever petrified in place.

One of the most striking things about Reynisfjara beach was the unpredictable ocean. For visitors, there are warning signs about the dangers of wave surges onto the shore which are unpredictable and have been known to drag groups of unwary tourists out into the freezing waters which are dangerous with rips and strong currents. On the day I visited, a storm was blowing off the coast and the surge of the waves was unpredictable which only increased the unusual sense of wildness about the place. A magical part of Iceland but one requiring great respect and vigilance.

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Uprooted

Uprooted by US author Naomi Novik explores the author’s polish heritage through vibrant folklore in this Fantasy novel.
Although Uprooted began like many fairytale retellings with a naive village girl from a rural village, who is taken by the Dragon and trapped in a tower. This is the basic synopsis of Uprooted but the story is significantly more than that. The villages of the valley ordinarily offer an exceptional young woman from their villages as tribute to the Dragon, who is actually a wizard, and the tower is his stronghold.
In Uprooted, Agnieszka is unexpectedly taken by the Dragon when she is chosen instead of her friend Kasia, the likely candidate. But Agnieszka unknowingly possesses a unique magic of her own, the type and depth which even the Dragon, the strongest wizard in the realm finds difficult to understand. As Agnieszka begins to learn how to handle her magic, she begins to find Sarkin (the Dragon) not as remote or indifferent as she once thought. Along with this, Agnieszka begins to understand how the valley she grew up in, lies within a shadow of a much larger and darker force than Sarkin. The burden of Sarkin’s position was more than life in the tower, standing sentinel against the real enemy, the Wood. For as the Wood grows closer to the capital city, a corruption leeching from it that destroys everything it touches, consuming the humanity to leaving only darkness and rage behind in a humanoid husk. Sarkin and Agnieszka soon find themselves united in a battle to save their country and the heirs to the throne, both from their own family and the Wood. Although Agnieszka‘s own magic is very strong, she is untrained and her power so unfamiliar to the other wizards that it is baffling to all but Sarkin who manages to work with her, blending her wilder magic sourced from the wandering wood-witch, Baba-Yaga, with his own, organised formulas. In the end, Agnieszka is able to find ways to understand that how the corruption of the Wood spreads from a single source, but her and Sarkin must choose to purge or destroy the source of corruption if they hope to vanquish the Wood and free the country from its grasp.
Uprooted was a rich and wonderful tale of magic and transformation. I enjoyed the detailed folklore and historical depth to the novel which made the characters both unique and fitting for the style of a fairytale retelling. A highly recommended read!

research, Writing

Iceland: Volcanoes and Glaciers

In early September 2019, I visited southern Iceland for a week. As part of my research into Viking Age history, the legends and mythology, landscape has been important in shaping Icelandic legends. I was fortunate enough to see some of archaeological and cultural history of National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik, ride Icelandic horses, visit several iconic waterfalls and tour the some of the unique Icelandic landscape.


Southern Iceland boasts stunning waterfalls, glaciers and volcanoes. The largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull is located within Vatnajökull National Park which contains the largest and most active volcanoes in Iceland. On the southern side of Vatnajökull, the glacier completely covers the volcano beneath. Known as Öræfajökull, the glacier enveloping the volcano is also the highest peak in Iceland with the mountain peak, Hvannadalshnúkur reaching 2, 000 m above sea level. Although peaks in Iceland are not high but European standards, the entirety of the huge glacier Vatnajökull, envelops several active volcanoes. The size of Vatnajökull is impressive with the Ring Road skirting the edge of the glacier along the coastline from just east of Vik and continuing past Hof which was the furthest extent of our tour.

A closer view of a southern outlet glacier of Vatnajökull and the tallest peak Hvannadalshnúkur visible on the left with the glacier spreading across the flatter meadows below the mountain ridges.
The path of the outlet glacier from Vatnajökull as it spreads across the landscape below, an impressive thick wall of glacier.
A clear image of the passage of the glacier has carved through the mountain ridge with the peak of Hvannadalshnúkur obscured by low cloud in the background.
A smaller, glacial outlet carves a path through the basalt rock, the slow progression of the glacier and force required for the rock to be worn down or moved over time is incredibly impressive.

Myrdalsjokull, is the fourth largest glacier in Iceland and located further west toward Reykjavik than Vatnajökull but the outlet glacier, Sólheimajökull is popular for glacier walks and all-year tours with frequent monitoring of the nearby active Katla volcano located beneath the distant ice cap of Myrdalsjokull. The outlet glacier Sólheimajökull is easily accessible via sign-posted valley entrances off the main the Ring Road along the southern coastline with a 20 minute hike to a glacial lagoon.

The 20 minute hike to the Sólheimajökull glacier includes traversing the edge of the lagoon formed by glacial melt. Each year the size of the lagoon increases with warmer global weather influencing the temperature and extent of thawing and glacial melt each year. In Iceland, the constant volcanic activity means that the glaciers are often streaked or covered in volcanic ash and these are known as “dirty glaciers” due to their black streaked appearance from frequent volcanic eruptions. The lagoon is also formed from volcanic sand and large pinnacles of volcanic ash are common on the glacier surface.

Sólheimajökull glacier where it meets the lagoon is visibly streaked with volcanic ash revealing the older glacier layers of pale blue beneath.
A closer example of the height of the glacier itself as we hiked across the front edge and the volcanic ash that covers the surface of the glacier.
An example of a large cavernous opening in the glacier used by experienced climbers for tours. A large mound of volcanic ash is obvious in the foreground.
A narrow crevices visible while walking across the glacier surface also shows how freely melt water flows through the glacier and the entire structure is constantly changing form.
This stretch of the Myrdalsjokull continues another 22km toward the pole. In the near distance, a large pinnacle of volcanic ash with the uneven glacial surface covered in ash typical of the “dirty” glaciers.
The expanse of the glacier continues toward the basalt mountain ridges but the passage the glacier has carved through the surrounding rock is impressive.
A good view of the observable layers in the glacier with the alternating ash deposits and glacial layers
Contrast between the surrounding mountain ridges of the valley and the glacier outlet as it progresses through the landscape
The surrounding mountain ridges have numerous waterfalls which empty into the outlet glacier, the larger expanse of Myrdalsjokull also extends across many of the surrounding mountains behind where we were hiking
View from the surface of Sólheimajökull glacier tracing a narrow crevices extending back toward the ice cap of Myrdalsjokull
As we headed back from the hike, it began to rain. The rain began to quickly melt the glacier carving these flowing tunnels into the surface of the ice we were walking across.

The final view looking back to Myrdalsjokull as the weather closed around the glacier and lagoon, rain and light snow obscuring much of the way back we had come.

A short video on Solheimjoskull glacier showIng some of the surrounding landscape filmed despite the incredible strength of the erratic wind across the glacier threatening to knock me down if not for the crampons holding fast in the ice.

research

Australian Tawny Frogmouth Folklore

The tawny frogmouth is a species of nocturnal bird native to much of Australia. It is well known in Australian landscapes for the staring red-gold eyes, the camouflage resembling a branch or broken tree stump and it’s seemingly unworried response to human presence.

I was walking in the early morning at a pine forest near where I live and was fortunate enough to spot a tawny frogmouth camouflaged against a pine tree trunk.

Although the tawny frogmouth is often considered like an owl, it is more related to a nightjar but many Australian nocturnal birds share similar symbolic roles in indigenous fables and folklore.

Among the indigenous cultures of the Noongar from Western Australia, the nocturnal birds like the tawny frogmouth and owls were associated with the shamanic powers of the ‘clever men’ and the opposing dangerous forces of night:

Traditionally associated with the dark totem, the owl was believed to be a totemic familiar of the ‘boylya-man’ or sorcerer (”clever man”) and the darkness of night was perceived as a dangerous time when ghosts and supernatural spirits were ever-present.

Owl Beliefs in Nyungar Culture by Ken Macintyre and Barb Dobson.

The shamanic healers of many different indigenous Australia nations and cultures are sometimes known ‘clever men’ and in the Noongar cultures of Western Australia, the clever men were sometimes associated with the nocturnal birds to protect their tribe:

It is not uncommon to hear stories of how certain bulya or ‘clever’ men were believed to have the ability to transform themselves into a night bird such as the owl or mopoke and under this guise were able to watch over and ‘police’ campsites at night time to ensure that the inhabitants were safe from intruders, and also to act as a deterrent against young men becoming involved in sexual transgressions prior to initiation, or breaking the incest taboo. Culturally, the owl may be viewed as an agent of social control in that it is able to fly silently throughout the night, and aided by its powerful, penetrating night vision, is able to watch over people’s night time activities and then report back to the ‘clever man’ to whom it is considered a type of “familiar spirit’

Owl Beliefs in Nyungar Culture by Ken Macintyre and Barb Dobson.

Short Stories, stories

Folklore & Nature

Human survival has always been dependent on the natural environment and many mythologies show links between folklore and human fear of environmental instability. I was curious to explore folklore dealing with how past and present cultures attempt to explain and avoid disastrous environmental fluctuations. As human survival is so clearly linked to a stable environment, natural disasters like floods, drought and severe storms have been explained by many different folktales, explaining how appeasing supernatural forces could avoid climatic catastrophe. Long and short-term disasters were often viewed as societies or specific families who had failed to appease the supernatural beings who had power over the environment. Such examples occur throughout different cultures and folklore but the common themes involve a bargain between the mortals inhabiting lands under the power of supernatural beings, whether they are the Fair Folk of Irish folklore, the jinn of the Middle East or powerful spirits of Japanese folklore. According to folklore, a bargain with these supernatural beings can protect the land from poor harvests, drought, floods or harsh winters. I am exploring how these bargains could occur over generations with supernatural beings acting as guardians for a specific family and the effect for the environment when reneging on such a bargain.

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Bangarra: Storytelling & Dance

Bangarra Dance is a premier Australian Dance company bringing the powerful, but often unfamiliar, indigenous Australian legends from the Dreaming to international audiences. Bangarra have developed a unique and celebrated style of contemporary dance, combining  powerful and evocative movements in indigenous Australian dance with the continuing traditions of indigenous Australia for storytelling through dance.

In 2018, Bangarra launches the international premiere of dance production, Dark Emu, originally a celebrated book of the same title by indigenous author Bruce Pascoe who through historical records and indigenous legends, showed the inaccuracies of early records during European colonization in understanding the cultural adjustments, technologies and modifications indigenous Australians had developed over thousands of years of continual occupation. The result was an under-estimation of the necessary changes within indigenous Australian culture and the gradual changes over time to the natural landscape.

Corroboree was a popular production spanning many years and international tours highlighting the origins of life by retelling three key indigenous Australian legends from the Dreaming when animal spirits roamed the land and humans were not yet created.​

Terrain was a production evoking the rich connection between the indigenous Australian cultures and the land, exploring the respect for country, using the dry-flood patterns of Lake Eyre as a powerful reminder that humans are reliant of the land.