Friday, 30 November 2012


Scribble City Central's fortieth Fantabulous Friday comes from Curtis Jobling, author of the Wereworld series, (and also creator of Bob the Builder, beloved by kids everywhere).  I first came across Curtis's Wereworld hero, Drew Ferran - the rightful king of Westland - back at the beginning of 2011 in the first book of the series, Rise of the Wolf. I described that book in a review as 'just my sort of thing...a tightly plotted gripper of a novel with some interesting and original twists to it'.

I haven't changed my mind as the series has grown and developed - Book 4, Nest of Serpents, was published earlier this year, and it's a cracker, with an injured Drew coming to the aid of the besieged Staglords, and a former foe reappearing at the worst moment.  Curtis writes in a vividly descriptive prose style which had me whipping through the pages at a rate of knots, eager to see what happens to Drew and his friends Hector, Gretchen and Whitley as they battle their way through the events of the Lyssian war. A fair splattering of bloodshed and brutality, brave (but badboy) boar warriors, renegade lion lords - and my favourite character of all, Vega the swashbuckling shark pirate - make this a series which should be on every boy's bookshelf.  The Times calls it 'a fantasy world...superior to Eragon, and great fun.'  I'd second that, and what's more, with CGI becoming ever more clever, I can see these books being made into brilliant films. Dreamworks, where are you?!

Given what I've said above, it's obvious that Curtis is just the man to explore the finer points of

W for Weres
Wolves & other Were Critturs

CJ: Although I've just had a look at Anne Rooney's fabulous previous guest post I already knew the Vampire had just bared his gnashers. Admittedly the Vampire has the advantage of being one step ahead of the Werewolf in the alphabet, as well as in many other mediums. In literature and on the big screen the Werewolf was always late to the party, very much a beast of the 20th Century whilst 'Ol' Toothy' before us was a darling of gothic novels and early European cinema. But for all that, the lycanthrope shares his hairy, scary roots with the Vampire, his legend born out of myth and folklore the world over.

Whilst the Vampire represents something seductive, exotic, equally enthralling and terrifying, your common or garden Werewolf is a beast of pure physical horror. The idea that a normal, happy human being can transform into a hideous ravenous beast is a staple of fables from every continent. The classic Werewolf origin lies firmly in Europe, via French myths such as the Beast of Gevaudan and Grimm's Faerie Tales, cautionary stories that warn children to stay away from the woods and the creatures that lurk within. Little Red Riding Hood didn't half give the lycanthrope bad press. But further back we had the Norsemen, ransacking their way across the continent, their 'Berserkers' leading the way in battle. These were warriors clad in bear or wolf skin cloaks who would supposedly acquire the physical characteristics of these animals, their ferocity in battle unequalled.

But across sea and ocean one can find other shapeshifting legends: Werejackals in the Congo, Wereowls in China, aboriginal terrors in Australia and native American nasties too! Every culture understands and retells the myth of the man turning into monster, and unsurprisingly this has inspired writers across the planet. My own love of the Werewolf comes from the old movies and TV shows I watched as a kid. Universal Studios have a lot to answer for, specifically the appearances of Lon Chaney's Wolfman character in the old black and white 'Creature Features'. But there's also British Fayre that frightened the wits out of me, old Hammer House of Horror shows from the Seventies that I watched with my dad, leaping off the sofa as some furry-faced Werewolf suddenly appeared at a window (see: Children of the Full Moon). As I grew and hair started to appear all over my good self (not in a lycanthropic way, alas, but something far more awkward - curse you, puberty!) my taste in horror expanded accordingly, as I fell in love with now legendary horror movies The Howling and An American Werewolf In London, films that dragged the lycanthrope kicking and howling towards the end of the century.

The Werewolf I know, love and admire is the bipedal beast, walking on two legs, the marriage of man and animal. I'd us the term 'Manimal' here but that particular concept has already been done, to equally inspiring effect upon an eleven year old me in the TV show of aforementioned name! Indeed the special effects wizard behind the make-up in this show was Rick Baker, the man who created the terrifying American Werewolf transformation visual effects, and thereby responsible for many fevered dreams in my youth. That and Jenny Agutter, but we won't go there right now, I don't know who's reading this, Lucy! In folklore the lycanthrope was a man shifting entirely into a wolf, but my favoured version was the one immortalised in The Wolfman, the upright horror which was far more terrifying. Hollywood is entirely to blame for this kind of Werewolf, and for that I thank Hollywood profusely.

So how does the Werewolf inspire me as a writer? My twin loves have always been fantasy and horror, and whilst living on the moors in North Yorkshire many moons ago - American Werewolf country, don'tcha know? - that's where Wereworld first came to me, a marriage of the two genres. I saw more to play with than just Werewolves though, imagining a world where many different kinds of shapeshifters ruled: Bears, Lions, Stags and Rats- these are just a few of the Werelords who appear in the first novel, Rise of the Wolf, and as the series progresses we open the world up to the reader. The canvas is vast, the variety of different animals who can be realised as Werelords almost limitless. As the title of book one intimates, it wouldn't be a Werewolf story without the appearance of a lupine hero, and we have that in Drew Ferran, a farmer's son on the brink of manhood. He's going through changes, hair sprouting all over the shop when the moon comes out, his body burning up, guts twisting about and finding fresh homes. Rise is a rollercoaster ride as we follow Drew, last of the Werewolves and rightful king of the realm, as he's chased across the Seven Realms of Lyssia by the wicking King Leopold the Lion and his agents, out of the frying pan and into the fire, encountering all manner of exotic Werelord along the way.

You might be able to tell that the Werewolf in my story is a good guy. Well, the lycanthrope's had a tough time down the years as everybody's go-to, hairy-arsed villain. I wanted to consider the wolf as the hero here, so Drew really does have to step up to the plate. It was a balance that I felt needed redressing, especially as so many of my childhood nightmares had revolved around the fascinating monsters. Another word I've brought into use into the Wereworld series is 'therianthropy' - rather than just relying upon the word lycanthrope (which obviously is only relevant to a wolf), the therianthrope is any man or woman who can shift into a specific kind of beast. And I'm not making this up - have a looksie, google it, you'll find the word existed before muggins here coined it in Wereworld. So, a Bearlord would be an ursanthrope, a Hawklord an avianthrope etc.

As a result of incorporating these many other therian races into Wereworld, I'm very much hoping I've brought my own spin to Werewolf mythology. Setting it in the fantasy world of Lyssia allows me free reign over the do's and don'ts of the lycanthrope myth - whilst silver is harmful to a shapeshifter in this world, there are other ways of killing a therianthrope: fire, decapitation, a clean blow to the heart. My Werelords can also master the beast within - by controlling their therianthropy this gives them an even greater advantage in battle: brawn and brains.

I'm just editing book five in the Wereworld series presently, Storm of Sharks, which will be released into the wild early next year. A sixth book will follow bringing the tale to a close... for now. If you like your fantasy with a soupcon of horror, chances are Wereworld is a fit for you. Or if you're a lover of all things shapeshifty and lupine, you may enjoy this fantasy romp. But most of all, if you've grown up fearful of the dark things that lurk in the woods, do give Wereworld a read: hopefully I've dispelled the myth that big bad ears, big bad eyes and big bad pointy teeth doesn't always mean big bad news.

Curtis, November 2012
Twitface:  @curtisjobling

SCC: I'm champing at the bit to read Storm of Sharks (more Vega - yay!) and will have to read the whole lot all over again before book six comes out.  What a treat in store.  Thank you so much for a fab post, Curtis - I'm off to revisit Lon Chaney, and I'm sure others here will be doing the same.

You can buy the first book in Curtis's Wereworld series HERE

Next week: Lauren St John, award-winning author of the White Giraffe series and many other wonderful books, takes on X for Xanthos.  See you then! 

Friday, 23 November 2012


Scribble City Central's thirty-ninth Fantabulous Friday comes from Anne Rooney.  Anne has written literally hundreds of books for children and young adults on a myriad subjects, ranging from physics through grim, gross and grisly facts about the human body to picture books about monsters.  She is also a mine of information on all sorts of esoteric subjects, an expert on Arthurian myth and a Royal Literary Fellow as well as a reviewer and journalist for the New Humanist. If I need to know about, say, hagfish vomit, I go to Anne first!

Her most recent series of books mixes an ancient vampire lord with a bunch of YouTube Generation Y teens. These short novels (written for kids who want good YA stories, but may not be particularly competent readers) start with the discovery of a body in a forest (spiked with a tent peg, naturally), and follow the lives of the six teenagers as they are drawn into the world of a centuries-old vampire lord. Some of the settings are suitably glamorous - New York, Paris - and others more unusual - Kosovo.  Each book focuses on a different character, but all have one thing in common - an authentic teen voice and a gripping, page-turning story.  If you know a reluctant young reader, I'd definitely recommend taking a look at these for them. Anne is a mistress of the art of research, and naturally, the world of the undead is now at her fingertips.  She has no fear of them, she maintains, and trust me when I say she'll tell you everything you ever wanted to know about

V for Vampires
Bloodsucking Dead 'Uns


They grind the land like corn;
Knowing no mercy.
They rage against mankind;
They spill men’s blood like rain,
Devouring their flesh and sucking their veins.

Babylonian incantation against vampires

Everyone knows what a vampire is, right?
Vampire by Munch

Spiky teeth, sleeps in a grave by day, rampages in a cloak by night, sporadically sucking blood from hapless victims and changing into a bat to fly up to high windows where unwary lovelies wait with bared necks. Aversion to garlic, crucifixes, stakes through the heart and frazzling sunlight. But is it true?

Hammer Horror has a lot to answer for; Bram Stoker a little more. But vampires didn’t start with Dracula, just as rubbish school dinners didn’t start with Jamie Oliver. We were scraping out tapioca into the pig-bin in the sixties, and vampires were sucking the blood out of the hapless in Mesopotamia.
The first ‘modern’ vampire story is John Polidori’s The Vampyr, started at the same horror-fest in 1816 as Frankenstein. But it was Stoker’s Dracula that propelled vampires into the limelight and secured their tenure in cinema history.

Stoker is sometimes accused of playing fast and loose with vampire culture, but he did do a great deal of research – so his deviations were informed choices. He travelled around eastern Europe interviewing the type of old peasants sitting in haunted pubs who later became extras by the dozen in vampire movies. His notebooks, recording the vampire-lore he discovered, have been published in a facsimile volume; a newly-discovered extra notebook is due to be published next year by Robson Press.
Page of Bram Stoker's Notes

But what about the pre-Jamie Oliver – sorry, Polidori – vampire?
The dead rising again to annoy the living and suck their blood get everywhere and always have done. The quotation at the top is taken from a Babylonian stone tablet about 4,000 years old, part of an incantation against vampires. The Greeks and Romans had their versions of vampires, too, and cultures from Japan to South America have their own versions of blood-suckers.
In Ghana, the asanbosam hangs from hooked feet in a tree waiting for passing victims.
The fully-fledged, familiar, European vampire is a native of the Slavic and Balkan states. One of the earliest ‘proper’ vampire legends tells of an Istrian peasant called Giure Grando who died in 1656. Instead of lying peacefully in his grave and rotting away like a good, dead peasant, he took to roaming around his village sucking blood from people and sexually harassing his own widow. The villagers drove a stake through his body, but that wasn’t sufficient discouragement and the aggro didn’t stop until he had been beheaded.

The real trouble with vampires began with outbreaks in East Prussia in 1710 and 1721. Then there were epidemics in 1725-30 (Hungary), 1725-32 (Austrian Serbia), 1750 (East Prussia), 1755 (Silesia), 1756 (Wallachia), and Russia (1772). The best contemporary source is Dom Calmet’s treatise on vampirism, Traité sur les Apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires ou les revenans de Hongrie, de Moravie etc, 1749 (that’s the second edition). He collected all the vampire-lore he could find, and though he took a rather sceptical view, he reported it objectively. Voltaire seemed less sceptical, writing in his Dictionnaire philosophique (1764):

These vampires were corpses, who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomachs, after which they returned to their cemeteries. The persons so sucked waned, grew pale, and fell into consumption; while the sucking corpses grew fat, got rosy, and enjoyed an excellent appetite. It was in Poland, Hungary, Silesia, Moravia, Austria, and Lorraine, that the dead made this good cheer.”

As Voltaire notes, the Habsburg empire was particularly susceptible to problematic vampires. In 1755 Empress Marie Thérèse of Austro-Hungary (mother of Marie Antoinette) commissioned her court doctor - Gerard van Swieten - to investigate. He travelled around Europe collecting reports of vampirism and eventually reported back that vampires didn’t exist.
All the fuss doesn't come from anything else than a vain fear, a superstitious credulity, a dark and eventful imagination, simplicity and ignorance among the people.
Abhandlung des Daseyns der Gespenster, 1768

Marie Thérèse passed a law to stop people immolating dead bodies to prevent them becoming vampires. In the backstory of Vampire Dawn, van Swieten is himself a vampire and is acting in self-interest when he makes that report.

So, how do you identify a vampire? Holes appearing in the earth above a grave is a good sign that there might be a vampire beneath. And in some places a horse won’t cross the grave of a vampire. If you dig up the grave, and the occupant is uncorrupted, possibly healthy looking and with blood around the mouth, or even ruddy-faced and bloated with blood, you probably do have a vampire problem.

If you’ve caught the vampire napping, it’s a fairly easy procedure. Staking through the heart is usually effective, preferably with ash (Russia and the Baltic states) or hawthorn (Serbia) or even oak (Silesia). Other methods include beheading, burning or, in the case of particularly persistent vampires, dismembering the corpse or removing the heart, burning it and mixing the ashes with water to feed to the vampire’s ailing victims.

Of course, prevention is better than cure, and areas plagued by vampires have a good set of preventive measures to stop the vampire coming back in the first place. If you find yourself in the position of having to bury someone you suspect might come back as a vampire, you can try any of these measures: cut off the head and put it between the feet; put a lemon in the proto-vampire’s mouth; lay a branch of hawthorn or wild rose over the corpse’s chest; bury the suspect with garlic or religious objects (such as a crucifix, rosary or holy water); spike or pin the suspect’s body or clothes to the ground; drive steel or iron needles into the heart; put hawthorn in the wannabe-vampire’s socks; shoot a bullet through the coffin; put pieces of steel over the ears and eyes, in the mouth and between the fingers; bury the body upside-down – or burn the body instead of burying it in the first place. Severing the tendons behind the knees also stops a vampire rising, presumably because it’s physically incapable of getting anywhere, and putting a sickle on the chest means the vampire will burst during transformation - as it swells, it impales itself.

Assuming you forgot to do any of that, or arrive in an area where the locals are lax in their vampire-prevention procedures, how can you deter a vampire? (You don’t have to get rid of it, you just have to dissuade it from picking on you personally.)

In some places, vampires are deterred by a mirror above the door, facing outwards. They can’t enter a house unless invited – but thereafter they can come and go as they please, so be careful who you let in. They can’t cross running water, and are deterred by seeds or sand on the ground or roof (because they are compelled to count the grains). Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you can just run around until daylight – the deadliness of sunlight to vampires is a modern innovation. The black/red cape is recent, too, dating from Hamilton Deane’s depiction of Dracula in 1924, so don’t depend on sartorial details for vampire-identification purposes.

The time-honoured way of becoming a vampire is to be bitten by one. But that’s not the only way. Slavic tradition tells that if an animal jumps over the corpse – especially a cat or dog – the corpse was in danger of returning in one form or another. A deadly wound not treated with boiling water could also turn someone to a vampire. In Russia, witches and people who rejected the Russian Orthodox Church could become vampires after death.

Romania is really vampire-central. It is, of course, the home of Dracula, and the area around the Carpathian mountains is supposedly crawling with vampires. (Although the original Dracula, Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) was ruler of Romania, he had no link with vampirism before the twentieth century; Stoker took his name just because it sounded good.)

Such is the enthusiasm of the Romanians for vampires that according to ethnologist Tatomir Vukanović they even fear vampire fruit, vegetables and inanimate objects such as farm implements and chairs. Any object left outside on the night of the full moon is susceptible to becoming a vampire.

The belief in vampires of plant origin occurs among [Gypsies] who belong to the Mosl[em] faith in [Kosovo-Metohija]. According to them there are only two plants which are regarded as likely to turn into vampires: pumpkins of every kind and water-melons. And the change takes place when they are 'fighting one another.' In Podrima and Prizrenski Podgor they consider this transformation occurs if these ground fruit have been kept for more than ten days: then the gathered pumpkins stir all by themselves and make a sound like 'brrrl, brrrl, brrrl!' and begin to shake themselves. It is also believed that sometimes a trace of blood can be seen on the pumpkin, and the [Gypsies] then say it has become a vampire. These pumpkins and melons go round the houses, stables, and rooms at night, all by themselves, and do harm to people. But it is thought that they cannot do great damage to folk, so people are not very afraid of this kind of vampire....    The[y] … destroy pumpkins and melons which have become vampires ... by plunging them into a pot of boiling water, which is then poured away, the ground fruit being afterwards scrubbed by a broom and then thrown away, and the broom burned."    —Tatomir Vukanović, Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, 1957-60

(By the way, it has been suggested that some peasant decided to wind up the poor ethnologist and none of this is true.)

But vampires are all dead and buried now, right? Not necessarily. In 1892. Mercy Brown, the so-called Rhode Island vampire, was exhumed two months after death, her heart was cut out and burned and the ashes fed to her brother Edwin after her father became convinced she was draining his life. The meal of ashes-of-sister did him no good, and Edwin died two months later.

There was supposedly a nest of vampires living in Highgate Cemetery in London in the 1970s, and according to the Romanian Antena 1 TV station, villagers on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains dug a corpse from the graveyard, drove a stake through its heart, burnt the remains of the heart, mixed the ashes with water from the local well and drank it - in 2004.

When my editor at Ransom asked me to write a vampire series, I didn’t really want to fill it with supernatural spiky-toothed eternals. Which rather begs the question of why I agreed to write about vampires at all – but I wanted to see what I could with it that didn’t involve anything impossible. I went to see a professor of epidemiology at Oxford University and we came up with a plausible disease (prion-based) that could account for all the bits of vampirism I wanted to use. The result was vampires who are freaked out by religious symbols, have obsessive arithmomania (so count small things), need blood and live ten times as long as non-vampires.

Then I went about populating the world with vampires, which was great fun. I ransacked history for useful people – amongst my vampires are Louis Pasteur, Joseph Guillotin, and a very famous dead(?) singer. My older vampires have pointy teeth because they filed them for convenience. The new vampires can’t be told apart from non-vampires. They struggle with the problems of being a vampire – blood-lust is kept under control most of the time with dietary supplements, but how do you deal with not ageing, with what you are going to do with your life for the next 700 years, and with inevitable ennui of living with the same partner for hundreds of years? And what does living so long do to your character?

Vampire Dawn is a series of six short novels and a handbook for new vampires, called Blood-sucking for Beginners. I took all the traditional vampire lore, working from Calmet’s treatise, Stoker’s notebooks and some nineteenth and early twentieth century academic texts on vampirism, and dealt with all of it. But they don’t shrivel at dawn, they do have reflections and they don’t glitter in sunlight. I love my vampires – even the evil ones. And I don’t think they are going to lie down and die after one series.

SCC:  Anne! You are a genius.  I thought I knew a lot about vampires, but there's stuff in your piece that's new to me. I really do hope the Vampire Dawners aren't going to lie down and die - there's so much well... life... in them. I'm sure people will be referring back to this post for a very long time, so thank you!

You can buy Anne's first Vampire Dawn book HERE

Next week: Curtis Jobling, master of shapeshifters introduces a variety of W for Weres.  See you then.

Friday, 16 November 2012


Scribble City Central's thirty-eighth Fantabulous Friday comes from Katherine Roberts, winner of the Bransford Boase Award, and author of many wonderful books, including Sword of Light, which has just been long-listed for the Carnegie Medal. The Pendragon Legacy is a quartet of books about Rhianna Pendragon, daughter of the legendary King Arthur, who has been brought up on the fairy Isle of Avalon, ignorant of her own heritage until the moment of her father's death.  I'll tell you this - Katherine tells a damn fine tale of derring-do, weaving together a young girl's fight against the prejudice of the knights and squires who are unwilling to let her lead them, with the story of the villainous Mordred and his bloodbeard minions, determined to thwart her quest at every turn.  There are also talking fairy horses - and utterly enchanting they are too.

I'm reminded, very pleasantly, of Tamora Pierce's Alanna books - also featuring a young girl knight - and I think Katherine's British Rhianna will appeal to the same audience.  There can never be too may new takes on Arthurian myth as far as I'm concerned, and this is an excellent addition to the canon. The writing is smart, funny, and zips along at a tremendous pace, and the main characters are well-rounded and endearing.  I especially like Cai, the chubby squire who gallops (rather uncomfortably) at his princess's heels, and was pleased to see that he is developing nicely in the just-published (and equally gripping) second episode of the series - Lance of Truth.  Although (so far) unicorns are only mentioned peripherally in these books, Katherine is something of an expert on them - having one as her muse - so I hand you over to her to talk about how they have had a strong effect on her writing life.

U for Unicorn
Answer to a Maiden's Prayer

KR: I don’t remember exactly when my muse first appeared out of the enchanted mists – but he’s always been there, lurking at the edges of my imagination. It just took me a little while to see him, as is often the way with magical creatures.

He appeared in my first ever published story “The Last Maiden” (published in the British Fantasy Society magazine “Dark Horizons”1994), where he is a misunderstood creature hunted by the villagers for goring a baby to death… something he may or may not have done, as I leave it up to the reader to decide. Perhaps that’s how I felt about my writing at the time, since the fantasy genre appeared to be shunned by the literary establishment and generally misunderstood as being only about swords and dragons. This was before Harry Potter made fantasy trendy, at least for younger readers… though being trendy seems to have had the opposite effect, since post Harry Potter everyone thinks it’s all about boy wizards and millionaire authors. My unicorn shakes his mane in despair.

Shortly after this, I won a competition for a short story. The prize was £50 (riches!) and my first real earnings from writing. Strangely, I don’t remember the winning story or where it appeared, but I took my winnings into town determined to buy something to remind me of the achievement, and spotted these unicorn bookends in the window of a gift shop. They cost £35, which made them a luxury purchase for me at the time. But even though they seemed a bit whimsical with their pink horns and gold stars, I took them home to prop up my favourite books. I think of them as unicorn foals, and they represent the childlike side of my muse… interestingly, this was before I even considered writing for children, so maybe they were responsible?

Unicorns certainly seem to have been adopted by children as magical pets. Here’s a fluffy pink one I rescued from the bargain shelf of my local supermarket (someone had spilt yellow liquid over him – he only needed a wash!)

But unicorns are not always so sweet. My muse apears in my second novel “Spellfall” (first published by Chicken House, 2000). There he leads a herd of unicorns from the enchanted land of Earthaven, where magical creatures have fled to hide from the dangers of our technological world. When Earthaven is attacked by evil spell casters, the unicorns use their horns to defend their home and their foals, but they also let the heroine Natalie and her friends ride them. So they are both magical and fierce in this story for teenage readers.

This contradictory nature of the unicorn makes him an interesting muse. He can be mysterious and beautiful when it suits him, and obviously as a mythical creature he is very useful to a fantasy author because he knows a lot about magic and enchanted worlds. But it's a mistake to underestimate him, because in his adult form he is a powerful creature with a razor-sharp horn who will fight fiercely to defend his territory.

A few years later, browsing in Hay-on-Wye during the annual book festival, I came across this lovely unicorn poster. I wasn’t actually looking for unicorns at the time (I was after dinosaurs) but I couldn’t resist him. He stayed rolled up in a corner through several house moves, before finding his way on to the wall of my current office. Here he is handsome and noble, wearing a charm around his neck. He’s watching me write this with a glint in his dark eye.

Finally, of course, a unicorn can be tamed only by a maiden. He lays down his horn in her lap and becomes gentle and kind under her hand. In this guise, he is sometimes associated with the Virgin Mary, showing his spiritual side, which is another important thread in my writing.

Some people like to say the unicorn does not exist, and that he is actually a rhinoceros. I can hear my muse laughing right now! Sometimes people try to cut off his sharp horn and turn him into a common horse. Others would like him to stay a soft-horned foal forever. Too much of that, and he’s likely to disappear back into the enchanted forest. But treat him right, and he will continue to bring magical stories out of the mists.

In this brave new e-world, my muse has embraced technology with a blog of his very own , and recently ran a competition to find his true name Raziele Razorhorn Roberts (Razz for short). Now all he has to do is live up to it!

Thank you, Razz, for being my muse!

SCC:  Thank YOU, Katherine for introducing us to Razz.  I think he's the first Muse who's appeared on these pages.

You can buy Katherine's books HERE

Next week: Anne Rooney, writer in many genres and expert on the undead talks V for Vampire.  Bring garlic and a stake.

Friday, 9 November 2012


Scribble City Central's thirty-seventh Fantabulous Friday comes from Katherine Langrish, a writer whose work has often been compared to that of Alan Garner. That's a pretty fine accolade, and, in my opinion, well-deserved.  Katherine has an innate knowledge about the ins and outs of folk and fairytale - but more than that, she is someone who will delve down into the deep earth at the hidden roots of a story in order to bring its true essence up to the light of day.  For her, I think, the devil is in the detail, and it is in that very precise pinning down of a sound or a feeling with just the right word or phrase that her writing genius lies.

Her latest book, Forsaken, tells the story of a mer-child, abandoned by her human mother, and is a perfect example of this.  It is uncomfortable to read how Mara's 'delicate tail fins became tattered and curled', how the sun blasted her so that her skin 'would soon begin to crackle like seaweed left on the beach'.  But can't you just see that mer-child now, feel her pain, just from those few words?  I can.

Katherine is also involved as an editor in the just-launched journal of brand-new folk and fairytale writing, Unsettling Wonder, and I'm much looking forward to reading the first offerings from that when they arrive.  Do have a look at their website, HERE.

I interviewed Katherine a little while ago, about her wonderful Troll trilogy, West of the Moon, and you can read that interview HERE.  Right now, though, I'm quite certain there's no one better qualified than Katherine to talk about:

T for Troll
Mischief-makers of the Mountains

Photo of Katherine Langrish by Helen Giles

KL: I probably first met trolls when I read The Hobbit in the 1960’s. Those particular trolls are called Bert, Tom, and Bill Huggins; they talk Mockney: and while I don’t know whether Tolkien consciously intended it, they are quite obviously caricature working-class characters who present a proletarian threat (violence; hunger) to Bilbo’s comfortable bourgeois identity.  This being the 1930’s, it’s not surprising that the low-class trolls are stupid and easily tricked by upper-class, donnish Gandalf into wasting so much time deciding whether to murder Bilbo and his friends by squashing them, roasting them or mincing them, that they’re finally overtaken by dawn and turn to stone.

Trolls get a bad press. Cave trolls in The Lord of the Rings are even more stupid and violent than those of The Hobbit (but no longer comic); while the trolls in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are giant Fungus-the-Bogeyman type creatures with sloping foreheads and green snot dripping from their noses. Well, even though it’s quite true that some trolls in traditional tales are large and stupid and turn to stone at sunrise, the race of trolls in general is a great deal more interesting and varied than this!

To begin with, the word ‘troll’ in Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden isn’t all that specific.  It’s much more like the word ‘elf’ in English – which (if you discount Tolkien again; he really has a lot to answer for!) used to mean almost anything from a brownie to the Queen of the Seelie Court.  In Scandinavia, a troll can be anything from a giant, to something human sized, down to quite small creatures.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote a wonderful story called The Troll Hill or The Elf Mound, depending on the translation. Its original Danish title is ‘Elverhøi’: but as the inhabitants of the fairy hill bustle to make preparations for the wedding of the king’s two daughters with two sons of the Troll King of Norway, it’s clear that elves and trolls are much alike:

There he was: the troll king from Dovre!  His crown was made of ice and polished pine cones.  He was wearing a bearskin coat and heavy boots.  His sons, on the other hand, were lightly dressed: their collars were open, and they weren’t wearing suspenders.  They were two big strapping fellows.
“Is this a hill?” laughed the younger one.  “In Norway we would call it a hole in the ground.”

It’s a funny, eerie story, as well as a light satire on the Norwegian nationalist movement. It influenced Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, in which the eponymous hero meets a green troll woman and has a son by her, and narrowly escapes being turned into a troll himself in ‘the Hall of the Mountain King’. I paid tribute to both with my own version of a troll wedding in my first book Troll Fell.

Icelandic trolls often tend to be giant-sized, like Hallgerdur of the mountain Bláfell, or the trollwife who decided to wade from Iceland to Norway, remarking: ‘They’re deep indeed, the Iceland channels, and yet they are fordable.’  She drowned, however, when she made a grab at a ship and lost her footing.  Then there was the sinister ‘Night Troll’ who appeared at a small window and exchanged creepily complimentary verses with the quick-witted girl inside, who capped all his lines and rhymed him down till sunrise caught him and turned him to stone.

But in Norway the trolls are often small and mischievous, like the ones who raided a
farmhouse every Christmas Eve, stealing the food and throwing things about and generally making the family’s life a misery – until the day a traveller arrived with a polar bear which he was taking to as a present to the King of Norway. When the trolls tried teasing the polar bear – well, let’s say it taught them a lesson.  And trolls can also be beautiful women – huldrefolk – though one should beware of their tails, or hollowed-out backs.

And so I feel that ‘troll’ is a far more flexible category than the ‘enormous-thickos-covered-with-green-snot’ stereotype would lead you to believe. Some trolls are large, some small.  Some are stupid, or at least gauche – some are cunning.  Some are giantesses, while others are rustic kings with fir-cone crowns.  Some are like little, thieving animals: feral nuisances rather than murderous threats.  Oh, and none of them talk in Mockney.

In this passage from my first book, Troll Fell, my heroine Hilde is stabling the pony in the barn one stormy night, when something unexpected happens.

She rubbed the pony dry and threw down fresh straw. She wanted to be with the family.  It was creepy out here with the wind howling outside. The small lantern cast huge shadows.  She whistled to keep up her courage, but the whistle faded.
Kari, the little barn cat who kept down the rats and mice, came strolling along the edge of the manger.  She ducked her head, purring loudly as Hilde tickled her.  But she suddenly froze.  Her ears flattened, her eyes glared and she spat furiously.  Hilde turned and saw with horror a thin black arm coming through the loophole in the door.  It felt around for the latch.  She screamed and hit it with the broom.  Immediately, the hand vanished. 
“Trolls!” Hilde hissed.  “Not again!”  Dropping the broom, she grabbed the pitchfork and waited breathlessly, but nothing happened.  After a moment she let out her breath, tiptoed to the door and peered out.  Falling rain glittered in the doorway.  At her feet a black shadow shifted.  Squatting there in the mud, all arms and legs, with its knees up past its large black ears, was a thing about the size of a large dog.  It made her think of a spider, a fat paunchy body slung between long legs.  She saw damp, bald skin twitching in the rain.  Glowing yellow eyes blinked from a black, pug face. For one fascinated second they stared at each other, troll and girl; then Hilde was splattered with mud as the troll sprang away in a couple of long liquid jumps.  
Hilde flew across the yard and wrenched open the farmhouse door to tell everyone about it. She tumbled straight into a colossal row. 
Her father and mother were shouting so loudly that Hilde put both hands over her ears.  The door slammed again with a deafening bang. And so she forgot the troll, and didn’t see it leap as suddenly as a frog on to the low eaves of their thick turf roof and go scrambling up to the ridge…

SCC: Thank you, Katherine - it's clear that many people have quite the wrong idea about trolls, so I'm sure this piece will help to put everyone straight - and for those who haven't read Katherine's books - you have a wonderful treat in store!

You can buy all Katherine's books HERE, and her wonderful fairytale blog, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles is HERE. If you love fairytales, there are many wonderful treasures to be found there, so do go and have a browse. 

Next Week: Katherine Roberts, author of The Pendragon Trilogy (and just longlisted for the Carnegie Medal) talks about U for Unicorn.  See you then!

Friday, 2 November 2012


Since my lovely scheduled guest author is unfortunately unable to type at the moment (get better soon, Michelle),  Scribble City Central's thirty-sixth Fantabulous Fridays A-Z comes from me instead.  I hope you won't be too disappointed.

Hallowe'en fell this week, time of ghosts, witches, fake spiderwebs, a myriad carved pumpkins - and the ubiquitious wholesale blackmail of householders which is trick-or-treat.  Its origins, however, lie far back - far farther than the Christian Feast of All Hallows, which All Hallows Eve precedes, and after which Hallowe'en is named.

By rights, in this ancient land of Britain it should be called Samhain - pronounced Sow-win - (or in Wales, Nos Calan Gaeaf),  as it was the pagan feast which marked the beginning of winter, and is one of the two great 'doorways' of the Celtic year when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest and the gods and spirits are listening. What better time, then, to introduce you to a bunch of supernatural and spooky faerie spirits?

S for Slaugh
Scary Soultakers of the Faerie Realm
The Slaugh or Sluagh (pronounced Sloo-Ah) are known in both Ireland and Scotland as an unruly rabble of evil spirits who fly, like flocks of birds, on the wind's wings.  Sometimes known as the Host of the Unforgiven Dead or the 'fairy wind', they are the souls of unsanctified and unshriven sinners who have crossed over into Faerie and become lost forever. Tradition has it that they always ride in from the West, looking for other mortal souls to steal and enslave, and it is best to keep the windows of a dying person's room closed on that side, so that they may be safe.  The Slaugh were also rumoured to be able to carry off freshly dead bodies for their own nefarious purposes - which is why the funeral bier on which the corpse had rested used to be ritually smashed or burned in parts of Scotland and Ireland.  They also took great pleasure in harming humans and in kidnapping those poor bodies, such as beggars and orphaned children, who would not be missed.  

At Samhain, one legend says, the souls of all the dead who had died in the previous year were escorted to the gates of Heaven by a cavalcade of fairies, including the Slaugh.  Naturally, since fairies have no souls themselves, they couldn't enter, which made them all the more spiteful and dangerous towards humans at this time.  The Slaugh are also associated with the Wild Hunt - which rides with Herne the Hunter on Twelfth Night, scaring birds and beasts and chasing evil to the ends of the earth - depicted so brilliantly in Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising quintet.

Ever since I first came across them I've somehow associated the Slaugh with my childhood version of Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market.  To me, this is a little how they'd look, except with a far more sinister and evil intent -:

...Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter-skelter, hurry-skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes....  from Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market'
I imagine them as wizened and bony, with tattered yellowish skin covering a travesty of the human form. They have batlike wings which fold around them in a sort of leathery cloak when not in flight, and their hands and feet have turned into bony, bird-like claws.  Their thin hair hangs in dark greasy  elflocks around haggard faces which snarl and sneer through a mouthful of broken teeth filed to sharp points. Since they can no longer pass as human, they lurk in the shadows of the night sky, on silent streets at midnight, in empty houses with broken windows.  They are the creak of the stair at midnight, the sadness in the air at dusk, the weeping of the ragged soul.  Other poets and writers have tried to sanitise them - made them into the grand and dignified Faery Rade of the Seelie Court, clad in samite and gold, riding the white and black horses which gallop as well on air as on land, but I see them entirely as growing from the deep roots of the anarchic, chaotic Unseelie court where hobgoblins and other scary beasties lurk among the thorn bushes.

There have been many representations of different aspects of the Slaugh in YA novels recently - certainly they feature in Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series and Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tales in a slightly different guise.  The place where they appear entirely as themselves, though, is in Laurell K. Hamilton's Meredith Gentry series.  Whether you like those books or not, Hamilton has, I think got closest of anyone to the essence of who the Slaugh are and what they represent.  To me they are the feral underbelly of ruthless winter, the place where darkness lives.  The Slaugh are, perhaps, the faerie embodiment of Jung's shadow, of Freud's Id - they represent the amoral, atavistic side which lies buried deep within each human psyche.   Funnily enough, it's also the place where creativity lives - the place of both dreams and nightmares. Hold that thought, you writers of horror and the macabre, those (like me) who positively revel in bringing one or more of your characters to a bloodily satisfying end. A tiny bit of the Slaugh (or something very like it) lives on in all our imaginations.

Next week: Katherine Langrish delves deep into the lore of T for Trolls.  See you then! 

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