Jenny Kane & Jennifer Ash

Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

Tag: folklore

Opening Lines: Dark Words from Tracey Norman

This week ‘Opening Lines’ delves into the realms of folklore and fantasy with Tracey Norman.

Friend, actress, author, expert on all things ‘witch’, and a fellow member of the Exeter Author Association, Tracey is bringing us the very beginning of her story, Dark Words.

Over to you Tracey…

Living not far from Dartmoor, I have a wealth of inspiration on my doorstep. When I was introduced to the reservoir, forests and stone circle of Fernworthy, something about the place spoke to me and it has become something of a retreat for me when I need space, or peace and quiet to write.

Periodically, during particularly hot periods, the reservoir’s water levels drop dramatically, revealing the various hut circles and bridges which were submerged when the reservoir was built. Wandering around these rarely-seen features, I came across a boundary-type stone which appeared to have been carved with an unusual chequerboard effect. It piqued my curiosity, so I tried to find out more about it – unsuccessfully.

In 2015, I was invited to contribute a story to Secret Invasion, a charity horror anthology of South West-based Lovecraftian tales raising money for MIND. I seized the opportunity to provide a backstory for the enigmatic stone. Thus was born the tale of the taciturn, sinister villagers, the stone tablets and the landscape which bound them together.

I have taken several liberties with the landscape. The house and estate I describe are both fictitious and I have no idea what secrets the old quarry may contain, as it has long been flooded. The drowned village beneath the reservoir is of far greater antiquity than my story suggests and was abandoned long before the events I describe.

However, if you visit Fernworthy reservoir, you can walk around its shores, you can see the (now fenced off) flooded quarry and, if the water level is sufficiently low, you may be lucky enough to spot parts of the hut circles just beyond the edge of the picnic area. A walk into the forest itself will take you to the Fernworthy stone circle and the twin circles of the Grey Wethers can be found on the open moor just beyond the forest boundary.

I highly recommend visiting the reservoir at dusk and siting at one of the picnic tables at the water’s edge. As the sun sinks in the sky, watch the light glinting on the water and revel in a tranquillity my characters never knew….but beware if you hear chanting…

(Dark Words has since been published in Folklore and Fairy Tales Reimagined, so it can be enjoyed with slightly less horror!)

Secret Invasion is a new collection of original horror fiction set in the mystical landscape of England’s West Country, influenced by the storytelling of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. This anthology includes a Q&A with horror maestro Ramsey Campbell followed by fifteen chilling tales by writers such as Andrew Lane (Young Sherlock Holmes), Jessica Palmer (Sweet William) and Nigel Foster.

 

First 500 words from Dark Words

Excavation fieldwork notes – 2015 – Alison Forster

It was good to finally crawl into my tent at the end of another long, hot day and kick off my boots. Stripping off my socks, I flexed my toes and massaged my ankles, then stretched out on my camp bed. Half past five. An hour until dinner. Plenty of time to go over the day’s notes and perhaps pop along to the finds tent to see how the cleaning and preservation was going.

I took my notebook from the large, upturned cardboard box next to the camp bed, which served as a rather flimsy table. Flipping through the pages of today’s notes, I started reading, pausing now and then to roll onto my side so I could annotate the page or make a note to myself for the following day. I wondered what other treasures were lying hidden beneath Dartmoor’s gorse and heather, just waiting for us to uncover and bring them back into the light.

The excavation was progressing very well. We had been extremely fortunate with both the weather and our finds. I still couldn’t quite believe that I was directing an excavation which had uncovered a previously unknown stone circle on the moor. It was undoubtedly the find of my career. Thank God I had decided against early retirement when the museum offered.

My planning finished, I sat up and took a swig from the water bottle on the ‘table’. I shoved my boots out of the way under the camp bed and put on trainers, then headed over to the finds tent to see how the team were getting on.

Much of what we had found were potsherds, with a few flint blades and one or two shell beads. I stopped to have a quick chat with each of the four students working on the artefacts, then, satisfied that everything was in order, I went to the mess tent and helped set up the meal.

Our mealtimes were generally noisy, chaotic affairs, but now that the stone circle’s significance had sunk in, everyone was hugely enthusiastic and motivated. I could hear discussions all around me about its possible ritual use and comparisons between it and the other stone circles not far away. Personally, I was very keen to find out if there was any connection between this new circle, the twin circles of Grey Wethers and the Fernworthy circle with its stone row and burial mounds. The thought of being able to identify an ancient ritual centre, with the attendant research, academic papers and perhaps a book, which would keep me in paid work for some time, was so enticing that it was almost palpable. I ate my food with as much gusto as my colleagues and students that night, flushed with our incredible good luck and determined to do whatever it took to secure funding for follow-up work next season.

At the end of the evening, after the cider had started flowing slightly more slowly and half the

Bio

I am a professional actress and voice artist who has always been a storyteller, whether on stage, in front of a keyboard or behind part of my extensive collection of notebooks and pens. Living not far from Dartmoor, I have a wealth of subject matter on my doorstep. My first short story (written under the pen name Anna Norman and published in the Lovecraft-inspired Secret Invasion, a charity anthology in aid of MIND, in 2015), is based on the landscape and artefacts in and around Dartmoor’s Fernworthy Reservoir, one of my favourite places.

In 2016, I accidentally became a playwright, having decided to do something meaningful with the Honours degree in History I achieved from The Open University in 2015. The result was a one-act play, WITCH, which examines the human story behind accusations of witchcraft, focusing on the social conditions and interactions which led to such accusations. It was based on depositions from the 1687 trial of a Lyme Regis housewife. The play, in which I perform alongside my colleagues from our company Circle of Spears Productions, enjoyed a very successful debut season in 2016 in the library at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle (where better to perform a play about witch trials?!) and since then, has gone on to enjoy further success in a number of venues across Devon, with a lengthy list of performances in 2017. It is currently being booked by universities as Theatre in Education.

I have been lucky enough to secure a contract with Troy Books in Cornwall for a book based on the research I originally undertook to write WITCH – it will look at the various issues raised in the play, expand on them and examine how theatre may be used to preserve our social history whilst simultaneously making it more accessible.

I published my first children’s book in 2017. Written for my daughter in 2010, when she was three, Sammy’s Saturday Job has finally been released as a Kindle ebook.  It follows the tale of a little dragon who wants to be a firefighter. She gets a chance to help out, but it doesn’t go well and she needs to work out how to put things right. It encourages children to persevere and to think creatively about helping others. It also promotes inclusiveness by showing that being different doesn’t mean that you have nothing to offer.

Publishing this particular story means a great deal to me because the three year-old I wrote it for became a ten year-old who sat down with me and helped me to work out what illustrations I should draw for it and where they should go.  I can’t think of a better editing assistant.

Currently, as well as my WITCH non-fiction, I am working on a High Fantasy novel which tells the first instalment in the back-story of a character I created for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign I was involved in. Sometimes, a character will really capture your imagination and this is certainly the case with my feisty, independent elf Aamena. I am hoping that the book will be out in late 2018.

Social Media links

Facebook – www.facebook.com/TraceyNormansWITCHbook

www.facebook.com/TraceyNormanAuthor

Twitter – @WITCHplayCoS and @fireeyeschron

Websites – www.traceynormanswitch.com   and   www.thefireeyeschronicles.co.uk

Buy links

Secret Invasion (in aid of MIND): https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/secretinvasion

Folklore and Fairy Tales Reimagined: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07728RXWS/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

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Many thanks to Tracey for popping by!

See you next week!

Happy reading,

Jenny xx

Mark Norman: Folklore Thinking

Today I’m joined by one of my fellow members of the Exeter Author Association; folklore expert, Mark Norman.  So go and grab a cuppa, then come back and have a read…

Hello. My name is Mark Norman. I am a folklore researcher and author based on the edge of Dartmoor, in the South West of the UK. Although I sometimes stray into the world of fiction, most of my writing is non-fiction, being based around my research. So today, I would like to introduce you to the world of folklore, and my writing within that area.

Folklore essentially boils down to being an examination of the traditions and beliefs of individuals and communities: literally, folk-lore or the beliefs (lore) or the people (folk). It can be seen to span various broader disciplines such as psychology or anthropology, but I prefer to think of it as a part of social history and it is therefore as a history discipline that I tend to work most.

Although I am a committee member of the Folklore Society, the UK’s oldest academic organisation for the study of the subject, I am not affiliated to any institution, being an independent researcher. I am therefore free to focus on whatever aspects of the subject I choose to explore.

My interests within the field of folklore are quite broad, but the areas that I mostly focus on are the more regional aspects of folklore within the area that I live and most particularly, the phenomenon of ghostly apparitions of phantom Black Dogs. This is the aspect of folklore upon which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle drew when he wrote what is arguably one of his most famous Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

My most involved publication to date is my book, Black Dog Folklore, which was published in 2015 by Troy Books. To date, this book is the only academic investigation of the subject by a single author. I hold what is thought to be the UKs largest archive of Black Dog sightings, traditions and eyewitness accounts (probably over 1,000 now) and around 700 of these are included in a gazetteer in the appendix of the book.

Publication of Black Dog Folklore was the culmination of around ten years of research, on and off; an undertaking which could have continued for longer had I not taken the decision to draw a line under the research at the time and decide that the book should come out at that stage. One of the difficulties of working in an area of cultural history such as this is that one story will inevitably lead to many more. New information comes to light all the time and stories change and develop. So, although the book is out on the shelves, the work on the subject most definitely continues.

Aside for this full-length study, I publish a lot of short-form articles for magazines, websites and in other places where I am invited (or sometimes cajoled) to contribute. Amongst these, for example, are pieces for Mythology magazine on Christmas traditions, an article on dog bones discovered at an archaeological dig and related to my research for Folklore Thursday website, an article for a personal site on the folkloric links of The Hound of the Baskervilles and a piece on the links between Sirius (the dog star) and dogs in folklore. I was also asked by the producers of one of Sir Tony Robinson’s documentary series’ to advise on some Black Dog lore in the area being discussed.

I have been asked to contribute to, or contribute myself to, various books and anthologies. Most recently I co-authored a chapter on fairies in Devon for a new book called Magical Folk published by Gibson Square and a chapter proposal I was asked to make for a new academic book published by Palsgrave Macmillan is being looked at currently. My fiction short story The Padding Horror which sets some of my research against a fictional backdrop of Victorian Dartmoor in Lovecraftian style was published in the UK as part of a charity anthology called Secret Invasion, to raise money for the mental health charity MIND and is published this month in America in another anthology called Fairy Tales and Folklore Reimagined.

Another large chunk of my writing time is taken up in script writing. I am the creator and host of The Folklore Podcast which is quite widely listened to around the world. In fact, just a couple of hours ago as I write this, I learned that it is currently ranked at #141 in the US iTunes charts for History. The podcast is released twice a month, with one episode being a guest interview and the other a presentation written by myself. It is admittedly a lot of work to script this frequently alongside other projects and so sometimes I share my research across other projects that I do to help with this. For example, as I speak relatively frequently at conferences or public events, I will sometimes adapt talks for podcast episodes or vice versa.

As far as future book publications go, I am currently planning to release a volume of extended essays on a range of folklore subjects. The backbone of these will be from past scripts I have written for the podcast episodes, which will then be expanded and researched more tangentially to form longer studies suitable for book chapters. I am also looking to work on another longer study of an area of folklore in the same style as Black Dog Folklore. There is another well-known piece of widespread folklore which has not been seriously studied or collected together since the 1930s to which I am hoping to turn my attention.

It is certainly the case that books and writing form a large part of my life. At home I live with my wife Tracey who is also a writer (see her recent blog on this site about her play WITCH for example) and, with a colleague, we also produce and narrate audiobooks. I am also on the judging panel for a national book awards for non-fiction titles and with what remaining time I have left in the week, I work for Libraries Unlimited, the umbrella organisation for Devon Libraries.

I hope that you have found this short insight into my research and writing interesting. I am always happy to talk about my research and you can contact me easily via my social media pages below. If you are interested in the subject, please do get in touch.

BOOKS

Black Dog Folklore is available at https://thefolklorepodcast.weebly.com/store/p24/blackdogfolklore

Magical Folk is available at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0783R465X/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Fairy Tales and Folklore Reimagined is available at http://btwnthelines.com/dd-product/fairy-tales-and-folklore-re-imagined/

Secret Invasion is available for charity donation at www.justgiving.com/secretinvasion

WEBSITES AND SOCIAL MEDIA

The Folklore Podcast: www.thefolklorepodcast.com

The Folklore Podcast: www.facebook.com/thefolklorepodcast

Research and writing: www.facebook.com/marknormanfolklore

The Folklore Podcast: @folklorepod

Mark Norman: @Mr_Mark_Norman

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Many thanks Mark,

Happy reading everyone.

Jenny xx

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