The Isle of Skye is rich in fairy lore. One of the most magical-looking is the miniature landscape of grassy, cone-shaped hills and whimsical rock spirals of Fairy Glen.
There is no documented folklore linking the landscape to the realm of myth, and there have been no actual sightings of fairies, Fairy Glen is rich in folklore. You can easily imagine the the fairy folk in this landscape.
There is another explanation for the rock formations found at Fairy Glen. The geological formations are the result of a landslip, triggered by volcanic activity on northern edge of the Isle of Skye about 60 million years ago. The resultant lava flow that would have covered northern Skye was 1,200m thick.
To many, this otherworldly landscape was created by the fairies. There’s belief the fairies still live here, hiding in the crevices…Remember it’s important to leave Fairy Glen as you found it: the fairies are watching you.
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.
According to English folklore, Bluebells were often used to call fairies…If you “rang” a bluebell like you would any normal bell, it was believed fairies would come to you. But fairies are notoriously dangerous bargainers and the need to call fairies for aid must be great to risk the summons.
There is another folklore that states if you hear a bluebell ring, somebody close to you will die. Bluebells growing en masse in a field were best avoided.
Christmas is a time for celebration and family gatherings, right? Strictly speaking, yes. But there are darker lores beneath the celebration many of us enjoy each year. The folklore surrounding the Krampus and even Saint Nicholas and the Butcher are grisly territory.
When I travelled to Iceland in 2019 for research, I found a very different set of folklores related to Christmas and the span of Yuletide. The folklore of thirteen Yule trolls who terrorise and disrupt Icelandic life for thirteen days is eclipsed by the arrival of their mother, the cannibalistic troll-witch Gryla who steals away children to cook into stew for her large family in their mountain cave.
Fascinated by this dark and fable-like warning of the dangers around Yuletide in Iceland, I was inspired to write a short story featuring Gryla and the Yule trolls, focusing on the darker natures the Yule trolls reportedly once possessed before modern sanctification of their images.
I am always fascinated by First Nations legends and lore. One of my current research projects has focused on the Inuit legends of the Qallupilluk, monstrous female beings who lurk in the frozen waterways and beneath the ice sheets, snatching unwary children beneath the icy water.
My latest short story examines this legend from the perspective of an outsider, someone who is not of the Inuit, and to whom the legends are foreign, placing her and her child at risk.
In one of my latest research themes, I explored the Ancient Egyptian mythology surrounding Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of war and a daughter of Ra. In one myth, Ra is angered by the Egyptian people’s lack of subservience to him and sends Sekhmet as punishment. She devours the armies sent against her until the deserts run with blood, so strong in her lust for war. Sekhmet is finally subdued by wine poured over the bloody sand until her wrath is calmed.
I was inspired by the war goddess Sekhmet when writing a new microfiction which focuses on Sekhmet as a force, her bloodlust fuelling the rise of war in Ancient Egypt.
One of my recent short stories, a work-in-progress, was a reimagining of a tale recounted in the classic rendition, The Arabian Nights translated by Sir Richard Burton. The volume, also known as One Thousand and One Nights follows the sultana Scheherazade who cunningly begins a tale each night, never finishing it until the next, to prevent jealous and murderous husband from killing her, and ensuring her survival.
In developing an original tale inspired by The Arabian Nights story “The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Peri Banu”, I also incorporated inspiration from the fourteenth century Iberian Moorish kingdom, the Nasrid caliphate in Granada, Andalusia. In Persian folklore, the peri were diminutive brilliantly coloured winged-beings, a race that were seperate and as powerful as Jinn and Ifriit, and hunted by both. These rare fairy-like beings are the focus of my reimagined and original tale.
My current work-in-progress novella explores trickster lores and legends in two different cultures, Old Icelandic and Australian First Nations.
I have a keen interest in Tricksters, and in this novella, I have been exploring two Trickster figures from very different cultural backgrounds: Loki from Old Norse legend and Crow, present in many Australian First Nations cultures.
The focus of the novella is on Loki his customary role of physical transformation which is also shared with Crow and, incidentally, many other Trickster figures like Coyote and Raven from North American First Nations among others.
This work-in-progress is not a retelling of any specific legends but is a reimagining inspired by the lore and legends surrounding the Trickster figures of Crow and Loki.
In a recent story, I explored one of the worst shipwrecks that occurred off south-eastern Australia, a notorious stretch of coast known as the “shipwreck coast”. I have been fascinated by the history behind a treacherous, narrow bay, the Loch Ard Gorge named after the 1878 shipwreck of the Loch Ard merchant ship, one of the Australia’s deadliest shipwrecks, where only two survived from the 54 on board.
Loch Ard Gorge is located near Cape Otway on the south-eastern Australian coastline where the infamous southern Ocean has eroded the sandstone coastline creating many the natural rock formations including the ‘twelve apostles’ along the Great Australian Bight. This region is prone to storms and pounding surf from the Antarctic, and rich marine ecosystems of great white sharks, seals, whales, dolphins and many species of fish and other marine life. This thriving region is also home to more than two hundred shipwrecks during Australia’s colonial history, a short span of time compared to the sixty thousand years of indigenous occupation.
In writing my own fictionalised account of this historic event, I imagined a third survivor, one who fled England for Melbourne undetected, a damned soul for who must eventually pay their due. I was inspired and fascinated by the gothic folklore of the sea, damned sea voyages encapsulated in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Homer’s The Odyssey among others.
One of the stories I have been working on recently was retelling a fairytale with an LGBTQI focus. There have been several recent explorations transposing gender roles in fairytales, but I wanted to draw attention to the inclusivity of love and also retell a fairytale that could highlight struggles for LGBTQI community both past and present.
I recently came across a gorgeous fairytale retelling in French FairyTales by Sophie Masson and illustrated by Lorena Carrington titled ‘The King of Crows’. This fairytale was new to me and I loved it’s complex themes, the parts of other tales wound into it in such a unique way. It was a vibrant fairytale with elements that were part-quest, part-curse and transformation.
In my own retelling, the sorcerer curses a queen for her refusal to submit to him and refusal to marry him and is transformed into a crow along with the subjects of her kingdom. Under the strict rules of the curse, the crow queen must find her true love but cannot be seen in her human form at night. The queen finds her true love, a young musician playing in the forest one day, a woman like herself who has no desire to marry a man and be a wife or mother. This unlikely union becomes true love and they marry under the Queen’s decree, but the consort cannot keep her curiosity at bay and seeing the Crow Queen by moonlight. The Sorcerer comes victorious to claim the Crow Queen, taking her far away to be isolated forever. Desperate to save her Queen, the consort consults a fae being who tells her how to find her Queen, beyond the moon and sun, to a land untouched by light and gives her a pair of iron shoes to wear. She will know her queen is near when the iron shoes break, and know she has found her queen when the blue grasses sing. The Consort begins her quest and long trek until the prophesied words become true and she rescues her queen, no longer a crow, the lovers are reunited.