Fire Springs and Friends events!

Fire Springs are greeting summer icumen in with a song! Ballad Tales is launched in June, featuring stories by editor Kevan, and by Anthony, Chantelle, David, Kirsty and Richard – that’s right, the whole Fire Springs kit and caboodle! You can buy the book here, and why not come to our launch events in Stroud on 9 June and in Bath 19 June?

That’s not the only new book: with his Awen hat on, Anthony is pleased to announce the publication of a new edition of Charlotte Hussey’s Glossing the Spoils – a collection of ‘glosa’ poems casting a contemporary light on passages from medieval epics and romances. Check out the Awen blog for lots of ecobardic content, too!

Two Fire Springs are out next week in Midsomer Norton as part of Bath Festivals – David and Richard are performing Outsiders and Outcasts on 25 May. Four Fire Springs are going to be performing with Gloucestershire goth legends Inkubus Sukkubus at St Briavels Castle for Midsummer – is it a good thing the night is short? Kirsty and Anthony will be telling Gloucestershire ghoulish tales, while Kevan and Chantelle explore the Celtic otherworlds… Further from home, Anthony will be taking part in Writing on the Wall, an immersive day of eco-poetry curated by Jay Ramsay as part of the Waterloo Festival in London, and Chantelle’s performing at Singing Together in Doncaster.

Anthony and Kevan are out and about on the blogosphere, too: On Anthony’s Deep Time blog are new pieces about Greg Bear’s Queen of Angels, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain, W.A. Harbinson’s The Light of Eden, and Austin Tappan Wright’s Islandia. and Kevan’s Bardic Academic page has everything from the Bard of Hawkwood contest to writing fantasy!

Look out for further updates for all spoken word events on twitter @StroudStory and for storytelling on the Gloucestershire Storytelling facebook page and explore the whole bulletin right here:

http://mailchi.mp/df40f228aae9/fire-springs-and-friends-storytelling-and-spoken-word-events-late-may-and-june

You’ll want to scroll as there are many, many treats from us and our friends this month!

 

Interview with Agent Krisa, DCHQ

I’ve come to C23AprilNDDjpeg-212x300heltenham today to meet up with one of the members of staff at DCHQ, a rather secret organisation in this pleasant Regency town, best known for horse-racing and … the other place. We meet in a café near the museum, a busy and slightly noisy place. Agent Krisa smiles at my surprise and confides that the noisier and busier the place, the less likely people are to overhear. She’s a tall, dark haired woman, dressed  loudly in a shiny, but rather tweedy jacket, and with severe glasses that make her look older than she probably is. There’s something of the schoolmistress there – or maybe, given her job at DCHQ – a librarian. For Agent Krisa has an important role there – she is the Keeper of Tails – oops, I mean Tales.

It turns out that they do outreach, you see, and in Stroud’s Museum in the Park on Sunday 23 April – the day we know as St George’s Day, but they call National Dragon Day for reasons that will become apparent – she and Agent Green from the same organisation are going to be telling stories, and Agent Green is going to be doing some practical activities with the children.

My interview doesn’t get off to the best of starts…

H: What can you tell me about DCHQ? I know it’s very secret.

AK: Indeed. All you need to know is that it’s the Dragon Conservation Headquarters – I think the title says it all, really. Don’t you?

H:  And your role, Keeper of Tales? What does that, ahem, entail?

AK: My job is to look after the records. I’m an archivist – although there’s a bit of a museum there, too – you know, the twisted swords of those who tried to kill dragons, some burnt bricks from destroyed cities, that kind of thing.

H: Really?

AK: Oh yes, of course, the dragons are great hoarders, so our storerooms are quite, quite full. But I spend most of my time with the records. Our archive is the most important archive of dragon stories in the world – well, the Chinese have pretty good records. We’ve got the very earliest tales, like Marduk and Tiamat from ancient from ancient Babylon on clay cuneiform cylinders, we’ve got all the St George stories, and, of course – all the current sightings and stories are held there too.

H: Sounds fascinating? So, how did you get into this?

AK: Well, I was a little bit older than Agent Green – she was recruited straight from university for her … unique skills. I, however, was already a fully qualified archivist before I got the job. It all happened in Greece, you see. My name – well, its not really my name, you understand, is like Agent Green’s – except its Greek, almost the Greek for gold. My father is a Greek Cypriot, so it seemed the right thing, especially after what happened. I was hiking in the mountains of the Peloponnese when I was about 30, and I’d got a little lost and was feeling a little concerned that I’d be stuck out all night. I mean, it was very beautiful – but you know there’s no mountain rescue in Greece! Then, when I turned a corner – I chanced upon a young dragon sunning herself. I don’t know who was more startled. I’m not afraid to say that I thought my time was up! But, in fact, she was very helpful, especially when she learnt what I did for a living – turns out she had a hoard of old scrolls from hundreds of years ago that she was looking after and was keen for someone to look after them.

H: Gosh, what happened then?

AK: Well, dear Fotia, as I learnt she was called (it means fire!) carried me down to the path again, I went back to where I was staying and in the morning I thought I’d dreamt it. I mean, I’d read a lot of fantasy books, and I’d read a lot of folk tales – and was quite adept at telling them, too – but dragons? No!

H: But you are working for DCHQ now, so…

AK: Yes. I went home to England again – I was living in Bath then, a favourite dragon place, I later learnt – and there on the doormat was waiting a letter, inviting me to an interview at a secret location in Cheltenham. I was to be met by an official – and there was the blindfold and everything. I was quite unnerved. But when I saw the archive for the first time, I knew I had to take the job!

H: So, describe a normal day at DCHQ for you

AK: First thing, I check that the environmental conditions are still stable. Many of our records are very, very old so we have to ensure that the temperature and relative humidity stay stable. With all our friends around it can sometimes get a little hot, as I am sure you can imagine … and if things do get a little damp, I know I can easily warm things up! But its a question of making sure they don’t get too hot… Then I spend  lot of time digitising the records – scanning and typing up onto our database. I catalogue the new acquisitions, manage the volunteers – making they know to cover their claws and put on the protective fire-proof muzzle – some of them can get quite excitable as they read the tales of their ancestors, you know.

H: You mean…

AK: Oh yes, they do like to get involved!

I’m fascinated, but Agent Krisa has now finished her coffee and, although she’s all smiles, I can see she’s looking to wrap things up.

H: So, what’s happening this Sunday?

AK: Agent Green is doing one of her outreach sessions. She’ll be teaching basic dragon tracking – how survive your first encounter with a wild dragon … Stabling and feeding … Techno-magical devices and clothing … What to wear for formal meetings with dragons. Plus important first aid such as What to do if your dragon’s flame goes out. Great fun! We all have to cover this, you know! And I’ll be telling some tales from the archives – including St George’s story, and one of those ancient tales from my first dragon friend, Fotia.

H: When is all this, then? And how can we book?

AK: It starts at 3pm, in the Museum in the Park. You can book by calling the museum on 01453 763394, just £3 for children and adults go free! We’re really looking forward to seeing you there. Perhaps you should come and find out more.

And with that she’s gone … and I realise she’s left me to pay!

 

The Maid, the Maggot and the Saints

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On National Dragon Day this year – you might know it better as St George’s Day, the 23 April – two agents from DCHQ (Dragon Conservation Headquarters, not the Other Place) in Cheltenham Agent Green and Agent Krisa will be coming to the Museum in the Park, Stroud, at 3pm to teach dragon tracking and to tell dragon tales straight from the archives – and straight from the dragon’s mouths…

Here’s one of the stranger tales in the archives…

In the small village of Little Langford, on the banks of the River Wylye and on the edge of Grovely Wood, there once lurked a monster. It terrorised the village – it jolly well near destroyed it! But the question is – was it there at all?

The evidence for the tale was self-evident to the villagers. Why, it was carved on the very doorway of their church! There you could see the poor unfortunate maid who thought she’d tamed the beast dressed in her long skirts and there, about to engulf her, are the pointy teeth of the maggot. Carved in the stone below that is a hunting scene, and the villagers said that shows the beast being rounded up by the hunters.

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The story is featured in my Wiltshire Folk Tales book, although there are other variants of the legend. Little Langford was one location that had alluded me when I was researching the book. I have to confess – we were put off by utterly torrential rain and spent the day in nearby Salisbury in the cathedral and coffee shops! However, on our way back from the Isle of Wight a week or so ago, we finally went. Little Langford is a very small village, and has been rather compromised by the railway that runs alongside both the road and the river.

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The church is on the other side of the railway to the few houses on the road and, when you get there, appears to be dwarfed by its vicarage. In the church itself we found another version of the tale – this time the maggot, rather than being destructive, did some good in the world. It ate the maid, yes, but she was not an innocent girl but a lady who had wanted to deprive the villagers of their right to gather wood in Grovely Wood.

This wood gathering is a contentious business in the area. In the close by village of Great Wishford, the villagers had to enact a tradition to ensure their rights to gather. The laws concerning this go back at least to Elizabethan times, from when there are charters saying that a group of dancers have to go to the cathedral and be blessed. This used to take place in Whit week, and now – still – happens on May 29, Oak Apple Day. The day begins with collecting the wood – oak no thicker than a man’s arm, green willow and hazel wands – and raising the cry ‘Grovely, Grovely, and all is Grovely!’ All dressed up, the villagers proceed to Salisbury with their banners: ‘Unity is Strength!’, which I presume must go back to the 19th century when it was necessary to fight for these rights. Some branches are placed on the high altar and all is blessed. Then the party begins! So, you can see how excited the villagers might get to have this critical right, the right that gave them warmth through the winter in the firewood they gathered, taken away. But going to the cathedral and dancing is one thing – resorting to a giant maggot is another!

The story echoes many tales of unsuspecting people nurturing something that turns out to be a dragon – or, as they are often called in England, a worm.  Now, worms and maggots, it could be argued, are fairly similar in looks, it’s most likely the maggot is really a juvenile dragon.  Dragon stories are very rare in Wiltshire, but in next door Somerset there are many…

But is this really what’s going on? The tympanum has other interpretations, and may in fact represent another Wiltshire legend. If you don’t want to hear that it might not be the maggot – stop reading here!

One of Wiltshire’s key saints is St Aldhelm, a 7th century saint who studied at Malmesbury Abbey under the Irish monk Maildubh and at Canterbury, so learning both Roman and Celtic Christianity – he’s also featured in Wiltshire Folk Tales… I like Aldhelm for a particular reason. He was storyteller. Understanding that people can get bored when being preached to, he would liven up his performances with songs, and clowning – even juggling! It was his mission to raise the educational level of Wessex and he wrote songs to help ordinary people understand Christian stories. But there was one time when he couldn’t keep the audience. He was in a place near Warminster, and it wasn’t going well. So he set his staff aside to try some juggling, but then everyone started looking at the staff – it had taken root and flowered!

028.jpgThere are those that say that the tympanum shows St Aldhelm with his staff now become an ash tree. If you look closely you can see it’s a bishop – there’s his crozier in his hand, his mitre on his head, the correct garments underneath… The carving may have been done around the time of Bishop Osmund of Sarum (1078–1099). Osmund was a particular promoter of Aldhelm’s legend.

But it might also represent St Nicholas, the original Santa Claus, to whom the church is dedicated. You see the three dots in the pattern next to the maid/bishop? Those could represent St Nicholas’ emblem of three balls. BUT – there’s more! For you see, in his youth St Nicholas had an encounter with a dragon – one that marks him as a cuddlier, friendlier saint than our St George. Once, a town was being terrorised by a dragon, and Nicholas was brought in to help. Maybe the town’s folk thought he’d slay the beast, but instead Nicholas charmed it and calmed it so that it troubled the town no more … and they didn’t trouble it. So maybe those sharp zig-zags really are dragon’s teeth and the tympanum shows the moment where the saint calms the dragon down … just in the teeth of time!

If you’d like to hear the story of the Maid and Maggot, of St George and Dragon and more, then join us on Sunday 23 April at the Museum in the Park, Stroud at 3pm. Agent Green is really Chloe of the Midnight Storytellers, and Agent Krisa is me, Kirsty from Fire Springs.

To book simply give the museum a call on 01453 763394. £3 children, accompanying adults go free. And don’t miss out on our special Family Tickets – a steal at just £10!

 Sources:

Jordan, Katy The Haunted Landscape: Folklore, Ghosts and Legends of Wiltshire (Cromwell Press, 2000), pp. 20-21

Wiltshire Wandering: Obsessive Journeying to Draw Anglo-Saxon and Norman Sculpture: http://wiltshirewandering.blogspot.co.uk/2017_02_01_archive.html

http://www.information-britain.co.uk/customdetail.php?id=47

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/dragon-charmer/

Images:

All images © Kirsty Hartsiotis

Wild Thing

A wild thing to make your heart sing? Kevan on the wild men of legend, especially the Scottish Urisk.

The Bardic Academic

Wild Thing, you make my heart sing …

I must confess a fondness for fauns. And for their shaggier cousins, especially the Urisk – described as a ‘rough hairy spirit’ it is thought to prefer the solitude of wild, mountainous places. Folklorists were careful to differentiate these from the more domestic Brownie. One cannot imagine an Urisk performing any household chores – they are as to Brownies as the Lynx is the domesticated cat. They are believed to gather once in a blue moon at the ‘Corrie of the Urisks’ in the Trossachs, as evoked in this poem by Sir Walter Scott:

By many a bard, in Celtic tongue,
Has Coire-nan-Uriskin been sung;
A softer name the Saxons gave,
And call’d the grot the Goblin-cave,
 
Gray Superstition’s whisper dread
Debarr’d the spot to vulgar tread;
For there, she said, did fays resort,
And satyrs hold their sylvan court.

 

Yet…

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Hopeless Things…

Today we are straying far from our usual haunts to far stranger shores where slimy things walk … with spoons, upon the slimy land, to paraphrase a certain famous poet. We have a guest creature on the blog! I hope you will welcome this ‘Hopeless Thing’…

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It happens that good friends of ours, Tom and Nimue Brown, have a new addition in their family … of books … and have offered up this and other strange denizens to walk (or crawl, or fly, or … move in other unspeakable ways) into the blogworlds of others. Here at Fire Springs Folk Tales we have had green children, shucks, dragons and other ‘exotica’ as the Greeks call these creatures – even when they are native to their shores – but never before has this entity set tentacle (or spoon) on the shores of England. However, I do wonder if the equally mournful figure of the merman of Orford would recognise them from his travels, or the sea serpent that lives off the coast at Pakefield… But they will never share their secrets…

This being is one of many, many strangelings in their gothically glorious graphic novel, Hopeless, Maine: The Gathering, published by Sloth Comics. If you want to investigate further (and I recommend you do!) you can find it here, available (alongside our books of tales!) at the Book Depository, as well as through your local book and comic shops.

Hopeless is a strange, gothic island off the coast of Maine, cut off from the rest of reality for the greater part. Hopeless Maine is also a graphic novel series, the peculiar child of Tom and Nimue Brown. Here’s a little taste of island life:

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Spoonwalker: It isn’t easy being a soft, slow moving squishy thing on a cold, hard, hungry island like Hopeless Maine. This is why spoonwalkers have adapted to use stilts. It’s believed that early spoonwalkers made do with bits of twig and whatever else they could employ to get their unhappy bodies off the ground and moving at a swifter pace. The arrival of cutlery-bearing humans on the island caused a radical change. Why it is that spoonwalkers favour spoons over all other cutlery, is uncertain, but an unattended spoon is always at risk of night pillaging from these creatures. The spoonwalker can never have enough spoons, and will sneak into houses for the sole purpose of raiding cutlery drawers to satisfy its cravings for shiny metal. Wooden spoons are seldom taken.

Cooking instructions: can be fried, but better just have the tentacle as many diners find the mournful faces off-putting.

Images © Tom Brown

Information on spoonwalkers kindly provided by Tom and Nimue Brown, with additional gloss by Kirsty Hartsiotis.

There are eight more creatures out there! Check out @GothicalTomB and @Nimue_B on twitter to catch them all!

 

The Rebirth of Stroud Out Loud! 30 October 2016 – by Kevan Manwaring

Stroud Out Loud! – the monthly open mic event I set up a couple of years ago at Mr Twitchett’s, the café – bar of the Subscription Rooms (having moved there from Black Book Cafe, where it was known as Story Supper – itself a ‘reincarnation’ of a previous Stroud event, Story Cabaret…) has moved to a new venue, and a new slot – the last Sunday of the month. The Little Vic, as it’s fondly known, is the ‘function room’ of the Queen Victoria pub, found at the bottom of the High Street, the main artery of Stroud’s throbbing metropolis.

 

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Kevan with the banner and seasonally appropriate vegetables…

 

Weighed down with an enormous pumpkin, backdrop, candles, flyers, horn, and other bardic miscellany, I arrived early to set up; hanging, with help from Team Brown, the drapes and putting out chairs and lights in exactly the same kind of way we used to set up the long-running Bath Storytelling Circle (founded by Anthony Nanson) which started off in the skittle alley of a backstreet pub before I found its current and long-standing venue, The Raven, where it’s been ever since. Finding the right venue is critical to a story circle’s success – it needs the right acoustics, the right ambience, and the right location. In the Little Vic, I think we’ve hit paydirt. With the room ‘dressed’ it looked splendidly atmospheric, and in a story performance, atmosphere does half the work. In a heritage venue that’s usually easy, but in a more modern space, often with harsh lighting, that can be harder – but the Little Vic was already half-way there, with beams and low-lighting. It is a very adaptable space as well, enabling different set-ups – which is partly why it finds itself hosting regular folk music, singers, stand-up, and now storytelling nights, as well as the odd Halloween disco (though somebody had run off with one of the life-sized skeletons the night before!). Our fabulous new banner was hung pride of place – the result of an enjoyable ‘art party’. After the logo was created by Tom Brown from a sketch-concept by his partner, Nimue, the banner was painted at Becca’s, with Kirsty Hartsiotis and myself adding the borders. Pumpkin pie and other snacks kept us going – and the result shows what can be achieved. Running a regular event like this can be a thankless task. You don’t get anything for it, and it can often feel like you’re doing all the hard work for everyone else’s benefits – providing a free, supportive and creative space for folk to flourish in (yes, you get to try things out as well, but you’re still doing the donkey work, and MC-ing well can be tiring, especially if you’re not feeling ‘entertaining’) – but the banner, and the resulting evening, shows what can happen when it becomes a truly team effort. It feels far more fun, fluid and enjoyable. I doubt I would have carried on the evening without this support, but this has given it a new lease of life.

And the awen flowed!

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Tom and Nimue Brown with James Colvin singing the Lyke Wake Dirge

After I introduced the evening, the Browns evoked the perfect ambience for Samhain, the Celtic New Year (more commonly known as Halloween) with a fantastic rendition of ‘The Lyke Wake Dirge’. Then we had poems from the current Bard of Hawkwood, Anthony Hentschel, which explored and expressed the ‘shadow’. Next, veteran actor Paul regaled us with a fantastic Jewish tale, accompanied by his fiddle. We had poems from Terry Custance about his trip to the USA; followed by a personal anecdote by a visiting American, Robin O’Flynn. The fact that Robin felt welcome to walk in off the street and safe enough to share with complete strangers the story of her life was proof of the pudding, as far as I was concerned, that we had created the right kind of space. Then we had Wayland who had come up from Royal Wootton Bassett to share his tale of the Moddey Dhu, the Black Dog that haunts Peel Castle on the Isle of Man.

 

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Robin tells her anecdote!

 

It was great to have a cross-section of storytelling styles and other art-forms, including acapella singing, music, stand-up and poetry. I invited young James, of the Browns, up to share his song, ‘Three Drops’, which we all joined in with, and this led nicely into my version of ‘The Battle of Brunanburgh’, adapted from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, which I performed accompanying myself with shruti box and bones. After the break we had an amusing stand-up routine from Peter Adams, a vivid poem about a fox from Robin Collins, which inspired me to relate my Oxfordshire story of ‘The White Hare’(featured in The Anthology of English Folk Tales, published by The History Press on 1st November); and this, in turn, inspired Nimue to share her song, ‘The White Hare’ … I love it when such spontaneous connections emerge. Then we had Fiona Eadie’s tour-de-force, her version of Tam Lin, which she always likes to perform at Halloween – a prose version of this is featured in Ballad Tales: an anthology of British Ballads retold, which I had been slaving away at for the Halloween deadline (it is due out, also from The History Press, next July, and features myself, Nimue, and other SOL! regulars like Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiotis and Chantelle Smith among others). We had a comic song from James about David Attenborough, a final poem from Anthony about ‘the Owl Lady’, then I shared my version of another Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Ruin’, a suitably melancholic meditation on mortality and impermanence for Samhain. Nimue offered a great closing shanty, which got us all singing along, then I sent everyone on their way with a traditional Celtic valediction. Everyone went home with a bit of magic and a warm glow in their hearts. As Peter Adams quipped: ‘a Little Vic is good for you!’ It was an excellent evening and hopefully the first of many at our lovely new home.

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Stroud Out Loud! returns on 27 November, 7pm for 7.30pm start. Arrive early for a slot. 3 mins if reading, up to 10 mins if performing from memory. Little Vic, Queen Victoria, 5 Gloucester Street, Stroud GL5 1QG. (NB the December SOL! Will be on the 18th).

New Folk Tales book featuring Three Fire Springs!

The Anthology of English Folk Tales is out today, 1 November 2016! This treasury of tales from all around England is drawn from the History Press’s county folk tales series and features tellers such as Taffy Thomas MBE, Hugh Lupton, David Phelps, the storyteller who started the History Press on this folk and ghost tale journey – and Anthony, Kevan and Kirsty from Fire Springs! We three have five tales in the book, from Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Wiltshire and Suffolk. And of course it has an all new cover illustration from folk tales illustrator extraordinaire, Katherine Soutar-Caddick! An ideal Christmas present for wide-ranging folk tale seekers?

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That’s not all – all SIX Fire Springs members – Chantelle, David and Richard as well as the usual suspects above are going to be featured in a new History Press book coming out in 2017. Ballad Tales, edited by Kevan, is a book of 20 tales inspired by traditional British ballads by storytellers, writers and musicians.  Kevan’s heroically produced all the interior illustrations, but the cover design will be a departure – Stroud-based printmaker Andy Kinnear has been commissioned to produce a cover in his inimitable macabre style… Watch this space!

 

Folk and Fairy Tales from England, their history and meaning. By Kirsty Hartsiotis.

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