The Australian Fairy Tale Society is holding its annual conference in Brisbane, Queensland next month! The theme is Flesh or Fossil – old stories, new reinventions. I will be there giving a talk on the art of the fairy tale retelling, which is one of those things I am actually able to talk about forever. I will be discussing how three different fairy tale retellings by Australian authors subvert, reimagine and recontextualise the original stories, and what it is that keeps driving storytellers to return to the structure of the fairy tale. What do we choose to keep? What do we discard? There is a fascinating line-up for this conference, and you can find all the details on the AFTS website here. Registrations are open until September 18th!
FableCroft is running a Kickstarter campaign for its first anthology in six years, The Art of Being Human. It’s wonderful to see another FableCroft collection coming together with Tehani Wessely’s usual wonderful creative drive, and an honour to be a part of it! You can make a pledge here and read about the work of other contributors here.
My story Among the faded woods is set in an alternate 1920s, where the Great War is over but the streets are full of ghosts and haunting has become a sickness to plague the living. Everyone knows two things – the dead don’t love you back, and the dead don’t talk. After a family tragedy, Laurel is the only survivor of the three Darthe daughters, but it turns out that perhaps her sisters do still have something they want to say.
This story is, of course, partially inspired by certain recent events.
When the pandemic started, the 2020s started to feel like their own alternate reality where anything could and would happen, a lumbering pageant of disasters with no end point in sight. In times of crisis, I comfort-read Agatha Christie murder mysteries, which is a rather odd habit because honestly they are not especially comforting books. The modern adaptations attempt to soften their edges with diverse casting and sensitive storytelling but the originals contain some of the worst possible opinions of the time periods in which they were written, and will make you rather want to commit a murder or two yourself. Christie’s first book was published in 1920 and her last posthumously in 1976. In sequence they portray a society in a state of constant, ungraceful change, where every step towards the future is met with indignation on behalf of a rose-tinted past, where a veneer of wealth and glamour is laid across an ocean of anxiety, resentment and violence. And yet there is something about Christie’s storytelling that gets its claws in you. The dead don’t rest quietly; they are always whispering under the dirt until the truth is told. In two separate Christies, there is a specific image that has stuck with me: a beautiful garden, and beneath it, two women buried in unmarked graves. But the garden gives it away. The plants grow wild there like the roses in a fairy tale, consuming their sleepers. Or perhaps it is closer to Arthurian legend, to the story of Vortigern. No walls can ever stand while built on this site of turmoil.
When I was first invited to write a story for The Art of Being Human, I wasn’t thinking about any of these things. I tossed around a few different ideas, none of which lit a spark. It was a rough time for me creatively, as it has been for a lot of people, to the point where I’ve started calling it the 2020s Burnout as a shorthand. And then I started thinking about ghosts. I began writing with a jumble of unclear ideas in mind. Spectacles, I thought, spectacles as protective equipment to ward off the eyes of the dead. Wards laid on people’s houses. Servants, of course, wearing spectacles at their employer’s discretion. The world building came easily but I didn’t really know what the story was about until I realised I was writing a mystery story. This is not like me at all. Usually I realise I’m writing a fairy tale. Among the faded woods came in stops and starts; I gradually uncovered the mystery myself as I was writing.
This wasn’t an easy story to write but I finished it at a time when finishing anything at all felt like a miracle. Throughout the height of the pandemic, I was still going to work every day, my routine practically unchanged while normality turned on its head in every direction. This story was, I suppose, an odd kind of an answer that sense of unreality – that I could still make art, in spite of it all. There is a special place in my heart for this story and for this book.
There is a Bertolt Brecht quote that I have seen doing the rounds over the past few years. “In the dark times will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.” Thank you, Tehani, for the music.
I have been blogging regularly here since 2012, which makes this year ten. Every previous year I’ve kicked off with a project, something connected to the myths, legends and fairy tales that I love to research. I’ve struggled to admit to myself I need to write this post, but it’s already February and I have been hit hard by the 2020s burnout. I just don’t have the time or energy right now to commit to any kind of project. Honestly, I’m just very tired, a sentiment I think most of you will be sharing.
I may still write for this blog at points in the year, and I do intend to come back to regular blogging eventually, but right now I’m on hiatus. I’m also closing down my Patreon for the moment. I have a limited amount of creative energy and I need to focus it on the stories I want to tell. I hope that someday soon I will be able to share them with you. Thank you to everyone who has followed along with the projects I’ve written over the years, I have appreciated it more than I can say. Take care in this strange wild world.
I LIVE! The last couple of months have been an absolute whirlwind for me but I’m back, bringing you important Arthurian gossip in these difficult times. This is going to be a mammoth one, bringing together two months worth of Patreon posts. If you would like to hear from me a bit more regularly, you can sign up to my Patreon to get weekly posts!
Trigger warning: references to sexual harassment
A large company of knights ride out into the forest for a hunt and Arthur, Uriens and Accolon of Gaul give chase to an impressive hart. They ride so far and fast that they leave their friends behind, and so incautiously that their poor horses are killed by the relentless pace. They chase the hart on foot to the bank of a ‘great water’, where the hart is killed by hunting hounds and Arthur is distracted by the arrival of a beautiful little ship. He goes to investigate, his companions close behind.
At first glance the ship appeared abandoned but as night falls, torches around the ship burst into flame and twelve young women emerge, kneeling to Arthur and welcoming him as an expected and honoured guest. He does not think to question this. Instead, he eats their lavish feast, and sleeps in a very comfortable bed, and he wakes up in a prison full of similarly unfortunate knights.
Uriens, meanwhile, wakes in his own bed with his wife Morgan’s arms around him. As for Accolon, well, we’ll get to him soon.Continue reading
I am so excited to share this news! My story ‘Among the Faded Woods’ has been accepted into FableCroft’s new anthology The Art of Being Human, edited by Tehani Croft and Stephanie Lai. To quote the FableCroft website, this anthology ‘seeks to remind readers of the hope and beauty of the Arts, and the way our engagement with writing, music, film, theatre, artworks in all media, and craft of all kinds are at the core of our humanity’. I have loved working with FableCroft on past projects and am honoured to be a part of this one. Check out the amazing line-up of authors who will be contributing here!
‘Among the Faded Woods’ is a story about haunting, inspired by the classic mystery novels of the 1920s. Like many people, I have struggled with creative energy through the rollercoaster of the past two years, so digging my teeth into this project was a joy. I can’t wait to share it with you! A release date has not yet been set but keep an eye on the FableCroft twitter account for all the latest updates.
Trigger warning: reference to suicide, references to attempted sexual coercion
Last month, Gawain experienced the intense trauma of completing his first quest. We now switch focus to Sir Tor and his first quest, which is all part of the same triple quest that completely hijacked Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding.
As Tor is riding after the knight who took the dog, he is accosted by a dwarf who strikes his horse hard on the head with a staff. This unnecessary aggression is purely to alert Tor to the pair of knights set up nearby who require passing warriors to joust with them. Tor doesn’t have time for this nonsense and for that I salute him, but the knights attack him anyway. Tor is obliged to fight both of them, and wins both encounters. Sir Felot of Langduk and Sir Petipase of Winchelsea are sent as prisoners to Arthur and the dwarf who was in their service switches sides, expressing disapproval of his former employers and requesting to join Tor instead. Tor accepts. This turns out to be a good move because the dwarf knows where to find the knight with the dog.
They ride through a forest and come to a priory. Set up outside are two pavilions, one hung with a white shield and the other hung with a red shield.
Three girls are asleep inside the white pavilion. A lady is asleep in the red pavilion, with the white dog standing guard. It rouses all the women, who emerge from their pavilions. Tor scoops the dog and goes to leave. The lady wants to know what Tor is doing with her dog and warns that Tor will come to no good if he takes her. But Tor was sent for the dog, and so he takes the dog.Continue reading
Trigger warning: references to rape
Last month we followed the disaster that is Balin le Savage, as he tries to save people and watches them die instead, tries to make friends and makes enemies instead, and learns from exactly none of his mistakes. He was pressed into taking part in a strange custom, fighting the knight of a nearby island. He knows this is a bad idea. He just appears resigned to everything in life being a bad idea and at this point, who can blame him?
Balin’s opponent comes out all in red. Balin does not recognise him but this is Balan, his brother – who does briefly recognise Balin, by the two swords he carries, but dismisses the idea when he sees that Balin carries a different shield. And so they fight, for nothing but custom.
It is a brutal fight. The brothers are pretty evenly matched and neither will back down, and they fight until the field is wet with their blood. At the end, it is Balan who finally draws back, to collapse upon the ground. Balin finally asks his name, and is so grieved by the answer that he too crumples to the ground. Balan crawls over to remove his helm. Balin’s face is so covered in wounds from the fight that he is unrecognisable and it is only when he comes to that Balan realises who he is. The brothers share their rage against the castle and its custom, that has brought about both their slow deaths. Balan was forced to fight and when he defeated the knight of the island, was obliged to remain. Balin was persuaded to give up the shield that would have identified him and prevented this battle. The lady of the castle makes very questionable amends by vowing to have the brothers buried together in one tomb. She then sends for a priest, and that is the end of the brothers Savage.Continue reading
Trigger warning: reference to suicide
Last month King Rience surrendered his dream of cutting of Arthur’s non-existant beard, but his brother Nero – yes, I did say Nero– grabbed that baton and marched on Camelot.
The battle takes place in front of the Castle Terrabil, which is historically relevant as the place where Igraine’s first husband died. While Arthur is making ready, Merlin goes to King Lot and delays his entry to the battle with ‘a tale of prophecy’, which is a classic Merlin move. Between Arthur, Kay and Sir Hervis de Revel, the forces of Camelot gain an edge, but it’s Balin and Balan who really win the day. Lot hears, too late, that Nero has been killed and deeply regrets hearing Merlin out. What he doesn’t understand is that Merlin, in acting to protect Arthur, was also acting to protect Lot – while Arthur is definitely his favourite, it doesn’t suit him for either king to die right now.
Lot has a choice to make, to press on or make peace. He chooses battle. Lot is a great leader, commanding his men from the front of the action, but he encounters Pellinore on the battlefield and falls under a terrible blow. A strange thing, that Morgause should lost her husband in the same place she lost her father. After Lot’s death, his forces scatter. Twelve kings die in this battle, on the side of Lot and Nero.
Trigger warning: references to child death and suicide
Book 2 begins with a quick recap about how Uther died and Arthur had to wade through a lot of blood to get to the throne. I will add a recap of my own about how some of that blood on Arthur’s hands belonged to the small children of his lords and ladies, in a COMPLETELY pointless effort to murder his infant son Mordred and thereby avert Merlin’s visions of doom.Continue reading
Trigger warning: references to rape, incest and child death
Arthur, Ban, Bors and twenty thousand of their combined forces take six days to reach Cameliard, where they quickly overpower King Rience’s army. Leodegrance makes much of his rescuers and it is in the midst of this giddy rush of victory that Arthur meets Leodegrance’s daughter, Guenever of Cameliard. Malory tells us that ‘ever after he loved her’.
Ban and Bors are called back to their own lands by the attacks of King Claudas and when Arthur offers to accompany them, they tell him to stay behind and defend his kingdom while they use the spoils of his war to fund theirs. It is a fond farewell, with Ban and Bors swearing to send for Arthur if they need him and telling him to send for them if he falls into similar straits.
Merlin ruins the moment with prophecy. “It shall not need that these two kings come again in the way of war, but I know well King Arthur may not be long from you, for within a year or two ye shall have great need,” Merlin warns, “and then shall he revenge you on your enemies, as ye have done on his. For these eleven kings shall die all in a day, but the great might and prowess of two valiant knights.”Continue reading