Friday, 28 December 2012


My plan this year was to make myself write again, and to focus on submitting / sharing something each month to another website / blog or competition. Eventually the novelty of that wore off a bit, but I did keep writing, and have properly remembered how much I enjoy it. Need it in fact. Buoyed up on this little cloud of positive optimism, I fleetingly decided to make next years blog one of those 365 ones, where there's something new everyday. But then I remembered I still have to spend time with my family and go to work. "Maybe sometimes more than once a week" is my resolution. In many areas of life.

My wee personal highlights this year would be winning a signed copy of Meaning of Liff from John Lloyd for writing a new liff, having a story printed in the clockworks anthology, getting some Harry MacArthur material onto the comedy unit podcast Rough Cuts and getting to write a piece about Favourite Places for the Scottish Book Trust blog.

The most viewed piece on the blog though was my Wind in the Willows / War of the Worlds mashup. And my favourite search engine query which somehow brought someone or some robot to the page was "dog food murder".

But my absolute favourite things from this year were doing a story tweet for the awesome 3hundredand65 twitter graphic novel and working as part of the team on the Identity Graphic Novel project.

Kinga shinnen when it comes, and, at the years end, a final wee poem.

I am a casket of in jokes,
Of pot shards poorly glued.
A box filled with spent matches,
A subscription not renewed.

Blotting paper damp with ink,
Stained glass weathered back to sand.
Snow falling onto streams,
I am the ever open hand.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Shocking Chillers

Earlier this year I contributed a text story to the smashing small press horror comic Hallowscream. Myself and Andy Lee have a strip in the Scary Christmas Special as well. The first two pages are below, you can read the rest this December via The Theatre of Terror.

It's based on a story I recorded a few Christmases ago. The strip will also appear in a slightly different format in next year's Tales of the Oak comic...
Here is Bjork's version of a traditional winter song about the Jolasveinar...

And quite frankly any excuse for my family tale of terrifying winter fun from last year...Santa's Little Werewolves....

I've been sharing festive and winter stories all month here and on the Tales of the Oak blog. It's my favourite time of year for writing and telling stories. But I'm actually supposed to be maybe possibly moving house this week, just in time for Christmas, and I've honestly run out of steam. Here's a well intentioned selection of links in place of anything else new this year, just in case yer still in the mood, and feel like gorging on wintery folktales, fables and festive fear.

Alice's Winter Wonderland Christmas

A tale of unease featuring Master Mariner Para Handy

A Christmas message from Councillor Harry Macarthur

Another comic strip of festive terror The Green Oak Trees

A lost chapter from Wind in the Willows in which badger and mole talk Mithraic worship.

Midwinter fables featuring robber wives, christmas present quests and scary rabbits.

My thoughts on the ancient practice of trying to ruin Christmas for everyone in Midwinterfestivusmas

Or if you'd rather not be bothered with all that sort of nonsense, here instead is a specially selected wee Christmas playlist of alternative classics. I picked them just for you.

Feliz navidad.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Midwinter Fables - The Silver Snowflake

There once was a boy, a good boy, but a poor boy, and with winter celebrations approaching, he had no gift to give his mother, and no way of buying one.

He walked up onto the hills behind his village and watched the snow fall onto the trees and rooftops below, holding out his hand to catch the flakes as they fell.

And then a snowflake floated gently onto his hands…and did not melt. The boy waited, wondering if perhaps his hands were now to cold to warm the snow, but the snowflake did not melt. Gently, he picked it up between his fingers to look at it more closely; it was cold, but felt more like steel than snow. And it would not melt.

The boy realised that he could give the snowflake to his mother as a gift, but now that he had the snowflake, he wondered if Wayland the Smith would be kind enough to hang it on a chain for him.

The boy went to see Wayland the Smith and showed him the silver snowflake.
“I’d like to give this to my mother as a gift.” he said “Could you hang it on a chain for me?”
“That’s a very nice snowflake.” said Wayland “I like how it doesn’t melt. Of course I could hang it on a chain. That would be one gold coin.”
“I have no money.” said the boy “Is there any way I could do some work for you to help pay?”
“Well,” said Wayland “You could run me an errand. Below the mountains, lives Rathsvith the Dwarf. And he has in his armoury a mighty hammer which I would very much like to have in my smithy. If you get him to give you the hammer, I will give you a chain for the snowflake.”

So the boy wandered up towards the mountains and then down the hidden ways into the caves beneath the world. And he found Rathsvith in his armoury, sharpening one of his axe blades.
“Hello Rathsvith.” said the boy “I’m on an errand from Wayland Smith who says that you have one of the finest hammers in the world…he would very much like that hammer for his smithy.”
“Hah!” said Rathsvith “I bet he would! And what would I get in return for this gift?”
“Well,” said the boy “is there anything I could help out with? I was once a Page and know my way around an armoury.”
“Hmmm.” said Rathsvith “I’ve no need of a Page Boy. But do you see that old treasure chest in the corner? That chest was given to me by my grandfather, but the key was stolen by a Selkie who now lives in the river. If you get me that key, I’ll give you my hammer.”

So the boy followed the cave streams out from under the mountains and down to the river. He stood by the rivers edge and called out to the Selkie (though he was careful not to stand too close as he knew how they liked to drag children down into the dark waters)
“Yes?” said the Selkie “What are you bothering me for?”
“Hello Selkie.” said the boy “I have just been speaking to Rathsvith the Dwarf and he was wondering if he could have the key for his grandfathers treasure chest back.”
“You mean this key?” said the Selkie, who was wearing it as a charm. “And why should I do that.”
“Well” said the boy..
“Come a little closer, I can’t hear you properly.” said the Selkie.
“No if it’s okay, I’ll just stay here thanks.” said the boy. “If you give me the key, maybe I could do something for you? But without coming any closer to the river.”
“Clever boy.” smiled the Selkie. “There was a song I used to sing, many years ago now, all the children loved my song. That song was stolen from me by the Banshee. I have no idea why, she has a terrible singing voice. If you get me my song back, I will give you the key.”

The boy followed the river all the way down to the woods by the castle keep and waited, for he knew the King was very ill. That night, the Banshee howled for the King, and when she had finished, the boy went to speak to the hag.
“Hello Banshee.” said the boy “I was speaking to the Selkie this morning, and she was asking if you had finished with that song you stole from her?”
“Was she indeed? No I am not finished with that song. I sing it most beautifully.”
The Banshee screeched and howled for a few moments to prove her point.
“Very nice.” said the boy. “But you sound as if you are maybe getting a bit tired of singing it. Maybe I could trade you for something?”
“Perhaps.” sighed the Banshee. “There is one thing I have always wanted, and that is to see the sun rise. I am tied to the night time. I would dearly love to see the day.”

The boy walked to the edge of the horizon, and by the time he got there, The Sun was just rising.
“Good morning!” said the boy “I wonder if I could ask you a favour. I have a friend who can only come out at night, but would very much like to see you.”
“I’m not allowed to come out at night,” said The Sun, “Not any more. Once, long ago, I could dance around the world with The Moon, but it’s been so many years since I have seen her. I would love to once again kiss the Moon. If you could bring her back to me, then it would be night time in the day.”
“Who could help me move The Moon?” asked the boy.
“Only the Moonwitches.” said The Sun.

So the boy rowed out to the islands where the Moonwitches lived, but when he arrived, there was only one witch, sitting there, alone.
“Hello Moonwitch.” said the boy “Where is everyone else?”
“All my sisters have passed on this last year. It’s just me now. Me and The Moon.”
“Talking of The Moon,” said the boy “I wonder if you could help me. I was talking to The Sun, and he misses The Moon. I wonder if you could move The Moon so he could see her.”
“It’s much too hard for me to do that on my own. I’ve grown tired and sick since my sisters passed.”
“Well…they say laughter is the best medicine, so if I could make you laugh, would you move The Moon?”
“I would do anything to laugh again.” sighed the Moonwitch.

The boy knew just where to go, back down in the valley, there lived a very Old Joke.
“Hello.” said the boy. “I know someone who would love to hear from you.”
The Old Joke was delighted as he hadn’t been heard in years.

The boy sailed back to see The Moonwitch.
“Hello again.” said the boy. “Why wouldn't the lobster share his toys?”
“I don’t know.” said The Moonwitch, 'Why wouldn't the lobster share his toys?"
“Because he was shellfish.”
The witch laughed, because it really had been a very long time since she'd heard a joke, and then pulled down The Moon for The Sun.

The Sun kissed the Moon and they both shone in the sky.

The Banshee came out in the moonlight, and saw The Sun shining brightly, so gave the boy her song.

The Selkie took her song back and she sang it beautifully, then carefully passed the boy the key.

Rathsvith took the key and opened up his treasure chest (which had a picture of his grandmother inside that made him smile and cry). He gave the boy the hammer.

And Wayland took the hammer and made the boy a chain for the silver snowflake.

The boy gave the silver snowflake to his mother and she wore it every winter.

And then one day she gave it to the boys daughter, Who gave it to her daughter. Who gave it to her daughter. And so on down the years.

And the snowflake never melted.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Midwinter Fables - The Wishing Mirror

The first snows had fallen, and as Christmas was on the way, the Robber was out looking for a gift for his wife.

He had passed three little houses so far, but everyone was still awake, singing and drinking mulled wine. He was beginning to worry that he wouldn’t be able to steal anything for his wife at all, when he saw a little house by the trees all hidden in darkness.

The robber peered quietly in through the windows, no one was home. He carefully opened the door and sneaked into the house. It was a very bare house, with not much to steal, but just as he was about to leave and try somewhere else, the robber noticed a little mirror lying on the table. Thinking that would be ideal for his wife, he snatched it up and ran out of the house.

What the robber did not realise, was that this was the house of Old Mab, the witch. The mirror was to be a gift for her niece. It contained three wishes. When Mab returned and found the mirror stolen, she cursed the little mirror, and the thief, and then sat down at her fire to wait.

On Christmas day, the robber gave his wife the mirror and she was very pleased.

A few days later, she stood by the window admiring herself.
“If only my eyes were as dark as my hair.”
And at once, her eyes turned black as coal and all the world around her was in darkness. Cursing and blinded, the wife threw the mirror out the window into the river that ran behind her house, and it was carried away down stream.

The poacher was out that day, and as he stood, stealing fish, he saw the mirror come floating by. The poacher was not popular at home at the moment, as his wife did not appreciate the trout he had given her for Christmas. “This will fix things!” he thought.

So the poacher took the mirror and gave it to his wife that evening over supper. She was so delighted that he got two helpings of pudding.

A few days later the poachers wife was walking home, admiring herself in the mirror.
“If only my nose were as small as my feet.”
And at once, her nose shrunk back into her face until it was not there at all.
The poachers wife threw the mirror into a field as she ran past shrieking.

There was no pudding that night.

Later that night, the horse thief was out in the fields, having very little luck with so many horses stabled for the winter. As he wandered, he found the little mirror. The Horse Thief had not only forgotten to get his wife a gift for Christmas, but had also forgotten that it was her birthday a day later. “She will certainly like this mirror!” And so she did.

A few days later, she stood admiring herself in the mirror.
“If only my lips were as red as my cheeks.”
And at once her lips grew a dark, angry red, drawing all the blood from her face and leaving her pallid and weak. The horse-thief’s wife no longer had the strength to hold the mirror, and she dropped it. As she did, a crow flew in through the window and caught it. And the crow knew just what to do.

Old Mab sat by her fire and smiled as the crow flew in with her mirror. She gave the Crow some crumbs from her Christmas Cake. The she wrapped the little mirror with a slice of cake, and walked down to the village to see her niece.

Love’s greatest gift is to see that love reflected. That is something which cannot be stolen.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

In The Trees

I wrote this as a Christmas poem for Sharon, she stitched it into this wall hanging.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Alice In A Winter Wonderland

Wassail! By Mhairi M Robertson
On November 26 1862, Charles Dodgson sent a copy of his handwritten manuscript Alice's Adventures Under Ground to Alice Liddel as a Christmas present. Dodgson famously made up the story while on a boating trip with the Liddel sisters. A revised version of the manuscript was eventually self published as Alice in Wonderland in 1865.

Since then there have been Manchester based steampunk sequels, mythology building comic versions, controversial adult retellings, crazy crossovers with other classic novels and a dodgy 3-D movie.

This is my contribution...Alice's Winter Wonderland, a wee bit from a Christmas Story I wrote for Sharon as a Christmas gift a few years back, which has Alice wandering through Wonderland exploring the folklore and traditions of the 12 Days of Christmas. I keep footering with it, and at some point myself and Mhairi hope to release a complete illustrated version. Fingers crossed. Mhairi and I also created a series of unusual adventures for Alice in The Wonderful Worlds of Alice.

Alice's Winter Wonderland - Ten Pipers Piping

As Alice stepped back over the hill back onto the snowy path, she could see to her dismay that she was right back where she had started, and no nearer the Ministers House at all.
“I’m beginning to forget what it is I am to recite this evening. I know it was something to do with Christmas.” thought Alice to herself, “I had better keep practicing.”
As she walked she sang to herself.

“Angels we have heard can’t fly,  
Are now travelling on trains,
So the Doctor’s coming by,
For to salve their aches and pains.”
Alice was sure this was not quite right, but just as she was about to start over, she realised she was again standing by the fruit tree in the town square, with the little Green Village down the hill on the left and the little Red Village she had just returned from, down the hill on the right.
“Back again?” said The Partridge, “You really ought to listen to your elders and betters.”
“Why should I listen to you?” said Alice. “You sent me off in completely the wrong direction the last time we spoke.”
The Partridge sniffed haughtily, in a way which reminded Alice of her Great Aunt Matilda.
“It’s hardly my fault that you cannot follow instructions. What a dim girl you are.”
The Partridge even sounded like her Great Aunt Matilda.
“And what a rude bird YOU are.”
Alice turned on her heel and marched down towards the little Green Village, only just remembering how much trouble she had found herself in when she tried this approach with Great Aunt Matilda.
“That’s the wrong way.” trilled The Partridge “They’re all mad that way.”
“Well it’s too late to stop now.” thought Alice to herself, “I’ll look even more foolish if I turn around and go back. Besides which, I have already tried going the other way.”
As she drew nearer to the Green Village, she could hear a fantastic din, the little street was full of people of all shapes and sorts, each carrying a different musical instrument, and clearly playing their own tune. 
Alice was most pleased to notice that at the head of the band was her friend The White Knight, he seemed to be having some difficulty with a drum. It being the type of day it was, Alice was not at all surprised to see The Mad Hatter helping The White Knight secure the drum straps around his armour.
“Hello sir!” said Alice “May I ask what this noise is all about?”
“We are the Town Band.” announced The White Knight rather importantly in the incorrect tense “We go from house to house, singing songs and warming ourselves by the winter fire. Or rather, we would do, if we could just all start at the same time.”
Alice looked at the long line of people in the band.
“By the time I’ve started, and word gets carried all the way down to the people at the back, I’m already on a different song.”
“Does the drum not help to keep everyone in time?” asked Alice, who knew a little of how music was supposed to work.
“It should my dear.” said The White Knight, “I brought this drum all the way from eastern climes. Sadly however, I left the sound behind.”
“Don’t be silly. You can’t leave a noise behind.” said Alice.
“Of course you can, I know of at least three gentlemen who are able to throw their voice. One threw it so far than it got lost and could not come back.”
While Alice stopped for a moment to consider this, The Mad Hatter explained further, “It’s all true. So now there’s a street in Constantinople where all day a drum beats without a drum.”
“It is most annoying for those nearby.” said The White Knight “For they have no way of stopping it.”
Alice could see from the sad look on his face that The White Knight was quite serious. 
“Perhaps,” Alice ventured, “You aren’t playing it entirely right. I’ve had quite a number of piano lessons, I may be able to help.”
Here, Alice felt it was not important to mention that her last piano lesson had ended with her Music Mistress sobbing.
“Now,” said Alice with some authority “Where is the drumstick.”
“I gave it to a passing Badger in exchange for an excellent chutney recipe.” said The White Knight.
“What use would a Badger have for a drumstick?” asked Alice.
“I believe he wished to use it to beat eggs. Or chimney sweeps. At any rate, I didn’t need it if the drum wasn’t making a noise. I am not even that fond of chutney, but it did seem like the correct thing to do in the circumstances.”
All the while Alice had been talking to The White Knight, she had been politely trying not to notice The Mad Hatter unsuccessfully attempting to untangle himself from what looked like a sack full of sticks, but as ever, her curiosity finally got the better of her manners.
“Excuse me please, What are those?” asked Alice.
“These are my Regicidal Bagpipes.” said The Mad Hatter, beaming with pride. “They are over four hundred years old.”
“Really?” said Alice, very impressed. “That’s very old indeed.”
“Yes. Though sadly, I have had to replace both the bag and the pipes several times owing to their increased age.”
“Well then they aren’t old bagpipes at all!” said Alice. “They are completely new bagpipes.”
“Which part? They still sound old.” said The Mad Hatter, “Now, would you like to hear our song?” 
If truth be told, Alice was already tiring slightly of people insisting on singing songs at her, but it seemed to be the only way that she might get someone from the band to help her on her way. “Besides,” she thought “perhaps this song will be one I know.”
“Is everyone ready?” asked The Hatter “Excepting of course, those who are not? Let us sing ‘Here we come a-waffling’.”

Here we come a-waffling,
Among the streets serene.
Here we come a wobbling,
We haven’t got a bean.

Our waffle cup is made,
Of the old Tulgey tree,
And we prefer to see it filled,
With finest Earl Grey tea.

Bring us out a table,
And spread it with green cheeses.
Bring us out some cinnamon,
To spare our festive sneezes.

God bless the master of this house,
And all his cats and dogs,
For you we come a-waffling,
And dance with finest clogs.

The company concluded with a little dance, and gave themselves a rather impolite and ill deserved round of applause.
“Well,” said Alice, trying very hard to think of what to say “That was nice.”
“Precisely!” said The White Knight, “But sadly the folk of this village do not entirely agree with you. We have decided therefore to make an expedition over to The Red Village instead. I know of a Piemaker there who will be very pleased to welcome us.”
“If it is The Piemaker I have just met in The Red Village, that is very unlikely.” Alice thought to herself, but she did not want to upset The White Knight.
“I wonder if one of you might be able to help me.” said Alice, who now felt it was appropriate to ask for assistance since she had been so kind about The Town Band’s performance. “I’m looking for The Ministers House, I have a recital to give there this evening.”
“What is the house number?” asked The Mad Hatter.
“You know, I’m not sure.” said Alice. “Seven I think. Or twenty-three.”
“Then he must be a Prime Minister.” declared The Mad Hatter, before continuing to wrestle with his bagpipes.
“The Lords and Ladies would know best where to find a Prime Minister.” said The White Knight. “They are all dancing down by the forest. Come along and I’ll show you.”
Alice and the White Knight walked off through the snow towards the forest as the band marched off out of time, on their expedition to The Red Village.

Lewis Carroll frequently parodied contemporary poems, the nonsense above is more popularly known as "Here We Come A Wassailing", sung by winter wassailers looking for a warm drink by the fire. Similarly, Alice is not quite remembering "Angels We Have Heard On High". But as I'm fond of saying...if ye have to explain it...

I do enjoy scribbling a bit of Christmas fan fiction, here's some lost pages from Wind in the Willows.

Here's Blur's version of The Wassailing Song

And, while we're doing Christmas's The Two Ronnies 'Alice in a Winter Wonderland'...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Watership Down : When Frith Sleeps

This month's fanfic celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the publication of Watership Down by Richard Adams. If you are only familiar with the excellent animated version, the book is well worth exploring, especially for the folktales about the rabbit prince El-ahraihrah. Adams released a sequel in 1996, which collected many more of these rabbit folktales. I've gone for something in that vein..

At the turn of each year, the Lord Frith must sleep, and rabbits fear this time most of all, for the days grow shorter, and elil claim the long nights as their own. One year, Frith had been busier than usual with the summer and harvest, and slept longer than before. So there came a bitter winter, with high winds and deep snows - rabbits gathered and huddled in burrows, and every day fewer and fewer woke up. And so those who still had strength came to El-ahrairah and asked him to help.

El-ahrairah went to the Prince of Rainbows and asked for him to waken Frith and hasten the springtime.
"All the seasons have their time El-ahrairah, and neither I nor Frith himself can hurry them. But there is one who can make the winter less cold."
"Who is it?" said El-ahrairah "For my babies are dying in this long freeze."
"This season belongs to  Marlie Eleer, the Queen of Midwinter, and only she can ease the winds and snow."
"Excellent!" said El-ahrairah "Where may I find her?"
"She will not be easily convinced…" said the Prince of Rainbows, for her very heart is ice."
"Am I not El-ahrairah who visited the Black Rabbit of Inle in his stone burrow, who bested the Crow Witch at her riddles and who has dined with ancient Kings in the hollow hills?"
"Very well El-ahrairah. The Queen of Midwinter lives just beyond the other edge of the world in a castle made of frost and bones. The only way to get there is to follow the frozen river from the end of the forest, and when you pass the edge of the world, the frozen river is the bridge of ice you must walk across to her keep."

El-ahrairah returned to his warren and bid his good friend and brave companion Rabscuttle to once again join him on an adventure. And as a new snow started to fall on their friends and families, they began to follow the frozen river.

The river ice cracked and splintered beneath their cold feet on the long journey, and just below the surface, blind pike snapped and grinned, waiting for the rabbits to fall through into the icy dark.

They followed the frozen river up into the jagged mountains, where the giant eagles nest, and daily they screeched and swooped down on El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle, so that they had to hide in the mountain caves among the bats and wild pfeffa.

The river ran down the mountains into the zorn lands, scorched black by man. And so they came to Lendri Pass, where the ghosts of dead badgers prowled the fields, looking for rabbit souls to feast upon, their cold claws grabbing and dragging away the unwary. It's said Rabscuttle lost three years off of his life in their journey across the dead fields.

And finally, they saw the other edge of the world and the castle of the Queen. On the icy bridge, stood a pure white She-Wolf, the Queen of Midwinter herself.
El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle tried to cross the bridge, but the Queen growled, not allowing them passage across.
"Queen, I am El-ahrairah, Prince of Rabbits, and I come to ask you to ease the winds and snow, for the winter is hard on my rabbits."
"And why would I do that? What do I care for rabbits? Or for anyone else."
El-ahrairah could see that the Queen was lonely, and her heart would only grow colder with each passing winter. And right away, he thought of a way to solve their problem.
"Good Queen, you should travel to see how your winter changes the world. It is most beautiful and there is much more than can be seen from your castle. If you meet me at the edge of our forest in one week, I will show you the icy webs spun by the snow spiders and the fields of woven snowflakes.." said El-ahrairah.
The Queen thought about it.
"My winter is beautiful?"
"Oh indeed," said El-ahrairah, "and if you were to meet me in a week, I could show you it all."
"We shall never get home in a week!" whispered Rabscuttle.
"We shall," said El-ahrairah "for already the frozen river is thawing."
So Marlie Eleer agreed to meet them in one week and wasting no time, El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle balanced on broken trees and sailed back home down the river.

When they returned El-ahrairah sent Rabscuttle back to the burrow with some winter provisions for the pups. Then he sought out the Prince of Rainbows and asked him to take him to the sleeping Lord Frith.
"I will take you El-ahrairah, but you must not wake him, for if you do, we'll all feel the wrath of his fiery temper."

For five days, El-ahrairah watched the King as he was sleeping, and whispered in his ear about the beauty of the Queen of Midwinter. On the sixth day, he whispered to him to wake and meet him at the forests edge the next day.

The next day, El-ahrairah waited by the forests edge. The trees grew brittle and cold as the Queen of Midwinter swept down the river, and then, the ice melted on the branches as Frith came down from the sky. The King and Queen looked at each other, bowed in respect and then smiled. El-ahrairah knew his plan had worked.

So it was that El-ahrairah played matchmaker for Lord Frith and Marlie Eleer, and while the winters are still cold, and Lord Frith still sleeps, the Sun King and the Queen of Midwinter now meet for a few days each year. On those bright cold days, the frost melts and rabbits can have a few hours silflay, and run to keep warm while Frith and Marlie Eleer share their winter dance.

The rabbits of Watership Down speak their own language, lapine. Adams provided a glossary in his books, but further work on developing the language has been done since then, check out this English-Lapine dictionary.

Now, here's a lovely cover version of Bright Eyes...

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Guest House of Usher

Edwin Usher retired just a bit too late to enjoy it properly. He took his little retirement fund and his savings from that time his premium bonds had come up, and he bought his dream house.

Puck's Rest stood up on the North Bay clifftop, overlooking the new car park for the beach. It was far away enough from the pier not to hear the fairground, but close enough not to miss the sound of the sea.

Edwin advertised Puck's Rest half-heartedly as a seaside guest house, and was mildly disappointed when people actually started turning up expecting cooked breakfasts and central heating. Eventually though, he settled into a little routine, with regular guests and a few permanent residents throughout the summer. Winter in Puck's Rest belonged to Edwin Usher alone.

Then, one year, just as the October sun grew thin and pale in the morning mists, Mildew Rouvellier arrived.

Edwin heard him before he saw him, ringing the service bell incessantly and shouting for service at the top of his baritone voice. This was winter. No time for guests. Edwin made his way downstairs, but before he had even reached the bottom, a very large man in a purple cape and broad brimmed black hat pounded towards him, hands outstretched.
"Excellent sir! Excellent. Mr Usher yes? I shall take a room for one," he boomed, "and shall stay til early spring. Mildew Rouvellier."
"I eh..don't have any rooms." said Edwin, who, to be fair, had been caught somewhat on the hop.
"Nonsense! You've a whole house full of them, and I only need one."
"What I mean to say is, we're closed for the winter."
"Well you shouldn't have a vacancies sign in the window then," beamed Mildew.
Edwin winced, clearly he hadn't been thorough enough with his winter preparations this year.
"I've been ordered by my doctor to take the sea air and that is just what I intend to do. So. Room with a seaview please. And a window I can open."
Edwin sighed quietly to himself and took two of Mildew's many bags up the stairs to Room 5.
"No no no," said Mildew, "this is far too small. What else have you got?"
Mildew barged past Edwin and into a room further along the hall.
"That room is not available," said Edwin quietly.
"Rubbish," said Mildew, "there's no one in here. Could do with a clean mind. Very dusty."
"Not. Available." said Edwin. "You can have the master bedroom, it looks out over the bay."
"Humph. Well I shall expect a very large tea tray and selection of biscuits," said Mildew, and stomped off into the ensuite to pee very noisily.

Over the next few days, Mildew made himself very much at home. He was a voluminous man, who seemed to expand to fill the surrounding space, and despite having only one room in the house, he seemed to be everywhere Edwin turned; from the whalebone handle razor in the bathroom to the hookah pipe now installed in the lounge, Mildew had arrived.

It took until the following Thursday breakfast time for Edwin to be able to face a proper conversation with his new guest.
"You seem to be settling in nicely." said Edwin.
"Oh yes," said Mildew, "wonderful place. Real character."
Edwin poured himself some Earl Grey.
"Are you a commercial traveller Mr Rouvellier? You have an awful lot of cases."
"Hah! No Edwin, no. My business is show business. I'm an actor."
This now seemed entirely self evident to Edwin, the cape should really have given it away.
"I see now that you are trying to place me!" said Mildew, "Perhaps you recognise me from my films."
"I don't go to the pictures much. Too loud."
"No? Tomb of the Gryphon? Dinosaur Valley? Solstice of Fear?"
Mildew looked at Edwin expectantly.
"…aren't those…really old films?" asked Edwin.
Mildew flinched.
"Yes well I mostly work in theatre now. Didn't like the way British cinema was going."
"You mean into colour?" asked Edwin, allowing himself a little self satisfied smile.
"Children of Baal was in colour. And Tears of the Werewolf."
"Actually…I think I might have seen one of your films on ITV once. Were you in Vampire on the Buses?"
Mildew glared at Edwin silently, and sullenly munched his toast.
"We're out of jam." he said eventually.
Edwin strode purposefully into the lounge clutching his Sunday Supplement.
"Look at this!" he said to Mildew, rather angrily.
Mildew stopped inhaling and peered over his horn rimmed spectacles.
"Ah! It's me!" he laughed, in genuine delight, "Let me see."
Mildew tried to grab the paper, but Edwin pulled away from him.
"It's a big article about all your old horror films."
"Let me guess…they call The Burryman a cult classic," Mildew shook his head, "Thing about cult classics, no one makes any money…"
"Yes. Thing is…and the article is very clear on this…you're dead."
Mildew smiled.
"Mmm. For quite some time now."
Mildew momentarily faded into the low light of the lounge, as briefly transparent as the smoke from the hubble bubble. This seemed to annoy Edwin still further.
"You're dead?'re what…you're…haunting my house?"
"Well I like to think I'm underplaying it slightly…but that's the general idea."
"But why?"
"I spent a very pleasant month down here filming The Lambton Wyrm. Wonderful sea air. Chilly though. Caught pneumonia and died. Shame. I had an episode of Sapphire and Steel lined up."
"Why my house?"
"Ah! Well it has a very authentic shabby glamour. And you looked like you could use some company. I'm very good company."
"I like being alone." said Edwin.
"You certainly do spend a lot of time alone in that dusty room."
"Go haunt somewhere else."
"I like it here. I'm all unpacked now." said Mildew, "If you don’t like my company, not only are you in the minority, but perhaps you should move along."
"Absolutely not. I worked hard all my life for this. It's my dream."
Mildew pointed to the damp ceiling with the stain from where the upstairs loo leaked and the frayed and dangerously worn stair carpet.
"This is you living the dream is it?"
"Get out."
Mildew smiled with all the classic venom of a b-movie villain.
"Make me." he said.

At first, Edwin tried his very best to be British about it; he just rudely ignored Rouvellier, snubbing his attempts at conversation, pretending not to hear his endless evening recitations of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and leaving the room whenever the television mysteriously started showing one of his films - except Vampire on the Buses, he watched that one.

Mildew simply upped his game, initially with an ironic 'bump in the night' approach, running the full gamut from creaks and chain rattling through to unearthly howls - though their impact was diminished by the fact that Edwin knew it was just Mildew being obnoxious. Next, he turned poltergeist, constantly moving Edwin's pens, hiding the loo roll and filling in the crossword. Edwin retaliated by bringing in a professional exorcist - Mildew spent all afternoon discussing classic horror movies with him and he left with a signed poster of The Devil's Rowboat.

It was really only a matter of time, and Mildew had saved the big guns til last…
"The room! You've wrecked the room!" cried Edwin.
"Wrecked? I've cleaned it!" said Mildew, "Dust down, windows open, get a bit of life into the place."
"But…I haven't…my…"
Edwin crumpled and fell to the floor.
When he came to, Mildew handed him a cup of sugary tea, and waited.
"How can I leave?" asked Edwin eventually. "Where should I go?"
"I think you know exactly where you're going." said Mildew.
Edwin smiled sadly and nodded. "I suppose."

Edwin stepped out into the early morning and wandered down the slippery cliff path into the sea fog. Rouvellier, watched and smiled and then, ever the professional, he packed up in preparation for his next engagement.

If yer in the mood for scary tales, may I be so bold as to suggest ye download the excellent Hallowscream from Theatre of Terror, full of excellent scary comic strips, and I've a wee text story in there as well.

And celebrating ghosts, here's the King of faded seaside glamour with a classic Hallowe'en mashup...

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Cure for Witches

badger woodcut by ross ahlfeld
"A tuft of hair gotten from the head of a full-grown Brock
is powerful enough to ward off all manner of witchcraft;
these must be worn in a little bag made of cat's skin - a black cat -
and tied about the neck when the moon be not more than seven days old,
and under that aspect when the planet Jupiter be mid-heaven at midnight."

That winter the sky was thick with witches, almost darkening the moon as they  shrieked and cackled across the night sky; and wherever their black shadows fell, there was trouble and misfortune.

Nothing and no one seemed able to stop them, not the watchmen with their swords and pikes and not the elders with their plans and schemes.

As the nights passed in the shadow of the witches, there was a sickness in the village and the harvest crops all rotted in the store. The people grew worried for there were many winter nights yet to come.

So it was that a Trapper came to one of the villages plagued by witches.
"There is only one way to keep the witches from your village," he said "and I can show you how it's done."
"What must we do?" asked the Elders.
"All you need, is a tuft of hair from a badger, nailed to each door, pinned above each bed and carried by each of you in a catskin bag. The badger is a creature of the twilight, just like them, full of old magics and riddles. Witches are feared of badgers. Your village will be safe."
"We'd need many badgers for that much magic." said the Elders.
"Ah!" said the Trapper, "I know a place very near to here, where there are fields of badger setts. If we went down near the dusk with traps and clubs, we would easily find enough of them to keep your village safe."
So, having no other plans or ways of guarding against witches, The Elders paid the Trapper to take them to the field at dusk, and the green grass ran red with blood. The next morning, every house in the village was made safe from the witches.

And sure enough, that night, when they flew overhead, the witches stopped cackling, and screamed away over the hills toward another village.

The Trapper tipped his hat and thanked the Elders, then headed off slowly in the same direction as the witches.

The witches never returned, and no one in the village ever saw a badger again, or gained the fair fortune they could bring. 

I'm actually not all that keen on animals; I don't like dogs, cats or even goldfish and  I'm a vegetarian not because of some sort of 'Meat is Murder' principle, but because I really don't like the taste or texture. But a childhood of Watership Down and Wind in the Willows does predispose me to anthropomorphic animal fiction. And I actually have an adopted badger...he doesn't live with me or anything, but I get photos and updates about how he's getting on not being culled. So, I'm very firmly in the "don't like the idea of a badger cull symbolically" camp, though I gather there are some very sound scientific reasons also. Obviously, the debates around the proposed badger cull can't be reduced to folktales, but I just though I'd say, "I don't like it". If you don't either, sign the petition.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

National Poetry Day - Stars

by sharon with love

I wish I'd never watched you fall,
already burning out as you
scorched across the sky.
I ran behind,
waiting for impact.

All that time wasted,
looking for glitter in the dirt
and finding only ashes.

I should have looked to the skies,
to the brighter lights still blazing,
yesterdays away from now,
and set my course by
that antique radiance.

only one of us
would have fallen.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Sandman - "This Further Strand"

A Sandman sketch I got from the amazing Bryan Talbot
at a comic convention in the 90s.
It's not directly connected to this story, I just think its cool.
The fog had come down sudden. In a moment, the shore and the candles in the windows were lost, and only the dead dark silence of the river at night remained. The Fisherman felt sure he’d drifted for hours now, the fog still hadn’t lifted and the day had yet to break. He had gradually come to realise there would only be one way back; he’d heard the stories from the other fishermen,

You smell The River Witch’s barge long before you see it, a rotten hulk of fishbones, seaweed and shipwreck timber hauled endlessly between the two shores. And if you’ve cause to run in to the River Witch, it’s a safe bet your day is not going well and is unlikely to get better. For although she can help you back home, there’s a price to be paid.

The Fisherman did not have long to wait. The stinking broken bones of the barge tore through the fog, and there she was, squatting, smiling and waiting.
“I need to get back to the shore.” said the Fisherman.
“Oh aye. Ah daresay. But yer way aff. Waaaay aff.”
“You know the way back to shore?”
“Aye. Don’t care fur it. Mingin. People pee indoors.”
“Can you help me get there?”
“Aye nae problem. Course ah can.”
There was an awkward pause, the River Witch scratched herself.
“So...will you help me?”
“Much? Whit’s it worth to ye?”
“I’ve nothing but my nets and fish.”
“Eh. Ahm awright for nets and fish pal. How aboot anythin else ah find oan ye ah keep?”
The Fisherman held his breath as the River Witch hopped aboard and searched greedily about his boat and his person.
“Ah hah! Jist the thing,” she said, having found the purse he used for hooks and bait.
“It’s empty,” said the Fisherman, because he was an honest sort.
“Ah know it’s empty. Ahm gonnae put things in it.” said the River Witch. “Oh ho! Whits this though?”
The witch held out a small knife, with a carved oak handle. The Fisherman snatched it back. “You can’t have them both,” he said, “You told me you wanted the purse.”
“Fair dos. Fair dos.” said the River Witch, pushing some worms into the purse. “Purse it is. Fair payment. Right. Here’s whit ye dae. Fog like this...means her ladyship’s in a right mood. But! The Lady Clutha will probably let ye pass back to shore if ye bring her three things - a secret, a song and a full moon. And seeins as I like yer wee face, I’ll gie ye the full moon for practically nothing.”
“Practically nothing?”
“Aye. Ah dae need tae eat ye know. Cannae jist keep huvin fish every night. There’s guy’s over by who’ll gie me a decent meal for a guid trade.”
“What do you want for it?”
“Well ah quite liked the look o that wee knife.”
“My father gave me that knife.”
“And ah’ve got mah maws eye’s but I’d still pop wan o them oot if ah wis trading fur mah life.”
Reluctantly, the Fisherman handed her the knife.
“Ach ye’ll get another wee knife. Cheer up. Here’s some advice fur free. Roon here, the seamonster knows aw the secrets, and there’s a mermaid might sing ye a song. And just keep drifting, ye’ll find them aw in the fog. If they don’t find ye furst.”

The barge creaked back off into the fog, and the Fisherman drifted on.

It was not long before his fishing boat was shaken by something beneath the water. With more of a gentle splash than a terrifying tidal wave, a young sea serpent rose up out of the river.
“You’re...not a very big sea serpent.” said the Fisherman.
“I’m still quite new. But I could still smash your boat with my tail.”
Here, the young sea serpent swished her tail in a slightly menacing fashion.
“So you could. I need your help. Could you tell me a secret?”
“Any particular secret? Why the wind stopped whistling? Who knows best? Where is the edge of the world?”
“I don’t think it matters. You choose.”
“And what will you give me?”
“I don’t have much to give I’m afraid. Ask me anything.”
“I want you to throw your nets away,” said the sea serpent. “The river can only give so much.”
“I can’t throw my nets away, they’re my livelihood.”
The sea serpent smiled sadly.
“I see that. And I see you’re lost. Here is a secret anyway. Though it’s not one of my best.”
The sea serpent told him a secret, and the Fisherman thanked her kindly..
“If you’d thrown your nets away, I could have told you why we’re here.” she said, then she dived back into the depths.

The Fisherman drifted for a little while longer and then saw a mermaid, sitting on a rock, slicing at her silver hair with a cuttlefish bone. He rowed over to see if she would sing him a song.
“Hello. I wonder if you could help me.”
Now that he was closer, he could see the lines and wrinkles on her face.
“Oh. You don’t see too many...ehm...older mermaids.”
“No. You don’t,” said the Mermaid, “Merfolk are vain and shallow, while the Mer-King and his mer-men coutiers and ministers grow only wiser and more handsome with the passing years, mermaids are banished the day the first silver streaks our hair. Some drown broken hearted, some are killed by the sharks and some are wise enough to leave before they are told to. We swim to the secret court of the Sea Queen where even now, we prepare for war.”
“War? Really? When will that be?”
The Mermaid turned to look at the Fisherman properly.
“What do you want?”
“I’m lost, and I’m looking for gifts for the Lady Clutha so she’ll let me pass.”
“And you need a Mermaid’s song?”
“Well...yes. Would you do that for me?”
The Mermaid looked at the Fisherman’s boat.
“Throw your nets away. Too often my sisters and our daughters are tangled in the knots of the fishing boats.”
The Fisherman had thought that’s what she might say.
“I can’t throw my nets away. I need them to feed my family.”
The Mermaid nodded sadly.
“Well in that case, I’ll sing you an old song I no longer need.”
The Mermaid sang the song and caught it in a shell for the Fisherman, and he thanked her kindly.
She began to sharpen her sword with the cuttlefish, and the Fisherman sailed on.

“Now what?” he said. “Hello! Lady Clutha?”
There was only silence and fog.
Presently, another boat drifted out from the shadows, and a pale man stood aboard.
“Hello there.” said the Fisherman “Do you know where I might find the Lady Clutha?”
The pale man stared at the Fisherman for a moment before speaking.
“What business do you have with the lady of the river?”
“I’ve brought a secret, a song and a full moon. If I give them to Lady Clutha, she will let me pass through the fog back to my family.”
“I see. And who told you this...The River Witch I suppose?”
“My tolerance for her games is waning,” said the pale man, “The Lady Clutha cannot help you. She is not here.”
“Where has she gone?”
“She is dreaming. And you are part of her dream.”
“I’ a dream?”
“Yes. The lady of this river often dreams of those poor souls she drowned. Some wreckage sometimes remains, flotsam and jetsam in the fog.”
“But I’ve brought a secret, a song and a full moon...”
“I’m sorry Fisherman. It would take much more than that for you to buy passage back to shore.”
The fog bell of the River Witch’s barge chimed through the white.
“What should I do then?”
“You have your nets. Keep fishing. Soon she will wake.”
“But...what will happen to me then?”
“A different journey.”
The boat carrying the pale man drifted on into the mists.

The Fisherman held his nets and thought of his family as the fog bell chimed again.

I'm a big fan of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, and the work of Bryan Talbot (whose Alice In Sunderland inspired our own school project graphic novel). The story title is taken from John Davidson's Ballad in Blank Verse. But just in case you thinking I'm making it up about our river having monsters in it, check out this episode of Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World...

Monday, 17 September 2012

Festival Number Six : 6 x 6 @ 6

I spent this weekend with my family at Festival Number 6 in Portmeirion, Wales - music, poetry, scenery, storytelling...all the good stuff. It was far and away the most middle class thing I have ever done...but it actually really worked. Even the security team were happy.

In celebration of sixes, some six word short stories, as originated by Ernest Hemingway with his classic "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."

He stopped carving. The stone smiled.
"Open mic cancelled." Words failed him.
Beneath the beehives, her hidden bones.
I should have told her. Everything.
That door would never open again.
Ruined candle. Burned at both ends.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Roald Dahl Day - My Best Zombie

My gran bought me a book when I was 9, it was a book about Roald Dahl, about how and why he wrote books. I still have it. It totally made my mind up about what I wanted to do, but then I accidently became a community project manager instead. (Actually there was also a period in 1985 where I also wanted to program ZX Spectrum games...another dream shattered)

In celebration of Roald Dahl Day, a couple of poems written for my kids, totally inspired by his anarchic nonsense...

My Best Zombie

I met a zombie boy one day.
At first I tried to run away,
I tripped and fell, he grabbed my boot
And started trying to chew my foot.
To try and stop him eating me,
I asked him to come round for tea.
He grinned and gave a friendly groan,
Put down his half chewed bit of bone,
Then limped behind me up the street.
He actually was rather sweet.
"Hey mum!" I said, "I've brought a guest."
Mum did not look at all impressed,
But always is a perfect host,
So said she'd do him beans on toast.
But while we stood and had a chat,
The zombie started on the cat,
Then ate my little sisters dolls
And chased the budgie up the walls,
He attacked my mum's home baking,
Ate the buns that she was making….
"Enough!" I shouted, "That's enough!
Please just stop munching all our stuff!
I asked you round my house for food,
But eating pets and toys is rude.
Go on, beat it! Clear off! Scram!
I'm cross with you, I really am."
He dropped the home made lemon flan,
And made a beeline for my gran.
I couldn't take it anymore,
I pushed the zombie out the door.
He shuffled off, he looked quite sad.
I had not meant to get so mad.
I followed him back up the road,
He reached the graveyard and he slowed,
Not wanting to go back inside,
He stood there for awhile and cried.
I didn't want him feeling glum,
My poor wee hungry zombie chum.
I went and gave him some advice.
"No biting is considered nice.
No eating people that's the rule.
(Except the bullies from my school)
And if gran or mum get out of line,
A nibble on their toes is fine."
So now he knows how to behave.
Good manners from beyond the grave.
My happy zombie new best friend.
Undead funtime never ends.

This one was written for Christmas last year...