Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Christmas Spiders

Christmas Spider from The Spider Lady

Not so long ago, and not so far from here, there was a little cottage right at the edge of a forest. In the cottage lived a widow and her two young children. The widow had lost her husband some years back – he went off to the war and never returned, but before he left, he and the children planted a pine cone from the forest in a pot by the door, and he told them he would be back to help them decorate it when it had grown into a tree. The tree grew sure enough, and the children grew, and Christmas drew near, but the widow knew her husband would not be returning home.

It had been a hard winter, and there was little money, but as she watched the children skip off to bed talking excitedly about how they would decorate the tree the next day, the widow thought of a way to try and make the sad little tree a little more special for them. Taking her old yellow dress, which had faded these last few years, she cut out a cloth star, and put it at the top of the tree. Then she went to bed, hoping that the children would be happy to see it in the morning. All three of them huddled in together against the cold.

And as they slept, the spiders crept out from all the dark places in the house. The little family were always kind to spiders, never chasing them out of the house, or brushing away their webs before they had eaten. The spiders saw the little tree, and the cloth star, and they decided to help decorate the tree too. They worked all through the night, spinning and weaving their webs across the tree. Then they scuttled back into the rafters and corners to sleep until morning.

It so happened that St Nicholas passed by the cottage in the forest. He saw the little tree with the tattered cloth star, and he saw how the spiders had tried to help by covering the branches in their dusty grey webs, and he decided to help the family and their spiders out too.

St Nicholas took an old leather pouch from the pocket of his greatcoat, and from it, took out gold and silver sand which he sprinkled all across the tree. And the webs turned to strands of silver and glittered like a morning frost and the cloth star turned to gold.

The little family and the spiders woke that Christmas morning to a tree that sparkled bright enough to light the room. And with all the silver and gold, the little family never wanted for anything again, though they always took care to leave a window open for spiders in the autumn, and let them stay all through the winter.

This is my take on a traditional Ukranian folktale. There are lots of different versions, sometimes it's Jesus who visits, not St Nicholas, sometimes, no one visits at all, they are just magic spiders who spin gold. You will be delighted to know, that you can indeed purchase that now “must have” item for your Christmas Tree, a Christmas Spider, from a variety of Etsy shops.

To be clear though, here is a real Christmas Spider below, if you see one of these in your house, don't annoy it. They bite.

Read more of my Winter Folktales here

Monday, 13 October 2014

Best Laid Cunning Plans

my gran's typewriter

I think everyone who writes, has a trigger thing...a reason they started writing, a memory of the first time it made sense to take the voices of out of their head and put them on paper. And for me, it was because my Gran wrote stories and poems (and Very Angry Letters) on her typewriter and I just wanted to try that too. She would let me borrow her typewriter for a week each month, until gradually, it spent more time in my house than her house. I still have it now. It wasn't until I was a wee bit older that I understood writing was a thing you could "do".

In 1989 we were studying the First World War in school, and we were asked to write a letter home style essay from a soldier on the frontline. When I went home that night, instead of doing my homework, I scribbled and then typed up a script for my favourite TV programme, Blackadder, set during the First World War. This was actually before Blackadder Goes Forth had been on telly, but it just seemed like a very likely place for the character to end up. And then, instead of handing it in for homework, I sent it off to the BBC and got a punishment exercise for my troubles.

I had never written a script before, or even really shared my writing with too many people, so I was a bit taken aback, when a month or so later, Richard Curtis, the co-writer of Blackadder (and many more things since then of course) phoned me at my house to talk about the script I'd sent. He phoned a couple more times over that year to give me polite and helpful pointers and suggestions for how to script things. In retrospect, I realise I never really understood or made enough of those opportunities; I certainly did get to be a paid teenage scriptwriter for a few brief years, and that was nice - got to spend a lot of money on gigs and Smiths teeshirts thank-you very much. But I didn't pursue it with enough belief I don't think. So ultimately, I stopped doing it.

This year though, for the first time in ages, I found myself thinking about 1989, trying to remember what I had written in that script, mostly because of the irritating things Michael Gove was saying about Blackadder's take on the First World War, that there was some sort of distasteful unpatriotic agenda there, and that we should all be more proud of the wholesale slaughter of generations of young men.

So I went up the loft at my mums, to try and find my scribblings from 25 years ago. I found lots of old secondary school essays and some school reports which broadly suggested the ways in which I required to try harder. But no script. It could never have been as good as the one I still have typed up in my head though. In reality, I imagine the script hasn't aged well, a bit frayed around the edges, its maybe not actually all that funny and...I think you see where I was going with that punchline. That's why my career in stand-up comedy was short lived.

I Am Forty this week, and I remember sixteen year old scriptwriting me thinking about how awful that would be, but in imagining whatever dark middle aged future I thought I would be trapped in, I always still saw myself writing. I was wrong about many things, when I was 16, from haircuts to how bras unhooked, but I was thankfully spot on about that. I write more now than I ever did then, and not in pursuit of anything other than telling and sharing stories. It's not about the gigs and teeshirts for me anymore. What I gradually came to realise, over the last few years in particular, is that for me, rather than writing being a thing you can "do" it might more accurately be "a thing you can't not do". I'm less happy when I'm not doing it. Who wants to be less happy?

Even now, most of those stories still involve history in some way or another. I'm involved in writing a comic about the First World War at the moment, and I'm lucky enough to be getting a children's book published by the wonderful Kelpies next year, which is chock full of old buildings and places.

Grandparents are great obviously. And we were really lucky with ours. I was always closest to my Gran though. She laughed a LOT, treated us to the Panto at Christmas, always had lots of sweets and comics...but of all the gifts, across all the years, writing was the best.

Sadie and Wilf

Friday, 18 July 2014

Kelpies Prize 2014

I'm delighted to be able to say that a children's book I finished writing earlier this year has been shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize.

This year's shortlisted books are:
  • The Superpower Project by Paul J. Bristow
  • The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean by Lindsay Littleson
  • My Fake Brother by Joan Pratt
The winner of the Kelpies Prize 2014 will be announced on 14th August at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. For more information on the books and authors you can read the shortlist information sheet. If you haven't come across Kelpies books before, check out their Discover Kelpies website, for info, games and even free trial ebooks of some of their publications.

I have shared a few original draft chapters from The Superpower Project on this blog over the last year. Those are still available to read here.

And, if you are interested, I've written other books with heritage group Magic Torch, which also explore the myths, urban legends and folklore of the Inverclyde area.

Wee Nasties (illustrated by Mhairi M Robertson)
There's all sorts of Wee Nasties hiding around Inverclyde, a bogle with smelly feet, a grumpy old wizard casting cheeky spells, and even a (mostly) friendly monster in the river.

Tales of the Oak comic (illustrated by Andy Lee)
Within, are cursed treasure maps, serpent worshipping cultists, trolls, ghosts, undead pirates and graverobbers in tales told by some of our most infamous horrors - Captain Kidd, Granny Kempock and Auld Dunrod. Dare you shine a flickering candle on the darker corners of our local folklore?

Both of these publications can be read online or downloaded for free, as they were created with the kind support of Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland. You can find out more about Magic Torch, our current projects and other publications on our blog Tales of the Oak.

UPDATE - The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean by Linday Littleson was the winner of the prize, and will be published in 2015. The lovely people at Kelpies will also publish The Superpower Project in Spring 2016.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Guest House of Usher Comic

art Andy Lee, script me

Not been around on this blog for a bit, having too much fun with Magic Torch's Commonwealth Storytelling project.

However, here's a sneaky wee page from a project the mighty Andy Lee and myself have been working on in between Torch stuff. (Andy is currently knee deep in Wendigo's, giant spiders and Tokoloshe's for the new Sir Glen Douglas Rhodes comic Uncommon Tales, out in October)

And if you are a reader lucky enough to live near The Dutch Gable House, we'd love to see you along at this day in July...

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Tin Jimmy - Seagull

Calloo callay! I have almost for realises finished the first draft of my "magnificent octopus" or "first book" Tin Jimmy, some of which includes the research and exploration of the mysterious steam powered gentleman.

This is a page from 1950s Greenock "boys comic", Seagull featuring some of his local adventures from back in the day. Both the Seagull comic and a more shiny steampunk Tin Jimmy feature in the strip Mr Cube Strikes, which looks at the history of the Greenock Sugar Sheds.

Props as ever to Andy Lee.


Friday, 10 January 2014

2014 - Shall Not Suck!

I've shared our Local Heroes on the Tales of the Oak blog, but I really really like it, so here it is again. Looking forward to writing some stories about these folks later in the year. Right now, I'm all about the steam powered robots, so here's a wee detail from Andy Lee's Tin Jimmy schematic, currently on display in the Dutch Gable House on Sir Glen Douglas Rhodes desk.

Here's a wee haiku for now...

January fires
Have many long months to burn.
Collect kindling.