Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Talking of Witches - Guest Post by Leslie Wilson

Malefice, the novel I for adults that I wrote in the very early nineties and which I have just self-published on the Kindle platform, is the story of a witch who was prosecuted and hanged in the seventeenth century, and my inspiration for it was the simple thought: I want to write a novel about a witch. The reason it's set in the seventeenth century is that the only local witch prosecution I could find out about was in Waltham St Lawrence parish register:

"Mabel modwyn widowe abact 68 years old arraigned for witch craft at Redding 29th Feb: and condemned on the 5th of March, 1655. Shee lived at ye south-wist cornr. of lower Innings in ye cornr. next to Binfield"

I changed the name of the village, and the witch; I was definitely writing for adults, and Mabel sounded a bit like The Worst Witch. Alice Slade, my witch would be called, and the village would be Whitchurch St Leonard.

I did a lot of research; I always do for my novels, and I found out that the English witch prosecution scenario was much different from the popular image, largely derived from the mass witchhunts of continental Europe. There were a few mass witchhunts in England, famously in Essex and Lancashire, but these were the exception rather than the rule. In fact, in English history, there were a lot of poverty-stricken old women who managed to live off their reputation as a witch. People were so afraid of their supposed evil powers that they gave them bits of food, flour, honey, yeast to make beer, and do on, and so the poor things scraped a living - at the cost of being mistrusted and feared, of course.

So the question that had to be asked about every witch prosecution was: what went wrong? Far from a witchhunt orchestrated by fanatical outsiders, this was usually a case of a community turning on one of their number and deciding that this one person was responsible for a range of harms. Most of those harms, in fact, were provoked by people offending the witch, or even committing crimes against her. I found this last fact very interesting, from the story point of view; someone damages you, and you're found guilty. And yet, if people believe you're a witch, you have been using this reputation for maleficence; maybe not deliberately, but you've been taking advantage of it all the same. Of course, as I've said, it's often your only option.

So it seemed to me that what I had was a crime novel, in an odd way, and what I had to find out was not the criminal, but the nature of the crime. I framed the story round the accounts of the witnesses, those people who were convinced Alice was responsible for the disasters that had befallen her, and the action of the novel moves back in time, through a series of periods of Alice's life, gradually unfolding all the things that anyone had against her, and their reasons for distrusting her. Frequently these were the things she knew about them, that they wanted to keep secret, but it seemed to me that somehow the root of the 'crime' and Alice's outsider status in the community, lay right at the beginning of her life, while she was still a child. I was inspired to do it like that by the brilliant Elizabeth Jane Howard, whose novel The Long View also tracks backwards, in this case, through a married relationship to the beginning. I have always thought it was the most perfect novel I've ever read.

Re-reading Malefice, what strikes me is that it's possibly more modern now than when it was first published. I thought of it then as a drama, with people stepping forward on a stage and giving their versions, but now, when the focus of journalism is so much on personal experience, it feels like a lot of interviews, or people posting their own accounts on the Internet. It's a very short novel (the hardback was printed on specially thick paper to make it feel more substantial) and in fact, after it went up on Kindle, I discovered how good it looks on a smartphone. There were never a huge amount of words on the page, and they sit very nicely on the small screen. I hadn't thought of that, though my daughter, who did the jacket layout (she did fashion design at Brighton, not quite the same kind of jacket, but she did a marvellous job), is more savvy than me, and she did frame it so that it would look good on a phone. Some time I'd love to do another edition, with additional material added, historical background and so on, but for the time being, I've just put the original novel up, and updated the author info, etc.

I had various thoughts about the jacket, but it happened that I took a photo of a bank with writhing roots and chalk, when we were walking the dog on Watlington Hill, and it seemed just perfect for Malefice, with its prologue of the witch's daughter, Margaret, struggling with the difficult Thames Valley soil as she buries her mother secretly in the churchyard.

I have also blogged about Malefice and the English witch hunt at

You can buy Malefice at amazon uk

Monday, 30 May 2016

Seven Miles of Steel Thistles: How a blog turned into a book - guest post by Kath Langrish

It was back in 2009 that I created a blog on all things to do with fantasy, fairy tales, folklore and children’s literature – and named it Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.
     The phrase is borrowed from an Irish fairy tale in which the hero gallops his pony over ‘seven miles of hill on fire, and seven miles of steel thistles, and seven miles of sea.’  To some people this seemed a strange name for a literary blog. ‘Shouldn’t the title have something about books or reading in it?’ one friend asked, anxious for my success. But for me, ‘seven miles of steel thistles’ was evocative not only of what sometimes seems the endless struggle of writing a book, but of the trials of everyday life too.  Some Scottish fairy tales have a phrase with a similar lilt which tells how the characters must cross ‘seven bens and seven glens and seven mountain moors’  –  but the imagery isn’t quite so expressive.  Here we go, all of us: dancing the flames, kicking up the black dust on the scorched hills, leaping the stormy sea.

‘What use is a blog?’ people sometimes ask me. ‘Does it help to sell your books?’  I don’t know; maybe some?  That was never the point.  I started the blog because I wanted to share my love of fairy tales, fantasy and children’s books.  And I hoped to find new friends who shared that love. It happened. Both on- and off-line, I got to meet lots of lovely people who agreed with me that the capacity to imagine things that don’t exist is one of the most distinctive of human qualities.  Believe you me, keeping a personal blog running week by week and month by month for more than seven years is something you only do if you’re having fun – and it’s been amazing fun. Especially when many wonderful fantasy writers generously contributed guest posts on their own favourite fairy tales. You can catch up on these on this link: Fairytale Reflections.

Not only did I learn a lot, but all sorts of serendipitous opportunities have cropped up along the way. These included speaking about Mervyn Peake’s children’s books at his centenary conference at the University of Chichester in 2011 – becoming folklore editor for the new-fairy-tale journal Unsettling Wonder – and reviewing for the Sussex Folklore Centre’s journal, Gramarye.  Then just last summer the author Mary Hoffman, founder of the blog The History Girls, asked if I’d consider publishing a book of my essays on fairy tales with her new project The Greystones Press  – which she set up with her husband Stephen Barber on realising that ‘there were a lot of good books out there that the big publishing houses were not picking up.’  Too right, there are!  Thrilled and delighted, I agreed at once.

So here is Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, in print and as an e-book: a collection of my own essays on fairy tales and folklore – inspired by the blog, but massively rewritten and extended.  Here you can read about fairy brides, selkies, CĂș Chulainn’s geasa, water spirits, ghostly White Ladies, and the unexpected difficulties of owning an enchanted object.
     Where are the Lost Kings of Fairyland?  Was Cinderella really so passive?  What happened when William Butler Yeats successfully summoned the Queen of the Fairies?  Is there a connection between fairies and the dead?  Does ‘happily ever after’ mean what you think it does?

Great oaks from little acorns grow. I went back just now and had a look at the very first post I ever put up on my blog, back in November 2009. It was called ‘Fauns with Umbrellas’, and I quoted from C.S. Lewis’s essay Three Ways of Writing for Children, in which he suggests that the best way to write for children, and the only way he personally found viable, is when ‘a children’s story is the best art-form for something you have to say.’  To me this sounded misleadingly dry, and I felt he was putting the cart before the horse. I had this to say, and to this I hold:

I don’t honestly believe anyone chooses a genre because they decide in advance that it’s the best art-form for something they have to say. Rather, you get grabbed by an idea. Lewis himself said that ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ started with a picture in his head of a faun with an umbrella walking through a snowy forest.

Well, if you’re being haunted (and I mean haunted: possessed) by an umbrella-carrying faun in a snowy wood, what are you going to do with it? You’ll probably write a children’s story, because it’s going to take superhuman ingenuity to work it into a novel for adults. It’s not even very likely to become part of an adult fantasy; the domestic detail of the umbrella says that. Fauns in adult fantasy are going to be sexier. They’re going to riot through those woods in a wild, dangerous Dionysiac revel: and they’re not going to carry umbrellas.

No: the material imposes the form. Fauns with umbrellas will insist you write a children’s story for them. Other things may then find their way into the story: your moral outlook, world picture, concerns, loves, hates. No author is free of those. But throw away the umbrella and you’ve thrown away your book.

Or put it another way. Writing is like this: you let down your shimmering little hook into the deep pool where stories come from – and something bites!  You pull it up (if you’re lucky).  And see what happens!  The fish talks!  It opens its bewhiskered, blubbery mouth and speaks to you!   And to me it says, to me it always says: This is a fairy tale… 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

If You Missed All The Fun... by Susan Price and Andrew Price

Goodbye - Susan Price and Andrew Price

It's been wonderful having you all join me here, folks - but there's been so much happening, it's been hard to keep up.
        Let's join our roaming camera for a round-up...

Inside the janitor's broom cupboard...

 At The Front Entrance...

Inside, At The Party...

Speeches - The Troll Thanks Everyone...

The Goats' 45 minute speech on why everyone should vote Green...

Back Outside, At The Door

Back Inside, On The Dance-Floor...

As the music ends...

That's all, folks!

           Goodbye!      Bye-bye, darlings!   Goodbye!    Bye-eeee!

Goodbye Everyone!

 Thank You For Joining Us! 

(Conforms to American spelling.)
The Runaway Chapatti
Tinku Tries To Help


Interview With The Troll - by Susan Price and Andrew Price

Well, Hello... - by Susan Price and Andrew Price

Oh - ha-ha! Nice talking to you guys!
      The croc and the tiger, ladies and gentlemen, from The Runaway Chapati.

Tinku Tries To Help

Written and illustrated by Adam Price

“In the shadow of the mystical mountains,
Deep in the tiger-haunted jungle,
Stood a city of flowers and fountains,
That was home to the marvellous Mogul.

“In his palace of marble and jade,
With domes and spires of golden glory,
Tinku the elephant lived and played,
Now listen as I tell her story.” 
This is the most exciting day of Little Tinku's life! The Maharaja is to be married and the whole palace is alive with hustle and bustle.
Tinku wants to help to make the day special. There must be something she can do!
 Gorgeous pictures inspired by the art and architecture of Northern India, help to tell the heart-warming story of little Tinku's adventures as she tries to find out where she fits in the world outside her family. She must overcome set backs and face failure before learning the most important lesson of all: that, no matter what, she is always loved.
This beautiful book makes an ideal story for a child to read with a loving adult.
 UK                                                       US

Also illustrated by Adam Price

The Runaway Chapatti

                                       Words by Carnegie Medal winner Susan Price                                                                  Illustrations by Adam Price. 


                                     UK                                                     US



 Art work for this blog by Andrew Price 


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Haute Couture - by Susan Price and Andrew Price

Welcome back!

I’m so excited – we can watch the arrival of Little Billy Goat Gruff and his special guest, Tinku live, as it happens! Via our amazing Goat-Cam installed in their limo!

Tinku Tries To Help, written and illustrated by Adam Price


And we're back!
I'm talking to one of the stars of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, Little Billy Goat Gruff.

   Three Billy Goats Gruff Story Book

 "Who's trip-tripping across my bridge?"

This well-loved traditional tale is here retold by Carnegie Medal-winning author Susan Price, and illustrated in an exuberant slap-stick comic-book style by artist Andrew Price.

Children will love it for its suspense and humour as they enjoy chanting out loud the repeated refrains. Adults will appreciate how the repeated words and syllables help children recognise how sounds are reproduced in letters. This book is by a UK author, but the wording of this book complies with US spelling.

   Three Billy Goats Gruff Colouring and Activity Book

Little Billy Goat Gruff says, "Some of our words and letters have fallen out of our book! The colour has been lost too! Please, can you help us? Colour us in again and put all our words back together. Thanks!"

This activity book accompanies the retelling, by Carnegie Medal-winning author Susan Price, of the old favourite 'Three Billy Goats Gruff.' Illustrations by Andrew Price.
 First, enjoy reading the story, with its funny illustrations and repeated phrases.
Then open this book and colour-in the illustrations - and see if you can help the goats by filling in the missing words and letters.
While small people will enjoy being read the story and colouring-in large letters spelling 'Eat him!' they won't appreciate, as bigger people do, how much they're learning.
This book is by a UK author, but the special American edition complies with US spelling.