Tales from the Hidden Grove

Tales from the Hidden Grove
"Amongst the finest short story writers in the UK right now" ~ Black Pear Press

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Asexual Fairy Tales - Crowdfunding Now!

In case you have somehow failed to notice, loyal readers, I have written a book of Asexual Fairy Tales, which I am currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter. The illustrations are by my lovely daughter, Anna Hopkinson, and SilverWood Books have agreed to publish it if we meet our target.

All we need now are backers. We've got a fair few already - 60 as I write this blog. If you are one of them, thank you so much! We can't do it without you. But we need more. And we've only got until 28th February to make it happen! The great thing is that February is LGBT History Month in the UK, so it coincides with some great promotional opportunities.

So, what's in this book, I hear you ask? Twelve tales, some original, others retelling of classic tales from around the world. Tales from Greek mythology, 1001 Nights, Arthurian legend. Japanese, Scandinavian and German collections. Even a 20th-century fairy tale from the days of silent film. Featuring many of your old favourites from this blog, including The Man Without Desire, women in towers, sleeping beauties, asexual icons, miraculous births, the Forgotten & the Fantastical, Sir Galahad, the Virgin Mary...  What more could you ask for?

Pledges range from £1 to £60, and rewards include ebook and signed paperback copies of the book, sneak peeks and exclusive art prints of the illustrations. You can even buy one for you, one for a friend.

So, go ahead and pledge on Kickstarter. Click here! And if you have pledged, don't forget to tell all your friends on social media. Share this blog! Word of mouth really is the best way to promote anything.

And I hope that, in March, I have good news for you about its publication.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

What am I up to?

As writers, we are asked lots of questions. Most are some variation on:

Are you still writing?
How's the writing going?
Are you writing anything at the moment?

We writers can feel pretty frustrated by these questions as, for us, they are the equivalent of asking a plumber: "Done any plumbing lately?" Or asking a specialist doctor: "How's the gynaecology going?"

However, we know you mean well and are interested in our work. So, in answer to your questions, I thought I'd bring you up to date with my three main projects.

Asexual Fairy Tales

This is a book of retold and original fairy tales I've been working on with my daughter, Anna, who has done the beautiful illustrations. It's all written, and I'll be launching a crowdfunding campaign to fund it on Kickstarter. (You pledge money to help fund it, you get a signed book and/or other goodies). I'm doing it this way as I believe it's the best way to connect the book with it's main audience in the asexual and fairy tale communities. I've already had a lot of interest and goodwill on Twitter, so I'm optimistic we can do this! The Kickstarter campaign will start in the next week or so, and I'll be putting links everywhere. I mean, everywhere!! It would be great if you could support us, even if you don't want to read the book. A £1 donation will get your name in the back of the book as a valued supporter, and I'll be very grateful!

The King of Ice Leaves

This is my current work-in-progress, the thing I'm actually writing now. It's a winter fantasy based on my own fairy tale "The Ice Queen & the Mer-King", which features in Asexual Fairy Tales, as well as other tales like "The Glass Coffin" (also in Asexual Fairy Tales) and "The Snow Queen." I have at least one agent who would like to read it when it is finished, so that's a positive start.

The Angelio Trilogy

Some of you will not have forgotten my trilogy - beginning with Cage of Nightingales - about Carlo the castrato opera singer and Tammo the flute-playing bird-charmer. I am still seeking the right home for it, and feel optimistic that Asexual Fairy Tales will help me find my audience. (My platform, as they call it in the business). I certainly won't let this one go, as it's my heart and soul, and means the world to me.

So, that's what I'm up to. Thanks for asking. Now, how's the chartered accountancy going?

Saturday, 5 January 2019

17 Rabbits: This Time It's Personal

Several times on this blog, I have referred to the story of Mary Taft, who in 1726 supposedly gave birth to 17 rabbits. In my discussions, it has usually been linked with ideas of parthenogenesis, monstrous births and fears about the contents of women's wombs.

And now the 17 rabbits have surfaced again, in the film The Favourite, about Queen Anne, the last (officially recognised) Stuart monarch, and her court favourites Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham.

In the film, Queen Anne has 17 pet rabbits, which she keeps in little cages in her private chambers, and lets out to hop around and be petted at various intervals throughout the film. We are told that each of these rabbits represents a child that Anne lost through miscarriage, stillbirth or cot death. I have to say, the rabbits are incredibly cute, and provide some much-needed relief from some of the more disturbing aspects of the film.

Having done a fact-check, I can tell you that the real Queen Anne did not keep pet rabbits (as far as we know). According to BBC History Magazine, director Yorgos Lanthimos simply meant them to stand as a symbol and visual reminder to the audience of Anne's lost children.

But I can't help thinking that Yorgos Lanthimos knew of Mary Taft and her outrageous claim to fame. Or is it too much of a coincidence that lost and aborted babies are replaced by rabbits? 17 rabbits? 

What do you think?

Friday, 14 December 2018

Season's Readings

I was born at Christmas time. I think that's why I like winter and Christmas so much. Right now, I am working on a winter fantasy I have been trying to write on and off for years, in which the ghosts of the Wolf Tribe ride on Christmas Eve.

I expect all of us book lovers have books we like to read again and again at this time of year. It's lovely to snuggle up on the sofa with a hot chocolate and the Christmas lights on, enjoying a magical read.

At the moment, I'm reading The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale, about a magical toy emporium that opens each year with the first snow of winter. I bought the book in summer, and it seemed weird and wrong. Re-reading it in December is just perfect.

But I also have some regular favourites:

The Box of Delights by John Masefield. Both the book and the 1980s TV series always thrill me, when I hear the words: "The wolves are running." (Ooh, do I spot an influence? I hear you say.)
The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder, about a magic advent calendar, with a chapter for each day in December. This was the book that wooed me back to contemporary literature after ten years' absence.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Sometimes I read it in translation for convenience, but nothing beats the beauty of the original Middle English. 
Wenceslas by Carol Ann Duffy. This is one of her single-volume poetry books, with gorgeous illustrations by Stuart Kolakovic. 
And speaking of poetry, I couldn't forget "King John's Christmas" by AA Milne. "Oh, Father Christmas, if you love me at all/Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!"

What do you like to read at this time of year? Right now, I'm running a little Christmas giveaway on Twitter. Follow me @hidden_grove, RT and leave a comment telling me your favourite Christmas read, and I will send you a flash fiction story from Tiny Tales from the Hidden Grove, my flash fiction ebook, featuring previously published and brand new tales. It's only 99p or equivalent from all good ebook outlets. And for the same price, you can also buy its sister book, Tales from the Hidden Grove, which has 12 longer tales. One for each day of Christmas!

Merry Christmas and happy reading! 

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Sleeping Beauty and Surgery

Warning: sexual content

I am currently writing a book of Asexual Fairy Tales, which I am hoping to pitch to the crowdfunding publishers, Unbound, very soon. It contains twelve stories from fairy tale, myth and legend, and twelve black-and-white illustrations by Anna Hopkinson, an Illustration undergraduate at the University of Huddersfield, who also happens to be my daughter.

One of the tales I retell in the book is Zellandine and Troylus, a very early version of Sleeping Beauty. It's a bit of a controversial choice because Troylus impregnates Zellandine in her sleep, but I wanted to include it. Here's an extract from the book:

“Zellandine and Troylus” is one of the earliest known versions of “Sleeping Beauty” and comes from the medieval French romance Perceforest (c.1330-44). It also has echoes of “Rapunzel”, as the maiden is kept in a tower that can only be accessed by a high window. Many commentators find the tale deeply problematic because of its apparent portrayal of non-consensual sex. But viewed on a symbolic level, it can be read as a story about the wish to absent during sex and childbirth. I have never forgotten a dream I had as a teenager, in which I became pregnant because of a dream. In the inner dream, the act was somehow honourable, but in the outer dream I felt only shame and fear. “Zellandine and Troylus” seems to speak to that same anxiety.

While I've been writing the book, I've also been recovering from gynaecological surgery. I can't help seeing parallels between allowing a stranger full access to your body while under anaesthetic, and what happens to Zellandine. In both cases, the act is one of healing, even if there are hardships to come afterwards. It's something that needs to be done, but you'd rather not be conscious at the time.

The book includes other stories in which women and men sleep in glass coffins, are imprisoned in towers, in mirrors, in marble...and set free to be themselves. I hope you will want to join me on this journey, so look out for news about how you can support Asexual Fairy Tales give a voice to an invisible minority. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Millmores of Clayton : A Swanwick Story

 Ann Millmore with fellow-Swanwicker Roy Devereaux, back in the day. Courtesy of Mike Brewer.

Without doubt, one of the highlights of my year is my annual visit to Swanwick Writers' Summer School. This 6-day long writing fest takes place every year at Swanwick in Derbyshire. It's always good to catch up with old friends, meet new ones, to give and receive encouragement and inspiration. 

This year was particularly special as it was the school's 70th anniversary. There were special celebrations, '40s themed events (work it out!) and even a giant birthday cake.

One thing that connects the school's past to the present is the Swanwick Yearbook. Every year, delegates are asked to sign their names, along with where they come from. Unsurprisingly on this special year, the book was left open on past years, for current delegates to enjoy the nostalgia. I was reading through the page for 1967 when I came across two names from my home village of Clayton in Bradford. I had no idea that anyone else from Clayton had ever gone to Swanwick before! 

I asked around, both at Swanwick and on the Clayton Village Facebook page. It turns out that Royston & Ann Millmore are still fondly remembered by a few veteran Swanwickers. Apparently, Ann was a wonderful ballroom dancer, and Royston enjoyed a game of tennis. He used to bring his own scythe to clear the weeds from the court! 

It also turns out that their son still lives in the family home. I contacted him, and he loaned me two books his father wrote, which I have just finished reading. Heatwave in Berlin is particularly fascinating. Though described on the cover as a novel, it is really "faction", a thinly-disguised version of Royston's own experiences as a young man in the 1930s. Royston was a newspaper correspondent - and spy - in Berlin on the eve of WWII, witnessing the rise of the Nazi regime first-hand, at a time when Britain was unaware or indifferent to the true threat. His time there ended abruptly when an assistant editor of The Yorkshire Post (taking over while the boss was on holiday) made the mistake of replacing the usual "From our correspondent in Berlin" with Royston's actual name. He had mere hours to get out of the country, in order to save his neck!

Heatwave in Berlin tells the story of two young men from Fogston (i.e. Bradford) who have come to Berlin during the depression, trying to make a living by teaching English. Eric Johnson (the protagonist) struggles to make ends meet in a dismal flat with a Brownshirt landlord, secretly boiling sausages in his kettle and wishing he had some money to send to his mother. Soon, he finds himself a tutor to both SS officer Baron von Steinfels and elderly, Jewish, Frau Mandelbaum. But in a country where no one dares speak freely, who can Eric trust? Is his girlfriend really an enemy? Is the Baron really his friend? Dare he help Frau Mandelbaum escape the country or will he end up incarcerated? 

The story ends a little abruptly for me, but it's an easy read and a real page-turner, that evokes the time from a unique perspective. I enjoyed reading it.

I also enjoyed the pocket guide to the Brontës, which can be read in one sitting. I thought there was nothing about the Brontës that I hadn't heard before, but thanks to first-hand evidence from letters, I was able to discover something fresh in the well-known tale. The book was written in 1947, to celebrate the centenary of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, so it's quite amusing to read about "Haworth To-day." "Haworth, unlike the dwelling places of some other great people, is not littered and defaced with commercial references to its bygone geniuses." (1) Right.... As a local lass, I also particularly like Royston's effort to give the correct pronunciation of the word, wuthering. "...correctly pronounced with a deep, resonant "u" as in the word "full"". (2) Get in there, my son! 

It's been amazing to discover this set of connections, both at home and in my writerly home-from-home, and to discover a forgotten Bradford writer who deserves to be better remembered.

As the regulars say: That's the magic of Swanwick!

(1) Millmore, R., Brief Life of the Brontës, (Bradford: 1947), p.57
(2) Ibid, p.35

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Happy Prince, Statues and Fallen Idols

I recently went to see Rupert Everett's wonderful film, The Happy Prince, about the last days of Oscar Wilde. The story is framed by Wilde telling his fairy tale, The Happy Prince, both in his lost past with his sons, and his down-at-heel present with young denizens of the Parisian demi-monde.

I have loved The Happy Prince since childhood but hadn't thought to associate it with Wilde's life until now. In the film, there is a clear parallel between the statue of the Prince being stripped of his gold and jewels until he is finally torn down as an eyesore by the Mayor, and Wilde's fall from his heady period of fame, through scandal and prison, towards derision, destitution and death.

This led me to think about our own times, which have seen a large number of high-profile celebrities and "national treasures" brought down through scandal and court cases. Some of these individuals have committed genuinely terrible crimes, unlike Oscar Wilde, who was a victim to the attitudes of his time (including his own). Yet, before their downfall, they were well-loved and respected public figures, the recipients of honours and awards. They seemed as generous with their gold as The Happy Prince. People put them on a pedestal, figuratively if not literally.

Which brings me back to the question of statues. It's been a hot topic recently, with campaigns such as "Rhodes Must Fall" demanding that various statues be torn down because of the subject's sullied reputation. Cecil Rhodes, for example, was held in honour in Oxford because of his generous donations to the university. But his money came from colonial exploitation in Southern Africa (he even named a conquered territory Rhodesia, after himself). At the time, he and his contemporaries probably never imagined that students from Southern Africa would one day come to study at Oxford, or question what their attitude would be to seeing a statue of Rhodes. (The Rhodes Must Fall campaign actually started at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where Rhodes' statue was seen as a symbol of colonial oppression, and was successfully removed).

It can be hard to come to terms with "fallen idols". One reason for this is that people find it hard to accept that there is both good and bad in a person. Sometimes, extremes of both. I used to find the Second Commandment (You shall make no graven images) somewhat irrelevant to modern culture. But since statues have spent so much time in the news, I have started to see what the point of such a commandment might be. None of us are perfect, which makes it risky to put anyone on a pedestal. They will almost always fall.

In the fairy tale, The Happy Prince becomes a better person as a statue than he was in life, even though it leads to him becoming faded and forgotten. Did Oscar Wilde become a better person after his fall? I don't know. But hitting rock bottom always provides the opportunity for repentance, restitution and redemption.