Posts Tagged ‘folklore’

I said yesterday that I had three books to discuss, but over the course of today I decided to split them into different posts.  That way, each one gets a bit more space to be discussed!

So the first book to talk about is The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht.  I am going to be totally honest and say I was first drawn to it by the name, and once I saw the cover I was hooked.

This book is a mixture of fact, fantasy, and folktale; from a writing point of view I was interested in how the elements were fused.  This book had a richness to it, a sense of the world being deeper and wider than imagined.   I particularly liked the ‘Deathless Man’ stories, which were like something from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The downside of richness is that you can have too much of something.  By the end of the book I did feel that there were so many stories, so many characters, so many details that I didn’t hold on to them all.  That isn’t always a negative but in this case, it’s difficult to write about the content of the book because I can’t remember it all.

So I will focus on the key elements that remain with me.  Firstly, the names of places are made up, but there is a clear sense that the tales take place in the former Yugoslavia – not only because of Obreht’s personal history, but because of the nature of the conflicts within the story.

Secondly, the tale of the Tiger’s Wife herself is of a woman finding freedom and finding her own path, and that being destroyed by people who are scared of the power that gives her.  In effect, it is the personalisation of the story of war.

Thirdly, this is the story of tragedy.  It feels as though whatever happens, violence recurs. It is not a book that leaves you feeling uplifted but it does make you think about how terrible things can happen, and the ramifications of them.

It wasn’t really holiday reading, and it was a bit too heavy going for a sun lounger, but it was an interesting book.

GoingTigers Wife back to the writing perspective, I have to be honest and say that the fusion of different folk tales didn’t always work form me, but I loved the Deathless Man idea, and how it twined in and out of reality.  I often lost track of where I was in time – Obreht did shift forward and backward in time on a number of occasions and it wasn’t alway immediately clear.  As someone who has used the time shift tool themselves I think it’s better to signpost the shift but it’s a narrative choice to make it blurry.

Overall this book was unusual, and poignant, and focussed on loss in a way I hadn’t anticipated.  It was not what I expected to be reading.  As a writer, I think that’s a brave strategy but as a reader I wasn’t prepared for the content!

I am not sure I will re-read this book but I am not willing to pass it on yet either – mind you, that might just be because I love the cover drawing…

This is one I just can’t quite make up my mind about.  Which I see as a writing positive, because at least I am thinking about it!

Happy reading,



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This week I went back to my folk-loving roots and left the novels to one side…

Book 10 – Folk Tales of the North Country, by F Grice, BA. There is no Goodreads review of this book as far as I can see, so I can’t link you to a selection of alternative reviews this time!

This is a short book, only 150 pages in total, telling 44 stories collected from Northumberland and Durham, in the North East of England. As with folk tales in general, there is a strong moral thread throughout each story, but they are full of magic – witches, goblins, fairies and so on.

I bought this book at a charity sale and it has an inscription (‘Easter Greetings 1951, Elsie’) and a cloth cover, so I was bound to fall in love with it!

One of the things I have enjoyed is the sense of a lost way of life – cottagers whittle their own sheep crooks, and cut their own peat; they take their bread to sell on the market-day; they have wash-days and coppers.  I know there are some people who choose to live a more traditional life but it’s not the norm, and not a life I’ve ever known myself – and even knowing it was a harder life than the tales suggest, I do have a strange feeling of loss that the time has passed.

It’s also set in a part of the country that holds a special place in my heart, and although I don’t know Northumberland as well as I might like, knowing some of the places mentioned in the tales works for me: they are magical places, and the book is proof!

So of course I’ll give this a thumbs up; I would do for anything of this nature.  It’s short, and the tales are of course even shorter, but that’s helpful when I’m busy anyway.  A couple of quick stories before an appointment, or before I head to work, or before bed and the book is finished in no time!

Happy reading,



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Look away now if you have entomophobia or apiphobia…

Last year when my partner and I were on retreat, we heard the most unnerving noise: it sounded a bit like all the bees in the world were gathering outside.

It wasn’t all the bees, of course; just one swarm who had decided to leave their hive, so a new one had to be constructed for them at a rapid rate!  My partner managed to get a picture before we threw ourselves inside and shut all the windows…



You know, Doctor Who was wrong – they aren’t really from Melissa Majoria.  This lot didn’t even try leaving Wales 🙂

I think of bees as a sign of the coming of spring; in the last few weeks I’ve seen many bumble bees and even had a solitary bee fly under my sunglasses and rest on the lens, right by my eye.  I wasn’t too keen on that and rehomed him on a daffodil but I’m sure there’s some meaning to it!

In fact, bees are a great dream portent for writers, and there’s all sorts of folklore about them.  Nothing about my experience though; maybe I should use my writing instincts to make my own lore.

Hmmm – ‘if a bee flies under your sunglasses, it is a sign that the day will be bright and the wind temperate.’

That would work – it was a lovely sunny day and only really windy on a hilltop.  I’m not sure I could test it though!

Bees numbers have declined in recent years, so it’s great to see them starting to reappear and to watch them go about their pollen-collecting business. And as the economic cost of that decline has been put at up to $5.7bn per year, it’s also a timely reminder of how much our existence is tied in with other life forms on the planet.

I’m happy to see the bees bumbling around making fruit and seeds in my garden – and I’m looking forward to returning to our retreat in a few weeks, and seeing if this lot are all settled into their new home!

Happy writing,





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