Tag Archives: writing

Happy 127!

[Nearly all the posts in this blog have a previous life as articles in my local magazine. This one is more specific about it than most]

I’m not a big one for anniversaries, New Year’s Day and the various other constructs of passing time. Technically I am supposed to be clued in to such things, but my personal temperament is rather more inclined to living in the moment and I frequently don’t notice the oncoming bus of calendrical commemoration until it’s too late to do anything other than leap out the way and watch it rush by with it’s party of passengers.

This is my 127th Folk Tales Corner. An extremely arbitrary number, whose only real value is it clearly indicates that some time last year we passed the point which theoretically marked a decade of you reading my assorted ramblings, and I just want to thank you for doing so.

It has been an interesting journey. The first couple of articles were produced by me chatting through thoughts about folktales while Jo typed notes. I re-worked the results to give it my own voice and handed it back for a last sub edit before sending it off to Keith [Editor]. Bit by bit I took over the whole writing process but without that initial speaking-and-notes approach I would probably still be staring at that first blank screen. You see, I have dysgraphia.

Dysgraphia is often described as a problem with ‘fine motor control’. When people with dysgraphia write with a pen our hands suffer a kind of mini dyspraxia, resulting in sharp and jagged letters with random height, width, spacing and base line. We also tend to mix lower case and capitals, struggle with spelling, punctuate randomly and squeeze words up because we haven’t left enough space. Our handwriting looks like a spider has crawled through an ink well and tried to breakdance on the page. It’s one of the branches of neurodiversity alongside dyslexia, autism and ADHD.

I have written here before about my struggles with procrastination, this is how a fair amount of it started. At school I was given a hard time over my hand writing by both pupils and teachers so I developed a fear of anyone seeing my writing. Starting to write, for any reason, became difficult. I would stare at a blank sheet of paper unable to begin. Unwilling to desecrate it’s purity, to pollute it’s virgin whiteness with the snaggle-toothed goblin hordes of my malformed griffonage.

Working on a computer gets around most of the mechanical problems of dysgraphia. Having a deadline, an audience and a hard copy (proof read and corrected by the excellent Messenger staff) every month has been a very persuasive stimulus to get over myself and type. The experience of pulling the threads of my thoughts out and trapping them in (hopefully) coherent paragraphs, has been transformative for both my understanding of the material and my craft, oh, and myself. The freedom that you have all permitted me to examine folklore from a variety of angles, explore my understanding of performance and digress in to creative writing has been a privilege. Re-discovering a joy in composing with the written word that was bullied out of me in my early teens has been a gift.

So thank you Morchard Bishop [and you internet reader]. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement over the last decade and a bit. Thank you taking the time to engage with the various peculiar worlds I wander you in and out of. Thank you for your patience with my stylistic experimentations. I hope you have enjoyed it and will continue to do so. Happy 127th!

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.


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Words Are Magic

A sorcerer can invoke a magic incantation and enchant you with a spell. All they need is to speak some well ordered words, give voice to a crafty verse and the tale is told. I am not speaking figuratively, I mean it literally.

In Old English a spell meant a “story, saying, tale, history, narrative, fable; discourse or command”. A speller was somebody who read out words and the title was most often applied to preachers who would read the “good spells”, or good stories, which became the God spells and finally the gospel. It is from the action of “spelling”, reading out the story word by word, that the term changed it’s meaning and became attached to the letters rather than the narrative.

An open book exuding energy and power.

Being enchanted is also far less weird than you are probably thinking. The “en” means “in”, the “chant” bit is just that, some poetic words. Chant goes back through French and latin all the way to a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root word: *Kan- meaning “to sing”. This is pretty easy magic to be honest, all you have to do is sing a well known song and if people join in then they have become “sung in”, you have enchanted them.

An incantation, for all its portentous sound, is exactly the same thing, “in” and “cant” having come from the same roots as “en” and “chant”; it is another “in song”. To “invoke” it you only have to speak it, or put it “in voice”.

But what about magic? There is a postulated PIE root *Magh-, meaning “to be able, powerful”. By the time of the early Greeks we have “Magos”, a noun which means “a learned person of the priestly cast”. The powerful capability lies in the learning but you can only get access to that knowledge if you are born in to the right tribe. The power this tribe of capable people wielded became known as “magike” and, since they weren’t sharing, it was obviously very mysterious.

I realise I have just explained where the word “magic” comes from but not what it actually is. Bear with me and I shall unravel this final part of my spell. There is another Proto-Indo-European root I would like to introduce you too: *Ser-, which has survived in our own words series, serried and sermon amongst others and means “to line up, put in a row, or thread together”. It has also come down to us through the Latin for “one who influences fate or fortune”, which in English is a Sorcerer. So, somewhen between these two ancient lexical points, someone was exerting influence on things, effecting change, by putting something in order, by arranging something in lines.

Given everything we have just been talking about, it seems clear to me that the magic power of the bygone Magos was sorting secret symbols in to charms and spells. Yes, charm is another word from that *Kan- root. Or to translate from magical language into mundane: the mystery capability of the first sorcerers was lining up letters to make words and arranging words into songs and stories. The carefully guarded learning of the earliest magicians was poetry, storytelling, writing and reading.

So if you sometimes yearn for a more mystical life, remember you too can type some terms in to a tidy row or organise some expressions in an exciting order then speak or sing your scintillating spell, who knows what effect you might have?
Words are magic, in every sense, and in every sense magic is words.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

The Travelling Talesman

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Story, Writing and Literature

The relationship between oral tradition and literature is as complex and fluid as the relationship between any immortal and deific parent and child.

Writing was the offspring of Commerce, born amongst the hustle and bustle of the earliest cities, dedicated to a life of record keeping, trapped in rigid columns. Although Story was ancient she never aged, being born anew every time she she was spoken, kissed in to vital life by each pair of lips she passed. As Writing grew amongst the trappings of trade, he developed his powers of description, struggling for accuracy, detailing the specific. Story, ever seeking new experiences to incorporate in to her repertoire, was drawn to Writings descriptive skills, impressed by his unfailing memory.

Writing was barely old enough to grow a beard when they met but Story teased him with adventures, one moment wild and exotic, the next full of homely warmth. Seduced by Story’s enigmatic beauty and the worlds of wonder she laid before him, Writing broke free from the constraints of the trade ledgers and set out to woo Story. He followed her faithfully across the lands and hung on her every word. Flattered by the attention Story gave herself to him, fell breathlessly under his stylus in his bed of clay… and in the heat of their union Literature was born.

Though they often travel together, Story remains ever young and fresh while her daughter, Literature, stiffens with age. Writing, trained from birth to be pedantic, constantly complains of Story’s inconsistency. Sometimes Literature tires of her mother’s flightiness and will endeavour to trap her in her pages. Whilst Writing still loves Story he loves his daughter more and will often side with her. Together they bind Story in chapters of finely woven prose.

Sooner or later one of Story’s old lovers will find her, recognizing her grace behind the lines of greying grammar. The storyteller, who loved her as she was and loves her just as much as she is now, tickles her with their tongue and, laughing, she slips free from the chains of ink and dances once more in the air, leaping from mouth to ear as husband and daughter follow behind entranced, reminded of their love, desperate to catch her again.


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