By Kirsty Applebaum
Almost wherever we live in the world, an abundance of myth, legend and folklore can be found on our doorstep – and it can make for a wonderful source of writing inspiration. I live in Winchester, Hampshire, and a quick internet search for local folklore brings me tales of headstrong mermaids, murdered kings, phantom monks and Arthur’s Camelot. A treasure trove of half-remembered, magical tales I last heard as a child.
Sometimes my favourite thing about these stories is their sheer age. It’s astounding how they survive through time, passed on by storytellers, poets, writers and artists. Our Arthurian legends stretch back over a thousand years – and they’re mere babies compared to some tales told throughout the world.
Sometimes it’s just one tiny detail that really sticks in my mind. One local legend tells of Sir Walter Tyrrell, who killed a king (William Rufus) in the New Forest, then had a blacksmith hammer his horse’s shoes on back-to-front to fool anyone trying to follow his tracks as he galloped away. Once heard, never forgotten.
Sometimes it’s the magic of the tale that grabs me – the wondrous possibility of it. Will it really rain for forty days and forty nights if it rains on St Swithun’s Day (15th July)? And all because someone moved St Swithun’s bones from their resting place outside Winchester Cathedral?
For my third children’s novel, The Life and Time of Lonny Quicke, I created a whole new piece of folklore: the myth of the lifelings, who can bring dying creatures back from the brink of death. I wanted to reproduce some of the qualities I love in legend and mythology to make it really ring true.
I used an old-fashioned narrator’s voice when the lifeling tales are being told, to give the impression that the stories have been around for many, many years:
A long, long time ago, millions of lifetimes ago – before anyone ever dreamed of measuring minutes with anything other than a shadow-powered sundial – there was a place called Farstoke.
And I built in details to lock themselves into the reader’s mind:
It’s told he would creep past the Eastgate at night and curl up with the cubs, and be licked and nuzzled to sleep alongside them by their wild wolf mothers.
To sprinkle some magic (that feeling of could-it-really-happen?), I created a modern-day Lifeling Festival and a town full of people – some who believe in the existence of lifelings, and some who don’t:
It’s only Gran and the other crazy oldies in this town who believe in them.
Finally, I added Lonny Quicke, a real lifeling boy, hidden away deep in the forest until now:
I open the van door, stick out my leg and put my lifeling foot down for the first time ever on Farstoke ground.
And the mayhem begins!