These Green Man books are rooted in British folklore – but what does that actually mean?

I grew up with folklore as a core element of my reading. I don’t just mean the fairy stories that everyone knows, taken from Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, commodified and sanitised by Disney. My local library and the primary school bookshelves had numerous collections of folk tales alongside other reading – and as I was reminded just last week by Simon Spanton posting this Book of Goblins cover on Twitter, they were often collected by authors who had written other books on those shelves. Then there were the older books; the collections of fairy tales by Andrew Lang, and George Macdonald’s stories. Victorian editors had softened the sharp edges of these tales, but they couldn’t do away with the strangeness, and that was so often reflected by illustrators like Arthur Rackham in books such as Puck of Pook’s Hill.

Some of these collections were themed – goblins, giants, witches – while others were regional – tales from the Orkneys, from Cornwall or Wales, to name but a few that I recall. Either way, these stories belonged in the world where I was living rather than some fantasyland, even if I couldn’t see what was going on in the shadows. As a voracious reader, I saw no division between these traditional stories and the fantasies written by Tolkien, Lewis and Garner. There were the same otherworldly beings in the Hobbit, Narnia and underneath Alderley Edge after all: wizards, goblins, elves. The folklore books also had darker, scarier things, and stories with uneasy endings that didn’t offer the consolation of some of those fictional narratives…

As an adult, I turned to reading scholarly and still very readable analyses of folklore, by writers such as Diane Purkiss. As a fan of local museums, and of National Trust and English Heritage visits, I would pick up books of local tales collected by antiquarians and enthusiasts. I began to see the depth and breadth of the folklore that still endures in rural England. I continue to see the extent of such mythology’s influence, as I recognise these stories from passing mentions in literature from Shakespeare to Kipling and right up to the present day.

At the same time, I come across half-tales and references that make it clear how many stories have faded away for lack of telling, leaving only tantalising traces. I discovered that mystic beings we think of as ancient archetypes have been recreated comparatively recently. The Green Man, the Horned Hunter, the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. Oh, the images are ancient, but the tales that went with them have all but vanished. Looking at the ways these things have been reimagined, when and by whom, is an ongoing fascination.

All told, these varied aspects of our folklore legacy offer me tremendous scope as a writer. I am able to draw on a familiarity with traditional fairy-tale creatures and themes that readers may not even be aware they have acquired. At the same time, I have a free hand to weave in those stray fragments and the strangeness that I come across to enrich my new story with surprises. As I write these particular books, I become more and more aware that I’m working in an age-old tradition as I do so.

Cover art and design by Ben Baldwin

Why does this novelist like writing short stories for ZNB anthologies?

Hopefully you’ll have noticed that the excellent small press ZNB (Zombies Need Brains) are running a Kickstarter to fund three new anthologies, titled THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, DERELICT, and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors in the field and new voices found through an open call. The fundraising is going well, so we can hope to reach some stretch goals. Do check it out!

Regular readers will know that I’m a regular contributor to these projects, sometimes as an invited author, sometimes through submitting to the open call. The thing is though, I’m really not a natural short story writer…

A great many authors will tell you they have an instinctive length when it comes to writing. That can be novel, novella or short story. It’s the sweet spot for their imagination, where ideas come together most effectively. For me, that’s most definitely the novel. It has been said, with perfect justification, that my early short stories read like excerpts from a longer work.

So that’s the first thing. I want to improve my skills in this particular area. Short stories, in anthologies and as standalones are having a resurgence just at the moment. That’s thanks to the ease of digital downloads, a smartphone in every pocket or bag, and the way short-form fiction is ideal for a commute. That makes the short story an ideal way to introduce readers to my writing, so if they like it, they can look up my novels. But it has to be a good short story, and that’s why I always want feedback from professional editors so I can learn how to create my very best work. I get that advice from ZNB projects, without fear or favour! That advice doesn’t only help my short stories. Learning more about the differences between different forms of fiction hones my novel writing as well.

The second thing? Ask any author where they get their ideas from, and they’ll tell you lack of ideas is never the problem. The challenge is knowing what to do with them. My wide-ranging research reading turns up a whole lot of interesting possibilities which are often nowhere near novel-length material. Short stories offer me the chance to get these intriguing tales onto the page. My story for last year’s Alternate Peace anthology is a case in point. I’d read Bill Bryson’s book on the remarkable summer of 1927, and quite some while later read a much less amusing book on the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918-1919. These books had nothing to do with each other at first glance, but that’s not how this works. If I put together that piece of information from one book and a passing footnote from the other, as well as a few more ‘what if?’ possibilities from both, I got an intriguing idea… I wasn’t sure it would make a novel though, and in any case, my other writing commitments would make that impossible. But this idea was ideally suited to this collection’s theme.

Thirdly, you never know where a short story will take you as a writer. Before ZNB was born, Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray edited a couple of anthologies for the US publisher DAW. One was The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity where I found I had an entertaining idea about dryads in the English countryside facing a road being built through their oak grove. There’s a passing reference in that story to dryads having sons with mortal fathers. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I did find myself thinking about it later though. Long story short? That did turn into a novel-length idea, and that was The Green Man’s Heir, followed by The Green Man’s Foe. Next month will see The Green Man’s Silence published by Wizard’s Tower Press.

So these are three of the things that writing short stories offers me as a novelist. Why not see what these projects can offer you as a writer – and a reader, obviously.

The Coode Street Podcast – discussion and digression on science fiction and fantasy

Episode 484: Ten Minutes with Cheryl Morgan

Ten minutes with… is a special series presented by Coode Street with Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan that sees readers and booklovers from around the world talk about what they’re reading right now and what’s getting them through these difficult times.

Legendary fan, publisher, and critic Cheryl Morgan talks with Gary about some favourite new and forthcoming books; the comfort in watching classic TV and movies; watching Doom Patrol and Black Panther; Sam Jordison and Galley Beggar Press; her own fanzine Salon Futura and Wizard’s Tower Press, and being a sensitivity reader for trans characters and issues.

Books mentioned include:
• The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison
• The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
• Mordew by Alex Pheby
• The Green Man’s Heir and The Green Man’s Foe by Juliet E McKenna
• The Tales of Einarinn series by Juliet E. McKenna
• The Aldabreshin Compass series by Juliet E. McKenna
• untitled forthcoming collection by Aleksandar Žiljak

The Green Man’s Silence – where did these particular ideas come from?

This story started with some casual information that I didn’t think much about when I added it to The Green Man’s Foe. The folk tale that inspired Finele as a character is from Cambridgeshire, so it made sense to say that’s where her family lives. Afterwards, I found myself wondering what Dan would make of the Fens if he ever visited her there. Like most people who don’t know the region, he would just think it’s a flat place with very few trees. While I was thinking about that, the archaeologist Francis Pryor had a book published looking at this area and its long, complex history – titled unsurprisingly The Fens. That’s a fascinating read which started me on the path to writing the story you have just read.

East Anglia isn’t a part of England that I know well myself, so my husband and I spent a week’s holiday near Ely last November, to see what inspiration I might find. As you will see, that trip was very worthwhile. I definitely recommend visiting the Fens, and the local museums, historic houses and churches. Places like Ely, King’s Lynn and Wisbech are well worth simply walking around, to see their history reflected in their architecture. I found the Seahenge exhibition in King’s Lynn particularly interesting as I looked at it through Dan Mackmain’s eyes. We also found a carved Green Man who doesn’t look to be taking life at all seriously as he pulls a face and sticks his tongue out in St Margaret’s Church.

This book owes a particular debt to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. The Museum Society was founded in Wisbech in 1835 and there was a Literary Society in the town from 1781 to 1877. If you visit the current handsome building, you will see all sorts of fascinating things, as well as one particular exhibit that would certainly give Dan a nasty surprise – but no spoilers! The National Trust nature reserve at Wicken Fen supplied me with further essential information about the communities that lived and thrived all across the region, cutting reed and sedge, digging peat and catching fish, eels and waterfowl, both before and after the waters were drained. As you might imagine, staff at both places were intrigued when I explained my reasons for buying an armful of books of local history and the distinctive local folklore.

So what’s this story going to be about? Well, here’s what the cover will tell you…

“Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.

But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?”

The Green Man’s Silence will be published on 2nd September 2020 by Wizard’s Tower Press.

For ebook preorders:
UK Amazon
US Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo

Other formats will be available.

Full details of the latest ZNB anthology projects!

This year’s Kickstarter will fund three science fiction and fantasy anthologies, titled THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, DERELICT, and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors and new voices found through an open call. Backers will essentially be generating the funds to produce these anthologies—payment for the contributing authors, for the cover artist, production costs etc. So the reward levels have been set to more closely resemble the cost of the final product when it goes on sale to the general public. In essence, backers are preordering the anthologies.

Click here to check out all the details and progress of the Kickstarter

If you think you might have story idea, read on…

THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY

This is the anthology I hope to be writing for. In a follow-up to THE MODERN FAE’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, we switch our attention to the deities of old. Is Narcissus an Instagram influencer? Is Coyote playing the stock market? Does Ra own a solar panel company? Was Dr. Ruth really Venus? These authors will explore how the immortals have changed with the times.

  • Alma Alexander (Freyja: Nordic),
  • David Farland (Woden/Odin: German),
  • Tanya Huff (Hera: Greek),
  • Juliet E. McKenna (Nemesis/Themis: Greek),
  • Phyllis Irene Radford (Anshar/Tiamet: Babylonian),
  • Laura Resnick (assorted),
  • Kari Sperring (Cigfa, Goewin, Gwydion: Welsh),
  • Jean Marie Ward (Dionysus: Greek), and
  • Edward Willett (Ninkasi: Sumerian)

DERELICT

No one can resist the mystery of the abandoned ship, whether it’s the ghost ship afloat in the Bermuda Triangle or the spaceship drifting in the depths of space. What happened to the crew? What horror forced them to abandon their vessel and flee…or are they still on board, trapped or even dead? These authors will explore the possibilities.

  • Jacey Bedford,
  • Alex Bledsoe,
  • Gerald Brandt,
  • Julie E. Czerneda,
  • Kate Elliott,
  • John G. Hemry/Jack Campbell,
  • D.B. Jackson,
  • Gini Koch,
  • Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, and
  • Kristine Smith

WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE:

Throughout history, different cultures have collided, whether it be the peaceful contact between Rome and Han China in the second century that established the Silk Road, or the more violent interactions between Europe and the Americas thirteen hundred years later. Such first contact stories have long been a staple of speculative fiction, and these authors will explore the myriad ways in which two cultures—alien or fae, machine or human—can clash. Will the colliding societies manage to peacefully coexist after they finally meet? Or will they embark instead on a path of mutual self-destruction?

  • S.C. Butler,
  • Esther Friesner,
  • Auston Habershaw,
  • Steven Harper,
  • Nancy Holzner,
  • Howard Andrew Jones,
  • Stephen Leigh,
  • Violette Malan, and
  • Alan Smale

In Other Writing News – Three New SF&F Anthologies about Deities, Derelicts, and Clashing Cultures!

Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ll be part of the @ZNBLLC Kickstarter for three new anthologies this year. I’ve had stories in four of these collections so far, as well as two earlier projects from this team. Sometimes that’s been as an invited author, sometimes I’ve gone through submission because I had an idea that was too much fun not to write. That’s the thing about these projects – they’re always full of intriguing possibilities.

That makes for great collections of stories and excellent value for readers at the entry levels. For those of you looking for something extra, there are a whole range of bonus reward levels. I’m offering assorted books and a couple of Tuckerisations (your name for a character in my story). There will be more detail on each theme soon, but for now, readers aware of my alter ego’s mystery novels set in Ancient Greece will not be surprised to lean that I’ll be writing a story for the ‘Deities’ anthology – as long as the Kickstarter funds.

Alongside the designated authors anchoring each book, there is always an an open call for submissions offering first rate editorial advice as well as professional rates of pay for the stories that make the cut. ZNB are also very keen to offer debut publication opportunities. Any SFF writers starting out should definitely go and take a look.

The project goes live later today. Meantime, you can click on the ‘Notify me on launch’ button here.

and here’s a taste of the cover art…

The Green Man’s Silence will be published on 2nd September 2020 and the ebook can be pre-ordered!

The Green Man’s Silence will be published on 2nd September 2020 by Wizard’s Tower Press.

UK readers can preorder the ebook from Amazon here.
US readers can preorder the ebook from Amazon here.
Here’s the link for preorders from Barnes & Noble
Here’s the link for preorders from Kobo

Other formats will be available, and in other territories. We’ll update everyone with news and links in due course.

So what’s this new story about? Here’s what the cover will tell you…

“Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.

But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?”

In related news, The Green Man’s Foe is now available for 99p in ebook, as part of Kindle’s August promotion. But what if you haven’t read The Green Mans’s Heir just yet? Well, that’s why we have reduced the first ebook in this series to £1.77 for the duration of this promotion.

If you haven’t read these books yet, this is the ideal time. If you have, what better opportunity will you have to recommend them to friends?

Cover art and design by Ben Baldwin

The Green Man’s Silence – coming soon, with this fabulous cover

Artwork and cover design by Ben Baldwin

And to give you just a hint…

“Helen put a couple of tea bags into a pot and then spooned coffee into a cafetière. ‘You like to fix things. You like to help.’
Those weren’t questions, but I answered her anyway. ‘If I can.’
She waited for the kettle to boil, looking thoughtful, not looking at me. She made the coffee and the tea and brought them both over to the table. I took a seat as she fetched milk from the fridge and mugs from the dishwasher. She sat in the chair across the table and filled a mug for us both.
‘Do you have hobs where you live?’
I didn’t think she was talking about kitchen appliances, but I wasn’t sure of much beyond that. ‘By which you mean…?’
‘Brownies, pixies, they have a lot of different names. Earth spirits inclined to take a fancy to human hearths and homes.’ She took a sip of coffee. ‘Around here they call themselves hobs.’
‘I know what you mean,’ I said cautiously, ‘but I’ve never met one.’

The book is now in production and we plan to publish in early September. As soon as the date is fixed, we’ll spread the word. Pre-orders will be possible soon, and there’ll be more details coming to whet your appetites…

So, fellow writers of contemporary fantasy, what are we doing about Covid-19 in our fiction?

As I get The Green Man’s Silence ready for publication, this is very much on my mind. One of the central elements of these books is showing recognisable, everyday normality alongside the supernatural that’s so close even if most folk can’t see it. That’s a key part of their appeal. I’ve been careful not to date these stories so far too precisely, but they have essentially reflected the years when they’ve been written. I researched and wrote this forthcoming book through the winter of 2019-2020 and that’s what you’ll see on the page.

What do I do now? If I show Dan’s life as it would be without the current pandemic, then the next book becomes a fantasy that’s far more distinct from the new abnormality that we now realise will be with us for an ongoing and indeterminate time. Will readers want that added escape, or will the disconnect with their current lives be too jarring amid the ongoing everything?

But is the alternative even worse? Not going to lie, I have been thinking about the ways that the UK lockdown, and the dire economic consequences we’re now looking at, will affect Dan and Blithehurst where he works, as well as the people he knows – and yes, how the dryads and others will react. I have quite a fun short story idea…

Except none of this is remotely fun. My family are so far unscathed, but the total of people I know personally and professionally, who’ve suffered a family death due to Covid-19, is now into double figures. This is serious for us all, and heart-breaking for tens, if not hundreds of thousands, in the UK alone. Won’t putting that grim reality on the page alongside myth-based puzzles and perils simply wreck reader suspension of disbelief?

I am reminded of the rewrites to the end of Western Shore, the novel I had finished writing just before the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. A tidal wave formed a large part of the backdrop to the conclusion. My editor and I agreed that had to be changed, no question about it. Readers seeing awful news footage in their mind’s eye as they read would ruin the book for them. Add to that, as happened to at least one writer whose book with an incidental tidal wave was just about to hit the shops, there was the risk of being accused of callously cashing in.

So I am pondering these questions, and thus far, not finding any answers. Your perspectives and observations are welcome.

A brief update about a great many words

If I was to post one of those side-by-side photo memes of ‘my plans for 2020’ and ‘me in 2020’, the images wouldn’t be one of happy optimism and one of everything gone wrong. Both pictures would probably be of a cat typing. The first half of this year was always going to be intense for me, well before we had a global health emergency.

Towards the end of 2019, Agent Max and I had a rescue plan in place for the Ancient Greek murder mysteries – of which, more in due course – and that meant writing the third Philocles book by 30th June 2020. That was going to have to happen alongside writing the third of the Green Man books, if Wizard’s Tower Press and I were going to get that out in August, a year after the last one. Which is to say, I would have to write one straight after the other, as I cannot work on two projects at the same time. So, a 100k word novel written January-March, followed by another one April-June. Okay… Since I had already done the research and outlining for both stories, that should be doable. Tight, but doable with my head down to concentrate.

Then I got an invitation to write a novella for a shared world project – of which, more in due course. The source material was great fun, some excellent other writers are involved – and professionally speaking, it definitely couldn’t do any harm to remind readers that I do write epic fantasy as well. The big question was, could I find the time…? Okay… if I stepped everything up a gear, it should be doable. So I said yes.

Then in January, I learned that family matters would require a week of my time away from home in March. Nothing drastic, thankfully, and I can work on my laptop, but oh, the timing… Okay, better find another gear.

By way of incentives, if I got this all done, I could take things easy for a fortnight and watch all the Wimbledon tennis I wanted. After the edits were done over Jul/Aug, we could have a nice holiday in Greece when the weather’s cooler in September. Oh… well… that was the plan back in January…

So now you know why I have been doing very little blogging or indeed, much of anything else. I have been working flat out – and yes, I have got it all done. To be precise, as of today, my word count for the year thus far stands at 222,323 words. I rarely post such numbers because every writer is very different, but for context, my highest previous annual word count is 246k.

So what now? Well, all three of these projects have to be edited for a start. Thankfully that is far less intensive work than the actual wordsmithing, certainly for me. The Green Man’s Silence is coming together very nicely, as I work on that with Editor Toby, and the cover art by Ben Baldwin is fantastic. Yes, you’ve guessed it, more on that in due course – but not so very long to wait now. We hope to reveal the cover and other details at this summer’s online Worldcon.

What next for me after that? Well, the book trade is still trying to find a new normal amid the ongoing everything, so that’s honestly very hard to say. I can at least confirm that I will be writing a story for one of this year’s ZNB Kickstarter anthologies – The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity. Watch this space for full details for all three anthologies. As always, these offer exciting opportunities for new writers.

So that’s the latest from here. We are all keeping fine, and I hope all is well with you and yours.